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Today three volunteers of our Challenges Worldwide Community Action Day (CAD) Committee accompanied me to a meeting at the Busega Muslim Girls Primary School. The meeting took place with a number of chiefs of the Wakiso districts and with the Kampala Capital City Association (KCCA). This Saturday the KCCA will be organising a ‘Go Green’ Community Clean up day, on which the community is to clean the garbage of the street. Furthermore they will be offering free medical check ups on that day. An estimation of around 500 comunity members were encouraged to join the clean up of 9 different districts in Wakiso.kampala - 2 (1)

Apart from participating with the KCCA to clean the streets and offer medical check ups by Buganda Bulungi Bwansi, CWW is planning to add two more activities: tree planting and basic business training seminars for CBOs (community-based organisations)

Through participating in this Community Action Day, Challenges Worldwide aims to encourage sustainable business and to support CBOs in Wakiso and to promote long-term environmental consciousness in the community by helping in both tree planting and street cleaning.

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This weeks meeting was at Centenary Park in a lounge with a thatched roof surrounded by a gardened area. Today, not only did the volunteers of the CAD committee share their kampala - 1 (1) copyplans for our Community Action Day for next Saturday, but there was also a vote for our Mid Programme Review. The options were to go to Queen Elisabeth Park or to visit the Murchison Falls, which are both stunning national parks with a wide variety of wildlife. Exciting!

After sitting down with all of the committees we had the pleasure to welcome Camille Marie-Regnault. Camille took part in an ICS – VSO programme in Kenya a couple of years ago, worked for the UN in Cambodia and then ended up back on the African continent to work with Invisible Children (IC).

Invisible Children is active in breaking up a rebel group named Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) – responsible for Africa’s longest running armed conflict. After sharing the history of this long lasting conflict, I would like to show you how Invisible Children is contributing to ending it, and discuss what more could be done. To end this blog, as Camille has lived and worked in cross-cultural environments – including with the ICS programme – I would like to share a couple of her tips with (future) volunteers and travelers. Read More →

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This weeks team meeting was organised to take place at the one of the businesses Challenges Worldwide works with, Coffee Quality Assurance (CQA). Their inviting Coffee House – named MyCheckMate is located within the Kyambago University campus in Kampala and was an inspiringkampala - 1 (1) copy location for our weekly meeting. A chance for everyone to try a cup of their delicious premium My CheckMate Coffee in the shape of an espresso, latte, cappuccino or Americano. I asked for a drop of hot milk in my espresso, which created an exemplary Spanish ‘Cortado’. Apart from Coffee, they sell sodas, juice and local food to up to 25 people at any time. The CEO and owner, Tonny, made arrangements to host and feed our team of 35 volunteers. They had come up with 4 different menu options beforehand in order to make the right preparations. Options included chips, omelette, beef, salad, peas/beans, rice, matooke, pocho, and some – to my taste – delicious chicken.

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Today was a very special day. It was the day on which the UK volunteers arrived in Uganda, and met their Ugandan counterpart. The Ugandan volunteers had been preparing and practicing a welcome feast, which included a poster, a speech, a Luganda language lesson, solo singing and of course, a traditional and free style dance show, in which we all joined in.

Preparations for the welcome show were very amusing. What laughs we had while trying to plan a dance! After lots of bum shaking, and helping to get all the Ugandan girls colour coordinated for their performance, they helped me to just look just as colourful, and about 10 years younger.

The next day, when I asked one of the In-Country volunteers whether he had spoken to all of the UK one’s yet, he replied:

“It would have been a crime if I hadn’t”.

It is wonderful to see how two such different cultures are interacting and how everyone is getting along. Clearly there are some things we have in common, the boys are all playing football (yes, in this hot climate!), while the girls are all getting their nails done. More of this please! So happy!

About a week after I had moved into the host home  (together with the other Team Leaders: Donia, Aubrey and Eddie) we moved to a place called Peace Cottages. This venue offers rooms for our big team and has a lovely thatched conference space which we used to subsequently be introduced to the In-Country Volunteers, train them for a few days, welcome the UK Volunteers, introduce all of them to their room-mates, colleagues and businesses, and do lots of team building activities. It is here where we will all get to know each other and where we can acclimatise to the new environment together. Our host, which was called mama or aunty by some and sister by others, was a wonderful cheerful local lady, who was very helpful throughout the week. I shall miss her cheerfulness…

Donia and I shared a room. The cold shower at our host home suddenly became a luxury when we found out that Peace Cottages only had a drip shower. We would fill up a bucket and splash that on our heads. Apart from that, there was no air movement, so we used to call the room a ‘sweat box’ and developed several methods for cooling down, including wet old T-shirts on our heads, lying on the bed with our legs up onto the wall, and looking at pictures of frost in England.

During our training we managed to write up a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis for them, so that they can improve their business. This was a great analytical tool practice for the volunteers, to apply to the businesses they will be working at. Read More →

These couple of days we have used to acclimatise a bit, to learn about the programme and to visit some of the Host Homes and Businesses that we will be working with. This took us to some incredible parts of Kampala. I love how varied, lively and green this city is.  And busy!

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Topica we discussed with our fellow In-Country Team Leaders included slums IMG_1467and the elections. I wil soon write a blog post on both. It is really nice to have a Ugandan Counterpart, it is great that we can just ask them anything. Even after a few days I feel like I have known them for months!

Our biggest challenge was to match the volunteers with their Host-Homes and Businesses. We pinned the locations on a map and wrote all the names of the Businesses and Volunteers on pieces of paper so that we could move them around and pin them all to a Yoga mat, where else? On the photo on the right you can see us in action. 

While working on this, there was an Easter celebration next door. I really enjoyed the singing, so when I got the chance I sneaked out and filmed some of it.

I do not know where to start. Preparations for departure basically already began back in November. Dedicating myself to this volunteer project meant for example that I was to find a short term job in Guernsey, and that I had to fly to Barcelona to move out of my apartment. From that moment on, I went through different stages of concern, and (mostly) excitement. I have to admit that it is really quite a challenge to make arrangements while working a nine to five. Everything is open while I am at work, and once I am off, its all closed! I have often wondered how others get things done this way. Well, my theory is that if you run fast enough, you can get it all done in your breaks, spread over weeks 🙂

A couple of things were particularly important to start arranging early on, like the visa and the vaccinations. In my case I had to fly to London to apply for a new passport. When I received my new passport I sent it off to the visa application office via the post. Vaccinations, wow, needed quite a few of them! So the rest of my running in my breaks had to be done with two pinched arms. Vaccinations include: Mengingitis, Yellow Fever, Typhoid and Rabies. Luckily I am already immune to Hep A&B, diphtheria, Tetanus, and Polio. Apart from these vaccinations I was recommended by the nurse to take two Cholera drinks and to bring Malaria pills for 99 days. Quite something! I was very lucky that the Guernsey state covers the costs of the vaccinations, as it is for a Charitable cause. Lucky lucky! Thank you Guernsey!

While arranging the important stuff, it has been inspiring to read bits and pieces of books and watch documentary’s about the people and culture of Uganda. You must have heared of “The last King of Schotland”, and for example a documentary called “Virunga” are very good to watch. Books I have looked at include “ABYSSINIAN CHRONICLES”, BY MOSES ISEGAWA, “Uganda Now: Between Decay & Development”, edited by Holger Bernt Hansen & Michael Twaddle, and “Culture and Customs of Uganda”, by KEFA M. OTISO. There are also quite a few interesting articles out there based on World Bank research. I like to believe that the more I read the better my understanding will be. Do you have any more recommendations? Please share in the comments!

Apart from doing my own research, I have been offered a sea of information through ICS and Challenges Worldwide, about the project, security, team leading etc. After our pre-departure training I printed most of the important slides and fitted them in my filofax, and saved the other files on iBooks in order to be able to access them from anywhere. My Filofax also contains weekly planners, so that I can keep track of all the other volunteers, some lists to write down goals, concerns, to do’s, idea’s for activities, etc., and bits and pieces of Luganda and Swahili language, accompanied by my notes on culture. After wrestling my way through, and organising a pile of exciting information, it has just come down to packing my things, so I better get started!

Today I received a surprise package, containing ….  T-shirts! YAAY! I am now visibly part of the ICS/Challenges Worldwide team, and ready to “Challenge myself to change the world”, how about you?

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I consider myself quite a happy person, but I am not often thís excited. Pre-departure training not only meant that I would get to learn the ins and outs of being a Team Leader in Uganda, but also that I would finally get to meet my trainers, fellow Team Leader, and our ‘Children! And all of that while visiting Edinburgh, which is considered one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

First of all I would like to agree that Edinburgh is indeed pretty stunning. Edinburgh has a great atmosphere and beautiful architecture. We do not always appreciate how lucky we are to have a visible history and culture in all parts of Europe, but thinking of countries like China – where the Cultural Revolution destroyed much of the visible culture and history – I feel very fortunate to have seen just a little more of Europe.

On Monday afternoon, when trying to leave Guernsey, it was completely covered in fog. As delays were announced I realised again how tricky it can be to live on a small island. After a 9 hour trip, which took me passed Jersey and Birmingham, I arrived at the pre-booked hostel around midnight. The hostel was located near Haymarket Station, on walking distance from the old town. It was here where I had the pleasure to meet my fellow Team Leader, Donia, who had also just arrived from a long train ride – from London. Remember Donia, you will hear a lot more about her! Not long after sharing our travel stories we joined the other 10 smelly sleepers in the dorm.

Before leaving on my trip, many people had said: “I could think of better places to be in February”, well, the next morning I woke up to a bright blue sky, but I kind of get the point now, it was absolutely freezing! Not cold enough to spoil the fun though.  I dragged Donia out of her bed down to the cafe and grabbed my chance to get to know edinburgh - 3her a bit while having breakfast. It did not take me long to realise that we would become a miraculous team :). After breakfast we picked up our (very thick) coats to face the Scottish weather, as we had to walk for at least 50 yards. The head office of Challenges Worldwide was literally two doors away. Their building has high ceilings, big windows with a full view of St. Mary’s Cathdral, and it has a very relaxed and welcoming feel to it, as if you walk into granny’s living room. I can still not comprehend how beautiful their old wooden stairs are.

We were welcomed by Nicola and Georgia, our dedicated trainers, who taught us about our role as a Team Leader, our responsibilities, about how to support volunteers, and how to manage conflict. At this point Im am feeling happy that the main focus of the edinburgh - 5program is on cultural exchange, something I am particularly interested in.

