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About China

Social Culture

Society | Social Conducts | Holidays & Festivals | Beliefs & Religion

[ Society ]

After almost 30 years of being closed for repairs, the Middle Kingdom creaked open its big red doors in the late 1970s. 20 years late, the Chinese world has changed immensely. Gone is the sight of hardy peasants and sturdy workers, uniformly clothed in blue. Today a growing middle class shops for chanel perfume and Lacoste polo shirts. Chinese cinenmatic productions sweep up awards in the film feestivals of Europe. Chinese rockers perform on Asian MTV. McDonald's and KFC have picked up a big sum of money in China and spawned a fast-food revolution in Chinese eating habits. And karaoke has invaded the East and set the whole of China singing.

As many commentators like to remark China is slowly6 becoming more and more mordern, and more and more like other nations. Something miraculous is happening in China-the latest of many revolutions. The country is reinventing itself and , whatever you feel about the place, China is a country that cannot be ignored.

[ Social Conducts ]

Traditional family values

In China, the Family name comes first, the given name second. That is vestige of the traditional Confucian values: the family remains Chinese society's most important unit. In rural areas, common surnames identify an extended clan.

The birth control policy has had profound influences on the Chinese society. The children with no siblings, particularly if they are male, are usually spoiled by doting parents and even more by grandparents. These kids have been dubbed "little emperors", a western equivalent might be "exceedingly spoiled brat".

Although increasingly a rare occurrence in the cities, in arural family three generations may be living together, with responsibility for elders falling to the sons. Daughters, on the other hand, become members of her husband's family after marriage. Families in the cities, however, are increasingly small and self-contained, like most urban families worldwide.

Social life

In the morning, many Chinese people keep a habit of exercises in early morning, Wushu, or rather martial arts, Qigong, jogging, either in the park or along the road. Morning streets are crowded with commuters. Armadas of cyclists pour throught cycle lanes and scatter across junctions. Buses lurch along the streets, sometimes encountering traffic jams.

As Their rich and varied cuisine reflects, the Chinese love to eat, and China's rise in living standards is appartent at meal time. Urban residents, to whom even pork was once special, now regularly consume beef, fish, and shrimp in the home, and restaurant meals can be veritable banquets. This is especially the case if the meal is charged to entertainment expenses, or is being paid for by a businessman who wants to impress--the Chinese do not usually split the tab-On the table there should always be more food than the diners can eat, otherwise, the host loses face. Until recently, dinner was the chief evening event that could last till small hours.

China's national and regional television stations are improving, they feature foreign as well as domestic programs. China-produced films improve so stupendously that they sweep up awards in the film festivals of Europe.

Karaoke, that vain Japanese-invented sing-along addiction, has swept China as elsewhere in Asia, and set the whole China singing. Overwhelmingly, the songs patrons prefer are from Hong Kong and Taiwan; there is also material available from the West.

Working life

There was a time --until recently, in fact-- when he distinction between rural and urban workers was quite clear and obvious. Rural life meant the farm; urban life, the factory or office. As agriculture becomes mechanised and automated, the increasing numbers of migrant farmers throng into the cities and become a city planner's headache.

In the cities, the "Iron bowl", as the systemn of permanent and guaranteed jobs and wages was once called, has vanished. And unemployment became a profound social problem.

[ Public Holidays ]

Time Gregorian
Gregorian
Calendar
Lunar
Calendar
Name Groups Contents
Jan 1st   New year's Day All citizens One-day off
  Jan 1-3rd The Spring Festival All citizens Three-day off
Mar 8th   Women's Day Women Half-a-day off  
May 1st   Labor Day   Three-day off
May 4th   Youth Day people above 14 Half-a-day off
Aug 1st   Army Day Army-men Half-a-day off
Oct 1st   National Day All citizens Three-day off

Traditional Festivals

Time Gregorian Calendar Lunar Calendar Name
Jan 1-3rd The Spring Festival
Jan 15th The Lantern Festival
May 5th The Dragonboat Festival
July 7th The Seventh Evening
July 15th The Zhongyuan Festival
Aug 15th The Mid-autumn Festival
Sep 9th The Double Ninth
Dec. 22nd The winter solstice
Dec. 8th The Lunar Dec. 8th
Dec. 30th New Year Eve

