News and Travel Editor
Let’s kick off with highlights from June.
- Over 9 million students across China took on the infamous Gaokao exam this month. The two day exam is the ONLY way for students to gain access to Universities across China.Want to see if you’d pass? Have a go here http://ow.ly/iFqI300Y3Uk
- The Dragon Boat Festival fell in June this year. The festival celebrates the life and death of Poet Qu Yuan. Locals paddled in boats to him after he committed suicide,inspiring the Dragon Boat Racing we know and love today.
- Theme parks have made big news this month, with Disneyland Shanghai and Wanda Cultural Tourism City in Nanchang going head to head. Disneyland Shanghai promises to be different to existing Magic Kingdoms, and news has spread of some of the incredible technology on display at the park.
- Great news for Panda lovers, the world’s first Giant Panda Twin Sisters have been born in Chengdu Congrats to Mum, Yali!
- In the world of film, huge box office success in China has helped make ‘Warcraft’ the highest grossest video game movie of all time (over $378million taken so far)
- It’s been a busy month in the world of science, too. Chinese Scientists are turning plastic pollution into fuel! http://ow.ly/fSdt301tSUp .
- China has begun a six month long human experiment to prepare for life in space! http://ow.ly/R5az301mwIg
- Science and Buddhism unite with Xian’er, the robot who chants mantras and answers your questions http://ow.ly/En91300KWS8
News and Travel Editor
Students across China can breathe a sigh of relief now that they are safely free from the dreaded Gaokao exam. The Chinese education system in the largest in the world, and over 9 million students sit the Gaokao every year.
As stories about the exam have littered social media, we thought we’d answer your questions about the famously difficult college entry exam.
What does Gaokao mean?
‘Gaokao’ roughly translates as ‘high test’.
What is the Gaokao?
It is an exam that students across China take once a year and acts as the sole determinant to most Chinese Universities and Colleges. Yikes!
How long does it last?
The Gaokao lasts 9 hours – twice as long as the SAT in the USA – spread over 3 days.
Is the Gaokao a big deal in China?
The Gaokao is a HUGE deal. The test is a national event – roads are closed, construction is halted and some taxi drivers even give students free rides to create the best atmosphere for students as possible.
Who takes it, and how many people pass?
Students take it in their final year of secondary education. There are minimum Gaokao requirements for each of China’s universities, with roughly two-thirds the amount of spaces as there are students taking the Gaokao.
What is ON the Gaokao?
Chinese, maths and a foreign language are compulsory. Three other humanities/science subjects are chosen by the student.
Want to have a go? Here are a few example questions that students have faced on the Gaokao in the past.
1) Good families are much to all their members, but______ to none.
2) For hyperbola (x 2 )/(a 2 )-(y 2 )/3=1 (a>0), suppose the eccentricity is 2, then a=?
B. 6 (1/2) /2
C. 5 (1/2) /2
3) Banks charge processing fees and interest when granting loans. They charge
fees because of the services provided, such as account management. The reason
for claiming interest is that
A. Banks are a monopoly
B. Bank credit is higher than commercial credit
C. Capital offered by banks is a factor of production
D. Banks are the hub of smooth production
China’s Green Revolution
On camera, HUANG MING appears a small, softly-spoken man. But beneath this grandfather’s persona lie great ambition and drive. During our interview he jokes about his nickname as ‘the solar energy mad man’. He is, in fact, the founder of one of the world’s most successful solar energy companies.
We meet Huang Ming at the SUN AND MOON BUILDING, the eye-catching centrepiece of SOLAR VALLEY and HQ for his company Himin Solar Energy Group. Huang Ming has spent the last thirty years building both his company and Solar Valley up from scratch. Today, Himin Solar is the world’s biggest producer of solar heaters as well a pioneer in the research and development of other everyday solar products. Goldman Sachs is among the company’s investors.
Like a proud father, Huang Ming lights up when he talks about the Sun and Moon building, describing it as one of his favourite buildings. It is an impressive, white semi-circular structure – its shape inspired by the pictographic characters for sun and moon. At night, photovoltaic powered LEDs light up its exterior, and inside, the hot water, heating, refrigeration is all solar-powered. The glass has been specially developed by Himin to insulate, capture natural light and provide sound-proofing. Across Dezhou, this impressive record continues. It has become a hub for green innovation, described by the International Solar Cities Congress as a ‘centre of gravity for renewable technologies’. The city hosts what Huang Ming believes to be the world’s first solar energy factory roof. Integrated solar thermal or photo-voltaic technology are in 95% of new buildings and solar water heater use in Dezhou exceeds 3 million square metres, approximately equal to the total amount installed in the EU and twice that of the US, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency.
More than 300km away, Himin’s technologies are also used in Beijing to power Mao Zedong’s Mausoleum. And across China, half the population use solar energy, making up 76% of the world’s solar consumption
But 30 years ago, it was all very different. Huang Ming worked in the oil industry and the Dezhou area was farmland. The 80s was a decade that changed Huang Ming’s life.
In 1985, recently married, Huang Ming took his new wife to his grandmother’s home in Wuxi, on the journey regaling her with tales of the beauty of the city’s Tai Lake. But when they arrived, the lake was dank, black, and smelly. Huang Ming was stung by the disappointment of his new bride, as well as the loss of this natural beauty.
The birth of his daughter followed several years after and Huang Ming became anxious about how her life would be without fossil fuel and clear skies. With the support of his wife, he decided to plough his savings and time into solar energy research. And so began his dream to create Solar Valley.
As Huang Ming shows us round Dezhou in his green, company boiler jacket, he talks about his dreams for China. He is the first to admit that the innovations at Solar Valley might not always be the best, but they are the first. His Sun and Moon Mansion uses 10% of the energy used in conventional buildings. “Imagine, “ he says, “if electricity consumption could be cut to 10% of what we use today, we could solve environmental problems like pollution and the energy crisis.”
So, can China prosper AND step away from renewables?
The solar energy entrepreneurs in Dezhou generate an annual turnover of more than $3 billion USD.
News and Travel Editor
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
News and Travel Editor
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.