Highlight of the day, meeting Eoghan Mackie – the CEO of Challenges Worldwide – who mildly expressed his views on International Development, and who took us on a first class journey through Challenges Worldwide and their effect on developing marketplaces. Eoghan has recently been invited to speak at the 3rd Annual Commonwealth Africa SUMMIT, alongside over 18 heads of State and Government. It was an honor to spend some (valuable) time with him.

Nicola and Georgia followed up with more video’s, case studies, and so on. In short, they gave structure to the big blur of information I was drowning in. I can now say that I am ready for this job, and that I am confident enough to help the other volunteers to make the best out of theirs.

After hours of absorbing as much information as we could, Donia and I strolled through the old parts of Edinburgh, in search for a good meal and a glass of wine. On our way there we realised that one of the volunteers, Justin, had arrived and he joined in.

The next morning was mainly focussed on disease and security protocols. This was not something I usually think about when waking up, but we covered quite a few topics that I was curious to learn more about. Later on we discussed facilitator skills and then, yes yes yes, we got to meet all the volunteers! So exciting! Meet our Children!

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This is the first photo of many others to come. A bunch of the volunteers I had already met during our assessment day, so it was really nice to see them again, and I have been able to have chats with almost all the others. It was a pleasure to spend some time with them and I am looking forward to more! I really had the feeling that this will become a fabulous team, and I hope they feel the same way. And now, I am ready to COUNTDOWN!!!! 22 more sleeps!!!

I am pleased to announce that the International Citizen Service (ICS) has offered me the chance to put my Masters into action by sending me off to Africa. ICS – a British organisation known for bringing young people together to fight poverty – has set me up with this amazing charity called Challenges Worldwide.

In March next year I will be traveling with this charity to Uganda as a Team Leader for one of their development programmes. I will be taking 10 business orientated volunteers along with me who will be supporting local businesses in Uganda. Together we will help them strengthen their skills and abilities, grow, generate income, and develop in a fair an sustainable way.

Challenges Worldwide has over 15 years of experience and has successfully assisted hundreds of organisations in more than 40 countries. Will you help me sustain their programme, so they can continue to make an impact? Your contribution will make a real difference to the lives of people in developing countries. Thank you for your support!

Make your donation at: www.justgiving.com/schouwenburg

Naxi women have always been well known for their hand-made embroidery. We are keen on visiting a village nearby which hosts their embroidery institute (600 years old). It is believed that the most famous Naxi masters of embroidery were arrested and put in jail during the cultural revolution, but fortunately the Chinese government has subsidised their work and so we were able to admire some of their great work in Baisha (North of Lijiang).

The government has set up several schools in Baisha, where students can study for free, and even get lunch if they live out of town. There are about a million masters and students in China. 20 famous one, one is from Yunnan, Peng Ping. Being a student is for free because their work is important to preserve. The party gives their work as gifts of good relations, it is rare and beautiful. many of them are a year work. to become a master is difficult, the standards are very high. learning the stitches is 6 months work, then you do very small ones. Peng Ping is a master and she is 40, very young. As eye sight becomes worse when you are 50, she can make 10 pieces as a master. Those pieces are very rare, and valuable. One thread of silk consists of about 256 tiny threads. Beginners stitch with half threads, master can stitch tiny details and shades with a single thread. The finer the thread you use the more shiny the work. Some works also consist of many many layers which gives it a sort of 3d look. I was amazed by how abstract some of the work was, even including characters of the dongba language (language of the Nakhi ethnic group).

Nakhi native music is thousands of years old, and is presently being kept alive by Xuan Ke, the president of Dayan Naxi Ancient Music Association. He was born in 1930 and is of the Tibet-Nakhi nationality. I attended one of his orchestra performances which consists of 24 Naxi people playing Naxi music that has almost been lost in China. They performed pieces from the Han, Tang, Song and Yuan Dynasties, played on original instruments. Most such instruments did not survive the cultural revolution. However, several of them hid their’s by burying them. I saw the “Chinese gong chimes”, the “Quxiang pipa”  and the “Huqin” which are all more than 200 years old. The “huqin”looks like a bamboo version of the “Erhu”. Sugudu” is another rare instrument in China that was played in this orchestra. It looks like an ancient guitar.
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e13-871An interesting piece of propaganda which quotes: “Fewer births, better births, to develop China vigorously”. This propaganda was distributed in the 1980s, when the one-child policy was enforced. In the country side more children were needed to help on the farm, this was partly the reason of the fact that this policy was more successful in the cities than in the countryside. Interestingly it were usually girls that were shown on the posters, to indicate that they are worth as much as boys. Sex-selective abortions however were still not uncommon. The consequences of this policy are huge, and will become a challenge in the near future as the dependency ratio is declining. Who will take care of the Chinese old-aged?

photoWe have all come across it, if not in China, then in France; the squat-toilet. I have always considered this a primitive toilet, but usually don’t feel too bothered to use it. If you got to go, you got to go… I was quite surprised however to discover that many researchers, believe that using the squat-toilet is the most healthy way to poop. The squatting position is appaerently more natural and can help avoid colon disease, constipation, hemorrhoids, pelvic floor issues and similar ailments. Bill Gates is such a big fan, that he recently held a contest to re-design the modern toilet, but I doubt that he has a squat-toilet in that gigantic mansion of his. Read more about the benefits of squat-pooping here.

* The picture above was taken today, in our apartment on campus in China. We have two toilets; one Western and one squat-toilet.

One day, one of my students in Beijing came into class with his back full of red marks. It looked like pieces of salami stuck to his back, but I am pretty sure it was something else. China uses a confusing mix of modern and traditional medical practices, that amuses and kind of frightens me. I figured that traditional ideas and techniques are incredibly old, still very important in China, and even adopted around the world. I have read about various interesting ideas that I would like to share with you.

We have all heard of Yin-Yang, but what is it exactly? I read that the core belief of Chinese medicine (中医, zhōngyī) is about the yin-yang (阴阳, yīnyáng), and the qi (气, qì) balance in the body and organs. Everything is a balance of yin and yang. Yin 阴 is female, dark and formless. Yang 阳 is male, light, and form. The most basic kinds of qi are yinqi (阴气) and yangqi (阳气). It is said that females have more yinqi, males have more yangqi. The qi is life energy, and its flow in the body depends on the environment and what happens to the body. Injury, physical suffering, and lack of proper food causes a qi deficiency 气虚 (qìxū). As people age, they lose qi. The core idea of Chinese medicine is that people can increase or decrease the various qi’s in the body, by various medical techniques, to create a healthful yin-yang balance. Having in mind that each person and part of the body has an ideal point of balance of yin and yang for optimal health.

If, due to injury or stress, the qi circulation gets blocked or stagnated, all the next medical techniques can be used to unblock the qi channels (called meridians), or increase or decrease the qi in various locations:

Eating
If a woman is sick or weak from a lack of yin qi, she can eat foods high in yin qi such as melons or goji berries or various high yin herbs. Older men may want to take herbal and food remedies, such as drinking ginseng tea or eating seahorse dishes, because they are high in yang content, or get a moxibustion treatment that adds Yang to the body.

Acupuncture
This strange and famous medical technique involves inserting needles at precise meridian points. One of my Dutch friends – Margreet Bouwmeester – has studied and is now specialized in practising this medicine. If you are interested you could have a look at her website – Alona.

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This ancient practice isn’t just a Chinese tradition, it has been practised for hundreds and thousands of years across Eurasia and North Africa. The Chinese style uses the acupuncture meridians. It is used to remove yang from the body, and it is appropriate for conditions such as bronchitis, heat stroke, and hot weather-related conditions. The picture shows the temporary marks this treatment left at the back of one of my students.

Herbal Medicine
In many ways, Chinese herbal medicine is similar to Western herbal medicine, though the emphasis is on promoting the yin-yang balance.

Massage
It seems like there are massage parlours everywhere, and there are various styles that are all thought to be good for the health, some of which are more appreciated by Chinese than foreigners.

Medicinal Cuisine Therapy
The emphasis in this traditional method of meal preparation, special recipes, and way of eating is to promote the yin-yang balance.

Moxibustion
This is another surprising technique and is used to add Yang to the body. It is appropriate for women with birthing problems, older men, and cold weather-related health issues. The mugwort smoke is thought to have medicinal properties.

Qigong
Meditation and special exercise, such as qigong and taichi also manipulates the qi balance and the body fluids in the body. Qigong and taichi practitioners think that special exercises and meditation helps the qi in the body to circulate. They think that by practising, they can learn to control the motion of qi, and use the qi to heal injured body parts, cure diseases, get healthier, defend themselves, and live longer.

Also read my post about Taoism, the history of Chinese medicine is tied up with the history of Daoist Philosophy.

Conventions signed by Beijing include: 

  • Assistance in Case of a Nuclear Accident or Radiological Emergency Convention;
  • Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention;
  • Chemical Weapons Convention;
  • Conventional Weapons Convention;
  • Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident Convention;
  • Inhumane Weapons Convention;
  • Nuclear Dumping Convention (London Convention);
  • Nuclear Safety Convention;
  • Physical Protection of Nuclear Material Convention;
  • Rights of the Child and on the Sale of Children,
  • Child Prostitution, and Child Pornography Convention (signed Optional Protocol);
  • Status of Refugees Convention (and the 1967 Protocol).

Treaties include:

  • Test Ban Treaty (signed but not ratified);
  • Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous, or Other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare (Geneva Protocol);
  • Treaty on the African Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone (Treaty of Pelindaba, signed protocols 1 and 2);
  • Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons;
  • Treaty on Outer Space;
  • Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean (Treaty of Tlatelolco, signed Protocol 2);
  • Treaty on Seabed Arms Control;
  • Treaty on the South Pacific Nuclear-Free Zone (Treaty of Rarotonga, signed and ratified protocols 2 and 3).

China also is a party to the following international environmental conventions: Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands, and Whaling.

* Treaties signed on behalf of China before 1949 are applicable only to the Republic of China on Taiwan.

Source:
China, CIA World Fact-book

道可道,非常道。A way that can be the Way, is not the usual way.
名可名,非常名。A name that can be a name, is an unusual name.

