Posts Tagged ‘History’

The Sphinx: Didn’t the Egyptians think to Trademark it in China?

China's fake Great Sphinx of Giza, in Hebei province, close to Beijing

China’s fake Great Sphinx of Giza, in Hebei province, close to Beijing

 

China has been investing large sums into Africa to take advantage of the continent’s vast natural resources and build diplomacy. In 2012 alone, China dropped $27.7 billion between Cairo and Capetown and is showing no signs of slowing down. But even with China bringing all sorts of new infrastructure, mobile networks, sports stadiums and more productive farming to the continent, one country that isn’t looking too fondly on the Middle Kingdom is Egypt.

 

Egypt’s tourism industry, which accounts for 40% of the country’s non-commodity exports and is one its main employers, stands to benefit significantly from the rise of Chinese outbound tourism.  With 200 million Chinese expected to travel abroad in 2017, once Egypt settles a little, big-spending Chinese tourists will come flooding in.  So it is in Egypt’s best interests to keep China on side, but a couple of recent incidents by Chinese nationals will certainly be testing their patience.

 

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WTF Hangzhou?

In the sky there is heaven, on earth there is Hangzhou, so the old Chinese saying goes. Steeped in history, Hangzhou was one of Seven Ancient Capitals of China, reining as capital of the Wuyue Kingdom from 907 to 978. Today it’s a prosperous city of more than 6 million people, spoilt with its picturesque West Lake, countless parks, and surrounding lush hills and mountains. It’s less than a one-hour fast train ride from the concrete grit of Shanghai, but a world away. It’s hard not to feel at ease amongst the peace and tranquility of one of China’s most famous lakes.

 

Hangzhou's beautiful West Lake

Hangzhou’s beautiful West Lake

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Art and Culture – China’s Missing Link?

With a history spanning 5,000 years, China is rich with cultural and artistic treasures – albeit not nearly as wealthy as it should be.

 

There’s no arts and culture killjoy quite like a Cultural Revolution. In just 10 years from 1966-1976, innumerable works of splendid art, antiques, architecture, books and paintings spanning millennia were destroyed by Red Guards. Countless Chinese artists were persecuted and people were encouraged to criticise their cultural institutions. Arts students, or any students for that matter, were shifted en masse from their universities, to raise pigs and grow grain in rural labour camps.

 

Chinese art and culture propaganda

Chinese Propaganda from 1967 translated to "Destroy the old world; Forge the new world." The worker is destroying classical Chinese text, music on vinyl, a crucifix and buddha.

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Datong, China: Diamond in the Coal

Suggest a weekend of travelling to Datong and almost every Chinese man will screw up his face. Ye Dirty Olde Coal Town is officially China’s 4th most polluted city and is just down the road from the world’s most polluted, Linfen 7VFQXJHKFEKP. But with a history spanning 22 centuries, including two as the capital of the Northern Wei Dynasty, there is much more to Shanxi Province’s City of Coal than soot-swathed buildings. There’s a 1,500 year-old temple that hangs from a cliff face, China’s oldest and tallest wooden structure and caves chock-full of tens of thousands of ancient Buddha statues – some rivalling even those on the banks of the River Nile for scale and awe.

 

Datong sprawls across a coal-rich basin surrounded on three sides by golden-coloured mountains. The settlement was founded around 200BC and grew as a thriving pit stop for camel caravans transporting their wares north to Mongolia. At its peak as the capital of the Northern Wei Dynasty from 366-494, Datong saw many labourers construct some of China’s most magnificent sites.

 

Xuan Kong Si Hanging Temple, Datong, Shanxi Province, China

The gravity-defying Xuan Kong Si Temple 'hanging' from a cliff 17-stories up

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The Best Book on China I’ve Read in a Long Time

There’s a new book in town: China Expat’s A Decade of Writing 2001–2011.

 

Squeezed into 228 pages are a collection of articles from the boys at China Expat, to celebrate 10 years since they began demystifying this fascinating land of China.

 

China Expat’s book is a must-read for anyone curious about China, planning to visit, do business or live in China; in addition to any seasoned Chinese expatriate. I think Chinese locals would get a kick out of it too! Remarkably, it’s absolutely free!