Festivals of Minrities

Lunar Calendar Name Nationalities
Jan 1st The Spring Festival The Olunchun nationality
Jan 1st The Spring Festival The Nu nationality
Jan 1st The Spring Festival The Lahu nationality
Jan 1st The Spring Festival The manchu nationality
Jan 15th Munao Festival The Jinpo nationality
January Shaifo Festival The Tibetan nationality
Feb 2nd Huachao Festivall The Zhuang nationality
February Baixilusheng Festival The Miao nationality
Mar 22nd Kazak Nawu Luzi Kazak nationality
Mar 3rd   The Li nationality
Mar 3rd   The Bai nationality Dali Yunan Province
Mar 15th Fairy Festival The Nu nationality

[ Beliefs & Religion ]

Buddhism | Confucianism | Daoism | Minority religions | The other beliefs

As a socialist country, China declares most of its population are atheists. However, in the years following the end of the Cultural Revolution which has marked the zenith of ravage of religions in China, the intense anti-religiosity of the Cultural Revolution began to fade away. Traditional Chinese religion is now officially considered a proud national relic and, in many cases, the government actively promotes the restoration of temples, churches and holy mountains as tourist sites. Everybody with Chinese citizenship excluding CCP member is free on beliefs or religions.

Traditional China was dominated by three major faiths: Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism. None of them systematically required the exclusive professions of faith, thus these different faiths coexisted relatiely peacefully, and the average Chinese might feel some affinity with more than one of them. For example, a Chinese believer might profess faith in the tenets of filial piety espoused strongly by Confucianism, celebrate Daoist holidays at temples, and pray to Buddhist bodhisattvas,all without any conflict o finterest. In addition to these major religions, Islam, Christianity Zoroastrianism, and Judaism, also had or have had minority followings in traditional China.

Buddhism

The Chinese initially encountered Buddhism at the beginning of the first century, when merchants and monks came to China over the Silk Road. At the time of the three Kingdoms (AD220-280), the religion spread in each of the three states. Buddhism was most influential in Chinese history during the Tang dynasty (618-907). Several emperors officially supported the religion.

In the course of time, 10 Chinese schools of Buddhism emerged, eight of which were essentially philosophical ones that did not influence popular religion.

Since the 7th century, the ascetic bodhisattva has been a popular female figure in China. She is called Guanyin, a goddess of mercy who represents a central deity for the ordinary people. Guanyin means "the one who listens to complaints".

In the 7th century AD, another type of Buddhism, called Tantric Buddhism or Lamaism, was introduced into Tibet from India. It replaced the indigenous religion, while at the same time taking over some of the elements of this naturalist religion. In Lamaism, a complex pantheon exists; apart from the Buddhist deities, there are figures from the Brahman and Hindu world of gods and the old Bon religion.

In 19049, the year the PRC was founded, there were approximately 500,000 Buddhist monks and nuns, and 50,000temples and monasteries. A number of well-known Buddhist temples were classified as historical monuments. By the beginning of the Cultural Revolution in 1966, it seemed as if the Red Guards were intent on completely eradicating Buddhism. Only a few important monasteries and cultural objects could be protected, and completely or only partly preserved.

Confucianism

It is debatable whether Confucianism is a religion in the strictest sense. But Confucius was worshiped as a deity, although he was only officially made equal to the heavenly god by an imperial edict in 1906. (Up until 1927, may Chinese offered him sacrifices.)

Confucius came from an impoverished family of the nobility who lived in the state of Lu (near the village of Qufu, in the west of Shandong province.). For years, Confucius, or Kong Fuzi (Master Kong), tried to gain office with many of the feudal lords, but he was dismissed again and again. So he travelled around with his disciples and instructed them in his ideas. All in all, he is said to have had 3,000 disciples, 72 of them highly-gifted ones who are still worshiped today.

Confucius taught mainly tradtional literature, rites, and music, and is thus regarded as the founder of scholarly life in China. The Chinese word Ru, which as a rule is translated as Confucian, actually means "someone of a gentle nature" a trait that was attributed to a cultured person. The thoughts of Confucius were collected in the Analects (Lunyu)by his loyal disciples; some of the classic works on Confucianism are :Shijing, the book of songs; Shujing, the book of charters; Liji, the book of rites; Chunqiu, the spring and autumn annals; and Yijing, the book of changes. All are the students' must-read in the old time.

