Shanghai Pathways Blog

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



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.


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


Her favourite western episode is My Little Pony


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”

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?


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.


“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?


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.”


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.


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 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.”

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