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Tag: Culture of China

Laba porridge sweetens prelude of Chinese Lunar New Year

Laba rice porridge.

Chinese people start their preparations for the Spring Festival more than 20 days ahead. The 12th lunar month in Chinese is called la yue, so the eighth day of this lunar month is la yue chu ba, or laba. The day is also known as the Laba Rice Porridge Festival. The Laba this year falls on Jan 20.

Three major customs on Laba are ancestor worship, eating Laba rice porridge and making Laba garlic.

Laba garlic.

Ancestor worship: At the end of the year, working people get more free time to prepare for the sacrifice to the ancestors. The reason the 12th lunar month is called La Yue has a lot to do with the custom of sacrifice.

First, the worship of ancestors, called “腊” in Chinese, and the sacrifice for the gods, called “蜡”, both frequently took place in the 12th month, which led to the traditional name of the month: la yue. Second, winter is the slack season for farmers so they have time to find things to burn in the sacrifice. The radical of “腊” represents the sacrifice of meat to one’s ancestors (“月” symbolizes meat).

Laba rice porridge.

Laba rice porridge: There are several legends about the origin of porridge eating on Laba: Some claim it is of Buddhist origin; some say the porridge, made of red beans, can exorcize evil from children. Others say the porridge is in memory of a poor couple.

The custom of porridge eating has been well known throughout history, from the royal court to common people.

The most “authentic” porridge was made in northern China, especially Beiping, today’s Beijing.

The main ingredients of the Laba porridge are rice and sticky rice; people also add sugar, red dates, lotus seeds, walnuts, chestnuts, almonds, longans, hazelnuts, raisins, red beans, peanuts, water caltrops, roseleaf and other various materials to make the porridge special.

Culture of China

The Year of the Rooster stamp designed by Shao Bolin and Lyu Shengzhong. 

An exhibition celebrates the contributions of a nonagenarian former designer and his associates to China’s postage stamps, Lin Qi reports. 

A chilly winter day might not be the best for an elderly reunion. But for two esteemed artists, Shao Bolin, 90, and Jin Shangyi, 86, such a meeting is of great value to relive the excitement of a collaboration that happened more than three decades ago.

Jin joined Shao for a retrospective exhibition on the latter at the China National Post and Postage Stamp Museum in Beijing on Dec 20.

Shao is a retired chief designer of China Post. The exhibition paid tribute to his career spanning decades, with dozens of iconic postage stamps he designed or co-designed with Jin and other artists on show.

Two stamps designed by Shao Bolin feature the 2,000-year-old silk paintings unearthed in Chenjiadashan, Hunan province. 

The display included one stamp issued in 1986 to commemorate the 120th anniversary of the birth of Sun Yat-sen, the Chinese revolutionary leader, which Shao co-designed with Jin.

Seeing the stamp and its design draft on show evoked in the two artists the memory of another cold winter day in 1985. Shao paid a visit to Jin, inviting the oil painter, who was famed for making realistic portraits, to work on a new stamp.

Both graduated from the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing in the early 1950s. Jin spent months back then to complete an oil painting which depicts Sun against a riverside landscape of Guangzhou. He says that, in the work, Sun’s black suit corresponds with the accumulating gray clouds over the city to deliver a solemn revolutionary atmosphere.

A set of stamps featuring archaic Chinese bronzes Shao designs on show. 

Shao then added elegant decorative patterns and a black background outside the portrait centered on the design. The stamp was the first of its kind to feature an oil-painting portrait on Chinese postage stamps. It was thereafter hailed as the “best stamp of the year”.

Shao says he respects Jin, who overcame cold weather and other difficulties to create “a historic piece of work”.

He says Jin received 500 yuan for the portrait at the time which sounds “unbelievable”, given that Jin’s paintings sell for hundreds of thousands to millions of yuan today in the art market.

Shao worked with prominent painter Huang Yongyu, 96, to issue the golden monkey stamp in 1980.That year, China Post began to issue specially designed stamps featuring each of the 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac to celebrate Chinese New Year. The first piece of the zodiac rotation was the Year of the Monkey stamp.

Shao designs a stamp featuring the Zeng Houyi Chime Bells which he couples with a record of the sound of the archaic musical instruments.

Shao reached out to Huang, a friend who taught at the Central Academy of Fine Arts for years, to co-create the design. The stamp, which was on show at the Beijing exhibition, became iconic and is sought after by those into philately even today.

