History and Geography
From 2070 B.C. when the very first dynasty Xia appeared to when the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949, this great land has been suffered a lot of alternations of separation and unification, wars and peace. China, one of the oldest civilization in the world, is like an experienced person with many stories. Started in 2070 B.C., and ended in 1911 –from Xia Dynasty to Qing Dynasty--is considered as ancient China. During that time, Qin and Tang Dynasty probably are more recognized out of all the marvelous ones. Qin (221 B.C.-206 B.C.) was the first imperial dynasty of China, and it was honored by the Great Wall, the Terracotta Army or “the Terra-Cotta Warriors and Horses”, together with his own mausoleum. Tang Dynasty (618 B.C. to 907 B.C.), also known as the Golden Age, is famous for its porcelain, poetry, and prosperity. Additionally, the Four Great Inventions—papermaking, gunpowder, compass and printing techniques—are another remarkable achievement in Chinese history. In 1840, China was reduced to a semi-colonial and semi-feudal country since the first Opium War. Yet the Revolution of 1911, led by Dr. Sun Yat-sen, ended the rule of the Qing Dynasty. Then the Republic of China began from 1912-1949. Later, Chairman Mao founded the People's Republic of China in 1949, China has entered a new Communist era of stability, with the Reform and Opening Up policies of 1978, bringing in China’s phenomenal economic growth. As of 2014, China has 34 provincial-level administrative units: 23 provinces, 4 municipalities (Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, Chongqing), 5 autonomous regions (Guangxi, Inner Mongolia, Tibet, Ningxia, Xinjiang) and 2 special administrative regions (Hong Kong, Macau).
China is the third largest nation in the world, shaped like a rooster and spanning about 50 degrees of latitude and 62 degrees of longitude. This country has a wide diversity in terms of geography. From the eastern plains to the plateau in west, the land is ascending from sea level to the highest mountain in the world. From the unparalleled richness of ancient species in forest of Taiwan, to the sunny beach of Hainan, to the boundless grassland of Inner Mongolia, to the savage beauty of The Loess Plateau, to the peculiar-looking rocks in Anhui and Yunnan, to the unpopulated dessert areas of Xinjiang, and to the lakes and snow-capped mountains in Tibet. Not only the beautiful natural scenery, but the people, ethnic architecture and many other things have provided the citizens and visitors so much great experience while travelling here.
The Chinese culture is one of the oldest and most complex cultures in the world. It has been influenced by China’s long history and by its diverse ethnic groups which customs and traditions could vary greatly between towns, cities and provinces. Despite all of its regional diversity, Chinese culture is in the blood of Chinese art and is reflected on many different aspects.
Beijing Opera is the most significant of all operas in China, and it has a richness of repertoire, great number of artists and audiences, that give it a profound influence in China and plays a large role in Chinese culture.
Tea is an important part of Chinese tradition. The practice of tea culture can bring the spirit and wisdom of human beings to a higher orbit. Tea has an extremely close relationship to Chinese culture, and its study covers a wide field and has very rich content. It not only embodies the spirit of civilization, but also the spirit of ideological form.
Chinese kung fu, or Chinese martial arts, is one of the most well-known examples of traditional Chinese culture. The theory of kung fu is based upon classical Chinese philosophy. Over its long history it has developed as a unique combination of exercise, practical self-defense, self-discipline, and art.
Calligraphy in China was considered as a means of self-expression and cultivation. Chinese written characters have a unique ability to express spiritual feelings and other emotions as well as character and integrity, and can even convey the temperament of the one doing the writing. It is an art form requiring mental disciple, which involves both the body and soul.
The Four Gentlemen, also called the Four Noble Ones, in Chinese art refer to four plants: the plum, the orchid, the bamboo, and the chrysanthemum. The term matches the four plants with junzi, or "gentlemen" in Confucianism. The orchid for spring, the bamboo for summer, the chrysanthemum for autumn, and the plum blossom for winter. Orchid symbolizes humility and nobility; bamboo represents tolerance, values of cultivation and integrity; chrysanthemum connotes the virtue to withstand all adversities; plum blossom serves as a metaphor for inner beauty and humble display under adverse conditions.
Chinese characters are one of the earliest forms of written language in the world, dating back approximately five thousand years.
In ancient times there was a very popular myth named "Cang Jie's Invention of Characters". According to this myth, Cang Jie, a historical chronicler of the Yellow Emperor over 5,000 years ago, was inspired by the footprints of animals and understood that different prints could be treated as marks to discriminate different objects, so he invented a lot of symbols to represent different objects and affairs, and they were the oldest Chinese characters.
During the Late Neolithic period, at the latter half of the 3rd millenum BC, many symbols or "pictograms" started to be incised on pottery and jades. While these pictograms are not truly Chinese characters, they do bear some resemblance to the earliest Chinese characters.
