Category Archives: Arts & Culture

China Makes an Appearance at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show

News and Travel Editor

The RHS Chelsea Flower Show has returned to the UK this week, a show famous for outrageous landscapes and gardens constructed from scratch in a matter of days (not to mention the appearance of every celebrity you can think of).

This year, China are making a special appearance in the form of a beautiful Silk Road garden showcasing Chengdu’s legendary history.

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The RHS Chelsea Flower Show is one of the most famous and most prestigious landscape garden and flower shows in the UK. Since 1912, the competition has showcased gardens from some of the biggest designers, architects and horticulturists around the world. How famous I hear you ask? Well, enough to bring the British Royals back year after year…

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This year, architects  Laurie Chetwood and Patrick Collins have created a garden to end all gardens. It celebrates the ancient and ongoing links between east and west, featuring landscapes and flowers from both the east and west with a ‘Silk Road’ bridge to link the various elements. This is also one of the only gardens at the Show which can be viewed from all angles – nowhere to hide any of those pesky dead plants then…

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All of the plants throughout the garden come from Sichuan Province in central China, an area famous for its rich and fertile environment. Many of the plants in the show garden actually first arrived in the UK hundreds of years ago via the ancient Silk Road, which is no surprise considering 20% of the world’s plants originate in China.

At the centre of this stunning miniature landscape is the symbol of the Sun and Immortal Bird Legend of Chengdu and the rising red platforms throughout the garden symbolise the mountainous paths in China and along the Silk Road. Both designers admitted that the road leading to the Show was a bumpy one and that many late nights were endured – They were even forced to line up cars with their headlights glaring on to the garden as the nights crept in!

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Like us, you might not have a chance to visit the garden before the end of the week, but luckily, you’re able to fully immerse yourself via this link – https://my.matterport.com/show/?m=gxoTkgW7oMb&utm_source=4 – which is even better if you have a VR headset…

The medals have already been awarded with the Silk Road garden achieving an impressive Silver Gilt (only one short of the tantalising gold). Nevertheless, Collins admitted he was slightly disappointed with the award which is understandable, I mean, the garden is huge!

You can take a look at some of the other highlights from this year’s Show below.

What’s your favourite element of the garden? If you have visited Sichuan Province before, does this garden take you there? Let us know in the comments below!

Valentines Day and China’s Other Unique Festivals

News and Travel Editor

Today is Valentines Day, you either love it or hate it but it seems the Chinese certainly love it given the fact that the Chinese Valentines Day, known as the Double Seventh Festival, predates the Western version by about 1000 years. The Double Seventh Festival is thought to have originated during the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD), whereas Valentines Day was made famous by Chaucer in the 14th Century.

This is Zhang Chunwen, Beijing’s Clown Delivery Man. He’s been in the job several years now travelling all around the city and will deliver flowers to anyone from your partner to your favourite teacher. Although, not everyone looks too pleased with this unusual method…

Although Valentine’s Day is traditionally celebrated on the 14th February in the West, the Chinese have their own version, known as Double Seventh Festival, or the Qixi Festival. The festival falls on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month. Why on this particular date I hear you ask? The answer lies with the legend of Niu Lang and Zhi Nu. One day, Niu Lang, a cow herder met Zhi Nu, a fairy from heaven and, although some would say she was out of his league, they naturally fell in love. The story of their love soon got back to heaven, with the king and queen demanding her return. When Niu Lang tried to follow her, the queen created a wide river between them but was so moved by their tears that she allowed them to visit each other one day a year, the seventh day of the seventh lunar month. The date for your diaries on this year is the 28th August, as if you wanted to celebrate Valentine’s Day 2 times a year!

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As well as the Qixi Festival, the Chinese have a few more quirky festivals up their sleeve, celebrated throughout the year. Some of our favourites are below.

The Festival of Hungry Ghosts

Admit it, this one sounds awesome. According to traditional Chinese belief, the seventh month of the lunar calendar is when spirits of the ancestors roam the earth – Could this also be why Niu Lang and Zhi Nu meet in the seventh lunar month?! *jaw drops in fascination*. Many Chinese people will appease these ghosts by burning fake money or leaving food out for the ghosts to use in the afterlife. If you find yourself wandering the streets during this month, make sure you don’t sweep up any offerings left out, unless you want some serious misfortune befalling you…

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Monihei Carnival

This festival is best summed up by the image below.

