Here we would like to introduce basic elements of the Chinese culture to you. Due to the complexity of any culture, this has to remain a brief introduction. We want to tell you about the major holidays, the Chinese concepts of relationships, philosophy and religion, Chinese traditional medicine and Chinese art. If you have any interest in further information or more details, you can find links to other websites under “Related Links“.
The Chinese, like any other culture, have developed their own customs and traditions to cope with social life and environment. Even if contemporary in Chinese cities look very much the same as their Western counterparts, there are different manners, habits, holidays and traditions.
In China, there are many holidays that we in the Western World often know only by name. Although many Chinese city dwellers also celebrate Christmas, Valentine’s Day, or New Year, these kinds of celebrations differ substantially from ours. Most Chinese holidays are based on the lunar calendar and have no fixed date in the year. They usually arise from centuries or millennia-old traditions and are celebrated in the company of family and close friends. Some of the most important holidays are the following:
- Spring Festival/Chinese New Year :
The Spring Festival celebrations start every year between the 21st of January and the 21st of February (the second new moon after the winter solstice) and end 15 days later with the Lantern Festival. It is the most important holiday in China and many neighboring countries. It can be compared to the time between Christmas and New Year in Western countries.
Face & Relationships
The concepts of face (mianzi) and relationships (guanxi) evolved from Confucian philosophy and are still the cornerstones of Chinese social life. In general it can be said that the Chinese emphasize the interpersonal harmony and keeping the face as well as maintaining good relations to other people are basic guidelines.
The “face” of a person is an expression for someone’s perceivable dignity and is linked to the social status. To give face to someone else can increase your own status and others will think of you as a benevolent and generous. To take face is considered immature and is regarded as a lack of self-control.
Religion & Philosophy
Although over 90 % of the Chinese officially state that they have no religions, the beliefs of their forefathers still have a great impact on their lives today and temples across the country are experiencing a new boom. For the Chinese, this is no contradiction. Even Deng Xiaoping, the father of China’s opening policy, once said: “What do I care whether a cat is white or spotted? The main thing is that it catches mice.” And in ancient Chinese texts, it is not uncommon that Confucian, Buddhist, and Taoist monks give helpful advices side by side.
This also explains why concepts such as Fengshui could develop in China, although its approaches differ from region to region and from teacher to teacher.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)
Western medicine did not spread to China until the 19th Century. Prior to that time, Traditional Chinese Medicine was virtually the only source of medical care. It uses a holistic approach and makes extensive use of herb, acupuncture, and massages. Additionally, it was strongly influenced by Chinese philosophies. Since the 1950s, TCM is becoming more and more in the West as an alternative to the conventional Western medicine.
TCM has developed slowly over thousands of years. The first treatment by acupuncture took place around the year 2800 BC.
Also regarding the arts China does not need to look shy upon other countries. When talking about Chinese art most people think of silk paintings, calligraphy or Chinese classical music. However, China has so much more to offer. The traditional Chinese martial arts and contemporary acrobatics are world famous. Shanghai with the M50 or Beijing with the 798 have large and famous art centers, where you can freely look at contemporary art without paying any admission. Modern Chinese music, the so-called “Mandopop”, is played in many bars and restaurants and is strongly influenced by Western music. Young Chinese literature and films are the subjects of controversial discussions and often criticize openly shortcomings of the society. In China, art develops rapidly and often reflects the Zeitgeist; one reason is that there are not as may scholarships available to artists as in many Western industrialized nations. In the many theaters of China’s major cities, current issues are processed in new plays and not slightly changed old plays replayed again and again. One can spend a year in a city like Beijing and will still have the opportunity to discover new things.
As one cannot outline every form and aspect of art; we provide some more links for you under “Related Links“.
Prior to this festival, hundreds of millions of migrant workers return year after year to their family, which is often referred to as the “largest mass migration in history “. Preparations already take place on New Year’s Eve. The houses will be decorated with red, lucky symbols and the Chinese zodiac animal of the year to come, and the food for the following days will be prepared. Unmarried family members receive gifts, usually money in red envelopes. The whole family will eat and drink together and burn loud fireworks. In addition, it is common during these days to honor one’s ancestors and to offer them gifts as well. You definitely should not miss the opportunity to celebrate this festival together with your host family. You will experience unforgettable, cordial moments for sure.
- Qingming Festival:
The Qingming Festival takes place at the beginning of April (on the 4th, 5th or 6th) and is dedicated to deceased friends and ancestors. Graves are cleaned, incense will be burnt and gifts in form of fruits and paper money, which will be burnt, will be offered to the beloved and honored dead.
