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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Wed 27th Oct

Xi'an incident

The leader of Free China and the Republican party Chiang Kaishek was kidnapped by his own generals at the Hot Springs, Xi'an on 12th December 1936. The event brought to a head the dispute between the Communists and Republicans about the reaction to the Japanese who had by then invaded most of northern China. Talks with Zhou Enlai and others forced Chiang to form the first United Front against Japan.
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Tue 26th Oct

Largest city

The modern city of Xi'an stands on the site of the great city of Chang'an, the largest city in the world for many centuries. It had a vast city wall and the population was over one million. It reached its peak during the Tang dynasty with traders living in the cosmopolitan city attracted over the Silk Road that ended here. Vast quantities of food needed to be brought from southern China to feed the city's population.
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Mon 25th Oct

Nourishing foods

For thousands of years the Chinese people have studied how food affects health. Food is still chosen for its health giving properties rather than just nutrition. There are broad categories of food on the basis of level of 'heat' and 'nourishment'. Chicken soup and ginseng tea are very nourishing while beef steak, honey and milk are considered lightly nourishing.
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On this day

1971 China recognized by UN 1971 (50 years ago)
1971 United Nations Entry 1971 (50 years ago)
Sun 24th Oct

Wildlife emblem

When the pioneering World Wildlife Fund (now World Wide Fund for Nature) was founded in 1961 it chose the giant panda as its emblem. The emblem was designed by Sir Peter Scott from sketches of Chi-Chi who was the giant panda at London Zoo at the time. Chi-Chi was not the first giant panda at the zoo, in 1938 three pandas Song, Tong and Ming had previously come from China but had not prospered.
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Sat 23rd Oct

A character is not a word

Many people think one Chinese character represents one word in other languages. In fact it normally takes two Chinese characters to represent a single word. So 'happy' can be expressed as xìng fú and 'plant' as zhí wù. It is quite common for both of the characters representing the word contribute to the meaning independently so is 'to plant' and is 'thing' so both together mean 'the thing that is planted'.
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On this day

1928 Zhu Rongji born 1928 (93 years ago)
Fri 22nd Oct

Hainan Island

Hainan only became a province in 1988, previously it had been administered as part of Guangdong. As the extreme southernmost point of Chinese control, the island had long been used as a place of exile for court officials. The most famous exile was the poet Su Shi of the Song dynasty. It now has a thriving gambling and tourist industry.
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On this day

1986 Ye Jianying died 1986 (35 years ago)
Thu 21st Oct

Wang Xizhi

The master calligrapher Wang Xizhi 303 - 361 is considered the “Sage of calligraphy”. The art of writing Chinese characters continues to be a well respected tradition. Fine examples of writing by famous calligraphers can achieve very high prices.
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On this day

1328 Emperor Hongwu born at Fengyang Anhui 1328 (693 years ago)
Wed 20th Oct

Giant Panda

The emblematic Giant Panda is restricted to remote mountainous terrain in central Sichuan; Shanxi and Shaanxi provinces. They are thinly spread over large areas and so unlikely to be seen in the wild. They slowly digest through 50 pounds [23 kgs] of bamboo each day. China now leases out pandas to foreign zoos for a cool $1 million a year. If a visiting panda happens to give birth, by contract the new cub belongs to China not the zoo.
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On this day

1928 Li Peng born 1928 (93 years ago)
1962 Sino Indian War began 1962 (59 years ago)
Tue 19th Oct

Divine archer

The Divine Archer was married to Chang'e of the moon and is associated with the sun. In a legend of the earliest days the earth was threatened with scorching by the ten suns that heated the earth. The Divine Archer (Hou Yi) shot down nine of these sun ravens to bring the Earth to a tolerable temperature.
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On this day

1936 Lu Xun died 1936 (85 years ago)
Mon 18th Oct

Hong Kong

The Chinese name for Hong Kong is Xiāng Gǎng meaning fragrant harbor. Hong Kong island was a British possession from 1842 until 1999 and runs on a semi-autonomous basis until 2049.
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On this day

1860 Second Opium War 1860 (161 years ago)
Sun 17th Oct

Battle of Talas

During the Tang dynasty the extent of Chinese ruled territory spread west through Central Asia. The decisive battle at Talas in 751 with the Arab Abbasid Caliphate led to the defeat of Gao Xianzhi and the end of Chinese western expansion.
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On this day

