Chinese Culture

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We believe that language is a representation of all that a society is and has been. It carries within its colourful folds, the vibrancy of culture, beliefs and the sentiments of its people. Learning how to read and write a language is only part of a job completed. At Yi Chinese we care about creating a holistic learning experience where we don’t equip you with just Mandarin vocabulary but integrate your learning with the entire Chinese culture. You can gain some basic knowledge about famous Chinese traditions and practices in the following sections.

Kung Fu (Tai Chi)

Practised widely around the world, Tàijí  (Tai Chi) is a famous internal martial art that originated in ancient China. Useful both as a means of self defence as well as a healthy exercise, almost everyone and anyone can practise this art. Tai Chi is enjoyable and easy to learn and but requires mental focus, patience and discipline. The underlying principle of this art is the philosophical Chinese theory of Yin and Yang.Concentrating on correct posture and controlled breathing, Tai Chi’s gentle, circular movements are fluid, graceful and well balanced, promoting the complete harmony of one’s mind, body and soul.
Tai Chi today has developed into many different forms but all of these are born from at least one of the five traditional schools: Chen, Yang, Sun, Wu and Wu (Hao), all of which further trace their origins back to the Chen village.
Now seen as a medium to promote general health and well being, Tai Chi has been famous in China for centuries as an effective prevention for arthritis. In today’s bustling modern lives, Tai Chi provides individuals with the much needed mental relaxation and physical fitness essential to lead a healthy lifestyle. Tai Chi is an unusual form of martial arts whereby we believe in building strength – both mental and physical – from within. Gentility is more powerful than harshness, a curved motion better than moving in a straight line, yielding more efficient than resisting . . . these are but a few learnings of this profound art.

Chinese Calligraphy

Chinese calligraphy, or Shufa(shūfǎ书法) as it is known in China, is the art of aesthetically writing the Chinese characters (hànzì汉字). Throughout Chinese history, the talent of creating beautiful strokes of letters has been a revered art and is still held in high esteem as one of the most refined arts. Through calligraphy one discovers the almost therapeutic effects of focusing your energy in penning your thoughts with beautiful stokes on a piece of parchment, showcasing the abstract beauty that simple lines can hold.

Calligraphy is one of the four basic skills and disciplines of the Chinese literati, together with painting (huà画), stringed musical instruments (qín琴) and board games (qí棋). However, rhythm, lines, and structure are more perfectly embodied in calligraphic arts than in the other three skills.Calligraphy is held in high reverence to the point that not long ago, a person’s character was judged by the elegance of their handwriting!

The basic tools of calligraphy – a brush and a bottle of ink – are also the tools of Chinese painting, with line work and tone being its all-important components.Decorative calligraphy can be easily found all over China, embellished on temple walls, adorning the caves and even beautifying the sides of mountains and monuments.Despite the ravages of time, war and ideology, there’s still a lot left to see architecturally in imperial structures of Beijing, the colonial buildings of Shanghai, some rural villages and in most Buddhist, Confucian and Taoist temples.

Chinese Tea Ceremony

The Tea Ceremony is an integral part of the Chinese culture and something every Chinese identifies with. Tea drinking and serving is considered as a distinctive art in China where Tea Ceremony plays a major cultural role due to its significance at events of great importance.

Tea culture is evenly prominent in China and teahouses dot the map of the country across cities and countryside. These are places that people visit with friends and loved ones to discuss things about their lives. Tea ceremonies are organised at family gatherings, to celebrate weddings, as a sign of respect, as a method of apologising or sometimes simply to express gratitude.

Tea in China is cultivated in different flavourful varieties. The wonderful aroma and the peaceful tea drinking traditions have inspired poets and artists to create wonderful pieces of art around it.Ancient legends say that Shénnóngshì (Chinese god of agriculture) was the one who found tea. He tasted hundreds of herb and was hit by72 poisons. One day, he found tea that has the special function of neutralizing all poisons. Since then, till 300B.C. tea was used only as a medicine.

FengShui

风水FēngShuǐ   is an ancient Chinese system of aesthetics believed to utilize the Laws of both heaven (astronomy) and Earth (geography) to help one improve life by receiving positive Qi (energy of life force). It is one of the Five Arts of Chinese Metaphysics. The proper name of FēngShuǐ   is 堪舆 KānYú.

The words FengShui literally translate as “wind-water” in English. This is a cultural shorthand taken from the passage“Qi rides the wind and scatters, but is retained when encountering water” which appeared in Zhangshu (Book of Burial) by GuoPu, a scholar and writer of the Jin Dynasty of ancient China.

Traditional FengShui practice always requires an extremely accurate Chinese compass, or Luo Pan, in order to determine the directions which would be used in finding auspicious sectors at a desired location. It also requires the calculation of a locations’ level of Qi as well as the numerical significance of a person including their birth-date, birth-hour, animal sign, and personal Gua number. In addition to this, the individual’s destiny is calculated using Ba Zi or Chinese Star Astrology based on stars of good and bad luck. Together, these conclude the FengShui audit.

Many western enthusiasts have incorrectly interpreted FengShui as a form of geomancy that is only based on furniture arranging and wide display of Buddhist amulets – a practice that is heavily discouraged and resented by professional Asian FengShui masters.

Paper Cutting

Paper Cutting is an ancient Chinese art dating back to the 2nd century Eastern Han Dynasty where it was born and ever since then, it has been a popular skill Chinese families have traditionally used to decorate their homes and neighbourhood on festive occasions especially on New Year’s Day.  The practice of paper cutting not only helped create pieces of decoration, but also unified a sense of enjoyment, appreciation and practicability into an organic whole.

