News and Travel Editor
Planning on getting crafty with your gifts this Christmas? Or want to have some extra special snowflakes for your window? How about having a go at the art of Chinese Paper Cutting?
To mark this cultural day of mindfulness, we thought we’d share some of our favorite ancient Chinese philosophers and thinkers, and some of their thought provoking proverbs. Now, open your mind, and indulge in some ancient philosophical teachings, many of which are still adhered to today…
Confucianism (Confucius, 551 BC – 479 BC)
Confucius is probably the most famous Chinese philosopher, having also introduced some concepts we’re still familiar with today. These include Confucius’ Golden Rule (treat others how you would like to be treated), Yin and Yang (two opposing forces that are permanently in conflict with each other), as well as the idea of a meritocracy. Confucius is big on ideas including loyalty, humaneness and ritual. Confucius was born and buried in Qufu, Shandong Province. His descendants even own an enormous mansion there if you fancy a visit…
Some of Confucius’ most famous proverbs:
Everything has its beauty, but not everyone sees it.
It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop.
Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.
Sun Tzu (544 BC – 496 BC)
More of a military tactician and theorist than philosopher, Sun Tzu’s Art of War has guided military planners for millennia. Retired 4-star General of the US Army, Colin Powell, revealed that Sun Tzu ‘continues to give inspiration to soldiers and politicians. So every American soldier in the army knows of his works. We require our soldiers to read it.’ The practicality of Sun Tzu’s ideas have extended beyond the realm of military tactics, as modern day businesses have also found value in his teachings.
Some of Sun Tzu’s most famous proverbs:
If you know the enemy and know yourself you need not fear the results of a hundred battles.
All warfare is based on deception.
Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.
Taoism (Lao Tzu, 605 BC – 531 BC)
Lao Tzu emphasised living in harmony with the ‘Tao’, literally meaning ‘the way’. Taoism is heavenly influenced by nature, and today, Taoists continue to honour this influence by making pilgrimages to five sacred mountains in China to pray at temples which are believed to be inhabited by immortals. It is believed that the mountains develop an instinct for the love of life and nature. The most famous of which is perhaps the Azure Cloud Temple in Shandong Province, which is also an incredibly important archaeological site.
Some of Lao Tzu’s most famous proverbs:
Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.
A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.
Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.
He who knows, does not speak. He who speaks, does not know.
Mohism (Mozi, 470 BC – 391 BC)
Finally, a philosopher you might be less familiar with. Mozi argues that everyone must love each other equally and impartially to avoid conflict and war. Sounds simple enough… Mozi’s philosophical ideas are strongly linked to Western Utilitarianism (the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of people). Mohists are pacifists and believe that ‘heaven’ is an active force in nature, which punishes as well as rewards.
Some of Mozi’s most famous proverbs:
If there is no mutual love between people, mutual hatred will arise.
A generous man striving forwards never loses his goal.
Whoever criticizes others must have something to replace them. Criticism without suggestion is like trying to stop flood with flood and put fire out with fire. It will surely be without worth.
10 – THE GATE OF THE ORIENT
The Gate of the Orient is located in Suzhou and symbolises a gateway to the city, emphasising the continuing significance of the city in modern China. The Gate is often referred to as China’s answer to the Arc de Triomphe and we love it because it’s known to locals as ‘Trousers Tower’.
9 – BANK OF CHINA TOWER
The structure of this magnificent looking tower references the Chinese symbols for Earth (square) and Heaven (circular) and combines elements of old and new China. For us, the skyscraper simply had to make the list for the jaw-dropping role it played in Mission Impossible III, when Tom Cruise used the building for a bungee jump!
8 – GUANGZHOU CIRCLE
The Guangzhou Circle adheres to and is inspired by feng shui. The ‘double disc of jade’ is the symbol of the Chinese dynasty that ruled in the area of Guangzhou 2000 years ago. The structure, when reflected in the water, shows a figure of 8, an incredibly lucky number in Chinese culture, and also the symbol for infinity. Did you know the start of the Beijing Olympics was on 8th August (the 8th month), 2008?
7 – CCTV HEADQUARTERS
The fascinatingly 3-D CCTV Headquarters directly goes against the traditional skyscraper competition for height and is built in the architectural style of ‘Deconstructivism’. The CCTV Headquarters were recognised as the ‘Best Tall Building Worldwide’ and ‘Best Tall Building in Asia and Australasia’ in 2013 by CTBUH Awards Program. Did you know locals refer to this as ‘Big Boxer Shorts’?