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Image courtesy of http://www.yunnantravelguide.com/Line/show.asp?id=726.

 

Interested? Thought so. Monihei Festival celebrates the discovery of a local herbal medicine in Yunnan Province which is rubbed all over your body. During the festival, mud is used to the same effect as a representation of the medicine as people run around trying to get each other as filthy as possible.

Cheung Chau Bun Festival

Held at Pak Tai Temple in Hong Kong, the Cheng Chau Bun Festival coincides with the Buddha’s birthday and every year, 3 60ft towers are constructed from bamboo around the temple are are covered in buns. The most entertaining part of the festival is the ‘bun snatching race’, where men and women race up the tower grabbing as many buns as possible. The more you grab, the more luck you will have to share with the rest of your family.

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Dragon Boat Festival

Zigui County is the centre for this amazing spectacle. The festival commemorates the life of poet and adviser Qu Yuan. Legend has it that Qu Yuan lived around 2500 years ago during China’s Warring States period and committed suicide by drowning in a river, when his leader was defeated. Watch our exclusive video below.

 

The Great Wall: How China has Become Hollywood’s New Destination

News and Travel Editor

The Great Wall is one of the most hyped films of the year, drawing a stellar international cast and will be released in the US and UK on Friday 17th February. It’s sure to pull in the audiences far and wide, but is it on your must-see-films list for 2017?

The Great Wall, starring Matt Damon (Bourne, The Martian), Pedro Pascal (Narcos, Game of Thrones), Jing Tian (Pacific Rim, Kong: Skull Island) and Andy Lau (As Tears Go By, A Moment of Romance), is China’s biggest Hollywood export to date. It’s already been released in China and will hit the big screens in the US & UK on the 17th of February. The film tells the story of mercenaries William Garin (Matt Damon) and Pero Tovar (Pedro Pascal) after they are captured by an elite army guarding the Great Wall, known as the Nameless Order. Garin and Tovar become entangled in the Order’s task of defeating the Taotie, beasts that rise from the Jade Mountain every 60 years to destroy humanity.

The film plays with the myth that The Great Wall was not intended for keeping out the Mongol invaders from the north, but was in fact needed to protect China from supernatural forces, in this case from the ravenous Taotie. In reality, the Wall did successfully repel invaders of all kinds for hundreds of years. But there are many legends surrounding the Great Wall, so who knows? Maybe that’s what we’re meant to think and the Taotie continue to attempt to destroy humanity every 60 years. I think I prefer the Mongols…

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The Chinese Empire by Thomas Allom; With the descriptions of manners, customs, architecture and industry of the Chinese people from the most remote times to the present day.

The Great Wall is one of the most eagerly anticipated films of the year and, predictably, was a massive hit at the Chinese box office. The film took $66 million in its opening weekend in December, making it 2016’s 4th biggest opening weekend in China. Only WarcraftCaptain America: Civil War, and Stephen Chow’s phenomenally successful The Mermaid. It’s also the first Hollywood blockbuster to be set entirely in China. China’s recent increase in box office takings comes against the backdrop of Jackie Chan receiving an Honorary Award at the Oscars. The future certainly looks bright for the film industry in China.

The Great Wall might have been the first Hollywood film to be completely set in China, but can you recognise any of the locations below from other international blockbusters?

We all know that Tom Cruise is famous for outlandish and dangerous stunts, climbing the Burj Khalifa in Dubai during Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, but did you know Shanghai was also a location for one of these outrageous stunts? The Bank of China tower in Shanghai is now famous for the jaw-dropping role it played in Mission: Impossible III, when Tom Cruise used the building for a bungee jump!

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Image by hans-johnson. CC Attribution 2.0.

Looper, starring Joseph Gordon Levitt and Bruce Willis, was also a tremendous hit in China. If you’re a major fan of the film like me, you’ll have spotted a futuristic Shanghai with the iconic Oriental Pearl Tower in the foreground.

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Image by Joshua Bermudez. CC Attribution 2.0.

Although not a Hollywood film, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was a huge hit in Western cinemas, taking $85 million in foreign box offices and was nominated for 10 oscars, winning 4. One of the most famous scenes in the film is set in Shunan’s Bamboo Forest, one of the largest bamboo forests in China, covering 120sq km.

