A Brief Introduction to Chinese Culture(1)
China is wondrous and awe-inspiring. It has a history of five thousand years. It is the only continuous ancient civilization in the world. Other ancient civilizations have changed, discontinued, withered or perished. Why is it so enduring? Why is it so coherent, often sticking to itself, remaining undivided? Why is it so dynamic, always able to revive, regenerate and revitalize itself? Why is it an immortal phoenix able to rise again on its ashes? These are enduring questions. Nobody can give a complete answer. They will stimulate intellect, provoke interest, engage investigation.
Chinese culture is rich and profound. It has the richest historical records. Chinese have been most historically-minded. Perhaps, China has more historical records than the whole world put together. This guess will not be far from truth. She has a great deal of historical records from the pre-Christian era, not to mention the matchless twenty-six history books of the imperial dynasties. She is not the home of Buddhism, but she boasts of the richest Buddhist scriptures.
Another area of the profundity of Chinese culture is her pre-industrial revolution science and technology. Before this revolution China had been the pace-setter not only in history and literature but also in science and technology. Unfortunately, this area had been all along neglected by the world, including China herself. Fortunately, this has been discovered and proved by the world-famous British scholar Joseph Needham. Thanks to his efforts, this has been universally accepted by the world's people as a matter of fact.
The richness of Chinese culture also finds expression in its diversity and pluralism. China has always been a country of many ethnic groups. No matter which ethnic group was dominant, be it Hans, Mongols, or Manchus, her various peoples always could live under the same roof, worshipped the same emperor. It is true that there were times of division, but division was transient. There seem to be cycles of division and unification, but unification has outlived division. All these peoples have their own legacies, but they share the same legacy as well. The diversity and pluralism of Chinese culture is a tremendous asset. This is very keenly felt now. Increasing value is attached to this national treasure.
Chinese culture is a complete system, including its own philosophy, literature and arts, medicine, technology and science as well as language and festivals. All of these are quite different from other civilizations, especially from the Christian culture. Chinese culture is originated from its agriculture, and as a result of its developed agriculture and imperial system, which lasted about 5,000 years, scholars, as a new class, was born. They had contributed a lot to what Chinese culture is.
Many giant western intellectuals have looked up to Chinese culture. Enlightenment fathers drew inspiration from Confucianism. Some contemporary philosophers and psychiatrists have found cures for western ills in Chinese mysticism, Confucian ethics and Daoist non-government.
Outwardly, the Chinese have no any idea about the religion. For so many years ,the Chinese intellectuals are atheists. It is one problem that the Buddhism influence on the philosophy of China, but so little trace has been left during the common education of the Buddhism to the common people in China.
Study deeply, we found that we all have the common background of the religion. The difference between the intellectuals and the ignorant people is :the intellectuals believe but not admit, the ignorant people admit but not believe. This obscure psychological setting is caused mostly because of the combination of the Buddhism and the Daoism.
The Buddhism, Christian religion, and Islamism are all religions from other countries. The Daoism is the only local religion that was born and developed in China. In China history, there is no any religion that ever be in a dominating position like the "national religion" in Western countries. The Han nationality, which constitute the majority of the population of China worship the Heaven and the ancestors, hence it becomes the main tradition of the national religion sense.
In addition, there goes the saying "Famous mountains are mostly occupied by monks and nuns, "which points to the fact that Buddhist monasteries and Daoist temples are found in almost all well-known scenic spots, making up another notable feature of Chinese landscape. Hence we get another culture about the Chinese Religion and Scenic Spots.
Lao Zi's Life Story Literally the "name" means "The Old Boy," so it's not really a name at all -- just an epithet. It derives from the legend that he was, from his birth (following a miraculous conception by a falling star and his mother's extended pregnancy), an old man. He was, of course, Chinese, and amusing stories abound of his encounters with Confucius although no one has any idea if they could have been contemporaries.
