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 6th Jul

Largest construction project - ever

The amount of effort to build China's Great Wall was truly epic. There have been two main building phases. The main phase 2,000 years ago used 300,000 slaves and moved 500 million tons of earth. Much of it was made of layers of tamped soil not stone. The second phase was in the Ming dynasty when the eastern section was built on new lines and used about 500,000 conscripted laborers over a period of nearly two hundred years. The Great Wall failed as a project in that it did not prevent the Mongol conquest in 1211 or the Manchu conquest in 1644.
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On this day

1976 Zhu De died 1976 (44 years ago)
1976 Zhu De no longer Chairman NPC 1976 (44 years ago)
1976 Song Qingling became Chairman NPC 1976 (44 years ago)
Sun 5th Jul

Common language

Because written Chinese characters are not phonetic it is possible to pronounce the same character in many different ways. This is how the different Chinese languages have developed. Even though Mandarin is the pre-eminent one, Cantonese, Wu and others are spoken by many millions, and yet the remarkable thing is that they can intercommunicate by just writing down what they say - because the written form is the same.
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On this day

1907 Yang Shangkun born 1907 (113 years ago)
Sat 4th Jul

Silk

The silkworm (the caterpillar of the silkworm moth Bombyx mori) munches its way through many leaves so it can later build a cocoon. White mulberry is the preferred foodstuff for producing silk but other leaves will do. It takes 9 pounds [4 kgs] of leaves to produce just 0.4 ounces [10.0 grams] of silk. A single cocoon can give up to a mile of silk thread.
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Fri 3rd Jul

Gang of four

Mao's wife Jiang Qing together with Wang Hongwen, Zhang Chunqiao, and Yao Wenyuan rose to power under Mao Zedong . It was Mao's successor Hua Guofeng who put them under arrest in October 1976, a month after Mao's death. A show trial followed with the 'Gang of Four' taking all the blame for the excesses of the cultural revolution and received long prison sentences.
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Thu 2nd Jul

1903 invasion of China

It is a little known fact that Britain invaded Tibet in 1903. Britain was concerned to control the borders of India, its prized possession. Captain Younghusband led 10,000 British and Indian soldiers. Fighting was intense with about 3,000 Tibetan deaths. Britain then maintained military presence up to 1944 at Lahasa, Gyangze and Gartok but Tibet was nominally left under Chinese control.
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Wed 1st Jul

Chinese planets

The traditional names for the planets in China associate the five planets visible to the naked eye to the five elements of traditional Chinese science. So Mercury is the water star; Venus the metal star; Mars the fire star; Jupiter the wood star and Saturn the earth star.
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On this day

1955 Li Keqiang born 1955 (65 years ago)
2006 Opening of Railway to Tibet 2006 (14 years ago)
Tue 30th Jun

Butterfly Dreamer

One of the most famous musings from Chinese philosophy is when Zhuangzi wondered whether his dream was of himself fluttering around as a butterfly or conversely was it a butterfly dreaming itself a man. The riddle is typical of Daoist philosophy and has opened debate on relativism that has endured to this day.
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On this day

1997 End of British rule in Hong Kong 1997 (23 years ago)
Mon 29th Jun

Klemens Freiherr von Ketteler

This German's claim to fame is that he was the German ambassador assassinated during the Boxer Rebellion (1898-1901). The killing led to an escalation of an already heated conflict. The foreign embassies refused to leave the city and the 'Siege of the Legations' in Beijing began, they were eventually rescued by a joint Allied force 55 days later. The Rebellion marked a further major reduction of Manchu control of China.
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Sun 28th Jun

Our Hart

One of the chief obstacles to foreign trade in China in the 19th century had been the corrupt manipulation of tariffs. Traders were subject to huge and random hikes in tariffs (sales taxes) at the whim of corrupt local officials. The solution to the problem were the British men Horatio Lay and Sir Robert Hart who worked for the Qing government to enforce fair tariffs. The fair system of taxes he introduced channeled the money to the government and not local officials. In recognition of his fairness and hard work the Chinese called Sir Robert 'Our Hart'.
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On this day