 

Finally, Transformers: Age of Extinction was riddled with stunning Chinese scenery, including breath-taking aerials of Beijing where you can catch a glimpse of the Bird’s Nest Stadium and of course, the Great Wall. We also witness some of China’s more scenic wonders including the Natural Three Bridges, one of the most spectacular geological sites at Wulong Karst, before heading to Hong Kong for one of the final epic battle scenes.

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Are you looking forward to seeing The Great Wall or do you have any other must-see up and coming movies from China that we should talk about? Do you have any favourites set in China that we haven’t talked about in this blog? Let us know in the comments!

The Fireworks Man: The Alternative Way to Celebrate Chinese New Year

News and Travel Editor

What do you think of when someone mentions Chinese New Year? Some people think of the colour red, the Chinese Dragon, red money envelopes, or even dash to travel home – Did you know 2.98 billion trips are expected this year?! And who can forget the spectacular firework displays happening across the Spring Festival period.

For 14 generations, Xue Jianguo and his family have been creating firework displays with a spectacular twist (You definitely shouldn’t try this at home).

The tradition arose when local villagers couldn’t afford firework shows for their New Year celebrations. Logically, the next best thing was to throw molten iron into the air to create cascading sparks – it’s a good job he’s wearing that straw hat! However beautiful this may be, Jianguo admits the job is quite dangerous.

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So, where is the best place around the world to celebrate Chinese New Year and watch the fireworks? We have our top four, what are yours?

4) London
This is the world’s largest Chinese New Year celebration outside Asia. The best areas to head to are Trafalgar Square, Shaftesbury Avenue and, of course, Chinatown.

3) New York
If you’re not in China and you want grand and flashy, New York is the place to be. There are three separate parades across several days of celebrations: the Firecracker Ceremony, the Lunar New Year Parade and the Chinatown Lunar New Year Parade and Festival. New York is perfect for blending old and new Chinese New Year traditions.

2) Beijing
Celebrating in Beijing this year? If so, Temple Fairs are a must! They’re full of traditional performances, arts & crafts and local street food. We love Ditan Park Temple Fair – it is after all one of the biggest and most popular. If you have time, head to a park to watch athletic competitions and demonstrations.

1) Hong Kong
Probably the most colourful out of all our destinations. Expect incredible fireworks, festive markets and parades. The Victorian Harbour is the best spot for the fireworks, but make sure you find time to watch the night parade along Tsim Sha Tsuji. Naturally, Hong Kong Disney also make an appearance. 

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Image by Michael Elleray. Licensed under CC 2.0.

How are you celebrating Chinese New Year? Where do you think is the best place to watch the fireworks this year? Send us your pictures and comments and we’ll feature them on our Twitter and Facebook pages at @ChinaIcons!

Stocking Up for Chinese New Year

News and Travel Editor

It’s coming up to the most important event in the Chinese calendar – Chinese New Year! We’re about to enter the Year of the Rooster once more, and if you were born in 1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993 or 2005 then this is your year! Everyone has already started with their preparations.

Our very own Coco is going to give you some top tips on all the essentials for your Chinese New Year celebrations. We’re also going to delve deeper into some of these fascinating traditions revealed by Coco in our video below.

Coming up to Chinese New Year, the colour red is an absolute must. Red symbolises luck, happiness and joy. It’s also common in Chinese weddings and other celebrations. This has been the case since the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644), when only the Emperor’s close relatives could have red walls, and the peasants had to put up with blue walls – how annoying!

Coco seems like a big fan of this one: Red envelopes are usually given to the younger generation after the New Year’s Feast (lucky for some…). It’s very important that the money shouldn’t appear with a ‘4’ in it (such as 44 or 444), as the pronunciation is very similar to ‘death’. You also shouldn’t open the envelope in front of the person who gave it to you which is considered impolite (probably so there’s no arguments over who received what and why!).

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Last, but certainly not least, a few days before the Chinese New Year celebrations, people will often clean their whole house to get rid of the old and welcome the new. We’ve given you plenty of notice so no excuses now!

Have you already started your preparations? Do you have any fun traditions you think the rest of us should take up?

Check in next week for a spectacular insight into the ‘Fireworks Man’, a man and his family, who for 14 generations, have created their own fireworks with a jaw-dropping twist. We’ll also be giving you the lowdown on the best places in China to celebrate the New Year and to watch the world famous fireworks.