- Dragon Boat Festival:
The Dragon Boat Festival is always held on the 5th day of the 5th Lunar month (usually the beginning of June) and is celebrated with colorful dragon boat races. Traditionally, you will eat Zongzi, glutinous rice, which is wrapped in leaves. According to legend, the festival goes back to an ancient story from the Warring States Period. It tells about the nobleman Qu Yuan, who had been banished from the court because of his political point of view. That act of injustice filled him with deep grieve and despair. Seeing no way out of his misery he threw himself into the Miluo River, whereupon the local residents tried to save him with their boats, but failed.
- Moon or Mid-Autumn Festival
The Moon Festival takes place on the 15th day of the 8th Lunar month (between early September and early October). On this day of the year, the full moon will appear larger than any other day. To celebrate this, throughout China one bakes sweet moon cakes with various fillings that then are given to relatives, colleagues, and friends.
- National Day (October 1)
The National Holidays begin every year on October the 1st and are held in remembrance of the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. These holidays are especially popular among the Chinese for travelling.
If you plan to travel during Chinese public holidays, we recommend that you book your tickets as early as possible. Your personal advisor will gladly be of your assistance.
Similarly, Taoist beliefs had and have strong influences on Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), which regards man as a unity of body, mind, and environment. Concepts such as Yin and Yang, or the essence of life, Qi, are used in TCM. Similarly, classical philosophical approaches of Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism are shared in various schools of thought in China.Anyone who is interested in the various Eastern religions and philosophies will find in China a vast variety of influences and teaching approaches that until today have strong influences on the lives and actions of Chinese people.
Confucius or Kongzi (551 – 479 BC) was born in the state of Lu (today’s Shandong province) during the Spring and Autumn Period, and had been the son of an aristocratic family. After his mother’s death, he gave up his position as a state official and became a teacher.
His philosophy emphasizes the role of a person in society and the appropriate action in relation to this position. He tried to learn from the past and regarded the war-torn times in which he lived as the downfall of civilization itself. He admired the pre-Christian dynasties which had united large parts of the Chinese cultural sphere. What is known about his teachings today has been written down by his students, since he did not keep any journals.
Five essential ideas guide the lives of people
- Ren (humanness) requires benevolent actions between people. It teaches us which people to honor and which not.
- Li (ritual) emphasizes human interactions according to ritual. It states rules of conduct and courtesy that show us how to live the Ren.
- Xiao (loyalty towards your parents) demands obedience and respect towards parents, ancestors and teachers. The strongest Xiao-relation exists between son and father and is even regarded to stand above the law.
- Zhong (loyalty) is the transfer of the concept of Xiao onto the professional level. It does not mean blind obedience, but also to advise your superior truthfully if he or she makes wrong decisions.
The origins of Taoism are unclear and only legends exist. It did not develop into an actual religion until the Tang Dynasty (618-917 AD). The most widespread view is that Lao Tzu, who lived at the same time as Confucius, founded Taoism with his book, the Daodejing (Writings of the way and virtue). Lao Tzu was an archivist in the State of Ku and later gave his up his position to travel the country. He unintentionally founded the Taosimus by simply writing down his views on the world. Later Taoism had been heavily influenced by the writings of Zhuangzi and Buddhism, which gave him his gods and rituals.
Taoism advocates no particular form of society, but the return of man to nature. In the Daodejing is written, “The more taboos and prohibitions there are in the world, the poorer people will be.” The main idea of Taoism revolves around the Dao, the way, a never ending force, that cannot be understood by men, but is observed everywhere in nature. Through the Dao Yin and Yang, the two opposite but interdependent forces, come into being. They affect everything in the universe. They represent ebb and flow of the forces of reality.
Guidelines of Taoism are:
- Wuwei (without target): It can mean to take no actions at all as well as acting without deem.
- Ziran (Nature) tells us to act according to nature and spontaneously. Wuwei and Ziran are interdependent: Both ideas are interdependent. Wuwei is the ability to appreciate someone’s natural (not conditioned), spontaneous behavior, someone’s Ziran. Ziran enables us to act in accordance to Wuwei.
- San Bao (Three Treasures): The three treasures are the Jing, vitality, the Qi, the essence of life, and the Shen, consciousness, intellect and spirituality. Only who brings these three forces into harmony can achieve an eternal life.
Westerners are often recommended to turn to Western Romanticism to gain a better understanding of Taoism and how to look up to nature as a role model.
Siddhartha Gautama (he who accomplished his aim; 563 – 483 BC) was born as a prince in Kapilavastu (today’s Nepal). After he had seen the suffering in the world, he left the palace at 29 to find the ultimate truth and an escape from suffering. He tried to gain enlightenment from meditation and asceticism, but failed. So he sat down under a tree and swore not to rise until he found enlightenment. Finally at the age of 35 he achieved his goal and became Buddha [one who is awake]. From then on he was called Sakayamuni [capability and kindness] and spent the rest of his life to travel through North India, spreading his teachings
Buddha’s life had not been written down until 500 years after his death. Buddhism came to China around the same time. However, due to the reluctance of the Confucian officials it did not gain greater influence until the lenient rule of the Tang Dynasty.