The lines above are the opening lines of the Dao De Jing (The Way of Power and Virtue Scripture, 道德经) that is the main religious text of Taoism. How to translate the words into English and what the words mean is obviously the mystery of Dao. The word Dao means Way. The Way of Life. The Meaning of one’s life. In usual Chinese usage, the word “dao” means path or road. Nowadays, the name Taoism is used as a general name for any kind of native Chinese religion or ancient belief. The term covers anything from Qigong or Tai Chi exercise, to ancestor worship, to belief in any of hundreds of gods or reputed immortal people, Read More →

Chinese Kung Fu, (also known as wushu or Chinese martial arts) is one of the most well known examples of traditional Chinese culture. It it is probably one of the earliest and longest lasting sports which utilizes both brawn and brain. The theory of Kung Fu is based upon classical Chinese philosophy. Over its long history it has developed as a unique combination of exercise, practical self-defense, self-discipline and art. In sports like track and field, ball sports, weightlifting, and boxing, an athlete typically has to retire from full participation in his 30s. Injuries sustained during years of active sport participation at a young age can that affect our health in later life. In Chinese Kung fu however, a distinction is made between “external” and “internal” kung Fu. It is said that “In external kung fu, you exercise your tendons, bones, and skin; in internal kung fu, you train your spirit, your qi, and your mind.”

Chinese Kung Fu is a large system of theory and practice. It combines techniques of self-defense and health-keeping. It is estimated that Chinese Kung Fu can be dated back to primeval society. At that time people use cudgels to fight against wild beasts. Gradually they accumulated experience of self defense. When Shang Dynasty began, hunting was considered as an important measure of Kung Fu training.

In Beijing I have been taught a bit of Kong Fu by the locals:

Buddhism is China’s oldest foreign religion. It merged with native Daoism and folk religion. Modern Chinese Buddhists are generally also Taoists. Ancient Hindu Buddhism taught by Buddha involved reaching Enlightenment through meditation. How to go about this and what it means is open to interpretation. When early Buddhist scriptures were translated into Chinese, Taoist terminology based on native religion was often used. People interpreted the scripture in their own ways. In contrast, Islam and Christianity both have a main text and a long set interpretive history in the Middle East and Europe. Rites, customs, and interpretations of scripture are finely explained. Though individual beliefs of Chinese Christians and Muslims are colored by Taoist concepts, in contrast to Buddhism, no generally popular Sinofied version of the two religions developed. Buddhism has had a long history in China, and native Buddhist religions developed that are accepted by Chinese Buddhists..

Modern Chinese Buddhism
Mayahana Buddhism is the type of Buddhism in China. It originally developed in the Kushan Empire that the Chinese called Yuezhi. Then various schools sects developed in China and became popular in other countries like Japan. There are no religious polls, but there may be hundreds of millions of people who believe a combination of Buddhism and Taoism in China. One difference of much Chinese Buddhism compared to the original teachings is the belief that Buddha is not just a teacher who taught what to do but is a god to be prayed to for help and salvation. Chinese Buddhists may pray to both Buddha and Taoist gods, and they often also pay homage to ancestors believing that their ancestors want their help. For example, they may burn paper that their ancestors can use as money. People who call themselves Buddhists usually have Taoist beliefs.

Buddha was said to have reached Enlightenment after fasting. It was said that he was extremely skinny and gaunt. In some countries, Buddha was depicted as being very skinny and meditating under a tree. In Mayahana Buddhism in Central Asia and in Buddhas carved along the Silk Road before the end of the Tang Dynasty, he is depicted as being strong and healthy like a Greek god. In modern China, the “Happy Buddha” is most commonly seen. He is depicted as being fat and laughing or smiling. The main goal of life in modern China is said to “be happy.” Maybe that is why Buddha is shown this way. The “Happy Buddha” has been the common popular Buddha in China for hundreds of years.

History
Buddhism started as a Hindu influenced religion in India. Details about Buddha’s life and original teachings as presented in the first century BC Buddhist scriptures are important for understanding how Chinese Buddhism developed. Guatama Buddha was the founder of the religion. He lived between 600 and 400 BC. Buddha and his followers left no writings, but his rules for monastic life and teachings were memorized and passed down by oral tradition until about the second century BC when the first Buddhist scriptures were written. The oral tradition was corrupted. Shortly after this, the first scriptures were brought to China.

Guatama Buddha was said to be the prince of a little kingdom that was in modern Nepal. Maybe he wasn’t Indo-European. There are many legends such as that seers predicted that he would be either a great holy man or a great king. His father wanted him to be a great king and tried to keep his son from all religion and sights of death and suffering. So when grew up, he was shocked by seeing an old man and a corpse. Then, he wanted to solve suffering and death.

When he was 29 years old, he became a disciple of famous teachers in India, learned Hinduism, and wasn’t satisfied. Then, he tried to learn the truth through not eating and body mortification. He nearly starved himself to death and almost drowned. Then, he ate, meditated and avoided extremes of self-indulgence or self-mortification. However, he was almost like a skeleton. He vowed to sit under a tree until he knew the truth and became Enlightened when he was 35.

Then, he started teaching. He taught that everybody could be Enlightened. He contradicted the Hindu belief that only high-caste people might be holy which threatened the hierarchical society. It is said that many disciples became “Arhats,” and he taught everybody no matter their caste. Some Hindus thought that the religion was false, and his enemies tried to kill him. His idea would destroy the hierachical society. He died in old age, and his body was cremated.

First Century BC Doctrines
Buddhism as taught in the first scriptures of about the second century BC say that Buddha taught “Four Noble Truths:” Suffering is a part of existence; the origin of suffering is craving for sensuality, acquisition of identity, and annihilation; suffering can be ended; and following the Noble Eightfold Path is the means to accomplish this. The Noble Eightfold Path is: right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. He emphasized ethics and understanding. He stated that there is no intermediary between mankind and the divine.

Early Chinese Buddhism
Buddhist teachers may have arrived in the third century BC because there is evidence that the Qin Emperor ordered the destruction of the religion about 213 BC. At the time that the first Buddhist scriptures came to China, the Han Empire existed. After it fell, there were separate kingdoms and other empires that had their own religions and different degrees of contact with Buddhists in Central Asia, South Asia and Southeast Asia. Different kinds of Buddhism developed in these countries, and their teachings were changed by Chinese, so the religious history is complex with many different sects. Sometimes the religion and Buddhists were supported and sponsored by the rulers during the past 2000 years, and sometimes Buddhists were eradicated and temples and scriptures were destroyed to make people not believe it.

There were two natural land routes into China from Buddhist regions during the Han Empire (206 BC – 220 AD). One was through Xinjiang and is called the Silk Road, and one went through Yunnan and is called the Chama Road.

Silk Road Buddhism
Around 177 BC, the Caucasian Yuezhi (月支) who lived in Xinjiang were forced south towards India by the Xiongnu. They conquered Hellenized kingdoms that had formed in southern Asia after the Greek conquest. An Indian-Greek-Yuezhi culture developed. About the year 130 BC, the Han rulers wanted to trade and have allies, and they sent Zhang Qian to the Yuezhi (Tocharians). Trade and travel started, and the Yuezhi started to become Buddhists. In 2 BC, some Yuezhi taught Buddhism when they arrived in the Han capital.

It is said that about 68 AD a Han Emperor had a dream of a golden figure, and Cai Yin was sent to Central Asia to learn about the Buddha. He brought back Buddhist scriptures and two Buddhist monks. By this time, the Yuezhi had a religion in which Buddha was one of a pantheon of many deities, and Mahayana Buddhism started in this way. They had a big empire and recaptured part of Xinjiang. Unlike early Buddhism, Buddha was represented in the form of big human statues like Greek gods. They carved Buddha statues all over Central Asia and in Xinjiang and China. Yuezhi missionaries brought Mahayana Buddhism to China. It is very different than Theravada or Tibetan Buddhism. Lokaksema and Dharmaraksa translated Buddhist scripture in China.

Buddhism became popular, and people built Buddhist temple sites such as the Bingling Grottoes and the Mogao Grottoes. The Bingling Grottoes (炳灵寺)near Lanzhou in Gansu Province is a big ancient Buddhist temple complex with an array of statuary and frescoes dating from about 420 to the Ming Dynasty. The earliest statues have typical Indian hand gestures and poses. The Bezeklik Grottoes near Turpan show Caucasian and Indian and Mongoloid Buddhists together. Central Asians continued to propagate Buddhist teachings during the Tang Dynasty (618-907), and it became very popular and powerful. Near the end of the Tang Empire in 845, the Taoist Tang Dynasty rulers turned against Buddhists and destroyed thousands of monasteries and tens of thousands of temples.

Chama Road Buddhism
The other big land route called the Chama Road linked southeastern China with Tibet and Southeast Asia. During the time of the Tang Empire, a powerful empire called the Nanzhao Empire (738-902) existed in Yunnan. Their capital was around Dali. The Nanzhao rulers were also influenced by the religious teachings of foreigners who traveled there. They were Buddhists and constructed large Buddhist temples around Dali and on Shibaoshan Mountain. These were centers for Buddhist teaching. While the Tang Dynasty turned against Buddhism, the Nanzhao and Dali Kingdom supported it. They preserved Buddhism and helped it spread. Three very large and famous Buddhist pagodas called the Three Pagodas still remain from their rule.

Major Schools
Due to the large number of foreign monks who came to teach Buddhism in China and various texts, various new and independent traditions emerged. Among the most influential of these was the practice of Pure Land Buddhism taught by Hui Yuan that focused on Amitābha Buddha. People in this tradition prayed to Amitabha Buddha for salvation. Another major early tradition was the Tiantai school that was founded by Zhiyi that is based upon the primacy of the Lotus Sutra. Both of these kinds of Buddhism spread to other countries.

During the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), Chan Buddhism was the preeminent type of Buddhism. It is said that the Chan sect began when an Indian monk named Bodhidharma came to China. It is said that an emperor favored his teachings, and he and the emperor founded a temple at the present Shaolin Monastery in Henan in 497 or so. Similar to Taoism, Chan Buddhists distrusted written scriptures but trusted meditation and inaction.

Another Indian who is now called Tamo by Chinese came to China about the year 526. According to reports, in India he had trained hard in Mahayana Buddhist practices that required hard exercise and martial arts training as well as study and meditation. When he arrived at the Shaolin Monastery, he criticized the monks for being weak and without martial arts training. He was told to leave. He was said to have meditated in a cave for a period of time, and then he was accepted by the other monks and they started training.

The Shaolin Temple was the main temple of Shaolin Buddhism in China. The style of Buddhism developed there centered on martial arts training and Chan meditation. In Japan, Chan was called Zen. The Zen way of meditation practiced by many Japanese originated there as did certain styles of martial arts in East Asian countries. It is thought that the teachers at the temple had a big influence on both the Buddhism and the martial arts in Korea and Japan, but they didn’t have as big an influence in China where there were many other religions and philosophies and martial arts styles.

