Tag Archives: chinese culture

Valentines Day and China’s Other Unique Festivals

News and Travel Editor

Today is Valentines Day, you either love it or hate it but it seems the Chinese certainly love it given the fact that the Chinese Valentines Day, known as the Double Seventh Festival, predates the Western version by about 1000 years. The Double Seventh Festival is thought to have originated during the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD), whereas Valentines Day was made famous by Chaucer in the 14th Century.

This is Zhang Chunwen, Beijing’s Clown Delivery Man. He’s been in the job several years now travelling all around the city and will deliver flowers to anyone from your partner to your favourite teacher. Although, not everyone looks too pleased with this unusual method…

Although Valentine’s Day is traditionally celebrated on the 14th February in the West, the Chinese have their own version, known as Double Seventh Festival, or the Qixi Festival. The festival falls on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month. Why on this particular date I hear you ask? The answer lies with the legend of Niu Lang and Zhi Nu. One day, Niu Lang, a cow herder met Zhi Nu, a fairy from heaven and, although some would say she was out of his league, they naturally fell in love. The story of their love soon got back to heaven, with the king and queen demanding her return. When Niu Lang tried to follow her, the queen created a wide river between them but was so moved by their tears that she allowed them to visit each other one day a year, the seventh day of the seventh lunar month. The date for your diaries on this year is the 28th August, as if you wanted to celebrate Valentine’s Day 2 times a year!

Embed from Getty Images

As well as the Qixi Festival, the Chinese have a few more quirky festivals up their sleeve, celebrated throughout the year. Some of our favourites are below.

The Festival of Hungry Ghosts

Admit it, this one sounds awesome. According to traditional Chinese belief, the seventh month of the lunar calendar is when spirits of the ancestors roam the earth – Could this also be why Niu Lang and Zhi Nu meet in the seventh lunar month?! *jaw drops in fascination*. Many Chinese people will appease these ghosts by burning fake money or leaving food out for the ghosts to use in the afterlife. If you find yourself wandering the streets during this month, make sure you don’t sweep up any offerings left out, unless you want some serious misfortune befalling you…

Embed from Getty Images

Monihei Carnival

This festival is best summed up by the image below.

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Image courtesy of http://www.yunnantravelguide.com/Line/show.asp?id=726.

 

Interested? Thought so. Monihei Festival celebrates the discovery of a local herbal medicine in Yunnan Province which is rubbed all over your body. During the festival, mud is used to the same effect as a representation of the medicine as people run around trying to get each other as filthy as possible.

Cheung Chau Bun Festival

Held at Pak Tai Temple in Hong Kong, the Cheng Chau Bun Festival coincides with the Buddha’s birthday and every year, 3 60ft towers are constructed from bamboo around the temple are are covered in buns. The most entertaining part of the festival is the ‘bun snatching race’, where men and women race up the tower grabbing as many buns as possible. The more you grab, the more luck you will have to share with the rest of your family.

Embed from Getty Images

Dragon Boat Festival

Zigui County is the centre for this amazing spectacle. The festival commemorates the life of poet and adviser Qu Yuan. Legend has it that Qu Yuan lived around 2500 years ago during China’s Warring States period and committed suicide by drowning in a river, when his leader was defeated. Watch our exclusive video below.

 

Giving Thanks for Jujubes

News and Travel Editor

Tomorrow, Thursday 24th November, is Thanksgiving Day in the USA. A day traditionally celebrated with family, a roast turkey and all the trimmings. As you salivate in anticipation of a Thanksgiving feast, I’m going to introduce you to a very different edible tradition. An ancient Chinese fruit that you may never of heard of, the Jujube!

Firstly, what is a Jujube? Also known as Chinese Date, Jujubes have been cultivated in China for over 4000 years! There’s over 700 types, each with varying textures and flavours. Eaten fresh, they taste crisp and fresh like apples. When dried, they taste and look a lot like dates! Jujube trees are tough with spiky branches and able to tolerate both cold and drought.

