Eating Out in China’s Oldest Capital

February 14, 2017

In 1999, in China’s oldest capital, our hotel was in sight of Xian’s city walls.  We had a view of the ancient battlements that were several hundred years old and sinking. At night, the walls and towers were outlined with white Christmas lights.

I ached to get up there and walk on those walls that were wide enough to drive cars on.  I’d have to wait more than nine years before that happened.

To get an idea of the history of this city, it helps to know that it was the capital longer than any other city in China, and was first called Chang’an before it became known as Xian.

Several dynasties ruled China from this city:

BC 221-206 – Qin (Ch’in) Dynasty
BC 206 – 9 AD – Han Dynasty
581-618 AD – Sui Dynasty
618-906 AD – Tang Dynasty
Timeline of Chinese History and Dynasties

Beijing wouldn’t become the capital of China until 1279 AD during the Yuan Dynasty when Kublai Khan was emperor.

On our second day in Xian, we walked from the hotel and through an opening in the ancient wall 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.

Anchee, 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 over my shoulder 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. Anchee grew up in China during Mao’s Cultural Revolution and didn’t leave until she was 28.

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 not to laugh.

This doesn’t mean every restaurant in China does this. In fact, most don’t. The double menu caper was probably the idea of the owner of that specific restaurant in a city known for tourism due to the Terra Cotta warriors and the tomb of China’s first Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi.

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The Challenge of Health Care in China

January 31, 2017

In 1950, China’s population was almost 552 million, and the average lifespan was 35 as it had been for centuries. By the Time Mao died in 1976, even with the Great Famine (1958-1961) in a country known as the Land of Famines, the population increased to more than 930 million, and the average lifespan had climbed to almost 55. Today, there are almost 1-billion, 400-million Chinese, and the average lifespan has reached beyond 76 years, more than twice what it was in 1950 when Mao and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) became the leader of China?

How did all that happen?

After the CCP won the Civil war in 1949, health care improved in China. By the time Mao died in 1976, average life expectancy had increased by twenty years, so the program must have worked, right?

The CCP was the first government in China’s history to set goals and plans to help the people who lived in extreme poverty improve the quality of their lifestyles, and soon after Mao Zedong’s healthcare speech in 1965, the concept of the barefoot doctor (with basic paramedical training) was developed.

By 1968, the barefoot doctors program was a national policy, and it was offered free to the working class. The barefoot doctor program ended in 1981 with the end the agricultural cooperatives. However, two-thirds of rural village doctors currently practicing in China were first trained as barefoot doctors.

This program was the foundation of rural-health care in China, but back then anyone could become a barefoot doctor.

Mao told the people that if you wanted to be a doctor, you didn’t need to go to medical school. All you had to do was have the motivation to provide medical care to needy people and the government would support you and provide limited training.

The second class of medical care went to teachers, clerks and secretaries, who were considered ‘friends’ of the working class, the proletariat. The only difference was that these ‘friends’ had to pay to get medical treatment, and it was possible to face financial ruin from one hospital stay.

A third group of people was considered enemies of the proletariat: former shop-owners, landlords and denounced intellectuals like liberal arts professors. These people were denied health care.

Mao died in 1976, and between 1981 and 2003, the health care system in China was privatized. People had to pay before treatment or receive no medical care. This changed again in 2003, when the CCP launched a new cooperative medical system operated and funded by the government with a copay of 10 Renminbi per year for each enrolled citizen.

In 2008, the SARS epidemic resulted in the beginning of more health-care reforms.

Health Affairs.org reports, “China is at a crossroads in transforming its health care system. Like the United States, China is faced with the double-edged sword of having both a large uninsured population and rapid health care cost inflation. … China’s solution for its rural areas is the New Cooperative Medical Scheme (NCMS), a government-run voluntary insurance program. … In an attempt to redirect urban patients’ reliance on hospital services toward primary care, the government announced in 2005 the establishment of community health centers (CHCs) to provide prevention, primary care, home care, and rehabilitative services.”

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China’s Mighty Ditch, the Grand Canal

January 25, 2017

I’ve heard China’s critics allege that China could never compete with a democracy when it comes to innovation. Yet for thousands of years China was ruled by autocratic all-powerful emperors, and China was the most advanced and wealthiest country in the world until about the time the Portuguese arrived. Encyclopedia Britannica reports, “Early in the 18th century the Portuguese found that they could import opium from India and sell it in China at a considerable profit.”

