Quyi: one of China’s older performing arts helping preserve ethnic history and culture

March 5, 2014

As one of the older performing arts in China, Quyi—developed during the Tang Dynasty (618 – 906 AD) and flourished in the Song Dynasty (960 – 1279)—is rooted in China’s history and culture.

Chinese Quyi focuses on how the “Body Talks”, and it’s mostly a spoken performance from one to four people. Don’t confuse it with Chinese opera.

During a performance, the actors pay attention to the use of the hands, eyes, body and step.  The focus of this performing art consists of narrative storytelling using staged monologues and dialogues.

Hand gestures are used to present the story’s plot while the eyes are the most important part of a Quyi performance. The eyes show anger, sorrow and joy. Using the eyes to dramatize the story is an art in itself.

Since there are different schools of Quyi, the hand, eyes, body and steps are used differently from school to school.

There are fifty-six minorities in China and minority produced Quyi is often subtly different from what the Han majority produces.

For instance, Chinese ethnic minorities use mostly their own languages or dialects for the performances often singing the dialogue. In fact, it’s been an important performing art for preserving the history and culture of many ethnic groups. (The Quyi of Ethnic Minority Groups in China)

In fact, since Quyi is a vital part of China’s minority culture, soon after the People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949, the Chinese Quyi Association was organized. Today, more than 3,500 members belong to an association that publishes Quyi Magazine.

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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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Talking about Sung Dynasty Philosophy

July 23, 2013

China may be the only ancient culture that survived the spread of Islam and Christianity and managed to keep its unique identity. The following passage comes from My Splendid Concubine’s 3rd edition. My first novel has picked up fifteen literary awards. In the novel, Guan-jiah is Robert Hart’s servant.

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“Guan-jiah,” Robert said, “before I came to China I read The Travels of Marco Polo. Do you know who he was?”

“No, Master,” Guan-jiah replied.

“He came to China from Europe more than six hundred years ago and served under Kublai Khan during the Yuan Dynasty. Polo wrote that Hangzhou was the finest and noblest city in the world.”

“Hangzhou was the capital of the Southern Sung Dynasty, Master,” Guan-jiah said. “I’ve heard it is beautiful. Sung philosophy says that we have the power in our minds to overcome our emotions.”

“Marco Polo believed it was God’s will that he came back from China so others in the West might know what he’d seen.” Robert turned to his servant, who was the last in line. “Do you believe in this Sung philosophy, Guan-jiah?”

Sir Robert Hart working long hours at his standing desk.

“The Sung said that if you know yourself and others, you would be able to adjust to the most unfavorable circumstances and prevail over them.”

“That’s admirable, Guan-jiah. You never mentioned you were a scholar. If the Sung Dynasty was that wise, I want to see Hangzhou one day.”

“I am no scholar, Master, but I must believe in the Sung philosophy to survive. I have read and contemplated much literature. However, I am like a peasant and have never mastered calligraphy. It is a skill that has eluded me.”

“How old were you when you studied this philosophy?”

“I was eleven, Master, two years after I was sent to Peking.”

Source: From Chapter 4 of My Splendid Concubine

And Discover The Influence of Confucius

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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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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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Chinese Crossbow and Other Inventions (Viewed as Single Page)

August 30, 2011

The Chinese invented the forerunner to the modern machine gun—a repeating crossbow. If you watch the video, you will see that firing the repeating crossbow takes the pull of one lever. The arrows are in a clip above the firing mechanism.

Then the Chinese invented the stirrup. Prior to that, all of the ancient people on earth rode horses without stirrups and staying on horseback and fighting was difficult without the stirrup.

Thanks to stirrups, the horse became a more stable platform for war. Prior to the stirrup, it was common for a man to ride about seven miles a day. After the stirrup, that distance was extended to as much as 70 miles a day.

The invention of the stirrup along with the repeating crossbow created a powerful weapon. The Chinese could also manufacture items in mass, quickly and efficiently. The Chinese used pottery molds to accomplish this—even to build the advanced trigger mechanism for the crossbow. When it came to cast iron, the Chinese were a thousand years ahead of the rest of the world.

