China’s love affair with fighting-singing Crickets

October 21, 2014

The first time I read about China’s singing crickets was in “Empress Orchid” by Anchee Min.  Retired concubines spent time carving gourds where these crickets lived to entertain empresses, emperors and princes.

Then I learned about China’s fighting critics from a comment left on this Blog, and there was a link included.

While writing this post, I Googled the subject. In Gardening4us.com, Catherine Dougherty tells us, “cricket culture in China dates back to the Tang Dynasty (618 – 906 AD).”

She says, “It was during this time the crickets first became respected for their powerful ability to ‘sing’ and a cult formed to capture and cage them. And in the Sung Dynasty (960 – 1276 AD)… cricket fighting became popular.”

In TrueUp.net, Kim says, “The Chinese consider the cricket to be a metaphor for summer and courage…”

In addition, Pacific Pest Inc. says, “Crickets are popular pets and are considered good luck in some countries; in China, crickets are sometimes kept in cages, and various species of crickets are a part of people’s diets … and are considered delicacies of high cuisine in places like Mexico and China.” Soon, the United States may be added to this list—Exo, a U.S. company, is producing protein bars from cricket flower. Exo says, “After cleaning the crickets, we dry them to remove the moisture and mill them into fine flour. The result is slightly nutty tasting flour that is high in protein and micronutrients.”

Then from Home Made in China, we learn from Gogovivi, who is based in Qingdao, North China that, “Summer used to mean picking berries in the yard and making jam, canning green beans, going to the farmer’s market, BBQs, lawn mowing, hiking, swimming. Now my whole family looks forward to the arrival of singing crickets.”

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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 love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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Seeing “Mao’s Last Dancer” through a different lens

September 23, 2014

When I saw the film Mao’s Last Dancer—unlike most U.S. citizens—I went with two people who grew up in China and survived the Cultural Revolution.

As we left the theater, my Chinese friends made these comments. “Great movie. Well done. It shows what China went through. If American audiences don’t see this movie because the lead is Chinese, they don’t want to learn about China.”

The evidence seems to support this thinking because Mao’s Last Dancer only earned $4.8 million from the box office in the U.S. while earning almost $17.5 million in theaters outside the U.S.  Maybe the distributor had something to do with the results, because the film at its widest release was only in 137 theaters. In fact, we had to drive more than thirty miles to see it, because in the film’s first week, it was only in 33 theaters.

However, for the first showing of the day, it was a nice audience—several hundred at least.

Mao’s Last Dancer was a great but misleading title. When the dancer, Li Cunxin defected to the U.S. in 1981, Mao had been dead six years. How could he be Mao’s last dancer? In addition, there are ballet troupes all over China—even today—including Beijing where Li learned ballet.

The Huffington Post review said the movie was middlebrow and rises above the pack if only by a little.  The film critic was Marshall Fine, and I disagreed with him.

If Fine knew more about China’s history, he might understand why I disagree.

When Li was a child, China was in the middle of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, a form of national (or collective) madness that lasted about a decade and was ended by Deng Xiaoping after Mao’s death in 1976

Mao’s Last Dancer does a subtle but good job showing what rural life was like during the Cultural Revolution and afterward as attitudes started to change in China.

The movie also shows how tough the Chinese are when it comes to education. Working to gain an education is serious business in China—even today.  What you see while Li and the other children are learning ballet reveals the Chinese mindset.

The New York Times review was kinder but still off the mark.  Mike Hale, writing for the Times, said, “Mao’s Last Dancer is a story of a young and flexible Chinese man who comes to America, where he’s seduced by disco, creative freedom and a honey-haired Houston virgin–”

Can anyone blame young Li for being seduced by a glitzy party country build on debt while the early 1980’s China is a drab, colorless place just emerging from its shell? At the time, China’s metamorphosis was just beginning.

If Li had gone home to China and married the Chinese ballerina he was courting, today he would be living a lifestyle similar to what he saw in America. China has changed that much.

What took the U.S. more than a century to achieve, China accomplished in the thirty years since 1981. In fact, I was disappointed that there wasn’t a scene near the end showing one of China’s modern cities that compares to the Houston Li saw when he first arrived in the U.S.

Hall’s conclusion was wrong. Mao’s Last Dancer is not “strenuously brainless”.  If Hall knew more about China, he would understand why my two Chinese friends believed the movie was worth seeing for its story and its educational value.