One Chinese innovation is the Grand Canal, and it wasn’t built overnight. It took centuries and more than one dynasty to complete. In fact, work on the first segment of the Grand Canal started in BC 486, and even after the canal was completed centuries later; it was renovated by the Ming Dynasty between 1411 and 1415 AD.  The Ming also renovated the Great Wall.

It could be said that China’s Grand Canal is the opposite of China’s Great Wall, because it’s a ditch and not a wall. Until my first trip to China in 1999, I’d never heard of the Grand Canal, and it is still in use today while the Great Wall is just a tourist attraction.

Is there anything in Europe and/or the United States that’s been around for more than 2,500 years that’s still in use today?

While building the Grand Canal, the pound lock was invented in the 10th century during the Song Dynasty.  Without the pound lock there’s be no Panama or Suez Canals.  According to Encyclopedia.com, “The ancestor of the modern lock is the flash lock. It originated in China and is believed to have been used as early as BC 50.”  The pound lock, an improvement of the flash lock, was also invented in China.

The first pound lock in Europe was built in the Netherlands in 1373 AD, and Leonardo de Vinci improved the pound lock in the 15th century. Did Marco Polo, who lived in China from about 1271 – 1295, bring back the concept of the pound lock? After all, while in China, Polo traveled extensively and probably used the Grand Canal to get around.

A report from Boston’s University of Massachusetts says, “The Grand Canal of China is not only the world’s oldest canal, it is far longer than either Suez or Panama. At 1,795 kilometers (or 1,114 miles) it has 24 locks and 60 bridges, and claim to the title of longest canal. Building began in 486 B.C. with an important extension decreed in the third century, BCE during the Qin Dynasty.”

To understand the significance, it helps to compare the Grand Canal to the Suez and Panama Canals. In the 19th century, the French built the Suez Canal, more than two millennia after the Chinese started to build the Grant Canal and about a thousand years after the pound lock was invented. When it opened, the Suez Canal was only 25 feet deep, 72 feet wide at the bottom and 200 to 300 feet wide at the surface and is 120.11 miles long. China’s Grand Canal is almost 10 times longer.

Construction on the Panama Canal was started in 1881 by the French but was a failure. The United States eventually stepped in and finished that canal between 1904 – 1914, and when finished, it was only 51 miles long.

A timeline of the Great Wall shows that the first segment was built between BC 685 – 645, and it was 398.5 miles in length, almost 8 times longer than the Panama Canal.

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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 unique love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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China’s Great Wall

January 24, 2017

Like so much about China, The Great Wall is also the victim of myths that are not always true. Did you know that the history of the Great Wall of China started with fortifications built by various states during the Spring and Autumn (771 – 476 BC) and Warring States (475 – 221 BC) periods? But the best-known and best-preserved sections of The Great Wall was built in the 14th through 17th centuries A.D., during the Ming Dynasty, more than two thousand years later.

If you want to know more about The Great Wall plan a trip to China, or read Peter Hessler’s Country Driving. The first part of this book is about the months he spent driving the length of The Great Wall all the way to Tibet.

In the first 122 pages Peter Hessler rented a Chinese made Jeep Cherokee. In this section, I learned that the Wall was successful most of the time and not the failure historians have claimed it was.

Over a period of several thousand years, the wall failed a couple of times, but served its purpose and offered protection for China’s heartland for centuries. Hessler says that there is no archaeologist in the world that has studied the history of the Great Wall, but he wrote that there are amateur experts, and you will meet a few in his book along with a unique view of rural China.


The Great Wall of China – Unbelievable Secrets & Unknown Facts

The Wall failed when first Genghis and then Kublai Khan unified the Mongol tribes and invaded China in the 13th century, but it didn’t happen overnight. It took sixty years for the Mongols to conquer all of China and then they ruled the country for almost a century before the Han Chinese rose up and drove them out.

The sections of the Great Wall I’ve visited are an hour out of Beijing. The most popular site is at Badaling.  The second choice, Mutianyu, is more dramatic, because this portion of the Great Wall runs along the ridge of a mountain range and you have to hike up a steep slope to reach it or ride a ski lift to the top. Badaling starts in a fortress in a mountain pass, and the wall climbs the slopes from there.

great-wall-consruction-by-dynasty

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 more than 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.