1919 Treaty of Versailles 1919 (101 years ago)
1981 Hua Guofeng no longer Chairman Chinese Communist Party 1981 (39 years ago)
1981 Hu Yaobang became Chairman Chinese Communist Party 1981 (39 years ago)
Sat 27th Jun

Our Hart

One of the chief obstacles to foreign trade in China in the 19th century had been the corrupt manipulation of tariffs. Traders were subject to huge and random hikes in tariffs (sales taxes) at the whim of corrupt local officials. The solution to the problem were the British men Horatio Lay and Sir Robert Hart who worked for the Qing government to enforce fair tariffs. The fair system of taxes he introduced channeled the money to the government and not local officials. In recognition of his fairness and hard work the Chinese called Sir Robert 'Our Hart'.
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Fri 26th Jun

Our Hart

One of the chief obstacles to foreign trade in China in the 19th century had been the corrupt manipulation of tariffs. Traders were subject to huge and random hikes in tariffs (sales taxes) at the whim of corrupt local officials. The solution to the problem were the British men Horatio Lay and Sir Robert Hart who worked for the Qing government to enforce fair tariffs. The fair system of taxes he introduced channeled the money to the government and not local officials. In recognition of his fairness and hard work the Chinese called Sir Robert 'Our Hart'.
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Thu 25th Jun

Overseas Aid

The Chinese diaspora have made an important cultural and financial contribution to the building of modern China. Overseas communities in Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Indonesia have often become rich and send back money to their families or invest in new enterprises within China.
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On this day

1950 Korean War began 1950 (70 years ago)
Wed 24th Jun

Double harvest

In the far south of China the warm, moist climate allows two crops of rice to be grown each year. Carefully selected fast growing rice was essential to keep everyone fed; there are hundreds of varieties to choose from to precisely match the soil, water depth and climate. The second crop needs to be planted out during the burning July heat.
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On this day

1398 Emperor Hongwu no longer ruler 1398 (622 years ago)
1989 Jiang Zemin became President PRC 1989 (31 years ago)
1989 Jiang Zemin became General Secretary Communist Party 1989 (31 years ago)
Tue 23rd Jun

Quintessence of the Nation

Peking (Beijing Opera) is considered the supreme art-form as it combines dance, acrobatics, singing, acting, music and comedy. Originally all the actors were men and they started training at a very early age. It would become soon clear what type of role the boy was best suited to and they would play just that role for their whole acting career. The Opera has the barest of sets; the actors have to suggest the action with standard gestures and movable props. The music was considered an integral part of the performance with the musicians occupying a part of the stage playing traditional instruments.
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On this day

1662 Guoxingye died 1662 (358 years ago)
1909 Li Xiannian born 1909 (111 years ago)
1989 Zhao Ziyang no longer General Secretary Communist Party 1989 (31 years ago)
Mon 22nd Jun

President Sun Yatsen

Together with Mao Zedong, Sun Yatsen is considered the founding father of modern China; and yet he held office of President for just six weeks from 1st Jan 1912 when the Republic of China was founded until 1st April 1912. He stepped down to allow Yuan Shikai to become President as demanded by the Manchu and Western powers.
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Sun 21st Jun

Art of War

Sun Wu [544 - 496 BCE] wrote the epic “Art of War” over 2,500 years ago. It remains a classic in China and was influential on developing military tactics as far away as Europe. Indeed in the 1990s, Gulf War generals are known to have studied and used the ancient stratagems.
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On this day

1992 Li Xiannian died 1992 (28 years ago)
Sat 20th Jun

Inner Mongolia

The huge province of Inner Mongolia acts as a buffer zone between the main part of China and the vast, arid expanse of Mongolia and Russia. In the western part the Gobi desert makes habitation difficult. Most of the people live near to the bend of the Yellow River. The mountains that form China's geographical border run along its inner edge. Historically it has been raids by Mongolian people that have regularly harassed the city dwellers of northern China.
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On this day