However, by the time of the Sung Dynasty, the world was catching up—meaning China’s enemies were stealing their technology. It’s ironic that today, many in the West accuse the Chinese of stealing innovations. If so, China is only doing what was done to them centuries ago.

The invention of gunpowder did not come from weapons makers but from alchemists. Chinese alchemy has a long tradition that is interwoven with other areas of learning.

There was no clear line between alchemy and politics. In Chinese, the word for politics and finding a cure meant the same thing.

All Chinese alchemists had sulfur, charcoal and saltpeter. They just hadn’t combined them. Since saltpeter is white and many other powders used by China’s alchemist were white, there was a simple test to make sure. If a small amount of the saltpeter were heated in a charcoal fire, there would be a purple flame.

The first account of the discovery of gunpowder comes from about 850 AD. Soon after, they envisioned new kinds of weaponry. By the 11th century AD, there were gunpowder weapons—crude rifles, cannons, etc.

The first gun or “fire lance” was produced in 905 AD. The next innovation was to add bullets to the fire lance.

The first firearm was invented in China about one thousand years ago. It was made of bamboo, fired pebbles and had a range of about thirty yards.

Bamboo is strong, flexible and hollow in the center. It was perfect for the first crude gunpowder weapons. Over time, bamboo was replaced with bronze, and the pebbles became cast-iron chips or pellets. In fact, the first bronze handgun dates to 12th century AD. It was about a foot long and weighed eight pounds.

From these early weapons came cannons. Long before the rest of the world knew anything about heavy artillery, the Chinese were making strong, mobile cannons from bronze. Since the Chinese already had repeating crossbows, the next step was repeating cannons along with exploding artillery shells.

During the Ming Dynasty, in the 14th century, the Great Wall was equipped with more than 3,000 cannons. In Europe, the first cannons were still being developed. The Chinese also invented the hand grenade about a thousand years ago along with grenade launchers—the bow powered grenade.

A computer analysis demonstrated that China’s largest cannons could fire more than a third of a mile. It would take centuries before Europeans could match the weaponry of China.

The Chinese invented rockets long before anyone in the West did. By the 15th century, the Chinese had mass rocket launchers that fired hundreds of rockets in battle. In one battle during the Ming Dynasty, more than one-hundred rocket launchers were used capable of launching 32,000 rockets in an instant.

The Chinese also invented one of the most dangerous weapons on earth—the landmine. The first landmines were invented in 13th century China. The triggering mechanism for these weapons was kept a secret until the 16th century. Then this concept was used to create the first musket.

During world war I, armies used colored flares to send messages. The Chinese invented this signal method in the 13th century.

The most important contribution to warfare took place during in the 6th century BC — The Art of War by Sun Tzu. Today, American generals study this Chinese book for fighting wars.

Some might ask, if the Chinese were so advanced in waging war, why not conquer the world? The answer—they had no desire because they were satisfied with what they had in China.

Ironically, the Mongols (Yuan Dynasty 1277 – 1367) conquered China using the weapons that the Chinese had invented.

Discover more about Chinese inventions at Ancient Chinese Inventions that Changed the World

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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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Ancient Chinese Inventions that Changed the World

July 24, 2011

The first Seismograph

When critics accuse the Chinese of stealing technology from the West, consider that China was the most technologically advanced nation in the world for more than two thousand years until the middle of the 19th century.

One example of China’s technological abilities was when the first seismograph was invented in 132 AD.

When Zhang Heng‘s device measured an earthquake in 134 AD, he predicted the location.

Han Ministers did not believe the scientist. Then a courier arrived and reported that an earthquake had taken place where Zhang said it did.

In 1951, Chinese scientists from China’s National Museum worked on recreating Zhang Heng’s seismograph. Since there was a limited amount of information, it took until 2007 to complete the reconstruction.