 

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Rugby in China: The Chinese team will be playing in the 2019 Rugby World Cup

In less than 20 days, New Zealand will be overrun with striped jerseys and empty beer vessels as the rugby world converges for the third largest sporting event on the planet, the Rugby World Cup

 

20 nations will be competing for rugby supremacy in the Nile River of rugby tournaments.  Yet in China, the world’s most populous nation, the dedicated following of the rugby will be limited to a few smoky expat bars and a handful of committed Chinese rugby heads (most of whom will be supporting the All Blacks)

 

Chinese rugby fans of the All Blacks in the Rugby World Cup. Click here if you’re in China where You Tube Videos are blocked 中国橄榄球的人

 

Rugby: Banned by the Chinese Government

Rugby was once like a Class A drug in China, the bad boy of sports that was banned by the PRC National Sports Council who deemed “the meeting of sullied bodies in physical contact cannot be approved”.

 

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Yangtze vs Nile – Which river runs supreme?

I’ve lived beside four rivers in my life.  As a youngster, Wellington’s mighty Hutt River was my favourite spot for sitting in inner tubes and doing ‘bombs’ into.  Then there was Dublin’s River Liffey, the resting place of more pint glasses than any other river in the world.   Preparing for our paddle down the Blue Nile, I lived in Khartoum, Sudan where the Blue Nile and White Nile meet.  It was there I caught the bug for the world’s longest river.

 

Since moving to Shanghai on banks of the Yangtze River Delta, my fascination with rivers hasn’t tempered and I’ve become curious about how two of the world’s greatest rivers compare.

 

Yangtze River Compared to the Nile River

China’s enchanting Yangtze River and Africa’s magical Nile River

 

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Dogs in China – Designer or Dinner?

Do the Chinese eat dogs? It’s one of the most popular Chinese-related searches on Google, and for 2,500 years, Chinese people have munched away on dog meat. But these days its only common in a few areas in the south … and on Chinese spacecrafts.  Yep, dog meat was on the menu for the Chinese astronauts who orbited the planet in 2003. Was it served in toothpaste tubes?

 

In most Chinese cities you won’t see many Lassie kebabs smoking away street-side. To the contrary. There are now close to 50 organisations bursting with dog-loving Chinese dedicated to halting the culinary custom. Earlier this year dog enthusiasts blocked a highway in eastern Beijing in a bid to rescue hundreds of dogs being trucked to local restaurants.  Five hours of negotiations ended when the enthusiasts bought the dogs for US$17,000. Many of the dogs were wearing collars and tags and had obviously been dog-napped.

 

There’s also talk of Government legislation outlawing dog for dinner, however that is likely to be as ineffective as their anti-smoking laws.

 

These days in China you’ll see a lot more manicured poodles than braised beagles. It seems for the growing middle class who can’t yet afford the bright orange Lamborghini, the designer pooch is the accessory of choice.

Cute toy dog wearing shoes and a bib

One of China's designer dogs wearing shoes

 

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The Modern Great Wall Of China

The Great Wall of China rightfully earns a place on every Top-20 must-see lists of world sites. Its scale is simply jaw-dropping, straddling jagged mountain ridges and deserts 6,259.6 kilometres (3889.5 miles) across China. What strikes me is the stark contrast of its humble design versus flashy modern Chinese bling architecture.

 

The simplicity of the Great Wall, like much of China’s ancient and medieveal architecture, is representative of the endearing humbleness of Chinese culture.  Similar periods of architecture from other parts of world are much more ornate and grandiose.  But as China rediscovers itself, it’s creating the most showy, shiny and shameless buildings on the planet.  Some are simply beautiful examples of how far engineering has come such as the Bird’s Nest Stadium, Opera House and modern-day cryptic Arche de Triomphe CCTV buildings in Beijing, the Shanghai Financial Centre and under-construction Shanghai Tower, but there are also many shiny, pillared, faux gold monstrosities and countless constructions straight from a Jetsons cartoon.  It makes for interesting cityscapes.

 

The fascinating metamorphosis of Chinese architecture had me wondering just how the Great Wall of China might look if it was constructed in 2011.

 

How the Great Wall of China could look if it was built today

How the Great Wall of China could look today if it had been constructed in 2011 incorporating modern Chinese architecture

 

The first sections of China’s Great Wall date back to the fifth century BC, with various dynasties adding to and maintaining it until the 16th century.  Over that time, tens of millons of workers moved 240 million cubic metres (8.5 billion cubic feet) of compacted rocks and soil, then bricks and stone slabs, mostly by the Chinese-invented wheel barrow.  Much of The Wall was held together by mortar made from rice flour, and some say, the bones of some of the million workers estimated to have died building it.

