Table of ContentsMythology in ChinaBonsai TreesCantonese OperaChang'anArtFolk ReligionChinese FoodHolidays in ChinaLegalismLiteratureMartial ArtsMusicPaintingPaper CuttingShadow TheaterTeaYo-YoCommunist Party of ChinaConfucianismDaoismEthnic MinoritiesFeng ShuiFireworksFour OccupationsGrand CanalGuan YinHua MulanHundred Flowers MovementHundred Schools of ThoughtI ChingJiang QingJourney to the WestMahjongMandate of HeavenOne-China PolicyPai GowQin Shi HuangRomance of the Three KingdomsSeven Sages of the Bamboo GroveShanghai SolitaireTechnology in ChinaThe Liberation of TibetThe 2008 Olympic GamesChinese Space ProgramThe Dream of the Red ChamberThe Eight ImmortalsThe Forbidden CityThe Four OldsThe Great Wall of ChinaThe May Fourth MovementThe People's Republic of ChinaThe Plumb in the Golden VaseThe Silk RoadTibetWoodblock PrintingYunan Rectification MovementZhang Heng
Mythology in China
Chinese mythology contains a number of folktales, stories, and other legends. Like most mythologies, it contains a number of creation myths, a flood story, and a large number of gods, goddesses, demi-gods, and mortal champions. Some stories are believed to be based on actual historical events, while others are purely allegorical.
Chinese historians have tracked many Chinese myths back to the twelfth century BC, where they were passed down orally for years before being written. The earliest written myths found were in Shui Jing Zhu and Shan Hai Jing, two very early written manuscripts. Another, the Hei’an Zhuan, contains legends from the Han. Imperial records also contain some myths and legends. However, many Chinese myths continued being passed down orally, whether by word of mouth or in song, before being written down either as short stories or being used as the basis for novels.
Most cultures develop creation myths early on, but the Chinese did not. In fact, they had no creation myth until after Taoism and Confucianism appeared. Like in most cultures, though, they have several different versions of how humans were created. Some myths say Shangdi created humans, while others give credit to Nuwa, who supposedly created man with her husband, Fuxi. Pangu, a deity first described by Xu Zheng around 200 AD, is also given the title of creator.
Early Rulers of China
Myths state that early China was ruled by legendary or even god-like emperors. This time, known as the Three August Ones and Five Emperors Period, was from 2850 BC to around 2200 BC, when the Xia dynasty was established. The names of the august ones and emperors vary. While the august ones are sometimes said to be immortal or at least godly, the five emperors are usually listed as mortal, although their reigns were very peaceful and they themselves are usually considered enlightened.
The Chinese Great Flood
As in many mythologies, the Chinese have a flood story. During this time, the Yellow River was known to flood, destroying much of the land. The Huaxia tribe, which lived near the river, placed Gun in charge of controlling the flood. When he failed, he was executed and his son, Yu the Great, put in charge. Yu finally solved the flooding problem, becoming the savior of his tribe and, after the chief died, its leader. While this flood story isn’t on the same scale as those in other myths, the basic concept is the same.
After Yu died, stories vary on who he selected as his successor. Some say it was his son, Qi. Other stories say it was his deputy’s son, Bo Yi. Most scholars accept Bo Yi as his successor. Bo Yi taught his people many things, but while he had the title of successor, Yu actually gave more of the true responsibility to his son. After a few years, his son Qi was more popular than Bo Yi, who had run out of inventions and new ideas. Qi was then named successor. Bo Yi and Qi struggled for the title, with Qi winning. This directly lead to the Xia dynasty. The entire Xia dynasty is often considered at least somewhat mythological, although the Records of the Grand Historian does list 17 rulers of the dynasty. Still, no real archeological evidence has been found to support the records.
The Chinese Pantheon
Heaven, hell, and earth are all under the control of the Jade Emperor, one of the most powerful Chinese gods. He has a host of heavenly assistants and ministers to help him in his endeavors. He also rewards the just and punishes the wicked. With the introduction of Buddhism, the Jade Emperor was made to be less powerful than Buddha (as show in Journey to the West, when the Jade Emperor must call on Buddha to restrain Wukong the Monkey King).
Dragons play a large part in Chinese mythology, and many are considered to be divine, although not all work for the Jade Emperor or obey his commands. Dragons are associated with water and rivers, and one myth tells of how four dragons created the four great rivers of China. Dragons also bring the rain, and many pray to Ying Long, the dragon god of rain, during droughts.
Mythology and the Various Chinese Religions
Chinese mythology has adapted and influenced beliefs from Confucianism, Buddhism, Legalism, and Taoism. Taoism, a belief founded in China, incorporates some mythology into it, while Buddhism, a belief from India, has influenced mythology. The Taoist idea of a paradise Heaven where the gods lived became part of the Jade Emperor’s myths, while the idea of punishment and reward was taken as the focal point of Legalism.
The art of growing Bonsai trees, or miniature trees, is often referred to by its Japanese name, but it actually began during the Han dynasty in China. The word “bonsai” is how the Japanese pronounce “penzai,” the Chinese word for the art. Today, most people, especially those in the West, use bonsai to mean any small tree or plant grown in containers.