Buddhism emerged from Hinduism, which teaches that life is an endless cycle of rebirth. One is born again dependent upon on his karma, the sum of one’s good and evil deeds, words and thoughts. Buddhism offers a way out of this cycle of rebirth if one realizes the Four Noble Truths and lives accordingly:
- All life is suffering.
- Suffering arises from craving.
- To stop craving leads to the end of suffering.
- This only can be accomplished by the Eightfold Path.
The Eightfold Path includes true views, true intentions, true speech, true conduct, true livelihood, true effort, true thinking, and true pursuit.
Those mastering the Eightfold Path can enter the Nirvana (blown out). Regarding the respective Buddhist denomination, it is possible to step out of the Nirvana and re-enter the circle of life and rebirth. This is especially emphasized in Lamaism, where the Dalai Lama is regarded as the reincarnation of the enlightened Avalokitesvara.
As mentioned earlier, the teachings of Fengshui quite differ from time to time, region to region, and teacher to teacher. Although some approaches of Fengshui have already been documented in pre-Christian times, the name appears not earlier than during Song Dynasty (960 -1279). The common basic idea is that one’s life not only depends on one’s morals and deeds, but also on other forces. These forces are Qi, Yin and Yang, demons, spirits, one’s own ancestors, gods and so on. Fengshui masters provide guidance in regard to the will of those powers in order to enable people to live a happy life. Especially in China, these masters are consulted on many occasions such as setting a wedding date or choosing suitable name for one’s offsprings.
During the pre-Christian dynasties, the first records of herbs and treatments were created and already before the first unification of China, it developed into an independent branch of science. Although the main concepts of TCM had already been developed until the Han Dynasty (210 BC – 220 AD), the term “Traditional Chinese Medicine” itself was not used before the 1960s. Mao Zedong ordered the scientific classification of TCM’s elements in order to create an inexpensive medical system for the rural population free of superstition
Holism is the basic concept of TCM. On the one hand it means that the parts of the human body interact and cannot be looked upon separately. On the other hand it states that a human being is integrated into nature and society. Therefore, it is not enough to examine the patient only physically. Hence, it is necessary to take all interactions into account to make a correct diagnosis.
The historical interaction between TCM and Chinese philosophy can clearly be seen considering the vocabulary and the explanatory models. Key concepts such as Qi as well as Yin and Yang derive from Taoist believes and the theory of the Five Elements can be found in Fengshui teachings as well.
Qi is the essence of life. The whole universe is flooded with Qi, which is in accordance with the Dao in perpetual flux. Where the Qi condenses, it forms objects and living things like rocks, birds or humans. This also means that everything is connected by the flow of Qi. Its movements cause changes such as the change of seasons, and when it evaporates, it means the end of all tangible beings.
- Yin und Yang:
Yin and Yang mark a quality’s opposite sites. Yin marks the static, passive, cold, moist, dark, interior side and Yang the changing, active, hot, dry, bright, outer side. All things can be organized by Yin and Yang according to their nature. Yin and Yang are not per se good or bad. It depends on the things or pro-cesses in respect. However, the quality of their relation is decisive. There are five basic aspects of Yin and Yang relation:
- Yin-Yang interaction: It is necessary for the generation of all things, e.g. the sexual intercourse between man (Yang) and woman (Yin).
- Yin-Yang opposition: By opposition of Yin and Yang balance can be kept, e.g. to rest (Yin) at night allows us to act (Yang) during daytime.
- Yin-Yang interdependence: Both of them cannot exist without each other. E.g. there is no activity (Yang) without the body (Yin) and without activity the body would die.
- Yin-Yang wane-wax: When Yin wanes Yang waxes to an equal degree and vice versa. Hence, a quantitative dynamic balance is kept. E.g. actions (Yang) dominate the day and rest (Yin) the night.
- Yin-Yang transformation: When the wane-wax passes a certain point a qualitative change from Yin to Yang or vice versa takes place. E.g. the human body transforms nutrients (Yin) into functions (Yang).
The understanding of the Ying and Yang relations is indispensible in TCM because diseases will arise when they are disturbed
- The five elements (Wu Xing):
In TCM interactions are often explained with reference to the Five Elements. Each also represents one the body’s organs. The Five Elements are: wood (liver), fire (heart), earth (spleen), metal (lung), and water (kidney). All elements are connected by the concepts of restraint and creation with each other, which guarantees the balance of nature. An example: Earth restrains water, water creates wood, and wood restrains earth. Furthermore, the five elements represent processes: water flows downwards, fire strives upwards, wood expands, metal reforms and earth allows growth. Similar to Yin and Yang, these processes can be set into relation of man himself and his interactions to the environment. When there is disturbance of the relations’ equilibrium, diseases occur and thus treatment is needed.