After Shao was appointed the chief designer in 1985, he took a reformative initiative to regularly collaborate with artists on stamps. Also, the success of the golden monkey stamp ignited great interest in artists when they were approached by Shao for commissions.

The exhibition included a Year of the Rooster stamp issued in 1981 and painted by Zhang Ding, the late artist and Tsinghua University professor; a Year of the Snake stamp in 1989, created by Lyu Shengzhong, a professor at the Central Academy of Fine Arts; and a set of four stamps in 1986 which depicts ancient Chinese sports events and was designed by Zhou Jingxin, a leading painter in Nanjing, Jiangsu province.

A stamp commemorates the 120th anniversary of the birth of Sun Yat-sen which Shao Bolin co-worked with Jin Shangyi.

Shao invited painter Zhou Jingxin to co-design a set of four stamps themed on ancient

Chinese sport events.   

A Year of Snake stamp issued in 1989 which Shao and artist Lyu Shengzhong co-worked on. 

24 Solar Terms: 9 things about Winter Solstice

The traditional Chinese lunar calendar divides the year into 24 solar terms. Winter Solstice (Chinese: 冬至), the 22nd solar term of the year, begins this year on Dec 21.

On the first day of Winter Solstice, the Northern Hemisphere experiences the shortest day and the longest night in the year, as the sun shines directly at the Tropic of Capricorn. From then on, the days become longer and the nights become shorter. The Winter Solstice also marks the arrival of the coldest season in the year.

Here are nine things you should know about Winter Solstice.

  1. The Winter Solstice Festival

There was a saying in ancient China, “The Winter Solstice is as significant as the Spring Festival.”

As early as the Zhou Dynasty (c.11th century-256BC), people worshipped the gods on the first day of the Winter Solstice, which also was the first day of the new year. The Winter Solstice became a winter festival during the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220AD). The celebratory activities were officially organized. On this day, both officials and common people would have a rest.

During subsequent dynasties, such as the Tang (618-907), Song (960-1279) and Qing dynasties (1644-1911), the Winter Solstice was a day to offer sacrifices to Heaven and to ancestors.

  • Eating nuts

When midwinter arrives, vital movement begins to decline and calm down. In this period, eating an appropriate amount of nuts, such as peanuts, walnuts, chestnuts, hazelnuts and almonds, is good for one’s body. Traditional Chinese medical science teaches that the quality of a nut is tepidity and most nuts have the function of nourishing the kidneys and strengthening the brain and heart.

  • Eating dumplings

During Winter Solstice in North China, eating dumplings is essential to the festival. There is a saying that goes “Have dumplings on the first day of Winter Solstice and noodles on the first day of Summer Solstice.”

  • Eating wontons

People in Suzhou, Jiangsu province, are accustomed to eating wontons in midwinter. According to legend, during the midwinter feast 2,500 years ago, the King of Wu (one of the states during the Western Zhou Dynasty and the Spring and Autumn Period) was disgusted with all kinds of costly foods and wanted to eat something different. Then, the beauty Xishi came into the kitchen to make “wontons” to honor the king’s wish. He ate a lot and liked the food very much. To commemorate Xishi, the people of Suzhou made wontons the official food to celebrate the festival.

  • Eating tangyuan

In places such as Shanghai, people eat tangyuan, a kind of stuffed small dumpling ball made of glutinous rice flour, to celebrate Winter Solstice.

  • Eating mutton and vermicelli soup

In Yinchuan, Ningxia Hui autonomous region, people call midwinter the “Ghost Festival”. On that day, it is customary for people there to drink mutton and vermicelli soup and eat the dumplings in the soup. They give the midwinter soup a strange name – “brain” – and share it with their neighbors.

  • Eating rice cakes

During the Winter Solstice, Hangzhou residents traditionally eat rice cakes. In the past, before the approach of the winter solstice, every household would make the cakes to worship their ancestors or use as gifts for relatives and friends. Today, though fewer families eat homemade cakes, people there still buy rice cakes for the Winter Solstice Festival.

  • Offering nine-layer cakes to ancestors

Taiwan residents keep the custom of offering nine-layer cakes to their ancestors. People with the same surname or family clan gather at their ancestral temples to worship their ancestors in order of their ages. After the sacrificial ceremony, there is always a grand banquet.