 

There’s lots of different ways to enjoy Jujubes. You can chomp on them fresh, or bake dried ones into a cake. They can be made into juice, syrups and liquors, or my personal favourite way to eat them – candied!

This wonder fruit is also important in other ways. Some experts believe Jujubes help aid restful sleep, and in traditional Chinese Medicine the fruit is used to treat the aches, pains and abdominal pain. As part of a traditional wedding ceremony, Jujubes are places onto the new couple’s bed in honour to promote fertility in the marriage.

Want a taste?

Here’s a recipe from Baker Gal to try at home

Candied Jujube Recipe

2 lbs dried jujube
3 1/3 cups cold water
3 2/3 cups granulated sugar
2 tsp corn starch

1. Wash and drain jujubes. Prick each jujube a few times with a fork. Mix cold water, sugar, and cornstarch, and bring to a boil. Add jujubes. Simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and refrigerate overnight.
2. In the morning, return the mixture to a boil. Simmer uncovered for 30 minutes. Then, remove jujubes from the syrup and place on foil-lined pans. Place the pans in a 275F oven and bake for 2 to 5 hours or until dry to the touch.

So, do you think you’ll be incorporating this wonderfruit into your diet any time soon? Have you ever eaten Jujubes before – and if so, what did you think? Is there another Chinese food you’d love to learn more about? Let us know in the comments below!

A Day for Deep Thought: World Philosophy Day

News and Travel Editor

Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.’

Today is World Philosophy Day, an event established by UNESCO back in 2005. According to UNESCO, World Philosophy Day ‘underlines the enduring value of philosophy for the development of human thought, for each culture and for each individual.’

Here at China Icons, you can’t talk about philosophy and proverbs without talking about China.

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…

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A Song Dynasty painting illustrating that Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism are ‘one’. Image source: http://www.npm.gov.tw.

 

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.

confucius-1
Image source: “Life And Works Of Confucius”, Prospero Intorcetta, et al., 1687.

 

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.

sun-tzu
Image by 663highland.

 

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.

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The Azure Clouds Temple. Image by Rolf Müller.

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.

lao-tzu
Image source: http://www.tubaba.com/art/2007/0529/image_1875.html.

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.

Has this blog got you pondering on World Philosophy Day? What inspiration have you taken from the proverbs?

Get in touch with your own take on these philosophers and if you admire any we didn’t get the chance to include this time.

 

Yangcheng Lake’s Hairy Crabs

News and Travel Editor

During the 9th and 10th months of the lunar calendar, China’s culinary scene is all about hairy crab, also known as Chinese Mitten Crab. The highly anticipated hairy crab season runs from late October to early December, and every year thousands of people flock for the to Yangcheng Lake for the best crabs in China.

If you want proof that these crabs are a big deal, check out this quote from 17th century Chinese writer Li Yu: “While my heart lusts after them and my mouth enjoys their delectable taste (and in my whole life there has not been a single day when I have forgotten them), I can’t even begin to describe or make clear why I love them, why I adore their sweet taste, and why I can never forget them… Dear crab, dear crab, you and I, are we to be lifelong companions?”……It’s clear he was a fan.

2000 families work at Yangcheng Lake to supply the demand, catching, binding and preparing them for market. Large crabs sell for up to $80 each! Crabs from Yangcheng Lake can sell for up to 30 -50 times the price of other hairy crabs, which are eaten year round.

Chinese medicine places great importance on balancing hot and cold energy – Yin and Yang. If these forces aren’t in balance, you will start to suffer aches and pains. Hairy crab is regarded as a yin, and Huangjiu ‘yellow wine’ as yang. This is why Chinese foodies pair hairy crab, no matter the dish, with Huangjiu, the traditional accompaniment to hairy crabs for centuries.

Hong Kong-based food writer Janice Leung-Hayes explains to Forbes “The first batch to be in season are the male crabs, which have a more solid roe, and the females, which have a more fluid roe, ripen later. Both are delicious though and you’ll find that Chinese gourmands will have their own preferences.”