1900 Killing of German ambassador 1900 (120 years ago)
Fri 19th Jun

Chinese gardens

Chinese gardens have a distinctive design that went on to inspire a change of style in far away Europe and particularly England. Although house design is geometric, gardens aim to capture the curves and informality of the natural world. Rocks, bamboo and water are often important elements in the design.
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Thu 18th Jun

Terracotta Warriors

The chance discovery by a farmer in 1974 of a pit containing 6,000 terracotta figures must go down as one of the biggest ever archaeological discoveries. The Chinese are reluctant to disturb the tombs of the dead and so the vast bulk of the tomb complex of the first Qin Emperor remains untouched. The tomb is located east of the ancient city of Xi'an.
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On this day

618 Tang dynasty began 618 (1,402 years ago)
1983 Li Xiannian became President PRC 1983 (37 years ago)
Wed 17th Jun

Boys better than girls

There is still a preference for girls rather than boys, illegal gender selection is building up, there are now 119 boys for 100 girls. Traditionally boys stayed at or near home and worked with their family while girls left the village to be married off to another family. So for a family to continue it needed boys. Boys were also needed in the important ancestral rituals. Nowadays with severe birth control policies, couples prefer boys in order to continue the family line.
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Tue 16th Jun

Summer Resort

The Manchu rulers of China during the Qing dynasty were not content with just the Summer Palace and Forbidden City in the capital Beijing they also built an even larger extensive pleasure park at Chengde 150 miles to the north-east. Here they could escape the summer heat and practice horsemanship out in the hills and mountains. The resort was dotted with impressive replicas of buildings elsewhere in China including the Potala Palace, Lhasa.
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Mon 15th Jun

Qinghai

The province of Qinghai is named after the lake that stands on its eastern edge. It is the largest lake in China and is at a high altitude of 10,500 feet [3,200 meters]. Its name means blue-green lake. The salty waters of the lake (it has no outflow) is home to many birds.
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Sun 14th Jun

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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Sat 13th Jun

World upside down

When the Chinese invented the compass they chose south rather than north as the primary direction. In China it is called 指南针 'point south needle'. Compasses pointed south and for this reason maps showed south at the top rather than north. South was more important than north as it is the direction of the sun and hence all warmth and light. This convention has the advantage that the compass direction can be confirmed by the position of the sun at midday.
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Fri 12th Jun

Eating snakes

With periods of mass starvation only sixty years ago, when people resorted to eating grass and tree bark to keep alive, it is not surprising that the Chinese will have a go at eating just about anything. Snake meat is considered quite a delicacy and there are restaurants that specialize in serving many types of snake meat.
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On this day

618 Sui dynasty ended 618 (1,402 years ago)
Thu 11th Jun

Wok cooking

The Chinese tradition of cooking with a wok harks back to making best use of meager resources. Cutting meat and vegetables into thin strips allows food to be cooked rapidly with the minimum need for precious heating fuel.
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Wed 10th Jun

Dragon Boat

The Dragon boat festival commemorates Qu Yuan 343 - 278 BCE an incorruptible public official who drowned himself in defiance of widespread corruption over 2,300 years ago. The festival has older roots as it is associated with the dragons that ruled the waters.
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Tue 9th Jun

Largest province

By area, Xinjiang is the largest province in China, narrowly beating Tibet and Inner Mongolia in total area. Historically the province was known in Europe as East Turkestan and separatist Uyghur people aim to establish as a nation under that name. In deference to the ethnic minorities it is officially 'Uygur Autonomous Region' rather than a province.
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Mon 8th Jun

Firecrackers

The loud bangs from strings of firecrackers are often heard when the Chinese have something to celebrate. Traditionally gunpowder was packed into the hollow stem of bamboo, but now paper and plastic are used for the red casing. Liuyang in Hunan is a key center in the manufacture of firecrackers.
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On this day

1916 Yuan Shikai died 1916 (104 years ago)
Silk road, Jiayuguan, fort
Fortress (14th century) at Great Wall of Jiayuguang, September 2009. Photo by Sigismund von Dobschütz available under a Creative Commons license .