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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Mon 26th Jul

Mahjong flowers

In the standard Mahjong set of 144 tiles there are four of each four wind directions, four of each type of dragons (red, green and white) but also another 8 tiles that have special use in the game. The four seasons and four flowers add a bonus to the score and are not used in building hands. The four flowers plum; orchid; bamboo and chrysanthemum are the emblems of the four seasons (winter, spring, summer and autumn).
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Sun 25th Jul

The non-leader of China

Many consider that it was Deng Xiaoping rather than Mao Zedong who should be accorded the credit for the headlong development of modern China. Yet Deng Xiaoping was never President or Chairman of China. He was though the 'Paramount Leader' who preferred to rule from behind the scenes as a complete contrast to Mao's personality cult. Deng was paramount leader from 1978-1992 but during this time Yang Shangkun was the official president 1988-1993. between 1975 and 1982 there was no official overall Chairman or President. Deng however did keep the overall control of the military forces.
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On this day

1894 Japanese naval attack 1894 (127 years ago)
Sat 24th Jul

Ladle compasses

The first compasses were actually found rather than made. They were made from naturally occurring magnetite in the form of lodestones. They can be large lumps that are only weakly magnetic (they feature in the Matt Damon film The Great Wall). To turn them into compasses the magnetite is gently abraded away to leave a ladle that is carefully balanced to rest on the bowl. The stem of the ladle points south (the Chinese chose south as principal direction).
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Fri 23rd Jul

No tin

There can be few cities that are named after the absence of something and yet that is the case of the major city of Wuxi in Jiangsu province. It is less than 100 miles from Shanghai and used to be a boom town mining and processing tin ore. Wú xī means 'no tin' and reflects its status 2,000 years ago when the tin deposits had been worked out.
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Thu 22nd Jul

Kowloon capture

As part of the first Opium War (1839-42) the island of Hong Kong became British territory in perpetuity. It was in the second Opium War (1860) that the part of the mainland facing the island 'Kowloon' (meaning nine dragons) was ceded to Britain too. The final part of Hong Kong the 'New Territories' was leased from China in 1898 for 99 years.
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Wed 21st Jul

Thousands of years of written examinations

The use of written tests to choose candidates on academic merit goes back as far as two thousand years in China. It became immensely important and explains the studious habits of many Chinese children. It was the passport to wealth and honor and 1,000 years ago as many as 400,000 took the examinations. It was not until 300 years ago that the rest of the world copied this approach to choosing by merit.
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On this day

541 Emperor Wendi born 541 (1,480 years ago)
Tue 20th Jul

Round houses

One of the scenic delights of Fujian provinces are the Tulou houses of the Hakka people. They are round with a large inner courtyard and house a whole village of up to 800 people. They were built for defense and at several stories high would be hard to overcome by force. They are found in mountainous tea-growing areas of inland Fujian province.
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Mon 19th Jul

Shangrila

If you have ever wondered where to find 'Shangrila' the fabled place of peace and tranquility then you need to go to Yunnan province. A Chinese town lays claim to be the genuine location and so Zhongdian has been renamed as Shangrila. However the most likely location is further up in the mountains, near the Buddhist holy mountain of Kawagarbo.
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Sun 18th Jul

Chinese festivals

The Chinese have a rich mixture of festivals ancient and modern to celebrate. Some have dates fixed by the traditional lunar calendar, some by the traditional solar calendar and the modern ones by the Western calendar so the dates move around each year. Most months have some kind of festival. Public holidays are now usually moved to be close to the festival date often giving a long weekend rather than a day off in the middle of the week. There are two longer public holidays, one for Chinese New year (usually three days) and one for October 1st National Day (also typically three days).
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On this day

1891 Guo Songtao died 1891 (130 years ago)
Sat 17th Jul

First Historian

Rivaling the accomplishments of the great Roman historians is the Chinese historian Sima Qian [135-86BCE]. Unlike so many early scholars he was very careful to back up his facts. Where he found conflicting reports of a historical event he included all the versions so that the reader could make their own judgment. He wrote not only on Chinese history but also about music; astronomy and traditions.
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On this day

