Chinasage Diary

Your daily snippet of information about China. Our diary has a daily fact, proverb and a reminder of upcoming festivals and holidays in China.
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Tue 2nd Mar

Owl of ill omen

The owl in Chinese tradition is considered a bird of ill omen. Its large, all-seeing eyes and scary call gave it a bad reputation. The bird was sometimes used as a talisman to ward off evil.
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Mon 1st Mar


The symbolism of Chinese colors has been strong for thousands of years. Each dynasty had its own associated color and some colors were reserved for Imperial use - only Imperial roofs could use golden yellow tiles. Colors are heavily used in opera make-up to identify the main character traits.
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On this day

1950 Chiang Kaishek became President Republic of China 1950 (71 years ago)
Sun 28th Feb

Women leaders

The status of women was very low in dynastic China. The Peoples Republic strove to treat women with equality in its early days. However it has to be said that since about 1990 the status of women in China has gradually diminished. All the higher positions in government and commerce go to men and there is huge pressure for women to be attractive to men and the ambition is to marry well rather than have a career. The Chinese Communist party has only 15% women members. There were two women in the top Standing Committee of the Politburo in the 1980s but none have been elected since then. Currently there is one women - Sun Chunlan - in the 25 member wider politburo.
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On this day

202BCE Emperor Gaozu became ruler 202BCE (2,224 years ago)
1947 February Incident 1947 (74 years ago)
1972 Nixon visit to China ended 1972 (49 years ago)
Sat 27th Feb

Tense of verbs in Chinese

Although Chinese has a reputation as a hard language to learn there are some things that are a lot simpler than in English. One such area is the declension of verbs, in English the verb word is modified in irregular ways to indicate past, present and future action. In Chinese the most common way to indicate an action was in the past is to add a whole new character le after the verb.
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Fri 26th Feb


Shanghai City was known as the 'Paris of the East' in the 1920s. By Chinese standards Shanghai is a very modern city. It was just a small fishing port in the 1840s with population of only 50,000; by 2007 this had risen to an incredible 24 million (2016) making it the largest city in China. It is considered China's second city.
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Thu 25th Feb

Imperial Communication

One of the main difficulties of ruling a vast area is that news travels slowly, by the time the information reaches the ears of the ruler things can be out of control and it is too late to act. In China this was a major problem as control was centralized. The solution was a network of well-maintained Imperial roads with Imperial staged horse riders. A message to or from the capital would travel at about 100 miles per day. This rapid speed of communication surprised European visitors.
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On this day

1875 Emperor Guangxu became ruler 1875 (146 years ago)
Wed 24th Feb

Eight steps to Enlightenment

The original teachings of the Buddha have been somewhat contorted over the 2,500 years since his death. Too much emphasis is placed on the strict rules of monasteries, something Buddha did not promote. The core message is that we worry too much and needlessly. There is an eight step path: 1) true understanding; 2) true thought; 3) careful speech; 4) correct action; 5) working for good; 6) keeping out evil; 7) acting sensitively; 8) meditation to achieve calm and rest.
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Tue 23rd Feb

Doing nothing

The Daoists have a strange doctrine of wuwei 無爲 which can be translated as 'inaction' or 'doing nothing' that has had deep cultural impact. It is not to be interpreted directly as bland acceptance but of not resisting the inevitable. The importance is to survive rather than oppose, to 'go with the flow'. The chief example given is of bamboo bending in the wind rather than trying to block it and be broken by it. This doctrine is used in Martial Arts so that the practitioner redirects an opponent's attack rather than trying to block it. Westerners can find this concept challenging as Chinese people may not stick to principles when circumstances suggest an alternative action avoids conflict.
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Mon 22nd Feb

Death by the million

In the Mongol conquests a total of 25 million people met their deaths and a less than fair proportion of these were in China. Although the Mongol horsemen could defeat any army in the open ground they could not so easily take well-defended cities. The Mongol answer was to use fear to gain victory. The policy was that unless a city surrendered without firing an arrow then all would be spared, however if they did not surrender everyone would be killed. Chinese cities had already passed the million mark in population. The city of Changzhou was captured in 1275 after offering stiff resistance, all one million inhabitants were killed.
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On this day

705 Empress Wu Zetian no longer ruler 705 (1,316 years ago)
Sun 21st Feb

Chinese Dark Age

Historians like to see parallels when comparing world history. The Qin-Han dynasties from 221BCE to 220CE is contemporary with the Roman Empire 27BCE to 284CE and the fall of the Han like the fall of Rome brought in a long period of chaos and disunity. In Europe the Dark Ages were longer and deeper than in China. Chinese language and traditions hung on in patches and knowledge was never completely lost. China quickly found its own strength again on re-unification under the Sui dynasty 581CE. So in China the Dark Ages lasted 360 years, in Europe they are considered to have lasted over 500 years.
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On this day