It seems that the Amazon reviewers of the film for Mao’s Last Dancer might agree with me because 133 of the 170 reviews have 5-stars.  The average for the film was also 4.6 of 5. The book had 215 reviews for another average of 4.6 stars, and there were 156, 5-star reviews.

In the previous video, Li Cunxin mentions the poverty and hunger he knew as a child under Mao’s leadership of China.

However, while true, it would be misleading to think that conditions were better before Mao. Under Mao—even with the purges, the Great Famine (1959 – 1961) and the Cultural Revolution—the quality of life for the average Chinese improved steadily, if slowly, and the strongest evidence of that is life expectancy. Life expectancy was only 36.5 years in 1949 when the People’s Republic of China was founded, and the population was 400 million. In 1976, when Mao died, life expectancy had increased by 20 years to 56.5 with a population of 700 million. Today, life expectancy is 73.3 years with a population that is more than 1.3 billion.

In fact [China is known as the land of famines—Between 108 BC and 1911 AD, there were no fewer than 1,828 famines in China, or one nearly every year in one province or another. However, the famines varied greatly in severity.], throughout most of Chinese history the majority of Chinese have lived in poverty. As the hundreds of famines that have killed millions of Chinese attest, Chinese poverty has often been absolute, i.e., lacking the very material resources needed to sustain life and maintain health. … The PRC is the first Chinese government [in China's long history] to attempt systematically to reduce both inequality and poverty. Griffith University, Australia. Poverty by David C. Schak

The Word Bank says, “Between 1981 and 2001, the proportion of population living in poverty in China fell from 53 percent to just eight percent.”

Be aware that China’s critics are always quick to cherry pick any facts that will make the PRC look bad without history or context.

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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 love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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Are there hidden flaws to Piety?

September 10, 2014

I’ve heard that it was Confucianism that caused China to fall victim to Western Imperialism in the 19th century, and the reason Mao started the Cultural Revolution his last decade was to correct this imperfection.

However, I believe that the collective culture created in China by Emperor Han Wudi (156-87 BCE)— considered one of the most influential emperors in Chinese history—is the reason that China’s civilization survived for thousands of years without suffering the fate of Europe after the collapse of the Roman Empire.

The problem is not from Confucianism but a flaw in the way an element of Confucianism has been interpreted over the centuries.  In fact, this flaw is buried so deep in the Chinese psyche that Mao’s disastrous Great Leap Forward and the tragic Cultural Revolution were not stopped because of it.

There were powerful individuals in the Communist Party who did not agree with what Mao was doing but did not speak out when they could have. Some of those individuals even suffered during the Cultural Revolution but still kept silent due to the power of piety.

It wasn’t until after Mao’s death that those same people acted and Deng Xiaoping came to power stopping the madness of the Cultural Revolution.

To criticize an elder in China—even when that individual is power hungry, senile or maybe a bit crazy—is considered similar to Christian heresy during the Spanish Inquisition. Piety means elders must be treated with respect as if they can do no wrong. Is there a way to find a balance and fulfil the duty of filial piety?

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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 love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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China’s Kaifeng and India’s Bnei Menashe Jews returning to Israel

September 9, 2014

The first YouTube video is about the Chinese descendants of the Kaifeng Jews of China returning to Israel.  Three Chinese women living in Israel wait at the airport for their arrival.  Several years earlier, these women went through a similar experience when they arrived from China.

All of the Chinese, those arriving and those already in Israel, are descendants of the Jewish community in Kaifeng, China, that was established either during the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127), or earlier during the Tang Dynasty (618-907), and some argue it may have been even earlier.

Michael Freund, Chairman of Shavei Israel, talks about the Kaifeng Jews and how they lost their identity through assimilation.   What’s left of that Chinese Jewish community has made great efforts to hold onto their Jewish identity.  Now, many of the Kaifeng Jewish descendants are reconnecting with their Jewish roots.

The Shavei organization has been guiding and supporting the descendants of the Kaifeng’s Jewish community for several years, and Kaifeng Jews have traveled to Israel to study Hebrew and the Jewish culture. After arriving in Israel, the Kaifeng Jews went straight from the airport to the Western Wall.


Another lost Israeli tribe, the Bnei Menashe, were discovered in India—a fascinating story.

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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 love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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Suzhou’s Humble Administrator’s Garden: Part 2 of 2

September 3, 2014

Easy Diving Blogspot.com posted a piece (with a few stunning winter pictures) about Suzhou. Easy Diving said the city’s history goes back to 514 BC.  The gardens were built by imperial officials to create an oasis of tranquility intended for inward reflection.

