Breathing Huangzhou

June 4, 2013

The city of Huangzhou in Zhejiang province is about a hundred miles or 161 kilometers from Shanghai. We’ve visited several times. Our last trip together was in 2008 shortly before the project this story covers was launched. Huangzhou is one of the most beautiful cities in China.

In the video, Al Jazerra’s Melissa Chan reports on one of the largest bike sharing projects in the world and one of the most successful.

Launched in 2008, the city of Huangzhou provides 50,000 free bicycles at 2,000 bike stops across the city, and in July 2012 a paper was published on the Clean Air Action Planning in Chinese Cities: Hangzhou and Jinan Cases.

The people Chan interviewed say they use the bikes to go to work and it is great to be outside and exercising. One woman says it cuts her commute time.

Melissa Chan says the first hour of bike use is free. It’s actually possible to cycle free all day as long as you check in at a stop every hour.

The system is easy to use—just swipe a bike card across a reader (similar to riding many urban rapid transit systems) and off you go.

Registering for a card is simple.  All that’s needed is a deposit and identification.

Huangzhou, also known as the Westlake, has been one of the more environmentally conscious cities in China.

The government made space to build parks alongside the rapid development and modernization. Huangzhou has remained picturesque unlike many other cities in China where the concrete jungle has taken over.

Li Zhi Hong of Hangzhou Public Transport says the city wanted to encourage citizens to leave their cars and use more public transportation. The bicycles allowed people to take that final kilometer from the bus station to their destination.

The bikes are also great for tourism.

Melissa Chan says public busses have also adopted European emission standards. While there are still many cars on the road, people tell her that it could be a lot worse.

The city has taken the pollution issue seriously and Huangzhou’s success has attracted the attention of Beijing where the pollution problem is still “painfully” visible with each breath.

Today, Huangzhou is one of the cleanest cities in the country.  In fact, recently it was one of seven cities in China to limit the number of vehicles driving on roads using travel restrictions based on vehicle license plate numbers.” Source: Hangzhou Weekly.com (2013 update)

In addition, Huangzhou’s air is rated cleaner than seventeen of China’s Provincial Capitals including Xi’an, China’s ancient capital, and Beijing, its modern capital. Source: What’s On Ningbo.com

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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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Making the Hajj from China: Part 1/2

May 27, 2013

This two-part post may come as a surprise to many in the West that think there is no religious freedom in China.

In fact, China handles religious freedom similar to how Singapore does, and Singapore is seldom if ever criticized in the Western media for this practice.

The U.S. Department of State says that Singapore’s government has broad powers to limit citizens’ rights and handicap political opposition, which it uses. One of those restrictions is a limited freedom of religion.

However, the Constitution for the Republic of Singapore offers the same fundamental liberties China and the US does, which includes freedom of speech, assembly and association and freedom of religion.

For example, Singapore bans the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Unification Church by making public meetings illegal. The Falun Gong has also had problems in Singapore.

China, on the other hand, recognizes five religions — Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Catholicism and Protestantism but has banned certain new religious movements that are considered cults. China does not recognize cults as religions.

In the video embedded with this post, Al Jazeera follows Chinese Muslims as they prepare to undertake the hajj pilgrimage.

The ancient city of Xian in Shaanxi province is home to about 60,000 ethnic Chinese Muslims.

Xian claims it has a Muslim history going back more than thirteen hundred years when Islam was first introduced to China in 650 AD.

In fact, the oldest mosque in China was built in 685-762 AD in Xian during the reign of Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang Dynasty.

Chinese Imam Ma Yi Ping speaks both Chinese and Arabic. He studied at the Islamic University of Medina and has made the hajj several times. He was taught to be a devout Muslim by his parents during Mao’s time when the mosques in China were closed.

Despite the persecutions that took place during the Cultural Revolution (1966 – 1976), Islam survived in China.

Ma Yi Ping says that after Mao and the Gang of Four were gone and China opened for trade with the world, he did not have to study the Quran in secret anymore.

