Monday, February 9, 2009

Celebrating the Lantern Festival (Yuan Xiao Festival,元宵节)

Yesterday is the Lantern Festival (Yuan Xiao Festival), the 15th day of the first lunar month. And the whole country is decked out for the celebration. And the exciting thing which made it special is that this year’s Lantern Festival witnessed the biggest and roundest moon for the past 52 festivals Monday night.

Lantern Festival is the first significant festival after Spring Festival, Having lots of meanings to Chinese people. Literally, we can know that the most important activity during the night of the event is watching lanterns. And because every household eats yuanxiao (a rice ball stuffed with different fillings, also called “tangyuan”) on that day, it is called Yuan Xiao Festival. Today, Lantern Festival is regarded as China's Valentine's Day, offering many youngers a good time to sharing with lovers.

For its rich and colorful activities, it is regarded as the most recreational among all the Chinese festivals and a festival for appreciating the bright full moon, and family reunion. Customs and Activities: With a history of over 2,000 years, various traditional customs and activities are held during Lantern Festival that appeal to people of different ages, including watching lanterns and fireworks, guessing lantern riddles, performing folk dances, and eating yuanxiao.

Watching Lanterns

During the Han Dynasty (206 BC - 220 AD), Buddhism flourished in China. So in order to popularize Buddhism, one of the emperors gave an order to light lanterns in the imperial palace to worship and show respect for Buddha on the 15th day of the first lunar month. During the Tang (618 - 907), Song (960 - 1279), Ming (1368 - 1644) and Qing (1644 - 1911) dynasties, lighting lanterns became a tradition for Chinese people.

Today, when the Lantern Festival comes, red lanterns can be seen in the street, in each house, and store. In the parks, lanterns of various shapes and types attract countless visitors. Visitors marvel that various lanterns so vividly demonstrate traditional Chinese folklore.

Guessing Lantern Riddles

Beginning from the Song Dynasty (960 - 1279), guessing lantern riddles is regarded as an indispensable part of the Lantern Festival. The lantern exhibition organizers write all kinds of riddles on pieces of paper, and paste them on colorful lanterns to let visitors guess. If one has an answer to a riddle, he can pull the paper from the lantern to let organizers verify the answer. Gifts are presented to the people who get the right answers.

Because this intellectual activity is exciting, people from all walks of life enjoy it.

Folk Dances: Lion Dance, and Walking on Stilts

Derived from the Three Kingdoms Period (220-280), the lion dance is an excellent traditional art that adds infinite fun to any celebration including the Lantern Festival. Two performing types have formed during its long development. In north China, the lion dance focuses on skills, and in the south the lion dance pays more attention to the animal resemblance. One actor manipulates a small lion made of quilts resembling a real one, and with two persons acting like a big lion, one manages the head part and the other, the rest. Under the guidance of a director, the lions sometimes jump, leap, and do difficult acts such as walking on stilts.

Because the acting is always amusing, spectators enjoy it very much. According to ancient custom, the lion is a symbol of boldness and strength that can protect people, so by performing the lion dance, everyone prays for an auspicious and happy life.

Walking on stilts, another folk art, traces its origins to the Spring and Autumn period (770BC - 476BC). Performers not only walk on stilts by binding them to their feet, but also do some breathtakingly difficult moves. As actors impersonate different characters like monks, clowns, and fishermen and perform vivid and humorous acts, the art amuses many people.

Eating Yuanxiao

Yuanxiao, also called tangyuan, is a dumpling ball made of sticky rice flour stuffed with different fillings. Eating yuanxiao has become an essential part of the festival. The methods for making Yuanxiao differ by region and fillings include sugar, rose petals, sesame, sweetened bean paste, and jujube paste. Some do not have fillings. Because tangyuan can be boiled, fried or steamed, and each has a unique taste, it is very popular. Yuanxiao is round in shape so it is endowed with the meaning of reunion, harmony and happiness. During the night of the festival, family members sit together to taste yuanxiao and appreciate the full moon.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Top three romantic destinations in China

The Valentine’s Day is coming, what’s your plan? Maybe a travel with loved ones? There are many romantic destinations in China, here we recommend the top three romantic ones. They are Zhuhai in Guangdong Province, Hangzhou in Zhejiang Province and Lijiang in Yunnan Province.

Zhuhai in Guangdong Province

During a recent competition among cities, Zhuhai was named by Chinese media as “China’s Most Romantic City.” Romance is nature’s gift to Zhuhai. Situated south of the Tropic of Cancer, with a sheltered location in South China with glorious sunshine, Zhuhai is a luxurious garden paradise where colorful flowers bloom all year.

The name Zhuhai means “pearl sea” and the city sits at the mouth of the Pearl River where the river and ocean meet. With a territory of more than 7,660 square kilometers, about 80 percent of which being ocean, Zhuhai has 146 islets, many with secluded beaches and unspoiled scenery.