This means that if you’re in China, you should pay attention not to directly criticize your counterpart in the presence of others. If you wish to express a different opinion, you should first assure your counterpart that you understand his or her point of view and then afterwards explain your point of view. If you would like to hear someone’s critical point of view regarding a subject such as politics, it is the easiest first to praise the current circumstances. That way you will give the other person enough space to express his or her real opinion.
The importance of relationships in China has emerged from its long history full of changes. Therefore, Chinese often consider relationships as more important than laws as those provide a social form of personal safety and influence. For instance, if you want to get to know someone it is common in China to be introduced by someone else, who knows the person already, first. It works like a transfer of trust. If you have good relationships with other people, you should not be afraid to ask them for favors. That also includes things which are considered rude by many Westerners. For example, a Chinese friend would unconditionally offer you a place to stay if you needed it. Similarly, relations are a good resource to create when disagreement arises and a third person is asked to mediate.
This also means in case you should have future plans in China, your host family will surely help you or introduce you to other people, who will be able to help you.
China’s landscape is so versatile and impressive that it led over the centuries to the development of an own school of painting, the Shanshui, which tries to transfer these incredible impressions on canvas. This may not seem surprising, considering that China is the fourth largest country in the world and includes 18 climate zones. Its deepest point is the Turpan Depression which is 154m below sea level, and its highest point is the Mount Everest at 8.848 meters above sea level on the Tibetan plateau at the border to Nepal. In addition, vast rivers cross the country, with the Yangtze being the longest (6.380km). River and mountains side by side, giving Shanshui its name, is a distinctive feature of Chinese landscapes. It provides sensations, which may only be gained in a handful of countries outside of China. China’s landscapes are so diverse that we can only give a brief overview of the most famous ones.
The Tibetan plateau with its average altitude of 4,500m above sea level is often referred to as roof top of the world. It is surrounded by the high mountains of the Himalayas, the Kunlun Mountains and the Qilian Mountains. Although the vegetation is sparse, life in this region includes unique animals such as the yak, musk deer, or black bear. It is particularly known for its incredible panoramic landscapes, which offer vast grassland, glaciers, salt lakes, and mountains. Since the Mongol rule Lamaism became Tibet’s main religion. It is as a special form of Buddhism and despite the numerous regulations you will find a large number of monasteries and a deep spirituality of the native Tibetans. The Tibetan cuisine is widely known in China for its special meat dishes and dairy products.
Hainan is the name China’s southern island province, which has been named after its main island and is often referred to as the “Chinese Hawaii”. It is particularly famous for its mild tropical climate, and the local temperature usually does not fall below 16 ° C – even in winter. The main island is by 60 % covered with jungle forests, which give home to the Hainan Gibbon. It is also framed by kilometers of white sandy beaches and has become one of China’s most popular tourist destinations. Especially popular sides are the botanical garden and the Nanshan Park, which is dedicated to the 2,000 year-old Buddhist tradition of the island, and is topped by a 108m high Buddha statue that is rising against the sea.
The Taklamakan Desert covers about two-thirds of China’s Xinjiang province, home of the Muslim Uyghur. It is the second largest sand desert in the world and literally translates into “place of no return”. In it one may find kilometers long, up to 100m high sand dunes, which move with the wind. And from time to time devastating sandstorms brush over the desert. Since the Han Dynasty the famous Silk Road led around the Taklamakan Desert. Despite how hostile to life the desert itself may seem, today it is a popular destination for camel tours. Here you can experience the culture of the Uyghur minority, whose metal crafts, sweet pastries and mutton dishes are well known throughout China.
Heilongjiang (Black Dragon River) is probably the most famous province of Northeast China and named after the river, which represents the border to Russia and is better known in the West by its Russian name, Amur. It is the home of the Amur tiger, salmon, and sturgeon. Especially well-known is the Wudalianchi National Park, which was created by strong volcanic activity. Its contemporary appearance is the result of 12 heavy eruptions between the years 1719 and 1721. With its five large, interconnected lakes, it offers not only a beautiful view, but due to its late formation it seems to be a place from pre-historic times. Harbin, the capital of the province has long been under Russian control and has to offer many historic buildings. Today, the city is particularly famous for its winter Ice Festival, during which hundreds of artists year after year create a city made of ice and attract millions of visitors.
Huangshan, the Yellow Mountains in the Anhui province, are the most beautiful mountains in China and a UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Heritage site. China has a variety of impressive mountain scenes, including the holy mountains of Taoism and Chinese Buddhism. However, none of them causes such an overwhelming feeling of astonishment to visitors like the Yellow Mountains with their steep chasms. The mountains are covered with tens of thousands of ancient pine trees, which are home to over 500 species of animals, including monkeys. There are numerous hot springs and the region is the origin of many popular kinds of tea. It is said in China that someone who has seen these mountains, will have no more interest in other mountain ranges. The Huangshan mountain peaks, breaking through the cloudy sky, have not only created their particular school of painting, but they served also as inspiration for the floating mountains in the movie “Avatar”.
