China’s Hammered Dulcimer

February 26, 2013

The yangqin, the Chinese Hammered Dulcimer, probably did not originate in China. It came from either Europe or Persia about five centuries ago and was adapted to fit Chinese music.

One theory says that the yangqin came to Chinese on the Silk Road. A second theory says it arrived in China with Portuguese traders in the 1500s.  A third theory says the instrument was developed in China without foreign influence from an ancient stringed instrument called a Zhu.

However, it is a young instrument by Chinese standards, and was first heard during the Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644).  Later, it was commonly used in Chinese Operas. In Modern China, the yangqin is a major discipline in the College of Music.

The yangqin has over 100 strings that are struck with thin bamboo sticks that have rubber tips on one end.  When struck with the rubber end, a soft sound is heard.  When the strings are struck with the other end of the stick, without the rubber tip, a crisper sound is heard.

Around the world, there are many versions of the hammered dulcimer all designed and played in a similar fashion, but each country has its own distinct sound influenced by culture.

If you enjoyed learning about and listening to the yangqin, discover The Pipa

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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 Seven Wonders of China: Part 4/5

February 14, 2013

Mount Wudang is home to eight palaces, seventy-two temples in caves, thirty-nine bridges, thirty-six nunneries, twelve pavilions, and two temples.

During the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1643 AD), Mt. Wudang was known as a grand spectacle of all ages and is one of the best examples of ancient-religious architecture anywhere.

The Golden Hall, a temple built on Mt. Wudang in the 15th century is the largest copper building in China. The ninety-ton structure was plated in Gold in Beijing before being moved to the mountain.

6. Shibaozhai (Precious Stone Fortress)

Near the banks of China’s Yangtze River, a twelve story, five-hundred year-old Buddhist temple made of wood clings to a cliff without the support of a single nail. Before the temple was built, devout Buddhists climbed the cliff risking their lives to worship the Buddhist statutes on the mountain.  The temple was built to resist high winds and remedy this problem.

To protect and save the temple against rising water due to construction of China’s Three Gorges Dam, the Chinese government had a radical and ambitious solution.

Continued on February 15, 2013 in The Seven Wonders of China: Part 5 or return to Part 3

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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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The Seven Wonders of China: Part 2/5

February 12, 2013

2. Hanging Monastery

Another popular tourist site is the fifteen-hundred year old wooden Hanging Monastery. The monastery is suspended fifteen stories above the valley floor on the side of a sheer cliff.  It is a mystery why the monastery was built there and why.

One reason might be the floods that once plagued the valley. Today, a dam controls the water. The monastery was built in an indentation in the cliff below an overhand.

What cannot be seen from the valley floor is the Hanging Monastery was built into the cliff’s face. More than forty caves and rooms were dug into the rock. This process allowed supports to be built into the cliff.  The thin wooden pillars are only there for decoration and were added in the last century.

3. The Great Wall

One of the world’s greatest treasures is the almost four-thousand mile Great Wall that took two-thousand years to complete.

The early great wall was made of layers of pressed earth and straw. The Qin Dynasty completed the first wall. The Han Dynasty extended the wall toward Mongolia. The Ming Dynasty built the wall stronger of stone and mortar. The Chinese used smoke and fire to send messages over long distances to warn of enemy attacks.

Continued on February 13, 2013 in The Seven Wonders of China: Part 3 or return to Part 1

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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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China’s Venice, Zhouzhuang

November 12, 2012

We arrived early when the parking lot and the streets were about empty.  That’s the best time to get there.

Zhouzhuang is surrounded by water, and boats are needed for most short trips.

Zhouzhuang history is rooted in China’s Spring and Autumn Period (770 BC – 476 BC) more than a thousand years before Venice was established. However, it would not be called Zhouzhuang until 1086 AD .

The town is well known for its preservation of numerous buildings from the Ming and Qing Dynasties.

Zhouzhuang, the Venice of Asia,  is on the United Nations Reserve List for the World Cultural Heritage and the Dubai International Best Practice to Improve the Living Environment.

As you can see, it gets crowded. Most of these tourists were Chinese citizens from the growing middle class.

This is where I was a photo thief. I wanted to take a picture of these captured birds but the owners wouldn’t let me.  He pointed at a sign that said I’d have to pay.

I walked a distance and used my meager telephoto lens to take this shot of the birds tied to the owner’s boat.

For a comparison with Venice in Europe, while there are no historifcal records that deal directly with the founding of Venice, available evidence has led some historians to agree that the original population of Venice were refugees from Roman cities near Venice (420 – 568 AD). From the ninth to the twelfth centuries Venice became a city state.

If you enjoyed this photo essay, see the Li River Cruise

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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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Visiting The Great Wall Part – Part 3/3

July 25, 2012

On our way back to Beijing from the Great Wall at Mutianyu, our driver stopped at a factory-showroom where we learned about the manufacturing techniques for Cloisonné brass vases.