1402 Emperor Yongle became ruler 1402 (619 years ago)
Fri 16th Jul

Arabian invasion

When Arabian power was at its peak the coast of China was not immune to attack. Back in 758CE a combined Arab and Persian fleet ransacked the port of Guangzhou (Canton)
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Thu 15th Jul

Arabian invasion

When Arabian power was at its peak the coast of China was not immune to attack. Back in 758CE a combined Arab and Persian fleet ransacked the port of Guangzhou (Canton)
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On this day

1907 Qiu Jin died 1907 (114 years ago)
Wed 14th Jul

China's china

Jingdezhen in Jiangxi has been the center of Chinese porcelain manufacture for centuries. It is one of the first places where a production line technique was used to optimize production. Skilled craftsmen specialized in one particular part of the porcelain manufacture process, passing on the end result to the next stage. By 1433 over 500,000 pieces were being made a year. Much of the ‘china’ was sent for export to Europe over the mountains via the port of Guangzhou (Canton).
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Tue 13th Jul

The Great Leap Forward

Mao had very ambitious visions for the future of China after the communists took power in 1949. After the first five year plan had achieved modest success Mao believed that a major initiative would enable China to overtake industrialized countries such as Britain within 15 years. He had the zealous support of 600 million people and Mao believed that such a mass of humanity working to a common purpose could achieve anything. The plan was launched in 1958 but was far too ambitious and was inadequately managed resulting in millions of deaths through famine. Its supporters maintain that the policy maintained national unity through the early years of the new government.
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Mon 12th Jul

Gong hei fat choy

The phrase often heard at the Spring Festival is 'Gong hei fat choy' this is the Cantonese language version for gōng xǐ fā cái meaning: congratulations, become wealthy.
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Sun 11th Jul

Mongolian Hero

Considering the facts about Genghiz Khan and the Mongol conquest it is perhaps surprising that he is regarded as a hero by Mongolian people with many statues of him here and there. The speed and ferocity of the Mongol conquest is unparalleled, they represent the most terrifying danger the world had ever seen. Whole peoples and their cultures were annihilated. About 25 million people died (same as World War 1 with a much lower world population)
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Sat 10th Jul

Practical Kites

Although kites are seen now as just a pastime in their early history in China they had a very practical purpose. This was to catch fish far out from the banks of rivers and the sea. The kite line would include a separate line with baited hooks to dangle in the water. If a fish takes the bait then the kite-flier would have a tricky task of landing the fish and kite back on land.
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Fri 9th Jul

Picture characters

There are a number of common Chinese characters that are much simplified representations of things in real life, for example bird, sun, pig, rain, mountain and fish. This makes them easy to link with the word/concept they represent and are often called pictograms. However there are only a few hundred of these xiàng xíng image shape characters and the rest just have to be memorized as they do not relate to physical things.
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Thu 8th Jul

Lushan

Lushan in northern Jiangxi is just south of the Yangzi. It is a high mountain at 4,836 feet [1,474 meters] where many visitors over the centuries have admired the misty views over Poyang Lake. In colonial times foreigners sought refuge here from the fierce heat of summer. Chairman Mao held some important strategy meetings on its commanding slopes.
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Wed 7th Jul

Long awaited simplification

It is often thought that the simplification of the characters was all down to Mao Zedong's new Communist government of 1949. The fact is that the calls to simplify the language had been rumbling on for a long time. The main reason was to improve literacy as the simplification made characters quicker to recognize and write. The famous writer Lu Xun (1881-1936) was a leading advocate for the reforms.
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On this day

1937 Marco Polo bridge Incident 1937 (84 years ago)
Tue 6th Jul

One child policy

The policy of only permitting one child per family is considered the most hated in China since the formation of the P.R.C.. It was introduced in 1980 after warnings of the dangers of over population had gone unheeded for twenty years. Mass starvation was considered the likely result. The fact that China's population has stabilized and is on track to fall slightly is a vindication of the policy despite the personal hardship and heartbreak that it undoubtedly caused. With sustainability of the world at risk one obvious way to relieve pressure is to reduce demand on food and resources.
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On this day

1976 Zhu De died 1976 (45 years ago)
1976 Zhu De no longer Chairman NPC 1976 (45 years ago)
1976 Song Qingling became Chairman NPC 1976 (45 years ago)
Mon 5th Jul

