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Shanghai Pathways Blog

Understand ​China​ ​From the Local ​Perspect​ive

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The Changing Generation

Yesterday I visited a friend and bought her 6 years old daughter an expensive Mickey Mouse toy from Disney Land.

She just looked at it for one second and then walked a way.

Branding

Why this kid doesn’t like Mickey Mouse?  When I was a kid, having a Mickey Mouse would make me feel happy for weeks. Then I realized that she probably has never watched any episodes about the mickey mouse on TV.

Her favourite Chinese cartoon episode is called Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf

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Her favourite western episode is My Little Pony

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Brand can get old

I made a mistake by assumming kids will always like Mickey Mouse, but it is actually not the case, people in my generation used to watch 2 episodes of Mickey Mouse everyday after school for many years.

Now Disney Land spents billions of dollars in building parks but they forgot to ccoupy the screens.

The real value is not Mickey Mouse, it is the screens and the limited attention of young childern.

Continue reading “The Changing Generation”

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Women’s Life & Trends in China – Part 1

traditional chinese women

When a son is born,
Let him sleep on the bed,
Clothe him with fine clothes,
And give him jade to play…
When a daughter is born,
Let her sleep on the ground,
Wrap her in common wrappings,
And give broken tiles to play…

From the Book of Songs (1000 – 700 B.C.) Continue reading “Women’s Life & Trends in China – Part 1”

From a Chinese Perspective, What Makes a Good Woman?

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A few months ago, I saw a Chinese article about what makes a good woman. In short, it says that most of the Chinese men wanted a traditional type of Chinese women as their wife.

A GOOD WOMAN SHOULD BE

“Never open to other people, never open to other man, never go out.

Should give son to the family

Never be angry, always soft and smiling to the man

Never does house work wrong, never burn food”

Over 90% of the Chinese men sadly admitted that they had never met such a woman in their life. Perhaps such a women simply does not exist in the real world.

My first reaction towards it was “Seriously? Are we really living in the 21st century or is it the dark-ages all over again?”

But then, most of my Chinese male friends wish that modern Chinese women can turn back to being traditional again. A common belief is that good Chinese women are not expected to be dominant in the family and capable of everything. Being able to navigate flexibly between appearing strong and weak is thought to be the key of feminine radiance and attraction – not a women who overtakes a man’s capabilites.

In the patriarchal Chinese society, the traditional ideology was that a good woman should follow the “three submissions and four virtues.” The three submissions were that a woman was expected to loyally submit first to her father as his daughter, then to her husband as his wife and to her adult son (the family heir on the death of her husband). The four virtues were women’s virtue (fu de), women’s speech (fu yan), women’s appearance (fu rong) and women’s work (fu gong).

For centuries, the family household in Chinese society was separated between the inner (nei) quarters for the women and the outer (wai) quarters for the men. Outside affairs were not to be discussed in the women’s quarters and inside affairs were not to be spoken of outside the inner quarters.

Therefore, most people believe in the stereotype of good Chinese women, those who are soft, demure, reserved, shy, alluring, and near ethereal-like creatures. But in reality, lots of modern Chinese women are really strong-willed and some men find out that sweet looking Chinese women can even be dragon ladies.

Many Chinese women today enjoy new personal freedoms that were previously, up until very recently, denied to them. Historically in China only the number of a man’s sons would be used to refer to the size of his family. When a woman married, she was expected to leave her family to live with her husband in his hometown, where the wife was subordinate to the whims of her mother-in-law.

Huge change happened following the advent of the 1979 single-child policy. This policy  led to a shortage of prospective daughters-in-law (with parents favoring sons in the womb) and has also produced a generation of doted-upon only-children, many of whom happen to be girls. As a family’s only child, girls are pampered and spoiled in the same way as the boys, especially in big cities like Shanghai and Beijing. Deprived of sons, parents and grandparents heaped their high expectations on daughters and grand-daughters. The ambitions of Chinese women remain curtailed by family though. It is them, more than men, that are expected to care for aging parents — an entrenched cultural bias.

In China, “the ethos of the last 30 years is that to get rich is glorious, that instinct is surprisingly gender neutral.”

Born as a Shanghai woman, I never experienced gender inequality in my life or know anyone who had a bad family experience just because she is a girl. Being a Shanghai girl, we were the only beloved ones and people expected us to be better than our parents. Since a very young age I never ever hid my desire of wanting to excel in school and getting rich in life. Therefore I worked extremely hard and tried my best to have a great career.

To understand what happened with the good Chinese woman, consider these numbers:

  • The number of Chinese women in senior management positions has recently doubled, with 51% of those jobs held by females, in this China stands alone in Asia.
  • Some 550 publicly-traded companies or about 21% have women on their boards. Shenzhen based Ceetop Inc. and China Teletech Holding Inc. are two of the four companies in the world with all-female boards.
  • Half of the world’s self-made female billionaires are Chinese.

This big change has also happened in rural areas. Chang’s book Factory Girls(2008) explores the lives of the factory girls who had migrated from their villages to operate the assembly lines that produce the clothes we wear, the computer parts we need, the shoes, hats, handbags, games, and gadgets that make the Western world go round. They work up to 13 hours a day, live in cold, dirty, overcrowded dormitories and eat poor food. They have no free time, health insurance, holidays or pension provision beyond the paltry state minimum. Five years ago their average wage was between 500 and 800 yuan a month. Today, a shortage of labor means that young women in their 20s, the elite of the migrant workforce, can earn five times as much, or more.

They return to their villages at New Year bearing gifts: anoraks; trainers; sweets; and toys for the children; pretty jackets for their mothers. They also inject unprecedented sums of money into the rural economy. Young unmarried women now subsidize their parents, pay for the education of younger brothers and sisters, distribute handouts to elderly relatives, and command growing respect from the village as well as from their families. Some go back home to settle, bringing capital and putting up glass and stone two storey houses in the country. Factory girls may look victimized to outsiders who take them to be helpless, ill-paid and insecure, easy prey to sexual and financial exploitation, stuck on the lowest and most vulnerable level of society. But that’s not how these woman see themselves. In their own eyes they are proud, resourceful, energetic risk-takers at the cutting edge of a social revolution.

In Evan Osnos’s book Age of Ambition, he noted a large number of ground-breaking women in 21st century China. One real human story tells of Gong Haiyan, born small and sickly in a rural village, her leg and face later crushed in a tractor accident. Despite all that, Gong couldn’t repress her entrepreneurial gene. As a child, she bought and resold ice pops to villagers, mapping out a route of likely buyers and noting, “Whatever you do, you have to be strategic.”

Her mother was so dedicated to her daughter’s education after the tractor accident that she carried her up and down the stairs to classes. Gong later worked on a Panasonic assembly-line before returning to school and excelling in college. Considered ugly and unable to find a mate, she launched an online dating service, thereby breaking into the male-dominated high-tech world. By 2010, she was known as China’s number one matchmaker. She took her company public on NASDAQ and ended the day worth $77 million, shared with… yes, she found one – her husband.

Another one is SOHO China CEO Zhang Xin, the real estate developer who is transforming Beijing’s skyline. Zhang spent her teenage years on a Hong Kong assembly line but eventually made her way to the New York and prominent UK universities, then onto Goldman Sachs.

New job opportunities, better access to education and more equal positions in family life are creating a modern Chinese woman. Like China’s men in this age of self-creation, these Chinese women defied a history that told them never to try. The once “yellowed pearls” are now shining like diamonds!

Writing this article, I felt that perhaps most Chinese men are not yet ready for the modern Chinese woman – the first female generation of the single-child policy. The change is not just in the culture, dress codes, money and social aspirations of the younger Chinese women, it is in their mindset. For the first time in Chinese history women put themselves first, not their man or their relationship. They are now living the sort of lives that men have done for centuries. Who can blame them.

Women have changed. Men now need to as well.

Becoming a “Leftover Women”

Following last year’s article – ‘The Unmarried Crisis in China’, my editor asked me to write another story on the topic of the “leftover women”.

In the beginning, I was not sure what to write about. Then I started to wonder who actually created this crazy concept in China? The research came back with big surprises. In 2007, the Women’s Federation defined “leftover” women (sheng nu) as unmarried women over the age of 27, and China’s Ministry of Education added the term to its official lexicon.

Since then, the Women’s Federation Website has run a number of articles stigmatizing educated women who are still single. Their articles’ headlines scream out like sensational tabloids: “Overcoming the Big Four Emotional Blocks: Leftover Women Can Breakout of Being Single.” “Eight Simple Moves to Escape the Leftover Women Trap.” And my personal favorite: “Do Leftover Women Really Deserve Our Sympathy?”

Ironically, the Women’s Federation is supposedly responsible for “protecting women’s rights and interests.” But instead, they wrote the following:

Pretty girls don’t need a lot of education to marry into a rich and powerful family, but girls with an average or ugly appearance will find it difficult, these kinds of girls hope to further their education in order to increase their competitiveness. The tragedy is, they don’t realize that as women age, they are worth less and less, so by the time they get their M.A. or Ph.D., they are already old, like yellowed pearls.

