It was not quite what I was expecting. Instead of being packed out with trendy locals, Beijing’s Sanlitun bars were filled with flashes of red and blue. And the Beijingers were chanting – cheering on Portugal and commiserating with France. A usual Sunday night social had been sabotaged by the Euro 2016 final taking place 8000kms away.
In all honesty, I really shouldn’t have been so surprised. In 2007-2008 I was in China’s capital making documentaries in the build up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. It was a time when the whole of China threw its arms around sport in a BIG way. The resulting Games were seen as one of the best ever – Usain Bolt wowed us by breaking the 100m and 200m world records in the iconic Birds Nest Stadium. Michael Phelps claimed a phenomenal 8 gold medals at the Water Cube, China’s National Aquatics Centre. A staggering 40 world records and over 130 Olympic records were smashed and it was all witnessed by millions of people around the globe. Even I managed to get swept away in the 2008 summer of sport. But now it seems that the Chinese have set their sights on football.
Actually, that’s not quite true. Paintings from the 7 th century Tang dynasty show women playing a game that looks suspiciously like soccer and China has had a thriving domestic football scene since the 1990s when the National Football Jia-A League, China’s first professional football league, was launched. Jia-A has since been replaced by the Chinese Super League (CSL), with the best 16 teams from across China competing in a season running from roughly from February/March to November/December.
So far, so good. The problem is that China doesn’t do so well on an international level. The men’s team is 81 st in the FIFA world rankings, having only qualified for one World Cup and having never won the Asian Cup.
Earlier this year, the Chinese Football Association revealed an ambitious strategy to become a world footballing superpower by 2050. And it has backing right from the top – President Xi himself is a self-proclaimed football fan who says he would love China to win the world cup. 20,000 football training centres and 70,000 pitches will be set up, giving 30 million students the chance to try the sport.
But until that generation comes through, there is another solution. Money. Like football clubs all around the world, China’s top teams are owned by the super rich. The appeal of working in this lucrative market has lured across some of the top coaches (Sven Goran Erikson has been in China since 2013). And some $366m was spent during the last transfer window, signing up some of the best players in the world. Striker Jackson Martinez moved from Athletico Madrid to Guangzhou Evergrande and former Chelsea Midfielder Ramires joined Jiangsu Suning.
This is a player so internationally famous, he’s known simply by his first name (his full name is Ramires Santos Do Nascimento). And now he’s playing in China. So why are the Chinese hooked on Euro 2016?
Because the best of the bunch could soon be playing in one of China’s top teams. And could China become a footballing superpower by 2050?
For people in Europe, the Second World War broke out in September 1939 when Germany invaded Poland, triggering a declaration of war from Britain and France. But for people in China, the war against Japan had already been going on for more than two years.
Throughout the 1930s – following Japan’s occupation of Manchuria in 1931 – there were a series of local skirmishes and face-offs in northern China between Chinese and Japanese troops, which never developed into full-scale war. But on July 7th 1937 a Japanese soldier taking part in military manoeuvres not far from Beijing went missing. When the local Chinese commander refused permission for the Japanese to search the near-by town for him, full-scale war began. This key turning-point took place near an ancient bridge named after the famous medieval Italian traveller to China, and so became known as “the Marco Polo incident”.
Within months the Japanese imperial army had swept down through eastern China, seizing big cities like Beijing and Tianjin; then attacking Shanghai and Nanjing, the Nationalist capital.
From the beginning this was total war, where civilians were not only caught up in the fighting, but were singled out as targets. In Nanjing, for example, over six horrific weeks, men, women and children were subjected to a reign of terror from the occupying Japanese troops, where murder, rape and mutilation became routine. Though the statistics of exactly how many people suffered are disputed, it is now thought that between 20,000 and 40,000 women and girls were raped, and official Chinese figures state that up to 300,000 people were killed. One survivor’s harrowing eye witness account is here.
By mid 1938 the Japanese advance towards the Nationalist military HQ at Wuhan seemed unstoppable. Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek determined on a desperate tactic to stem the Japanese advance: he would deliberately smash the dykes that held back the giant Yellow River and flood the land. Historian Liu Hai Yong records that Chiang agonised long and hard over this decision.
He explains what happened next: “The Japanese had cavalry, soldiers, tanks and artillery – all of which were caught in the flood. Hundreds died on the spot. The ones who were trapped in the water were captured by the National Army.”