  • Eating red-bean and glutinous rice

In some regions south of the Yangtze River on the first day of Winter Solstice, the whole family gets together to have a meal made of red bean and glutinous rice to drive away ghosts and other evil things.

New cub brings joy to Americans amid pandemic

Americans will celebrate their newest giant panda cub by formally giving him a name on Monday, but they face a somber reality: The loan agreement of the newborn’s parents, the bears who came to the National Zoo 20 years ago, will expire on Dec 7.

“It is our hope that we will have these pandas for just a few more years,” Dr Steven Monfort, director of the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, told China Daily on Sunday.

“And then in the future, after they go to China, in the long run, we’d very much like to keep this relationship going, and maybe that means another agreement with a different set of pandas,” he said.

Right now, the only thing the National Zoo has requested was an extension for Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, the current pair, instead of asking for any new pandas, according to the zoo chief.

Monfort went to Beijing for talks about the loan in January, right before the COVID-19 pandemic stopped travel. He said he is now waiting for “our Chinese colleagues to give a final answer”.

The Giant Panda Cooperative Research and Breeding Agreement, signed between the National Zoo and the China Wildlife Conservation Association, has been renewed by five-year terms twice since the first 10-year loan expired in 2010.

The deal that last extended in 2015 ends in early December.

Wearing a mask and speaking near the panda’s outdoor habitat at the zoo, the veteran conservation biologist said that the birth of the panda cub sparked a great joy during the pandemic.

The zoo has asked Americans to select from possible names chosen by the zoo and partners in China. The name that receives the most votes will be bestowed on the cub Monday.

The cub, born on Aug 21, is the fourth surviving cub born at the National Zoo in more than four decades since the first pair, Ling Ling and Hsing Hsing, arrived in April 1972, weeks after then-US president Richard Nixon’s historic China visit.

Over the next 20 years, that couple produced five cubs, but none survived more than a few days.

The arrival of a new couple, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian, in 2000 changed the situation. Between 2005 and this year, Mei Xiang, age 22, has given birth to four surviving cubs.

“When he was born, everyone had been suffering for so many months,” Monfort said. “This is just a time when we think about something very joyful and happy to forget about all the troubles for just even for a few minutes every day.”

At least 1.5 million people have watched the zoo’s Panda Cams since the cub was born. The panda zone has been closed since March due to the pandemic, making the 24/7 web camera the only source for people to see the cub and his parents, according to the zoo sources.

Monfort also said the partnership between the National Zoo and China on the panda is an example that “great things” happen if people work together with passion for a long time.

“The National Zoo and the Smithsonian and its relationship with China on the panda is one of the longest collaborative partnerships and conservation that’s ever existed,” he said. “As a result of that, great things have happened.”

He said the Chinese government has done a “fantastic” job of setting aside reserves and protecting the pandas, and the US side has been helping by adding additional knowledge and technical expertise.

“Clearly, we support what the Chinese government is trying to do,” he said. “We don’t own the pandas, but the whole world wants to help save the panda, and we do that through our knowledge exchange.”

Monfort said the pandemic has disrupted the exchange of zoo researchers between China and the US, but they were in “close correspondence”.

During the pandemic, some people have expressed their concerns about the nutrition of Mei Xiang after her delivery and the “extremely narrow space” of the den where she gave birth.

For example, an article complaining about panda “mistreatment”, which was posted on the Chinese news portal NetEase on Oct 30, had generated nearly 10,000 comments by Sunday.

Monfort said, “We invest very, very heavily in making sure that every single animal that we care for, but especially the panda, is taken care of at the highest level of excellence.”

When it comes to the den size, Monfort said that when she gives birth, just like in the wild, a panda will seek out a smaller, comfortable, safe space. The den is something that Mei Xiang chose herself, as the panda has access to anywhere she wants to go, he added.

Marty Dearie, who has been taking care of pandas over the past 11 years, said a panda usually does not eat much in the first couple of weeks, up to a month, to focus on the cub. He and his colleagues offered bamboo, sugar cane and some treats to Mei Xiang to make her happy when they entered the den to check on the cub.

Asked if there is any disruption to the supply of food, especially bamboo, Dearie said, “We have about 30 to 40 sites all around the region that our nutrition team goes and cuts bamboo from, and then all the produce and biscuits and things, none of those ever stopped during the pandemic.”