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If you’re interested in learning how to eat a crab for yourself, check out this how-to guide from CNN.

Will you be trying a hairy crab this autumn? Have you ever had one before? Do you have any top tips for eating them? Let us know in the comments below!

 

Translating Tang Poetry

Features Editor

Today is international poetry day – which reminded me of the time when I was an English teacher at a university in Kaifeng, Henan Province. My students gave me a beautiful scroll to hang on my wall. It was, they explained, a poem from the Tang Dynasty (AD 618 – 907) – a golden era in China’s history in many spheres, from culture to engineering, administration, religious freedom, education, women’s rights, cosmopolitanism. And also poetry.  Around 50,000 poems have survived from the Tang period and many experts believe this to be not only the greatest era of Chinese poetry, but also China’s biggest contribution to world literature. Many people in China today know Tang poems by heart – you can watch some primary school children in Ningxia reciting a Tang poem here !

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Tang Dynasty Poet Li Bai

The scroll my students gave us had perhaps twenty Chinese characters, arranged in columns and written in a mesmerising, flowing hand. At the bottom, a few simple ink brush strokes evoked a branch of plum blossom. The scroll was a thing of beauty – but it also turned out to be a source of great entertainment and wonder to me. We used to ask every visitor to our house to explain what the poem meant. And their contrasting answers gave me a small insight into classical Chinese poetry.

They would say that the characters were those for “snow” “spring” “plum blossom” and so on. This much they could agree on. But when it came to explaining what the poem actually meant, the fun began. Some visitors explained it was a poem about hope and resilience in the face of adversity; others said it was about love’s losses and how to survive them while others explained that it was about the transience of life and love. Others explained it was a poem about the beauty of Nature but – and here they would be a little apologetic – as so many elements of the natural world were symbolic in Chinese culture, to a Chinese reader the poem was also packed with denser meanings, hidden to a foreign reader.

It seemed to me that the words offered by the poet were so sparse that the reader could interpret them in many ways. This ancient poem – written almost a thousand years before Shakespeare – offered a kind of space into which the reader could pour his own thoughts and obsessions. The nature-lover, the philosopher, the romantic could all take something different from the poem.

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The stunning West Lake in Hangzhou has inspired poets since the Tang Dynasty

I once met a writer who described poetry as “words under pressure.” Tang dynasty poetry is certainly like that. Not only do individual words carry their heavy cargo of symbolism, but also the structure of the poems – how many characters per line; the tone of each character and so on – is strictly determined. The apparent simplicity of the words fit into a scaffolding that is actually quite rigid. Of course, those of us who can’t read classical Chinese miss all that.  (And the misguided tendency of some translators to manhandle the Chinese words into an English rhyming scheme can distance us still further from the original.)

But even understanding only a fraction of what the poet intended, these Tang poems can be luminous, touching and funny. Try reading this one – Spring Dawn by the influential early Tang poet Meng Haoran where the simple English translation of the original and an attempt to show what the poet means are placed side by side. Find more Tang era poems here

I love both versions…What about you?

Spring Dawn by Meng Haoran

Spring sleep not wake dawn
Everywhere hear cry bird
Night come wind rain sound
Flower fall know how many

I slumbered this spring morning, and missed the dawn,
From everywhere I heard the cry of birds.
That night the sound of wind and rain had come,
Who knows how many petals then had fallen?

 

 

 

 

Mooncakes and Mid-Autumn Festival

News and Travel Editor

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival! You may have also heard it referred to as the ‘Moon’ Festival, or maybe even the Lantern Festival. So what is it, and how is it celebrated?