The region around Guilin, which is crossed by the Li River, is well-known for its incredible karst mountains covered by green forests, and it is probably the most famous river scenery in China. In addition, there are numerous underground lakes and caves, of which the Reed Flute Cave is the best known and contains thousands of stalagmites and stalactites. Likewise, the vast rice terraces of the Yao minority or the two pagodas in the Shanhu Lake offer an impressive view. A special feature of the region is the traditional cormorant fishing out from bamboo rafts. A sling is tied around the domesticated birds’ neck to prevent it from swallowing the fish after catching it. The bigger fish are then kept by the fishermen and only the smaller ones fed to the birds.
The Jiuzhaigou National Park located in the Minshan Mountains in Sichuan Province is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. Nowhere else in the world you will find a landscape shaped by water like Jiuzhaigou. Due to the differences in height and speed of water you will find 72,000 acres full of waterfalls, mountain lakes, rivers, and limestone cascades. Of these, probably the most famous are the 320m long Nuorilang waterfall and the Lake of the Five Flowers. The park is mostly covered by mixed forests and is home to the endangered giant pandas and the snub-nosed monkeys.
The Three Gorges
Most people will probably have heard of the Three Gorges Dam and most likely because of the controversial discussions about the building. However, the landscape, which gives this dam its name, is often forgotten or only mentioned as a foot note. The National Park of the Three Gorges, the Qutang , Wuxia and Xiling gorge is one of the most beautiful scenes in China as the Yangtze flows on a length of a 193km through mountain ridges that tower up to a height of 1.200m alongside the river, which itself get up to 150m wide. Due to the inaccessibility of the region, you will find on many slopes dense forests, a vast variety of birds, monkeys and wild cats. This region is home to the Tujiaren minority (Earth House People), whose colorful costumes and extravagant wedding jewelry are famous throughout China.
What is life like in China’s cities? This question is not easily answered because China’s cities often differ from each other due to their incredibly diverse history, geography and differences in climate. But they have at least one aspect in common: China’s cities urge into modernity, and city planners are fond of trying new concepts. Striking architecture, tall skyscrapers, and modern infrastructure are just one indication of this effort. Chinese are very sociable and a lot of daily life takes place in public: Strangers get together in order to dance or play sports. Because of that public facilities such as parks are spacious, clean and equipped with a variety of training devices. Another consequence is that the prices for daily life services and goods are relatively low. In China to go out for dinner is nothing special and compared to the West, a pure bargain.
With only brief interruptions Beijing has been the capital of China since Yuan Dynasty (1279 – 1368 AD). China and around 21 million people live here today. Due to its political importance over the centuries, Beijing is a true treasury of Chinese culture. In addition to the huge palaces of the old dynasties or the Temple of Heaven, you can also find Confucian, Buddhist, and Taoist temples. The Great Wall and the impressive grave sites of the Ming emperors are not far away from the city. Beijing’s contemporary architecture also attracts many people, with buildings such as the twisted CCTV Building, the Water Cube or the Bird’s Nest for the 2008 Olympic Games. Moreover, it is known for its nightlife and its avant-garde art scene with its fixed center is the 798 art district.
Especially if you take into consideration the laborious preparation, the multitude of ingredients, and the spectrum of choices you are offered. Public transportation as well is incredibly inexpensive and a taxi ride for instance usually costs less than taking the subway over the same distance in Western countries. Services are performed quickly and inexpensively, be it the mending of shoes, washing cars, getting your hair cut or the tailoring suits. China’s major cities are compared to Europe real metropolises that have multiple city centers. Accordingly, the possibilities are enormous, and you can experience something different every day. Below, we would like to present to you some famous Chinese cities.
Located at the Yangtze River Delta, Shanghai is alongside Guangzhou one of the most Western city in China. With its 23 million inhabitants, it is also the second largest city in the world. Since the beginning of the 19th Century, it has been the economic center of China. Therefore in 1842 the British Empire demanded its opening to foreign trade after the First Opium War (1841). Accordingly, one can still admire the impressive representations of the former colonial powers. Today, however the modern downtown, called “The Bund”, is the most popular destination for tourists and visitors. The Shanghai Tower with its 632m height is the second tallest building in the world. Like Beijing, Shanghai has a well-established artists’ center, the M50, and its nightlife is next to Guangzhou, the most notorious of all in China.