The pandemic, which is raging in the US and has caused at least 254,000 deaths as of Sunday evening, does not have a major impact on the day-to-day operations at the zoo, where animals, including pandas, are getting the attention under the regular standards at the zoo, according to Dearie.

“Both the cub and Mei Xiang are continuing to gain weight. They’re both doing fantastic, and we couldn’t be happier,” he told China Daily.

Dearie added that the 3-month-old cub is “right on cue” in terms of his development and growth rate and might be “getting close to walking”, as he was spotted starting to get his back legs underneath his body.

But he said the cub will not be allowed to go outside until sometime in January, when he gets vaccines against distemper and rabies.

Ancient books unveil chapters of history

Avatamsaka Sutra, a Northen Song Dynasty Buddhist manuscript, housed in Hubei Provincial Library.

They may be flimsy, they are certainly not solid or weighty. But they are treasures nonetheless and these books showcase the uninterrupted lineage of Chinese civilization.

Earlier this month, the State Council, China’s Cabinet, released the sixth list for the national directory of precious ancient books, including 752 new entries of major historical significance.

Applications for recognized status to be inscribed in the list began in 2018, and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism organized 86 top-tier experts, working all over the country to evaluate the 3,981 candidate books through rounds of appraisal, starting from early 2019 to September, according to Chen Binbin, an inspector from the ministry.

A rigid academic attitude was maintained during the process.

“The panel had a close-up inspection on the candidates one by one,” Chen says at a news conference in Beijing, hosted by the ministry, on Friday. “If there was a dispute among experts on a specific edition or understanding of contents, we would halt inscribing it onto the list.

“We would rather leave an empty position there than make a mistake,” he says.

Indisputably, the finally inscribed works are outstanding examples.

The Bodhisattva Maitreya’s Previous Life in Tusita Heaven (first volume)

From a 10th-century Buddhist sutra, which is the earliest-known dated printed work in China, to the one-millennium-old printed official dictionary of poetic rhythm, this relatively short sixth list-compared with the total 12,274 items being included in the previous five-is full of heavyweight stars.

The Bodhisattva Maitreya’s Previous Life in Tusita Heaven (first volume), was printed in 927 during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period (907-960). The National Library of China collected it in 2015.

“It’s also a rare physical proof of early-stage printed work anywhere in the world,” Rao Quan, the director of the national library, says.

This sutra is also the world’s second-oldest known dated printed work, only after the Diamond Sutra. That Buddhist scripture printed in 868 is also from China, and is now a collection of the British Library.

Libu Yunlue 

Another highlight in the list, Libu Yunlue (or “the concise rhymes from the Ministry of Rites”), was released by the government of the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127) for preparation of national-level examinations.

It was collected by Nanjing Library in Jiangsu province in 2013, bought from an auction, and is also widely hailed by academia as “one of the biggest discoveries of ancient Chinese books in recent years”.

According to Quan Qin, deputy director of Nanjing Library, this copy of Libu Yunlue, compiled between 1037 and 1066, is the earliest surviving printed edition of the book, and is also the only remaining example of that edition.

A colored map of Beijing drawn during the reign of Daoguang (1821-50).

The 700-odd newly titled treasures embrace a wide variety of styles.

Li Zhizhong, the chief expert of the appraisal committee for candidates of the list, explains the books are basically categorized into four varieties, following the traditional classification of books in ancient time: Confucian classics (jing), history (shi), writings on various philosophies and religious scriptures (zi), and poetry and literature (ji).

Nevertheless, he adds that other varieties like maps, books written in languages of non-Han ethnic groups, stone rubbings, writings on silk pieces or bamboo or wooden slips, among others are also included.

A colorful map of Beijing, drawn during the reign of Daoguang (1821-50), has a detailed and comprehensive recording of the capital’s road networks, city layout, princes’ mansions, government offices, and other key landmarks.

Dream of the Red Chamber written in Mongolian.

And Water Margin, Journey to the West, and Dream of the Red Chamber-three classic ancient Chinese novels-written in Mongolian, shows close connection and frequent cultural communication among different ethnic groups, Rao from the national library notes.

In China, “ancient books” are usually defined as those published before 1912, the end of Chinese monarchy. However, for books in non-Han languages, the time span could also be expanded to before 1949.

Some precious books in foreign languages are also included in the directory. A highlight is a copy of the first volume of Das Kapital by Karl Marx, which was printed in Hamburg in 1867.

