Dragon Boat Festival takes place on the 5th Day of the 5th Lunar Month, which this year falls on Thursday 9th June. Here are 10 facts that teach you everything you need to know to understand this colourful and exciting festival.
Dragon boat racing has been in China for over 2,000 years. The practice is believed to have started around the time of the first Olympic games.
A drummer or a caller guides the rhythm of the paddlers.
There are dragon boat clubs in over 60 countries. The organisation that governs international competition is called the International Dragon Boat Federation.
Dragon Boat races are usually 500 meters long, but can vary from 250m to marathon length!
The sport of dragon boat racing celebrates the life and death of Chinese poet Qu Yuan. He was banished after opposing an alliance the king wanted to enter into, and eventually committed suicide by drowning himself in the Miluo River on the fifth day of the fifth month of Chinese Lunar character. This is why the festival is always held on this day!
Dragon boat races are inspired by how the villagers tried to recover Qu Yuan’s body by paddling out on boats.
After Qu Yuan’s death, the local people threw rice into the river to keep the fish from eating his body. Later, they threw rice wrapped in reeds (to prevent the fish eating it) into the river. This is the origin of the Dragon Boat Festival delicacy called zongzi, glutinous rice stuffed with meat or other fillings that are wrapped in bamboo or reed leaves.
Children decorate their clothes with coloured and scented pouches. According to Chinese folklore, these pouches protect them from evil in the next year!
Around the festival, people clean their houses and put mugwort leaves and pine root onto doors to prevent disease.
Dragon Boat Festival was celebrated as a public holiday in China for the first time in 2008.
Strolling through a sea of sunflowers, landscape architect DR YU KONG JIAN looks like any other Chinese tourist, dressed casually in a red polo-neck and shorts. But his attention to detail gives him away – he stops to inspect the flowers, and checks the sections of walkway designed to carry visitors around the 31- hectare park.
Luming Park is one of dozens of projects that the award-winning Yu Kong Jian has designed and created for cities around the world. Educated at Harvard, where he went on to be a professor before returning to China, and now Dean of Beijing University’s College of Architecture and Landscape, and founder of landscape design company Turenscape, Dr Yu describes his work as ‘an art of survival.’
He believes that we can, and must, reconnect the 50% of humans who now live in cities with Nature. This means not only enabling city-dwellers to reap the emotional and spiritual benefits of bringing Nature back into their lives; but also working with Nature to solve many of the problems that industrial development and urbanization have brought to cities around the world.
Dr Yu was inspired by his own personal experiences. Growing up during the Cultural Revolution, Yu spent years working on the farm – experiencing firsthand the seasonal cycles of Nature and enjoying the rhythms of the countryside.His father instilled in him the ethos that every piece of land must be productive. City parks – the closest many urban dwellers get to the refreshment of Nature – seem to Yu to be a contradiction in terms. They appear to be about the natural world but in fact almost everything in Chinese public parks is unnatural. The plants have been cultivated for beauty rather than fertility, and so are sterile and can bear no fruit. Many of the trees and popular flowers planted – like roses for example – are not native to China and so require constant watering to survive, thus exacerbating China’s problems with drought. Yu likens this highly-managed garden aesthetic to the old Chinese obsession with tiny, bound feet. In contrast, in his park designs this “little feet” aesthetic is rejected in favour of “messy nature” – where native plants, trees and bushes that bear fruit and take little management are planted rather than sterile flowers.
Yu takes his passion for Nature a step further – with his “sponge city” concept. An idea that originated in the US, it resonated instantly with Yu. China suffers from drought, flash floods and water pollution and Yu believes “sponge city” design can help mitigate all three problems, simply by working hand in hand with Nature. Quzhou park in Zhejiang province is part of a large-scale “sponge city” project on the river Wu, one of 16 pilot projects across China. First, the team demolished the concrete flood barriers that had bordered the river and replaced them with earth banks, into which they cut terraces. These natural flood defences have the effect of slowing down floodwaters. Concrete flood barriers tend to speed floodwater up, increasing the danger of flash flooding downsteam. The earthen terraces absorb rising floodwater slowly, and then, like a sponge, release it in times of drought. The new recreational parks along the river were designed – in Yu’s words – to “make friends with the flood.” Rather than trying to keep the floodwater out of the park, Yu’s design has a network of high level walkways and bridges that enable people to enjoy the park even when it is inundated by the river. What’s more, every time the parks get flooded, the soil is enriched by sediment washed in from the river which helps the plants flourish. Unlike imported park plants, these local species need little help to survive. In fact, many of the native reeds that Yu has planted on the riverbank have an additional benefit – the ability to cleanse the river water of pollution. After generations of flood, drought and pollution, this sustainable landscape design is beginning to restore the balance to rivers and to the cities on their banks.