In comparison, it wasn’t until the 18th century (AD), about seventeen hundred years later, that there was any record that Western scientists even worked on developing a seismograph.

The Compass

The Chinese were the first to notice that the lodestone pointed one way, which led to the invention of the compass. The first compass was on a square slab, which had markings for the cardinal points and the constellations. The needle was a spoon-shaped device, with a handle always pointing south.

Archeologists have not been able to discover the exact time the ancient Chinese discovered magnets. However, it was first recorded in the Guanzi, a book written between 722 – 481 BC.

Later in the 8th century AD, magnetized needles would become common navigational devices on ships.

The first person given credit for using the compass in this way was Zheng He (1371 – 1435 AD), who went on the voyages made famous in a book by Louise Levathes, When China Ruled the Seas.

Since the Chinese value education above business and the military, it makes sense that Chinese invented and used devices such as the compass and the seismograph centuries before the West did.

The Compass was also considered a symbol of wisdom. About the 12th century, through trading, the technology spread to Arabia and then reached Europe.

Paper

Imagine the rise of civilization without paper.

In fact, without paper to print books that spread ideas, would men have walked on the moon?

Papermaking is one of the four significant inventions from ancient China. Almost 2,000 years ago, Chinese discovered how to make paper.

In 105 AD, Cai Lon invented a way to make paper and submitted his discovery to the Han emperor.

This method soon spread to the rest of China, and the emperor rewarded Cai Lon by making him a member of the nobility.

The basic principles of papermaking invented by Cai Lon are still in use today.

To make paper was a six-step process, and properly manufactured paper lasts for centuries.

In fact, Buddhism arrived in China about the time of the invention of paper and this helped spread Buddhist ideas, which contributed to the spread of civilization.

By the 12th century, more than a thousand years later, the paper making process reached Europe, which may have contributed to the Renaissance of the 12th century and what followed.

The Printing Press

Six hundred years after paper was invented, the Chinese invented printing and the first printed books were Buddhist scripture during the Tang Dynasty (618 – 906 AD). The most basic printing techniques are older. Engraving came later and the carving, printing technique originated during the Tang Dynasty.

When we talk about paper and printing, we are talking about collecting knowledge, preserving and sharing it.

In fact, Ancient Chinese culture was preserved due to the invention of paper and these printing methods, which wouldn’t reach Europe until after 1300 AD, centuries later.

Once there were mass produced paper books being printed to share Buddhist ideas, the religion spread through China into Korea and Japan. The same happened in the West with the Gutenberg Bible and the spread of Christianity in the 1450s.

In China, for a thousand years, printing techniques improved until there were multi-colored printings.

Then during the Sung Dynasty (960 -1276 AD), the printing board was invented, which used clay characters. One character was carved into a small block of clay. Then the clay was put in a kiln to heat into a solid block. This method was efficient for printing thousands of sheets. These blocks would be placed together to create sentences and paragraphs of Chinese characters.

Later, the characters were carved into wood and over time, printing developed into an art.

Without the Chinese invention of printing, Christianity, Islam and Buddhism may not have spread to the extent that they have.

Gunpowder

Sulfur is the main ingredient for gunpowder, which was first developed during the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 AD).

During the Northern Sung Dynasty, in 1044 AD, the book “Essentials of Military Art” published several formulas for gunpowder production.

It is ironic that the Sung Dynasty (960 – 1276 AD) used a Tang Dynasty invention to defeat them.

Several ingredients for gunpowder were in wide use for medicinal purposes during the Spring and Autumn Period of China’s history (722 – 481 BC).

According to the famous book “Records of History”, Chang Sangjun shared secret prescriptions with Pien Ch’iao (around 500 BC), who promised not to give the secret away, and then he became famous as a doctor of Chinese medicine.

In fact, gunpowder was discovered by accident.

While mixing ingredients to find an elixir for immortality, Chinese scientists stumbled on the formula.

Fireworks and rockets were invented but were first used to scare away evil spirits.