The best-known romantic location in Zhuhai is Lover’s Road, which winds its way several kilometers along the coast between the mountains and the water at Xianglu Bay. It has broad pavement and gardens, quiet seating and picnic areas and wonderful views displaying the natural beauty of Zhuhai, It truly captures the romantic atmosphere of this young city. Here you will find couples young and old, strolling together enjoying happy moments.

After dining at one of Zhuhai’s popular restaurants or luxury hotels, couples can relax in stylish bars and cafes or dance the night away at one of Zhuhai’s top night spots. Wherever you go, you are sure to develop a love affair with this charming and energetic city, a feeling that is uniquely Zhuhai.

There are many seaside cities in China, but few are quite like Zhuhai. Walking through Zhuhai, you might wonder if this a city of gardens or a city in a garden. You can stroll through green parks and shady paths past colorful flowerbeds, or choose to take in the fresh air along well laid out boulevards by the water’s edge.

Zhuhai’s interesting past adds greatly to the atmosphere and appeal for visitors. People started populating the area more than 5,000 years ago. Near the Yamen River are ancient ruins from the Southern Song Dynasty dating back more than 1,700 years. Nearby Cuiheng Village, to the north in Zhongshan, is the birthplace of Dr. Sun Yat-sen, the leader of China’s democratic revolution in the early 20th century and sometimes known as the “Father of China.” Many other monuments, parks, museums and locations chart the history of the great events and changes of China’s great civilization, ancient and modern.

Hangzhou in Zhejiang Province

It is a famous tourist city. Although not big, it has a concentration of more than 40 scenic spots, which would take at least a week to visit. The 6-square-kilometer West Lake is the pride of this provincial capital city and most sites of interest are around it. Unlike the man-made lakes of other cities, West Lake is natural and its sights are delightful, no matter what the season. Scholars and poets have left a legacy of rhapsodic poetry and prose after visiting the lake, and some settled, or stayed on to live the life of a hermit.

Along with the beautiful scenery and places of interest, West Lake has many romantic tales. Classical stories include that of the love between a young man named Xu Xian and the “white snake,” an immortal whose earthly form was that of a beautiful woman, but who also took on the shape of a white snake if she drank wine. Their love was not tolerated by society and the white snake was eventually imprisoned under Leifeng Tower and Xu Xian’s family fragmented.

Modern Hangzhou inhabitants are very romantic and West Lake is now the place where young people go courting. At nightfall couples can be seen along the lakeshore, as on the Shanghai Bund.

The romantic nature of Hangzhou inhabitants has nurtured the quality of local artists. Hangzhou has produced numerous scholars and men of letters and the city is permeated with an artistic atmosphere.

Lijiang in Yunnan Province

It has a demure charm that is revealed in myriad forms: Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, the grey-tiled town of cobbled streets and thousand year-old bridges, the charm of the Naxi people and their customs and much more. Such qualities prompted UNESCO to include it on the World Heritage List and also inspired the best-selling novel, “Lost Horizons.”

Lijiang is the perfect place for couples and honeymooners as it oozes romance.

Young couples should visit Yufeng Buddhist monastery, famous for a 500-year-old camellia said to produce 10,000 blossoms every year. The camellia is actually two plants grafted together that supposedly represent a pair of lovers who were forbidden to marry and committed suicide rather than live apart. Today, Chinese couples believe that being photographed in front of the camellia will ensure that they will be together in the next life.

Hiking outside the city is one of the great highlights of any visit to this region. Some treks last only one hour and some take up to six hours or more but Lijiang’s trekking routes feature some of the most striking landscapes found in the world including the trek near Tiger Leaping Gorge and along the banks of the Jinsha River.

The highlight of any visit to Lijiang is spending time in the old quarter, Dayan Town. This is no exception for couples. This 800-year-old World Heritage site features ancient timber and earth houses with tiled roofs set on delightful canals. No cars are allowed in the narrow, winding streets, which are paved with large stones.

The idea is to get lost in Dayan’s quaint streets if you really want to discover the place. The old town attracts local artists and artisans and there is plenty of high quality jewelry, clothing, pottery, paintings and carving on sale. It’s quite pleasant sitting at an outdoor restaurant beside the canal eating a Naxi delicacy such as goat’s cheese sprinkled with sugar.

At night the old town takes on a different character. A popular activity for couples is to light a candlelit float and let it gently head downriver. Candles floating past on paper lotus flowers make dining alfresco beside the canals an enchanting experience.

The enchantment continues with a concert by the Naxi orchestra which plays classical Taoist music on traditional instruments. The average age of the musicians is 80.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

What will Bird's Nest be after the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games

Bird's Nest, also called National Stadium, played an important role in Beijing Olympic Games. The Opening and Closing ceremonies held here, its creative design, majestic appearance and the torch lighting impressed people around the world. Now the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games was over, can you guess what will this spacious Bird's Nest be used for? Still holding sports games?

In fact, the utilization of Bird's Nest will be diverse, such as sports games, tourism, entertainment and shopping. Citic Group said in Beijing that within three to five years it will convert the National Stadium into an entertainment and shopping center, while seeking to hold more sports games and cultural performances.