Qing Dynasty and Modern Times
The religion of the Qing court was Tibetan Buddhism. They also favored Confucianism. During the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, in an attempt to eradicate all religion, the government and many people attacked Buddhist temples all over the country and even destroyed very ancient temple sites. In the last two decades, Buddhism has become popular again.

Art is an important part of Chinese heritage, culture and history. The country has excelled in all forms of art for several centuries and shows proof of theshadow+play country’s love of this cultural element dating back to thousands of years. The art from China includes performing arts, sculpture, paintings and even cave drawings.

Chinese Physical and Painted Art Through History
China is an artistic country that started developing the unique artwork thousands of years ago. Cave drawings are found throughout the mountainous regions of China and depict nature scenes, people and animals that remain an important theme of the artists even centuries in the future.

As the culture developed and moved away from cave dwellings, the arts throughout the country began to take on a brush stroke design that is still noticeable in modern Chinese art. Despite the gradual improvements and obvious developments in the style of paintings and sculptures, the art retained a central theme that focused on nature and harmony.

The central theme of nature, harmony and the elements has grown and developed with the culture of the country. Chinese history shows that the swirling brush strokes depicting rivers, rocks, plant life and animals retained a similarity that dates back to the original cave drawings.

Physical arts in China include more than just the basic paintings, which also include sculptures, pottery, carvings and calligraphy writings. The pottery from China is particularly well-known around the world due to the technique of using a hard clay combined with feldspar to eliminate any cracks or gaps in the clay. The pottery has developed into the fine porcelain that is seen in modern times.

China is also well-known for the jade carvings that are used in jewelry, home decoration and a wide range of other applications. Jade carvings date back to around 1,300 years and are an important part of the country’s rich history.

The sculpture of China is most well-known when it relates to the graves of ancient kings. The sculptures of clay soldiers, horses and servants have been found in archaeological digs. These sculptures have fine detailing that showcases facial features and detailed armor.

Developing Performing Arts
Among the many arts found in China is the performing arts. Like paintings, sculptures, carvings and other physical arts, the performing arts in China have a long history. The performing arts range from martial arts like Kung Fu to folk songs and dances that vary by region and area.

The performing arts in China are known to date back to the tribes that occupied the land long before the culture became well developed. As the country began to unify and change, the performing arts took on elements of different tribes to create harmonious performances.

The performing arts in China have constantly grown, developed and changed while keeping elements of the original art. Current performing arts like singing, acting and the traditional Chinese Opera retain many elements that are found in folk songs and dances with a modern twist that incorporates newer instruments and techniques.

Chinese art has a unique aspect that sets it apart from other cultures. With the long history of harmonizing old techniques and themes with newer styles, the country has transformed art. The art from China often has a central theme of nature, harmony and balance that makes it an excellent example of the values that are held within the country. With a history that dates back over 10,000 years, it is no surprise that Chinese art has a developed and unique design that is an important part of the country’s history.

Performing Arts

  • Chinese Kung Fu
  • Chinese Acrobatics
  • Beijing Opera
  • The Chinese Folk Dances
  • Chinese Shadow Plays
  • Chinese Puppet Plays
  • Chinese Classical Instruments
  • Ten Most Famous Melodies in Ancient China
  • Chinese Traditional Operas
  • Chinese Folk Music
  • Traditional Chinese Music

Crafts and Products

  • Chinese Embroidery
  • Chinese Lanterns
  • Chinese Paper Cuttings
  • Chinese Cloisonne
  • Batik:Wax Printing
  • Chinese Silk
  • Chinese Seals
  • Chinese Paper Umbrella
  • Ancient Chinese Furniture
  • Chinese knots
  • Chinese Bonsai
  • Chinese Kites
  • The Chinese Abacus
  • Jade Articles in China

After having spent some time in Beijing I decided to write down some history and facts.

Beijing is as we all know, the capital of the People’s Republic of China. It is the place where the Central Committee of the Communist Party and the Government are located. This ancient city feels modern while having strong traditional flavors. We will discover why.

The first people in Beijing
pekingmanThe earliest residents in Beijing are known as the ‘Peking Man’, or Peking ape-man, and lived in the Old Stone Age (200,000 to 700,000 years ago) at Dragon Bone Hill (42km) southwest of Beijing. The first skull was discovered by Pei Wenzhong in 1929. The Peking Man where followed up by the ‘New Cave Man’ in the Middle Stone Age (100,000 to 200,000 years ago) and fossils of the ‘Upper Cave Man’, where found in the cave above the cave of the ‘Peking Man’. They are said to have lived about 18,000 years ago (in the Late Stone Age) and where much nearer to the modern man. In the New Stone Age Beijing has known respectively: the ‘East Hu Lin Man’, the ‘Upper Dwelling Man’ and the ‘Snow Man’ (4,000 years ago). The period from the Peking Man up to 1,000 BC is called the ‘Bronze Age’, or ‘Slave Society’, as the Slave tribes appeared.

Origin of Beijing
As a city, Beijing has a history of over 3,000 years, from which 1,000 years as a Jicapital. About one or two thousand years BC small settlement appeared near Beijing. One of them in the southwest, around the Guanganmen area. With time, this settlement grew into a prosperous market town in the Zhou Dynasty and was called ‘Ji’ or ‘Jicheng’, from 1046 BC. Today (2013) Beijing is 3,059 years old. After that the city took many names; Yanjing, zhuojun, Youzhou (Xi’An was the capital at this time), and then respectively Peidu, Zhongdu, Dadu, Beiping and finally Beijing.

Beijing as a Capital in 5 Dynasties
Beijing has been the capital city for five dynasties: Liao, Jin, Yuan, Ming and Qing until the 1911 Revolution led by dr. Sun Yat-sen.

Liao Dynasty (907-1125)
In the 10th century, the Khitan, a Mongolian tribe from the west Liao River, established the Liao Dynasty in 938. In this period the historical position of, in that time called Youzhou, changed from a military strategic city to the political center of the whole country. The city was renamed Yanjing and has been the capital ever since. Some historical remains can still be found in: The Round City, Temple of Great Awakening (northwest of Beijing), The Pagoda of the temple of Heavenly Tranquility and The Mosque at Niujia.

Jin Dynasty (1115 – 1234)
In the 12th century, the Nuzhen tribe from the Songhua River in the northeast drove out the Khitan Liao. Jin rulers moved their capital to the city of Yangjing in 1153 and it’s name was changed into Zongdu (Central Capital). Large-scale construction was carried out in the Jin Dynasty. The old city borders where enlarged and a new imperial palace was built. Some of Jin rulers’ imperial gardens can still be visited like Tongleyuan, Genfenligong and Badashuiyuan (8 Grant Gardens). The Jin rulers also did a lot of work in water conservancy and water transportation of grain to the capital. Some projects failed, but the most successful one was the ‘Marco Polo Bridge’. It was here that the War of Resistance Against Japan broke out (1937 ~ 1945).

Yuan Dynasty (1206 – 1368)
The Jin Dynasty lasted no more then 60 years as then the Mongolians intruded. In 1215 a cavalry force broke through south part of the Great Wall and captured Zongdu, during this fight the city was nearly razed to the ground. At this time Zhongdu was only the capital of the north part of China, as in the south there was the Southern Song Dynasty. In order to bring all China under control, Kublai Khan came down from Mongolia to Zhongdu and established the Yuan Dynasty in 1260. In 1272 the capitals name was changed into Dadu.

Dadu became the political center of the whole unified China. Kublai Khan decided to abandon the old Jin City (dilapidated after war and too hard to rebuild) and built the center of Dadu (the Great Capital). This is where Beihai Park stands today. The Imperial Palace was built around the two lakes. The ruins of the northern city-wall surrounding Dadu can still be seen beyond Deshengmen as welll as many other buildings like The Temple of the White Pagoda.

Interesting is that Dadu attracted many merchants and foreign traders. The Yuan rulers were probably much more open to the outside then the rulers in Ming, Qing and other dynasties.

Ming Dynasty
In 1368, Zhu Yuanzhang, successfully led the rebellion and overtrew the Yuan Court and established the Ming Dynasty, with its capital in Nanjing, so Beijing was no longer the capital. The last emperor of Dadu fled back to the Mongolian steppes, after which Dadu was renamed Beiping (Northern Peace) and Zhu’s son Zhu Di became the city’s king. After Zhu Di’s father died in 1398, and a three years lasting interfamilial war, Zhu Di became (After his father and nephew) the third emperor of the Ming Dynasty. Since he knew the strategic importance of Beiping and in order to resist the raid by the Mongolian forces more effectively, he officially moved the capital from Nanjing to Beiping and changed the city name into Beijing, in 1421. He rebuilt Beijing on the foundations of Dadu, implementing architectural styles of earlier Chinese capitals, especially Nanjing. He made ajustments to the city walls, and built the Forbidden City, the Imperial City, Drum Tower and Bell Tower. At the end of the Ming Dynasty, because of the government corruption, a Peasant Uprising Army led by Li Zicheng attacked Beijing in 1644. They took over Beijing and the last emperor hung himself on a tree in the Coal Hill behind the Forbidden City. The Ming Dynasty that lasted for 276 years, was over. Li Zicheng played a very important role in Chinese history.
Map

Qing Dynasty
Only 40 days after Li Zicheng entered Beijing he was defeated by the Manchu (a minority in the north of China) troops, that had passed through the Great Wall. Manchu forces occupied Beijing and proclaimed the founding of the Qing Dynasty, which lasted for 268 years, with a total of 10 sovereigns (1644 ~ 1911). The new rulers continued to use the Forbidden City as their imperial palaces and spent a large amount of money and manpower to rebuild Beijing and its imperial gardens. The greatest achievement was building the ‘three hills and five gardens’ in the northwestern outskirts of Beijing.

In 1911, the revolution led by Dr. Sun Yat-sen, overthrew the Qing Dynasty and the Republic of China was founded. The May 4th movement, with massive student demonstrations, heralded the New Democratic Revolution. It was a struggle against feudalism and foreign imperialism, and therefore regarded as a turning point in Chinese history. A new party was born – the Communist Party of China. Beijing became the birthplace of the revolution in modern China. In 1928, the Kuomintang Government moved the capital back to Nanjing and Beijing was renamed Beiping again.

The People’s Republic of China
On January 31st 1949, the People’s Liberation Army liberated Beijing without the use of force. On October 1st 1949, the people of Beijing hailed their liberation when Chairman Mao Zedong stood on Tiananmen Rostrum, saying “The Chinese people have stood up!’. At this time the city of Beiping got the name Beijing back until today.
I have taught an English language class on Chairman Mao.

