China sage : Updates

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Tue 14th May

Many people think that slavery was abolished in the 1820s. While it is true that the African slave trade dwindled rapidly the plantation owners turned to new sources of slaves. These were the 'coolies' from India and China that were normally tricked into signing a contract and were treated just as appallingly as the African slaves they replaced. Mercifully the Chinese coolie trade came to an end in the late 1870s after the intervention of the Chinese government. The tale of these lost million people is rarely told, particularly the Chinese laborers. We have added a page summarizing this ignoble trade and also the treatment of the many Chinese immigrants to California in the late 19th century when racial discrimination reached fever pitch.

coolie,  guyana
The picture on is a tolerably fair representation of a manager's house on its brick pillars. To the left, at the bottom of the picture, is a free Coolie driving his cattle. To the right a rural constable is seizing an unhappy pigtail to convey him to the lock-up, being absent, as we see, from the band just above him, with his arms unbound. This indicates that he is trying to avoid the restraints of his indenture, and for this he is liable to punishment. Above him, on the right of the picture, is a group of Chinese, and on the left of the steps a group of Coolies, represented with their arms bound, an emblem of indentureship. They always speak of themselves as bound when under indenture. At the foot of the steps, on either side, is a Chinaman and a Coolie, from whose breasts two drivers are drawing blood with a knife, the life fluid being caught by boys in the swizzle-glasses of the colony. A boy is carrying the glasses up the steps to the attorney and the manager, who sit on the left of the verandah, and who are obviously fattening at the expense of the bound people below them. A tatwife and children look out of the windows. 1871. Image by The Coolie - his rights and wrongs available under a Creative Commons License
Thu 18th Apr
If you visit China you will see many inscribed stones that are called 'steles'. They stand outside famous buildings, on sacred mountains, in graveyards and in their hundreds within museums. We have provided a rough overview of whats sorts of stele you may come across in China and some of the most famous ones.
Thu 4th Apr

Another two quizzes focusing in on your knowledge of Chinese customs and traditions have been added. Have a go and let us know what you think - too easy, too hard?

lion dance, people, festival
Young lion dancers
Fri 15th Mar
We've started upgrading our popular quizzes. We have looked at the statistics and we made some of the questions too hard! We've also trawled the web site for possible new questions and our haul is over 1,100 possible new questions. The first two general quizzes have been updated and more will follow in coming weeks.
Fri 8th Mar

For over a century China set the fashion in Europe and America. In fabrics, ceramics, furniture, interior and garden design if you were a person of impeccable taste you would look to China for inspiration. King George IV of Britain, King Louis XV of France and George Washington of America were all fans of Chinoiserie. We've scoured through over a thousand pictures for good examples of the this worldwide style. At times it was a crude approximation and a strange mixture of cultural styles, while at others the Europeans achieved a realistic copy of the Oriental ideal. The Pagoda at Kew Gardens, London and the Brighton Pavilion provide fine examples of this fixation with all things from the East.

chinoiserie, chest of drawers, gilding
Chest on chest, view 2, unidentified maker, Dutch or Danish, c. 1700, spruce, alder, pear wood, white oak, with paint, gesso, gilding, and brass hardware - Albany Institute of History and Art. Image by Daderot available under a Creative Commons License
Tue 26th Feb

As a minor enhancement to our popular maps of China, we have changed all the shapes of mountains to be less like piles of sugar to something more like the real thing. We have used a range of different shapes of hills and mountains loosely based on the kind of thing on a J.R.R. Tolkien map of Middle-earth. At the same time some of map layouts have been enhanced to be easier to read.

Thu 21st Feb

Every so often there are news stories of tensions in the South China Sea, so we thought it was time to add some information about this huge area of disputed sovereignty. China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei, the Philippines and Malaysia have all made rival and overlapping claims to the region. Apart from being a busy shipping lane there are believed to be huge reserves of oil. There are two separate areas of tiny reefs and islands: the Paracel and Spratly Islands. Our new page outlines the history of this important region.

Spratly islands, South China Sea
Subi Reef, Spratly Islands, South China Sea, in May 2015, seen from southwest. Image by United States Navy available under a Creative Commons License
Fri 8th Feb
While scanning through the pages during January 2019 we spotted a number of layout/coding issues on many of the web pages. We've now gone through and put most of these right. If you spot any further problems please use the contact form to let us know.
Thu 24th Jan
We discovered a bug that would cause some quizzes to occasionally not function at all and also cause some to mark the given answer incorrectly. This should now be fixed. If you still see any problems let us know.
Wed 23rd Jan

We're in the middle of a scan of the complete site contents (over 200 pages + characters). You should see some typos. have been removed and a few tweaks to the layout of pages.Part of the rationale is to look for possible quiz questions while checking the pages, so far over 800 have been identified, so expect more quizzes and facts about China shortly.

Tue 1st Jan

The performing arts in China have a long history. Although modern media has reduced audiences there are still dedicated practitioners who spend their lives honing their skills at puppetry, story-telling, street theater, lion and dragon dancing.