1919 Zhao Ziyang born 1919 (102 years ago)
Sat 16th Oct

Flowers and fruit

Flowers and fruit are used in Chinese art to give a symbolic meaning. Quite often this is the obvious one of grace and beauty as with orchids, plums, azaleas and magnolias. In other cases the symbolism comes from words that sound the same in Chinese, so maple means 'appointment'; orange 'good wishes'; cinnamon 'valuable' and jujube 'early'. Some have a sexual connotation so have to be used with care if used as a gift.
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On this day

690 Empress Wu Zetian became ruler 690 (1,331 years ago)
1934 Jiangxi Soviet Breakout 1934 (87 years ago)
1934 Start of Long March 1934 (87 years ago)
1964 First Chinese atomic bomb 1964 (57 years ago)
Fri 15th Oct

A True Story

The writer Lu Xun [1881-1936] revolutionized Chinese literature. He brought reading and writing to the masses, traditionally literature had been elitist, restricted to the educated few. He wrote many short stories and the best known and most influential is 'A true story of Ah Q' in 1921. The story satirizes the snobbery and superstitions of the time.
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Thu 14th Oct


One main branch of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) concerns acupuncture. Over many centuries practitioners have worked out over 600 acupuncture points that can be used to block pain and cure illness. Traditionally the points are associated with the flow of 'qi' through the body. Qi is the life essence and proponents of the Daoist tradition believe controlling qi is essential to a long and healthy life.
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Wed 13th Oct

Hidden cities

Because Chinese towns and cities came under frequent attack through much of their long history each city would have a high wall built around it. Only one or two high buildings would be visible from outside the wall. The city gates would be locked at night. To provide an adequate defense to northern barbarian raiders cities would have walls 18 meters [60 feet] high.
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Tue 12th Oct

Long march technology

The Long March is portrayed as all about personal heroics, the taking of the Luding bridge and the Lazikou Pass. However the thing that probably contributed most to the Communist survival from Guomindang (GMD) attack was technical and modern. The Long marchers took with them radio sets, and with these were able to intercept GMD transmissions. This allowed them to stay one step ahead of their attackers. This is rather like the cracking of the German Enigma by the British which won the war more than anything else.
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On this day

1902 Peng Zhen born 1902 (119 years ago)
1992 Deng Xiaoping no longer Paramount Leader 1992 (29 years ago)
1992 Jiang Zemin became Paramount Leader 1992 (29 years ago)
Mon 11th Oct

Korean border

The land border between North Korea and China runs along the Yalu River and then the Changbai mountains finally the border with China follows the River Tumen, it then has a short border with Russia before reaching the Sea of Japan. In the lofty Changbai mountains lies the crater Tian lake used as an emblem of North Korea which straddles the border. Historically the Korean kingdom extended north to the Chinese side of the Yalu river. There are nearly 2 million ethnic Koreans in China.
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Sun 10th Oct

Well field

An early form of tithe system was used in China to provide income for the state. Land was divided into nine equal portions in a 3x3 grid. One portion, the central one, was harvested and the produce given to the state. Wang Mang re-introduced this form of taxation in the middle of the Han dynasty.
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On this day

1911 Wuchang Uprising 1911 (110 years ago)
Sat 9th Oct


The fine calcareous sand called 'loess' is both a boon and a curse. It is spread over northern China through Ningxia, northern Shaanxi; eastern Gansu and southern Shanxi. It is a fertile soil an accumulation of wind-blown dust over millions of years. It is very easy eroded bu flash floods. The Yellow River flows through the deposit picking up a vast load of loess and coloring it yellow. The flooding of the yellow river has led to millions of deaths over the centuries.
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Fri 8th Oct

Sending rice to China

When you think of food in China most people will think of rice. It may surprise you that China now imports a lot of rice, it has not been self sufficient in its staple food for some years. It's never been warm enough to grow rice in the north. It is cheaper to grow rice in slightly warmer and wetter climates further south for example in Vietnam, Thailand and Burma. This may start having an effect on the rural poor who are subsistence rice farmers. Even so China still grows 28% of the world's total production of rice.
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On this day