With its more than 3,100 years of history, Xi’an is one of the oldest cities in the world, and it is almost located in the heart of China. Already during the Tang Dynasty (618-907) over one million people lived in Xi’an and made it the largest city in the world at the time. Today it has a population of around 8 million inhabitants. No other city in China had been capital as long as Xi’an (formerly called Chang’an). Although it is an incredibly modern city with a buzzing nightlife, it is still best known for its history. Located near Xi’an, you can look at the grave sites of the pre-Christian dynasties and at that of the First Emperor, guarded by the vast terracotta army.
Guangzhou is located in southern China at the Pearl River Delta and better known in the West under the name “Canton”. It is the capital of the most populous province, Guangdong, and has approximately 12 million inhabitants. Guangzhou had been the only accessible harbor for foreign trade before the defeat of the Qing in the First Opium War (1841). Accordingly, alongside Shanghai, the city is often referred to as the city with the most Western influences in all of China. Only 120km away from Hong Kong, it is part of a huge hub of cities, which in total count for 40 million inhabitants. Guangzhou is best known for three things: its mild climate, its colorful festivals, and its cuisine offering a multitude of delicious and fascinating dishes.
Wuhan, located in the central eastern part of China, is the capital of Hubei Province and has around 10 million inhabitants. With its more than 3,000 years of history, it is one of the oldest cities in the world, and you can visit numerous temples and historical sites, including the Tower of the Yellow Crane, which was built in 220 AD. Its seven bridges over the Yangtze are regarded as an impressive expression of the great technological achievements of younger Chinese history. Wuhan is known for its entertainment street, Jiqing, which offers plenty of different shows every evening. The Wuhan Happy Valley is one of the largest amusement parks in China and has roller coasters that offer a free fall from 67m height.
Hong Kong is next to the famous gambling city of Macao one of the two special administrative zones of China with an own currency and particular local laws. That’s due to the fact that it has been a British colony from 1842 to 1997. It is located in the south of China at the estuary of the Pearl River and has approximately 7 million inhabitants. Since Hong Kong skipped the Cultural Revolution, one can observe many traditions and old customs in everyday life of the Chinese people here. It is a popular destination for cruises, has its own Disneyland and a colorful nightlife. Hong Kong is not only a tax haven; the weak Hong Kong dollar makes it a famous shopping destination for Chinese from neighboring provinces.
China’s documented history dates back nearly 5.000 years, beginning with the reign of the legendary Emperor Huangdi in 2698 BC. Since that time, China has been ruled by 396 emperors and 162 kings from 83 dynasties, which were replaced by the Chinese republics in 1911.
Neolithic and the first royal dynasties (9000 – 770 BC)
Around the year 9000 BC, the first tribes in the area around the Yellow River, which is known as the cradle of Chinese civilization. During the following seven millennia, the early Chinese mastered the techniques and technologies of bronze casting, glazed pottery, animal husbandry, agriculture and developed their first musical instruments. However, the first official dynasty, the Xia Dynasty, did not appear for another 7000 years.
Spring and Autumn, Warring State Period and Unification (770 – 221 BC)
The years between 770 BC and 221 BC are commonly referred to as the Spring and Autumn Period (named after the Annals of Confucius) and the Warring States Period (named after a book written by Liu Xiang at that time). Although this period was characterized by constant struggles of the individual principalities and later kingdoms for supremacy in China, it is regarded as a golden age of the Chinese culture. Confucius founded a philosophy emphasizing tradition and hierarchy and Lao Tzu, lay the basis of Taoism, which is one of today’s world religions. These two are probably the most prominent representatives of the so called hundred schools of thought from that period. In addition, the Chinese learned how to cast iron, developed modular construction with the help of standardized parts, which led to a first form of mass production. They invented the chrome plating, which has not been rediscovered until 1938. Minted coins became the dominant currency.
The Han Dynasty (210 BC – 220 AD)
In 210 BC a peasant uprising took place that ended the Qin dynasty after only 11 years. For eight years the leaders of the uprising fought a bloody civil war, until 202 BC Liu Bang was victorious. He established the Han Dynasty, after which the majority of the Chinese population is called today, Han. During the over 400-year reign of the Han emperors, Confucianism became state philosophy in China. They laid the foundations for the famous Chinese educational system for officials that would endure until 1911. The Han divided the population into four social classes: The highest class has been the aristocracy followed by the state officials. Craftsmen and farmers made up the third rank in the social hierarchy and the merchants, who themselves produce nothing, represented the lowest class. During this time, Cai Lun discovered papermaking and the Silk Road, as a common trade route between the East and the West, was established.
Division and the rise and fall of the Tang Dynasty (220 – 907 AD)
220 AD the Yellow Turban Rebellion swept the Han Dynasty away, and for the next 400 years China was almost continuously divided again. This changed when the mighty state official Li Yuan declared himself emperor in 618. Within five years he managed to reunite China again. He founded the Tang Dynasty, one of the most open minded dynasties in Chinese history. Although the Tang emperors were Buddhists themselves, they granted freedom of belief. They allowed foreigners to intermarry with Chinese and even married members of their family to foreign rules and the princes of minorities in order to keep the peace. During this time, the first and only empress who ruled in her own name rose to power, Wu Zetian, who was a former daughter of a merchant. She derived her claim from the pre-Christian dynasty of Zhou.
