Tomb Sweeping Day in China to honor the ancestors

July 23, 2014

Ancestor worship may well be the oldest, unorganized religion in China. For instance, take Tomb Sweeping Day. The practice that honors family ancestors started during the Zhou Dynasty (1046-256 BC) and has been around for more than 2,500 years.

Tomb Sweeping Day is a one-day Chinese holiday where respect is shown to the ancestors. This holiday is celebrated in early April, and families have a reunion and visit their ancestors’ grave sites.

Before this tradition, the first emperor Qin Shi Huangdi had not unified China yet, and the country was divided into several nation states governed by hereditary rulers and worshiping ancestors was important in maintaining a link with the past.

Today, many Chinese homes and businesses have a shrine set up to honor the ancestors. This shrine may have the name of the ancestor carved into wood or rock or there is a photo. Food is often left on the table for the ancestors.

Respect for ancestors is also an important part of Confucianism and there is still an ancestor hall for Confucius (551-479 BC) in Chufu that is maintained by a direct descendant. Next time you are in a Chinese or Southeast Asian restaurant, look around and see if you can spot a shrine to the ancestors.

Confucianism and ancestor worship is not exclusive to China. After all, China was a regional super power in Asia for more than two thousand years and had a big influence over other cultures in the region.

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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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Not One Less: a movie review and cultural comparison

July 16, 2014

In the film Not One Less (1999), a thirteen-year-old girl is asked to be the long-term substitute teacher in a small Chinese village.  The teacher tells her that when he returns, if he finds all the students still there, he will pay her ten yuan—less than two American dollars.

When one student, Zhang Huike, stops coming to school, Wei Minzhim, the thirteen-year-old substitute teacher, follows him to the city.

There are several themes in this movie. The most powerful to me was the value of an education and not losing face. If Wei loses Zhang, she will fail the responsibility the teacher gave her. To succeed, she must keep all the students and teach them.

This film reveals one of the greatest cultural differences between the United States and China. More than 2,000 years ago, Confucius taught that an education was the great equalizer and the key to leaving poverty behind.

Today, many Chinese and other Asians still believe this with a passion, and this belief may explain why the on-time high school graduation for Asian-Americans in the United States is the highest when compared to all other racial groups. Culturally, the value of an education may be seen in that high school graduation rate.

On-time high school graduation rate in the U.S. by race for the 2009-10 school year

 Asian/Pacific Islander = 93%
White = 83%
Hispanic = 71%
Black – 66%

In the United States, teachers are often blamed for the lower graduation rates of Hispanics and Blacks, while in China parents take the blame. This is another significant difference between China and the United States. In China it would be unthinkable to wage war against the nation’s teachers for children who don’t learn. Instead, parents, who cared, and teachers would work together to do what they could as partners.

Zhang Yimou was the director. He says, “Chinese culture is still rooted in the countryside. If you don’t know the peasant, you don’t know China.” Because of this, there is a strong message in this movie about the urban–rural divide, which is being addressed as China sews the nation together with high-speed rail and electricity.

This a powerful movie about children, education, and poverty that shows the challenges China faces in lifting the lifestyles of almost eight hundred million Chinese, who don’t live in the cities. The challenge is to do this without losing the cultural values that flow through Chinese history like a powerful river.

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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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Eating swiftlet bird saliva

June 10, 2014

Just the thought of eating soup made from bird saliva gives me the shivers. However, there is a history behind this Southeast Asian delicacy and there may be health benefits but also some degree of danger for a few people.

Myth has it that The Chinese have been eating this saliva for 1,500 years since the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD). But another myth says China’s most famous eunuch, Admiral Zheng Hi, brought these nests made from bird saliva back to China in the 15th century.

What we do know for sure is that the Chinese have been making soup from imported swiftlet nests from Southeast Asia for centuries.

A Review of Scientific Research on Edible Bird’s Nest from the 1990s of a few comprehensive scientific studies in Asia and China revealed that this particular bird saliva appears to play a crucial role in major normal cellular processes and may help resist the effects of aging.

However, the Malaysian Society of Allergy and Immunology reported that for a few people there is a major risk of an allergic reaction after eating Bird’s Nest Soup and death could occur.

To be fair to the birds and their saliva, eating peanuts and getting flu shots may also end in allergic reactions with severe symptoms that may lead to death—for a few.

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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 latest novel is the multiple-award winning Running with the Enemy.