China’s Great Wall was not built by one country, king, or emperor. The wall was built in sections by the kings of several nations over a period of centuries. Those walls were eventually linked together by China’s first Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi, who brutally unified China through bloody conquest into one country with one written language, Mandarin, and many spoken languages.

Then there is the recent Great Wall film starring Matt Damon, a film that explores a mystery centered on the construction of the Great Wall of China. Of course it obvious this story is based on a fantasy. In the film’s trailer, I was hooked by, “What were they trying to keep out?”

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 unique love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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A Short History of China: part 6 of 6

January 18, 2017

Mao Zedong walked a long and dangerous road on his way to leading China for 27 years starting in 1949 to 1976. His first step down that road was to survive the Civil War against the Nationalists under Chiang Kai-shek, a brutal dictator for life that the United States supported. To escape defeat, Mao avoided combat as much as possible to retreating on an almost impossible march known as Mao’s Long March that’s considered one of the most significant military campaigns in the 20th century, and one of the most amazing physical feats ever attempted.

Surrounded by hostile armies, 87,000 Communist troops escaped and started a retreat that covered nearly 6,000 miles in one year.

In 1949, the Chinese Civil War ended and America’s ally for life Chiang Kai-shek fled to Taiwan where he ruled as a brutal dictator until he died in 1976. For a peek into Chiang’s brutality, one example of many was his 2-28-1947 Massacre in Taiwan.

Meanwhile in China, Mao launched his Great Leap Forward that failed in the disaster of what’s still know as Mao’s Great Famine that I wrote about in Part 5.

Having failed, Mao stepped aside to let someone else run China. The large communes of the Great Leap Forward were abandoned and the peasants returned to their villages to farm the land,

Fearing the return of capitalism, Mao’s supporters printed a book with his slogans. Mao wanted to break the thinking and attitudes of old China. Through film, a propaganda campaign was launched so Mao could regain power, and in 1966, he launched the insanity of the Cultural Revolution.

Soon after Mao died in 1976, Deng Xiaoping ended the Cultural Revolution, led the revision of the Chinese Constitution to limit leaders to two 5-year terms so China would never have another Mao, a powerful dictator for life, and opened China to world trade, and in the last 40 years, thanks to Deng, China is not only responsible for ninety percent of the reduction in global poverty but also the growth of a U.S. style consumer middle class of about 300 million Chinese.

In fact, the Chinese middle class now leads the world in tourism, and sends more of their children to attend colleges in the United States, Canada, and Europe than any other country. More than 100 million Chinese freely leave China annually to visit, as tourists, other countries around the globe and then fly home.

One blight on China under Deng’s leadership was the alleged crushing of a student democracy movement in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989.  The truth is the protests that took place in Tiananmen Square didn’t start as a democracy movement, and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) does not deny that there were deaths, but the CCP says the deaths took place several miles from Tiananmen Square due to a bloody confrontation between the People’s Liberation Army and violent protestors throwing Molotov cocktails. What is the truth about Tiananmen Square?

As this 6-part series ends, you might be thinking about what was missing. For instance the Great Wall of China, the Grand Canal, or China’s ancient irrigation system, the Treasure of Sichuan, built more than 2,200 years ago, the oldest and only surviving non-dam irrigation system in the word. The next two posts will be about the Great Wall of China and the Grand Canal. Click the link in this paragraph to discover the Treasure of Sichuan, a UNESCO World Heritage Site admired by scientists from around the world.

Return to Part 5 or start with Part 1

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 unique love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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A Short History of China: part 5 of 6

January 17, 2017

After a decline that started in the 16th century about the time Portuguese traders obtained the rights to anchor ships in Macao, and 22 years later established a permeant settlement there, in 1912, China’s last Imperial Dynasty, the Qing, after more than 2,200 years of Imperial rule, collapsed followed by chaos, anarchy, and widespread suffering, and mass deaths.

Sun Yat-Sen attempted to form a republic in China but failed. Not long after his death, China was plunged into a Civil War in 1927 (with a short break to fight Japan during World War II) that raged between the Nationalists under a brutal dictator called Chiang Kai-shek, an American ally, and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) led by Mao Zedong until 1949 when Mao’s CCP won.

The Rape of Nanking offers a brutal snapshot of what happened to China after Japan invaded in 1937.

In addition, David C. Schak reports, “Throughout most of Chinese history the majority of Chinese have lived in poverty. As the hundreds of famines that have killed millions of Chinese attest, Chinese poverty has often been absolute, i.e., lacking the very material resources needed to sustain life and maintain health.”

