Romance is sure to be in the air all over China tomorrow as the Qixi festival, also known as Chinese Valentine’s day, celebrations get underway.
In the city, shops will be packed to the brim with cards, beautiful flowers, heart shaped chocolates and a range of gifts for young lovers to exchange, much like a Western Valentine’s day. Restaurants will be heaving with romantic dates and cinemas will be full of young couples enjoying each others company.
But the tragic story behind this festival is very different to the tale of love and happiness that many young Chinese adults – like people all over the world – yearn for in their lives.
Venture further into rural China and you will notice the very different and traditional festivities taking place, all with origins in the mythology surrounding the Qixi festival. Though many of the traditions are less likely to take place within larger cities, the story behind the festival is still passed between generations, and most people in China know the legend well.
The festival originates from ancient Chinese folklore which depicts the forbidden love between a cowherd and a weaver girl and her disapproving mother.
Legend has it that the young cowherd, Niulang, who was poor but kind-hearted and an orphan, lived with his elder brother and sister-in-law, who were cruel to him and threw him out of the house. He thus lived by himself as a farmer and cattle herder.
The weaver girl, named Zhinü, was a fairy from heaven, the seventh daughter of a Goddess. She fell in love with the cowherd and descended from heaven to marry him, without the knowledge of her mother. The weaver girl and the cowherd were very happy and loved each other very much. They soon bore two children.
However, when the Goddess learnt that her daughter, a fairy, had married a mere mortal, she was furious and sent celestial soldiers to force Zhinü back to heaven. Niulang, heartbroken, was surprised when one of his oxen spoke to him and told him to slaughter the ox and wear its hide to get into heaven.
Through bitter tears, Niulang killed the ox and he and his children put on its hide – hoping to get to heaven and be reunited with his wife and their mother. But the Goddess would not allow it, and on his arrival she took her hairpin and slashed a river in the sky to separate the lovers so that they could only see each other from opposite banks.
The tears of the couple attracted the pity of all of the magpies in the world, who flew to the river and created a bridge so that the lovers could be together again. The Goddess, moved by their loyalty to love, allowed for the magpies to come once a year, so that Zhinü and Niulang could spend a single night together on the seventh day of the seventh month.
There are some Qixi festival traditions which date back around 2000 years and are still practiced across rural China today…
1. Practicing dexterity
Young single women would traditionally showcase their dexterity by threading a needle by moonlight and carving exotic shapes, animals and flowers into fruit to symbolise their good skills as a potential wife.
2. Making offerings to and worshipping Zhinü
Traditionally, young Chinese women visit their local temple and pray to Zhinü, offering her fruit, flowers and beauty powder in the hope that she will help them to find their own husbands.
3. Hanging wild flowers on oxen horns
Children collect wild flowers and hang them on oxen horns in honour of the Niulang’s noble ox who sacrifices himself for the couple’s love.
4. Bidding farewell to the celestial couple (newly weds)
Newly weds traditionally, on this day, worship and say goodbye to Zhinü and Niulang, symbolising a happy marriage and acceptance of the woman into her new family.
According to some folklore, Niulang represents the star Altair and Zhinü represents the star Vega, with the river created by the Goddess representing the milky way. Traditionally, on the night of Chinese Valentine’s Day, the Chinese look to the sky for the stars Vega and Altair shining in the Milky Way, with a third star forming a bridge between the two.
Looking for a way to surprise someone you love? Why not try Beijing’s clown-flower-delivery-man!
Is it possible to be a Vegan in China? You may be travelling to China for the first time and worried about your options, or could just be curious to know if it’s possible. It’s true that it can be a challenge to maintain a Vegan diet on your trip to China, but it is definitely possible and we’ve got a lot of tips to help.
How to tell people you are a vegan
The first thing you need to know is how to tell other people that you are a Vegan. There is no direct translation, which can be a bit frightening! However, don’t panic. What is often recommended instead is the phrase ‘Wǒ chī sù’, meaning ‘I eat vegetables’. Check out the pronunciation here.
What to watch out for
In China, most cooking stocks are made from meat, and meat is added to just about everything.
When you’re eating out, be aware that the further away you venture from tourist hotspots, the less likely you are to find English translations on the menu. In a similar vein, being in a big city means that vegetarian restaurants and cafes are more frequently available, such as this fine-dining restaurant in Beijing.
Don’t assume that most Buddhists in China are Vegan or Vegetarian. Some temples DO have Vegetarian restaurants attached but certainly not all.
Make sure to bring snacks on Chinese Airlines, as you’re unlikely to be offered a Vegan option on the plane.