1735 Emperor Qianlong became ruler 1735 (286 years ago)
Thu 7th Oct


The provincial capital of Inner Mongolia is referred to by a variety of names. Hohhot is from the Mongolian name meaning 'blue city'. It is only in Tibet, Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia that cities are still mainly referred to by their local ethnic name. In pinyin it rendered as Hūhéhàotè.
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On this day

1976 Hua Guofeng became Chairman Chinese Communist Party 1976 (45 years ago)
Wed 6th Oct

The color of cats

Deng Xiaoping, leader of China 1978-1992 became the acceptable face of Chinese Communism, pragmatic rather than dogmatic. His most famous saying underlies this view ?It doesn't matter whether a cat is white or black, as long as it catches mice?. In other words, following Marxist-Leninist theory is only one means to achieve an end, improving the lot of ordinary Chinese people is the only important end result. This was the background to the unleashing of capitalism and the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZ) that transformed China.
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On this day

23 Wang Mang no longer ruler 23 (1,998 years ago)
1552 born 1552 (469 years ago)
1552 Matteo Ricci born 1552 (469 years ago)
Tue 5th Oct

Imperial Eunuchs

The last Imperial eunuch died less than 20 years ago, ending a tradition that had lasted at least 2,000 years. Originally castration was a punishment but when it was realized that eunuchs made good servants free of the possibility of fatherhood their influence grew. At their peak there may have been as many as 70,000 Imperial eunuchs and the few that reached the top post they became marvelously rich and powerful.
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Mon 4th Oct

The Yangtse

The Yangzi (Yangtse in old spelling) 长江 is the third longest river in the world (3,915 miles [3,915 miles]) after the Nile 4,132 miles [4,132 miles] and Amazon 3,977 miles [3,977 miles]. Unlike these other mighty rivers the whole of its length is entirely contained within China. Its source is in southern Qinghai and then it bends south and then north before heading east through the Yangzi gorges and then on out to the sea near Shanghai.
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Sun 3rd Oct

Red eyebrows

The red eyebrow 赤眉 rebellion was a grass roots rebellion fueled by famine and high taxes. They showed their loyalty to the cause by painting their eyebrows and/or foreheads red. This was 2,000 years ago in the troubled reign of Wang Mang. Perhaps red was chosen as it was the dynastic color of the Han dynasty which Wang Mang had overthrown and the rebels sought to restore.
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Sat 2nd Oct

Evil railways

There was strong opposition to the building of railways in China in the period 1870-1900. Firstly foreign powers led by Britain, Germany, France and the U.S. were the builders not Chinese and was seen as part of colonization. It deprived many locals of employment. There was a huge mass of poorly paid porters who carried goods on their backs who faced starvation as a result. The building of straight line metal tracks cutting through the countryside offended the principles of Feng Shui that favored curves and undulation. The first railway 1876 at Shanghai caused such unrest that it was bought up by the government so it could be dismantled. Up until the foundation of the republic many railways were sabotaged and the foreign controlled railway companies lost their investments.
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Fri 1st Oct

The Romans and China

Trading contacts between Han China and the Roman world were extensive. At this time much of the trade took the overland Silk Route through Central Asia. In the Han dynasty the Romans were known as the Great Qin (Da Qin 大秦 named after the western Qin people who had unified China in the Qin dynasty. Silk was one of the main exports from China.
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On this day

1949 People's Republic of China began 1949 (72 years ago)
1949 Zhou Enlai became Premier PRC 1949 (72 years ago)
1949 Mao Zedong became Paramount Leader 1949 (72 years ago)
Thu 30th Sep

Goji Berries

A noted Chinese export are the nutritious and healthy berries grown in northern China. Ningxia province is noted for the production of Wolfberries now better known as Goji berries. In traditional medicine they are used for the treatment of high blood pressure.
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On this day

1949 Republic of China ended 1949 (72 years ago)
Wed 29th Sep

Stilwell Museum

The city of Chongqing is the unlikely setting for a museum dedicated to General Joseph W. Stilwell, a U.S. General in World War II. Stilwell had his headquarters 1942-45 in the city which was then the capital of Free China under Chiang Kaishek.
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printing, calligraphy
Printing using movable wooden block Chinese characters