 

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Bicycles and other traffic in China

In days gone by, talk of China would conjure up sepia images of streets crowded with men on bicycles. Times have changed.

 

During the swinging 60’s and 70’s, the must-have items for a marriage in China were a wrist watch, sewing machine and bicycle. Now there are cheap rip-off watches everywhere, someone else does the sewing and almost everyone wants an automobile. Yes, the monarchy of the ‘Kingdom of Bicycles’ has been overthrown.

 

 

chinese-bike-lane-street

Push bikes are gathering dust in China as the locals opt for cars.

 

Back in 1949 when The People’s Republic of China was formed, the party in Beijing opted for the bicycle as the people’s vehicle and started a massive production drive, making two wheels and a chain a big part of their first Five-Year plan. Pedal power took off.

 

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The pecularities of eating in China

Who could possibly like green tea flavoured toothpaste? The Chinese it seems. On more than one occasion I have been wooed with different shades minty green and slogans such as “fresh blast” and “nature burst” only to discover my molars overrun with the bitter sensation of guey dried leaves.

 

chinese-toothpaste

A couple of Chinese tooth paste choices - the green tea-flavoured variety.

 

How does pea-flavoured icecream sound?

 

I enjoy sipping a cup of green tea or a few peas with my mash, but I have to admit in my closed-minded western opinion, there’s a time and a place.

 

I cannot think of a time or a place anywhere in the world where I have found tastes more contradictory to my culinary instincts than in China.

 

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Here’s to the Year of the Rabbit!

Every year it comes with blasts of gunpowder, steamed dumplings and red envelopes. Chinese New Year or Chūn Jié (Spring Festival) as it is known in China is The celebration on the Chinese calendar. Think Christmas, New Years Eve and Thanks Giving all mashed into 15 days of festivities. Fireworks bang, red oval lanterns hang and red cut-outs are plastered everywhere; symbolic of happiness, longevity and wealth.

 

 

During the Chinese New Year Festival it’s obligatory to be with your nearest and dearest, so every year sees hundreds of millions of Chinese return to their hometowns and villages. It’s when the city folk really appreciate the migrant workers doing menial jobs to keep the cities ticking over, because things slow right down once they’re gone. They’ll leave by train, bus, car, motorbike, boat, bike, horse, plane, whatever. It is the largest human migration on the planet, by far.

 

Over the festival, around 2.6 billion trips are made. That stretches China’s extensive transport networks to breaking point. For most Chinese, train travel is the mode of choice – it’s safer than planes and the roads are congested and less comfortable. But the finite capacity means only about 12% of trips during the festival period are on tracks.

 

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Who said China was a-changing?

When I was a youngster, China really scared me. I’d been told if everyone in China all jumped at the same time, the whole world would wobble. Although there hasn’t been a coordinated hop, China is without doubt, shaking up the balance of the world.

 

Curiosity has drawn Ellen and me to get in amongst China during this fascinating time in history. I was lucky enough to be working for an Internet company in North America during the dot-com boom, Ireland when the Celtic Tiger was roaring and New Zealand when microwave ovens were introduced, but nowhere has the rate of change been more apparent than in the Middle Kingdom.  This is the biggest boom in history.

 

The rate of change for almost everything in China is staggering; incomes (almost 300% since 2000), car sales (32% last year), the market for art (25% last year), number of billionaires (57% last year).  Even more impressive is the scale of it all – the rates are measured across 1.3 billion people!  And although developing countries have a low starting point to measure growth from, significant tracts of China are long past the ‘developing’ stage.  Shanghai, for example, now has a higher average GDP than parts of southern Europe.

 

suburban_beijing

View northwest to the suburbs of Beijing. This is not downtown, but the burbs, where shiny towers are popping up everywhere



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My wife Ellen and I are currently living in China, bumbling our way around this fascinating and fast-changing country. We kicked off our stay with a semester of Intensive Mandarin studies at Beijing Language and Culture University and are now living in Shanghai. These posts cover some of my experiences, views and curious facts in and around the Middle Kingdom. Please let me know what you think!


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