Keep an eye out for…
Fruits and Vegetables
We could be here all day, so I’ll just mention a few of my favourites. Star fruit, lychees, rambutan, jackfruit and baked sweet corn are all delicious and easily available from markets and street food vendors.
Tofu needs a whole blog to itself, as it’s so versatile and a staple in the diet of Chinese vegans and non-vegans alike.The Chinese have been cooking with Tofu since the Han dynasty, 2,000 years ago. Enjoy it crispy and fried, spicy Szechuan-Style, or Kung-Pao style with rice and vegetables.
You Tiao/Dough Sticks
Delicious long golden-brown deep-fried strips of dough served with Soy milk. Just be sure to check what the strips are fried in before tucking in!
The varieties here are infinite. Of course, many varieties of hot pot do contain meat and meat stocks – but there are so many veggie-filled vegan examples to satisfy even the pickiest taste-buds. Get it hot and spicy or keep things mild – it’s up to you! At a hot pot restaurant, you order the ingredients and cook it all yourself in a boiling broth at the table. Make sure to specify that you need vegetable stock, and it becomes a great way to guarantee that no animal-based ingredients managed to sneak in.
A silky rice porridge that is a breakfast staple in Chinese homes. Have it plain with some side dishes, or add vegetables like mushrooms, edamame, and pak choi. In restaurants, sweet versions are often the safest bet for a Vegan dish.
Noodles are a great option, as you can point at what vegetables you would like with them. However, be aware that often the soup they will be served in is Chicken or Beef. If you want to make noodles for yourself, check out this video.
A personal favourite of mine, I couldn’t bare to leave them off the list. Crispy, packed with vegetables and dipped into a sweet-chilli sauce is how I like them.
Green Pea Pudding
The only dessert on the list, this traditional sweet pudding is eaten like candy with toothpicks or served with afternoon tea. Also known as Pea Cubes or Pea Jelly Squares.
Haggling for the first time in China can seem a bit daunting. Remember, it is expected by vendors, so there’s no need to feel awkward or embarrassed. With these tips, you’ll be ready and prepared to hit the markets, just like Hyper-Trypsy in today’s video.
When Can I Haggle?
It’s important to know when to haggle and when not to.
Haggling is a big part of shopping in China, but it is not acceptable everywhere. You should always barter with street vendors, at open air markets and in small, independent shops.
In large shops or chain stores, department stores or supermarkets it is not acceptable to haggle.
You cannot usually negotiate on price in restaurants, the only exception is if you are in a large group.
How do I prepare?
Before you start haggling, walk around the market/store and do some mental price comparisons.
Have a look at different stalls where you can buy similar items – being able to say that you can buy the same thing for less nearby will help you get the price down.
Remember that the marked prices may be well above the seller’s actual minimum price.
Make sure you’ve got small denomination notes and plenty of change.
Set yourself a limit of how much you’re willing to spend
How do I haggle?
Don’t be afraid to start low – far below what you’re actually willing to play. The vendor may act insulted, but don’t worry – it’s all part of the drama of the process.
Act like you’re not bothered. This is a top tip, the keener you are, the more resistant a seller will be to lower the price. If they think you’re definitely going to take it, they’ll be less inclined to lower the price to tempt you.
Don’t be afraid to walk away. If the price is still too high for you, just leave. Hopefully, the seller will call you back to negotiate further. If not, just try somewhere else!
Use a calculator to show the vendor how much you are offering if they cannot understand you. Most vendors always have one handy for this exact purpose.
What surprised me the first time I was in a small Chinese market was that, in China, people count on their hands differently from in Europe. Have a look at the illustration below to famil
What do I say?
Knowing a little local language goes a long way and sets you apart from other tourists. Try memorising these four phrases to help you haggle.
Duō shǎo qián? – how much money.
Jià gé – price, cost.
Tài gui le! – too expensive!
Pian Yi Dian – Make it cheaper
If you want to see travel and tech blogger HyperTrypsy having a go at haggling for Coco’s Kitchen, check out the video below. If you have any questions or any top tips for haggling in China, let us know in the comments!
July 28th 2016 is the 40th anniversary of one of the most devastating natural events to hit the world in modern times. A shallow earthquake of magnitude 7.8 struck China. Though felt across 14 Chinese provinces, it was in the city of Tangshan, not far from Beijing, that the effects were most severe. It was an industrial city of a million people and when the earthquake struck at midnight, the city was sleeping. Within a matter of moments hospitals, dormitories, factories, housing blocks were reduced to rubble. The official death toll was 242,000 dead and 164,000 severely injured.
