The Cultural Glue that Holds China together

August 26, 2015

Under Qin Shi Huangdi, China’s first emperor, who united China in 221 BC, a standardized written language was mandated for an empire that once resembled Europe with many countries and written languages, and this created a unique cultural identity from the rest of the world.

To understand this, I’m turning to a conversation thread from the Yuan-Xiao Festival. Alessandro, a European with a degree in East Asian studies, who lives in China with his Chinese wife, wrote a comment that helped me understand something I’d read years ago written by Lin Yutang.

Writing of the Chinese Mind on page 81 of the 1938 Holcyon House Edition of My Country and My People, Lin Yutang wrote, “The Chinese language and grammar … in its form, syntax and vocabulary, reveals an extreme simplicity of thinking, concreteness of imagery and economy of syntactical relationships.”

I didn’t clearly understand what Lin Yutan meant until Alessandro’s comment. “The Latin alphabet is a phonetic one,” Alessandro said, “and as such, it simply reproduces the sounds of the spoken language, making it more susceptible of changes whenever the spoken language changes. Chinese Hanzi, on the other hand, conveys almost no ‘phonetic’ information by itself … (and doesn’t change much in its meaning as time passes).”

 
Cultural Competence: Managing Your Prejudices

Alessandro went on to say, “Both Europe and China have had political upheavals and long periods in which they were divided, but (China) having a stable writing system that doesn’t change as much as an alphabetic one helped them not to lose an important element of cultural unity, therefore of ‘national’ identity…

“The Chinese concept of ‘nation’ has nothing to do with the ‘nation state’ concept common in Europe (and North America).

“European nation states are more or less based on ethnicity, while in China it was – and it still somewhat is – based on cultural elements.

“You were Chinese because you shared a common culture, because you acted as a Chinese and assumed Chinese customs.

“Europe never regained the unity that existed during the Roman Empire, while China always strove to regain unity after each period of division. The traditional saying 合久必分,分久必合 — means more or less ‘after unity comes division, after division comes unity’.”

While the West—North America and Europe—has many written languages, China has had one for more than two millennia and this has been the glue that creates a sense of unity and what it means to be Chinese. Westerns don’t have that sense or cultural identity or unity.

______________________________

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the lusty love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

IMAGE with Blurbs and Awards to use on Twitter

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Long before Romeo and Juliet there was China’s Butterfly Lovers

August 25, 2015

The legend of The Butterfly Lovers first appeared in 618 AD during the Tang Dynasty, and it’s a tragic Chinese love story similar to Romeo and Juliet.

The basic premise is of a young woman in China wanting to go to school. Since boys were the only ones allowed to attend school, this young woman, like Barbara Streisand in the movie Yentl (1983), disguised herself as a boy.

Yentl was based on Isaac Bashevis Singer’s (1902 – 1991) short story Yentl the Yeshiva Boy.

When I talked to my wife about this, she found her copy of a popular theme song from The Butterfly Lovers played as a violin solo by Yu Lina. As the house filled with the music, which may also be found on the next embedded YouTube video, my wife started to dance.

She said, “This is one of my favorites. I cannot resist dancing when I hear it.”

In fact, Yentl the Yeshiva Boy and Shakespeare’s (1564 – 1616) Romeo and Juliet must be combined to become The Butterfly Lovers. What starts as a charade becomes a love story ending in the suicide of the two young lovers.

The love story of Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai is one of four Chinese folk legends and one of the most influential and best known in China.

China has traded with the West since the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 219 AD). There was an overland route in the north and a sea route in the south, which the Roman Empire used around the time of Christ.

Since China traded with the West for more than two thousand years, it is conceivable that The Butterfly Lovers reached the West and was adapted by Shakespeare and then Singer after being exposed to the plot.

______________________________

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the lusty love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

2015 Promotion Image for My Splendid Concubine

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Cupid in China

August 12, 2015

For millennia, Chinese parents and/or matchmakers played cupid and arranged marriages sometimes as early as birth.

However, that is changing. China Daily reports that “Nearly 30 percent of those born after the 1990s admitted that their first ‘puppy love’ happened in primary or junior high school, according to Baihe, a major dating website that recently conducted an Internet survey of more than 50,000 people across the country. Only 3 percent of those born before the 1970s gave the same answer.”

And Sufie, of Sexy Beijing, takes us on a journey to discover what’s happening to matchmaking Cupids in China.

One man Sufie interviews on the street says he was born in the late 70’s, and he has no problem with traditional matchmaking but those born in the 80s and afterwards may not like it.

In this embedded episode of Sexy Beijing, Sufie wants to discover if arranged marriages are still popular in China. To discover what she learned, watch the video


Sexy Beijing: Matchmaker, Matchmaker

Cupid is no stranger to China and may have traveled here on the southern Silk Road when the Roman Empire was trading with the Han Dynasty (206 BC to 219 AD).