China's dispute with India

Relations between the two most populous nations on Earth: China and India have never been great. The shared border runs along the foothills of the Himalayas and was drawn up by the British (the McMahon Line). When the People's Republic was founded in 1949 China wasted no time in ensuring control of Tibet. The Dalai Lama fled into India where he still lives at Tezpur within sight of the Himalayas. The new Communist Chinese government did not honor agreements signed by its Republican forebears and so the exact line of the border became contentious. A war between China and India ran from 20th October to 21 November 1962 and resulted in Chinese victory. China held onto the Aksai Chin area (near Kashmir) while India held on to the N.E.F.A (far east of the border).
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On this day

1907 Yang Shangkun born 1907 (114 years ago)
Sun 4th Jul

Elizabethan envoy

Britain attempted to open trade links with China long before the Opium Wars in 1839-60. Way back in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I the first mission to open trade (at that time wool was the main British export) was sent out in 1579. John Newbery made three unsuccessful attempts to reach China (1579, 1581 and 1583) and died on the final journey. The Portuguese had already established a monopoly in 1557 and were keen to prevent any other European state from trading directly with China.
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Sat 3rd Jul

The Chinese acre

In ancient times the amount of land you had to cultivate would determine if your family thrived or starved. In the UK ;land area was measured in acres (1 furlong by 1 chain) representing a single long furrow in a field. In China the qǐng was the area of land considered large enough to support a single small family. The actual area would depend on the fertility and topography of the land. This eventually became standardized in 1912 as 1.65 acres
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Fri 2nd Jul

Chinese Chess pieces

Although both Chinese Chess and 'western' Chess games both have 16 pieces on each side the pieces are different. There are five pawns on each side, two chariots and then nine pieces on the back row. The back row has two chariots (castles), two horses, two elephants, two scholars and the Marshall/General (king). It is the chariot that has rather strange rules with no close equivalent in western chess.
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Thu 1st Jul

Tibet's name

Even the name used for Tibet is contentious. The name used in the west - 'Tibet' probably comes from the Arabic 'Tibat' meaning 'the summits'. In China it is known as 西藏 xī zàng meaning 'Western treasury of Buddhist scriptures'. It is the strength of Tibetan Buddhism in Tibet that has set it apart from China. The Tibetans themselves use the name Bod or in Sanskrit བོད for their country.
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On this day

1955 Li Keqiang born 1955 (66 years ago)
2006 Opening of Railway to Tibet 2006 (15 years ago)
Wed 30th Jun

Birth of a revolutionary movement

The momentum that was to build to the foundation of the Peoples' Republic in 1949 began before the foundation of the Chinese Communist party in 1921. It was the May 4th movement that gave this impetus; it began on 4th May 1919 with mainly student demonstrations over the treatment of China at the Treaty of Versailles. It was Zhou Enlai who emerged as a leader of the movement in Tianjin and went on to be a leading figure in the early days of the P.R.C.. May 4th is commemorated each year as 'Youth day' in China.
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On this day

1997 End of British rule in Hong Kong 1997 (24 years ago)
Tue 29th Jun

Wooden liver

In Chinese traditional medicine each of the main organs of the body were associated with one of the five Chinese elements. Heart: fire; Liver: wood; Spleen:earth; Lungs: metal and Kidneys: water. The mind was considered to be controlled by the heart. These associations allowed a practitioner to suggest treatments to ailments. A kidney problem suggests a water imbalance and so drinking the correct amount should resolve any kidney problems. Wood is the element of vegetation and so a liver problem would be addressed by adding more vegetables to the diet.
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Mon 28th Jun

Moutai liquor

Maotai (or Moutai) is a traditional strong liquor made in Guizhou province in the town of Maotai. It is a distilled spirit (53% alcohol) made from wheat and sorghum. It is the tipple of choice at banquets and frequently given as a gift to visitors.
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On this day

1919 Treaty of Versailles 1919 (102 years ago)
1981 Hua Guofeng no longer Chairman Chinese Communist Party 1981 (40 years ago)
1981 Hu Yaobang became Chairman Chinese Communist Party 1981 (40 years ago)
feng shui, turtle, tortoise, calligraphy
Bronze tortoise used in Feng Shui