Twenty years after the earthquake, in 1996, I was part of a team that travelled to Tangshan to make a documentary about the earthquake for viewers in the US and UK. Our focus was very much on the science of earthquakes – why this earthquake was so unusual and so devastating, and whether earthquakes can ever be predicted in a way that is useful for communities living in earthquake zones.
But what I remember most about Tangshan was meeting the people who had lived through the earthquake; how those few seconds had changed their lives and how they had worked to rebuild their lives and their community in the years that followed. We met a music professor in his 50s, who had written a symphony inspired by his experiences, and who played the theme for us, with passion and emotion, on an upright piano in his small living room. On the day before the earthquake, his family had moved house – a reward for his first wife’s commitment and skill as a teacher. Exhausted from a day of moving possessions and furniture, he had fallen asleep early, with his two children, one on either side. Only he survived that night. His wife and children died in the rubble of their new home. As the music ended, and we all sat silent, tears in our eyes, the professor’s wife appeared in the doorway with a giant cake. It was the birthday of one of the crew, and they wanted to celebrate the moment with us.
The next day we filmed Mr Wang, an unassuming man in his early forties who, on the day of the earthquake, had been in hospital. His young wife – her name meant “Golden Phoenix” – had come to keep him company there and, as the bed next to his was empty, she’d lain down to catch some sleep. When the earthquake struck, the hospital building collapsed and she was pinned down by concrete and girders where she lay. Wang tried desperately to reach her. He moved plaster and masonry with his bare hands but eventually he couldn’t move anything more. They could just touch the tips of their fingers through a crack in the rubble. Gradually, as day dawned, and then darkness fell; and then another day dawned, and another night fell, all the voices in the ward fell silent, including that of his beloved Golden Phoenix. On the eighth day, Wang heard the sounds of rescuers digging nearby and summoning all his strength he shouted out to them that he was still alive. He was the last survivor to be pulled alive from the wreckage of Tangshan.
In the months and years after the earthquake, the authorities acted as matchmaker for the thousands of widows, and widowers in the city, men like the professor and Mr Wang; and tried to find foster parents for the thousands of orphaned children.
Mr Wang took us to an atmospheric place – a factory building, left exactly as it was the day of the earthquake, a ghostly place of twisted girders, fallen masonry and broken walls. In the centre of Tangshan we filmed survivors at a memorial to those who died; and as dusk fell, we filmed as families came out into the open square around it to relax. Small children clutched balloons; fathers and sons flew kites. Today the city has been rebuilt and there’s an impressive new memorial, a snaking wall with the thousands of names of those who died engraved on it. On Qing Ming it is hung with flowers.
We went to many places when we were making that science series, places all over the world where people had suffered terrible natural disasters – volcanic eruptions, tsunami, hurricanes, tornadoes. But Tangshan seemed different. It felt to me as if the people there had taken a very dignified decision: they refused to pretend this enormous tragedy hadn’t struck their community – but equally, they refused to let themselves been defined or destroyed by it.
I am so excited about this week’s new video because I think it might be my favourite one yet. It feels extra special to me because we get to celebrate the birthday of not one, not two but THREE incredibly cute pandas. The Triplets of Chimelong are the oldest (and only!) surviving triplets EVER!
Why is this a big deal? Firstly, there are only 1800 Pandas left in the world. Secondly, in the wild, a mother can only raise one cub, meaning that in the wild only 2/3 cubs would have survived to adulthood! Thanks to the researchers at Chimelong, the three Pandas are now celebrating their second birthday. It’s great to watch them grow up over the space of this video from being pale, pink and the size of an orange to the recognizable Panda we know and love.
I loved learning more about the Pandas’ personalities as they grow up! Meng Meng, the oldest and only female, is the quiet one, and the chubbiest as she is the least active! Next comes Shuai Shuai who’s a lot more mischievous and loves to wrestle with his siblings. Ku Ku is more chilled, but him and Shuai Shuai keep each other trim through lots of play fighting!
I spend quite a lot of time using my job as an excuse to look at Panda photos (evidence: my favourite past blog) but I was really surprised to come across facts that I hadn’t discovered before. My favourite being that the Mama Pandas carries the newborn cubs in her mouth to keep them safe and warm.
It is so lovely seeing the Pandas’ affection for each other and for the researchers who work so hard to help the species survive in the future. I wish there was a Panda who wanted to follow me every time I try to leave work!
Every month, China Icons collates the most exciting and surprising news stories from China. So, what’s been happening in July?
‘Tap and Ride’ app Uber has unveiled plans to roll out hot air balloon and boat travel in China. These new services are part of ‘Uber+Travel’ and are released at a time of fierce competition with rival company Didi.
