The Art and Poetry of the Tang Dynasty

March 28, 2018

Stone Telling.com tells us, “Of the approximately 2,200 Tang poets, many were women, including China’s only female emperor, Empress Wu Zetian, but the works of female poets overall were not popular until the mid-to-late Tang Period (mid-700s A.D. to 907 A.D.), several generations after Empress Wu’s reign. At this time, women enjoyed more freedom than women of the following dynasties, especially those who were educated and of the upper class.”

One of Wu Zetian’s poems was about an imperial visit to a park.

Tomorrow morning I will make an outing to Shanglin Park,
With urgent haste I inform the spring:
Flowers must open their petals overnight,
Don’t wait for the morning wind to blow!

Song Zhi-wen, another Tang Dynasty poet, was found guilty of accepting bribes. In one of his poems he revealed that he had good reason to fear returning home from exile because when he did, he was executed.

Crossing the Han River
Song Zhi-wen (656 – 712 A.D.)

No news, no letters – all winter, all spring —
Beyond the mountains.
With every homeward step more timid still
I dare not even inquire of passerby.

Another example of Tang Dynasty poetry is The View in Spring by Du Fu (712 – 770 A.D.).

A kingdom smashed, its hills and rivers still here,
Spring in the city, plants and trees grow deep.
Moved by the moment, flowers splash with tears,
Alarmed at parting, birds startle the heart.
War’s beacon fires have gone on three months,
Letters from home are worth thousands in gold.
Fingers run through white hair until it thins,
Cap-pins will almost no longer hold.

(Owen, Stephen, trans. An Anthology of Chinese Literature: Beginnings to 1911. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1996, p. 420. )

The next poem is one of many that Yuan Zhen (779 – 831 A.D.) wrote for his dead wife, who he married when he was poor. She did not live long enough to share his fame and fortune.

In former years, we chatted carelessly of death and what it means
to die.
Since then, it’s passed before my very eyes.
I’ve given almost all your clothes away
But cannot bear to move your sewing things.
Remembering your past attachments, I’ve been kind to maids you
loved.
I’ve met your soul in dreams and ordered sutras sung.
Certainly, I know this sorrow comes to all
But to poor and lowly couples, everything life brings is sad.

The art of the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE) explored new possibilities in materials and styles. For instance, Tang Tri-colored Pottery thrived in the Tang Dynasty over 1300 years ago. Its glaze mainly features the three colors of yellow, green and white, but “tri-color” does not only refer to these three colors but many others.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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China’s Feminist Emperor Wu Zetian

March 27, 2018

Emperor Wu Zetian (624 – 705 AD) of the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 AD) ranks alongside Cleopatra—the last Pharaoh of Egypt, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Queen Isabella of Spain, Queen Elizabeth I of England, Catherine the Great, and the British Empire’s Queen Victoria.

We Zetian was the only woman in China’s history to become an emperor, and her rise to power and reign as an emperor has been unjustly and harshly criticized by Confucian historians. She is one of the most remarkable women in Chinese and world history.

The second and third emperors of the Tang Dynasty were her husbands and seventeen of the emperors that ruled after her second husband died were her children and their children.

Historical records claim Zetian was a stunning beauty and that because of this Emperor Gaozong was attracted to her, but some modern scholars think it was her intelligence that won him over.

The evidence speaks for itself. While she ruled the Tang Dynasty, the economy, culture, social and political affairs prospered. She was also a talented military leader who reformed the army. After the reforms, without leaving her palace, she managed military conflicts with rival states and defeated them, and under her leadership, the empire expanded and grew stronger. She promoted officials that earned the right through merit. There is no evidence of favoritism. In fact, officials convicted of failing in their duties to the people were punished and often beheaded.

Zetian clearly respected decisive men such as her Prime Minister De Renji, and she often talked about Li Shimin, her first husband, with respect.

She also did not rule as a tyrant. Before making decisions, she listened to all opinions on an issue. Modern historians have studied her ruling style, and the evidence reveals that her political decisions were wise ones.

During the fifty years that Zetian ruled the Tang Dynasty as Dowager Empress and then as an Emperor, China’s borders expanded north, south, and west, and she did not lose any of the territory gained.

She also wrote many books and collected art. In addition, she edited the Book of Agriculture that  influenced agricultural development during the Tang Dynasty.

The historical evidence also reveals that as an ancient feminist, she should have earned praise since she did a better job as Emperor than most of the men that ruled China during the Tang Dynasty.

