by Sanne ⋅ Gallery
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.
These are two photos from our campus in Ningbo that I took from the balcony on two very different days.
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:
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.
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.
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.
In many ways, Chinese herbal medicine is similar to Western herbal medicine, though the emphasis is on promoting the yin-yang balance.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 the 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.
- 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
The 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 capital. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…