The second division: Yuan and Ming (907 – 1644 AD)
In the year 907 a military governor disposed the last Tang emperor and introduced again a nearly 400-year-long period of a division. Kublai Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan, completed the conquest of China in 1279. He moved the capital of his empire from the Mongolian Karakorum to Beijing (at that time called Dadu) and founded the Yuan dynasty, which was to endure until 1368. Also at this time, there was lively cultural exchange with the West. Islam and Lamaism, new crops and Western musical instruments were introduced to China. Chinese gunpowder and porcelain got known in the West. Nevertheless, the Yuan emperors were always regarded as conquerors by the Chinese, as they divided the population into four classes, of which the Chinese themselves made up the two lowest classes.
Qing – the last dynasty in China (1644 – 1911)
After the fall of the last Ming emperor, General Wu Sangai, who held the eastern end of the Great Wall against the Manchu, had the choice to leave the Dragon Throne to the peasant leader Li Zicheng or to open the gates to the foreign invaders. His choice fell on the Manchu, who had reunited the nomadic tribes north of China after the death of the last Great Khan. A month later the Manchu conquered Beijing and their leader, later known as Emperor Shunzhi, founded the Qing Dynasty in 1644. In its early years, the Qing Dynasty had been very successful. The Chinese Empire expanded to the South and West and forced the Russians to withdraw from their borders. Thus, the empire enjoyed almost two centuries of stability.
The Republic of China (1912 – 1949)
The first Chinese Republic inherited many burdens from the old empire. There was no single center of power, and foreign nations and warlords exercised control over large parts of China. Only in 1927 Nationalist leader General succeeded in bringing China under his control. First reforms and extensive building projects to improve the infrastructure introduced a brief period of economical growth and recovery from 1931 to 1936. During that China achieved a similar economic growth rate like today, 9.3% per year. However, Japanese imperial interests kept Chiang Kai- Shek from finally defeating his inner Chinese opposition. In 1936 he had been arrested in Xi’an by his own generals and forced to make peace with the Communists in order to oppose foreign interests.
The People’s Republic of China (since October 1st, 1949)
On the 1st of October in 1949, Mao Zedong proclaimed the People’s Republic of China, which still exists until today. Following internal reforms and a redistribution of land ownership, the first years of the PRC began quite promising and between 1952 and 1957 it achieved an economic growth rate of 8.9% per year, similar to the late thirties of that century. However, the initial hopes eventually failed during the socialist large-scale projects of the Great Leap Forward, which led to a terrible famine. After a period of political weakness, Mao Zedong launched the Cultural Revolution, which ended in disaster, and between the years 1966 and 1976 paralyzed the whole of Mainland China. Only two years after his death, the Communist Party agreed under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping to change course. Deng stated, “Mao was 70% good and 30 % bad”. From then on socialism was defined as everything which at the same time and strengthens the productive forces of the country, makes the country stronger and raises the living standard of the population.
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China, with its 5,000 years of documented history, is of one of the oldest civilizations on earth. It is a land of many superlatives: China’s 1.34 billion inhabitants make it the most populous country in the world. With 982 million native speakers, Mandarin is the most spoken mother tongue on earth. The largest palace complex in the world, the Forbidden City in Beijing, was built around 600 years ago. The largest city in the world is located in southwest of China, Chongqing, with its 30.8 million inhabitants. Shanghai, the second largest city in the world, also has the largest port in the world. 10 of the 20 tallest buildings in the world are can be found in China.
The Xia dynasty was founded around 2000 BC and China entered a period of powerful dynasties that dominated large parts of the Chinese cultural sphere. During that time, the belief arose that the rule of the king was derived from the will of heaven as well as the custom that always the eldest son should be the next in line to the throne. The Chinese developed the basic features of their writing and learned to produce silk. The great era of the first dynasties ends with the King Zhou You, around the year 770 BC. He banned his wife from the royal court to marry his concubine. However, the feudalistic empire of Zhou was held together by complicated family ties, and the acts of the king led to the revolution of the Queen’s family and the de facto independence of the individual principalities sworn to the crown
As impressive as this may sound, China is much more than a series of abstract extremes. China is a country that shows a promising future and has managed within one generation, to overcome the Middle Ages and to enter modernity. This rapid development led to a general mindset of openness towards innovations and foreign ideas. As a result the Chinese pragmatism resulted in over 30 years of unconfined economic growth and made China the second largest economy in the world.