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Feng Shui for Beginners ­: Part 2 of  2

May 28, 2014

 A guest post by Tom Carter

Angela Wilde’s new pocket-guide to Feng Shui, Heal Your Home, Fix Your Life! The Easy Guide to Love and Money offers easy tips of Feng Shui.

I am personally dubious of any self-help book with the word “easy” in the title.

However, as I have lived in Asia for almost a decade, I figured I should at least explore the Feng Shui genre before outright dismissing it.

While I have yet to report any results (positive or negative) because of following Feng Shui, I stand by my original premise that it can’t hurt and can only help.

As Wilde writes in the book’s introduction, “Lots of people can’t afford to have a complete Feng Shui consultation. They just want something that works, and fast.”

With this, she offers an efficiently minimalist A-Z guide outlined in handy alphabetical layout.

Curious about dried flowers (“Potpourri is definitely spiritually bad!”)? Just flip to the D or F sections. Wondering what herbs are auspicious? Turn to H (page 54) for a complete list of herbs and their respective powers.


book’s cover

Coming in at a mere 90 pages, the book is small and convenient enough to flip through for reference during house-cleaning day, yet the information therein goes a long way.

Did you know, for example, that by just boiling some cinnamon and basil together then adding that to a floor wash of nothing but salty water you will have instantly improved your wealth AND personal protection? Now that’s profitable multi-tasking!

Wilde also offers advice on speaking normal words in everyday life: “affirmations and even ordinary words should contain no negatives such as “no” or “not”. Overlooking the fact that this sentence itself uses the word “no,” it nonetheless is profoundly good advice and one I will attempt to incorporate in my day-to-day dealings.

For anyone interested in giving Feng Shui a precursory attempt before investing major time and money into revamping your lifestyle, Heal Your Home, Fix Your Life! The easy guide to Love and Money is a good starting point. Beginners will appreciate Wilde’s quick, A-Z reference layout and efficiently brief prescriptions.

Return to Part 1

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Travel Photographer Tom Carter traveled for 2 years across the 33 provinces of China to show the diversity of Chinese people in China: Portrait of a People, the most comprehensive photography book on modern China published by a single author.

If you want to subscribe to iLook China, there is a “Subscribe” button at the top of the screen in the menu bar.


Feng Shui forBeginners ­: Part 1 of  2

May 27, 2014

 A guest post by Tom Carter

According to the History of Feng Shui, also known as Kanyu, the practice of Feng Shui began in the Western Han dynasty around the third century BC.

Feng Shui is an ancient Chinese belief that the laws of astronomy and geography may be applied aesthetically to improve the positive energy (chi) that surrounds our daily lives.

Feng Shui is also big business today.

In Asia, Feng Shui consultants charge astronomical fees to corporations who retain them to advise on architectural design, building location, interior decorations and grand-opening dates.

No matter how small, no business or shop in Eastern Asia would dare debut without having first consulted extensively with a Feng Shui practitioner.

Even on Amazon, there are literally hundreds of books written by Feng Shui “experts” seeking to capitalize on the resurgence of middle-class trends co-opting Feng Shui.

Ironically, one of the major themes of Feng Shui is in removing clutter, yet the endless piles of Feng Shui books that keep appearing on the literary market seems only to contribute to the clutter.

Detractors, however, have branded Feng Shui everything from an “occult superstition” to “new-age psychobabble.”

After all (they say), how could something as banal as the position of your bed and the color of a candle have any relation to the safety and welfare of a human being?

During the Cultural Revolution, Communist Party chairman Mao Zedong took his revulsion of Feng Shui one-step further during the 1970s by having the teenage Red Guard persecute Chinese citizens who dared follow this “old, evil ideology”.

Regardless of your beliefs, the fact is that it cannot hurt – and might help – your daily happiness and comfort by following at least the most basic principles of Feng Shui at your home and office.

If, perchance, the southeast part of your house were truly the Wealth Sector, as Feng Shui suggests, then why would you not want to keep it spotless and free of clutter?

If jars of coins around the house really do symbolize abundance and can attract wealth, then how hard would it be to fill some up with your old pocket change?

Continued in Part 2 on May 28, 2014

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Travel Photographer Tom Carter traveled for 2 years across the 33 provinces of China to show the diversity of Chinese people in China: Portrait of a People, the most comprehensive photography book on modern China published by a single author.

If you want to subscribe to iLook China, there is a “Subscribe” button at the top of the screen in the menu bar.


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