The above article was actually published on International Women’s Day, 2011 – a day that should have been talking about women’s economic and political achievements. The state media began very aggressively pushing women who are educated and still single, by telling them that they need to lower their sights when they’re choosing a husband, or time will run out for them and they’ll be single forever.

Being over 27, I don’t plan to be single and die alone. But I also don’t wish to jump on the marriage train with Mr “So-so”. In short, I am very well educated and way too independent to be brainwashed by any propaganda.

It is actually very ironic that this entire campaign is targeting so-called “leftover women”, when demographically, there are actually tens of millions of men in China who won’t be able to find brides, and even feel they have to buy brides from countries like Vietnam. According to the State Council, a sex-ratio imbalance causes a threat to social stability and lowers the quality of the general population, which makes it hard to meet the requirements needed for fierce competition and for national strength.

The Chinese government is very worried that educated women are not going to marry at all. It really wants women like me, in particular, to get married and have a child – no more one child policy, better to have two children now. Therefore, the State Council appointed the Women’s Federation as a primary implementer of its population planning policy.

What better way to upgrade population quality than to frighten “high-quality leftover” women into marrying and having a child for the good of the nation?

The main reason many girls become leftover women is that their standards for a partner are too high If girls are not too picky, finding a partner should be as easy as blowing away a speck of dust

The Women’s Federation columns on sheng nu all share the same goal; convince single, educated women to stop being so ambitious and get married immediately. They even list helpful tips, such as “seduce but don’t pester” and “be persistent but not willful”:

When holding out for a man, if you say he must be rich and brilliant, romantic and hardworking … this is just being willful. Does this kind of perfect man exist? Maybe he does exist, but why on earth would he want to marry you?

And once a “leftover” woman finds marital bliss, what should she do if her husband has an affair?

When you find out that he is having an affair, you may be in a towering rage, but you must know that if you make a fuss, you are denying the man face … No man is capable of spending a lifetime being loyal to an outmoded wife who never changes … Try changing your hairstyle or your fashion. Women must constantly change for the better.

In short, it’s the woman’s fault for refusing to get married, and once she is married, it’s the woman’s fault if her husband has an affair. Of course.

As a child who was brought up in the communist system, I used to look up to Chairman Mao as a God, I used to believe everything in this country is correct and perfect – well, they fooled me once.

During my 20s, I spent the majority of my time learning, traveling and most of all pursuing a good career. By now, I have my own company, make more money than the average man and have a lot of interesting friends who inspire me and keep me busy. Looking back, I don’t think I would have been wise enough to make a good choice, for finding a man who I could spend the rest of my life with, because I didn’t even know what kind of life I wanted at that young age.

Now at 30, I have a bit more experience to know what the most important qualities of a lifelong partner are. Also now, I find myself more popular and patient and much more willing to learn and understand how to interact in a relation-ship. Very luckily, my parents never pushed me into marriage or set up any blind dating for me.

Here comes the question. What does a “leftover woman” really want in a man? Or why aren’t they married?

I believe there are quite a lot of reasons and possible answers, but certainly it is because women’s status is improving compared to the past. Not only can women take care of the household work, but a woman can also run a business, drive a car, repair machines, and now it is even possible to have a baby by browsing through a sperm bank’s catalog! Instead of the “WE” thinking, the Chinese woman is now much more “ME” thinking.

If marriage is good for me, then I’ll marry, if marriage is not good for me, why should I? I will only marry if a man can give me A LOT of love or A LOT of money!

My friend Lily, who is 36 years old, very pretty and successful, said, after a 10 year long marriage, she divorced her husband because he did not give her love or money. She realized that this would never change, and she doesn’t want to stay with the “mistake” for ever.

To end our story and give some advice/hope to the men, here is an interesting suggestion from a famous talk show in China.

‘For men to remember, if a women is looking for money, and you can give her enough money, then she wont be unhappy if you have affairs with other women. If a women is looking for love, and you give her enough love, then she wont look down on you because you dont have enough money. If you cant give her money or love, but ask her to accept your flirting, laziness and cheating. Then I am sorry, what you need is an idiot.’

Incense – A Gife of The Orient

Chinese Incense Ceremony 11

Incense in China is known as xiang. It is composed of aromatic plant materials and some essential oils. For over two thousand years, the Chinese have used incense in religious ceremonies, ancestor veneration, traditional Chinese medicine, and daily life. To most of the modern Chinese people, the culture of incense is always connected with tradition and rather limited to an image of the burning incense sticks inside temples – a symbol of the faithful prayer rising in heaven. However, fashion and beliefs change fast in China, especially among the rich and famous. Just a few years ago, drinking 50 year old pu’er tea and sipping expensive French wine was the ultimate life style. Now, the Chinese elite has moved on to embrace incense and the calming world of Zen. After all, Chinese incense is known to attract divinity – who could resist such an idea?

HOLY INCENSE

The release of fragrant smoke when it is burned creates a spiritual atmosphere and masks unpleasant odors. The smoke and fragrance produced aids prayer and helps the believer feel that their worship is sacred and holy.

TIME KEEPING DEVICESChinese Incense Ceremony 7

Along with the introduction of Buddhism in China came calibrated incense sticks and incense clocks. The first written record of them was by the poet Yu JianWu, “By burning incense we know the o’clock of the night, with graduated candles we confirm the tally of the watches.”

AS AN ART FORM

Just like with tea and calligraphy, the Chinese developed a sophisticated art form with incense burning called xiangdao. It involves various paraphernalia and utensils in ceramic containers used to burn the incense. Examples include tongs, spatulas, special moulds to create ideograms with incense powder etc., all placed on a special, small table. It is most often used as an enhancement of a personal space to accompany other arts such as tea drinking and guqin playing. Xiangdao enthusiasts seek to finely tune their sense of smell – they play games to see who can Chinese Incense Ceremony 9identify subtle differences between varieties of incense, similar to a wine expert who can distinguish the vintage of a wine from smell and taste.

INCENSE WORTH MORE THAN GOLD

Some incense woods are extremely rare. For example, agarwood is a prized wood for incense that comes from two endangered species of tree. It’s separated into 6 grades according to its aromatic properties. Agarwood is normally a light color. However, when it’s attacked by mold, the tree releases a dark protecting resin. The aroma of this resin has been prized in Asia since ancient times. Top grade agarwood is saturated in resin, making it hard, dark and aromatic. It costs about $165 US per gram. By comparison, the current price of 24K gold is around $40 US per gram. Most Chinese people have never smelled incense that’s more expensive than gold. The majority of incense sold in Japan is made from more common woods such as sandalwood. By now you must wondering what kind of people are involved in the incense business in Shanghai?

20141110_SEA_incense_0083-37  INCENSE MAKER – MR CHEN

Born into a wealthy traditional Chinese family, Chen Lei made up his mind in childhood, not to follow his parent’s profession as a traditional Chinese medicine doctor. In fact, he didn’t want to work at all! But after making his fortune from running different businesses, he acquired the expensive hobby of collecting high quality incense and ironically his medical background helped him better understand the connection between incense fragrance and how it can benefit people’s health. Retiring very young, he devoted his time and passion to creating a research center for Chinese incense and offering classes to people who wish to learn about it.

THE SCHOlAR OF INCENSE20141110_SEA_incense_0083-232

Zhou Rong Qiao appears to be an idealistic intellectual who is into anything related to Chinese culture. Known as a famous publisher and writer, incense to him is something spiritual which can inspire his writing. His dream is to complete a masterpiece of traditional Chinese incense history, and he is working on it right now. Zhou also owns an incense store in the French Concession area, a popular spot for local writers and intellectuals.

20141110_SEA_incense_0083-289INCENSE TEA MASTER

Zhou Qiong loves Chinese tea but her favorite day to day tea is actually made from incense. Every day, before going to sleep, she puts a slice of incense wood into warm water, boils it for 15 minutes to develop the essences of the fine incense in the water. She uses the incense tea to balance her Qi and energy, it has a warming effect and is especially good for women who have cold hands and feet.

Chinese Crickets – Little Gladiator and Pretty Singer

Crickets Trainer 6

Those who have seen the film of The Last Emperor will remember this closing scene. When an elderly Puyi, the last emperor of China, returned to the Forbidden City, he took out a dust-covered cricket pot from under his chair and passed it to a boy who watched him with great curiosity. This scene vividly illuminates the Chinese cricket culture. The tradition of enjoying the sounds of singing insects and fighting crickets has ancient roots and has been handed down throughout the centuries to the present day.

Summer was my favourite season when I was young, it is filled with all kinds of warm memory, the taste of salty-sweet popsicles, the look of pretty red dress, and more importantly – the never ending noise from the singing crickets. Same as all of the kids in my lane, I am looking forward to see my new special summer pet, wondering if this time my daddy will bring home a chubby cricket or a small one? Is it going to be more green or more black?