This blog is taken from an indepth article on China’s Green Revolution, originally written by China Icons for China Eye Magazine
It’s nearly time to celebrate everyone’s favourite Panda triplets reaching their second birthday! The famous trio, Meng Meng, Shuai Shuai and Ku Ku, are the oldest surviving Giant Panda triplets in history! The adorable siblings were born in Chimelong Safari Park in Beijing to Mum Ju Xiao on July 29th 2014. To build up to the big day (will it top last year’s?), here’s 7 facts that will make you love the black and white bears even more!
7 Facts that will make you love Giant Pandas even more
1. Giant Panda in Mandarin (大熊猫Dà xióngmāo) literally translates to ‘Big Bear Cat’
2. Giant Pandas spend on average two-thirds of their day feeding and the remainder resting. Sounds like a great weekend to me!
3. Pandas don’t use a specific resting place to sleep, but simply lie down on the ground wherever they happen to be.
4. When first born, Panda cubs are about the length of a pencil and the weight of an orange! These tiny cubs are only 1/900th the size of their mother.
5. Cubs don’t open their eyes until they are at least six weeks old.
6. Unlike most other bears, Pandas do not hibernate. This means we get to love them ALL YEAR ROUND!
7. Giant Pandas have distinct personalities. Of the triplets, Meng Meng, the eldest, is the quiet one. Shuai Shuai is VERY cheeky. The youngest panda, Ku Ku, is very chilled, but makes it very clear when he’s not enjoying something.
Has it worked, do you love them EVEN MORE or are you such a fan that you already knew all these facts? Have you got any more great ones to share? Let us know in the comments below!
Keep your eyes peeled for some exclusive footage of the cuddly cuties coming soon from China Icons! Subscribe HERE
The images we see of China on the news – and even in documentaries – are nearly always of the populous, fast-modernising eastern plains and seaboard: the great urban centres of Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. These are cities with bristling skylines, lit up at night with vivid neon displays, where traffic roars 24/7 and commuters and consumers hurry to work and to play. This is certainly where the majority of Chinese people live – or aspire to live. And it’s the economic engine of the country. But there is another China that many visitors miss entirely. The fact is China is vast. Beijing to Guangzhou takes 8 hours, and that’s on a high speed train whizzing at 300km/hour. To travel from Shanghai on the East Coast to Kashgar in the West takes over seven hours on a plane – that’s the same as flying from Europe to the USA!
And many parts of China are so cold in the winter; or so mountainous; or so inhospitable that travelling is quite hard, even today. It was only in 2013 that the last county in China was connected to the national road network. Before 2013, the only way to reach Motuo was on foot, 10 hours over a mountain pass.
So that’s why I love this timelapse video. It gives a tiny glimpse of China’s geographical variety – and makes me dream where I might visit next…
Up in the far north, where the Heilongjiang river marks the border with Russia, people cope with Minus 40 degrees in mid winter and hack holes in the river ice to catch fish to vary their diet. nearly 4000km to the south, Hainan island is a total contrast – a tropical paradise. Inland, karst geology makes for giant caves and fantastical rocky outcrops, all draped with jungle vegetation; while along the coastline, holiday-makers surf and scuba-dive and locals fish and make sea salt in giant natural salt-pans of volcanic basalt.
High up on the Tibetan plateau in an area known as Khampa, locals race their sturdy mountain ponies – that were once the basis of trade between Lhasa and the lowlands. Tea from Yunnan especially, and from Darjeeling in India, was compressed into “bricks” and transported on people’s backs up onto the plateau. On the return journey, they brought sturdy mountain ponies, in demand for their sure-footedness and their endurance.
In south-west China, over more than a thousand years, locals have sculpted terraces from the hillsides to grow rice.
The terraced fields need to be kept full of water or there will be landslides, so they have created an extraordinary system of water management that ensures every field on the mountain side is kept irrigated at just the right level. This method of rice growing also contains a virtuous ecological circle. Fish swim in the rice paddy water alongside the seedlings, eating insects; while ducks eat the smaller fish and fertilise the soil with their waste.
My first experience of Zhang Ziyi’s work in film was her role as Hu Li, the henchwoman to the villainous Ricky Tan, in buddy-cop, East-meets-West action-comedy Rush Hour 2 (2001). Because of this, I was the most excited member of the team when Zhang Ziyi agreed to give China Icons an exclusive interview. What’s more, she even persuaded Director John Woo to come chat to us as well!
Holding her own against Jackie Chan during many scenes of cinematic kung fu fighting put her on the radar for many viewers, but most were unaware that this was only her first foray into American cinema. In her home country of China, she was already a box office sensation!