Evolution of Chinese Characters
Chinese characters have evolved over several thousands of years to include many different styles, or scripts. Each of these have their own special characteristics, and are derived from different origins dating back to different dynasties.
Jiaguwen (甲骨文), or Oracle Bone Script. This is the earliest form of Chinese writing, used from the Middle to Late Shang dynasty (approximately 1500 BC to 1000 BC). This script was etched onto turtle shells and animals bones, which were then used for divination in the royal Shang court, hence the name "oracle bones". The shape of these characters are often described as "pictographic", in that they resemble stylized drawings of objects they represent.
- Seal Characters (篆书 zhuan shu /jwann shoo/)
- Official Script (隶书 li shu /lee shoo/)
- Formal Script (楷书 kai shu /keye shoo/)
- Running Script (行书 xing shu /sshing shoo/)
- Cursive Script (草书 cao shu/tsaoww shoo/)
The most important change in Chinese writing since the standardization in the Qin dynasty occurred in the middle of the 20th century. In 1949, the People's Republic of China (PRC) introduced simplified characters to replace the traditional Kaishu characters. Not all characters were given a new simplified form, as these unsimplified characters were already very "simple" and involve very few strokes. Some simplified characters were in fact official recognition of widely-used colloquial variants of traditional characters.
However, other Chinese-speaking places such as Taiwan and Hong Kong continued to use the traditional script.
As the only indigenous and the oldest writing system in East Asia, the Chinese writing system became the inspiration and the basis for many other East Asian writing systems, some prominent and still in use, while other having faded into obscurity and disuse. Some of the examples are: Japanese, Korean, Jurchen, and Vietnamese Chu Nom.
The Spring Festival falls on the 1st day of the 1st lunar month, often one month later than the Gregorian calendar.
People will paste Spring Festival scrolls, the character 'Fu', and paper-cut pictures. They also attach great importance to Spring Festival Eve. At that time, all family members eat dinner together. Dishes such as chicken, fish and bean curd cannot be excluded. After the dinner, the whole family will sit together, chat and watch New Year’s Gala on China Central Television Station (CCTV), and set off firecrackers and fireworks.
The Lantern Festival falls on the 15th day of the 1st lunar month, usually in February or March in the Gregorian calendar.
People eat tangyuan--small dumpling balls made of glutinous rice flour with filling--which in Chinese has a similar pronunciation with "tuanyuan”, meaning reunion. So people eat them to denote union, harmony and happiness for the family. "Guessing lantern riddles" is an essential part of the Festival. Lantern owners write riddles on a piece of paper and post them on the lanterns. If visitors have solutions to the riddles, they can pull the paper out and go to the lantern owners to check their answer. If they are right, they will get a little gift.
The Qingming (Pure Brightness) Festival is one of the 24 seasonal division points in China, falling on April 4-6 each year.
People offer sacrifices to their ancestors and sweep the tombs of the deceased at this time. After slightly cleaning the tombs, people offer food, flowers and favorites of the dead, then burn incense and paper money and bow before the memorial tablet.
Women’s DAY falls on March 8th. In China, the government designated it as a national holiday for women who are rewarded with a half day off. Children respect their mother by doing housework and husbands prepare dinner and presents for their wives. Flowers are presented to women by students, children, or husbands.
May Day is on May 1st. As a day for the working people worldwide, it was established in 1886. In China, people get 3-day holiday and some model laborers are invited to some programs are held on TV.
Youth Day is on May 4th, an event that held for the youngsters over fourteen years old. Its purpose is to encourage young people to study hard in order to contribute to the nation. Schools usually organize social events for students or sodalities for students communicating with each other on that day.
Children’s Day is on Jun. 1st. Parents usually take their children to visit places of great interest thus helping them learn more about Chinese history and culture. Schools organize the showing of excellent children's films. In kindergartens, children present their special skills such as singing and dancing to parents and teachers.
Dragon Boat Festival
The Dragon Boat Festival, the 5th day of the 5th lunar month, usually in June in the Gregorian calendar. The festival is in commemoration of Qu Yuan (340-278 BC), minister of the State of Chu and one of China's earliest poets, who plunged himself into the Miluo River, trying to warn the people to fight for their country by his devotion. People will eat Zongzi and watch Dragon boat racing on that day.
Anniversary of the Founding of the Chinese Communist Party
Celebrated on July 1st. In May, 1938, Chairman Mao suggested that July 1st be the anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party to mark the first central committee of the Communist Party of China held in July 1921. From then on, Chinese people celebrate the birth of the Chinese Communist Party every year to commemorate.
Falling on Aug. 1st, Army Day is set aside to commemorate the contribution that the PLA has made to China both past and present. Chinese leaders and public figures go to veterans' homes to show their great concern for them, and symposia and get-togethers are held for the soldiers on that day. In some places, soldiers and their dependents are rewarded.
