Dream of the Red Chamber: much more than just China’s Romeo and Juliet

July 9, 2014

The Dream of Red Chamber (also known as The Story of Stone) is generally considered one of the four greatest Chinese classical novels; has had several versions and translations and was made into a TV series in China.

The author, Tsao Hsueh-chin (1715-1763) came from a powerful and wealthy family and lived a privileged life as a child in Nanjing. Later, he became poor and struggled to survive. Going from wealth to poverty provided him with the necessary experiences to write this tragic story.

Although this novel (English translation available on Amazon in addition to a film selection) has great literary merit on many levels, there is difficulty keeping the characters straight—there are more than four hundred characters and almost thirty are major.  The plot, like most Chinese novels, meanders and doesn’t always flow in the same direction.

Nevertheless, readers and students of Chinese history/culture should read this book to develop a better understanding of Imperial China during the Ch’ing Dynasty. The novel paints a vivid portrait of a corrupt feudal society on the verge of the capitalist, market economy we see flourishing in China today.

Another plot is the Romeo and Juliet love story between Chia Pao-yu and Lin Tai-yu, who—like Romeo and Juliet—wanted to be free to marry anyone they desired.

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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.

His third book is Crazy is Normal, a classroom exposé, a memoir. “Lofthouse presents us with grungy classrooms, kids who don’t want to be in school, and the consequences of growing up in a hardscrabble world. While some parents support his efforts, many sabotage them—and isolated administrators make the work of Lofthouse and his peers even more difficult.” – Bruce Reeves.

lloydlofthouse_crazyisnormal_web2_5

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The White Lotus Mutation that led to the Ming Dynasty

July 8, 2014

Religions—as Christians, Jews and Muslims practice them—have seldom played a major role in Chinese Culture and Politics. Even today, more than 800 million Chinese say they don’t belong to any religion and the largest religion in China is Buddhism (about 10% of the population).  Even during Imperial times, most members of government didn’t belong to organized religions. The same is true today with the Communist government.

China’s struggle with pagan cults (for instance, the White Lotus Society) stretches back almost a thousand years. The White Lotus Society appealed to poor Han Chinese peasants and more so to women, who found peace in worshiping the Eternal Mother. It was believed that this Eternal Mother would gather all her children at the millennium into one family.

White Lotus Societies started out seeking tranquility through a combination of Buddhism with some elements of Daoism (Taoism) and other native Chinese religions. Even in the 12th century, the Yuan Dynasty was distrustful of the Yellow Lotus Society, which didn’t fit comfortably with Confucianism.

Persecution of the White Lotus Society started during the Yuan Dynasty (Mongols: 1271 – 1368 AD). Due to this, the White Lotus Society changed from one of peace and tranquility and organized protests to violence against the Mongol rulers, the first non-Han to rule China.

Since Yuan Imperial authorities distrusted the White Lotus Society, the Dynasty banned them, and the White Lotus went underground.  The White Lotus predicted that a messianic—Christ like—figure would come and save them from persecution. That man’s name was Zhu Yuanzhang, a Buddhist monk.

The White Lotus led revolution started in 1352 near Guangzhou before Zhu Yuanzhang joined the rebellion. Soon, he became the leader by forbidding his soldiers to pillage in observance of White Lotus religious beliefs.

By 1355, the rebellion had spread through much of China. In 1356, Zhu Yuanzhang captured Nanjing and made it his capital. Then Confucian scholars issued pronouncements supporting Zhu’s claim of the Mandate of Heaven, the first step toward establishing a new dynasty.

Zhu Yuanzhang liberated China from the Mongols and became the founding Emperor of the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1643).

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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.

His third book is Crazy is Normal, a classroom exposé, a memoir. “Lofthouse presents us with grungy classrooms, kids who don’t want to be in school, and the consequences of growing up in a hardscrabble world. While some parents support his efforts, many sabotage them—and isolated administrators make the work of Lofthouse and his peers even more difficult.” – Bruce Reeves.

lloydlofthouse_crazyisnormal_web2_5

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Visiting Beijing’s Summer Palace

July 2, 2014

The history of the Summer Palace starts with the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234 AD) when the Golden Hill Palace was built on the present site that’s a tourist attraction.

The Summer Palace that exists today dates back to Kublai Khan (Yuan Dynasty: 1277-1367), but I took these photographs in 2008—I’m not that old yet.

In 1750, Emperor Qian Long (Ch’ing Dynasty: 1644 -1911 AD) had canals built from the Forbidden City to Kunming Lake, which was enlarged to serve as a reservoir for Beijing and is still in use today. He also built palaces on the hill to celebrate his mother’s birthday.

In 1860, during the Second Opium War, a combined British-French military force invaded Beijing and destroyed many of the buildings.  Twenty-eight years later, the Dowager Empress Ci Xi’s brother-in-law rebuilt and expanded the palaces using money—when he was the leader of China’s the navy—meant to modernize China’s navy.

After the Ch’ing Dynasty was swept aside during the 1911 rebellion, this new Summer Palace was opened to the public.  In 1990, the Summer Palace was designated a world heritage site by the United Nations.