Top News, China Through a Lens reports that archaeologists working at the Quren Ruins of Yunyang County, Chongqing Municipality discovered what easily passes as a little bronze cupid.

“The discovery of the naked “cupid” naturally associates the Han Dynasty and ancient Greece and Roman Empire”.

But sometimes Cupid’s arrow misses. Watch the next video to discover a modern Chinse girl who proposed to a guy in public and gets rejected.

______________________________

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the lusty love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

IMAGE with Blurbs and Awards to use on Twitter

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Searching for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in China

August 4, 2015

Shakespeare’s drama Romeo and Juliet is often taught to ninth graders in US high schools. Other Shakespeare plays are studied at other grade levels and in college.

However, you may be surprised to discover Shakespeare is probably more popular in China since his work is taught in most Chinese universities, both in English and in Chinese, and Shakespearean texts are easily available in China in both languages.

When Mao ruled China (1949 to 1976), Shakespeare was banned as was Aristotle and other Western philosophers.  Mao died in 1976, and that ban was lifted in 1978.

In fact, according to Cheng Zhaoxiang, the author of Teaching Shakespeare in China, “It is no exaggeration to say that every educated Chinese knows something about Shakespeare.”

However, when produced in China on stage, the plot may not stay true to the original Shakespeare.

Writing for the The People’s Republic of Shakespeare, Adventures in Chinese Research, Meammi says, “My interest in this topic started when I noticed that many of the Romeo and Juliets performed in China are either parodies or rewrites where one of the lovers survives in the end.

“China has their own pair of star-crossed lovers (The Peony Pavilion – 1598 AD), who tragically die for love and their plight is described in a much more mournful tone than Shakespeare’s version.

“Some Chinese theater companies state in interviews that their audiences have too much sadness in their lives so Romeo just can’t die in the end of their performance.”

______________________________

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the lusty love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

IMAGE with Blurbs and Awards to use on Twitter

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China’s Sweet Mooncake Mania

July 21, 2015

September is right around the corner and that means Mooncake Mania in China.

Back in 2010, I wrote a post about China’s Mid-Autumn Festival, which is also the time of year for giving and eating mooncakes. At the time, I had no idea that Haagen-Dazs sold the most sought after modern version of this Chinese traditional treat.

My wife learned from a friend in China of the popularity of Haagen-Dazs and mentioned the mooncakes, so I did some scooping for this post. Mooncakes are traditional gifts to friends, family and clients during the Chinese mid-autumn festival, and Haagen-Dazs’s Mooncakes have shown a 25% annual growth in sales since they were first introduced in 1997 and represented 28% of Haagen-Dazs’s revenue every year!

Fast forward to 2015 and over 50% of the Chinese people have now heard of Haagen-Dazs—that’s more than 650 million people or more than twice the population of the United States.


Mooncake Mania for China’s September Holiday

Kai Ryssdal reported for American Public Media’s Marketplace that China’s mid-Autumn Festival and tradition of eating mooncakes has become an underground business possibly worth billions.

Marketplace’s Shanghai correspondent Rob Schmitz says mooncakes carry about a thousand calories and most of the cakes bought are gifts as a way to show respect to business partners and people you want to be close to.

Imagine the size of the market—more than 1.3 billion people, which explains why Starbucks, Nestle and Dairy Queen got into the business of selling mooncakes in China too. In fact, Starbucks offers espresso and hazelnut mooncakes; Godiva promotes a chocolate variety; Häagen-Dazs features cookies-and-cream ice cream mooncakes.


2009 Haagen-Dazs Chinese Mooncake Commercial

Industry groups estimate that mooncakes bring in $2 billion in annual sales in greater China, accounting for 200,000 metric tons (about 220,400 tons) of production each season. – New York Times

______________________________

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the lusty love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

#1 - Joanna Daneman review posted June 19 2014

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How love is changing China one couple at a time

June 23, 2015

Five years ago Kellie Schmitt wrote,Love & Other Catastrophes: Conquering China’s young-love taboo, and she blew up the Western stereotype of the Chinese.

In fact, at the time Schmitt was a Shanghai-based writer whose work had appeared in the Wall Street Journal, The Economist’s Business China, Marie Claire, World Hum, Afar Magazine, and Backpacker. I haven’t read all of her work, but this piece was worth sharing.

If you want to learn about China, you would have to travel to China often or live there as an expatriate as Schmitt did. Marrying into a Chinese family like I did also works.

While living in China, Schmitt moonlighted as a restaurant reviewer for City Weekend Shanghai. She went falcon hunting in Yunnan, drank fermented mare’s milk in a Mongolian yurt, and attended a mail-order bride’s wedding and donned qipaos with Shanghai’s senior citizens.

 
Another example of being young in urban China. The world this generation knows is not the world their parents grew up in.

Instead of playing it safe and staying primarily in modern China around other foreigners and expatriates as many do, Schmitt “tasted” what being Chinese really means, and she wrote often of China from Shanghai’s lesbian sub-culture to debates held at the 15th century Sera Monastery by Lhasa monks.