Very little is known about Lao Zi, the founder of Daoism. According to some historical works, his original name was Li Er, and was born in the state of Chu, but the date of his birth was unknown, could be a lttle earlier than Confucius. For some time he was a keeper of archives in the Zhou court, Zhou being the name of the dynasty which nominally ruled all the states during the Spring and Autumn Period and the Warring States Period that followed. When he saw the decline of the Zhou, he left his post to live the life of a hermit. On his way he had to pass a gate. The gate keeper, who had heard of his learning, begged him to write a book. He agreed, and wrote a small book of 5,000 words, discussing " Dao and De", or the Way and its functions. The book is generally called Dao De Jing, or the Lao Zi. After he finished the book, he went away, and nobody knew where he went or when he died. As there was a record of his meeting with Confucius and their discussion of the rites, we know he was a contemporary of, and perhaps older than Confucius.
This small book "Lao Zi "written in verse, contains great wisdom. It has been studied by Chinese scholars of all ages after him, and copious notes and commentaries have been written to explain the meaning of every line in the book. It discusses many philosophical and practical questions, such as the origin and working of the universe, the laws that govern the change and movement of things, the correct way to live and behave, and the way to govern a state.
According to Lao Zi, Dao, or Tao, which is invisible, intangible, and indescribable, gave birth to the universe, and made all the things in the universe what they are. This shows that Lao Zi did not believe that the universe was created by a God; instead, it was created by a mysterious force which he called Dao, but he said the name itself was inadequate.
Lao Zi held that all things and concepts are relative. The long and the short, the high and the low,what is in front and what is behind, what is beautiful and what is ugly, must exist in pairs. In each pair one side produces the other. The two sides are opposite to but dependent on each other.
From this Lao Zi drew a very important conclusion: "turning back is how the way moves". In other words, things always go from one extreme to the other. What is strong may become weak, and what is weak may become strong. Good fortune may become misfortune, and misfortune may become good fortune. It is not difficult for one to name facts that show this theory is true. There have been innumerable stories of the collapse of conquerors and emperors, the failures of men who had suffered defeats and losses. Lao Zi praised weakness and softness, which, he said, will eventually overcome the strong and hard.
About the way to live and behave, Lao Zi advised people to be peaceful, modest, humble, passive, reserved, not to show off, and not to contend with others. He said," He who does not show himself off is conspicuous; he who does not consider himself right is famous; he who does not boast is successful; he who is not proud of his work endures; he who does not contend makes it impossible for anyone to contend with him."
His principle of government may be summarized in one word, non-action. He said that the ruler should let the people look after themselves, and should not teach them to be humane or righteous, or encourage them to make clever things or become rich. He said that the people should be kept ignorant, free from desires and satisfied with a simple life in a small state without any contact with people of other states.
Lao Zi, a sage, was born in the Spring and Autumn Period. According to tradition he was an adult from birth, from which circumstances he derived his name of Lao Zi, or "old boy". He taught contemplation and retirement as means of spiritual purification and the attainment of the Dao, or "correct road", a word which he used to signify the highest spiritual ideals of mankind.
What is "Dao" Dao, in Dao De Jing, means the way of ultimate reality, which exists beyond the physical sense of men. Dao (Tao) is also the way of the universe. It moves in endless cycles and never changes. All life comes from it, but nothing produced by Dao lasts forever. Dao also refers to the way man should order his life to keep it in line with the natural order of the universe. Daoists reject self-assertiveness, competition, and ambition. They are indifferent to things like rank, profuse luxury, and vulgar show. They would make friends with nature rather than conquer or dominate it.
Daoism in Brief Daoism was indigenous to the Han nationality. It originated around the 2nd century A.D.. Zhang Daoling is credited as its founder, Lao Zi is regarded as its master and his work, Dao de jing (Classic of the Way of Power) is its main doctrine. By the 14th century, Daoism had been divided into many sects. From the 14th century it developed into two main philosophies: Quanzhen Dao, emphasizing self-cultivation to attain immortality and Zhengyi Dao, involving belief in charms and spells. It began to decline in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 AD) and, in 1949, there were about 20,000 Daoist temples with 40,000 believers.
Daoism and Chinese Culture Daoism has gods of the Town, Land , Kitchen, Door, and Wealth. At the head of these gods are the Supreme Patriarch Lao Zi and the Jade Emperor. These gods are enshrined in Daoist monasteries and temples. The God of Wealth, called Marshal Zhao, is believed to bring people a big fortune. The God of the Door, on the other hand, is supposed to keep away demons, while the God of the Kitchen is in charge of every household's good fortune and misfortune. Daoists expect to gain longevity or even immortality through ascetic practices, such as meditation and self-cultivation. The popular fairy tale "The Eight Immortals Crossing the Sea" has its origin in Daoism.