Those who witnessed these apocalyptic events were permanently marked by what they saw. For, though it worked as a military tactic in the short run, the Yellow River rampaged across millions of square kilometres in three Chinese provinces. The cost for the people living there was appalling: 800,000 died in the floods or soon after from starvation and disease. The Henan famine of 1942-3 was in part the result of the damage the floods had caused – and cost the lives of another two to three million civilians. Wang Yanchun was a teenager, and remembers how families ate bark and leaves to survive. He even saw desperate parents exchanging their children for food: “ If a man wanted a bride, if he could offer some rice or noodles to the family, the parents would give their daughter to him. “ Hear more of his eye witness account here .
By the time war broke out in Europe, the Japanese and Chinese armies had reached a kind of stalemate on the ground in China. The Nationalist government had withdrawn to Chongqing, impregnable in mountainous Sichuan province. The Communists had taken refuge in their remote bases in Shaanxi. The Japanese were in control of the ports and the vast agricultural lands of eastern China. Communist and Nationalist troops harried the Japanese behind the lines with guerrilla-style operations, and millions of Chinese fled from the occupying armies and were now refugees in western China.
The war took a dramatic turn in December 1941 when Japanese planes bombed American ships in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The USA declared war on Japan and soon – for the first time in more than 4 years of full-scale war – the Chinese began to receive direct help from the Allies. This injection of equipment and other supplies in part enabled them to keep 600,000 Japanese troops, which might otherwise have been able to fight the Allies in south-east Asia and in the Pacific, busy in China.
Food and military supplies from the Allies to support the Chinese war effort began arriving into Kunming in south-west China via a perilous mountain route – known as the Burma road – that had been built by Chinese men, women and children in the late 30s. This road was China’s lifeline once the country’s seaports were all in the hands of the Japanese Imperial army.
Then, in 1942 the advancing Japanese Army cut the Burma road. The consequences for the war effort in China could have been dire, so the decision was made for the world’s biggest airlift to begin. Between 1942 and 1945, American air crew delivered 700,000 tons of essential guns, fuel and other supplies over the Himalayas – ‘the Hump” – to troops in China. The Americans joked that their planes were “flying coffins” – for they were ill-equipped for the task of flying over the highest mountain range on Earth and if anything went wrong, there was nowhere to land and no hope of rescue. As trainee pilot Dai Zhi Jin recalls: “What made the Hump flights dangerous was that you couldn’t make a mistake – or you would lose your life.” This airlift came at a high price: nearly 600 aircraft and 1500 lives were lost.
Even with supplies trickling in through the mountains, conditions in China were still desperate. The civilians of Chongqing, many of whom were refugees fleeing the fighting, were bombed relentlessly. In the parts of central China damaged by the Yellow River flooding millions were on the brink of starvation. Malnutrition and famine stalked the country.
It was essential for the Chinese war effort that the Burma road was reopened. So from 1943, Chinese troops attempted to drive the Japanese out of Yunnan as the first stage of that campaign. (Watch a shocking eyewitness account of this campaign here ). With limited support from the Allies, and fighting across difficult mountainous terrain, cut through by roaring rivers, the Chinese Expeditionary Force focused first on the border town of Tengchong, and then on the Japanese force holding Mount Song. Fighting was fierce and prolonged, and many men on both sides died in this bitter battle to control the Burma road. Eventually the vital life-line between India and China was reopened in January 1945.
As the Expeditionary Force was slowly driving Japanese troops out of south-west China and northern Burma, further east, the biggest single offensive of the entire war in China unfolded from April to December 1944. More than 700,000 soldiers – on both sides – fought a series of battles from the Yellow river to the border with Vietnam known collectively as the Ichigo campaign. The objective of the Imperial Army was to open a land route to Japanese-occupied Vietnam, and on the way destroy the air bases being used by American aircraft. The Japanese achieved their objective but it was not the victory they had hoped for. Though holding the towns and cities after Ichigo, the countryside was still in Chinese hands and Chinese troops could always withdraw, and harry the Japanese from a distance. With supply lines now over-extended, all attempts by the Japanese to capitalise on the success of Ichigo to take more territory to the west ended in failure. Yet again, the biggest losers were the ordinary Chinese civilians of the three provinces where battles raged – as many as 200,000 of them are believed to have died during Operation Ichigo.
The war ended abruptly with the dropping of atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in early August 1945 followed by the unconditional surrender of Japan to the Allies. Liliane Willens was a child refugee from Russia, living in Shanghai. She remembers the end of the war vividly: “There was euphoria. In the house and everywhere. We couldn’t believe that the war had ended….All night long people were excited; hugging each other in the streets – hugging everyone they could. And suddenly all the flags came out.” Hear her firsthand account of 7 years “Stateless in Shanghai” here .
Zhang Yuanxiang is 96 years old and plays the piano at his home in GuangZhou.