I’ve read some tourists/expatriates complain of these sort of stops, but I enjoy window shopping and this was something new—sometimes I even buy something.  In this case, I bought three vases (photos are included here).

First, we went on a tour where we watched men and women creating vases. Once the tour was over, we went into the showroom.

The vases I bought (after negotiating the price) are yellow with a blue trim.  One has a blue dragon on it, the second a phoenix beside a chariot, and the third running horses. Each one is about the size of my hand (see photos)

The cloisonné process is enamel on copper craftwork. It first appeared in Beijing in the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) and continued during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Cloisonné vases are crafted by using a copper porcelain process. The vase is made from copper with brass wires soldered to the body. Then a porcelain glaze is applied to cells between the brass wires.

After a series of complex procedures, such as burning, burnishing and gilding, the cloisonné vase is done. Chinese name: 景泰蓝(jǐng tài lán)

Return to Visiting The Great Wall – Part 2 or start with Part 1

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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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Visiting The Great Wall – Part 2/3

July 24, 2012

In 1999, I visited the The Great Wall for the first time.  We returned to visit a different section in 2008. The second time, I carried a digital camera (a few of those photos appear with this post)

Smithsonian Magazine reported, “Few cultural landmarks symbolize the sweep of a nation’s history more powerfully than the Great Wall of China. Constructed by a succession of imperial dynasties over 2,000 years, the network of barriers, towers and fortifications expanded over the centuries, defining and defending the outer limits of Chinese civilization. At the height of its importance during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), the Great Wall is believed to have extended some 4,000 miles, the distance from New York to Milan.

The sections of the Great Wall we visited are about an hour out of Beijing. The most popular site is at Badaling.  The second choice, Mutianyu, is more dramatic. This portion of the Great Wall runs along the ridge of a mountain range. Badaling, meanwhile, is in a mountain pass.

The best way to reach the Great Wall is by taxi or bus. After you get there, you will discover the usual tourist shops. Since I enjoy haggling, I spend time shopping.

At Badaling, there were camels and horses you could pay a fee to sit on while having your photo taken.

Once you reach Mutianyu, you have a choice—take a few hours to climb the mountain to The Wall or ride a ski lift to the top in fifteen minutes.

China’s Great Wall was not built by one emperor. It was built in segments by the kings of several nations over a period of centuries. In addition, the wall was completed and linked together by China’s first emperor in 221 BC.

When you are on the wall, if you get thirsty or yearn for a snack, there are venders that carried their goods often using horses.

Once you are ready to leave the Great Wall at Mutianyu, the toboggan ride is worth the price.( see the embedded video with this post)

Continued on July 25, 2012 in Visiting The Great Wall – Part 3 or return to Part 1

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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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Visiting The Great Wall – Part 1/3

July 23, 2012

Like so much about China, The Great Wall is also the victim of myths and lies.

I’m reading Peter Hessler’s “Country Driving“, which is a great book that I plan to review when I finish it. However, his first chapter covers the months he spent driving the length of the Great Wall all the way to Tibet.

In fact, before there was one wall, there were many—all built by different kingdoms before China was unified under Qin Shi Huangdi in 221 BC.

Although I’m enjoying all of Hessler’s memoir, the hundred and twenty-two pages that focus on the Great Walls are the best part of the book.

Before reading Hessler’s memoir, I wrongly believed, as so many others do, that The Great Wall was a failure as a defense against invaders.  However, Hessler proves that myth wrong.  For the most part, the wall did keep marauders out.

In fact, on page 116 of the paperback, he quotes David Spindler who found evidence that the Ming Great Wall actually worked as a defensive structure.

The Wall failed when the unified Mongols invaded China in the 13th century but it didn’t happen overnight. It took sixty years for the Mongols to conquor all of China.

Before Genghis Khan unified the Mongols, there was no unified Mongolia—only nomadic tribes that fought amongst each other and raided into China whenever one or more tribes decided on a whim—that is if they could fight their way past the Great Wall guarding China’s heartland.

In section one of “Country Driving”, The Wall, Hessler points out that no archeologists/historians have studied the history of The Great Wall but there are amateurs that have, both Western and Chinese and these Great Wall amateur (experts) have discovered original documents written by Ming Dynasty military officers and troops detailing the defense of the wall against nomads intent on raiding into China to loot, rape and steal. According to this information, the wall served its purpose more often than not.

Continued on July 24, 2012 in Visiting The Great Wall – Part 2

Note: I wrote this post about two months ago and scheduled it to appear July 23 before I finished reading Hessler’s memoir. Then after I wrote the review, I scheduled it to appear before this post appeared. You may find the review here: Country Driving in China with Peter Hessler

I often write and schedule posts weeks in advance with the goal to stay one month ahead. That way I may take a few days off now and then from writing posts.

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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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