Recent surveys of ancient books also led to key discoveries among collections of museums and libraries.

For example, Rao cites that, during reign of Qianlong (1736-95) of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the emperor ordered a rubbing replica of the Confucian classics, which was carved on the stone stele in the Guozijian (the imperial college) in Beijing. The rubbing was bestowed to the Confucius’ Family Mansion in Qufu, Shandong province, in 1796.

A Qing Dynasty stone rubbing replica of Confucian classics from Qufu, Shandong. 

It was rediscovered last year when researchers checked the inventory of a museum in Qufu, and was selected for the directory this time. As the original stele in Beijing has been partially eroded due to its age, this replica on paper is hugely significant for academic reference.

According to Chen from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, it is estimated that China has more than 30 million copies of ancient books, and about 90 percent of them have been registered in details in the national survey.

China has also established 12 national-level restoration centers of ancient books to rescue the aging pages. And 203 libraries, museums, universities, and other conservation institutions-including 23 newly titled this month-are listed as national-level key venues on protection of ancient books.

Digitized copies of about 72,000 varieties of ancient books have been uploaded to a national database for public access. Chen also says more ancient Chinese books, which were lost to overseas during war or for other historical reasons, can be “brought home” in digital forms to fill in the gaps in domestic studies.

Artist in Shanxi creates vivid scene of fried dough twist making

Liang Hongzhi, a folk artist from Jishan county, Yuncheng city of Shanxi province, has spent three months creating a series of clay sculptures themed on the traditional process of making “Jishan fried dough twist”, a popular local snack. The series includes 32 figures and over 20 kinds of tools, with the tallest figure as high as 30 centimeters and the smallest dough twist only 3 cm. The vivid clay sculptures show the 18 procedures in making “Jishann fried dough twist” in detail.

The clay sculptures made by folk artist Liang Hongzhi from Shanxi province show the making process of “Jishan fried dough twist”.

24 Solar Terms: 8 things you need to know about Frost’s Descent

The traditional Chinese lunar calendar divides the year into 24 solar terms. Frost’s Descent, (Chinese: 霜降), the 18th solar term of the year, begins this year on Oct 23 and ends on Nov 6.

Frost’s Descent is the last solar term of autumn, during which time the weather becomes much colder than before and frost begins to appear.

Here are eight things you should know about Frost’s Descent.

Frosty autumn

Frost consists of white ice crystals of frozen water vapor near the ground. During Frost’s Descent, frost begins to appear. But in the lower reaches of the Yellow River region, frost first appears in late October or early November. As Frost’s Descent comes, the world is filled with the atmosphere of late autumn.

Eating persimmons

Eating persimmons during Frost’s Descent can help people resist the cold and protect their bones. In the countryside, people believe that their lips will crack if they don’t eat persimmons during this period.

Eating apples

The apple is one kind of recommended fruit during Frost’s Descent. There are many sayings about apples’ benefits in China, such as “Eat an apple after meals, even old men can be as strong as young men,” just as the Western proverb goes, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Apples can moisten the lungs, quench one’s thirst and help one’s digestion.

Eating pears

The pear is another recommended fruit during Frost’s Descent, which can promote the secretion of body liquids, clear away heat and reduce sputum.

Eating duck

It’s a custom to eat duck on the first day of Frost’s Descent in south Fujian province and Taiwan. There is a saying in Fujian which goes, “Even nourishing all year is not as good as nourishing the human body on the first day of Frost’s Descent.” Eating duck is a way for people there to gain weight.

Eating chestnuts

Eating chestnuts during Frost’s Descent is beneficial for one’s health. Chestnuts have a warm nature and sweet flavor, and are good for nourishing the spleen and stomach, invigorating the circulation of blood, relieving coughs and reducing sputum.

Eating dates

The date is one of the fruits on the market during Frost’s Descent. Nutritious with a great number of vitamins, dates can nourish the blood, decrease blood pressure, and improve one’s immunity. But eating too many could be harmful. Rotten dates can cause headaches and dizziness or even put people’s lives in danger.

Frost’s Descent Festival

People in areas such as Daxin county in Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region celebrate the first day of Frost’s Descent. In the Frost’s Descent Festival, the Zhuang people offer sacrifices, dance and sing folk songs. With a history of more than 360 years, the festival is to commemorate Cen Yuyin, a heroine in battles against foreign aggression.