China surpassed the US to become the world leader in the mobile gaming market. Market research company App Annie suggest this is likely a result of a growth of multiplayer collaborative games.
Drivers raced from approximately 6000km from Moscow to Bejing for the Silk Way Rally , where Cyril Despres and David Castera (Peugeot DKR 2008) were crowed champions.
Loretta Yang , a Chinese Film star, left acting to pursue ancient art of liu li, also known as Chinese glassmaking
A Giant Statue of Guan Yu, the ancient Chinese ‘God of War’, has been completed in Hubei. The structure towers at 90ft tall and weighs over 1,320 tonnes.
China is heading to Mars for 2020. Or, at least, that’s the plan – to orbit Mars, land and deploy a rover – all in one mission.
The world’s first smart car has arrived from Alibaba in China! It will be available from August, and allows the driver to automatically pay for fuel, parking, and tolls, and recommend vehicle settings and destinations for each individual occupant.
More football stars have joined the Chinese Super-league, including former Southampton player Pelle and Brazilian forward Hulk.
Mr Suo from Chengdu won a chilli eating competition in Lijiang, Yunnan province, by eating 47 chilli peppers in 2 minutes. Why anyone chose to enter, we can only guess.
Remember Jia Jia? Sure you do – she’s the one with the glassy eyes and the stern face, who keeps popping up on your social media feeds. No, this is not your ex-girlfriend from hell. This is China’s latest innovation in artificial intelligence, and has been hailed as the first interactive robot.
I knew it would only be a matter of time before we would once again be talking tech.
So back to Jia Jia. Jia Jia is a humanoid robot who can talk – she refers to her creators as ‘Lord’ – can make different facial expressions and moves her arms. She was developed over a mere 3 year period by a team at the University of Science and Technology in Hefei, who plan to expand her emotional repertoire to laughing and crying. Right now, in our humble opinion, she looks like she’s had way too much botox and needs a sense of humour transplant, but that’s exactly where her creators intend to go next – giving robots learning abilities and facial recognition so that their interactions with us mere mortals can become more natural.
But why exactly does Jia Jia exist and should we be worried?
Firstly, forget the end-of the-world films you’ve seen where robots seek to dominate the human race and take over the world. Sure there are serious ethical dilemmas to be considered – one expert believes that we could be marrying robots by 2050 – but behind the scenes and in less glamorous areas of life than our love-life, we already rely on robots and that will only increase, especially in China.
Last year, China unveiled a national 10 year plan, known as ‘Made in China 2025’ focusing on making its manufacturing industry the best in the world. Robotics is one of 10 industries specifically mentioned in the plan.
That’s because, although China is already the world’s largest market for robotics, the robots are predominantly used in the automotive industry only. The city of Wuhu for example is tipped to become the first to truly embrace driverless cars.
But other areas of industry are yet to catch up and that’s when the big boost in robotics will come – when robots are used in everything from creating home appliances to pharmaceuticals. One newspaper recently reported how in one factory, 9 robotics now do the job of 140 fulltime workers with the company reportedly seeking more ways to replace humans with robots.
Nevertheless I continue to be fascinated by China’s development in robots with artificial intelligence and here’s my favourite example – Beijing’s Robot Monk.
Standing at 2 foot tall and called Xian’er, this robot was developed by monks at Beijing’s 500 year old Longquan Buddist Temple to answer questions about Buddhism and the meaning of life for a 21st century audience.
China is famous for inventions. Gunpowder, paper, printing and the marine compass are often regarded as the four great inventions of Ancient China. Kites, umbrellas, toilet paper and ketchup are some less well-known examples of Chinese innovation.
In this week’s upload, we are joined by tech and travel blogger Hyper Trypsy as he investigates the latest invention-making waves in the tech scene in China and around the world, augmented reality glasses. Hyper Trypsy is invited to explore Beijing based tech company Alto Tech and try on their Cool Glasses.
The glasses will cost between $280 and $430, much cheaper than other Augmented Reality glasses on the market. The wearable tech allows you to text, make calls, navigate, take photos and even record HD video. A touchpad on the side allows users to control the device by swiping through an interface displayed on the screen. The glasses can also be controlled using voice recognition.
What’s the future for augmented reality and wearable tech? Alto Tech believe that their affordable headsets will make what once seemed a novelty become essential to everyday life. Imagine being able to read recipes as you cook, get directions whilst taking in the views and record a special moment without watching it through a screen. Hyper Trypsy puts the glasses to the test on the Great Wall of China and gives us his verdict. Would you want them on your next trip? Let us know in the comments below!
Most people are familiar with the landmarks of Beijing, but what are the other must-sees that locals would recommend? We’ve rounded up our top tips to help you live like a local during your stay in Beijing.
