Hangzhou – Paradise on Earth

December 4, 2012

If you ever visit Hangzhou, after cruising on the West Lake, you may want to see this tourist attraction in the city. Before 1949, it was the home of a wealthy family but was first owned by Hu Xue-yan (1823-1885).

Hu Xue-yan made his money in banking then expanded into pawn shops, import-export, real estate and made his biggest fortune as the founder of a Chinese herbal medicine company. After he died, his family lost the fortune and sold the house.

The house in these pictures and video was built in 1872. After it was renovated in 2008, it was turned into a museum and tourist attraction worth seeing.

When the Communists won China’s Civil War in 1949, the mansion (covering about two acres) was owned by another family that made its fortune first in the silk industry then banking.


rock art in garden with tunnels

There’s more to the mansion than this example of rock art in the garden you see in the photo above.  These rocks were added when the mansion was built. There was a time in China during the Imperial era when rock art was popular. Hidden under the building and among the rocks are manmade caves.

During a visit to Hangzhou, for a few yuan, you will be able to tour most of the mansion and the gardens (there is more than one garden beyond what you see in the two photographs).

The Hu Xue-yan mansion is in a city with a population of more than eight million, but once inside its walls you have no sense of the crowded city outside. Once the owner was home and the gates locked at night, it was a world-of-tranquility apart from the city.

The city of Hangzhou is more than two-thousand years old and was the capital of the Southern Song Dynasty (1127 – 1279 AD) before Kublai Khan, who founded the Yuan Dynasty (1206-1368 AD), conquered all of China.

Pond with carp – Hu Xue-yan’s Mansion

While Kublai Khan ruled China, Marco Polo visited Hangzhou in 1290.

There is a famous Chinese saying that says, “In heaven there is paradise, on Earth there is Su and Hang (Hangzhou – Paradise on Earth).

Discover Kublai Khan’s Yuan Dynasty

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. 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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Daughter of Xanadu – Part 4/4

April 20, 2011


A review (guest post) by Tom Carter of Daughter of Xanadu by
Dori Jones Yang

By story’s conclusion, Messer Polo, who witnessed and wrote about the Mongols’ real-life battle against the Burmese in his book, The Travels of Marco Polo, has elevated “Emmajin the Brave” into the living legend she wanted to be, though she now regrets it.

“These men needed a hero, but I no longer needed to be one.” She resigns her sword and rank, and departs with Polo back to Europe as the Khan’s emissary of peace, leaving the literary door wide open for a sequel.

Dori Jones Yang, who also penned the best-selling Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time, is a skilled historian.

In researching Daughter of Xanadu, Yang, fluent in Putonghua, traveled all the way to the ruins of Xanadu in remote Inner Mongolia, which this itinerant backpacker can personally attest is no easy journey.

The short chapters and brief sentences, edited with razor precision for a younger audience, along with a helpful glossary for ESL students, make reading Daughter of Xanadu a breeze, though adults will admittedly want to beg this book back afterwards from their tweens.

Return to Daughter of Xanadu – Part 3 or start with Part 1

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Travel photographer Tom Carter is the author of China: Portrait of a People (San Francisco Chronicle Book Review), a 600-page China photography book, which may be found at Amazon.com.

Discover more “Guest Posts” from Tom Carter with Is Hong Kong Any Place for a Poor American?

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


Daughter of Xanadu – Part 3/4

April 19, 2011


A review (guest post) by Tom Carter of Daughter of Xanadu by
Dori Jones Yang

Authoress Dori Jones Yang is a Caucasian American, yet she is no stranger to writing from the perspective of conflicted adolescent Chinese girls, as evinced in her previous, award-winning novel, The Secret Voice of Gina Zhang.

In Daughter of Xanadu, she hones in even deeper into the physiological confusion and emotional conflictions that make youth such a joy, turning Emmajin into such a hormonal wreck that this male reviewer often found himself gritting his teeth in frustration at such contradictive revelations as, “if he had pursued me, I would have rebuffed him. By holding himself aloof, he challenged me to win back his esteem.”

Daughter of Xanadu is not all-teenage angst.  As our protagonist matures, so does the content of the story.

Emmajin eventually persuades Khubilai Khan to allow her to train for war against the Burmese at the Battle of Vochan (present-day Yunnan province), where the embarrassment of getting her period in front of the all-male troops is a bloody omen for what’s to come.

Upon seeing her cousin slain, innocent Emmajin is transformed into a “mindless killer.”

  Bloodlust unleashed, the young princess swings her sword indiscriminately (“the hatred pounded in my ears…killing him felt good”), resulting in hundreds of men dead by her hand alone.

One can only imagine all the Mulan vs. Emmajin fan fiction that this novel will inspire!

Continued on April 20, 2011 in Daughter of Xanadu – Part 4 or return to Daughter of Xanadu – Part 2

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Travel photographer Tom Carter is the author of China: Portrait of a People (San Francisco Chronicle Book Review), a 600-page China photography book, which may be found at Amazon.com.

Discover more “Guest Posts” from Tom Carter with Is Hong Kong Any Place for a Poor American?

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


China’s Stonehenge

November 21, 2010

 In August 2008, The Exploratorium at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco sent a team to China to film a total-solar eclipse.

While in China, Pauld Doherty, a physicist, teacher, author and rock climber, visited China’s Stonehenge of the Gobi Desert, a Stonehenge like structure in Xinjiang Province.