In addition, an individual company was established by Citic Group, Beijing Urban Construction Group and Golden State Holding Group Corporation, which is to focus on the operation of the Bird's Nest business. According to the company, maintenance of the 250,000-square-meter National Stadium will annually cost 60 million yuan (US$8.82 million), making it particularly hard to make a profit.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Another shoe-throwing happened in Cambridge University---- Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao dismisses shoe-throwing

Do you agree that one’s shoes are weapons?

In Dec 2008, An Iraqi journalist threw his shoes at President George W. Bush during a farewell conference in the country, nearly hitting his face. Recently, another shoe-throwing event happened again.

In 2 Feb, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao concluded his week-long official trip to Europe with an eventful day in Britain. As one of his last activities in Europe, Wen Jiabao visited Cambridge University in England where he delivered a speech stressing mutual understanding and cooperation.

During the speech, a man disrupted, throwing a shoe but missing. The shoe landed far from Wen Jiabao on the floor. Pausing for a few seconds, Wen Jiabao calmly told the audience that the incident would do nothing to hold back the friendship of the Chinese and British people and continued the speech. We Chinese were proud of the reaction of Premier Wen.

Then university officials quickly removed the protester from the auditorium arresting him later on suspicion of a public order offense. On its website, the chancellor of Cambridge University released a statement regretting the man's behavior saying the university is a place for considerate argument and debate, not for shoe-throwing. The Chinese Foreign Ministry also voiced dissatisfaction over the incident.

I think there are better ways to express one's emotion than shoe-throwing.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

London debut for treasures from Shanghai, with spectacular collections shown in Europe for the first time

While international communication becomes more and more common, it’s not surprised to see lots of interesting things from other places in one’s own country. Now, if you’re a lover of Chinese culture, and if you live in London, here I have a good news for you!!

After holding the exhibition "First Emperor: China's Terracotta Army" in 2007, British Museum made another collaboration with China recently. The Museum has celebrated the launch of “Shanghai Week” in London with the opening of "Treasures from Shanghai," a spectacular collection of 60 ancient Chinese jade and bronze masterpieces on show in Europe for the first time.

Shanghai Week lasts from 29 January to 7 February 2009. It includes many events, showcasing the heritage and culture of China's largest city as it prepares for the World Expo. The collections on show are from Shanghai Museum, which houses one of the world's greatest collections of Chinese art. Certainly capture everyone’s sight.

Chen Kelun, deputy director general of the Shanghai Museum, said the exhibition would provide "insights into the time-honored urban civilization and etiquette of China" and identify themselves with the theme of the World Expo to be held in Shanghai next year.

"This exhibition brings to London pieces of superlative quality rarely seen outside China itself," said the exhibition's guest curator Jessica Rawson. "The Neolithic jades on display are astonishing, particularly those that feature fine designs of strange human-like figures, birds and monsters with large teeth."

More info:

Shanghai Week is designed to commemorate the increasingly close relationship between Britain and China, and showcase the heritage and culture of Shanghai as it prepares for the World Expo. (World Expositions are platforms for exchanging innovative ideas and reviewing progress. They are also important for showcasing industrial, scientific and technological achievements. The first World Exposition was held in London in 1851 under the title Great Exhibition of Industries of All Nations.)

Other highlights include a seminar at the Victoria and Albert Museum entitled "From London to Shanghai: Inheritance and innovation - wisdom in urban development" and a photographic exhibition at City Hall - "Shanghai and Shanghai Exposition."

Meanwhile, Sarah Brightman, who sang at the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony, has been named Shanghai 2010 World Expo Promotion Ambassador in Britain.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Cigarettes sent as gifts undermines China's anti-smoking programme

We all know that smoking is bad for health. But there is a special tradition in China. When festivals come, just like the Spring Festival, people buy cigarettes as presents for the elders and friends, despite knowing all the harms of smoking. Even in normal times, they give cigarettes when meeting new friends or visiting relatives, either to show friendliness or respect.

So the truth is, not only are the smokers exchanging cigarettes as gifts, nonsmokers are also fanning the flame by buying cigarettes for their friends and family and are unwittingly exposing themselves to second-hand smoke. This has greatly increased the difficulties of anti-smoking in China.

Experts on tobacco control call for more understanding and support. Just days ahead of the Spring Festival, the Ministry of Health(MOH), the World Health Organization, and the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention jointly launched a program to distribute 200,000 anti-smoking posters across the country.

"You have sent your friends both blessings and respiratory problems such as lung caner; you have sent your colleagues both respect and cardio vascular diseases such as heart disorders and stroke; you have sent your family love, care and death," a poster reads.

More info:

Every year, China incurrs a huge loss from smoking. A great part of the cost was paid for medical treatment to 23 major diseases caused by smoking. Another great loss was caused by delay of work, passive smoking, fires, environmental pollution and shortened life span.

Years ago, Chinese government had realized the problem of smoking, and took some actions on smoking control and anti-smoking activities. For example, cracking down on tobacco advertisements and punishing smoking in public places.