Harbin Ice Festival 2017: In Pictures

News and Travel Editor

The world famous Harbin Ice Festival is well underway in China’s northernmost province, Heilongjiang. We have been treated to some spectacular sights in the past and this year is no exception. Check out some of the stunning shots captured at this year’s festival so far.

This is the 33rd Harbin Ice Festival since its inception in 1963. At the start of every festival, an ice sculpture competition is held, showcasing some brilliant creations. Although the Harbin Ice Sculpture Competition is over for this year, the festival itself won’t finish until February 25th, so there’s still plenty of time to take in the sights across the 200 acre park.

Here are our favourite images so far of this year’s festival.

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Fireworks erupt at the opening ceremony on January 5th.

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Did you know that many of the blocks used for the sculptures were taken from Harbin’s Songhua River?

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Did you double take just then? That’s right, some of the sculptures are actually designed into slides for the public. Just make sure you’re wrapped up warm for this one…

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Many of the sculptures are inspired by Chinese folk tales and global landmarks. with the Egyptian Sphynx making regular appearances.

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The Harbin Snow Festival has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. The festival attracted over 1 million visitors last year.

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18 couples have so far braved the cold in Harbin to get married, but that’s not the most daring this to happen at the festival this year…

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Swimming competitions take place in a pool cut out of the frozen Songhua River. Just looking at this makes me feel cold.

Next week, our very own Coco will be giving you some top tips on stocking up for your Chinese New Year celebrations as you get ready to welcome in the Year of the Rooster. We’ll also take a look at some of the myths and legends surrounding Chinese New Year, including what NOT to do if you’re given a red money envelope…

International Tea Day: A Celebration of Tea from China

News and Travel Editor

Did you know that tea is the second most consumed drink in the world, behind only water at no. 1? And that the average Briton drinks 876 cups of tea per year? If you’re as obsessed with tea as I am, then today is the day we’ve all been waiting for – International Tea Day!

Celebrated annually on December 15th since 2005, International Tea Day officially draws public attention to the impact of the international tea trade on estate workers and small-scale growers. Fairtrade have very much been leading the fight on this and you can check out the work they’re doing here.

As many of you will probably know, China is huge on all types of tea. In fact, it is estimated that there are at least 1500 kinds of tea! To celebrate, here is a rundown of our favourite tea facts and legends from China, as well as one of our favourite China Icons videos of Kate Humble receiving a tea making masterclass…

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Image by David Boté Estrada. Licensed under CC 2.0.

Did you know that tea is thought to have originated in China over 4000 years ago? The legend goes that tea was discovered by accident by Chinese Emperor Shennong in 2737 BC. One of Emperor Shennong’s far-sighted policies required water to be boiled before drinking to prevent the spread of disease (very forward thinking!). One day, whilst sat under a tree with a boiling cup of water, a tea leaf allegedly drifted into his tea and after drinking it, the Emperor stated ‘one can think quicker, sleep less, move lighter, and see clearer.’ Thus, tea was born.

For nearly 3000 years, tea was used for medicinal purposes and it wasn’t until the Tang Dynasty (618-907) that tea began to be enjoyed as an art form by all social classes. Nevertheless, Chrysanthemum tea remains a medicinal favourite in China and Korea as it’s thought to reduce fevers and ease headaches.

Tea also wasn’t just used for drinking… Believe it or not, tea was also used as a form of currency in Ancient China! Tea leaves were pressed into bricks and scored on one side to be broken up if change was needed.

Tea later became popular in Buddhist monasteries to keep monks awake during the hours of meditation. Because of the popularity tea gained, monks started to cultivate huge fields of tea. It was in one of these monasteries that a young orphan called Lu Yu was educated and wrote the book: The Book of Tea. This was a detailed account of ways to cultivate and prepare tea, tea drinking customs, the best water for tea brewing and different classifications of tea.

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So there you have it, whether you’re ill, tired or fully fit, you should never pass an opportunity to have a cup of (Chinese) tea. In the West, we have a lot of catching up to do. Whereas people in the East have generally been consuming tea for thousands of years, us backward folk in the West have only been drinking tea for 400 years, so we’re officially about 4000 years behind. There has never been a better excuse than International Tea Day to start catching up.

If you want to know more about Chinese tea, check out our video below of the lovely Kate Humble receiving a private masterclass in the delicate art of Chinese Tea making.