That tranquility was shattered several times.  The gardens were first destroyed during the Taiping Rebellion.

Then the Japanese invaded China during World War II, and the gardens were destroyed a second time.

During Mao’s Cultural Revolution, many of the gardens were destroyed a third time.

It wasn’t until 1981, several years after Mao’s death, and Deng Xiaoping ruled the Communist Party, that most of the gardens were rebuilt along with many of China’s Buddhist temples that had been destroyed.

Start with or return to Return to Suzhou’s Humble Administrator’s Garden: Part 1

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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 love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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Suzhou’s Humble Administrator’s Garden: Part 1 of 2

September 2, 2014

Suzhou was the cradle of Wu Culture, a city with more than 2,500 years of history that is located in the southern portion of Jiangsu province about 50 miles from Shanghai along the old Grand Canal.  By the 14th century, Suzhou was established as the leading silk producer in China.  Suzhou is also known for Kun Opera with roots in folk songs from the mid 14th century.

The photos were taken by Nancy Williams, my sister.

The Japanese art of bonsai originated from the Chinese practice of penjing (盆景), and the earliest illustration of penjing is found in the murals at the Tang Dynasty tomb of Crown Prince Zhanghuai, 706 AD. Penjing is known as the ancient Chinese art of depicting artistically formed trees, other plants, and landscapes in miniature.

In fact, classical Japan borrowed China’s ancient architecture, Buddhism, a centralized, imperial state; Confucius ethics and political thought in addition to the Chinese writing system.

However, it’s crucially important to understand that what the Japanese borrowed from China, they also adapted and made Japanese.

Continued on September 3, 2014 in Suzhou’s Humble Administrator’s Garden: Part 2

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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 love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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The Power of Chinese Assimilation

August 27, 2014

Andrew Clark contributed a post to Politics Daily about China’s minorities and the autonomous regions they call home. As Clark points out, “Han Chinese make up 92 percent of the People’s Republic of China. The remaining 8 percent is made up of minority groups, mainly Tibetan, Zhuang, Uyghur, Mongolian, Miao, Manchu, and Hui (these are the major ethnic groups—China officially recognizes 56 minority populations).” Eight percent may not sound like much, but in China that represents more than 109 million people.

To put that in perspective, there are about 240 countries in the world but only eleven have populations of more than 100 million.

Clark concludes that “It remains to be seen whether the Chinese government can successfully assimilate these groups, or if consistent suppression of uprisings can force social tranquility.”

The Chinese map has inflated and deflated for more than two-thousand years. Some of these minorities have been in China longer than others. The Mongolians Clark visited, like the Tibetans and the Uyghur, are three who haven’t been inside China as long since they were conquered by the Qing Dynasty (the Manchu minority), who ruled China from 1644 – 1911.

Another minority ruled China for a brief time and that was the Mongols as the Yuan Dynasty (1277 – 1367). Both the rulers of the Qing and the Yuan were assimilated into the Han culture while they ruled China. That was primarily because they were heavily outnumbered by the Han Chinese.

Tibet broke from China in 1913 and stayed out until 1950 when Mao sent an army into Tibet, which has always been a difficult place for China to manage since sending armies there to enforce control was difficult. But today, a highway and a railroad make that journey easy. If those transportation routes are cut, there’s still air transportation. The travel distance between Tibet and Beijing is shorter than it was a century ago.

China is currently adding about 40 thousand more kilometers of rail throughout China and is extending its high-speed rail to reach every major city. This improved transportation system is also bringing about change and causing a Han migration that would have been unthinkable more than a century ago when most of China didn’t have electricity or roads.

For centuries, China ruled over these minorities without moving Han Chinese into their territories, but times have changed and the Han Chinese—like the Europeans in North America moving West—have been migrating into the autonomous regions for years, which may have more of an impact keeping these territories part of China than armies ever have. And if that doesn’t work, China still has the largest standing army in the world.

Clark also claimed, “the United States has seemingly countless ethnic and cultural minorities that are proud to call themselves American…”  While somewhat true, many of almost 2,500 American native tribes still  hold to their old ways and live on reservations proud to be Navaho or Sioux, Black Foot or Apache, maybe more so than being American.

If given a choice,  many of these North American tribes would jump at the chance to have their ancestral homes back. But the FBI keeps a tight watch over these American minorities, and the US Marines are always a phone call away.

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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 love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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