Many of the Han nationality used to worship both the Buddha and the Daoist gods. Therefore, among the ordinary Han people, it was very difficult to distinguish the Daoists from the Buddhists. In ancient China, both Buddhism and Daoism had a deep effect on the development of ideas, culture and popular customs. Many famous Buddhist buildings are now protected by the People's Government as treasures of China's culture and art. Examples of these are the White Horse Monastery in Luoyang (built in 68 AD), Henan Province and the Dunhuang Grottoes (carved in 4th century) in Gansu Province, the White Cloud Daoist Temple in Beijing, the one in the Qingcheng Mountains of Sichuan Province and the one in the Wudang Mountains of Hubei Province.
Around same time as Confucius lived, Buddhism was founded by Sakyamuni, who was originally a prince of a small state in North India, on the border of present-day Nepal. At that time India was divided into many states with different traditions and languages. After seeing other people's sufferings and sorrows, he left his father's palace and began roaming alone, leading a very hard life, and thinking of the causes of man's sorrows, and the way to free man of all trouble. Finally, at 35, he attained enlightenment. After that he preached the truth he had found and gradually it was accepted by many people. He was regarded by his followers as the Buddha, meaning the awakened one.
Among his main teachings were the Four Noble Truths: (1)that sorrow is the universal experience of mankind; (2)that the cause of sorrow is desire; (3)that the removal of sorrow can only come from the removal of desire; and (4)that desire can be systematically abandoned by following the Noble Eightfold Path (eight steps that should be taken: right view, right thought, right words, right behaviors, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration).
Buddhism was first introduced into China at the beginning of the Eastern Han. This had something to do with the opening of the Western Regions, which made travel between China and India easier than before. In AD 67, two Indian monks came to Luoyang. Emperor Ming Di ordered the building of the White Horse Temple and asked them to translate Buddhist scriptures into Chinese. They were followed by other monks from India and West Asia. At first, Buddhism was known only to members of the ruling class. It was during the period of the Southern and Northern dynasties that it was spread among the ordinary people.
Confucius' Life Story During the Spring and Autumn and the Warring States period (770-221 BC), private education developed rapidly. It was very popular for scholars to give private lessons to groups of selected disciples. Confucius (551-479 BC), who is regarded as a great thinker and educator of ancient China, was a pioneer in running private schools. He was from a declining aristocratic family of the State of Lu, a center of culture and private education at the time. His father died when he was only three years old. Though poor and humble in his childhood, Confucius was determined to become a learned person. He spent 15 years to study classics and formed his own conclusions and views on the most important problems of history, society, philosophy, government and human being. Thus, after working as a low-ranking official for several years, he resigned his position and began his career as a teacher around the age of thirty. He set up his own study halls and gave private lessons, wishing to practice and spread his own ideas so as to bring light to the people. As what he taught met the needs of the time and his teaching methods were quite different from others (lecture plus discussion), he gradually gained fame. From his 30 to 73 years old, Confucius had altogether three thousand disciples, of whom 72 became proficient in the "six arts".
Confucius made great contributions to education in ancient China. He invented the elicitation method nearly one hundred years earlier than the Socratic dialogue and was the first to challenge the spoon-feeding method of teaching. He advocated equality between teacher and student and encouraged students to form opinions of their own. Before him, only the children of nobles had the opportunity to education, but Confucius took the lead in Chinese history to bring education to all the people. His idea of teaching according to the student's aptitude is still regarded as an important educational principle in China today.
Confucius' Great Works Confucius did not write any books because in his time nobody wrote for publication purpose. But he edited a lot of academically valuable classics in his life in philosophy, poem, historical records, government documents, literature, and even folk songs. His students, however, compiled some books according to his teaching, dialogue and daily conversation, such as the Twelve Classics, the Book of Changes, the Book of Songs, the Book of History and the Book of Rites. These books and his thought has influenced Chinese people, China's history for over two thousands of years, even till now. The study right now on Confucius's thought are mostly based on these books.