But no matter how it really looks, I am always happy with whatever I get. It is common for the kids to compare each other’s beloved crickets. I usually feel really proud about my “little guy” and believe it is either the biggest, smartest, prettiest or going to enjoy a really long and happy life with me feeding him delicious green beans every day.

Cricket Culture in China encompasses a 2000 year history of both singing insects and fighting crickets. During the Tang dynasty (618 – 906 A.D.), people started to keep crickets in cages and enjoy their songs while in captivity. Under the Song dynasty (960 – 1278 A.D.), cricket fighting flourished as a popular sport. Therefore it is not surprising to learn that the primitive Chinese words of Summer ,”Xia” in “Jia-Gu-Wen”(oracle bones) take on the form of a cicada. Autumn “Qiu” words are in the shape of crickets.

While I know so much about the singing cricket, I was never really into the fighting games until I met with Master Chu. Chu Dehua is over 50 years old and consider himself a professional cricket trainer and breeder.

“Through playing with crickets, you can get to know a wide range of knowledge, like history, pottery, art, physics, geography and geology,” says Chu. During our first meeting, Chu spent over 3hrs telling me all of the unbelievable secrets and tricks in training, breeding and selecting his little gladiators. When it comes to the crickets, he is the man who knows it all. Chu is not really in it for the money but for the fun, and he never sold any his beloved crickets, to him, these crickets are his children, companion and a connection to the nature world. Chu is the official champion of Shanghai cricket fighting society, has been interviewed by national TVs and local news papers.

Traditionally only during the Chinese crickets fighting, males will be permitted to gain access to females. Mating actually make the males crickets become more aggressive and willing to improve their chances against other males. You can even find “crickets wedding beds” which is specially made for this procedure.

The color of the crickets isn’t that important. What really matters is that it need to have a big jaws to maintain a strong grip on its opponent, a strong but flexible neck to apply force and long legs to stand for its ground.

The crickets are weighed to ensure a fair fight then placed in a transparent box divided into two halves. The squat, brown mini gladiator are riled up with a thin fibre, which is brushed over their antennae, before the divider is lifted and they clash. Rounds are usually over in seconds; the insects grapple, separate and turn away. The one still baring its ‘teeth’ and ready to fight is the winner; if both are still ready to rumble, a new round begins.

Deaths, or even severe injury, are incredibly rare during the fight. According to Chinese folklore, when two male crickets engage in combat, the loser will refuse to fight again unless he’s shaken and tossed in the air by his trainer. But to know how to toss the crickets correctly, you need to practice for at least one month. Now Chu is working as a consultant and teacher in cricket field, fly around China every month following the top games and helping crickets players.

The Chinese appreciation of crickets actually extends beyond the appeal of their beautiful tunes and braveness. The fact that crickets are able to lay hundreds of eggs was in line with Chinese beliefs that the most important ingredient to success in life was to have as many children as possible.

Tomb Sweeping Time

For more than 2,500 years, Qingming Festival, celebrated on the 15th day after the Spring Equinox, has been a day for remembering the dead. This is the most important day for Chinese people around the world to remember our deceased loved ones. In ancient China, Qingming was by no means the only time when sacrifices were made to ancestors. Such ceremonies were held very frequently, every two weeks, in addition to other important holidays and festivals. The formalities of these ceremonies were very elaborate and expensive in terms of time and money. In an effort to reduce this expense, Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang Dynasty declared in 732 A.D. that respects would be formally paid at the tombs of ancestors only on the day of Qingming.

During the weekend of Qingming, hundreds of thousands of vehicles will turn Shanghai’s highways into a large parking lot as people return home after visiting cemeteries and enjoying a spring outing. Cemeteries are always located in the city’s suburban areas. In Shanghai, the largest cemeteries are the Fushouyuan Cemetery in Qingpu district and Binhaiguyuan Cemetery in Fengxian district. In 2013, the number of people visiting the cemeteries reached 2.42 million people in Shanghai over the weekend.

In my family, my parents and relatives always prepare offerings and arrange a trip together one to two weeks in advance to avoid the big crowds. On the day of tomb sweeping, we clear the wild grass around our ancestor’s tomb, repaint the gravestones and add fresh soil. Then we present the dead person’s favorite food and wine as offerings, along with paper resembling money and chrysanthemum flowers. The food usually includes a steamed whole chicken, hard boiled eggs, sliced barbecued pork and dim sum pastries. In addition, three sets of chopsticks and three Chinese wine cups are arranged above the food and closest to the headstone. The eldest person of our family usually begins by bowing three times with the wine cup in hand, then pours the wine on the ground just in front of the headstone three times. After the ceremony, we then eat the food together at the grave site, like having a family picnic with our ancestors.

Qingtuan (green cake) is a traditional Chinese food eaten during Qingming Festival. These green ball dumplings are made of sticky rice, red bean paste and a special plant (barnyard grass shoots) called maiqing (麦青) or aicao(艾 草), which are only edible in the spring.

According to Chinese traditional belief, “When someone dies, his spirit goes to the afterlife, where it lives on, doing much the same things it did in life.” Luckily for everyone, the spirit world does not use normal money, which the dead apparently need piles of. Qing Ming rites involve the burning of fake money, usually a plain white piece of paper with a little gold foil in the middle, but there are also a number of bills that look something like U.S. dollars or Chinese yuan. They range from $1 all the way to $1,000,000,000,000 (this does make me wonder about inflation in the afterlife). The Chinese Consumers’ Association reports that more than 1,000 tons of paper products are burnt as offerings for the afterlife during each Qingming, costing more than 10 billion yuan. This is all burned in the hope that the deceased are not lacking food and money.

While young people rush to get the latest iPhones and iPads, the deceased can also enjoy these trendy high-tech devices, although theirs will be made of paper. Shops in Shanghai selling sacrificial offerings have already put paper-made versions of Apple products on their shelves. This year, a package of one iPad and one iPhone, paper- made and in different colors, starts from eight yuan on Taobao. A paper MacBook laptop costs around 10 yuan. The logos of the products printed on the package closely resemble the printed names of iPhones and iPads, but the brand is mingwang, or the king of the dead. Other popular items are paper versions of Panasonic LCD TV sets, and every electrical home appliance one can think of, clothes, wine, air tickets, designer bags, seafood, cars, villas and cosmetics including perfume, lipstick, facial cleansing cream, lotion and shampoo. For only RMB50, your ancestors can even get “Celebrity Marriage Certificates” to marry any superstar in the afterlife.

Today’s modern generation and mobility means that many people live far from ancestral villages. Some young Chinese have already started paying their respects online, through virtual tomb sweeping websites, one of the leading ones being Wangshangsaomu.com. The sites allow users to conduct a variety of rituals including presenting bouquets of flowers, offering incense, lighting white candles and planting trees, all without leaving their chairs, or fighting the long lines at local bus and train stations.

Bound to Be Beautiful: Chinese foot binding

Foot binding. In our mind, these two words usually bring up a horror image of ugly deformed smelly feet, amazing pain and torture.

Now a days, it seems that everyone has heard about foot binding. The words of it are self-explanatory enough. However, so few of us really know about it, even most of my Chinese friends don’t have any clue. What was actually done during the binding? Why was it done and how could such kind of things have been tolerated? When and where did this take place and is this custom still practiced anywhere today in China? Are there still any women alive who had to endure this tradition and what does modern Chinese think about that tradition now? These were some of the questions that I had and in the following pages, I will try my best to answer these questions and hopefully give us a better understanding of this bizarre custom in Chinese history and culture.

Before the 20th century, some Chinese people believe it is ‘better to have a dog than a daughter.’ Woman’s life is rigidly defined and programmed by her gender: foot binding, arranged marriage, virtual imprisonment by both her family of origin and her husband’s family. Chinese men preferred women with small feet, and in a male-dominated society what the best a woman could do was marry well, the reality was that what men wanted, men got.

Foot binding (also known as “Lotus feet”) is the custom of applying painfully tight binding to the feet of young girls to prevent further growth. The foot binding process begins with a young girl (3-7 years old) soaking her feet in warm water or animal blood with herbs. After soaking the feet, her toe nails were to be clipped short and given a foot massage. Then the

 foot was wrapped tightly with binding cloth. Within a period of time, all of the toes would be broken except for the big toe. Every day, or every couple of days, the foot would be unwrapped and wrapped again. The girls were put into smaller shoes until their foot was about 3-4 inches long. The process would take many years and would lead to a lifetime of labored movement, as well as a regular need to rebind the feet. The most common problem with bound feet was infection and sometimes it causes death. However, woman always agreed to go on with the process because it is what everyone did.

Since the process was so painful, Chinese mothers would comfort their daughters over and over by saying, “Only through pain will you have beauty. Only through suffering will you have peace.” From foot-binding onward, girls and women lived secluded in a second-story chamber of their household, because ” … the difference between nei – the inner realm of the home – and wei – the outer realm of men – lay at the very heart of Confucian society.” It was a strong tradition passed from mother to daughters, entangled with shoemaking, how to endure pain and how to attract men.