Imagine China has lived under 24 dynasties and about 400 emperors – kings! The written history of China can be said to date back to the Shang Dynasty (1600–1046 BC), over 3,000 years ago. The first dynasty was founded in the 21st century B.C., and China was first unified in 221 B.C.

PREHISTORY

Archaeological evidence suggests that the first people inhabited China between 250,000 and 2.24 million years ago [1]. A cave (near present-day Beijing) exhibits fossils of Peking Man, an example of Homo Erectus who used fire [2]. You can read more about this period in my post of Beijing’s history.

IMPERIAL ERA

First Dynasties
The founding of China’s first dynasty, Xia Dynasty in the 21st century B.C. marked a change from a primitive society to a slave society. Slave society developed further during the Shang (16th-11th century B.C.) and the Western Zhou (11th century-770 B.C.) Dynasties. This era was followed by the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods (770-221 B.C.), and the transition from the slave society to feudal society.

The first Chinese dynasty that left historical records, called Shang Dynasty, settled along the Yellow river in eastern China from the 17th to the 11th century BC. The oracle bone script of the this Dynasty represents the oldest form of Chinese writing yet found, and the direct ancestor of the modern Chinese characters.

The Shang were invaded from the west by the Zhou, who ruled between the 12th and 5th centuries BC. Many independent states eventually emerged out of the Zhou state, and continually waged war with each other. During this period there were seven powerful sovereign states in what is now China, each with its own king, ministry and army [4]. In the Zhou Dynasty Beijing was a prosperous market town (but not China’s capital city) called Ji or Jicheng ( about 1000 years BC).

The First Emperor
In 221 B.C., Ying Zheng, a man of great talent and bold vision, ended the rivalry among the independent principalities in the Warring States Period.

He established the first centralized, unified, multi-ethnic state in Chinese history, under the Qin Dynasty (221-206 B.C.). He called himself Shi Huang Di (始皇帝), the First Emperor. During his reign, he standardized the script, currencies, and weights and measures, established the system of prefectures and counties, and began the construction of the world-renowned Great Wall. He also built a large palace and a mausoleum (the Terracotta Army). At the end of the Qin Dynasty, Liu Bang, a peasant leader, overthrew the Qin regime in cooperation with Xi’ang Yu, an aristocratic general. A few years later, Liu Bang defeated Xi’ang Yu and established the strong, Han Dynasty in 206 B.C.

Han Dynasty
During this Dynasty, that lasted until A.D. 220, agriculture, handicrafts, and commerce were well developed. During the reign of Emperor Wu Di, the Han regime reached the period of its greatest prosperity. The multi-ethnic country became more united during the Han regime, which existed in total 426 years. ‘Han’ cultural identity has endured to the present day.[47][48]

The Han Dynasty expanded the territory with military campaigns reaching Korea, Vietnam, Mongolia and Central Asia. Han China gradually became the largest economy of the ancient world.[49] and was called the First Golden Age of China. In this period the Chinese started using paper, porcelains. The emperor conquered the Xiongnu nomads, sent Zhang Qian as an envoy to the Western Regions (Central Asia), and in the process pioneered the route known as the ‘Silk Road’ from the Han capital Chang’An through Xinjiang to Europe. One of the Four Beauties of Ancient China, Wang Zhaojun, was married as a ‘political bride’ to chieftain of the Xiongnu in 33 B.C. Her life and influence created a famous inspiring story about marriage between the Han and the Xiongnu.

Middle dynasties
Han Dynasty was followed by the Three Kingdoms Period (220-265) of Wei, Shu, and Wu. It was followed by the Jin (265-420), the Southern and Northern Dynasties (420-589), and the Sui Dynasty (581-618).

In 618, Li Yuan founded the Tang Dynasty (618-907). Later, Li Shimin (r. 626-649), son of Li Yuan, ascended the throne as Emperor Taizong, considered one of the greatest emperors in Chinese history.

After the Tang Dynasty, came the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms (907-960).

The Song Dynasty (south) / The Liao and Jin Dynasty (north)
The Song Dynasty was the first government in world history to issue paper money. During the this Dynasty there was also the Liao and Jin Dynasty in the North, with Beijing as their Capital City. See my post on the Evolution of Beijing for more on this topic. During this period the population of China doubled in size to around 100 million people, mostly due to the expansion of rice cultivation in central and southern China, and the production of abundant food surpluses.

The Song Dynasty also saw a flourishing of philosophy and the arts, as landscape art and portrait painting were brought to new levels of maturity and complexity, and social elites gathered to view art, share their own and trade precious artworks. Philosophers such as Cheng Yi and Chu Hsi reinvigorated Confucianism with new commentary, infused Buddhist ideals, and emphasized a new organization of classic texts that brought about the core doctrine of Neo-Confucianism.

During the Song and Yuan dynasties, handicraft industry and domestic and foreign trade boomed. Many merchants and travelers came from abroad. Marco Polo from Venice traveled extensively in China, later describing the country’s prosperity in his book ‘Travels’.

The “four great inventions” of the Chinese people in ancient times, paper making, printing, the compass and gunpowder, were further developed in the Song and Yuan dynasties, and introduced to foreign countries.

The Yuan Dynasty
In 1271, the Mongol leader Kublai Khan established the Yuan Dynasty; the Yuan conquered the last remnant of the Song Dynasty in 1279. Before the Mongol invasion, Song Cina reportedly had approximately 120 million citizens; the 1300 census which followed the invasion reported roughly 60 million people.[58] At this time Beijing was called Dadu and became the political center of the whole unified China. Read my post on the Evolution of Beijing.

The Ming Dynasty
With a total of 16 emperors, the Ming Dynasty lasted 276 years, from 1368 to 1644.

A peasant named Zhu Yuanzhang overthrew the Yuan Dynasty in 1368 and founded the Ming Dynasty.[59] Under the Ming Dynasty, China enjoyed another golden age, developing one of the strongest navies in the world and a rich and prosperous economy amid a flourishing of art and culture. It was during this period that Zheng He led explorations throughout the world, reaching as far as Africa.[60] In the early years of the Ming Dynasty, China’s capital was moved from Nanjing to Beijing. Zhu’s achievements made him one of the most outstanding statesmen in Chinese history, along with Emperor Wudi of the Han Dynasty and Emperor Taizong of the Tang Dynasty.

The golden age of the Ming Dynasty thrived under Emperor Chengzu’s reign, known as the Yongle period (circa 1402). During this period, foreign relations were further strengthened via Zheng He’s voyage to Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean. The Ming regime also strengthened its relations with ethnic minority groups, promoting the economic and cultural exchanges among different nationalities. Its jurisdiction extended to the inside and outside of the Hinggan Mountains, Tianshan Mountains and Tibet.

When Emperor Yingzong ascended to the throne in 1436, the Ming Dynasty began its decline, mainly due to the monopoly of eunuchs. Corruptive officials levied heavy taxes on peasants, triggering countless uprisings. At the same time, the Ming Dynasty faced the danger of attacks from external forces.

During the reign of Emperor Jiajing (circa 1521), Zhang Juzheng was appointed to carry out a comprehensive reform in politics, the economy and military. For some time, things had changed for the better but, before long, a eunuch named Wei Zhongxian seized and abused his power, which accelerated the Ming’s decline.

At the same time, the Nüzhen of the northeast became powerful and finally overthrew the Ming Dynasty during a storm of peasant uprisings. Emperor Chongzhen hanged himself at the foot of the Coal Hill behind the imperial palace.

The Qing Dynasty
The Qing dynasty 清 (1644-1911) was the last imperial dynasty in China. It was founded by the non-Chinese people of the Manchus who originally lived in the northeast, a region later called Manchuria.

The Manchus used the disintegration of the central government of the Ming Empire 明 (1368-1644) to conquer China. They established a political system that successfully integrated the Chinese intellectuals into the administration of the empire. The Manchu people was organised militarily in the Eight Banners (baqi 八旗) and lived in “Manchu cities” in Beijing and most provincial capitals.

The early and high Qing emperors with the reign mottos Kangxi 康熙 (1662-1722), Yongzheng 雍正 (1723-1735) and Qianlong 乾隆 (1736-1795) were patrons of arts and literature. They also substantially expanded the territory of China by defeating the Oiratsor Dzungars (Western Mongols) that had tried to establish an independent khanate in Central Asia, and by conquering the Uyghur city states (modern Xinjiang), Tibet and the island of Taiwan. Qing China was the largest and most powerful empire of the world in 1795.

At the end of the eighteenth century increasing problems began to haunt China. Monetary inflation and rampant corruption among the officialdom led to numerous peasant rebellions. The long period of peace had contributed to a sharp increase in population growth, with ever more people not being able to nourish themselves. Qing China was caught in the so-called “high equilibrium trap” (Mark Elvin) with a relatively high agricultural productivity without technical progress. Very cautious towards the sea and its dangers, the Qing – like their predecessors, the Ming – were hesitant in the question of promoting international trade. The government allowed foreigners to purchase tea, silk and chinaware in one single port, Canton (Guangzhou 廣州, Guangdong), but refused to open more ports to British and other overseas merchants. The question of opium smuggling was the spark igniting the first of a series of wars in which Western powers “opened” China for trade and missionaries. These concessions were made by the Qing in the so-called “unequal treatises” in which China was made a “semi-colony” of Western powers.

Qing China’s society was “upside down” (Lin Man-Houng), and these problems exploded in the large Taiping Rebellion that nearly brought the Qing dynasty to an end. Political reforms in the late nineteenth century were only begun hesitatingly, and therefore caused the rise of political parties. The most successful of these were of a revolutionary character. In 1911 a mini-revolution initiated the disintegration of the empire and the foundation of a Republic (1912-1949) without any clear political concept.

MODERN ERA
The Revolution of 1911 is of great significance in modern Chinese history: the monarchical system was discarded with the founding of the provisional government of the Republic of China. The victory was soon compromised by concessions on the part of the Chinese bourgeoisie, and the country entered a period dominated by the Northern Warlords, headed by Yuan Shikai.

Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, China has entered a new Communist era of stability, with the Reform and Opening Up policies of 1978, bringing in China’s phenomenal economic growth.

