Sunday, February 27, 2011

QingMing Festival

While the Chinese New Years is the most important festival, the QingMing Festival is significant as a day for remembering ancestors. It falls on the 15th day after the Spring Equinox (usually around the 5th of April). There are a few names that this festival is called in English such as All Souls Day, Clear Bright Festival, Spring Remembrance, Grave Sweeping Day, etc…

In the following excerpt from Mulan, we can see perhaps the Disney representation of how Ancestors can look after the living.


Historically, filial piety has been one of the most important aspects of Chinese culture. This filial piety extends after death because it is believed that the spirits of dead ancestors will look after the family when they are gone. Offerings of food and money can keep the ancestors happy in the spiritual world, and thus the living family will continually make sure to keep these ancestors happy in order to have their blessing. The origin of the QingMing Festival stretches back over two millennia and is derived from the Hanshi festival which means ‘cold food’. The Hanshi festival was originally held to commemorate a man named Jie Zitui, who had a cut a piece of his own leg for his starving lord to eat when he had been exiled. When his lord, the future Duke Wen returned to power, he forgot about Jie’s sacrifice, and so he left and holed himself into a mountain. Duke Wen, realizing that he wanted to reward Jie tried to find him in the mountain, but couldn’t so tried to weed him out with fire…but instead Jie would be found dead. Eventually the Hanshi festival and the QingMing Festival would be combined into just one and would be interconnected.


As one of the name suggests, QingMing is grave sweeping day, so many family will go to graves to clean and tend to any weeds and underbrush which have grown out of hand around the grave. The family also offer flowers, food, drinks, and paper money for their dead ancestors. School children will also often go to Martyrs’ Park to pay respect to national heroes and martyrs who had sacrificed their lives for China.

Offerings made to the deceased on QingMing Jie

Another aspect of QingMing is the spring outing. It is a festival where people go out and appreciate the beauty of Spring, and also marks the day when planting season has resumed. It is a symbol for the end of winter, and the beginning of warm weather and nice rainfall.

Lastly, on this day, kites are flown both during the day and night. Also they will cut the string of the kite to let it fly free, and by doing this it said that it brings good luck and eliminates diseases.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Great Wall of China

Have you ever heard that you could see the Great Wall from space? Well while it is an amazing structure, it is still the size of a wall, and is not visible with the naked eye. Its length, however, is quite amazing, as it stretches with actual wall, trenches, and natural defenses for an estimated 5,500 miles! The length of the actual wall is an estimated 3890 miles. The Great Wall is close to double the length traveling from one side of the United States to the other. When I google mapped directions from Wildwood, NJ to San Francisco, CA, it was about 3,000 miles. One common misconception is that the Great Wall is continuously. It is rather a series of short walls that follow the crest of the hill near the Mongolian plain. 

Why was the Great Wall Built?

The Great Wall was built was to help ward off invaders from the North. Walls were built beginning in the 5th century and was rebuilt and maintained up through the 16th century.  Most of the walls we have left were built during the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644)

The map above shows when the different parts of the wall were built and during which dynasty. While the map above is a bit small and hard to see this shows it in a bit more detail. While the wall was built to ward off the Mongolian defenders, because it was not continuous, the Mongolians just went around the walls instead...which led to the abandonment of the building of the walls. The first walls were pretty simple, mad with earth and stones on wooden frames. 

Early parts of the Great Wall in China

The Ming Dynasty walls were much more complex, and could be up to 25 feet high, 15-30 feet wide at the base, and 9-12 feet tall at the top, with  guard and watch towers at regular intervals. The walls were made wide enough for marching troops and wagons. 

Great Wall built during the Ming Dynasty
The Great Wall Today

Because of the age of the Great Wall, there has been restoration efforts to maintain the wall. Every day the Wall can boast thousands of visitors! In parts of the wall (Badaling Section and the Ming Mausoleums Scenic Area), there is a limit to 53,000 visitors per day...which means that an estimated 2 million people visit that part of the wall each year. The wall is also proned to graffiti and certain sections of the wall are eroding.

Graffiti on the Great Wall

As an integral part of China and its culture, I hope that the wall will be around for hundreds more years for people to visit!

Sunday, February 13, 2011


We always like to know what is the history behind our name, or even perhaps what we would have been named if we were the opposite gender. In this blog post I want to know what the history behind my birth place is.  I was borne in the largest city, or at least the most populous city, in China –Shanghai. This city lies on the Eastern coast of China and is home to about 19 million people. It is situated on right on the estuary of the Yangtze River, so is in a really nice economic location.