6 – THE PIANO HOUSE
Built in 2007, the Piano and Violin House in Huainan City, Anhui Province is on a scale of 50:1 and is an extremely popular photo stop for newly wedded couples. I love the way the roof of the building is tilted, just like the lid of a grand piano!
5 – SHERATON HUZHOU HOT SPRING RESORT
Sheraton Huzhou Hot Spring Resort is nicknamed ‘Horseshoe Hotel’ (for obvious reasons) and is intended to emphasise harmony between man and nature and to enhance visitors’ sensual and spiritual experiences.
4 – BIRDS NEST STADIUM
We simply couldn’t ignore the home of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the Bird’s Nest Stadium. It was designed by Swiss and Chinese architects and is the most complex steel structure ever made. The stadium can withstand an earthquake of up to magnitude 8 which was made possible by using the purest steel ever produced in China. At the time of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the stadium could seat 91,000 spectators. (Psst, want to see how this incredible structure gets cleaned?!)
The Galaxy Soho Building was designed by world-renowned architect Zaha Hadid, who stated that ‘The design responds to the varied contextual relationships and dynamic conditions of Beijing.’ It’s a completely unique building that we think looks a bit like something out of a sci-fi movie inside!
2- SHANGHAI TOWER
The Shanghai Tower is China’s tallest building, standing at a monumental 632 metres. The tower is also home to the world’s fastest elevator. Travelling at 20.5 metres per second, it only takes 55 seconds to reach the sightseeing deck on the 119th floor. This beats both the Empire State Building and the One World Trade Centre in New York, travelling at 7.1 m/s and 10.2 m/s respectively. This incredible speed becomes even more dizzying when you find out that experts argue that fastest elevator humanly possible won’t be able to travel faster than 24 metres per second.
1 – NATIONAL CENTRE FOR PERFORMING ARTS
Topping the list for us at China Icons is the spectacular National Centre, which seats 5, 452 people in 3 halls and is locally described as ‘The Giant Egg’, floating on the surrounding water. The Opera Hall is used for both international and national operas including and international starts including Yehudi Menuhin, Zubin Mehta and Lang Lang (who opened the Centre on the New Year’s Eve Gala) have performed here. You enter the building through a fascinating underwater viewing gallery, making this a truly unique piece of architecture.
Traditionally, celebrations kick off with a flag raising ceremony in Tiananmen Square followed by a parade and fireworks. Since 1999, celebrations have expanded to include a 7 day vacation, known as ‘golden week’. Many Chinese people use this time to travel and get together with their families.
Another tradition which takes place every October for National Day isn’t quite as well known.
Do you recognise this image?
As you may have guessed, this is the portrait of Chairman Mao that hangs at the entrance to the Forbidden City.
What about this one?
Or this one?
Confused yet? Every October for China’s National Day, the portrait of Mao at the Forbidden City gets a makeover in the dead of night. Few people in the world have seen this happen. Watch how they do it below, and see if you can spot the differences yourself!
How are you celebrating National Day this year? Let us know in the comments below!
I’ve been a jazz musician in Beijing for nearly four years now.
I’ve had the privilege of seeing and even sometimes performing with some of the most amazing jazz headliners in Beijing, over the past few years: The Yellowjackets, Herbie Hancock, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Robin Eubanks, Jaleel Shaw, Snarky Puppy, Richard Sussman just to name a few.
There’s creative jazz music nearly every night of the week in Beijing: from jam sessions, where musicians congregate to play jazz standards and talk shop and network, to international headlining acts, where world famous musicians come to share their craft with the community. In July 2016, New York saxophone legend Antonio Hart, who spends time in China every year, quipped, after a workshop at Beijing’s East Shore Jazz Cafe: “Beijing cats don’t mess around!”
There’s also a sense of authenticity that resonates with many of the musicians here: “There’s a strong sense of Chinese culture and authenticity in Beijing, being a foreigner here you really experience that,” says Anthony Vanacore, a drummer from New York who’s been in Beijing for just a year. Traditional Chinese melodies infiltrate into the jazz idiom: musicians like guitarist Liu Yue and pianist Xia Jia have written modern jazz arrangements that include such melodies, reharmonizing and reworking them for piano trio with bass and drums, and even with horns and traditional Chinese instruments.