Humanity is one of the most important ideas of Confucius. Humanity, seemed to Confucius, means to love other people, to help others establish themselves whenever they want to stand up, to help others to understand things when one desires to know, and not to impose anything on others when one does not want to do to himself. For the stability of a society, morality is very important, even more than position, wealth and life, because everyone has a moral nature. Confucius believed moral and humane rules were more effective than harsh laws and severe punishment. The ruler himself should be a upright man, and should govern people with virtue, and regulate their behaviors with the rite.
Mean and harmony is another important concept of Confucius. He insisted that all people and governments should do all things in a mean and harmony way, have quiet mind and peaceful spirit. Don't go extreme and try avoid violence. This concept has dramatically influenced Chinese politics and people's thought that even now it is quite easy to find it out from Chinese people's daily life and the policies of Chinese government.
In 140 BC Emperor Wudi of the Han Dynasty decided to take Confucianism as the official philosophy, and from then on, Confucianism had been the mainstream of Chinese philosophy for about 2,000 years.
Chinese traditional festivals and rituals, a part of Chinese culture, are the results of its legends of ancestors and agricultural production experiences. As early as the Xia dynasty (21-16 century B.C.), the first day of the first moon in the lunar calendar was known as the "head of year". But it was not until the Han dynasty (206 B.C. - 220 A.D.) that the day became a widely celebrated holiday. After the 1911 revolution, however, the Gregorian calendar officially replaced the traditional Chinese calendar and the "beginning of the year" became known as the Spring Festival. In post-1949 China, the Spring Festival has become a national holiday which is celebrated throughout the entire country.
Spring Festival is as important to Chinese as Christmas to westerns. It is the Chinese New Year, known also as "passing the year" in Chinese, marking the most important and popular of all Chinese festivals.
Spring Festival Activities:
hang red lanterns
paste " Fu " (good fortune) upside down
paste "the image of the god of wealth" onto doors, window or walls
ignite firecrackers to drive away the legendary animal " Nian "which would bring omen, that's how the alternative name of Spring Festival " Guo Nian " came forth.
lantern play, lion play, dragon play, Shehuo play etc.
Lantern Festival falls on the 15th day of the first month in the Chinese lunar calendar. The name of this festival is in fact derived from a Tang dynasty(618-907) custom of hanging out lanterns on the night of the festival. The Lantern Festival is also celebrated with round dumplings made of glutinous rice flour and filled with a variety of sweet fillings, known as Yuan Xiao (literally "the night of the first full moon"), which is another name for the festival.
Festival of Pure Brightness, called as Tomb-sweeping Day, it is the occasion for all the Chinese to honor their ancestors. As it is early spring and usually falls around April 4, it is usually breezy and drizzly. But urban dweller prefer to go to the countryside during the season.
Paying respects to the dead in the third month in lunar calendar is related to the custom of funeral. Sweeping tomb has been an indispensable custom since Qin Dynasty, but this is not only one of the twenty-four solar terms, it is also an old traditional festival. The day before tomb-sweeping day is called ˇ°Hanshi Festivalˇ± which is also in the third month of lunar year. This festival is in memory of a famous minister of Jin kingdom during the Spring and Autumn Period.
Customs related to Pure Brightness Festival: not eating food, sweeping the tomb of ancestors, going out to suburb, having a swing, flying a kite, cockfighting, and playing the ball, etc.
Dragon Boat Festival is on the 5th day of the fifth month in the Chinese lunar calendar. This festival was established in commemoration of Qu Yuan (c.340-278 B.C.), a statesman and poet of the Warring States Period (475-221 B.C.). An official of the State of Chu, Qu Yuan was thwarted in his ambitions to save the country and threw himself into the Biluo River when the State of Qin conquered Chu. Zongzi, glutinous rice dumplings wrapped in bamboo leaves, are served on the festival and Dragon Boat races are held, which are strenuous and become popular in Southern provinces.
Traditionally the dragon boat festival is " Sanitation Festival " as well. On that day people would sweep the floor in the yard, hang moat, sprinkle arsenic sulphide on the floor and drink alcohol made of arsenic sulphide, in order to sterilize and defend illness.