Ziyi played the role of Jen in Ang Lee’s hauntingly beautiful Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), a film which achieved international success unprecedented since its release. It actually still holds the 1st place for highest grossing foreign language film! Praised for its rich story, interesting characters and iconic, unconventional action sequences, Crouching Tiger holds a special place in the history of cinema.
Whilst not the leading lady of Crouching Tiger, Zhang still shone through as one to watch as she lit up the screen with her presence, opposite co-stars Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh. A string of successful roles in both Chinese and American produced films, such as House of Flying Daggers (2004) and Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) has resulted in Zhang being regarded as one of the most bankable actresses from China of the 2000s.
In recent times Zhang has moved beyond cinema screens to a number of influential positions outside of acting. In addition to being a Global Ambassador for the Special Olympics and spokeswoman for Chinese foster-care program “Care for Children”, she also took on a judge and mentor role in X Factor: China’s Strongest Voice’s male singer category.
Prior to the release of Hong Kong director John Woo’s The Crossing (2014), Zhang Ziyi held awards for The Grandmaster (2013), Hero (2003) House of Flying Daggers (2004), Forever Enthralled (2009) as well an award for Outstanding Contribution to Chinese Cinema from the 11th Shanghai International Film Festival.
This is the Five-hundred-metre Aperture Spherical Telescope (F.A.S.T for short), or at least it will be when it’s completed in September this year.
This silver giant in remote Guizhou Province is the world’s largest Radio Telescope, eclipsing the previous title-holder by THREE TIMES its size. This means that the paraboloid reflective dish will be able to detect signals 1000 light-years away, enabling scientists to see three times further than ever before.
What is it searching for? Well, for starters, the telescope will be looking for ancient signals of hydrogen to try to understand how the universe evolved. It will also be on the look out for never-before-seen stars, and of course, extra terrestrial life. What will we find when we look further into space than ever before? Will existing theories about the origins of the universe be confirmed or thrown into confusion? Am I going to get to meet E.T.?!
The telescope comes as part of a tide of innovation coming from China, which includes world-leading advances in A.I, driverless cars and even eye transplants. To get a visual example of this rapid technological advances, look at the development of Shenzhen over the last 40 years, from small fishing village to a rival for Silicon Valley!
The country that invented the compass, papermaking, printing and gunpowder is definitely experiencing a Scientific revival, and I’m excited to find out what the future holds.
The first time I was aware of a people called the Miao was in Yunnan in South-west China. My partner and I had been in China for only 6 months, as volunteer English teachers in Henan province on the great Yellow River plain. And – come the Spring Festival holiday – we had fled that flat, red-grey wintery landscape for the mountains and sunshine of Yunnan.We’d found ourselves in a magical, white-washed small town with a turquoise lake, wild flowering azalea bushes and spiky mountains all around. One day we caught a tractor ride to a market, a few miles outside town. On a bare mountain-side, we witnessed thousands of people, mostly from different Chinese minority nationalities, converging from all directions, with woven baskets on their backs, or driving animals before them. The market was noisy with activity of every kind and everyone seemed in a good mood.
As we moved among the traders and the shoppers, trying not to stare too much at the beautiful traditional dress most women were wearing, some with colourful tasselled headdresses and white smocks, others all in indigo blue – we noticed some women who were selling embroidered textiles. The colours were extraordinary – shocking pink, vibrant green, bold yellow, all stitched on a background of dark blue. The style was unlike anything we had ever seen – a kind of mixture of surrealist shapes, pop art colours and 17th century stump work. I know now that these women were Miao, and that the Miao are famous for their embroidery, as well as for their jewellery-making and their music.
My husband immediately spotted a shoulder bag that was exceptionally colourful and was a complex design of flowers and birds. I thought it was our terrible Mandarin, or the fact we were more or less the only foreigners at the market, but as we bargained, the women selling the embroidered bags were convulsed with laughter. They were giggling and talking to each other non-stop; and when we finally concluded the deal and my husband hung the bag over his shoulder and walked away, they could barely contain themselves for laughing.
Walking behind him through the bustling crowd, I discovered that he was having the same effect on everyone. Stall-holders and shoppers; men, women and girls – everyone stopped in mid-sentence, stared, and then became helpless with laughter, as he went by.
It was only later that we learnt how each Miao embroidery design is deeply symbolic. The designs tell stories from Miao history and folklore; and the women also stitch new designs, making sense with their needles of more recent events. We also learnt that certain motifs and designs are only appropriate for women, some only for unmarried girls. I guess the colourful shoulder-bag my husband bought was one of the latter.
Photo-blogger Fiona Reilly from Nanchang Lu joined China Icons on a special assignment to find out more about Miao embroidery…
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