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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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 Brief History of New Year Celebrations

December 28, 2016

The earliest recorded festivities in honor of a new year’s arrival dates back some 4,000 years to ancient Babylon. For the Babylonians, the first new moon following the vernal equinox, a day in late March with an equal amount of sunlight and darkness, and this ushered in the beginning of a new year.

If the first recorded New Year’s celebration was in March, how did it move to January 1st?

The answer to that question may be found at History.com where we discover that Emperor Julius Cesar introduced the Julian calendar in 46 BC, and it closely resembled the more modern Gregorian calendar that most countries use today. In addition, Cesar made January 1st the first day of the year, partly to honor the month’s namesake, Janus, the Roman god of beginnings.

Therefore, if you celebrate the New Year on January 1st, you are celebrating a pagan holiday. But all is not lost. Later, after the fall of the Roman Empire, Christian leaders in medieval Europe during the Dark Ages replaced January 1st as the first day of the year with days carrying more religious significance such as December 25, the anniversary of Jesus’s birth, and that lasted until Pope Gregory XIII (AD 1502 – 1585) reestablished January 1st as New Year’s Day in 1582.


Countries that do NOT celebrate the New Year on the first of January

For China, the first day of the New Year falls between January 21 and February 20.  The Chinese New Year is celebrated at the turn of the Chinese calendar, also known as the Spring Festival.

The Chinese New Year gained significance because of several myths and traditions. History.com reports the ancient Chinese calendar, on which the Chinese New Year is based, functioned as a religious, dynastic and social guide. Oracle bones inscribed with astronomical records indicate that it existed as early as the 14th century BC, during the Shang Dynasty.

Traditionally, the festival was a time to honor deities (gods) as well as ancestors. The Chinese New Year is celebrated in countries and territories that have significant Chinese populations, including Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mauritius, and the Philippines.

In 2015, China witnessed 261 million people on the move to celebrate the Lunar New Year holiday, and they traveled by road, rail and air—all over a short period of time. The Chinese Lunar New Year for 2016 takes place on Monday, February 8, and it is a national holiday that runs from February 7 – 13. If you are curious and want to see what it looks like in China when all those people are on the road at the same time, the International Business Times has a great photo spread to scroll through.

When we visited China in 2008 during this incredibly crowded holiday for travelers, the Lunar New Year was on February 7, the Year of the Rat. In 2017 it will be the Year of the Rooster on January 28th. Each year is related to an animal sign according to a 12-year-cycle.

Back during the Year of the Rat in 2008, it was so crowded when we were traveling in China, that it felt as if we were swimming upriver through an ocean filled with people and no water.

For readers who haven’t been to China and want to visit one day, this may be your only chance to experience a taste of what it’s like to live in a country with more than 1.3 billion people. By the way, 261 million people is more than 80% of the population of the United States. Imagine the gridlock if that many Americans took to the roads and air all at the same time.

 
2015 Lunar New Year in Shanghai, China

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 sold porcelain, tea, and silk to the West; the West forced Opium on China

December 14, 2016

Chinese porcelain originated in the Shang Dynasty (16th century BC), and Jingdezhen in Jiangxi province is a well-known Chinese city where porcelain has been an important production center in China since the early Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD).

Caravans carried China’s famous porcelains west: ceramic lusterware, lacquerware, snow-white vases, bowls, glasses, and dishes with sophisticated patterns. Only the Chinese knew the secret of making the thinnest and resonant porcelain, making it very expensive in European markets. Silk Road Encyclopedia.com and Gotheborg.com

Chinese porcelain was also available in the American colonies as early as the 17th century, but it did not become commonplace until after 1730. Before the U.S. Revolution, porcelain was exported to the colonies mainly by English and Dutch traders. European traders sailed to Canton (Guangzhou) in southern China, exchanged their goods (mostly opium) for Chinese products, and then returned to sell porcelain and other Chinese imports on the European and colonial markets. In addition to porcelain, teas, and silks were also exported from China in large quantities. Mount Vernon.org

Early American Trade With China says, “The demand for Chinese products: tea, porcelain, silk, and nankeen (a coarse, strong cotton cloth), continued after the U.S. Revolution. Having seen the British make great profits from the trade when the colonies were prevented from direct trade with China, Americans were eager to secure these profits for themselves.”

This hunger for Chinese products, while the Chinese found little in the West to buy, led to the Opium Wars, which Britain and France started, and won, to force China to even the trade imbalance.

China continued to sell the West silk, porcelain. and tea, while the West sold opium to China even though China’s emperors did not want the opium trade.

Discover China’s First Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi, the man that unified China more than 2,000 years ago.