The Mid-Autumn Festival falls on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month, usually in October in Gregorian calendar. It is originated from the story between Hou Yi and Chang E. The moon looks extremely round, big and bright on the 15th day of each lunar month. People selected the August because it is a season when crops and fruits are all ripe and weather pleasant. On the Mid-Autumn Festival, all family members or friends meet outside, enjoy the full moon and eat moon cakes while talking about life.
Teachers’ Day is on September 10th. The reason to choose this day is because when the fall semester begins, a fine studious atmosphere will be created if activities of respecting teachers and valuing education are held. This day is for students to show their appreciation to teachers, such as presenting gifts, including cards and flowers. In addition, many former students will go back to their old middle schools and high schools to give presents to their old teachers.
Chinese National Day
Chinese National Day is on October 1st.
It is to celebrate the foundation of the People's Republic of China, in 1949. There will be a variety of grand ceremonies and activities in China during National Day, such as a great ceremonial review of troops and lighting fireworks in the evening. People get a 7-day holiday, called golden week in China.
Some ethnic minority festivals:
- Water-Splashing Festival (Dai People) April 14th to 16th
- Torch Festival (Yi People) 24th to 26th day of the sixth lunar month
- March Fair of Bai (Bai People) 15th to 21st day of the third lunar month
- Nadam Fair of the Mongolian (Inner Mongolia) Between July and August
The diversity of geography, climate, costumes and products have led to the evolution of what is called the “Eight Cuisines.”
Guangdong Cuisine (Cantonese Food/Yue Cuisine): sweeter, favoring braising and stewing, adding various sauces. Typical dishes: Shahe Noodles (Shahefen), Baiqie Chicken (White Cut Chicken).
Sichuan Cuisine (Chuan Cuisine): spicy and bold, using lots of chili, garlic, ginger and peanuts.
Typical dishes: Mapo Bean Curd (Mapo Tofu), Spicy Diced Chicken (Kung Pao Chicken), Sichuan Hot Pot.
Shandong Cuisine (Lu Cuisine): salty and crispy, favoring braising and seafood.
Fujian Cuisine (Min Cuisine): lighter, with a sweet and sour taste, using ingredients from the sea and the mountains.
Jiangsu Cuisine (Su Cuisine): fresh, salty and sweet, favoring soups and precise cooking techniques.
Hunan Cuisine (Xiang Cuisine): quite spicy, favors sautéing, stir-frying, steaming and smoking.
Anhui Cuisine (Hui Cuisine): uses many wild plants and animals as ingredients, favoring stewing and more oil.
Zhejiang Cuisine (Zhe Cuisine): mellow, uses freshwater fish, seafood and bamboo shoots, and a wide variety of cooking methods.
Typical dishes: Dongpo Pork (Stir-Fried Pork), West Lake Fish in Vinegar Gravy.
Transportation is of particular importance in China, as it covers such vast territory and is home to such a large population. Rail is a common and economical mode of transportation in China. It also offers passengers a good chance to view the beautiful scenery of China along the way. Aviation becomes more popular these day, either domestic flights or international travelling. Highway is a general way for people traveling among cities in one province or adjoin provinces. Every city has buses that are the most frequently used transportation which are extremely crowded during rush hours. Electronic scooters and bicycles are favored by Chinese, because they are convenient and light. In addition, people do not need to worry about traffic jam riding a bike. In big cities, such as Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong, metro is what people usually choose. Other modes of transportations in China are high speed rail, taxi, pedi-cab, motorcycle, and water transportation.
Mandarin is the official and most widely used language in China. Besides, almost each province has its own dialect and some provinces have more than one dialects due to the various ethnic minority peoples in China.
Here are some useful phrases for travelers:
- You’re welcome bu2 ke4 qi4
- And you? ni3 ne
- Have you eaten? ni3 chi1 fan4 le ma2
- Good morning zao3 shang4 hao3
- Good evening wan3 shang4 hao3
- Good night wan3 an1
- What’s your name? ni3 jiao4 shen2 me ming2 zi4
- Where are you from? ni3 cong2 na3 li3 lai2
- Nice to meet you hen3 gao1 xing4 ren4 shi ni3
- How much is it? duo2 shao3 qian2
- Too expensive tai4 gui4 le
- I don't understand wo3 bu4 dong3
- Excuse me bu4 hao3 yi4 si
- Where's the bathroom? ce4 suo3 zai4 na3 er
- Sorry, do you speak English? dui4 bu4 qi3, ni3 neng2 jiang3 ying1 yu3 ma2
- Congratulations gong1 xi3 ni3
- You’re awesome! ni3 zhen1 niu2
- Let’s go out to eat, my treat! yi4 qi3 chi1 fan4,wo3 qing3 ke4