In addition, China also has to offer impressive landscapes and a highly diversified nature. The cold northeast of the country is home to the Amur tiger and the sturgeon. In the warm southwest, one can observe monkeys and pandas in the wild. China’s 55 minorities account for around 8% of the total population and many of them show totally different customs and traditions, which gives the country many faces.
For a long time the West has been fascinated by China. Paper, porcelain and silk were invented in China centuries ago and already then desired merchandise. Later, the fruits and flowers from China’s Southwest changed the faces of 19 century Europe’s gardens and fields. Even today, Chinese influences attract more and more people from foreign countries: for example, dishes of the different Chinese cuisines or traditional Chinese medicine, which considers man and the environment as a whole. This is also true for the various schools of thought such as those of Confucius, Lao Tzu, or the strategies of General Sun Tzu, which are even taught at West Point.
China is a country that often seems familiarly Western, but at the same time totally different. Since the days of Marco Polo one thing remains true: China is worth the trip!
These technological innovations enabled the kingdom of Qin, which gave China its present name, to conquer the other kingdoms of China within 9 years, and in 221 BC China has been unified. To express its uniqueness, Qin Ying Zheng adopted the title of Emperor (Huangdi). He has been the first emperor of China and is, until today, a quite controversial figure. On the one hand, he unified the country. He initiated the construction of the first Great Wall, and his grave side, which has been protected by the terracotta army, is world famous. He divided China into 36 prefectures and abolished hereditary administrative and military offices; every free man could reach a position according to his abilities and achievements. He also standardized writing, currency, weights and measurements. On the other hand, he introduced a draconian legal system that regulated the smallest details of daily life known as legalism. All deviating philosophies were banned and their writings were burned. He ordered to burry 460 Confucian scholars alive. Towards the end of his reign, around 10% of China’s population has been enslaved to work for his massive construction projects.
The Tang dynasty initiated the second golden age in Chinese history. Numerous Buddhist scriptures came from India to China, and 492 Buddha cave temples were built out of the rock, of which 232 are still preserved. During this time, the Chinese invented the printing press and Sun Simiao wrote his standard work on medicine, called “Recipes Worth more than a Thousand Pieces of Gold”, which describes more than 800 medicinal plants and over 5,000 applications. Many schools and universities were founded and over 50,000 poems were written
In 1368 the former Buddhist monk Zhu Yuanzhang led a peasant uprising against the Yuan and finally conquered the capital, Dadu, founding the Ming Dynasty. The Ming Dynasty was the first to maintain constant contact with the countries of Europe and in 1557 leased Macao to the Portuguese. The Ming Dynasty is famous mainly because of four things: 1) the construction of the Forbidden City (1406-1420), the largest palace complex in the world, 2) the building of the Ming wall, which we usually refer to as the Great Wall today, 3) the voyages of Zheng He, who explored the Indian Ocean with hundreds of ships 4) and for its porcelain of which 3 millions objects have been exported. After a drought in 1627 peasants, who were no longer able to pay their taxes, started a rebellion against the Ming and reached Beijing in 1644, which had been the capital since Emperor Yongle. Emperor Chongzhen saw no way out and hanged himself with a strand of yellow silk on the hill behind the Forbidden City, and the Ming Dynasty ended.
Gradually, the fixed prices were abolished, and in 1980 the first economic development zones were created in the coastal regions, which marked the beginning of China’s opening up policies. Since that time, the opening up of China is progressing steadily and has only been interrupted for two years after the protests on Tiananmen Square (1989). Hong Kong (1997) and Macao (1999) again became part of China. In 2001, China entered the WTO and in 2003, China sent its first astronaut into space. The Chinese people are proud to have hosted the Olympic Games in 2008. Today, China is the second largest economy in the world and one of the fastest developing countries on earth.
However, all efforts proved futile, as Japan’s attack on Nanjing opened the second Sino-Japanese War in December 1937. Despite significant losses on Chinese side, the Japanese could not be pushed back until the end of the Second World War in 1945. Even after the end of the war, peace did not last long and Chiang Kai-Shek started the Chinese Civil War in 1946. He broke his agreement with the Communists and attacked North China, their center of power. Despite immense support from the U.S., the Nationalists could not defeat the Communists under Mao Zedong as they lacked the support of the rural population. As a result they had to retreat to Taiwan in 1949, which is still officially referred to as Republic of China until today.
However, its success led to a false sense of security, and during the late 18th century important processes of modernization in technology and administration had been neglected. Qing China technologically fell behind the West, and with the First Opium War in 1841 and a series of following so called Unequal Treaties began the decline of China. The industrialized Western nations and Japan demanded more and more prerogatives from the Qing emperors, and only their own disunity prevented China from becoming a colony of foreign powers. Finally, the perceived humiliations and the economic decline led to the revolution of 1911. On the 1st of January 1912, Sun Ya- Tsen proclaimed the Republic of China.