_______________

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.

His third book is Crazy is Normal, a classroom exposé, a memoir. “Lofthouse presents us with grungy classrooms, kids who don’t want to be in school, and the consequences of growing up in a hardscrabble world. While some parents support his efforts, many sabotage them—and isolated administrators make the work of Lofthouse and his peers even more difficult.” – Bruce Reeves.

lloydlofthouse_crazyisnormal_web2_5

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Shanghai and the Complexity of Spoken Language in China

June 24, 2014

The first time I flew into Shanghai, the jet landed at Hangqiao Airport. In 1999, there was no Pudong with its Maglev Train, which moves 150 to 200 km/hour—running eighteen miles to the city.

Even with the larger Pudong airport, Hangqiao still handled more than 31 million passengers in 2010, but more fly into Pudong (44.8 million passengers in 2012).

Model of Shanghai

Regarding spoken languages, China’s leaders are finishing the job Qin Shi Huangdi started twenty-two hundred years ago, and it’s not going to be easy.

The first emperor unified China with one written language but didn’t touch the spoken word. Today, the country is being stitched together with one language, Mandarin. It may take several generations, because most people still speak the language of their parents.

How tough is this goal? Well, there are about 250 spoken languages in China and some of these have dozens of different dialects (especially Mandarin and Tibetan). For instance, Shanghainese, or Wuzhou that’s about 120 miles upstream from Guangzhou, but its dialect is more like that of Guangzhou than that of Taishan, 60 miles southwest of Guangzhou and separated from it by several rivers. In parts of Fujian the speech of neighboring counties or even villages may be mutually unintelligible. Learning English is also mandatory in the public schools. In 2010, there were estimated to be over 100,000 native English-speaking teachers in China.

I’ve shopped on this street.

When England and France started two opium wars with China to force the emperor to allow them to sell the drug to his people, Shanghai was only a sleepy fishing town. The 1st Opium war was 1839 to 1849. The 2nd was 1856 to 1860.

The treaty that ended the first opium war made Shanghai a concession port bringing expats to China from all over the world, and they are still arriving.

Today, there are about 210,000 foreigners living in Shanghai (another 45,500 live in Pudong) out of more than 24 twenty million residents in the municipality of Shanghai with another 21.7 million in the urban area around the city—making Shanghai the most populated city in China and the world. Shanghai has more than 20,000 buildings 11 stories or higher with more than 1,000 exceeding 30 stories.

The 121-story Shanghai Tower will be completed this year, and it will be the tallest building in China. For a comparison, New York City has less than 6,000 high-rises and only 97 are taller than 600 feet.

The next four Shanghai photos are courtesy of Tom Carter,
photo journalist and author of China: Portrait of a People

See the Shanghai Huangpu River Tour

See more at National Geographic, Shanghai Dreams

See more about Shanghai at Eating Gourmet in Shanghai

 

Discover Hollywood Taking the “Karate Kid” to China

_______________

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.

His third book is Crazy is Normal, a classroom exposé, a memoir. “Lofthouse presents us with grungy classrooms, kids who don’t want to be in school, and the consequences of growing up in a hardscrabble world. While some parents support his efforts, many sabotage them—and isolated administrators make the work of Lofthouse and his peers even more difficult.” – Bruce Reeves.

lloydlofthouse_crazyisnormal_web2_5

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Raise the Red Lantern: a look at China’s concubine culture

June 18, 2014

This film was directed in China by Zhang Yimou in 1991, and it offers a view of life within a closed, culture of patriarchy (male dominated). The film is set in the 1920s during the Warlord Era, and it focuses on the ever-shifting balance of power between the various concubines while the husband ignores much of what’s going on—taking his pleasures when he feels like it.

Before 1949, women in China were the property of men who did what they wanted with that property.

China’s central government approved of the screen play but then banned the film for a time, because it paralleled the return the concubine culture in today’s China where wealthy married men support single women (the concubines) and often buy them apartments in trade for exclusive sex and companionship. But there is a difference. Today, in China, women are not the property of men as they were in 1920.

In fact, when my wife and I lived in Southern California, we ate at a small restaurant near our home. The owner was a former concubine of a wealthy Chinese man, who paid her off and sent her packing when she got too old. He used his influence and wealth to help her reach the United States while he went in search of a younger beauty to replace her. She used the money he paid her to leave to start a business in the U.S. She was lucky. Many modern-age concubines are just abandoned and have to find another master to support them and beauty fades.

_______________

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.

His third book is Crazy is Normal, a classroom exposé, a memoir. “Lofthouse presents us with grungy classrooms, kids who don’t want to be in school, and the consequences of growing up in a hardscrabble world. While some parents support his efforts, many sabotage them—and isolated administrators make the work of Lofthouse and his peers even more difficult.” – Bruce Reeves.

lloydlofthouse_crazyisnormal_web2_5

Subscribe to “iLook China”!
Sign up for an E-mail Subscription at the top of this page, or click on the “Following” tab in the WordPress toolbar at the top of the screen.

About iLook China

China’s Holistic Historical Timeline


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