During WWII, his life was very different. He worked as an Anti-aircraft Unit Spotter for the Nationalist Chinese Army.
In this video, Zhang Yuanxiang describes some of his memories of the Second Sino-Japanese war, as the Second World War in China is known. Working first in Wuhan and then fleeing with the majority of the Army and Nationalist government to the fortress city of ChongQing, on the river Yangtse, Yuanxiang’s story is one of finding hope in a fearful time.
I hope you enjoy his account, and would love to know what you think.
There are so many different types of Chinese tea it can be hard to know where to start and what to order! To help navigate your taste buds through this diverse world, have a read of this first timer’s guide to Chinese tea.
Comes from… Anxi, Fujian Province
Tastes like… This Oolong tea variation is named after the Chinese Goddess of mercy Guanyin. It tastes slightly different depending on the time of year, with the most popular being the sweet and fruity taste of the Spring yields.
Big Red Robe
Comes from… Northern Fujian
Tastes like… This full and floral Oolong tea has a taste that lingers in your
mouth after drinking. The legend goes that drinking this tea cured the mother of a Ming Dynasty Emperor, so he sent red robes to cloak the bushes that it came from. This prestigious variety of tea is incredibly expensive, worth over a $1m/£600,000 per kilogram! There are cheaper varieties grown from the cuttings of the original plants, if you want a taste without breaking the bank.
Comes from…Yunnan Province
Tastes like…A dark, fermented tea, Pu’er is named after Puer city in Yunnan
It is commonly believed that this tea tastes more delicious the longer it is left to
age. The tea is pressed into shapes such as bricks, balls or discs and has a deep
Comes from… Dongting Mountains, Jiangsu Province
Tastes like… Dongting Biluochun is named after the mountains on which it grows, and its snail-shaped rolled leaves. A light, refreshing green tea!
Comes from… Longjing village, Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province
Tastes like… This hand-produced green tea literally translates as ‘Dragon Well tea’ after a Well close to Longjing Village. Dragon Well gets it name because rain falling on its surface supposedly creates a twisting boundary in the well water, which looks like a moving dragon! The flat pan-roasted leaves taste slightly sweet, mellow and grassy. If you want to really look like you know what you’re doing, brew in a Yixing clay teapot!
Comes from… Fujian Province
Tastes like...This white tea is sweet and floral! You can tell if it’s good stuff by the proportion of long, furry buds. The more of these tiny hairs floating in the water – the better the tea! Yum?
Comes from… Wuji Mountain, Fujian Province
Tastes like… This black tea is dried over a pine fire, giving it a deep and smoky flavour! The story of this drying process goes that the tea was created during the Qing era when the passage of armies delayed the annual drying of the tealeaves in the Wuyi Mountain. To catch up for lost time, the tea producers sped up the process by drying tealeaves over fires of local pines!
Once you’ve made up your mind, watch how to brew the perfect cup:
What stands out to me the most when I watch this timelapse is the diversity of colours. The vibrant reds and oranges of sunset of Hainan Island, the greenery of Kham and Zhejiang and the bright lights of bustling Beijing at night. This timelapse is a great way to get a taste of the vastness and diversity of China. As Travel Editor, I’m continually excited and amazed by the possibilities in China. So, I thought I’d dig a little deeper into each of the featured locations to help you plan your dream trip. Where would you go first?
Fast Fact Files
‘Hainan’ literally means ‘South of the Ocean’.
This tropical paradise is the place to go for golden sands, balmy weather and coconut trees on the coast, and luscious mountains inland. There’s even a growing surf scene to get involved in.
The population of Hainan is just over 8 million.
Eastern Coastal Province of China
Hangzhou is the capital, home of the famous West Lake which has inspired Chinese Artists and Poets throughout history.
Home to the arched bridges and canals scenes of Wūzhèn
Thousands of Islands are dotted across the shoreline to be explored, the most well known being the lush Buddhist Island of Putuoshan.
‘Bei’ means Northern, and ‘Jing’ means Capital, so Beijing literally translates to Northern Capital! It sounds obvious, but is actually the 16th name given to the city in its history. It’s the nation’s second largest city, after Shanghai.
The Forbidden City in Beijing is the world’s largest preservation of wooden structures from the Ancient World!
It’s also home to some very unusual cafes, where you can cuddle a cat with your coffee.
It’s the third longest river in the world, but the longest river within a single country.
The river passes Fengdu Ghost City, “the home of the devil”, a town of tombs and temples.
The river flows 3,915 miles from the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau to the mouth of the East China Sea.
Where would you go first in China? Let us know in the comments!
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.
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
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.
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
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