As for young love, Kellie Schmitt writes, “In Shanghai, teachers and parents widely prohibit dating in high school, urging students to study instead.”

But for Enid and Michael—the Chinese couple Schmitt writes about—their love was “worth a little sneaking around” when they were sixteen.

When they turned 22, they were still together and got married. When Schmitt wrote the post for CNN Go Asia, Enid and Michael were 26. Today, they would be in their thirties. As in all marriages, Enid and Michael have had challenges but it appears that love kept them together. I recommend Schmitt’s story to learn more about how China is changing.

Kellie Schmitt now lives in California’s Central Valley.

______________________________

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the lusty love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

IMAGE with Blurbs and Awards to use on Twitter

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Are all Chinese Parents Tigers with their Children?

June 2, 2015

It’s been more than four years since Amy Chua’s memoir Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother launched a vicious tsunami of words that swept across the United States. Critics judged the book largely by asking the following questions: Should self-esteem come before accomplishment, or accomplishment before self-esteem? The logical answer, I think, is that a child’s self-esteem must develop naturally and organically and not through the efforts of helicopter parents pressuring teachers to dumb down the curriculum and inflate grades.

The bad news is that helicopter parenting might be getting worse if Psychology Today.com is right.

About the same time that Chua’s memoir came out, research into parenting styles revealed that “almost 49% of the European-American parents used authoritative parenting (alleged to be the best parenting style), as did about 46% of the Asian-American parents. Both groups revealed about the same number of parents using authoritarian (Tiger Mom-style) parenting (23% for European-Americans, and 26% for Asian-Americans). In other words, the number using authoritative parenting was virtually the same for both groups. – Psychology Today.com

In addition, Pew Research.org reported “Fully 94% of parents say it is important to teach children responsibility, while nearly as many (92%) say the same about hard work. Helpfulness, good manners and independence also are widely viewed as important for children to learn, according to the survey.”

But work by Eva Pomerantz suggests that Chinese mothers think differently. They think “my child is my report card,” and they see the academic success of their children as a chief parenting goal. But the reasons why a particular type of parenting works in one cultural group may not translate to another cultural group, partly because parenting goals are different in different groups.

In early 2011, we went to see Amy Chua in Berkeley when she was on tour for her memoir. The room was packed with several hundred people and there was standing room only due to all the controversial attention the book was getting.

At the times, I thought that Amy Chua looked as if she were expecting an eighteen-wheeler to crash through the wall and flatten her. That is probably because I’d read that she’d received death threats from across the U.S. for revealing in her memoir that she had said NO to activities such as sleepovers, play dates, acting in school plays, and did not allow her daughters to watch endless hours of TV and/or play computer games like so many American parents do.

Imagine getting assassinated, not by your child but by a stranger, because you wouldn’t let your kid have a sleepover.

To many, Chua did the unthinkable and demanded excellence. Time magazine said, “Most surprising of all to Chua’s detractors may be the fact that many (but not all) elements of her approach are supported by research in psychology and cognitive science.”

And as Amy Chua sat in that tall chair on stage above the audience with her feet dangling a foot from the floor, the audience laughed, applauded and treated her as if she were a hero—not someone to condemn or shun.

In the Time magazine piece, Chua said, “I know some Korean, Indian, Jamaican, Irish and Ghanaian parents who qualify too. The tiger-mother approach isn’t an ethnicity but a philosophy: expect the best from your children, and don’t settle for anything less.”

The American Psychological Association defines tiger parents as those who practice positive and negative parenting strategies simultaneously. Tiger parents are engaging in some positive parenting behaviors; however, unlike supportive parents, tiger parents also scored high on negative parenting dimensions. This means that their positive parenting strategies co-exist with negative parenting strategies.

Tiger parents and harsh parents are alike, in that both use negative parenting strategies. Unlike tiger parents, however, harsh parents do not engage in positive parenting strategies. Easygoing parents have a more hands-off approach, and do not engage as much with their children, either positively or negatively.

Another study out of the University of Michigan comparing U.S. and Chinese public school systems discovered parental involvement is a critical component to a child’s educational experience. If a child’s parents value education, then the child is more likely to value school as well. In China, parental involvement is higher than compared to the US, because Chinese parents accept the critical role of helping their students to learn concepts if they are lagging behind in school. Chinese parents also make sure that their children complete their homework. Parents in the U.S. typically play a more passive role in the education of their children. … It was also proven that greater involvement in a child’s education fosters more positive attitudes toward school, can improve homework habits, increase academic success and can reduce dropout rates.

What parenting style did your parents use on you? My parents were mostly hands off and that might explain why I barely made it through high school, but I did much better in college after the Marines applied their harsh methods of discipline.

______________________________

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the lusty love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

IMAGE with Blurbs and Awards to use on Twitter

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