We have added a page describing these art forms and by using a dozen carefully selected YouTube videos you can see these art-forms brought to life.

Our page on Chinese opera has proven very popular and we hope this new page will bring the less well known performing arts to wider attention.

The stimulus to writing this brief survey was the recent death of the noted Pingshu story-teller Shan Tianfang.

shadow puppet,  traditional art-form, customs
An intricate shadow puppet of a young lady in a house. Available under a Creative Commons License
Mon 31st Dec 2018
We've completed our one month fund raiser. Thanks for everyone who donated. However as there was only ten donations in all we can't consider it a success. This represents a donation from about 0.01% of our site visitors. We would receive about ten times that donation amount from advertisements so we will now experiment with targeted adverts again.
Thu 22nd Nov 2018
We don't like plastering our web site with advertisements so we thought we'd try a fund raising campaing instead - just like Wikipedia. We've introduced a popup that requests a donation - if cleared it does not prompt again for 10 minutes. If you donate you'll be popup free for 12 months. We'll keep the campaign going for the next month only.
Fri 9th Nov 2018

We've been busy adding a few hundred more characters to our web site. We use Chinese characters within the web pages whereever possible. To aid people learning the language we provide a simple pop-up that gives extra information when you hover the mouse over characters. We won't be able to add a full disctionary as there are thousands of them, we aim to provide about 1,000 of the most commonly used ones.

Thu 25th Oct 2018

Over the last few years more and more web sites have moved to use the latest HTML technology. We have waited until all major modern web browsers fully support it. HTML5 offers a lot more options for presenting web information. We have changed to use the new header, nav (Navigation), main (Main body of text) as well as aside, section and article tags. A few HTML4 features are now obsolete so we have changed pages where necessary. The changes will not be all that noticeable to users, it is mainly search engines that will appreciate the more logical structure.

We have continued to use the stricter form of HTML, commonly called XHMTL, that enforces strict matching of open and close tags. It's a shame that more web sites don't use this stricter standard as it makes differences between browsers much less likely. Nobody these days should be writing HTML directly and so a tool can make sure all the tags are properly formatted and matched.

If you spot any problems with the new web site please let us know.

Thu 25th Oct 2018

We've put in a number of site optimizations to make the information load faster. The performance according to Google Analytics is now at 100% performance for desktops. Unfortunately an information web site like this is not ideal for smart-phones as there is a lot of text and graphical information to broadcast.

We've also spruced up our Chinese astrology page - it was one of the first ones we added back in 2012.

Wed 19th Sep 2018

With the centenary of the May 4th Movement coming up next year it seems a good time to look back on the events of 1919. After World War I China underwent ignominious treatment under the terms of the Versailles Treaty. Shandong province which had been leased by Germany was to be handed to Japan rather than returned to Chinese control. Anti-Japanese fervor had already been brewing over the 21 Demands which a supine Chinese government had accepted. It looked like not only Shandong but Fujian province would be lost too.

In the first mass urban protest in China student led demonstrations eventually caused the government to reverse its pro-Japanese polices and China refused to sign the Versailles Treaty. The May Fourth Movement pioneered the use of vernacular Chinese in magazines and pamphlets and just as importantly women began to take an equal part in reformist organizations.

May 4th Protest,  Beijing,  Tiananmen Square
29th November 1919. More than 30,000 male and female students from 34 schools in Beijing gathered in front of Tiananmen Square to denounce the Japanese imperialists for killing the people of Fuzhou and protesting against Japanese ships invading Fuzhou. After the meeting, demonstrations were held, and slogans such as "Strive for Fujian" and "Resist Japan" were sloganed along the way, and more than 100 kinds of flyers were distributed, totaling 78,000. When the brigade went through the General Chamber of Commerce, it also sent representatives to the inside to ask the Beijing Business Bank to boycott Japanese goods and to break the Japanese economy. Image by Sidney D. Gamble available under a Creative Commons License
Tue 11th Sep 2018
Gottfried Leibniz. Available under a Creative Commons License

The high point of Western appreciation came in the early 18th century. One man was a real fan of China - Gottfried Leibniz and many of his great discoveries (monads, calculus, binary arithmetic) were inspired by Chinese civilization. After his time though relations soon deteriorated.

Tue 28th Aug 2018

The early contacts between the UK and China are revealing about attitudes back in the 17th century that seem to have changed little. The first few attempted contacts were purely to open up trading opportunities which were at this time chiefly wool. When the information started coming back from the Jesuit mission to Beijing the intellectuals in Britain were intrigued. There followed half a century of avid interest in all things Chinese. This new article looks at two people with differing interests in China John Weddell and John Webb.

Thomas Hyde
Thomas Hyde (1636-1703), Oriental scholar by Francis Perry (died 1765), Engraver. National Portrait Gallery. Available under a Creative Commons License
Fri 24th Aug 2018

We've spent the last few weeks updating our dictionary of Chinese characters. There are now over 750 of the most commonly used characters. We've added extra features such as listing similar looking characters and indicating measure words. Many of the characters have a graphic to show how they are drawn and an audio guide as to how they are pronounced. Although we can't include all Chinese characters that are in our online dictionary we think it a very useful resource for learning written Chinese.