1876 Murder of Captain Margery 1876 (145 years ago)
1972 Nixon visit to China began 1972 (49 years ago)
Sat 20th Feb

Three Rivers National Park

Sanjiangyuan 三江源 is a national park in Qinghai province which contains the source of three great rivers: the Yangzi, Yellow and Mekong rivers. It is vast area covering 140,155 sq miles [363,000 sq kms] of low rainfall and sparse vegetation.
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Fri 19th Feb

Nanjing - the Southern Capital

Beijing has been the capital of China for only a small proportion on Chinese history. It's name means 'northern capital' suggesting it needs to be differentiated from somewhere else and that is Nanjing 'southern capital'. Nanjing was capital of the southern dynasties (386-589) during the Period of Disunity and then at the start of the Ming dynasty (1368-1421) when it received its current name. It became the capital of Taiping ruled southern China (1851-64) and the effective capital again briefly in 1927 when the Republic was founded. Under the Japanese invasion Nanjing was chosen as the capital of occupied China (1940-45). It is a city with a long history and the most impressive city wall (21 miles long) in China.
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On this day

1997 Deng Xiaoping died 1997 (24 years ago)
Thu 18th Feb

Long March

The famous Long March of the Communists started at Jinggangshan, Jiangxi where they were encircled by Nationalist forces. On 16th October 1934 about 100,000 troops attempted to break out, most died in the attempt. 36,000 began the Long March of 8,000 miles [12,875 kms] through mountainous Western China. This distance is equivalent to walking from New York to San Francisco and back. About 10,000 finally arrived on 22nd October 1935 at Yan'an Shaanxi.
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On this day

1294 Kublai Khan no longer ruler 1294 (727 years ago)
Wed 17th Feb

The Long March

Without the Long March it is very unlikely there would have been a Communist government in China. The march of Mao and other leaders was of 6,000 miles through the snow and mountains of western China to escape the clutches of the Nationalist Army. Of the 60,000 who set out from Jiangxi only 7,000 arrived in Shaanxi. It was dominated by young people - 53% were under 23 years old. It represented dogged determination and mutual dependence that remained for the rest of their lives. Mao Zedong emerged as the wily tactician who out-foxed his opponents.
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On this day

763 An Lushan Rebellion ended 763 (1,258 years ago)
Tue 16th Feb

Stream of silver

From 1685 until 1840 Guangzhou (called Canton by the foreigners) was the only place in China that trade with foreign ships could be made. The Cohong (or kehang ) was a guild of Chinese merchants that controlled all the trade. Members of the Cohong became extremely rich. It is said that when Howqwa's warehouse was accidentally burned down in 1822 that a stream of silver two miles in length was formed. He was personally forced to pay 1 million dollars in 1842 about a quarter of the total Opium war reparations.
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On this day

1921 Hua Guofeng born at Jiaocheng Shanxi 1921 (100 years ago)
Mon 15th Feb

Caged birds

It was common for people to keep a caged bird as a pet, and bring them down to the park each day. Often the outing would cause the birds to sing to each other and this would enhance everyone's enjoyment of the park.
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On this day

1823 Li Hongzhang born 1823 (198 years ago)
Sun 14th Feb

The New Dynasty

The famous Han dynasty ran for just over 400 years except for a short period in the middle - the reign of Wang Mang who founded the Xin or 'new' dynasty in 9CE. Wang Mang sought to reform China and sweep away corruption. Vested interests prevented his reforms such as abolition of slavery, being applied. An ill-conceived military campaign and natural disasters led to open rebellion and he died on 6th October 23CE defending the capital at Chang'an.
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On this day

1871 Emperor Guangxu born 1871 (150 years ago)
Sat 13th Feb

Importing Buddhism

The best known figure associated with bringing Buddhism into China from India is Xuanzang (c.602-664). This is mainly because the story of his trip was the basis for the much loved book 'Journey to the West'. The other important figure was the monk Fa Xian (337-c.422) who made a journey 230 years earlier. The trip took 14 years and the records of his journey stimulated interest in this new religion which then began to take hold in southern and western China.
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Fri 12th Feb

Lucky fish

At Chinese New Year lots of fish are eaten, it is regarded as a lucky dish; this is because the Chinese for fish is yú which sounds the same as yú ?plenty, surplus?. A more practical reason is that by the end of winter stocks of meat stored over the winter would be running low and so fish was the only 'meat' widely available for the festival.
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On this day