The Seventh Evening of the Seventh Month Festival The seventh evening of the seventh month festival is originated from a touching tale. It is also called as " meeting of stars ". It is said that a herd-boy from mundane world and a weaving-girl from heaven loved each other. They were separated by the Milk Road by the order of Wang Mu-the goddess ruling the heaven, and were permitted to meet only once a year. The herd-boy and the weaving girl became the stars Altair and Vegra. They would meet on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month every year. People regarded the date of wedding as " meeting of stars " so far.
The Double Ninth Festival is on the ninth day of the ninth of Chinese lunar month. It is a festival of field amusement. The customs of the festival include: climbing the mountain, enjoying the chrysanthemum, drinking the wine made of mum, inserting see below and eating a kind of cake. The Double Ninth Festival is also The Graybeard Festival. The old people enjoy the chrysanthemum and climb the hill, which can build their body and exert a favorable influence.
Mid-Autumn Festival falls on August 15 in the lunar calendar. Originally it is the when people celebrate harvesting, and later it became a date when family get reunited wherever family members are. The festival also related to a beautiful legend " Chang'e Ran to the Moon ".
In the remote past, there were ten suns in the sky, which fiercely roasted the land, and sea water getting dry. Men couldn't make a living. For the sake of saving the local people, a hero named Hou Yi climbed up the Kunlun Mountain, he exerts all his strength to drag the bow and shot down nine of the ten suns. People were saved. After a few years, he married a beautiful woman named Chang'e. One day, Hou Yi went to the Kunlun Mountain to meet his friend. He happened to encounter the queen of the heaven. He asked her for amaranthine medicine, and the queen gave it to him. It was said that if one took the medicine he could become a immortal immediately. However Hou Yi didn't have the heart to leave his wife so he gave the medicine to Chang'e.
Unfortunately, an underling named Feng Meng saw everything. When Hou Yi went out, he came to Hou Yi's home and bullied Chang'e to give the medicine to him. Chang'e knew that she couldn't beat Feng Meng so she took the medicine. After taking the medicine, she felt her body flying in the air, at last she fly to the heaven. Missing her husband very much, she fell on the moon because it is the nearest to the earth and thus she became the goddess of the moon. When Hou Yi returned home, handmaids sobbed out everything to him. Hou Yi's heart was broken. He looked up the sky and cried out for his lover. Suddenly he found that the moon that night was so bright and round, and there was a swaying figures so much like his wife. He hurriedly asked the servants to put an incense burner table with fruits and sweeties under the moon to memorize Chang'e. People learned about the message, they all put an incense burner table under the moon impetrating that Chang'e would bring them safety and luck. From then on, holding a memorial ceremony at the Mid-Autumn Moon has become a tradition and spread throughout the country..
Laba is on the 8th day of the twelfth month in the Chinese lunar calendar. Laba was originally a religious holiday in celebration of Sakyamuni's attainment of Buddhism. Buddhists of the Han nationality would make an offering to the Buddha of a steamed pudding made of rice and fruit called "Laba pudding". The holiday has long been secularized and the pudding remains very popular.
Yin, Yang and Qi -- Basic Theories of Nutrition in Traditional Chinese Medicine
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) the human body is an integrated whole. Treatment is based on the concept of an integral human body and is decided through careful differentiation of the signs and symptoms in an individual. Nutrition in TCM is applied in four ways: food as diet, food as tonic, food as medicine and food abstention.
Food as diet means simply food provides the necessary substances for life, growth and health. Food as tonic refers to using food to treat individuals who have a general weakness, but no specific disease diagnosis (a disease-free elder, for example) or for those who are recovering from an ailment and need added strength. Food as medicine is using specific foodstuffs with specific properties to correct imbalances that have led to disease states and particular signs and symptoms. Finally, food abstention is much like it sounds. It is the practice of avoiding foods that would make a disease condition or an imbalance in the body worse. For example, avoid eating pepper, old ginger, mutton or liquor, which produce "fire" (heat) in the body during acute inflammation, acute conjunctivitis or high fever which are all disease states characterized by too much heat or excessive yang.