Mon 16th Jul 2018

With some trepidation we decided to add a description of the Imperial Chinese system of justice. It had a deservedly bad reputation for cruelty for centuries. One approach to criminal justice is to make the punishment so painful that the deterrent effect makes people fear the consequences for even a minor crime. For centuries in Imperial China this is how the huge population was kept law abiding. Rumors of the tortures that couldbe used against malefactors did the trick and the country was seen as largely law abiding. The ancient system although heavily reformed still lives on to the present day in the general approach to justice.

torture,  fingers
The punishments of China: illustrated by twenty-two engravings: with explanations in English and French. Image by George Henry Mason available under a Creative Commons License
Thu 28th Jun 2018
The leading academy for scholarship in China and probably the world lasted from 725 until 1911. The Hanlin Academy was an imperial institution that chose its members from candidates who did best in the top level examinations. This pool of talent from all over China helped the Emperor administer the country in all sorts of ways. On one occasion it was tasked with writing an encyclopedia of all human knowledge. The work took thousands of scholars five years to write into eleven thousand volumes - the largest ever written document. It fell into decline in the late Qing and became the victim of a fire during the Boxer Rebellion. It stands as testimony to the prestigious place of scholarship in China from a very early date.
Mon 21st May 2018

We've upgraded the festival page so that it shows the upcoming festivals in date order rather than needing you to scroll down to the current day in the year. We've also included our month calender at the top for convenience. Please let us know if we are missing a festival or have a date incorrect.

Dragon boat festival, Guangxi, people, boat
A dragon boat crew in Guangxi
Wed 9th May 2018

We've been busy giving the web site a crisper, less cluttered look. We've changed the top menu colors and font, simplified the graphics and spent effort making pages work better on the smaller mobile screen. The top level drop menu is now mulit-level allowing quick navigation to popular pages. If we've broken anything that you liked, let us know. Your comments on the new look will be much appreciated.

Thu 26th Apr 2018

All about the strange version of English/Chinese used for trading in southern ports (c. 1750-1880). The language has Chinese features but is widely thought of as a simple form of English designed by the British for the Chinese to use but the real story is a lot more complex than that.

The Red-haired glossary,. c. 1835. Available under a Creative Commons License
Tue 10th Apr 2018

Even though China is the most populous nation on Earth (although soon to be overtaken by India) there is still room for wildlife away from the heavily populated regions. As China has deserts, snow fields, high mountains, tropical rain forests and vast grasslands the range of opportunities for wildlife is remarkably diverse. In our brief survey of the main regions within China and the more remarkable creatures and plants living there we are immensely grateful to people who have posted their entrancing photographs for public use.

snow leopard, chinese wildlife
Portrait of a male snow leopard (Panthera uncia) of the Rheintal zoo. Modifications made by Niabot . Image by Tambako available under a Creative Commons License
Fri 30th Mar 2018

The yin and the yang is the best known concept from ancient Chinese wisdom. It is now used by everyone - and often incorrectly as it is about alternatives and balance rather than opposites. We've taken our short description of yin-yang out of the Feng Shui section, greatly expanded it and given it a section all to itself.

Taiji figure of yin and yang
Tue 6th Mar 2018

Korea is never far from the news these days and with the Winter Olympics just over it seems an opportune time to take a look into China's relations with Korea. It's unfortunately all too common for people not to know why we have ended up with a divided Korea, and that this division is certainly not of the Korean peoples choosing.

China has exerted a strong influence over Korea in the last two thousand years and shares many cultural traditions. There have been time when China invaded Korea but also times when China intervened to defend it from other invaders. In this new article we concentrate only on the history of foreign relations with Korea from the Chinese perspective.

Korea,  Japam
Japanese Empress Jingu (169-269CE) setting foot in Korea. Painting by 1880 Yoshitoshi . Available under a Creative Commons License
Thu 1st Feb 2018

We've added some extra entries into our extensive guide to Chinese Symbolism. These include: Onions, Rhinoceroses, Ice and Hats.

And now we've just completed a scan on all the 2,864 unique references to other web site. Even over a year many web sites have shutdown or been relocated, some have re-organized their content. In this latest scan we've changed many URLs to use the secure form (https://) as that is now becoming standard. You can already use for this web site.

Xinjiang, landscape, river
Kanas national park in Xinjiang
Fri 22nd Dec 2017

As we approach the end of 2017 it seemed appropriate to publish more information about Chinese New Year, which is late in coming this year - it is not until February 16th. We describe the traditions and customs associated with the various days of the long festival. The Chinese people have never needed much excuse for a festival and will also celebrate Christmas Day and New Years Day, mainly in the cities.

lanterns, new year
Chinese New Year, Saigon, Vietnam. Image by falco available under a Creative Commons License
China motif

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