Since the 15th century, Xian Muslims have been going to Mecca in Saudi Arabia for the annual Hajj pilgrimage.

In the past, during the ancient days of the Silk Road, these journeys started and ended in Xian’s Muslim quarter. Today is no different.

Continued on May 28, 2013 in Making the Hajj from China: Part 2

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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 1/5

February 11, 2013

1. Xian, the first emperor and the Terra Cotta Warriors

From this Discovery Channel program on the Seven Wonders of China, we learn that there are 55 ethnic groups and 235 living languages. The first of the seven wonders is near Xian, which was the capital of thirteen of China’s Dynasties.

In 1974, Chinese farmers digging a well near Xian discovered the first of the terra cotta warriors guarding China’s first emperor, Shi Huangdi, of the Qin Dynasty (221 – 207 BC).

The terra cotta warriors are one of China’s most popular tourist attractions. About 10 million tourists visit annually.  No two terra cotta soldiers look alike.

The first emperor centralized the government, standardized the written language, currency, and weights and measures. With these changes, he created China’s national identity. Forcing hundreds of thousands of workers, he also had The Great Wall completed.

Most Chinese believe in the immortality of the spirit and life after death.

It is tradition that the Chinese believe there is continuity between life and death, and people may take things with them for comfort in the spiritual world, which explains why the first emperor had such an elaborate tomb built.

Continued on February 12, 2013 in The Seven Wonders of China: Part 2

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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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Xian – the Double Menu Caper

October 16, 2012

On this trip, our hotel was outside of and in sight of Xian’s city walls.  We had a view of the battlements that were centuries old. At night, the walls and towers were outlined with white Christmas lights.

I ached to get up there and walk those walls.  It was 1999, and I’d wait more than nine years before that happened. One day I want to rent a bicycle and explore the entire wall.



This is a different restaurant from the one I mention.

Our second day in the city, we walked from the hotel into the city to a Xian restaurant. I went in first and the hostess, who didn’t speak a word of English, handed me a menu written in English.

My wife, dressed more like a Chinese peasant than an American, walked in after me and she was handed a menu written in Chinese. Then she glanced at my menu before taking it out of my hands and giving it back to the hostess.

“We’ll use the Chinese menu,” she said.

The prices in Mandarin were less than half the English version.  A stunned look appeared on the hostesses face.  It was a Candid Camera moment, and it was all I could do to not laugh.

Discover I Ate no Dog, I Ate no Cat, a Guest post by Bob Grant

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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 Xian – a city with more than 3,100 years of history

April 17, 2012

We are taking a quick trip to Xian (in pictures that is). Xian was China’s ancient capital for more than a thousand years before being moved to Beijing.

After landing in Xian in 2008, (our third visit to the city since 1999) we found a great driver. He was honest and knowledgeable. Here’s the cell phone number he had at the time (136-0916-251). If you visit Xian, I recommend you book him for the entire stay. He also introduced us to some experiences we’d never had on previous trips.

The Famous Terra Cotta warriors were created to guard China’s first emperor Qin Shi Huangdi (221-204 B.C.). Qin Shi Huangdi made Xian China’s first capital until Kublai Khan moved the capital to Beijing where he ruled his Khanbalik Empire, from 1264 to 1267.

Xian was known as Chang’an before the Ming Dynasty and is one of the four great ancient capitals of China having held that distinction under several of the most important dynasties in China’s history. In fact, Xian was a cultural center more than a thousand years before Jesus Christ was born.

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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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Note: This revised post first appeared February 19, 2010


Xi’an (Chang’ an) – China’s Ancient Capital – Part 5/5

October 25, 2011

During the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1643 AD), China mostly isolated itself from the world by rebuilding the Great Wall and a string of impregnable fortresses to protect China’s heartland from Mongol invasion.

One of those fortresses was a new military city built on the ruins of Tang Chang’ an, and the Ming named this city “Western Peace”—which in Chinese/Mandarin is “Xi’an”.