If you want a green way to get around Beijing, why not hire a bicycle? Skip the traffic and head up the backstreets to take in the sights and sounds of the city in between your destinations.
Get up early and join in “morning exercise” at any city park – line dancing, ballroom dancing, Chinese opera, tai-chi, badminton, aerobics, martial arts of all kinds …There’s something for everyone.
Hou Hai Lake – ‘Back Lake’ – is the largest of the three lakes of the Shichahai area of central Beijing, and is a great place to cool off on a hot day. The man-made lake has beautiful views, and there’s plenty of places to grab some food or a drink to sit down and enjoy them.
We can’t discuss Beijing and not talk about Food. Make sure you head to Gulou and try mantou (steamed bread) fresh out of its bamboo steamer. Apparently Beijing Duck tastes better in Beijing than anywhere else, so try it the traditional way with pancakes, cucumbers and Hoisin sauce to see for yourself! Hotpot, with fresh vegetables and hand-pulled noodles, is not to be missed. For a less traditional eating experience, stop by the Cat Cafe for cuddles with your coffee.
Jingshan Park dates from the Ming dynasty and its design is based on the principles of fengshui, with a hill to protect the Forbidden City from northern winds. Its Wanchun Pavilion is the highest point in Beijing. It’s the best place to get a bird’s eye view of the Forbidden City and at sunset on a clear day you get a great view of the spiky mountains that surround Beijing to the West and North.
Karaoke bars, known by locals as KTV, are huge in China. So huge, there’s over 100,000 karaoke bars in total. Do as the locals do and have a go to see what the fuss is all about.
Be a part of Beijing’s history by walking down Qianmen Street. The 600 year old pedestrian street is full of shops and restaurants. You can visit China’s oldest brands and learn more about traditional silks and shoes. On Chinese Public holidays, you can hop on the tram to get a lift from the top to the bottom! Turn off the main street to experience the narrow alleyways of a vibrant traditional hutong. This area was once the haunt of Beijing’s artistes and performers, and it’s still got a lively, bustling feel with tiny restaurants and atmospheric wine shops.
798 Art District is the site of Beijing’s most-established modern art scene. The “District” is in fact a complex of decommissioned buildings, filled with a diverse selection of ambitious exhibits. Cycle ten minutes to the North, and you reach Caochangdi, an up-and-coming art community that some insiders say is beginning to rival 798 for innovation and creativity.
One of the most peaceful and beautiful ancient sites in Beijing is the Confucius Temple. Among the elegant buildings are dozens of standing stones, with the carved names of every single person who passed the Imperial examinations – stretching back hundreds of years. These highly-educated officials were the backbone of the Chinese administration from the 600s until the examination’s abolition in 1905.
Take a ride on Metro line Number 8. Built for the 2008 Olympics, each station’s decoration is unique and matches what’s going on above ground. Ride North to the huge Olympic Forest park with its lake, hills and trees, and then walk slowly back into the city via the Olympic Green, site of the iconic Bird’s Nest stadium and Water Cube.
Get more top tips from Beijinger Lee as he shows you his top tips for a weekend in Beijing.
Over 90 percent of people in China belong to the Han ethnic group. But I’ve always been fascinated by China’s so-called “Minority Nationalities.” After all, there are around 105 million Chinese people who belong to minority nationalities – which is more than the total population of Vietnam!
So to celebrate the end of Ramadan, a period that is observed by 1.6 billion Muslims around the world and over 21 million Muslims in China, here are some quick facts on Islam in China:
Facts about Muslims in China
Of China’s 55 minority nationalities, about 10 groups are classified as ‘Muslim’, with the largest groups being the Hui people and Uyghurs.
Huimin Street in Xi’an is famous for Muslim street food, such as traditional Uyghur dish yangrou paomo — pita bread soaked in lamb soup.
Muslims live in every region in China, with the highest concentration in Western China’s Gansu, Xinjiang, Yunnan and Qinghai provinces.
Islam was introduced to China almost 1,400 years ago.
Today there are over 20,000 mosques in China, of which one of the most impressive is the Beacon Tower mosque of Guangzhou built in the Tang dynasty, possibly as early as the 7th century, making it one of the oldest mosques in the world.
There are 10 predominantly Muslim ethnic groups in China. These are Hui, Uyghur, Kazakh, Dongxiang, Kyrgyz, Salar, Tajik, Uzbek , Bonan, and Tatar.
China is the only country in the world with a long historical tradition of independent women’s mosques, developed gradually over several centuries.
Halal food is called Qing Zhen Cai in Chinese. Learn how to make some recipes at home here
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