The earliest records of Bonzai are from the Han dynasty, although the art form could have originated earlier than that. Bonzai spread to Japan, Korea, and other parts of Asia once China began trading with these other cultures. In Japan, especially, the small trees were grown to decorate gardens and homes. In 1300, a Japanese poem first outlines the main principles of growing bonsai, some of which came from China, some of which the Japanese created. The current oldest growing bonsai are in Tokyo. The small trees in this garden are between 400 and 800 years old.
One interesting fact about bonsai is that they are not dwarf plants. Instead, you can grow a bonsai from any tree or shrub by placing it in a small pot and pruning the roots and crown. Some species do work better for bonsai than others, however. Improper pruning can kill the trees, though, so you must be very careful when growing bonsai.
To shape bonsai, aluminum or copper wire is wrapped around the branches. Once the branches lignify, or become solid, the wire can be removed. Bonsai cultivators also use techniques called jin and shari to make bonsai look older than what they really are. Jin involves removing a full branch to make the tree look like a limb has snapped off. Shari is the removing of bark to make the tree look like it’s been scarred from lightning or weather.
It’s very important to correctly water your bonsai as well since the pot is quite small and can’t hold that much water. On the other hand, bonsai can have too much water. It mostly depends on what kind of bonsai you are growing. Some need more water than others.
Generally, bonsai are first grown in boxes made from wooden slats. Here, the roots are able to grow better, which makes the tree sturdier and stronger. After this, the bonsai is transplanted into a smaller box that makes the roots denser. The bonsai is then moved to its presentation pot for further growth and display.
Bonsai also need to be repotted on a regular basis, usually when their roots are pruned. If the bonsai has a dormant period, that is when it should be repotted. Bonsai are repotted more often while they are still developing so they don’t become pot-bound and so that new feeder roots grow. These feeder roots help the bonsai absorb water more efficiently.
Soil, Tools, and Pots
Bonsai practitioners don’t always agree on what soil and fertilizer to use. Many will use only organic fertilizers, while others see no problem with chemical bases ones. Generally, most agree that you should use fertilizer in small doses. For soil, most bonsai practitioners use loose soil often mixed with sand, gravel, or pellets. Again, much depends on what kind of tree or shrub is being grown.
As far as tools go, there are special clippers and cutters designed especially for bonsai shaping. Special pruning tools are almost a necessity since many are designed to remove branches without leaving stubs. Wire pliers for bending the shaping wire and various other types of sheers are also useful.
Bonsai pots generally have small drainage holes on the bottom covered with mesh to keep soil from falling out of the bottom. The pots can be of any shape, size, or color, although they are generally kept small. Some containers made by famous bonsai pot makers are high sought after, but any container will do.
Many keep their bonsai outdoors all year round, but this is only really practical in temperate climates. Many bonsai go into dormancy during the winter, although not all do. Some people also choose to keep their bonsai indoors near a sunny window.
Indoor bonsai are generally cultivated specifically to be kept indoors. The traditional bonsai that are cultivated to live outdoors often die if kept inside for too long. However, there are some bonsai that are too sensitive to the cold to be kept outside during the winter. The best type of bonsai to cultivate for indoor growth is those that are drought-resistant.
Styles of Bonsai
There are several different styles of bonsai that are named after the way the main trunk grows. In the formal upright style, the bonsai has a straight, tapering trunk. There are no bends or curves like there are in the informal upright style.
In the slant style, the trunk grows at a slant from the soil, placing the top point of the bonsai off to one side of the root base. Then there’s the cascade style of bonsai. This style mimics the way trees grow over water or on mountain sides. Often, the top of the tree actually extends beneath the bonsai pot.
In the raft style, the bonsai is crafted to resemble a tree that has fallen on its side. The branches grow as if they’re a group of trunks, making it look almost like the pot has several bonsai growing in it. The broom style of bonsai features branches that stick out in all directions, making the tree look like a broom that has been flattened on the ground. Contrarily, the literati style of bonsai is simply a bare trunk with very few branches on it.
Cantonese opera is the well-known form of opera from the Cantonese culture in China. It’s quite popular in southern China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Singapore. Cantonese opera combines several different traditional Chinese art forms, including acting, singing, music, acrobatics, and martial arts.
While there are many similarities between Cantonese opera and traditional Chinese theatre, there are some differences, such as the higher focus on martial arts and acrobatics. Many of the plot lines of Cantonese operas are based on historical events, myths, and the classical Chinese stories. Performers are trained in what are called the four skills and the five methods of acting and singing in Cantonese opera, each of which teaches the performers different ways of using their bodies and voices to create a character.
History of Cantonese Opera
No one is quite certain when or where Cantonese opera was created, but most historians do agree that it was based on the operas performed in northern China. These operas made their way to the south where, in the late Southern Song dynasty, they inspired the Nanxi, or southern dramas. These operas were reinforced when members of northern opera troops, fleeing the Mongols, moved to the south in 1276. All performers were men until the 20th century, when women began performing in Cantonese opera. While there are new operas being written, many of the most well-known and most-performed were written during the Yuan dynasty.