It also helped that the Tang Dynasty was a time of relative freedom for women. Women did not bind their feet or lead submissive lives. Binding feet did not start until the Sung Dynasty (960 – 1279 AD).

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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Subscribe to my newsletter to hear about new releases and get a free copy of my award-winning, historical fiction short story “A Night at the Well of Purity”.

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There is a Sexual Revolution Taking Place in China.

November 28, 2017

A review of “Behind the Red Door” by Richard Burger
Review by Tom Carter

Among the many misimpressions westerners tend to have of China, sex as some kind of taboo topic here seems to be the most common, if not clichéd.  Forgetting for a moment that, owing to a population of 1.3 billion, somebody must be doing it, what most of us don’t seem to know is that, at several points throughout the millennia, China has been a society of extreme sexual openness.

And now, according to author Richard Burger’s new book Behind the Red Door, the Chinese are once again on the verge of a sexual revolution.

Best known for his knives-out commentary on The Peking Duck, one of China’s longest-running expat blogs, Burger takes a similar approach to surveying the subject of sex among the Sinae, leaving no explicit ivory carving unexamined, no raunchy ancient poetry unrecited, and, ahem, no miniskirt unturned.

Opening (metaphorically and literally) with an introduction about hymen restoration surgery, Burger delves dàndàn-deep into the olden days of Daoism, those prurient practitioners of free love who encouraged multiple sex partners as the ultimate co-joining of Yin and Yang.  Promiscuity, along with prostitution, flourished during the Tang Dynasty – recognized as China’s cultural zenith – which Burger’s research surmises is no mere coincidence.


In this video, “The sexual revolution in China is underway, but not without its contradictions. The ‘sexless China’ over three decades ago is long gone, but gays still enter sham marriages, some women have hymen restorations before their weddings, and some men have a second ‘wife’ or a mistress. In an interview with Xinhua, Richard Burger, author of ‘Behind the Red Door: Sex in China,’ explains the ongoing Chinese sexual revolution.”

Enter the Yuan Dynasty, and its conservative customs of Confucianism, whereby sex became regarded only “for the purpose of producing heirs.”  As much as we love to hate him, Mao Zedong is credited as single-handedly wiping out all those nasty neo-Confucius doctrines, including eliminating foot binding, forbidding spousal abuse, allowing divorce, banning prostitution (except, of course, for Party parties), and encouraging women to work.  But in typical fashion, laws were taken too far; within 20 years, China under Mao became a wholly androgynous state.

We then transition from China’s red past into the pink-lit present, whence prostitution is just a karaoke bar away, yet possession of pornography is punishable by imprisonment – despite the fact that millions of single Chinese men (called bare branches) will never have wives or even girlfriends due to gross gender imbalance.

Burger laudably also tackles the sex trade from a female’s perspective, including an interview with a housewife-turned-hair-salon hostess who, ironically, finds greater success with foreigners than with her own sex-starved albeit ageist countrymen.

Western dating practices among hip, urban Chinese are duly contrasted with traditional courtship conventions, though, when it comes down to settling down, Burger points out that the Chinese are still generally resistant to the idea that marriage can be based on love.  This topic naturally segues into the all-but-acceptable custom of kept women (little third), as well as homowives, those tens of millions of straight women trapped in passionless unions with closeted gay men out of filial piety.

Behind the Red Door concludes by stressing that while the Chinese remain a sexually open society at heart, contradictive policies (enforced by dubious statistics) designed to discard human desire are written into law yet seldom enforced, simply because “sexual contentment is seen as an important pacifier to keep society stable and harmonious.”

____________________________

Travel Photographer Tom Carter traveled for 2-years across the 33-provinces of China to show the diversity of Chinese people in  China: Portrait of a People, the most comprehensive photography book on modern China published by a single author.

This guest post by Tom Carter first appeared in China in City Weekend Magazine. Reblogged with permission of Tom Carter. Behind the Red Door was published by Earnshaw Books.

Tom Carter is married to a Chinese citizen, and he lives and works in China.


Earning Equality through Education

October 11, 2017

Prior to 1949, China faced a shocking literacy rate of 15 to 25 percent. But in the last 68 years, that has changed dramatically. In December 2014, The Globalist reported, “As of 2010, China’s literacy rate was just over 95 percent. … Among China’s youth, the literacy rate is 99.7 percent for young men and 99.6 percent for women.”