Chinese Name: 上海 (shàng hǎi)
Meaning of the Name: Above the Sea
Area: 7,037 square miles
Population: ~19 million
Geography: Yangtze River Delta, Southeast China
Government: Municipality


There are sites around Shanghai that date back to the Neolithic period, showing that there were people living in that area 6,000 years ago. In the 10th-11th century, a small fishing village was formed and began to grow. However, it wasn’t until the Qing dynasty (17th century) that Shanghai began to grow international importance. Because of its location, it was an important city for international shipping, as there were large quantities of cotton cloth that came through the port of Shanghai.

In 1840, the British entered Shanghai and forced a treaty that began foreign concessions. These foreign concessions were basically just territories within China that were governed and occupied by a foreign nation – not subjected to Chinese law (though this is sometimes just called colonialism). The British were the first ones to do this in China, and other countries would follow suit. The last concessions returned back to China was actually Hong Kong in 1997 and Macau in 1999.

Shanghai in 1946

By the 1930s, Shanghai has become the most important port in Asia. It is at this time, that Shanghai also becomes a haven for Jews fleeing from the Nazis. A bit earlier, some White Russians and Russian Jews had fled from the newly established Soviet Union. During WWII, however, Shanghai gets captured by the Japanese, and these foreigners begin to flee…but of course when Japan gets defeated, Shanghai becomes liberated. Following WWII, the Chinese Communist party takes control, and during the next 30 years, industries suffer as the government takes control of formerly private owned businesses. When Mao dies and Deng Xiaopeng comes into power, there is a commercial and industrial revival that allowed Shanghai to become one of the key players in the development of Chinese economy.

Present Day Shanghai

The history of Shanghai is quite long standing, and has changed from just a small fishing village into one of the largest metropolitans in the world.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Chinese Zodiac

Going into the Panda Express for food, I caught a glimpse of a rabbit sticker on the window. I soon realized that the sticker was a representation and celebration for the new zodiac animal of the year – the rabbit. On February 3rd, the Tiger year came to an end and the Rabbit year begun. But how did the Chinese zodiac come into being and what do each animal represent? The Chinese Zodiac is made up of 12 animals (some mythical, some real) that run in a cycle. In the following chart, I have listed the animals that make up the zodiac and some characteristics of each. The zodiac typically starts with the Rat and end with the Cow.

Quick witted, clever, charming, funny; good friends and generous but can be greedy
Steadfast, solid, goal-oriented, hard-working, stubborn, serious, protective, strong companion
Authoritative, self-possessed, moody, highly seductive, ready to pounce
Popular, compassionate, sincere, like to avoid conflict, pushovers, enjoy staying at home
Powerful sign! Energetic, warm-hearted, lucky at love and egotistic, natural born leaders
Seductive, gregarious, introverted, generous, charming, good with money, analytical, insecure
Energetic, self-reliant, enjoy traveling, great at seducing, sharp-witted, impatient, drifter
Enjoy being alone, creative, thinkers, wanderers, unorganized, can be anxiety-ridden
Energetic, upbeat, good at listening, like being active, lack self-control
Practical, resourceful, observant, analytical, straightforward, trusting, honest
Loyal, faithful, honest, distrustful, temperamental, dogmatic, sensitive
Extremely nice, good mannered, perfectionists, enjoy helping others, intelligent

My zodiac sign is the dragon, so I am partial to believe that the dragon sign is the best! My name in Chinese actually means “Heaven’s Treasure”, which my parents had named me because I was born in the Dragon year.

History of the Zodiac

There are a few legends regarding the history of the zodiac and how it came into being. One of the legends states that one day the gods ordered that the animals be designated signs in which order they arrived at a designated location. In this day and age, the cat and the rat were good friends, and made an agreement that they would arrive together, and that the rat would help wake up his friend…but the rat forgot, and went directly to the designated location. On his way there, he encountered the ox and several other animals, and had the ox carry him. The rat was able to slip off the ox and became the first one to the spot, which is why the rat is the first in the zodiac…the cat on the other hand was too late, and was not included in the zodiac…which is why the cat and rat are not friends any longer.

Another history of how the order of the zodiac came into being originated during the Han Dynasty (206-220 AD) and is based on 12 time periods during the day:

11 PM – 1 AM  à rat is actively seeking food
1 AM – 3 AM à Oxen regurgitate
3 AM – 5 AM à Tiger hunts prey
5 AM – 7AM à Jade Rabbit on the moon is pounding herbs with a pestle
7 AM – 9 AM à Dragon is said to hover in the sky and make it rain
9 AM – 11 AM à Snakes start to leave burrows
11 AM – 1 PM à Day is flourishing and is as vigorous as an unconstrained horse
1 PM – 3 PM à Sheep is eating grass and grow stronger
3 PM – 5 PM à Monkeys become lively
5 PM – 7PM à Roosters return to roost since it is dark
7 PM – 9 PM à Dogs carry out duties to guard entrances
9 PM – 11 PM à All is quiet and pigs are sleeping

There are quite a few legends and thoughts about how the Chinese Zodiac came into beings, but it is an interesting aspect of Chinese History.