Many people believe that the practice originated from the time of Emperor Li Yu (Southern Tang Dynasty). Emperor Li Yu asked his concubine Yao Niang (窅娘) to bind her feet in white silk into the shape of the crescent moon, and performed a lotus dance ballet-like on the points of her feet. Yao Niang was described as so graceful that she ‘skimmed on top of golden lotus’. This was then replicated by other upper-class women and the practice spread. The practice of footbinding became popular during the Song Dynasty. By the end of the Song Dynasty, it was customary to drink from a special shoe whose heel contained a small cup. During the Yuan Dynasty, some would also drink directly from the shoe itself. The practice was called “toast to the golden lotus” and lasted until the late Qing Dynasty.When a woman was to be married, the first thing the bridegroom’s family would check was her feet. The sight of a woman hobbling along on her three inch golden lilies was supposed to have an erotic effect on men, who would be touched by her helplessness. And a woman with perfect lotus feet was likely to make a more prestigious marriage. Qing Dynasty sex manuals listed 48 different ways of playing with women’s bound feet. Some men preferred never to see a woman’s bound feet, so they were always concealed within tiny “lotus shoes” and wrappings. In ancient books, it says, “If you remove the shoes and bindings, the aesthetic feeling will be destroyed forever”. Additionally a common male fantasy was that the unusual lotus gait tended to strengthen the vaginal muscles. An attribute of a woman with bound feet was the limitation of her mobility, and therefore, her inability to take part in politics, social life and the world.

In 1895, the first anti-foot binding society was formed in Shanghai. Soon after branches of the anti-foot binding society began to form in other major cities and across the country. The practice totally fell out of favor at the turn of the 20th century, viewed as an antiquated and shameful part of imperialist Chinese culture, and was officially banned soon after.

But in rural areas, the practice didn’t stop until the communist takeover in 1949, almost all of the village girls had to bind their feet. If they didn’t do this, no man would marry them. Woman also viewed their bound feet as desirable and something to be proud of. In fact they are able to walk and work in the fields. In the 1980s, dancers with bound feet were very popular, about 300 of the remaining foot binding women in Yunnan started performing dances and circus together, which eventually became an unusual tourist attraction in Liuyi village until their decreasing numbers and mobility eventually brought the practice to an end. In an interview, one of those women said, “I lived a good life and we all thought our bound feet looked beautiful. I am proud to be part of the tradition, but I wouldn’t want my daughter or granddaughters to have had to go through it.” Now there are only about 30 women left in the village.

In modern days, none of the Chinese women have to go through the foot binding process any more. We believe, in order to be beautiful someone has to find you beautiful, and so the power actually is in the beholder. But when we see someone in a fabulous pair of high-heeled shoes, we just comment, “Wow, those are spectacular.” The parallel between foot binding and modern-day high heels often strikes me, we don’t ask ourselves, why do we actually wear them? And where do they come from?”

“If you put on a pair of high heels, it changes your whole body,” one of my friends said and fully believes in it. But the beautifying benefits of heels come at a price. If someone is wearing high heels for an excessive period of years, the Achilles tendon tends to get shortened and tighter. There are beauty salons offer cosmetic services, such as a 45-minute “foot facial.” Or “Pillows for Your Feet,” which involves injections of polylactic acid to combat the loss of cushioning on the balls of the feet.

Foot binding or high heels, it is the same mixed feeling with women, “We hate it but we like it – it’s like a drug.”

French Wines from a Chinese Perspective

10 years ago, red wine would be drunk as a highball with coke, and white wine with 7Up. In the old days, when it comes to the western wine, I only know two types: Red and White. Now, most of my Chinese friends would turn to me when they decide to order some western wine during parties, they often assume that I would have a better taste in wine simply because of the international travels that I did. During such occasions, I always say to my friends that “the more you drink, the less you understand.”

Is China becoming a wine superpower?

China uncorks more than 1.2 billion bottles of wine every year. Most Chinese people, saw fine wine primarily as a way to impress their business clients and guests and reach for French wine when they want to sip something special. Wine from Bordeaux is, by far, the most fashionable beverage among China’s elite. France supplies nearly 40 percent of the total wine imported by China in 2012 and China has also invested heavily in vineyards in France. By August 2012, an estimated 30 chateaux in the Bordeaux region had been bought by Chinese businesses and investors and an estimated 20 deals were in the pipeline.

The interview with Vincent Hess, general manager of Vins Descombe, has really opened my eyes and answered to this question. Just like the Chinese tea is sipping into western healthy lifestyle, many young people in China are trying to copy the western lifestyle, drinking has become a new social language in China. It promotes friendly relations between people during business dinners and parties. Vincent says: “Chinese mainly drink and order wine at restaurants but as the western wine is becoming more available from specialist wine retailers, stores or even supermarkets, they are also starting to drink more wine at home as well. They opt to drink wine because it is seen as fashionable, rather than the traditional alcoholic drinks often preferred by their parents. There is also a lot of talks about red wine is good for health and skin.”

Wine to show off

While there is a small growing group of wine connoisseurs in cities like Shanghai and Beijing, Vincent notes the bulk of wine consumers in China are still in the “beginning” phase, buying bottles to show off to their business partners or as an expensive present.

China has also become obsessed with one source and one source only – France. “Bordeaux was the very first French wine entering the market, and so much money were spent on marketing, so it has become a super brand for Chinese people,” Vincent points out. “When they buy wine, it is always the 1st option if they can afford it. Very often, rich Chinese people would come to Vins Descombe and just want to buy the most expensive wine which we have in the store.”

French really believe “a meal without wine is like a day without sunshine”. The common misperceptions about wine that Chinese believe is that wine is only for the rich people, and drinking wine means you are western educated. At Vins Descombe, some Chinese wine consumers even judge a wine by the label, they do not particularly like plain white labels, but tend to prefer red backgrounds and golden writing, as the two colors are regarded as lucky, and suitable for the gift season.

Wine to socialize

East has more of a private, service-oriented mindset, while the West has more of a public, business-oriented mindset. The tea ceremony is an act of service by one person toward another as a fairly private occasion, usually taking place in someone’s home or even in a special room constructed specifically for tea ceremonies. The wine tasting is usually a public occasion with any number of people participating.

“I have been surprised by the increase in the number of people who want to sign up for our wine-tasting club. And more and more Chinese people were able to tell the difference between two wines confidently in a blind tasting.” Vincent says, “Through wine and wine-related events, you can know people with similar interests and similar income. So it is an easy way to make friends and create business connections.” Some of his Chinese client tells him that “If we don’t drink, you don’t get the same atmosphere and things are not as lively.”

“It is quite hard for Chinese to understand when they read ‘hints of blackcurrant leaf’ in the tasting notes, because they don’t have blackcurrant China and there is just so much chaotic wine information online.” Vincent says, “To teach people about wine, you have to speak their language.”

Perhaps very soon, the stereotype of foreigners knowing more about wine than Chinese is about to lose ground.

Pairing Chinese food with French wine

In Vincent’s opinion, wine is like women: really attractive in the outside and so complex in the inside. Sometimes so complex that not able to understand them fully. Food and wine pairing is a complex art that only few are able to master. The best achievement for a good food wine pairing is not only that wine and food goes along but more that wine brings another taste to the dish and brings it to another level, following are the insider’s info from his own experience with Chinese food:

Sichuan: beaujolais chilled or Rhone Valley wine

Shanganese food: white chardonnay or Burgundy

Peckin duck: Beaujolais

“The Chinese are very interested in our wines and buys a lot. They’re looking for companies specialized in producing high quality wines,” said Vincent, “Not only we are selling French wine, we also share with our clients about the French culture and arranged wine trips to France.”

Life of the Feng shui Masters

–          A Real Experience of Chinese Feng Shui World and Its People

Somehow my standard summer holiday of travelling aboard to explore the unknown country has changed into a totally different program of intensive Chinese feng shui study.

It happens when a friend introduced me to a feng shui master who is known for his accurate prediction and I was invited to attend his class. Once there, I found myself at a strange space, the spoken language was almost out of this normal world – classic Chinese that is only used in the ancient times and a lot of talks which I had no clue at all. In my mind, Feng shui was simply associated with furniture arrangement, i.e. where to put our bed or mirrors. Very soon I found there were so many misconception about it and I was of course totally wrong.

Feng shui is an ancient art and science, originated in Chinese astronomy and developed over 3,500 years ago in China. It is a complex body of knowledge that reveals how to balance the energies of any given space to assure health and good fortune for people inhabiting it.

The oldest examples of instruments used for feng shui are Liu Ren astrolabes. These consist of a lacquered, two-sided board with astronomical sightlines. It is determined by relationships of five elements (wu xing 五行) and yin and yang (阴阳) between and among the Three Transmissions (San chuan 三传), Four Classes (Si ke 四课), Twelve Generals, and the Heaven and Earth Plates. Each double-hour of the day contains a cosmic board for daytime and evening divination. The Three Transmissions are derived from configurations of the Heavenly Stem of the date, and the Earthly Branch of the date. The Four Classes are determined in a similar manner. As you might already guessed, it is extremely difficult to learn and I have been struggling with the class.

