中秋节 (Zhōngqiūjié), the Mid-Autumn Festival, is today! This is the time for celebrating the harvest, appreciating the moon, and spending time with your family.
Because of the lunar calendar system, the Mid-Autumn festival always coincides with a full harvest moon. It’s represented by the moon goddess, Cháng’é (after whom the Chinese space agency's moon exploration program is named!) as well as by the iconic moon cakes.
Moon cakes make for great presents and often come in amazingly embellished packaging. Pastries of a myriad varieties, they most often contain a sweet filling such as red bean paste, but may also have savory fillings - or on this occasion, sometimes a salty egg yolk to represent the moon!
So happy Mid-Autumn - and happy Return-of-Mingbai, too! We’ve had a long summer break, and now we’re back with a new season of short posts about what everyone in China knows, and you still don’t!
Sweet bean paste or ham? You won't know 'til you try it! Baidu Baike
红楼梦 (Hónglóumèng), ”The Dream of the Red Chamber”, is one of China’s Four Great Classics – a DickensProustGoetheDostoyevskysque novel that has been studied, retold, and reimagined countless times.
The story follows the downfall of a noble family in the 18th century, with the main plot revolving around an epic love triangle: The son of the family is in love with his cousin, but is forced to marry… his other cousin!
About 40 main characters and 400 minor characters thicken the plot (there are so many cousins!), and the story is indeed so rich with culture and history and subplots and psychological depth that it has sparked an entire field of study where literary fans – known as redologists – write analyses, host conferences, and talk all night about the layers of the book.
The legendary novel glows with family tragedies, fraudulent weddings, dirty money, sudden death, forbidden love – what’s not to love?
Scene from the 1987 series, often considered the best TV version. Baidu Baike
慈禧太后 (Cíxí Tàihòu), Empress Dowager Cíxí, was one of the most feared rulers of China.
At 16, Cíxí became the emperor’s concubine. She did well. Not only did the empress like her, Cíxí also became the mother of the emperor’s only surviving son, so when the emperor died and the game of thrones was decided, Cíxí was the ruler of China.
Cíxí outlived three emperors (the last of whom she probably poisoned) before installing 2-year-old Pŭyí, the last emperor, on the throne in 1908 just before her death.
History has had its way with her. Was she a lavish old conservative lady who refused to modernize and killed all who stood in her way? Was she China’s most vicious defender against the invading Western powers? Was she a product of her time, married into imperial politics while still a scared teenager?
Regardless, she is the stuff of legends.
Did Cíxí look like her contemporary, Queen Victoria? Baidu Baike
傅园慧 (Fù Yuánhuì) is one of China’s most popular athletes. Not only is she a boss backstroke swimmer – she is also the most colorful, smiling, and outspoken sportswoman to ever grace the screen.
With her uncontrollable laughter and perfect frankness, Fù Yuánhuì has captured the hearts of China and the world.
At the 2016 Rio Olympics, when she found out via a journalist that she had done better than she thought, her delightfully surprised face went viral along with her totally honest outburst that she had no real expectations for the rest of the tournament because she was already so happy.
“I’ve already spent my supernatural energy”, a delighted Fù Yuánhuì blurted out, before leaving the perplexed journalist and dancing happily away.
She also received positive comments for being totally open about her period affecting her results, and for generally brightening up the sports world with her grin.
How I look when someone tells me there’s still some cake left. CCTV
月亮代表我的心 (Yuèliang Dàibiăo Wŏ de Xīn), or “The Moon Represents my Heart”, is one of China’s best loved pop ballads of all times.
The sugar sweet song was written in 1973, but achieved immortality in 1977 when it was recorded by Dèng Lìjūn (known abroad as Teresa Teng) – a Barbra Streisandesque pop icon whose captivating voice has been described as “seven parts sweetness, three parts tears”.
“The Moon Represents My Heart” is an affirmative, “yes, I love you”-message, and is famous across the Chinese-speaking world. Across generations, the song is as recognizable as the best-loved hits by Elvis, the Beatles, or Michael Jackson are in the West. Even Bon Jovi has covered it.
The megahit evokes the moon as a symbol of togetherness: No matter where you are in the world, you can still look up at the same moon as me, right?