But most importantly (and concretely), there seems to be a community in Beijing that forms around jazz music– one that doesn’t necessarily exist in other music scenes in other places in China. On any given Tuesday, a crowd of jazz musicians descend on the jam session at Jiang Hu bar, an old traditional courtyard house that’s been converted to a performance space. It doesn’t feel like a New York session where the musicians are there to prove a point and call each other out, but a place where people are trying new ideas, patterns and concepts they’ve been practicing on their own, over jazz standards with a live band. Sometimes there’s a great crowd. Other times, the house is practically empty, but the band plays just the same. Despite the fact that they make about $30 a night, you’ll find the same guys coming back week after week. Do they need the money? Probably, but they’re also in it for the musical work out. Perhaps it suggests that a creative music scene can exist not just in spite of, but because of a lack of mainstream support. When you can make a lot of money playing a particular style or even song, it can affect your aesthetic judgment. In other words, it allows us to keep the main thing–the art–the main thing.
It’s been 35 degrees plus, with 89% humidity in Beijing recently. So hot that those of us from chilly, damp climes are wilting. Normally I like to walk around Beijing – there’s always so much to see, and it’s quite easy to find your way, with street names that so clearly tell you where you are like “so and so North street”; “such and such outside street” (ie outside the old city walls); “such and such gate” (ie by an ancient gate on the old city walls).
But in this weather I dive immediately into the subway – an underground mirror world that’s air conditioned and quiet, and takes me effortlessly to my destination. And is endlessly fascinating.
The Beijing subway system is heading to be the most extensive in the world, as well as the busiest and, being so much newer than those of New York or Paris, for example, it has many of the advantages of recent construction and new trains. Not just air conditioning, but also regularly-placed stations; wifi access throughout; wide passageways and escalators; safe platforms and all signs and announcements on the trains in English as well as Chinese. It’s also entirely logical and as a result easy to navigate, with lines named 1 to 15, each with its separate colour and transfer stations clearly indicated.
One of the things I so enjoy about the Metro is that, as you speed around the city underground, you are constantly reminded of how old a city Beijing is; how dynasty has succeeded dynasty here and how history is there if you know how to look. On Line 2 the names of some stations, and the shape of the line itself, are a reminder of the fact that until the 20th century, Beijing was ringed by massive city walls pierced by giant gates. And that these gates and the walls themselves were torn down to make way for the Metro and for the 2nd ring road – a triumph of progress that seems closer to an act of tragic vandalism to a tourist today, but that is a window into what was important to people in China at that time. (You can see what gates and walls once looked like at the Ming City wall park, one of those fascinating corners of Beijing that many visitors miss https://www.travelchinaguide.com/attraction/beijing/ming-city-wall.htm).
Those station names are one echo of the past; at other stations the design and decoration make that link. At Beitucheng, on Line 8, the swirling blue and white design recalls the city built here by Kublai Khan in the 13th century. His Yuan dynasty became famous for its blue and white porcelain, created with cobalt blue imported from Iran, and then exported all over Asia and the Middle East. Yongle, founder of the Ming dynasty, built his city on top of Kublai Khan’s, destroying much of the latter in the process, including his palace, but near Beitucheng station you can visit the rammed earth city walls of Yuan Dadu, an even bigger city than Ming era Beijing.
At Dongsi, on Line 5, bas reliefs show life in Old Beijing. Street traders, a procession, two strolling friends all pass under one of the 8 colourful ceremonial archways built by Emperor Yongle, but which were removed in 1954. (For other interesting Beijing metro stations, have a look here)
A friend – whose grandfather was part of the original Metro construction team – told me that when Lines 1 and 2 were opened in the late 60s, the subway was such a novelty that Beijing families would buy tickets, not to go anywhere, but just to experience subway travel. And in a way that’s what I do today. Speeding through the tunnels, in the cool of the train, watching moving video adverts on the tunnel walls – something I’ve never seen elsewhere; trying to improve my Chinese by listening to the announcements carefully before they are repeated in English; glued to the cartoons, mini-dramas and information videos on the on-train TV screens and spotting the links between this subterranean world and the history of the city, I’m mainly enjoying the fact that the subway is a great place to people watch. In fact, it’s the best place I know for watching a certain kind of Beijing person – the up and coming generation. Educated, tech-savvy, fashionable, these under 30s are the dominant group among your fellow travellers on the Metro. I love to observe their fashions – idiosyncratic, cool and sharp, but often with a touch of sentimental whimsy. I enjoy their interactions – there’s always lots of chatter and laughter on the Beijing metro – and their body language. I’m fascinated by what people are watching on their phones – and that goes for almost everyone. Above all, what I love is that you rarely see that miserable commuter look – so common in Paris or London – where everyone is trying to pretend they’d rather be anywhere else but here…Most people seem to be having as much fun as I am…