1912 Qing dynasty ended 1912 (109 years ago)
1912 Puyi no longer ruler 1912 (109 years ago)
Thu 11th Feb

Nine nines

The Temple of Heaven in Beijing is full of symbolism. As the number nine is associated with heaven and the Emperor it is heavily used in the temple's construction. Around the 'Heavenly Center Stone' stone slabs are laid out in concentric rings with nine more is each ring until the outermost ninth ring which has 9x9=81 slabs.
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On this day

2014 Taiwan China face to face talks 2014 (7 years ago)
Wed 10th Feb

Nixon visit

Richard Nixon, US President visited Mao Zedong in February 1972. The visit marked the end of a long period of isolation for China and hostility with the U.S.. John Adams wrote an opera about the visit called ‘Nixon in China ’.
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Tue 9th Feb

Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama, the religious leader of Tibet lives in exile at Dharamshala in Northern India, just 124 miles [200 kms] from Tibet. He is the leader of the Yellow hat school of Tantric strand of Buddhism. He fled Tibet in 1959 following reprisals after a revolt against Chinese rule in Tibet. Tenzin Gyatso the 14th incarnation of the Lama has stated he may be the last.
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On this day

1796 Emperor Qianlong no longer ruler 1796 (225 years ago)
Mon 8th Feb

Border with Russia

The eastern border with Russia is mainly defined by the Heilongjiang river (Amur in Russian). From Khabarovsk it then runs south along the Wusuli Jiang (Ussuri in Russian). The border was set between the two countries at the Treaty of Aigun (1858) and then Treaty of Beijing (1860) previously the Manchu people ruled the area to Tugur. The border deprives China a port on the Sea of Japan. The border broadly follows the Daxingan Ling (Greater Khingan) and Xiaoxingan Ling (Lesser Khingan) mountains.
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Sun 7th Feb

China's Armed Services

The active armed services of China numbered 2.3 million in 2016, the largest force in the world, but due to China's huge population it is only 114th on a per capita basis well behind most industrialized nations.
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On this day

1906 Puyi born 1906 (115 years ago)
Sat 6th Feb

Duck restaurant

The Chinese love of food is well-known. The range of restaurants is mind-boggling and to give themselves a unique factor some concentrate on one particular dish. One prime example is the Quanjude restaurant, No.30, Qianmen Street, Beijing that specializes in serving Peking duck.
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Fri 5th Feb

Imperial Number

The number 9 has long been associated with the Emperor. It is a strongly yang number as it is 3 x 3 with 3 itself a yang number. The Forbidden City is reputed to have 9,999 rooms.
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On this day

756 An Lushan born 756 (1,265 years ago)
1661 Emperor Kangxi became ruler 1661 (360 years ago)
Thu 4th Feb

Kublai Khan

It was not the mongol leader Genghiz Khan who conquered China in 1279 but his grandson Kublai khan. Genghiz Khan died in 1227 while attacking the Xi Xia kingdom then ruling north-western China. His son Ogedei succeeded him but died in 1241 after further eastward expansion of the Mongol empire. Mongke khan then briefly succeeded until he died in 1259 and then war broke out between his two brothers Kublai and Ariq 1259-64. Kublai led the conquest of China 1259-79 moved the capital to Beijing (then called Dadu) and lived on until 1294.
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On this day

960 Song dynasty began 960 (1,061 years ago)
960 Emperor Taizu became ruler 960 (1,061 years ago)
1976 Hua Guofeng became Premier PRC 1976 (45 years ago)
Wed 3rd Feb

Old Summer Palace

The destruction of the Emperor's Old Summer Palace is still a cause of grievance between China and Britain (and France). Victor Hugo, author of Les Misérables, lamented the action as an act of vandalism. However Chinese guides will not tell you of the background to the action. A party of journalists and diplomats under a flag of truce went to negotiate with the Qing forces in 1860. The delegation was imprisoned and tortured, resulting in 20 deaths, some of the corpses were hoisted up onto the city walls. It was a violent response to this action that led to the Anglo-French action.
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Tue 2nd Feb

Anhui's name

The central province of Anhui is one of only a few provinces named after two ancient cities. 'An' comes from Ānqìng a southern city in the province and 'Hui' from Huīzhōu an area in the far south.
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On this day

1421 Opening of Imperial Palace 1421 (600 years ago)
soldier, Tiananmen Square, Beijing
A Chinese People's Armed Police guard on Tiananmen Square, in front of the portrait of Mao Zedong. His rank is the second lowest, Private First Class [1]. 4th June 2007. Photo by Luo Shaoyang from Beijing available under a Creative Commons license .