After 1949, feng shui was officially considered a “feudalistic superstitious practice” and a “social evil” according to the state’s ideology and was discouraged and even banned outright at times. Now in today’s mainland China less than one-third of the population believe in feng shui, since it may have connotations of being a superstitious scam, which arose from improper usage and scams by new practitioners. In the west, feng shui has become an aspect of interior decorating and alleged masters of feng shui now hire themselves out for hefty sums to tell people. Donald Trump, for example, believes his frequent use of feng shui has helped him boost his bank account. “I don’t have to believe in Feng Shui,” the billionaire says. “I do it because it makes me money.” Microsoft founder Bill Gates, one of the richest men in the world, is also a fan of feng shui. His home is said to be located at an ideal point in the hills according to feng shui principles, with a mountain behind it to offer protection and support, and a dragon and tiger on each side of the home is believed to energize it. Lake Washington in front of it rounds out the energy.

Feng shui has now become a kind of metaphysical products…offered for sale to help you improve your health, maximize your potential, and guarantee fulfillment of some fortune cookie philosophy. But is not always looked at as a superstitious scam. People of Chinese descent, believe it is important to live a prosperous and healthy life. To believers, they use it for healing purposes in addition to guide their businesses and create a peaceful atmosphere in their homes. Recently Chinese academics were permitted to research and study the historical feng shui theories behind the design of heritage buildings, such as Fudan and Tongji University.

Now thinking back, perhaps this is my fate? After all, learning feng shui is still somewhat considered taboo in today’s China and few people have the chance of getting close to this subject.

When I started my journey into this mysterious world of feng shui, I began to investigate the truth or falsehood of what I had heard and tried to find out the real answer through studying it. In the end, the most fascinating part was actually the chances of meeting some of the most unique Chinese people during this 3 months study.

“My life was full of up and downs,” Ren Rongfei says, he is a renowned Feng Shui master in Shanghai. During the culture revolution his Shanghainese father was sent to the countryside like millions of young Chinese. Therefore Ren spent most of his life in Jiangsu, but eventually he came back to Shanghai for university study. Ren’s interests of started when he discovered a classmate’s father was practicing Feng Shui as a trade. Immediately he found it was very interesting and started years of study about feng shui learning, thus his life was destined to be changed by it.

Unlike most of the parents in China who worries about the future and desires a stable job for their only child, Ren was lucky enough to have the full support from the family and chances to pursue his dreams and accomplish goals in feng shui and spiritual life.

“Many people come to me to looking for luck, love, wealth, and health, hoping that I could controlling the powerful forces of ch’I (nature engery) to bring success into their lives. What I really does is to allow people truly understand their future, so that they could get ready for what might become and helps them to better prepare for it. In this way, one can maximize their potential and control their own destiny.” Master Ren said this to me, he hopes that more and more people could have the chance of learning how to use feng shui to eliminating every obstacle standing in the way of contentment. Just as the old Chinese adage says: Fortune, Feng Shui, virtue, and learning are the four components that can change one’s life. Feng Shui definitely could place an important part in modern Chinese people’s daily lives.

During my study, I also met with Master Nian Zhe from Ru Yi Zhai – an organization trying to promote traditional Chinese culture. Unlike Master Ren, Nian was born at a family which practiced feng shui for hundreds of years and known as an expert of face reading. Chinese doctors have used the ancient art of face reading since the time of Confucius as an aid to diagnosis and a way of helping their patients. Close observation of the face afforded them a deep knowledge of the personality of their patients. There were also professional face readers during this time that combined the roles of priest, astrologer and counselor. They were well-educated men with great compassion for human frailty. The Chinese understood the concept that the face represents the energies, health and fortune of a person and they wished to live in harmony with these, and with the prevailing energies of the five elements, yin and yang, and the seasons.

According to Ren and Nian, “Feng Shui has been an important component of traditional Chinese culture since ancient times. It is not only a comprehensive study of such things as geology, physiography, and hydrology but it also reflects the traditional Chinese philosophy of avoiding evil spirits and looking for propitious living environments.”

Personally, I think that feng shui is related to everything in our life and we can utilize our Man Power (our attitudes – good deeds, better learning and hard work) and the Earth Power (our environment – favorable Feng Shui) to neutralize the Heaven Power (our time of birth – what we have inherited from our parents and our previous lives). Ultimately, you are the real creator of your own fate. When you change your heart, you change your face and your ch’i; when you change your face and your ch’i, you change your fate.

The Unmarried Crisis in China

At the age of 28, right after my one month holiday break in Europe, I got two interesting books from my friend Amanda, one is “I Know How You Become the Leftover”, the other one is “How to Make Anyone Fall in Love with You”.

The most fantastic thing is that my friend carefully made notes in these books and highlighted the important instructions. Let’s try to imagine my facial expression at that moment when she handed me these books with excitement. If you know me well, you could tell that I laughed really hard.

“You got to be kidding, does these books really work?” I asked with amusement after going through her notes quickly and thinking it is going to be a nice business if I try to write one similar book as well.

Amanda and I has very different personality which almost feels like the Yin and Yang’s. With the fact that we have known each other for more than 10 years, our difference in life style only made some conversation more interesting and fun. She has witnessed me getting all sorts of rewards at university and some achievements in business, I have been closely updated with all of her dating stories and studies of different men.

In China, beginning at 25, women must “fight” and “hunt” for a partner, so they will not end up alone. By 28, it implies the heat is really on, telling women “they must triumph.” Between 31 and 35, these women are called “advanced leftovers,” and by 35, a single woman is the “ultimate” leftover. Because people talk and the neighbors ask, parents feel social intimidation and start helping their beloved single child. It is easy to sense the pressures my friend has right now, Amanda is older than me, almost 30, surrounded by married woman at work and her parents are much more traditional than mine.

Now with these two books sitting quietly at my desk, I wanted to share more insights with all of you about the biggest crisis in China – it is not the economic slowing down, not the island dispute between China and Japan, it is the unmarried woman and man in big cities.

According to a study from the University of Kent, in ten years China will have approximately 24 million unmarried Chinese men who cannot find wives. That’s more than the current female populations of Taiwan and South Korea combined.

In big cities like Shanghai, there seems to be much more single woman than single man, woman from the country side are coming into the city to full in the need at the growing service industry. And as you might notice, Chinese women have become quite a strong power to be reckoned during the past 10 years. According to Forbes magazine, 11 of the 20 richest self-made women in the world are Chinese. In fact, there is even a phrase for their sudden rise: yin sheng, yang shuai, which means the female (yin) is on the up, while the male (yang) is on the way down.

However, single Chinese women who are older than 30, are viewed for being too picky or too modern and cosmopolitan, or are pitied for being overlooked, and called “leftover ladies” (shengnü). They can also be described as 3S lady – Single, Seventies, Stuck, or the SAS lady – Single, Attractive, Successful.

By now, you might wonder why these women are becoming the leftover ladies while there are so many single man who can’t find a wife? It has something to do with the ABCD rule in Chinese culture, and here is the secret behind everything:

A type means the best in the market, then it follows with B, C, D types.

The ABCD rule goes like that:

A man looking for B woman

B man looking for C woman

C man looking for D woman

When you have A woman and D man, they are pretty hard to match, right?

China also has a convention of men marrying slightly younger women and women marrying slightly older men. A widely publicised survey in 2010 by the government-backed All China Women’s Federation showed that that 92 percent of men questioned believed that a woman should be married before the age of 27.

As beauty is perceived to decrease with age, women’s marriage “shelf-life” is thus shorter than men’s. Therefore a 30 years old man is more likely to date a 22 years old woman who just finished university than his smart and clever female co-worker. It is also an every man’s dream to find a “Bai Fu Mei”(White – Chinese man prefer whiter skin, Rich and Beautiful).

Every Saturday and Sunday, at the Shanghai marriage market, parents, with or without their children’s consent, arrange meetings, dates and potential matches for their kids. Some children, often too busy working to devote time to meeting a soul mate, accept their parents’ help. But its not easy even for a parent, and many also employ matchmakers to help with their search. But according to the local matchmakers, every 1 single male follows every 5 single females.

The history of the market started in 1996, by a small group of elderly people(less than 20 people) trying to help their kids, later on it was reported by the local media. Now by 2012, it is the largest one in China, with more than 1000 people attending in a day. Hundreds of worrying parents gather up, regardless of the weather, clutching single sheets of paper that present their children in simple phrases — age, height, education, job, salary, whether they ever studied abroad and whether they own their own apartment. Chinese parents believed that it is better to set up date offline than online. Over the internet, everyone is richer, taller and better looking. Over here, at least you can meet their parents face to face.