Cantonese opera is more than just a type of entertainment. The stories often include messages or moral themes. These came from the fact that the government often commissioned operas and other public forms of entertainment to help education the public before a formal education system was put in place. Opera was also used to promote the idea of loyalty to the empire and its ruler. If the imperial officials felt that an opera presented a message that went against these themes, they would have it banned.
There are two different styles of types of Cantonese operas. The first is Mou, which focused on martial arts and acrobatics. Most of these operas are about wars, generals, and action. The Man operas, on the other hand, were more focused on scholars, slow, elegant actions, and on characters rather than action.
Cantonese opera used a variety of different instruments, including the erhu (two-stringed fiddle), guitars, conga drums, and saxophones. Today’s operas combine traditional instruments like the yehu and the pipa with more modern pieces. Generally, instruments are divided into percussion and melody sections.
Likewise, Cantonese operas are divided into theatrical plays and singing plays. This defines the music. The singing plays are almost always composed of Western style music, while the theatrical plays are more Chinese in their origins. Lyrics are written for each of the plays, but a song may contain more than one melody. This allows the performers to add their own style to each piece they are in.
Costumes, Makeup, and Hair
The costumes changed with the theme and time period of the opera. The Man costumes featured long, flowing sleeves that attached to the sides or chest. These costumes indicated the rank and statue of the characters. Those with lower status wore simpler costumes, while the higher ranked individuals wore very elaborate outfits.
Getting into makeup is quite a long process for each performer. The most common makeup scheme consists of a foundation of white makeup with red highlights around the eyes. Red lipstick is also often used. Each role has a unique style of makeup associated with it. The clown or jester character always has a white spot in the center of his face. A character with an illness has a red line drawn between his eyebrows. These visual clues make it easy to identify the characters on the state.
Like the makeup and outfits, hats and other headgear also helped the audience know the age, social status, and profession of the characters. Officials wore black hats, while generals are usually seen with helmets featuring pheasant feathers. Kings, of course, wear crowns. A character often removes his or her hat when they are tired or surrendering.
Spoken and sung lyrics are markedly distinct in Cantonese opera. Speech is either nearly identical to spoke Cantonese or is spoken very smoothly. The latter is generally done with a character is reciting poetry or has musical accompaniment.
Cantonese Opera in Hong Kong
The Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts began working with the Cantonese Artists Association of Hong Kong to offer a Cantonese opera certificate course in 1998. They expanded this to a full two-year diploma program in 1999 in order to better train professional opera performers. An advanced course in opera is planned for the 2009 academic year.
Chang’an has played an important role in Chinese history. As the capital city of more than ten different dynasties, many major events have happened in the city. Chang’an means “Perpetual Peace” in Chinese, and while the city has been mostly peaceful, it has also seen a number of wars. Since the Ming dynasty the city has been called Xi’an, a name that translates to “Western Peace.” The tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huang of the Qin dynasty, with its massive Terracotta Army, is located near the city.
Chinese have lived in or around Chang’an since the Neolithic times. The Yangshao Culture is believed to have been the first group to settle in the area. The Qin later ruled the country from their capital of Xianyang, a city located very near present-day Xi’an. Later, the Han would settle in Chang’an, which was located a bit northwest of Xi’an. Still later, the Tang dynasty would rule from a larger Chang’an, rolling a number of smaller suburbs into the city. This city was actually eight times as large as the Ming city of Xi’an.
At its height, Chang’an was one of the most populous and largest of cities not only in China but also the world. In fact, records from 750 AD estimate that nearly a million people lived in the city. The New Book of Tang census from 742 lists over 350,000 families as living within the city walls and the suburbs.
The Han also had their capital located near Xi’an. During the Western Han dynasty, the city was the cultural, economic, and political center of the country, due in part to it being situated on the Chinese end of the Silk Road. The high amount of trade made the city equal to any of the great metropolises of Rome. Very little actual manufacturing was done in the city; instead, nearly all business was trade.
During the Han period, Chang’an was expanded three separate times. The first was under Emperor Gao-zu. He had lavish palaces built before having the city walls erected, and in 202 BC, he had several palaces renovated. Two years later, he built a new palace, Weiyang Palace. His son, Emperor Hui, continued his father’s building projects in 195 BC. Instead of building palaces, however, he had a series of walls built around the city.
Following the Western Han dynasty, the Eastern Han moved the capital to Luoyang. Chang’an was known as Xijing, or Western Capital, during this time. However, in 190, Prime Minister Dong Zhuo overthrew the government and moved the seat of power back to Chang’an.
The Sui and Tang dynasties also held their capitals at Chang’an. During the Sui dynasty, Emperor Wen built his city of Daxing southeast of Chang’an, and in 618, this city was renamed Chang’an by Emperor Gaozu of the Tang dynasty. During the Tang, Chang’an stood with Baghdad and Istanbul as three of