The irony is that gunpowder, which has killed millions when used as weapons, was discovered during the search for immortality.

One theory says that the knowledge of gunpowder came to Europe along the Silk Road around the beginning of the 13th century, hundreds of years after being discovered in China.

It is also ironic, that Britain and France used advanced gunpowder weapons to defeat China during the 19th century during the Opium Wars.

Note: There were more inventions than this short list shows. If you read the comments for this post, you will discover a few more.

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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.

Kindle_LR_e-book_cover_MSC_July_25_2013

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.

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Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1643 AD) – Part 1, 1/3

November 21, 2010

The Red Turban Rebellion was started in the middle of the fourteenth century by Chinese peasants against the Mongolian Yuan Dynasty.

The Red Turban ideology included elements from White Lotus, a Buddhist sect from the late Southern Song Dynasty.

Soon, the White Lotus Society, led by Han Shantong, became the center of anti-Mongol sentiment. After Han Shantong was caught and executed, his son, Han Liner, came to power claiming to be the incarnation of the Maitreya Buddha.

When the Yung Dynasty fell in August 1368, Zhu Yuanzhang was the leader of the White Lotus Society (also known as the The Millennium Cult, with similarities to today’s Falun Gong religious cult).

Yuanzhang came from a poor background and did not trust the educated elite. He created an extremely authoritarian regime with harsh policies and ruled China from the city of Nanjing.

It would take several years before China recovered from the destruction caused by the rebellion.

The first hundred and fifty years of the Ming Dynasty saw an improvement in agricultural technology never before seen in China, which encouraged the development of the handicrafts industry and commerce.

Since the Roman Empire, products from China had already been known for their high quality and craftsmanship. During the Ming, these products reached even higher qualities.

The Yongle Emperor (1402 – 1424) moved the capital from Nanjing to Beijing where he built a new city.

In fact, after being neglected for decades, the Yongle Emperor had the Grand Canal restored.

The Yongle Emperor also send the Muslim, eunuch Admiral Zheng He with a huge fleet across the oceans to Africa and possibly to the Americas well before Columbus set sail. The emperor’s goal was to gain respect from distant foreign nations.

To build the Ming fleet required techniques and technologies never seen in the world. To achieve this feat, the Chinese invented what has been credited to Ford Motor Company between 1908 and 1915 — an assembly line five centuries before Ford.

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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 Machines of Ancient China — Part 4/4

October 29, 2010

Qin Shi Huangdi (259 to 210 BC), the first emperor who unified China, summoned 700,000 people to build his tomb. These people probably worked at least ten years or longer.

Modern day workshops that duplicated what it took to create the Terra Cotta warriors used ancient materials and methods. It took twenty days to complete one warrior.  Each warrior used an average of 130 kilos or 286 pounds of clay.

To complete the entire army, more than one thousand tons was needed.

Another Chinese inventor during the Song Dynasty created a machine known as the Cosmic Engine, the ancient world’s astronomical computer.

Su Song was the inventor.  The Cosmic Engine was so complicated that for centuries no one (even Westerners) understood how it worked. Today, few westerners know that it existed.

However, records show that the Cosmic Engine was created in 1092 AD.

The Cosmic Engine calculated time—not just hours and minutes but weeks, months and seasons reflecting how the earth moves around the sun. It also calculated how the earth and planets moved through space.

The Cosmic Engine was five stories tall and its working innards are complex.

Today, we know exactly how this device was created since Su Song left detailed blueprints and directions of exactly how it was built. Song’s Cosmic Engine worked from the eleventh century until enemies of the Song Dynasty destroyed it.

Using Song’s blueprints, the Science and Technology Museum in Beijing built a fully accurate reconstruction. Another reconstruction exists in London.

This ingenious device led to the invention of Western clocks centuries later.

Today, we know that many of the inventions and discoveries the modern world is built on originated in ancient Imperial China.

Return to the Machines of Ancient China – Part 3 or to discover more inventions see China Points the Way

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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. 

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