While everything seems to be so material based by the parents view towards relationship, known as “Love is a luxury, not a necessity”, and many are hoping to marry a “Gao Shuai Fu”(Tall, Handsome and Rich), or looking for the “5 Cs”(career, cash, car, Credit Cards and Condominium) and it is no secret that some women in China are gold-diggers and use marriage as a means to acquire wealth, however “shengnu” are generally educated, well-to-do females who support themselves and have less of a need than their mothers and grandmothers did to enter a marriage for economic reasons. Therefore the majority of “Shengnu” are still hanging in there as they don’t want to compromise their hope in finding the true love or at least a bit of chemistry. They no longer views marriage as just being about securing a future through money, a car, and a house. And disagree with the idea of marriage just for the sake of it, even if it means facing pressures from their parents and endless reminders that nobody will want them after 30.

So does Shanghai marriage market work at all? It’s wildly known that it is busier than a wet market, but the success rate is worse than a job fair. But a friend told me a true story.

A 29 years old lady does not have boy friend, and since she is approaching the expiration date, 30 in Chinese standard, her father worries a lot.

So on a Saturday, he went all the way to the marriage market, it took him 2 hours by bus because they live far from the city area. By the time he arrived there, the market almost finished. He rushed – almost run into the center, but accidentally he knocked a woman down.

Feeling sorry and embarrassed, he apologized to her and then they had a chat. It turns out that she had a son who is also 29 years old. So they agreed to let them meet.

Guess what? After 3 months, their son and daughter are happily married. More amazingly, one works as an accountant, another is a banker.

Well, I think we just need a bit of luck in life, right?

As modern Chinese women, there are no more foot-binding custom to keep them from achieve their dreams in life. They are encouraged to pursue education and develop their careers, and be self-sufficient and independent. At the same time, they also desire to follow the traditional path of marriage and family.

For better or for worse, Chinese women are on her own terms now.

Chinese Umbrella

Perhaps I was born as the kind of person to save the Chinese umbrella industry. It is embarrassing to admit that I lost at least one umbrella every year. Today I almost lost my umbrella for 2 times. 

Thanks god that these umbrellas are so cheap. Otherwise I will need to find one with GPS.

The history of Chinese Umbrellas

As early as 3500 years ago, umbrella had emerged in China. Regarding the invention of umbrella, there are many folk legends, among which the most widely spread one is the story about Luban inventing umbrella. According to the story, umbrella was invented by Luban’s wife out of care and concern about her hardworking husband. As the folklore tells, daily meals delivered by Luban’s Wife Yun were often spoilt by downpours. So Luban built pavilions along the road. Later on, as inspired by children using lotus leaves for rain shelter, he invented the first umbrella by making a flexible framework covered by a cloth.

In ancient China, the umbrella was not only a day-to-day appliance, but also with sociological significance. In late Wei Dynasty, umbrella was used in official ceremonies and rites and was called the Luo Umbrella. It is the symbol of rank and status as the official robe. For example, officials of the Han Dynasty above the third rank used Green Umbrella and emperors in Song dynasty used yellow and red umbrellas while the common people would carry blue ones. Therefore, umbrellas were used in the inspection tours of emperors or senior officials in ancient times to show protection over the people. As umbrella indicates wealth and honor, it is often used in wedding ceremonies in China. Umbrella is often used in opera, song and dance, and acrobatics art as well.

Shanghai taboo – umbrella gift

Since I lost my umbrella so often, I always wanted to have someone gift me an umbrella. However, this probably will never happen. In Chinese, the word umbrella sounds very similar to separation, so the gift of an umbrella symbolizes a desire to end a relationship.

Chinese “Mating Ritual”: Explore Shanghai’s Marriage Market

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According to a study from the University of Kent, in ten years China will have approximately 24 million unmarried Chinese men who cannot find wives. That’s more than the current female populations of Taiwan and South Korea combined, to give it some context.

However, in the big cities like Shanghai, there seems to be much more single woman than single man. They can be described as 3S lady – Single, Seventies, Stuck, or the SAS lady – Single, attractive, successful. 

You might wondering why these nice woman become the leftovers? It has something to do with the ABCD rule in Chinese culture, and this  is the secret behind everything:

A type means the best in the market, and it then follows with B, C, D types.

So the ABCD rule goes like that:

A man looking for B woman

B man looking for C woman

C man looking for D woman

Then you have A woman and D man, they are pretty hard to match, right?

Every Saturday and Sunday, at the Shanghai marriage market, parents, with or without their children’s consent, arrange meetings, dates and potential matches for their kids. Some children, often too busy working to devote time to meeting a soul mate, accept their parents’ help. But its not easy even for a parent, and many also employ matchmakers. 

Matchmakers broker meetings for numerous clients usually charging RMB 10-20 per pairing. “I’ve been a matchmaker for three years,” says Mr Zheng “There’s no large payment up front. If you get married, I expect a nice gift and maybe an invitation to attend the wedding. I already represent two American men. Interested?” Even then, matching people long term, especially with the famously strong-willed Shanghainese women, can be difficult. “I’ve been here a long time,” muses Mr Fu, a local matchmaker. “Girls in Shanghai are strong these days. Although they don’t have as much trouble finding a man, there are still lots of unmarried girls’ names on my lists.”

The history of the market started in 1996, by a small group of olderly people(less than 20 people) trying to help their kids, later on it was reported by the local media. Now by 2012, it is the largest one in China, with more than 1000 people attending in a day. 

Does it really work? A friend told me a true story.

A 29 years old lady does not have boy friend,  and since she is approching the Expiration Date, 30 in Chinese standard, her father worries a lot.

So on a Saturday, he went all the way to the marriage market, it took him 2 hours by bus because they live far from the city area. By the time he arrived there, the market almost finished. He rushed – almost run into the center, but accidentally he knocked a woman down.

Feeling sorry and embarrassed, he  apologize to her and naturely they had a chat. It turns out she had a son who is also 29 years old. So they agreed to let them meet.

Guess what? After 3 months, their son and daughter are happily married. More amazingly, one works as an accountant, another is a banker. I bet they enjoy counting money together.

Chinese Red Envelopes

For Chinese New Year, instead of wrapped-up presents, Chinese children are given cold hard cash inside red envelopes for good luck.

We are practical people.  And who doesn’t like money? 

The tradition of red envelopes comes from a story about a demon who was vanquished during the Sung Dynasty. A young man with a magic sword defeated a demon that was menacing a town. The grateful town presented him with money in a red envelope to reward him for his deed. The color red is associated with happiness and good luck in Chinese tradition. The money was called yāsuì qián (压岁钱), meaning “money warding off evil spirits”, and was believed to protect the kids from sickness and death.

Red envelopes are presented as gifts on occasions that range from birthdays to the Chinese Lunar New Year. They can also be presented at weddings, or simply given at the beginning of a new endeavor, such as starting college. In a professional context, Chinese employers will give their employees a year-end bonus in a red envelope.

I could still recall the excitement on Chinese New Year’s eve: after the big family dinner, my grand parents, uncles and aunties will hand me red envelopes with money filled inside. And my parents would always tell me to save it so I can use the money when I become a big girl.

Of course, every other adult that I meet during the 15 days Chinese new year holiday was expected to give me a red envelope, so there was times that I suddenly filled with a lot of money in my pocket and it became necessary for me to open a bank account for saving…my dreams then were to spend all of these money on some fancy/silly things one day….

The more red envelopes you get, the higher your net worth becomes, that is, until your mother takes them all away and telling you that “I will save it for you!”

Guess what? You will never see these money again.

When money is involved, things become a bit more complicated than usual. As a kid, you will develop a sense regarding who is your favorite aunt or uncle – the one who’s known to give out generous amount in their red envelopes. As soon as the holiday started, you will find ways to visit them by asking your parents indirect questions such as,

“When are we going to visit this or that uncle/aunt?”

And then deny vehemently when your mother accuses you of wanting to visit them simply for the big, fat red envelope you know you’ll be getting.

Later on, your parents will start to tell you that when you grown up, it will be your turn to give others the red envelopes. You also will try and hide your disappointment when your mother strikes some stupid deal with an aunt of yours to NOT give red envelopes to each other’s children.

In China, it was not polit to open the gifts in front of people, and of course you should not opening the envelopes in front of the relatives out of courtesy. Therefore I would stash the red envelopes away, in the pocket of my jacket, then spending the rest of that day thinking of those envelopes and HOW MUCH MONEY in each of them lingered. 

Nowadays, things are so different, I become the ones who will give out money and trying to figure out what is the right amount – when I did the Chinese New Year talk for the Swedish Club in Shanghai, this was a popular question. An even-numbered amount of money is seen as luckier than an odd-numbered amount. The number 4 should be avoided as it has the same sound as “death” in Chinese. In the past, it was okay to give RMB200 in the red envelope, but according to the news report this year, the amount increased to RMB600 due to the living increasing cost in Shanghai.

Learn Chinese Cooking – Everything about Jiaozi

Jiaozi (JOW-zah) a Chinese dumpling, is a traditional Chinese food—one of the most widely loved foods in northern China. It typically consists of a ground meat and/or vegetable filling wrapped into a thinly rolled piece of dough, which is then sealed by pressing the edges together or by crimping. Now Jiaozi is widely spread to Japan, Eastern and Western Asia. This is because of many reasons. Here is a list of them.