In 1949, the population of China was 562 million, and the average life expectancy was 36 years. In 1976 when Mao died, the population had reached 930 million and average life expectancy had increased to about 65 years.

But for his 27 years as the leader of China, the West had repeatedly blamed Mao for murdering 60 million of his own people by letting them starve to death during what’s known as Mao’s Great Famine of 1958 – 62. The CCP admits there was a famine but says that only about 3 million died. Henry Kissinger says it was closer to 20 million. Where did all of those estimates come from – 3 million, 20 million, and 60 million? From the same data that the CCP made available for the world.

What was happening in the West in the 1950s and 60s: The Cold War, Senator Joseph R. McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee and mass hysteria over the perceived threat posed to Capitalism by Communism. It was known as the era of The Red Scare. There was a war against the spread of Communism in Korea (1950 – 1953) that ended in a stalemate ,and then another war in Vietnam that the U.S. lost, because the government in Vietnam today is a Communist one, the same one the U.S. fought from 1955 to 1975.

Five U.S. Presidents fought the Vietnam War from Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953 – 1961) to Gerald R. Ford (1974 – 1977). In between were Presidents John F. Kennedy (assassinated), Lyndon B. Johnson, and Richard Nixon (resigned to avoid being impeached).

Few in the West know that America’s leaders refused to lift an embargo on China during what’s known as Mao’s Great Famine, and help feed those starving Chinese once Mao and the CCP discovered what was happening and asked for help from the world.

The only help came from Canada and France, two countries that broke ranks with the United States to help save lives in China.

To end Communism in China, America’s leaders were willing to let millions of Chinese starve to death, and then blame Mao even though China is known as the Land of Famines, because Imperial records for more than 2,000 years recorded that China has had droughts, floods, famines, and loss of life annually up to 1962 when under the leadership of the CCP, the Chinese haven’t suffered from one since, a first in Chinese history; a first most of the global media outside of China has not reported on.

Continued in Part 6 on January 18, 2017 or return to Part 5

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 unique love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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A Short History of China: part 4 of 6

January 11, 2017

Before moving on with China’s history in the 20th century, it’s important to understand that China has a rich and long history of the arts: for instance, literature, poetry, painting, opera, and music. China, after all invented the printing press during the Tang Dynasty (618 – 906 AD) and paper in 105 AD. This history reaches back thousands of years, from the earliest recorded dynastic court archives to fiction novels from the Ming Dynasty published to entertain the masses of literate Chinese.

For a comparison with European civilization, the printing press in the West wasn’t invented until after 1300 AD, centuries after China, and it’s possible that the west stole the technology for the printing press from China just like the British Empire stole the secrets of growing and brewing tea from China.

For literature, there are the four Chinese classics: “Outlaws of the Marsh” (set in the Sung Dynasty, 960 – 1279 AD), “Romance of the Three Kingdom” (set during the end of the Han Dynasty, BC 206 – 220 AD), Journey to the West, and The Dream of the Red Chamber (China’s Romeo and Juliet set in the 18th century in the middle of the Qing Dynasty).

Traditional Chinese Poetry is similar to Western poetry.  Lines in Chinese poetry may have a fixed number of syllables and rhyme was required, so ancient Chinese poetry resembles traditional English verse and is not at all like the free verse in today’s Western culture.

Mao Zedong was more than just a revolutionary and the leader of China from 1949 to 1976.  He was complex man who was also a poet. Anyone who studies all of Mao’s life instead of relying on his last decade would understand that he cared deeply about the common people. In addition, Mao is responsible for ridding China of illegal drugs like opium and cocaine, liberating women when he announced they were equal to men, and his health reforms almost doubled the average lifespan before he died.

Opera has a long history in China. To learn more, I suggest: Chinese Opera and Mao Wei Tao, China’s Living Treasure, and The Mother of Chinese Operas.

For brush painting (with a 6,000 year history) and calligraphy, I recommend: Gongbi Style Chinese Brush Painting, and Caressing nature with a long handled brush.

Last, there is China’s music. For instance, the Chinese mouth organ dates back to the Zhou Dynasty (BC 1111-222), and has been found in Han Dynasty tombs. Then there are the 2,553 year-old chimes of Marquis Yi.

Continued in Part 5 on January 17, 2017 or return to Part 4

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 unique love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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