In addition, ICEF Monitor says, “Outside of the OECD countries, the trend toward more female students than males is also evident. In China and India, men still outnumber women in higher education, but not by much: women make up 48% of the university population in China and 42% in India.”

What’s driving these changes is explained by a teacher in China that tells her girl students, “You must matter. You must be independent.”

She said, “You don’t change overnight. It takes time. The ideas have to sink in.”

The students are schoolteachers from China’s rural areas. They have come to Beijing for workplace training and to learn more about themselves.

The rural teachers in this program study the Chinese Constitution to learn about their rights and responsibilities.

After all, men and women are considered equal under the law in China, but that doesn’t mean equality is automatic. It takes time to change the old ways of thinking and bring about real equality.

In fact, like women in the United States, women in China are often not paid the same as men for the same jobs.

One of the schoolteachers from rural China said, “You come to believe that you are not as good as men. But I hope when I return to my town that I will have the strength to stand up for myself.”

In October 2011, Chen Zhili, vice-chairperson of the National Congress Standing Committee and president of the All-China Women’s Federation, joined representatives from eleven other Asian and African countries and regions at a conference in Seoul, South Korea.  In her speech at the conference, she “emphasized the four concepts of education as a fundamental right; of education as a means to achieving gender equality and empowering women; of the health and social benefits to be gained from investing in women and girls’ education; and of the responsibility all state governments and international society bear in promoting gender equality.”

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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China’s Holistic Historical Timeline


How are women doing in China compared to the United States?

October 10, 2017

In 1949, Mao announced that women hold up half the sky. In one day they went from being the property of men to being equal. Sixty-eight years later, how are women doing in China?

China’s women make up 48.1 percent of the population, but Catalyst.org reports, “In 2016, only 17.5 percent of firms in China have women as top managers. … Less than one-quarter (24.2%) of all positions in China’s single-house parliament are held by women.”

When we isolate China and report these facts, China looks bad, doesn’t it?

But how does China compare to the United States when it comes to women reaching the top?

In the United Staets women make up 50.8 of the population.  American Progress.org says, “They are only 14.6 percent of executive officers, 8.1 percent of top earners, and 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs.” In addition, Rutgers.edu reports, “21 women (21%) serve in the United States Senate, and 84 women (19.3%) serve in the United States House of Representatives.”

The Harvard Business Review says, “In the decades since Deng Xiaoping instituted market reform, millions of women have profitably followed Deng’s dictate that “to get rich is glorious.”

Quartz.com tells us “No country comes even close to China in self-made female billionaires.” China has 56 self-made female billionaires; The United States only has 15. China has almost four times as many self-make female billionaires.

Discover Wu Zetian, China’s only female emperor

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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Subscribe to my newsletter to hear about new releases and get a free copy of my award-winning, historical fiction short story “A Night at the Well of Purity”.

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China’s Holistic Historical Timeline


Women’s Rights in China Today

October 4, 2017

Dramatic changes in women’s rights have been achieved in China where for millennia women were stereotyped as inferior to men, had no rights and served as slaves, concubines, and prostitutes. Marriages were arranged as early as infancy.

In 1949, foot binding was abolished, and the All-China Women’s Federation (ACWF) was formed and supported by China’s Communist Party (CCP).  After the CCP won the long Civil War, it took less than a year to liberate women and bring an end to everything mentioned in the first paragraph.

At the 10th National Women’s Congress in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, in 2008, Deputy-Chairwoman HuangQingyi said, “Sex discrimination in employment should be eradicated and the income gap between men and women should be further narrowed.”

It has also been reported that domestic violence is a severe threat to women. Chinese authorities reported fifty-thousand complaints annually, according to figures released by the ACWF. The domestic violence fact sheet shows this is also a problem in the United States. And it doesn’t help that the Trump administration in the U.S. has backed away from supporting rape victims and is supporting alleged rapists instead.

Sexual discrimination was supposed to have been abolished in China back in 1949, when Chairman Mao Zedong famously announced, “women hold up half the sky”, but it wasn’t. It has only been a few years since China outlawed sexual harassment.


Imagine this happening in China before 1949.

Laws may be passed to bring about change but changing a culture happens much slower.

>Discover Anna May Wong, the American actress who died a thousand times.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

Where to Buy

Subscribe to my newsletter to hear about new releases and get a free copy of my award-winning, historical fiction short story “A Night at the Well of Purity”.

About iLook China

China’s Holistic Historical Timeline