This tradition can be seen as a Chinese folk art which stuck with the people through the ages and is still hugely popular in the country. The subjects of paper-cuts are extensive and often showcase elements that are deeply rooted in the Chinese culture. Because buyers of the paper-cut for window decoration are usually peasants, decorations showcase elements from their lives such as scenes of cultivation, textile, fishing, and farm life. Apart from this, popular designs include inspirations from mythical legends, opera stories, imagesof birds and flowers, Chinese zodiacs etc.

The process of physically indulging in paper-cutting is a mentally satisfying experience. Even with the excitement and vibrancy around the art form, the process itself soothes the mind.

Dumplings

Jiǎozi (饺子) is the name given to common Chinese dumplings which is one of China’s favorites when it comes to savories. It is usually a semicircular wheaten food filled with lip-smacking stuffing. In most areas of China, Jiǎozi is made when people celebrate the Spring Festival or other festivals and entertain relatives and friends. Jiǎozi can be traced to far back in history to the abundant in wheat, Yellow River valley where it is said to have originated. Even 2,500 years ago, people already knew how to grind wheat into flour, make wheaten food with stuffing and steaming them in bronze pots.

The earliest Jiǎozi known was made more than 1,300 years ago and was found in a tomb of the Tang Dynasty unearthed in Turpan, Xinjiang in the 1970s. It was semi-circular; about five centimetres long with the outer covering were made of wheat flour and stuffed with vegetables. It was almost the same as the Jiǎozi of today. The Chinese love Jiǎozi not only because it has a great variety of tastes. Over the years this food item came to be linked with auspiciousness.

The Jiǎozi wrapper is known as ‘Yuan’ (circular). Jiǎozi itself is oblate, similar in design to a shoe-shaped gold ingot which prevailed in the ancient era. When a family gets together to bid farewell to the old year and usher in the new, they enjoy a hearty reunion and eat Jiǎozi which signifies the hopes of prosperity and a better life in the New Year.

Different varieties of Jiǎozi stuffing hold different auspicious significance. For example, when a couple gets married, the Jiǎozi are filled with peanuts and chestnuts to express the hope that they will soon have a baby. The little Jiǎozi carries with it reflections of so many thoughts, wishes and auspicious messages that its close ties with traditional Chinese customs is not a surprise. It is the most representative example of Chinese cuisine.

Peking Opera Facial Makeup

Among all Chinese traditional operas, the facial makeup in Peking opera had developed into a mature art. Its origin can be traced to Northern and Southern dynasties almost 1400 years ago, when leading characters used to wear masks. As time progressed the opera started employing the use of elaborate colourful facial makeup so the audience could better see the expressions on the performers face.  The facial makeup enables the audience to relate to the character’s temperament, a certain personality trait and social standing all at one glance by just observing the colours used. Certain colours hold symbolic meanings. For example, the uses of colour Red to depict warriors likeGuan Yu, symbolising courage and loyalty and black colour to symbolise integrity and bravery. It also lent the character an air of recklessness, most apt for portraying Zhang and ZhengFei. The vicious brutality of Dian Wei and Yu Chengdu could be depicted with clever use of colour yellow. The use of colour green and blue can depict irascibility. General treacherous court officials could be depicted by the use of colour White.

The facial make up could dramatise or distort the portrayal of a character. Along with visual and vocal effects from the actor, the character could be brought to life. The colours used, give an insight to the characters psychological as well as physiological attributes which would dramatize the entire circumstance.

Chinese Chess

Chinese Chess has been played for many centuries all throughout china. Judging by its rules, we can conclude that the origin of Chinese chess was closely related to military strategists in ancient China.

During the Warring States Period in the ancient era, wars were fought for years running. It is during this period that a new chess game was patterned after the array of troops which led to the formation of the earliest form of Chinese chess.

During the Wei, Jin and Northern and Southern Dynasties, a different kind of chess game was popular among the people. It laid a foundation for the finalized pattern of the Chinese chess. In ancient times, the Chinese Chess was always enjoyed by both highbrows and lowbrows.

During the reign of Suzong of the Tang Dynasty, Prime Minister NiuSengru wrote a fake story about chess that occurred during the Baoying period, so it was named Baoying Chess. Baoying Chess had six pieces and it produced a significant influence on chess in subsequent years.

Three forms of chess took shape after the Song Dynasty. One of them consisted of 32 pieces. They were played on a chessboard with 9 vertical lines and 9 horizontal lines. With the economic and cultural development during the Qing Dynasty, the Chinese chess entered a new stage. Many different schools, chess circles and chess players came into prominence. With the popularization of the Chinese chess, many books and manuals on the techniques of playing this game were published. They played an important role in popularizing Chinese chess and improving the techniques of playing in modern times.

Chinese Knot

In the Tang and Song dynasty, Chinese knotting or zhongguojie began as a form of Chinese folk art. A Chinese knot is tied and woven from a single length of cord or rope to be a variety of shapes and sizes. Each shape has its own symbolism. It is believed, before people started to write they made the knots to record information or convey messages.

Knot weavers can use variety of colours, but they usually weave deep red ones which according to Chinese tradition is the colour of luck. The phenomenon of knot tying has culturally evolved into a more intrinsic art form over the years. Chinese knotting reached the pinnacle of success in the Qinq dynasty and continued to flourish up until China’s modernisation period.

Even today knots are rich in symbolic meaning and therefore often hold sentimental values.

Ancient times saw true lovers present each other knots as a token of their love. The “true love knot” and the “double happiness knot” are presented at weddings to express mutual love and growing old together in fidelity.

In a culture steeped in tradition “the Chinese knot” was expected to ward off evil spirits or act as a good luck charm.