TIMELINE

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屏幕快照 2013-04-18 下午3.48.16

屏幕快照 2013-04-18 下午3.48.37

 

Christianity is one of the three big world religions to come to China from the west. Of the three religions, it was the second to arrive — after Buddhism and before Islam. There have been about 6 eras when Chinese became Christians, and then the religion went underground or the Christians were driven out or killed. The first wave was said to be soon after Jesus’ death and in the first few centuries AD. The second wave was Nestorianism starting from about the seventh century. The third wave was Catholicism that was spread during the Yuan Dynasty (1206–1368). The fourth wave was Catholicism during the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1636–1911) Dynasties. The fifth wave was mainly Protestantism and Evangelicalism when missionaries arrived mainly from Western Europe and America during the 1800s and early 1900s. The sixth wave was mainly indigenous growth of indigenous Christian churches that are similar to Western Evangelicals and Pentecostals that started during the Cultural Revolution, and this may be China’s fastest growing religion now in the 21st Century. Nowadays, there are tens of millions of Christians, but professed Christians are mainly women and mainly live in the developed Eastern Coast. The religion has been severely repressed and outlawed several times in China’s history, but it quickly growing now.

Present Chinese Christianity
During the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s, all religions were repressed. Churches, temples and mosques were destroyed, and many people were killed and tortured to drive people from religion. However, in the countryside in some eastern and northern provinces, Chinese Christianity suddenly started to grow very quickly as Chinese went around preaching from village to village. In some villages and small country towns, most of the people professed Christianity. The repression didn’t stop the growth, though it was usual for Christian leaders to be imprisoned.

The growth came from conversion. Unlike other Chinese religious adherents, Christians in China become Christians by change of faith and not by birth. In China, people who are born into Muslim families are considered Muslim if they simply don’t eat pork or follow other “Muslim” customs. People are considered Buddhist or Taoist if they simply pay homage at ancestral tombs and believe that their ancestors are with them spiritually. But becoming a Christian in a hostile society is a matter of faith and is voluntary. Chinese Christians must believe that a man born thousands of years ago and thousands of kilometers away to an unknown alien people was the Son of God. The beliefs are hard to swallow and strange to Chinese: somehow faith in a man who died 2,000 years ago in a foreign country means forgiveness of sins and salvation. One has to believe this man resurrected and created the Universe. The beliefs are strange and outside traditional ways of thinking about the nature of human life and the cosmos.

Christianity in China has always been a minority religion in a hostile society. Unlike in western countries where Christianity was the dominant religion, Christianity was never a part of the culture and almost never the religion of rulers. This may be why unlike the other religions, it seems that the Christian presence kept dying out after Christianity spread for a while.

However, in the past hundred years, Christianity has taken root. Tens of millions have become baptized Christians. During the 1970s, it was known as a religion of peasants, but after 1989, it started to quickly spread among the educated people and business people in coastal cities like Shanghai and the economic zone regions. It is said that the number of Christians has doubled since 1997, and they are now perhaps 5% of the population.

Now, Christianity in China is mainly polarized between Jidujiao (基督教, Chinese Evangelical) and Tianzhujiao (天主教, Chinese Catholics), the government supported Three Self Churches and independent “house churches,” and country churches of poor people and city churches of Chinese middle-class people, rich business people, and the highly educated. Jidujiao is far more popular than Tianzhujiao, and there may be something like 70 million Chinese Evangelicals. But it is hard to know for sure, since there has never been a religious poll taken, and many house churches that are Evangelical are reluctant of publicity. The Three Self Churches say that they have 20 million members, but the house churches where people simply meet in homes and office buildings probably have more people attending. A large percentage attends both kinds of meetings.

Chinese Christianity is different than traditional European or American Christianity in that women are usually the leaders in the churches and groups. Women are usually the majority at house church meetings or Three Self Church services. Chinese Christianity tends to be Pentecostal. This means that they regularly pray for miracles and believe in miraculous “gifts of the Spirit.” The house churches of educated and wealthy Chinese tend to be service-oriented and mindful or global issues and problems. For example, after the big earthquake in Sichuan in 2008, many house churches funded volunteers who went to rescue victims and finance their rebuilding efforts. Foreigners in China can attend Three Self Churches, but there are some laws against foreigners and Chinese Christians meeting together, so foreigners in China usually go to foreigner-only churches. Some of these foreigner churches in big cities are large. The house churches emphasize giving money and resources and taking care of needs of Christians more than in European and American churches. The Three Self Churches are big and impersonal. The government approved “Catholic” (Tianzhujiao) Churches are not Roman Catholic because they are not allowed to have direct contact or obedience to the Roman hierarchy in Rome. These churches have little participation though Tianzhujiao Church buildings are common in the cities. Eastern Orthodoxy is little known among Chinese, except in places like Harbin close to Russia.

History
Jesus was the founder of the religion. He lived in a Roman territory called Israel and was born a Jew. He was born around 0 AD and died about 32 AD. He claimed to be the Son of God which meant that he himself was God the Creator in human form according to the writings of his direct disciples. Perhaps early Christians traveled to China in the first few centuries according to some legends, but it isn’t known what effect they had. Part of the problem about Christian history is that Chinese rulers and people of other religions in China usually tried to wipe out Christians or evidence of Christian history or churches, so it isn’t clear what happened in China during the first few centuries after Christ.

Jesus’s main teaching was that he is the Lord and that if people have faith in him and obey him, he would save them from the place after death called hell that he talked about and he would give them physical help and healing. His disciples wrote that his death on the cross paid for the sins of the world for forgiveness of sins. The way of life presented in the New Testament is about an extremely close and personal contact with a loving Creator who does many miracles to bless people. People are warned that without a change of heart people can’t enter heaven and that persecution is promised.

Nestorians
The first clear historical evidence of Christianity in China dates to about 600 AD. There were schisms in early Christianity concerning doctrines and authority. A patriarch or top Christian leader of Constantinople that was the capital of the Roman Byzantine Empire who was named Nestorius differed with other leaders about certain doctrines about the year 430. Many leaders and churches sided with him when there was a division. Some Nestorians moved to Persia. The Nestorians called their church the Church of the East, and it spread widely in Central Asia and spread to China in the 7th Century.

We know about the existence of Nestorians in China and about their activities through archeological discoveries of a Nestorian church and Nestorian wall paintings near Turpan in Xinjiang, old church remains in China, Marco Polo’s observations and other accounts, and a monument that was carved in 781. The monument explained the extent of Christianity in China and how a missionary named Alopun came to Chang An that was then the capital of the Tang Empire in the year 635. The monument describes in some detail both the teachings and growth of the religion. The monument was discovered in Xian in the year 1625. The monument said that a Tang emperor named Taizong (599-649) approved of the preaching of the religion all over the empire and ordered the construction of a church in Chang An. The doctrines explained on the monument are recognizable as Christian teachings to modern Christians, but they also seem strange in their emphasis and incomplete.

Alopun journeyed on the Silk Road route through the Gansu Corridor to reach Chang An. He traveled through Xinjiang. A Nestorian church was discovered outside the ancient Silk Road city of Gaochang. That and some wall paintings showed that Nestorian Christianity was a religion in the area at one time. The Uighurs arrived in Xinjiang and took it over about the year 842. Some of them became Nestorian. In a few places in Tang China, there may have been more Nestorians than Buddhists. At the end of the Tang Dynasty, the Tang rulers became intolerant of “foreign religions.” Emperor Wuzong (814 – 846) who was a Taoist decreed that all foreign religions be banned, and Christians and people of other religions including Buddhism were persecuted. In 907, the Tang Dynasty was destroyed, and trade and travel along the Silk Road route largely ended.

Roman Catholics
In 1279, the Mongols captured China and established the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368 A.D). They reopened Silk Road trade though Xinjiang, and Marco Polo journeyed to China. When he went back to Europe, he reported that there were a large number of Nestorians in southern China, in Beijing that was the capital of the Yuan Empire, and in major trading cities that he visited. The Catholic pope sent a missionary to Beijing in 1294. The Mongols were tolerant of various religions, and they allowed the Catholics to build churches. By the end of the Yuan Dynasty, there were a lot of Catholics in Beijing and another city. However, the Chinese resented the Mongols, and when they rebelled against the Mongols, they also attacked the Nestorians and Catholics. During the Ming Dynasty, both kinds of Christians were expelled.

Towards the end of the Ming Dynasty, Catholics came to China again. There was a “Reformation” of Christianity in Europe, and a group of educated Catholics called Jesuits sent missionaries to Asia. In 1582, a Jesuit named Ricci landed in Macau. He then went to Beijing. He said that by 1605, there were a thousand converts. By 1615, there were 10,000. Some of these converts were members of the Ming court. The Manchus conquered China and established the Qing Dynasty in 1644. The number of Catholics increased during the Qing Dynasty (1636–1911). By 1724, there were 300 Catholic churches in China, but again a Qing emperor ordered that the churches be destroyed or confiscated. There were an estimated 300,000 Catholics then, but the numbers dwindled down again.

Evangelicals
After this, in the 1800s, Protestant and Evangelical missionaries arrived from Europe and America. The British government forced the Qing rulers to give them treaty ports. These were places where the missionaries first settled. Then they started to travel around inland. Hudson Taylor risked his life many times, and was among the first to pioneer missions outside the European port areas. By 1895, Hudson Taylor’s organization had more than 600 missionaries in China. Many other missionaries established schools and hospitals. These schools educated thousands of Chinese, and the hospitals and modern medicine saved perhaps tens of thousands of lives.

The Taiping rebellion against the Qing Dynasty (1636–1911) was started by people with some Protestant Christian beliefs in 1850. This rebellion was at first successful, and they conquered much of the country and set up a rival capital in Nanjing. The Qing rulers defeated the rebellion with foreign aid. Then in 1899, the Boxer Rebellion started. The Boxer Rebellion started with Chinese Kungfu artists and armed groups attacking missionaries and Chinese Christians. The Christians rarely fought back. The rebellion turned into an open attack on foreign armies in conjunction with the Qing army. The attack failed, and in 1901, the Chinese Boxer Rebellion leaders, Shaolin monks and others started to flee to other countries.

The Qing Dynasty (1636–1911) became increasingly unpopular. Sun Yat-Sen (1866-1925) was born in 1866 in Guangdong. He is called the “Father of Modern China” because he helped to organize resistance and rebellion against the empire and was China’s first president, and he might have been the most prominent baptized Christian in Chinese history. It is said that when he was young, he listened to stories about the Taiping Rebellion and their goals from a former Taiping soldier. When he was 13, he went to Honolulu, Hawaii. He returned to Guangdong after graduating from a school in Hawaii. He had learned Christian beliefs, and when he arrived in Guangdong, he hated what he thought was superstitious Chinese idolatry and damaged an idol in a temple. He fled Guangdong after that, and enrolled in a Christian academy in Hong Kong in 1884. He became a Christian doctor. Political, social and religious change was the main goal of his life. He started traveling around the world to organize people and collect funding. He helped to organize a revolution against the Qing that was successful, and in 1912, Sun Yat-Sen became temporary president of the Republic of China. His capital was Nanjing.