Pauld says, “The Gobi Stonehenge is made with a central pillar where a viewer stands and 6 pillars that mark the positions of sunrise and sunset on the equinoxes and the solstices. There are also pillars to mark due north and south. When the sun passes over the south pillar, it marks local-solar noon.”

“The shape of an observatory like this one depends upon the latitude,” he says, “and my calculations show that the excellent Chinese astronomer who designed this one did a superb job.”

Patsy Burns left a comment, “The Stonehenge and center of Asia markers note Chinese have long been studying the skies…. Have you been to the remnants of the Emperor’s observatory just east of Tiananmen Sq by the Gloria Plaza hotel…if it is still there? Supposedly Marco Polo’s star gazing Jesuits matched calculations with the Emperor’s people there and that knowledge gave Marco Polo guanxi, credibility.”

To answer Patsy’s question, yes, the Ming Emperor’s observatory is still there and a planetarium was added.

To study astronomy, the Ming Dynasty built an observatory in Beijing in 1442. The observatory covers 1,000 square meters (more than 10,000 square feet).

Eight bronze astronomical instruments stand on a platform. The design of the instruments reflects both the influence of oriental craftsmanship and the European Renaissance demonstrating an understanding of measurements and physics.

In 1955, a new hall covering 7,000 square meters (more than 75,000 square feet) was built, and it opened to the public two years later. It has an exhibition hall, a video projection room and observatory for everyone. 

In 2004, a new hall covering about 20,000 square meters (more than 215,000 square feet) was added.

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of the concubine saga, My Splendid Concubine & Our Hart. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too.

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


When China “Could” Have Ruled the World

October 16, 2010

An interesting post at The Globalist says, “Many regard China’s economic powerhouse as a new phenomenon.  But a thousand years ago, Chinese merchants ruled the seas of Asia.”

The post goes on to point out how China’s Song Dynasty promoted international trade and that Chinese merchants expanded foreign trade rapidly but with Chinese government control over trade as in China today.

The Song Dynasty also kept a close watch on exports as in China today.

The Globalist said, “Even 1000 years ago, China’s government kept a close eye on trade. If a ship was blown off course, its captain had to report it promptly (on his return to China) — and produce evidence.”

In fact, Merchants from all over the world came to China at that time just as they are doing today.

Therefore, it should be no surprise when The Economist says, “China’s overreaction to a Japanese ‘provocation’ has set its regional diplomacy back years. … China sneezes, Asia shivers.”

I don’t believe China cares if diplomacy suffered.  China is more concerned with not letting anyone step on its toes again.

When I say that, I’m talking about the Opium Wars then Western domination of China’s politics for close to a century before World War II when Japan invaded and killed about 30 million Chinese.

If we are to believe Marco Polo (1254 – 1324), who said China could have conquered the world, then we should also breathe a sigh of relief that China didn’t want to do that then when it could have and still doesn’t.

However, China’s desires to control events that affect China have not changed.  Japan sneezed and China roared back. It’s all about harmony—in China.

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of the concubine saga, My Splendid Concubine & Our Hart. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. 

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


History’s Meaning of the Mandate of Heaven – Part 4/5

October 16, 2010

Marco Polo had no doubt that China was the world’s greatest civilization. He wrote that if the Chinese were war like, they would conquer the world.

He said, “Thank goodness, they are not.”

During the Song Dynasty, the standard of living in China was the highest in the world.

The key concept of Chinese civilization was the search for harmony and during the Song Dynasty this balance was achieved for a few centuries.

Writing was considered a tool that provided access to the ancestors until writing became civilization itself.

 

However, the way China saw the world started to change after Chinese Admiral Zheng He sailed from China with a huge armada in the fifteenth century.

Zheng He’s ships were eventually broken up and the logbooks destroyed.

Western thinkers have a simple explanation that the end of Zheng He’s explorations was proof that the Chinese were backward and ignorant and had no desire for new knowledge.

However, there is another explanation.

After all, at the time, the Chinese were the most advanced technological nation on the globe.

Therefore, perhaps it is a difference of how different civilizations believed technology should be used and the Chinese may have realized that their real interests were in China — not in the world.

In Europe, however, Western philosophers, leaders and writers were not concerned with perfecting the past but how to control the world’s future.

Return to History of the Mandate of Heaven – Part 3

 

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of the concubine saga, My Splendid Concubine & Our Hart. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. 

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


Ice Cream from China – Myth or Fact

October 4, 2010

While researching topics about China, I kept running into claims that ice cream was invented in China, and Marco Polo brought the recipe back to Italy.

To discover the facts, I did some virtual sleuthing and discovered that immigrants arriving in Ellis Island were treated to a bowl of ice cream upon arrival.

I wonder if the Chinese arriving at Angel Island in San Francisco Bay got ice cream. Considering the way the Chinese were treated then—probably not.

Ice Cream History and Folklore says, “Most books are full of myths about the history of ice cream. According to popular accounts, Marco Polo (1254-1324) saw ice creams being made during his trip to China, and on his return, introduced them to Italy.”

In fact, “During China’s Tang Dynasty  (618-907 A.D.) something vaguely on the order of ice cream was made from cow, goat and buffalo milk, flavored with camphor and thickened with flour.” Source: The History of Ice Cream

More details came from Wonderquest. “The first concoction resembling ice cream was made in China during the Tang period…. Ice-cream makers … heated buffalo, cow, and goat milk together then fermented the brew to form yogurt. They thickened the yogurt with flour and flavored it with camphor (an insect repellant, of all things). Refrigerating first, they served the confection to the king.”

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of the concubine saga, My Splendid Concubine & Our Hart. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. 

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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