The Chinese New Year – Spring Festival

The custom of making jiaozi a special dish during the Spring Festival, or the Chinese Lunar New Year, started in the Ming Dynasty, some 500 to 600 years ago. The reason is simple. In ancient China, yuan bao was used as currency before the use of jiao zi paper money. The appearance of jiaozi looks like the V-shape gold and silver ingots known as yuan bao. As the Spring Festival marks the start of a new year and eating the dumplings during the Spring Festival is a metaphor for eating money, people hope that it will bring prosperity and good luck for the forthcoming year. Although time has changed, the tradition has remained, today, jiaozi is considered more as a sign of blessing than of fortune.

History of Jiaozi

In ancient times, Jiaozi’s shape looks like a horn, was called ‘Jiao” (literally “horn”). It was also called “bianshi” (literally “flat food”) due to its flat shape. The term jiao zi has multiple meanings, one of the meanings means “midnight or the end and the beginning of time.” This is why the jiaozi are made the midnight of the last day of the passing lunar year and Chinese people eat it right between eleven pm and one am. Another meaning of the term comes from the literal translation to “sleep together and have sons” which is a long lost good wish for a family. Not only does the shape of the jiao zi resemble the golden ingots, it also represents a crescent moon and symbolizes the hope for a year of plenty. Occasionally people will add specific fillings to select dumplings in order to symbolize certain wishes. Those who receive sweets will have a sweeter life, peanuts symbolize long life, and dates and chestnuts represent the imminent arrival of a son. Because the word “dates” is homonymic with the word “early” in Chinese, so are chestnuts, the syllable “zi” is homonymic with children. The tremendous amount of food prepared at this time was meant to symbolize abundance of wealth in the household.

Rich Chinese families in ancient times would add gold, silver, and other precious stones in their dumplings. To get one of these dumplings was considered good luck. Later this transitioned to adding coins in the dumplings. Copper coins, for example, meant that one would never lack money. In contemporary times, only a few coins were washed and add to the batch of dumplings, the person who discovers the coin would enjoy good luck and make a lot of money in the coming year.

Delicacy & One For All

Chinese dumpling is a delicious food. You can make a variety of Chinese dumplings using different fillings based on your taste and how various ingredients mixed together by you.

Usually when you have Chinese dumpling for dinner, you will not have to cook anything else except for some big occasions. The dumpling itself is good enough for dinner. This is one of the advantages of Chinese dumpling over other foods, though it may take longer to make them.

How to make Jiaozi

Like most Chinese people, I started making jiaozi when I was a little kid in my family. In the beginning, it is more like a game than prepare food. My mom would give me some pre-made dumpling skinsso I do not make a mass with the dough and flour. Just stuff the filling on top of the dumplingskins, fold and close it together, well, it may not look as pretty as my mom’s jiaozi, but it is done and that is what all counts, easy! Most Chinese like me know how to make jiaozi but not many are good at making the skins, which is the hardest part of making dumplings.

Making the Dough & Dumpling Skins:

–  2 1/2 C unsifted flour

–  1/2 tsp. salt

–  1 C boiling water

–  1 Tbsp. lard, cut up into little pieces

Mix the flour and salt. Add the boiling water and stir with chopsticks. Add the lard. Knead all and let rest on a plastic counter under a bowl for 20 minutes.

To make dumpling skins: Break off a piece of the dough the size of 1 teaspoon. Keep the rest of the dough under the bowl. Roll the dough into a ball and then roll out into a 3-inch circle. You may need extra flour for this. Or, use a tortilla press that has been very lightly oiled with peanut oil on a paper towel. This gets you going and the rest of the rolling is easy. To store skins until use, dust each skin lightly with flour and stack on top of one another.

If you are pressed for time, you may want to purchase a package of pre-made dumpling skins (the round ones) from any local Chinese supermarket. Don’t buy the square ones–those are for won-tons!

Making the Filling:

–  1 cup finely chopped Napa cabbage

–  1 lb. lean ground pork

–  2 Tbsp. light soy sauce

–  2 Tbsp. dry sherry

–  1 tsp. freshly grated ginger

–  1/2 tsp. ground white pepper

–  1 Tbsp. sesame oil

–  Pinch of sugar

–  1 Tbsp. chopped green onion

–  1 egg white

–  1 Tbsp. cornstarch

–  1 tsp. salt

–  4 Tbsp. medium chopped bamboo shoots or water chestnuts (optional)

–  2 cloves garlic, crushed

Sprinkle salt on chopped cabbage and let sit in a colander for 30 min. Squeeze dry (either by hand or in a potato ricer) and place into bowl. Add all of the remaining ingredients and mix well. Also add a splash of chili paste, to taste.

Construction:

–  Place dumpling skin in the palm of your hand. Dip a finger in cold water and wet the edges of the dumpling skin.

–  Spoon a lump of filling (approx. 1 Tbsp.) into the middle of the skin.

–  Fold dumpling in half. Pinch top of semi-circle together.

–  Push in on both sides of dumpling, so that the dumpling should look like the letter “I” from the top.

–  Bend one half of each “top” of the “I” and press against middle edge of dumpling. Seal all edges of dumpling.

–  Your dumpling should look like a half-moon with a big bulge in the middle!

– To cook, drop into a big pot of boiling water under they float to the surface. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes.

References:

Savory Chinese Money by Arthur Wang, Eimi Watanabe, Alex Lee, Arlene Kim, Hsiang June Chou http://www.anthro.uci.edu/html/Programs/Anthro_Money/JiaoZi.htm>

Chinese Dumpling <http://chineseculture.about.com/library/weekly/aa020298.htm>

YIN-YANG and Five Elements

Different than the horoscope in the West, Chinese people put their fate at the hands of the YIN-YANG scholars as it is deeply rooted in the Taoism, they believed that there are two natural, complementary and contradictory forces in our universe.  Because humans are in charge of all the living species, therefore the third one is named Human. YIN represents the female, negative, darkness, softness, moisture, night-time, even numbers and docile aspects of things. YANG represents the male, positive, brightness, hardness, dryness, day-time, odd numbers and dominant aspects. YIN and YANG are continually in the state of flux and always looking for the BALANCE point. One moves , the other responses. 

These scholars also believed that our universe consisted of five basic elements, which are Metal, Water, Wood, Fire and Earth (Soil). Everything, including humans, in the universe (between Heaven and Earth) must have a relationship with these five elements. So they tried to apply the five elements not only to every physical thing in the world, but also to the Colors, Directions, Seasons and Sounds. They even applied to the Years, Months, Days, Hours, Minutes and Seconds of the  Chinese Calendar. People are able to know their five-element weights from their birth date and time. Based on the combination of these five-element weights plus the concept of the natural phenomenon, they can tell the rise and fall of human destiny (fate) cycle. The “element” in Chinese also means MOVEMENT, CHANGEABLE and DEVELOPMENT. If you want to be a lucky person, you have to move to an environment to bring your five elements into balance. 

For example, trees have their own growth cycle in between Heaven and Earth. Humans must have life cycles similar to those of trees. The seasonal changes affect the growth of trees. Trees grow faster in the spring and slower in the fall. The environmental changes also affect the life of trees. Without adequate sunshine, trees grow too slowly. Too much heat, trees will be dried out. Without water, trees cannot grow. Too much water, trees will be uprooted and afloat. Insufficient earth, tree will not grow tall….

The human life cycle is also affected by the same seasonal and environmental changes. The seasonal changes come from the Sun and Moon which are the clock for the calendars. The Chinese calendar is designed from Sun and Moon plus the Stem-Branch (concept from trees) cycle. Chinese YIN-YANG scholars have for thousands of years applied the Five Elements on the Chinese Stem-Branch calendar. This way humans get their Five Element weights using their birth date and time.

When the seasons and environment change, the Five Elements have certain responses. Humans respond in a similar way. The YIN-YANG scholars made predictions on the human life cycle, from birth to death, by using this natural phenomenon.

Chinese Money Habits – The Salary Question

If you ask a Chinese person in China how much money he or she makes, odds are that person will tell you. Because you are living in a culture where it’s ok for someone to ask you your salary within 5 minutes of meeting you, and that opens up all sorts of doors. It’s like you get this secret peek into the financial lives of everyone you meet, and IT’S OK!

Discussing one’s income is not always a matter of bragging because not everyone is rich. Most of the time Chinese people do this as a way of getting to know another person. Once you speak to people and find out their income they tell you more about how they live.  It is not a rude or bad thing in Chinese culture to talk about money, and sometimes good comes out of it. For example, people might help you to secure a raise after they found out that you are underpaid.

This Chinese money habit may be related to the fact that in the past the gap between people’s salaries was not so large. For instance, some people talk freely about this with their colleagues. Or when friends meet they might discuss whether their incomes have increased or not. If you do not really want to tell people how much money you make, you can give a vague answer like, ‘not much’.

Believe it or not, recently it’s common that some young people would show their salaries on the internet. They may put information about their basic wage, allowance, bonus etc. This helps people learn the income differences among various jobs.