Mid-Autumn Festival

  • Mid-Autumn Festival is always celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month of the Chinese lunar calendar, when the moon is farthest from the earth and appears bright and completely round. 
  • This festival has been celebrated for over 3,500 years – and in China, people take a holiday to spend it with their families.
  • Some Chinese people believe that the Mid-Autumn Festival is the perfect time to find a partner, as the moon acts as matchmaker!
  • Some couples wanting to have children bathe in the moonlight in the hope that the moon will bring them a “good harvest”.
  • Traditionally, people usually give Moon cakes as gifts. Find out more below:

    Mooncake

  • Mooncakes are round as the shape symbolises eternity.
  • Mooncakes represent long life and happiness, to receive one is to be sent wishes for your success and good health.
  • They have different fillings depending on where in China you are. This can include: lotus seed paste, sweet bean paste, nuts and seeds, egg yolks and jujube paste
  • Usually, the Chinese character on the top of the Mooncake explains what type of filling is inside.
  • Mooncakes should always be served with a strong cup of hot tea. Enjoy! (Want to make your own at home? Check out this recipe from Omnivore’s Kitchen)

    moon-cake-master
    Photo from The World of Chinese

 

 

Origins of Mooncakes

There are many different stories that explain the significance of Mooncakes to the Mid-Autumn festival. One story goes that secret letters were hid inside Mooncakes telling the Han Chinese to rebel against Mongol Rule on the day of Mid-Autumn festival. Another popular belief is that Mooncakes are made and consumed as an offering to the Moon Goddess Chang’e. But, who is Chang’e? Time to settle in for a story.

The Legend of Chang’e and Houyi

The legend of Chang’e dates back even further than the Yuan dynasty, with early versions of the story being having been found as early as the Shang Dynasty (1600-1046BC) 

There are several versions of the story of Chang’e. In this version, Chang’e lived in heaven with her archer husband, Houyi. They were both immortal. Heaven was ruled by the Jade Emperor who had 10 sons.

The story goes that one day, the Jade Emperor’s sons transformed into ten suns, scorching the Earth and killing all the plants and wildlife.

The Jade Emperor summoned Houyi, the archer, to stop his sons and save the Earth.  Houyi shot down nine of the Jade Emperor’s sons, leaving just one as the sun.

The Jade Emperor wanted to punish Houyi for killing nine of his sons, so banished Houyi and Chang’e to live as mortals on Earth.

Chang’e was devastated to have lost her immortality. As a result, Houyi set out on a quest to find something to restore it called the Elixir of Immortality. He succeeded!

In one version of the story, Chang’e consumes the elixir to prevent Houyi’s evil apprentice Feng Meng from getting hold of it. In another version, she finds the elixir and consumes it by accident.

The stories end the same way. Chang’e becomes immortal and flies to the moon where she lives alone except for a jade rabbit, Tuye.

She and Houyi are separated forever across the galaxy in the ultimate long distance

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Chang’e flying to the Moon

relationship. Happily, in some versions of the story, Houyi can cross the milky way and get closer to Chang’e at Mid-Autumn festival. Eat your heart out, Romeo and Juliet, these two are the literal star-crossed lovers.

To celebrate Mid-Autumn Festival, we sent out Mooncakes to some of our favourite bloggers.

Check out Amanda Bootes insightful and entertaining take on the festival on her blog!

Tea Making-Masterclass (FT. KATE HUMBLE)

News and Travel Editor

If your brew is never quite how you like it, then you’re not alone.

It takes FIVE WHOLE YEARS to learn the art of drinking and serving tea in China.

So spare a thought for British TV presenter Kate Humble who China Icons challenged to learn the basics of the Chinese tea ceremony in just one day in Beijing!

See what Kate learnt about making and tasting Chinese tea – and how you too can produce a better cup at home.

Kate’s top tips include warming up all the vessels you need to make the tea and using more leaves than you think you need.

Are you a fan of Kate Humble? Check out her exclusive interview with China Icons about travelling around China during Chinese New Year, also known as Spring Festival.

Want to know more about different types of Chinese tea and how they are produced? Our content from Fujian shows you how the leaves make it from plantation to tea cup, or check out this guide.
Planning to to visit some tea plantations on your travels? Our tea lovers guide to Fujian tells you where to go and what to see.

What’s your favourite type of Chinese Tea? Let us know in the comments below!