Confucianism is, in a sense, a religion of law and orderl. It provides a framework of world order for a person to live within. This idea, in turn, is based upon the assumption that people can be educated.

Daoism

Laozi, the founder of Daoism , living at a time of crises and upheavals. It is said Laozi was the son of a distinguished family in a village in the province of Henan in 604 B.C.. For a time, he held the office of archivist in Luoyang, which was then the capital. But he retreated into solitude and died in his village in 517 B.C.. Many legends have been told about the figure of Laozi. One of them, for instance, says He left China on a black ox when he foresaw the decline of the empire. And the other says that he was born from her mother's left armpit with his hair all white after her being pregnant for 72 years.

The Daoists and Buddhists both believed that the great paradise was in the far west of China, hence the name, Western Paradise. It was believed to be governed by the Queen, Mother of the West, Xiwangmu, and her husband, the Royal Count of the East, Dongwanggong. And without making any changes to it, the Daoists also took over the idea of hell from Buddhism.

Religious Daoism developed in various directions and schools. The ascetics carried out exorcisms and funeral rites, and read mass for the dead or for sacrificial offerings.

Historical and legendary figures were added to the Daoist pantheon. The highest of the three deities, the heavenly god, Is identical to the Jade Emperor, worshiped by the common people. There is hardly a temple without Shouxinggong, (the god of longevity), a friendly-looking old man with a long white beard and an extremely elongated bald head. There are also the god of wealth (Caishen), the god of fire (Huoshen), the kitchen god (Zaoshen), the god of literature (Wendi), the god of medicine (Huatuo) and others.

Minority religions

Islam

Islam probably became established in the 7th century, and its influence has been long-lasting. Ten of the 56 ethnic groups in China profess themselves to Islam, the Hui, in particular.

Mohammed was born in Mecca around the year 570. He preached the Koran in his 40's. Islam soon came to China from the Silk Roads both on the land and over sea. During the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368), Islam finally became permanently established in China. And today, there are around 21,000 mosques in China. The Muslims celebrate their festivals, while Chinese-Muslim groups organise pilgrimages to Mecca.

Christianity

Christianity was first brought to China by the Nestorians in 635. The followers of Nestorian Christianity disseminated their teachings with the help of a Persian called Alopen, who was their first missionary. The symbol of Nestorianism was a cross with two spheres at the end of all four beams. A stele dating from the Tang dynasty is decorated with such a cross and is on display in the provincial museum of Xi'an.

The first Catholic church in China was porbably built by a Franciscan monk from Italy, who arrived in Beijing in 1295. Druing the Ming period, Catholic missionaries began to be very active in China.

The Other Beliefs

Fengshui and lucky numbers

It is easy for nonbelievers to sneer these old-fashioned beliefs, but may Chinese take them seriously, pointing out that the beliefs go back a long way.

Fengshui (wind and water literally) is a set of traditional spiritual laws, or geomancy, used to attract the best luck and prevent bad fortune. The fengshui theories are based mainly on the principle of qi - life's spirit or breath - which is divided into yin and yang, the female-passive and male-active elements of life. The concept of wuxing also has a prominent standing in Chinese philosophy, medicine, astrology, and superstition. The term can be directly translated as :five elements, in which the five types of energy dominate the universe at different times. Water dominates in winter, wood in spring, fire in summer, metal in autumn, and earth is a transitional period between seasons.

Most fengshui experts tell fortunes by reading faces and palms, or doing complicated calculations based on a person's name or the time and date of birth. At the end of every year dozens of fortune-telling books come out predicting what will happen in the new year.

Usually the number two stands for easy, three for living or giving birth, six for longevity, eight for prosperity, and nine for perpetuity or eternity. But it is the combinations of numbers that make a big difference. For example 168 means "be prosperous forever", the superstition over numbers also applies to street, car and telephone numbers, not to mention lottery numbers.

Ancestor worship

The ancestor worship of the Chinese is based upon the assumption that a person has two souls. One of them is created at the time of conception, and when the person has died, the soul stays in the grave with the corpse and lives on the sacrificial offerings.

Originally, ancestor worship had been exclusive to the king. Only later did peasants too begin to honour their ancesstors. At first, people believed that the soul of the ancestor would search for a human substitute and create an abode for the soul during the sacrificial ritual.