The basic nutritional theories of Traditional Chinese Medicine arise through the concepts of Yin, Yang and Qi. Yin and Yang is a complicated philosophical concept. Yin literally translates as "in the shade," and is considered to represent darkness, the moon, coldness and passivity. Yang, "in the sunlight," on the other hand, encompasses lightness, sun, heat and activity. Yin represents all kinds of inadequate under-functioning such as cold, fatigue and general weakness. Yang represents all kinds of detrimental over-functioning or overreacting such as fever, hyper-reactivity and red swelling (skin). A healthy body depends on the balance of Yin and Yang, and all disease result from an imbalance of Yin and Yang. When these two forces are in balance, whether it occurs in a meal, in a person or in nature, harmony and equilibrium are achieved.
Qi is known as vital energy that represents various functions of the body. For example, the Qi of a lung indicates the function of the lung. Blood is a conceptual term that refers to the material basis of Qi or the comprehensive material that represents all internal organs. Therefore, blood and Qi are often linked together. Certain disease conditions are described as 'blood weak" (e.g. anemia), "blood hot" (e.g. nosebleeds, gastric bleeding), or "blood stasis" (e.g. heart attack, pain). Keep in mind this use of the word blood is different from the understanding of blood as it is used in modern medicine.
When used properly, food can regulate Yin, Yang, Qi and blood. According to TCM, like medicines, each item of food has its own property (cool, cold, warm, hot, and plain). To simplify this concept the five categories have been collapsed to three items: cool/cold, warm/hot, and plain. Cold and cool foods are used to treat diseases of a hot nature. For example, watermelon is used to treat fever, thirst, mild mania and similar ailments. Hot and warm foods are used in treating diseases with a cold nature. Onion and garlic, for example, are used to treat the common cold, and old ginger is used to treat "spleen weakness" (e.g. vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, loss of appetite. The plain foods such as apple, rice and milk are used in treating both hot and cold diseases as general tonics. Traditionally, these are medicines, but also they can be classified as foods that are foods commonly used in TCM.How the Treatments Are Done
Officially, Qigong seeks to stimulate the flow of qi (the elemental life force of Chinese medicine) along the invisible channels, or meridians, that are thought to course throughout the body. This can be achieved through internal Qigong, the do-it-yourself exercises now familiar in the West, or external Qigong, a form a psychic therapy available only from a Qigong master. External Qigong is almost impossible to find in the U.S. However, the instruction in the internal variety is now widely available. There are at least 3,000 variations, ranging from simple movements that coordinate breathing and calisthenics to complex exercises aimed at altering such vital bodily functions as heart rate and brain wave frequency.
Internal Qigong can be practiced by anyone--healthy or sick, young or old. The exercises, which can be easily adapted to your physical capabilities, can be performed walking, standing, sitting in a wheelchair, or even lying down, if necessary. You can teach yourself Qigong by following instructions in the many training manuals available in book stores and libraries. Videotapes are also available for those who want to go it alone. However, many experts warn that, even though the exercises seem simple, it's wise to start with professional instruction, either one-on-one, or in a group.
Wear loose, comfortable clothing and flexible shoes (no sneakers) when you exercise. Do not eat or drink anything, especially alcoholic beverages, within 90 minutes of your Qigong sessions. Some practitioners suggest you avoid sexual intercourse for at least one hour before and after exercising; others don't seem to think this is necessary.
It is important to approach Qigong with an optimistic attitude, proponents say. It's also important to try to do your best, even if it seems difficult. For example, if you are told to hold your breath, hold it as long as possible. If you are supposed to remain in one position, do it as long as you can. If your arm or leg wants to change positions, let it go naturally. If you find you cannot follow all three aspects of an exercise - visualizing, moving, and breathing - at the same time, concentrate first on visualization.
Qigong exercises can be performed in any order. Repeat each one 6 times when you start, and increase the repetitions when you feel you are ready. Do not rush, and do not expect immediate results. You are suggested to practice Qigong by the instruction of your teacher, who can direct you to do that in a right way. Normally, your teacher may ask you to stand with your legs apart and breathe from the diaphragm while you move your arms and legs in a specific way. Or you may have to sit and roll objects between your palms, or simply walk slowly. You may also be taught meditation techniques. Here are a few typical exercises: Child Worships the Buddha (said to strengthen the legs, "lighten" the body, and relieve stress). Stand with legs apart. Open your arms and inhale deeply. Bring your hands together in front of you and raise your left leg. Rest your left leg on your right knee. Breathe out and, at the same time, gently bend your right leg. Hold the position, then return to the starting position and repeat.