If your friend’s income is very low, they would feel the situation was unfair, rather than feel embarrassed. For instance, the income of those working in the field of telecommunications, the oil industry or electricity industry enjoy at least four times the salary of those common textile workers. But anyway, it’s a way of learning about other people’s lives. Otherwise you’d never know about it.

Chinese New Year Activities

Chinese New Year starts with the New Moon on the first day of the New Year and ends on the full moon 15 days later. The 15th day of the New Year is called the Lantern Festival, which is celebrated at night with lantern displays and children carrying lanterns in a parade.The Chinese New Year Celebrations span across 15 days with each day having its individual significance.

New Year Pre-Festival Activities

  • From the 23rd day of the 12th lunar month: extensive house-cleaning, cooking, shopping and buying gifts.

Last night of the 12th lunar month:

  • New Year’s Eve is a time for family get-togethers for eating, catching up and shou sui(staying up all night), waiting for the new year.
  • At midnight, it’s a custom to eat jiao zi (dumplings), because the word jiao ziis similar to the ancient word for new replacing the old. The crescent shape of the dumpling is also similar to ancient money and the image of plates piled high with the dumplings lets people imagine heaps of money being brought to the table symbolizing wealth in the new year.
  • Also at midnight, it is customary to set off firecrackers. This was traditionally done to scare away demons but in modern times is a ritual of merriment and pyrotechnics.

From New Year’s Day Forward

  • Day One, New Year’s Day (the first day of the first lunar month):
    • Traditionally, one welcomes the gods from the heaven and earth. Ming and Qing emperors would perform a grand ceremony at the Temple of Heaven in Beijing. Nowadays…
    • Elders give children ya sui, or gifts of money. The money is put into a lovely red envelope, called a hong bao, that is usually decorated with new year’s wishes, and given to happy children.
    • Some Chinese might give up meat for the day.
    • No one cleans! Cleaning on New Year’s Day is serious bad luck, you might sweep all the good fortune out the door.
  • Day Two: Prayers to ancestors are added to prayers to the gods. It’s believed that this day is the birthday of all dogs, so it’s better to be extra kind to dogs on this day as well.
  • Days Three & Four: Sons-in-laws pay respect to their in-law families.
  • Day Five: Everyone stays home to wait for and welcome the God of Wealth. It’s bad luck to visit anyone on this day.
  • Day Six to Ten: Families go out to visit relatives and friends.
  • Day Seven: It’s a special day for farmers and it’s also supposed to be the birthday of all mankind. Eating noodles is traditional to ensure long life.
  • Day Ten to Twelve: Now that the visiting is over, it’s time to invite family and friends over for dinner.
  • Day Thirteen: Finally! A break in the lavish meals! One is supposed to eat simply on the thirteenth day of New Year.
  • Day Fourteen: Time to prepare for day Fifteen, the Lantern Festival.
  • Day Fifteen: Yuanxiao, or Lantern Festival. The Lantern Festival, celebrated on the night of the first full moon, also marks the end of the Chinese New Year holiday period. Chinese people light lanterns, play riddle games and eat sticky rice balls.

Chinese Zodiac – The Great Race

The Chinese zodiac consists of twelve animals that first appeared in the Zhan Guo period [5th century B.C.]. No one knows the exact date as of when the zodiac was essentially created, but they were officially identified during the Han Dynasty [206 B.C.–9 A.D.], which was over 2000 years ago. The zodiac became a popular way to determine a person’s birth year during the North Zhou Dynasty [557-581 A.D.] and is still very commonly used today.

Myths say that Emperor Huangdi, the first Chinese emperor, in 2637 B.C. invented the Chinese lunar calendar, which follows the cycles of the moon The zodiac was based on Chinese astrology and was used as a way to count years, months, days, and hours in the calendar. It was formed from two components: the Celestial Stem and the Terrestrial Branch. Each of the 12 animals stands for a year in a 12-year cycle, a day in the a 12-day cycle, and for every two hours in a 24-hour day.

Following is the traditional story behind it:

Long long ago, in China, the Jade Emperor wanted to find a easy way to count years, so someone suggested that they can select 12 animals to represent the 12-year-cycle in lunar calendar, each for a year.

The Jade Emperor announced to the entire animal kingdom that there would be an amazing race. The first twelve animals to cross the finish line would each be awarded one year in the lunar calendar.

At that time, the Cat and the Rat were the best of friends. They accompanied each other no matter where they went. Hearing this news, the two friends got very excited, for both of them want a coveted position on the calendar. But soon their excitement faded, and they began to worry about their poor swimming skill. After thinking for a while, they decided to ask the Ox for some help. The Rat and Cat explained to the Ox their problem and asked him if he would be so kind as to let them ride on his back. The Ox, having a kind nature, agreed without the slightest hesitation and promised to let them sit on his back in the race.

Happy with the Ox’s promise, the Cat decide to take a nap so that he could be at his best point. He asked his friend: “Could you please wake me up when it’s time for the race?”

“Sure. Just have a good nap. I will wake you up when the time comes.” the Rat replied. But the position on the calendar was like a carrot dangling in front of the Rat to entice him into betraying his best friend. So when the time came, he went alone and left the Cat sleeping deeply.

In the race, the Ox, as the best swimmer, soon took the lead. Just before the Ox was about to reach the other bank, the Rat leaped on his head and on to the bank to finish first.

The Jade Emperor was very pleased and told the Rat that the first year of the Zodiac would be named after him. Of course, the naive Ox had been tricked into second place and the second year of the zodiac was named after him.

Following closely behind was strong Ox who was named the 2nd animal in the zodiac. After Ox, came Tiger, panting, while explaining to the Jade Emperor how difficult it was to cross the river with the heavy currents pushing it downstream all the time. But with its powerful strength, Tiger made to shore and was named the 3rd animal in the cycle.

Suddenly, from a distance came a thumping sound, and the Rabbit arrived. It explained how it crossed the river: by jumping from one stone to another in a nimble fashion. Halfway through, it almost lost the race, but the Rabbit was lucky enough to grab hold of a floating log that later washed him to shore. For that, it became the 4th animal in the Zodiac cycle. Coming in 5th place was the Flying Dragon. Of course, the Jade Emperor was deeply curious as to why a swift flying creature such as the Dragon should fail to reach first place. The mighty Dragon explained that he had to stop and make rain to help all the people and creatures of the earth, and therefore he was held back. Then, on his way to the finish, he saw a little helpless Rabbit clinging onto a log so he did a good deed and gave a puff of breath to the poor creature so that it could land on the shore. The Jade Emperor was very pleased with the actions of the Dragon, and he was added into the zodiac cycle. As soon as he had done so, a galloping sound was heard, and the Horse appeared. Hidden on the Horse’s hoof was the Snake, whose sudden appearance gave the Horse a fright, thus making it fall back and giving the Snake the 6th spot, while the Horse placed 7th.

Not long after that, a little distance away, the Sheep, Monkey, and Rooster came to the shore. These three creatures helped each other to get to where they are. The Rooster spotted a raft, and took the other two animals with it. Together, the Sheep and the Monkey cleared the weeds, tugged and pulled and finally got the raft to the shore. Because of their combined efforts, the Emperor was very pleased and promptly named the Sheep as the 8th creature, the Monkey as the 9th, and the Rooster the 10th.

The 11th animal was the Dog. Although he was supposed to be the best swimmer, he could not resist the temptation to play a little longer in the river. Though his explanation for being late was because he needed a good bath after a long spell. For that, he almost didn’t make it to finish line. Just as the Jade Emperor was about to call it a day, an oink and squeal was heard from a little Pig. The Pig got hungry during the race, promptly stopped for a feast and then fell asleep. After the nap, the Pig continued the race and was named the 12th animal of the zodiac cycle. 

As to the poor Cat, he did not wake up until the magpie chattered the result of the race over his head. When the Cat found out what the Rat had done, he was furious. The two became worst enemies. This is the reason why cats are not one of the twelve animals and they love to chase after rats.

Chinese New Year: Cured Meat

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Walking around the backstreets of Shanghai is quite interesting, currently every family is getting ready for the Chinese Near Year and cured meat is everywhere.

Cured bacon, or “larou”, is a southern China specialty. The “la” technique calls for curing the meat in a liquid of salt, soy sauces, sugar, wine and spices, and then air-drying. Occasionally the meat is smoked after being dried. The meat used for “la” curing can be pork belly, duck, fish or sometimes venison. Traditionally the “la” technique calls for the meat to be brought out into the sun for drying a few hours each day. This method promotes dehydration and also partially renders the fat from the meat. The heat from the sun also gives a fragrant nutty taste to the finish product. For my attempt I decided to sun dry the bacon strips in my very sunny window during the day, and store them hanging in the refrigerator overnight.

The story of “larou”, takes us back to Zhou Dynasty (about 3,000 years ago) the twelfth month of the Chinese calendar has been designated as a time for ritual sacrifice to honor the gods and ancestors. This ritual is known as “laji”. Animals were hunted for offerings, and the meat consumed during the ceremony. Over time preservation techniques were developed to conserve the leftovers for winter consumption.

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