After he died, the Chinese government divided into Communist and Nationalist factions. The Nationalists initially controlled most of the country. Chiang Kai-shek was another Chinese president who was a baptized Christian. He was baptized in 1930. By the time the Nationalist government was driven out of China in 1949, it is said there were 3 million Chinese Catholics and almost a million Chinese Protestants. After that, harsh repression and extermination of Christians drove many Christians into hiding. During the 1970s, the number of native Evangelicals quickly increased.

Major combat in the Chinese Civil War ended in 1949 with the Communist Party in control of mainland China, and the Kuomintang retreating offshore, reducing the ROC’s territory to only Taiwan, Hainan, and their surrounding islands. On 1 October 1949, Mao Zedong proclaimed the People’s Republic of China, which was commonly known in the West as “Communist China” or “Red China” during the Cold War. In 1950, the People’s Liberation Army succeeded in capturing Hainan from the ROC, occupying Tibet, and defeating the majority of the remaining Kuomintang forces in Yunnan and Xinjiang provinces, though some Kuomintang holdouts survived until much later.

sZsi9XwLEo7q8YNGOXMaKYtCOoNaKYteAoMWEXNiDXNeAXB4QY79EnQzCnx1DmB0Gbd1FZMyMMao encouraged population growth, and under his leadership the Chinese population almost doubled from around 550 million to over 900 million. However, Mao’s Great Leap Forward, a large-scale economic and social reform project, resulted in an estimated 45 million deaths between 1958 and 1961, mostly from starvation. Between 1 and 2 million landlords were executed as “counterrevolutionaries.”In 1966, Mao and his allies launched the Cultural Revolution, which would last until Mao’s death a decade later. The Cultural Revolution, motivated by power struggles within the Party and a fear of the Soviet Union, led to a major upheaval in Chinese society. In October 1971, the PRC replaced the Republic of China in the United Nations, and took its seat as a permanent member of the Security Council. In that same year, for the first time, the number of countries recognizing the PRC surpassed those recognizing the ROC in Taipei as the government of China. In February 1972, at the peak of the Sino-Soviet split, Mao and Zhou Enlai met Richard Nixon in Beijing. However, the US did not officially recognise the PRC as China’s sole legitimate government until 1 January 1979.

After Mao’s death in 1976 and the arrest of the Gang of Four, who were blamed for the excesses of the Cultural Revolution, Deng Xiaoping quickly wrested power from Mao’s anointed successor Hua Guofeng. Although he never became the head of the party or state himself, Deng was in fact the “paramount leader” of China at that time, his influence within the Party led the country to significant economic reforms. The Communist Party subsequently loosened governmental control over citizens’ personal lives and the communes were disbanded with many peasants receiving multiple land leases, which greatly increased incentives and agricultural production. This turn of events marked China’s transition from a planned economy to a mixed economy with an increasingly open market environment, a system termed by some “market socialism”; the Communist Party of China officially describes it as “socialism with Chinese characteristics”. China adopted its current constitution on 4 December 1982.

The death of pro-reform official Hu Yaobang helped to spark the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, during which students and others campaigned for several months, speaking out against corruption and in favour of greater political reform, including democratic rights and freedom of speech. However, they were eventually put down on 4 June when PLA troops and vehicles entered and forcibly cleared the square, resulting in numerous casualties. This event was widely reported and brought worldwide condemnation and sanctions against the government. The “Tank Man” incident in particular became famous.

President Jiang Zemin and Premier Zhu Rongji, both former mayors of Shanghai, led the nation in the 1990s. Under Jiang and Zhu’s ten years of administration, China’s economic performance pulled an estimated 150 million peasants out of poverty and sustained an average annual gross domestic product growth rate of 11.2%. The country formally joined the World Trade Organization in 2001.

Although rapid economic growth has made the Chinese economy the world’s second-largest, this growth has also severely impacted the country’s resources and environment. Another concern is that the benefits of economic development has not been distributed evenly, resulting in a wide development gap between urban and rural areas. As a result, under President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao, the Chinese government initiated policies to address these issues of equitable distribution of resources, though the outcome remains to be seen. More than 40 million farmers have been displaced from their land, usually for economic development, contributing to the 87,000 demonstrations and riots which took place across China in 2005 alone. Living standards have improved significantly but political controls remain tight. Although China largely succeeded in maintaining its rapid rate of economic growth despite the late-2000s recession, its growth rate began to slow in the early 2010s, and the economy remains overly focused on fixed investment. In addition, preparations for a major Communist Party leadership change in late 2012 were marked by factional disputes and political scandals, such as the fall from power of Chongqing official Bo Xilai.

Li Keqiang

Who is leading today?
During China’s decadal leadership reshuffle in November 2012, Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao were replaced as President and Premier by Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang, who formally took office in 2013.

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The Republic of China was the official designation of the state that succeeded the last imperial dynasty, the Qing 清 (1644-1911). The Republic was founded in the hope to establish a modern state able to shake off the image of a decadent and antediluvian form of government and to enter the sphere of the international community. Yet from the beginning the Republic was beset with internal struggles. President Yuan Shikai and others tried reviving the monarchy, while the “true” revolutionary, Sun Yat-sen (Sun Zhongshan 孫中山), was only able to rule over his home province of Guangdong. In the north of China, several groups of warlords contested with each other for power.

While the European states and the USA were engaged in the catastrophe of the Great War (1914-1918), and then in the economic depression of the 1920s, Japan used this power vacuum to gain more and more control over Manchuria.

The political liberation of China from its past failed, but at least, the May 4th Movement (Wusi yundong 五四運動) contributed to the creation of a modern form of literature, a critical stance towards the fossilized form of Confucianism (that was seen as the main cause for China’a backwardness), and a new national consciousness.

Sun Yat-sen set up his ideology of the “three principles of the people” (sanmin zhuyi 三民主義) that envisaged a “tutelage phase” before the introduction of democracy. Accordingly, his party, the Kuo-min-tang (Guomindang 國民黨) never considered democracy as a first option. After Sun’s death, his political heir Chiang Kai-shek (Jiang Jieshi) 蔣介石 fulfilled Sun’s dream of a reunited China, undertook the more or less successful Northern Campaign (beifa 北伐), forced the warlords into submission or alliance, and established the “Republican” one-party goverment in Nanjing. During the so-called Nanking decade (from 1927 to 1937) he refused any reforms and instead ruthlessly suppressed opposition, especially the Communist Party (Gongchandang 共產黨) that first agitated in Shanghai, and then in so-called soviets in the province of Jiangxi. The Communists survived several extinction campaigns and in 1936 escaped in the Long March (changzheng 長征) that ended in the “liberated zone” in Yan’an 延安, Shaanxi. During the Long March Mao Zedong 毛澤東 had taken over the position of chairman and from then on became the undisputed leader of the Communist Party.

In 1937 the incident at the Marco Polo Bridge 盧溝橋, whether provocated by the Japanese militarists or not, directly led to the second Sino-Japanese war (in China called Kang Ri zhanzheng 抗日戰爭 “war of resistance against Japan”). The Japanese occupied the easter coast and many cities along the main waterways. Atrocities took place in the capital Nanjing in December 1937. The Chiang Kai-shek regime withdrew to Chongqing 重慶 (at that time part of Sichuan province) from where it orchestrated the joint war of the National Army and Communist troops against the Japanese occupants. The Japanese founded the puppet state of Manchuguo in Manchuria and found a collaborator in Wang Jingwei 汪精衛, a former party collegue of Chiang Kai-shek.

In 1945 the Japanese surrendered. The American envoy General George Marshal was unable to reconcile Chiang Kai-shek and the Communists. A bloody civil war erupted in which first the National Army of the Kuo-min-tang prevailed, but from 1947 on the so-called Liberation Army of the Communist Party. On October 1, 1949, Mao Zedong proclaimed the so-called People’s Republic of China 中華人民共和國 (since 1949). Chiang Kai-shek and many of the national elite fled to Taiwan, where the Republic lived on, in the earstwhile hope to reconquer the mainland.

Last week I arrived in Beijing and it looks like I am staying for quite a while, as I will be studying the Chinese Language, so I will start this new experience with a post on some facts on The People’s Republic of China (中国 Zhōngguó, ‘Middle Country’).

Geography

  • Most international borders (14): Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, and North Korea
  • Area: 9,600,000 square kilometers (3,700,000 square miles)
  • Population: 1.354.1 m, 2010
  • Capital: Beijing
  • Largest City: Shanghai (Municipality pop. 23,000,000)
  • Administrative divisions: 23 provinces (including Taiwan), 5 Autonomous Regions, 4 Municipalities, and 2 Special Administrative Regions
  • Terrain: 33% mountains, 26% high plateaus, 19% basins and deserts, 12% plains regions, 10% hills.
  • Climate: Generally speaking, the north of China is much colder and drier than the south, and the west of China is generally drier than the east.

National Facts

  • National Day: October 1st — Anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China
  • Biggest National Festival: Chinese New Year
  • National Anthem: March of the Volunteers
  • National Treasure: Giant Panda
  • National Currency: RMB (Renminbi) or Yuan (CNY)

Economy

  • World’s second largest economy: 5.9$bn (2010)
  • World’s second largest economy by purchasing power: 10$bn (2010)
  • World’s third largest spender on R&D: 104.3 $bn (2010)
  • GDP per capita: 7,600 $PPP (2010)
  • Development: fastest in world history at 10%+ for the last 30 years
  • Industry: World’s largest producer of: concrete, steel, fertilizer, clothing and toys.
  • Largest surpluses (305,374 million US dollars, 2010)
  • World’s largest producer of Cereals (497,000 tonnes, 2010)
  • World’s biggest producer of Meat (80,000 tonnes, 2010)
  • World’s biggest producer of Fruit (122,000 tonnes, 2010)
  • World’s largest producer of Vegetables (473,000 tones, 2010)
  • Largest agricultural output (599 billion US dollars, 2010)
  • China is the biggest trader of goods in exports: 10.4% of the world in 2011, and the second biggest importer.
  • They have the largest industrial output, 2.771 $bn (2010).