Xi’an was one-sixth the size of Tang Chang’ an, but nearly six hundred years later, its walls are still standing.

Charles Higham says these walls are the most extraordinary, largest, best-preserved set of defensive walls in the world.

The last segment of Neville Gishford‘s Discovery Channel documentary, China’s Most Honourable City, introduces Zheng Canyang, the engineer responsible for preserving Xi’an’s walls, and Zheng explains how the walls would have been defended.

History records that when the walls of this third city faced its first attack, they stood firm, but the attack did not come during the Ming or Qing Dynasties. It came five hundred years later from April to November 1926.

As China bled from the Civil War between warlords, the CCP and the KMT, a powerful Chinese general by the name of Liu Zhenhua attacked Xi’an with a large army and modern artillery.

However, the 20th century artillery rounds only dented the walls, and after months, Xi’an’s walls still stood and Liu Zhenhua’s army retreated.

The siege was part of an anti-Guominjun campaign lasting from late 1925 to early 1927, which raged across North China and had nothing to do with the civil war between CCP and KMT, explaining why this military campaign received no coverage in the popular media or academic circles. Source: A Study of the Siege of Xi’an and its Historical Significance by Kingsley Tsang

The newest enemy to Xi’an’s ancient walls comes from modernization and the millions of inhabitants of the city. As the water table below the city is sucked dry from so many people, this has caused the earth to sink, which is pulling down the walls, and engineers and scientists work to discover ways to save them.

This link to Xi’an will take you to the photo page on my Website of our trip there in 2008.

Return to Xi’an (Chang’ an) – China’s Ancient Capital – Part 4 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.

To subscribe to “iLook China”, sign up for an E-mail Subscription at the top right-hand side of this page and then follow directions.


Xi’an (Chang’ an) – China’s Ancient Capital – Part 4/5

October 24, 2011

Although Christianity and Islam were both introduced to China during the Tang Dynasty, Buddhism had deeper roots in the culture since it first arrived in China from India about 200 BC.

Christianity arrived in China in 635 AD (more than eight centuries after Buddhism and only a decade before Islam), when a Nestorian monk named Aluoben entered the ancient capital city of Tang Chang’ an.

Then in 629 AD, the Buddhist monk Xuanzang left Chang’ an against the emperor’s orders to travel the world in search of enlightenment. He went west toward India along the Silk Road with a goal to find original Buddhist scriptures.  He traveled 10,000 miles over three of the highest mountain ranges in Asia and was gone 16 years.

When Xuanzang returned in 645 AD, he had 1,300 scrolls of Buddhist Sutras, and requested the building of a pagoda, which became the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda—nearly 65 meters tall (more than 213 feet).  It was made of rammed earth, and the pagoda would collapse more than once and be rebuilt.  No one knows exactly how the Tang Dynasty engineers managed to build a structure that tall of rammed earth.

Neville Gishford‘s Discovery Channel documentary, China’s Most Honourable City, reveals the answer to a mystery when a hidden crypt beneath the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda is discovered using ground based radar. When The Tang Dynasty collapsed due to rebellion, the city was destroyed, but the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda was left untouched.

Gishford reveals that even though Tang Chang’ an was destroyed, the city was copied throughout Asia and one city in Japan, Kyoto (formally the imperial capital of Japan – 794 to 1869 AD), was a scaled replica of Tang Chang’ an.

In fact, in 1974, the modern city of Xi’an and Kyoto formally established a sister-city relationship.

However, this was not the end of Chang’ an (Xi’an). It would be rebuilt a third time.  In 1368, nearly five hundred years after the fall of the Tang Dynasty, the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1643 AD) would rebuild the Great Wall in addition to Xi’an as a defense against the Mongols that had conquered and ruled China during the  Yuan Dynasty (1277 – 1367 AD).

Continued on October 21, 2011, in Xi’an (Chang’ an) – China’s Ancient Capital – 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.

To subscribe to “iLook China”, sign up for an E-mail Subscription at the top right-hand side of this page and then follow directions.


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