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 Golden Age of Verse

December 13, 2016

The Golden Age of Poetry in China was during the Tang Dynasty (618 – 906 AD).  One book of Chinese Love Poetry edited by Jane Portal (© 2004) was published by Barnes & Noble Books (ISBN 0-7607-4833-0).

Most people outside of China don’t think of love poems when they think of China. However, there has to be a reason for more than 1.3 billion people, other than the Great Wall of China, the Pacific Ocean and the Himalayan Mountains that helped shelter China from global wars and invasions that rocked the rest of the world for centuries until the West invaded China during the 19th century Opium Wars to force, if possible, a different set of values on China’s collective culture.

For poetry lovers, China’s love poetry imparts a sense of the private passion that beats in the Chinese heart. The three arts of poetry, calligraphy and painting, the Triple Excellence, are represented on the pages of the book Jane Portal edited.

As you can see, the Chinese are a passionate people; they just don’t dramatize these passions publicly as many Westerners do.

The following poem by Du Mu (803 – 852 AD) is an English translation.

Deeply in love, but tonight
we seem to be passionless;
I just feel, before our last cup of wine
a smile will not come.
The wax candle has sympathy ­­–
weeps at our separation:
Its tears for us keep rolling down
till day breaks.

Discover Wu Zetian, China’s only female emperor, who ruled during the Tang Dyansty.

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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The Story of Stone and China’s Star Crossed Lovers.

October 12, 2016

The Dream of the Red Chamber (also known as The Story of Stone) is generally considered one of the four greatest Chinese classical novels. The story is so popular in China that it has had several versions and translations and was made into a TV series.

The author, Tsao Hsueh-chin (1715-1763) came from a powerful and wealthy family and lived a privileged life as a child in Nanjing. Later, he became poor and struggled to survive. Going from wealth to poverty provided him with the necessary experiences to write this tragic story.

Although this novel (English translation available on Amazon in addition to a film selection) has great literary merit on many levels, readers might have difficulty keeping the characters straight, because there are more than four hundred characters and almost thirty are major ones.

Nevertheless, readers and students of Chinese history and culture should read this book to develop a better understanding of Imperial China during the Ch’ing Dynasty. The novel paints a vivid portrait of a corrupt feudal society on the verge of the capitalist, market economy we see flourishing in China today.

Another plot is the Romeo and Juliet love story between Chia Pao-yu and Lin Tai-yu, who, like Romeo and Juliet, wanted to be free to marry anyone they desired.

CliffsNotes has also covered Dream of the Red Chamber.

Discover China’s First Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi, the man that unified China more than 2,000 years ago.

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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The Peasant Cult that Defeated the Yuan Dynasty

October 11, 2016

Religions, as Christians, Jews and Muslims practice them, have seldom played a major role in Chinese Culture and Politics. Even today, more than 800 million Chinese say they don’t belong to any religion and the largest religion in China is Buddhism with about 10% of the population.  Even during Imperial times, most members of government didn’t belong to organized religions. The same is true today with the Chinese Communist Party.

China’s struggle with pagan cults (for instance, the White Lotus Society) stretches back almost a thousand years. The White Lotus Society appealed to poor Han Chinese peasants and more so to women, who found peace in worshiping the Eternal Mother, Wusheng Laomu. It was believed that this Eternal Mother would gather all her children at the millennium into one family.

White Lotus Societies started out seeking tranquility through a combination of Buddhism with some elements of Daoism (Taoism) and other native Chinese religions. Even in the 12th century, the Yuan Dynasty was distrustful of the Yellow Lotus Society, which didn’t fit comfortably with Confucianism.

Persecution of the White Lotus Society started during the Mongol Yuan Dynasty (1271 – 1368 AD), the first dynasty that was not led by the Han Chinese. Due to this, the White Lotus Society changed from one of peace and tranquility and organized protests to violence against the Mongol rulers.

Since Yuan Imperial authorities distrusted the White Lotus Society, the Dynasty banned them, and the White Lotus went underground.  The White Lotus predicted that a messianic, Christ like figure would come and save them from persecution. That man was Zhu Yuanzhang, a Buddhist monk.

The White Lotus led revolution started in 1352 near Guangzhou before Zhu Yuanzhang joined the rebellion. But soon, he became the leader by forbidding his soldiers to pillage in observance of White Lotus religious beliefs.

By 1355, the rebellion had spread through much of China. In 1356, Zhu Yuanzhang captured Nanjing and made it his capital. Then Confucian scholars issued pronouncements supporting Zhu’s claim of the Mandate of Heaven, the first step toward establishing a new dynasty.

Zhu Yuanzhang liberated China from the Mongols and became the founding Emperor of the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1643). Known as the Hongwu emperor, he was cruel, suspicious, and irrational, behavior that grew worse as he aged.

Discover Wu Zetian, China’s only female emperor

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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