Fly me to the moon. Youku
梅兰芳 (Meí Lánfāng) was a cross-dressing legend of Chinese opera. The first name that comes to mind when many Chinese people think of opera, Meí Lánfāng is for many synonymous with the genre.
Chinese opera makes use of a range of highly stylized character types with costumes, make-up, and mannerisms that reflect their personalities. Meí Lánfāng made his name specializing in female roles known as dàn, one of the main categories of characters.
Meí Lánfāng helped spread the art form outside China. He met Charlie Chaplin and inspired Bertolt Brecht’s dramatic theories. He is famous for refusing to sing for the Japanese during the occupation in World War II, instead growing a beard and making a living by selling paintings and calligraphy.
Most young Chinese people don’t know much about opera. It's an acquired taste, but it's also a national treasure, and it has delighted millions with its colorful characters and sounds.
How does my hair look? Baidu Baike
指鹿为马 (Zhĭ lù weí mă), "to point to a deer and call it a horse" is an idiom that means "intentionally misrepresent with ulterior motives".
When the Qín emperor died in 210 BC, his power hungry high court eunuch effectively took over, controlling the emperor’s impressionable son like a puppet.
To cement his power and find out which courtiers were loyal to him, the eunuch devised a test: During an imperial council, he brought a deer to the emperor and said, "here, your majesty, a fine horse for you!" The confused emperor said "but isn't this a deer?" The eunuch asked the other courtiers. Most played along, saying it was a horse. Those who didn’t were soon executed.
The dynasty fell within three years.
And so, when someone is trying to sell you something while pretending it's something else, you call them out: They’re calling a deer a horse!
Who is who?? Pixabay and Wikimedia Commons
三北防护林 (Sānbeĭ Fánghù Lín), the “Three North Shelter Forest Program”, is China’s mega-scale project to hold back desertification in Northern China. It’s also known as The Green Wall of China.
China is vulnerable to desertification: Deserts make up 27% of its total land mass, and the Gobi Desert is increasing by an area the size of Jamaica every year. The resulting sandstorms and erosion threaten the livelihoods of locals.
Starting in 1979, the response to this has been to create the world’s largest tree-planting program ever, planting woodland around the edges of the advancing sands. The trees are intended to bind the loose soil and prevent further erosion. The project will increase the world’s total forest cover by one tenth.
The programme is a challenging engineering project which has to take into account ground water resources, biodiversity, as well as the interests of the locals.
Trees! Stand your ground! China.com.cn
佛诞节 (Fódànjié), literally “Buddha’s Birthday”, is celebrated on different days all over the Buddhist world - and today in China! It marks the birth of Siddharta Gautama, the sage whose teachings form the basis of Buddhism.
The central ritual is the washing of the baby Buddha - a statue - which both commemorates the birth itself, and symbolises cleansing of the soul for those who do the washing. The statue usually has one hand pointing to the sky, and one to the earth, to symbolize the connection between the two.
Most Chinese don’t celebrate Buddha’s birthday directly, but many know somebody who does, and the festivities are widely covered in the news. Buddhist temples host festivities with lanterns, incense, and food.
16% of Chinese identified as buddhists in 2014. Buddhist traditions have influenced the culture for 2000 years, and Buddha’s birthday is a public holiday in Hong Kong.
Happy 2,581st birthday! Baidu Baike
798艺术区 (798 Yìshùqū), the 798 art district, is a modern art park in northeastern Beĭjīng, a main tourist attraction, and known as the epicenter of edgy Chinese modern art.
The area was once a big electronics manufacturing facility (Factory #798, incidentally), but was taken over in the 1990s by avant-garde artists who were looking for a new creative space to work in. Fashionable artists settled in, and the place became popular.
Some artistic highlights have included dinosaurs in cages, huge red plastic statues of naked people, a performance artist cementing himself into a wooden box for 24 hours – and the list goes on.
The area is the focal point for many events as well, including the Beijing Queer Film Festival and Beijing Design Week.
Some say 798 has already lost its edge and that the real convention breakers have moved on to Căochángdì and Yànjiāo, further east.
Get ready to get weir… artsy. Visitbeijing. com