Characteristics

  • The fourth most visited country in the world for tourism, despite its separation from most high-disposable-income countries.
  • One of the longest national histories in the world: 3,000 years of documented history.
  • A great array of historical relics including: the world’s longest wall, the Great Wall of China, the world’s largest collection of 2,000-year-old life-size figurines, the Terra-cotta Army, and the world’s largest ancient palace, the Forbidden City.
  • Greatest altitude difference: 9,002m (29,534 ft) — Mount Everest 8,848m (29,029 ft) to the Turpan Depression -154m (-505 ft) — the world’s highest point and world’s third lowest.
  • Greatest range of climate: below -40°C in the north to above 40°C in the south, from a few mm of rainfall (less than an inch) in the Taklamakan Desert in the Northwest to over 3 meters (10 feet) in a year in the Southeast.
  • Greatest range of landscapes: the only country to have desert and rainforest, a high altitude plateau with towering mountains and deep depressions, karst and Danxia crags, and sandy tropical beaches.
  • Includes the most inland point, furthest from any sea, near Urumqi in Xinjiang Province.
  • Greatest range of native food styles and ingredients on the planet: from very bland to very spicy, sweet to sour, dry to soup-based, with just about every edible plant animal and organism served somewhere.
  • Origin of the only surviving pictographic writing system, and the world’s most-spoken and most-difficult-to-learn first language.
  • A huge depth of culture developed in a long and relatively isolated history: Confucianism and other philosophy, Taoism, tea culture, martial arts, poetry, calligraphy, the imperial legacy, traditional dress and minority traditions, ancestor worship, the animal zodiac, etc.
  • Widest variety of commonly held belief systems on the planet: from capitalist to communist to spiritual, from atheist to ancestor worship to Buddhist to Muslim to Christian.
  • is a recognized nuclear weapons state,
  • has the world’s largest standing army,
  • has been a U.N. member since 1971, when it replaced the ROC as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council,
  • is also a member of the WTO, APEC, BRICS, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, the BCIM and the G-20,

Transport

  • Beijing Capital International Airport is the second busiest airport in the world and busiest in Asia, with 73.9 m passengers in 2011.
  • Some of the world’s largest ports: Shanghai (greatest cargo tonnage since 2005), Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Ningbo, Qingdao, and Tianjin.
  • Rapidly developing infrastructure including the new wave of intercity high-speed trains and city metros.
  • Third on the world’s ranking of the longest Road Networks, and number one on the average diastase travelled per car per year (29,483KM).
  • China is a world leader if it comes to producing and selling cars.

History
About 3,000 years of recorded history, with traditional accounts of prior dynasties.

  • 770–221 BC: Rival states grow in strength and battle for control.
  • 221 BC China united by First Emperor Qin
  • 206– 220 AD the Han Dynasty takes over giving its name to the Chinese majority.
  • 618-907: the Tang Dynasty – China influenced the west through the ancient Silk Road
  • 1271–1368: the Yuan Dynasty — China’s first foreign dynasty (of Mongol origin)
  • 1368-1644: the Ming Dynasty – Most of the Great Wall that we see today was constructed
  • 1644–1911: the Qing Dynasty — China’s second foreign dynasty (of Manchu origin) and last dynasty
  • 1912–1949: the Republic of China years — internal struggle for power
  • October 1, 1949 People’s Republic of China inaugurated by Mao Zedong
  • 1978: Deng Xiaoping begins China’s opening up reforms leading to rapid economic growth.

Tourism

  • Main attractions: The Great Wall, The Terracotta Army, The Forbidden City, The Temple of Heaven, Tiananmen Square, The Scenery of Guilin, The Yangtze River, The Yellow Mountains, Tibet, Shanghai and Hong Kong Cityscapes, Pandas, Sanya Beaches.
  • Most famous foods: Peking duck, sweet and sour pork, kungpao chicken, ma po tofu, wonton soup, dumplings, spring rolls, chow mien.
  • Most popular souvenirs and local products: tea, Chinese painting, calligraphy and seals, Chinese knots, paper-cuts, cloisonné, jade, embroidery and silk.

It took some effort to get the VISA, but after another bunch of hours of interesting travelling, I finally crossed the border and entered China. I travelled straight to the rainforests to see the wild elephants and my first experiences with the Chinese were more then wonderful.

20121018Azie290

As you cannot cross the Chinese border unless you travel with a group, I had to go get a visa in Vientiane or in Chiang Mai (North Thailand). I decided to go for the second option as I had never been in North Thailand. From the border I travelled down to Luang Namtha, and then down to the Mekong river, crossed the river and took a mini bus to Chiang Mai, a bit of a longer trip then I expected, but totally worth it. Chiang Mai is a very pleasant town to spend some time while waiting for a visa 🙂

Pretty strange. Near the border with China there is a Chinese community with  an empty village nearby. It consists of big hotels, which are all completely empty. I slept in one of them and there must have been around 300 rooms, which were never used. The doors of the rooms were all open and everything was still in plastic… It was not new though, it was obviously built a few years ago, just never put into use…

After having seen the little elephant baby in Thailand I was certain to want to get closer to elephants again at some point, but only in a ‘natural’ way, no torture, no typical horrifying-huge-carry-on-seats.

In Laos I had made clear to the tourist officer that I wanted to swim with them, but not ride them like a tourist. To my great disappointment I got set up (and therefore contributed to the use of animals as tourist attractions) and I was told to get onto one of those huge seats, which I of course (like any normal human being) refused. Eventually I got them so far to take the seat of the elephant and wash them in the impressive pool with waterfalls. The only thing was that I hoped the elephants would be in for a swim, instead of forcing them to swim…

Their ‘training-tools’ were not particularly animal friendly… Looking up I saw all the other tourists passing by on their huge and painful thrones. They probably think they are doing a ‘fun’ thing of which they will show pictures to many, many people, who then might come to do the same thing. With the result that they consider this event as even more ‘normal’, as their friends or family did it to… Open your eyes people, this is NO fun for the elephants, not even the forced swimming. Animals are not an acceptable way of generating income.

After the visit to the cave and surrounding villages we took the bus to Vientiane and then a night bus to Luang Prabang – where we stayed two day’s. Luang Prabang is located next to the Mekong river and is unfortunately – though beautiful – converted into a tourist resort… What I enjoyed the most was the lively night market, the food, and tasty fruit cocktails.

At the time I left Ban Na Hin I think I had no idea that the most exciting part of my tour was going to start on that day. Basically I toured to the Kong Lor Caves, went through the 7km long cave by long-tail boat and stayed in one of the villages on the other side of the cave. I had never travelled to anything like this! I was welcomed by many ducks, chicken and swine’s, and hosted by a local family, with whom I prepared the meals – their way. After the stay I went back the same way as that is the only way to get there.

Some of the images are property of Karin Schouwenburg.

After a never ending bus ride along the Mekong river, I arrived late at night at Vieng Kham, and decided to take a ride to Ban Na Hin, as it was too late to catch a bus and I didn’t feel like staying in a village next to the main road. And I was glad I did, after a lovely night sleeping outside, an amazing sunrise woke me up. I had not realised how beautiful it was there as it was all dark when I arrived, and with dark, I mean dark. Anyway, I was in a lovely village and from there it was the plan to go find the Kong Lor caves.

 

Some of the images are property of Karin Schouwenburg.

My next destination was Laos, well actually it was some cave in the middle of Laos (Near Ban Na Hin), which I did not know how to find yet… I got up early because I prepared for a 2 day local bus ride, which was an amazing experience. It was hot and humid, I was sitting on top of fruit and seriously, we stopped every 10 minutes because someone or something had to go on or off the bus. If you needed to go to the restroom you would just scream and jump into the bushes LOL.

Some of the images are property of Karin Schouwenburg.

Of course I did not wanted to miss the sun set at the Angkor Wat, and also did not want to miss the sun rise the next morning so I decided to spend two days there. There is a lot to see, including the Ta Khep temples where Tomb Raider was filmed, the elephant terrace, and many many more temples covered by jungle, its impressive!

Some of the images are property of Karin Schouwenburg.

* I also taught an English class on Angkor Wat.

I was so happy to have arrived to Siem Reap as everything went according to plan and the boat trip was great, but actually the scenery at my destination was quite shocking as it had rained too much and all the houses were under water… These people already have so little… I was wearing a shirt saying ‘lucky’ and I remember someone saying that I brought the luck and that the rain stopped.

The most beautiful boat tour I have made so far. In dry seasons it can take up to 11 hours to arrive, but it was not, so it took around 7 hours. Imagine a boat with a roof – fitting about 20 people, or 30-35? Me sitting on top of the roof in the sun, amazed by the villages and temples built on top of the water. The most interesting of this form of transportation is that it is also used as some sort of mail system. No, not for mail, I mean for rice, baguettes, and meat.

Some of the images are property of Karin Schouwenburg.

I travelled from Bangkok all the way to Battambang – Cambodia, crossing border at Arran. I thought Bangkok was hectic, but add: humidity, horn beeping, buffalo’s pulling wagons, many families on bikes, garbage and no electricity to that picture…

Some of the images are property of Karin Schouwenburg.

After visiting the floating market I paid a visit to the famous Death Railway, know for being one of the most difficult railways ever constructed, during which over 100.000 prisoner died because of the bad circumstances… I took the old train for about two hours, which offers views of the River Kwai and Thai villages, and I have to say that it was a special experience…

When on my way to Damoen Saduak (A floating market near Bangkok) I visited a market famous for being situated right on a train-track (in use!). My big surprise was not the train passing right through the market, but a tiny little elephant that greeted me. My first reaction was to adore him while being 20120929Azie61 kopieoverwhelmed, yes, I had seen elephants in the Zoo like many of us, but that is not the same!

When I looked twice, I realized the little thing was all by himself (no mother, no family), something that must be terrifying for a baby, and saw that he was shyly bouncing from his right foot to his left and back, being so nervous…

Then the other horrifying details I noticed were his many round scars, and when I looked at the tool his owner was carrying I knew exactly where those where from… He was obviously held as a tourist attraction, but please everyone, do not contribute to anything that comes close to this kind of tourism, so no elephant riding, no “lion-hugging” while they lay chained to the floor, no pictures with a lonely camel right in the middle of where they don’t belong. Thank you!

Quite a special thing I saw about half an hour drive from the city of Bangkok: The MaeKlong Railway Market. This market is, which is against the law in many countries, build right on the train track, and this track is still in use! So basically all market vendors take away their things right before the train passes right through the middle of the market. This was a strange experience…

Some of  the images are property of Karin Schouwenburg.