Month: March 2017

Living Life Outside


Image taken in Shanghai in August, 2013.

The majority of daily life in Western countries tends to be lived inside one’s home or another building. We go to the gym to exercise, eat our meals in our dining rooms or restaurants, and do our activities in living rooms or bedrooms. Thus it may come as a surprise when Westerners find Chinese locals doing nearly everything (even sometimes sleeping and bathing) out in public.

Life is often lived outdoors for native Chinese, and this is due to two major components of China: overpopulation and lack of space. China is the size of the USA with nearly three times the population, and much of the country is nigh inhabitable. This means one’s home in China is very small, consisting of a few small rooms.

It is because of this and several other factors that many Chinese choose to do activities outdoors rather than indoors. While in China, it is common to find groups of elderly men and women exercising in parks or at schools, students sitting outdoors studying or playing sports, and men and women of all ages eating outside their homes. People will practice instruments outside, alone or with groups, as well as read novels or poetry. At night, people sit outside drinking and playing mah-jong or other board games as vendors pack up for the night. Even competitions or tournaments will be held out in the streets, sometimes in front of businesses or popular locales, rather than in a stadium. Life is bustling for China when out in the streets, and if you’re studying Chinese, it only adds to the number of instances for you to practice!


Communist Party Structure

To outsiders, the Communist Party can be seen as a massive, if confusing and sometimes frightening, body that rules over China. However, just like any other government, the Communist Party is home to many committees, subcommittees, and organizations, each with its own set of goals and internal structures. The following is a very brief layout of the Chinese government body.

The majority of the government is divided into departments, including policy making, security, and foreign affairs. The People’s Daily and Seeking Truth, two publications associated with the party, are also considered departments. These departments answer to the Standing Committee, or the Politburo. These politicians, who number less than a dozen, are the highest ranked in the entire government, and they meet regularly to discuss party policies in a frank and often criticizing way. Consensus is seen as key among the Politburo, and oftentimes votes will be delayed if no consensus is acquired. Discussion rather than voting is seen as the primary objective.

At the same level of the Standing Committee are the military and General Secretary. The General Secretary is involved in numerous government responsibilities, including managing the Secretariat of the Central Committee (a committee who stands when the party is not in session) and Disciplinary Inspections. Both the Central Committee and the the majority of government departments serve for terms of five years. Overseeing all these levels as well as being included in the Politburo meetings is the President, whose term is limited to ten years (or two five-year terms).

Beyond the Beijing structure are countless grassroots and provincial organizations who speak directly to the government departments. It is important to note that, while Chinese citizens can believe in the Communist ideals, they are not considered a member of the party until they have paid a fee and are of age. Many start out in rural regions and join social organizations that are monitored by the central departments of government before rising up the ranks. April 20, 2003. Accessed on 03/23/2017. 



China Proper

When people think of China geographically today, they more than likely refer to the modern People’s Republic of China, a country the size of the European Union that expands from the southern borders of Russia to the South China Sea. But this is a rather recent development when it comes to China’s history, and indeed, the borders defining the country “China” have changed repeatedly from military and cultural expansions. To understand China’s expansions, one must understand where China originated.

Archaeologists refer to original China as “China Proper.” Located on the eastern coast, China Proper was established as the home of native Chinese, or Han descendants, as early as the Shang dynasty (approx. 1800-1050 BCE). China Proper sat in the basin of both the Yellow and Yangtze rivers, as the mountain ranges of Tibet and deserts to the west made expansion incredibly difficult. Expanding north was also problematic, as the north was already home to Mongols and Xiongnu barbarian tribes, which the Chinese had repeat contact with.

The culture of a settlement was largely determined by the river it was located along; the northern Yellow River saw consistent drought, and people came to rely on wheat as a staple food. On the other hand, the southern Yangtze river was part of a warmer and wetter region, which led to the cultivation of rice.

As emperors fought to expand territory via military expeditions, China’s borders spread north, south, and westward. China would gain and lose territory as dynasties rose and fell, but over time, China spread and eventually overtook three key locations. Northward, they assimilated Manchuria and Inner Mongolia. To the west, China’s borders came to include former East Turkestan (now home of Xinjiang Autonomous Region) and Tibet. And while China spread south to include tributary states, its current border resides along the borders of Vietnam, Laos, Burma, and India.

Ebrey, P. B., & Walthall, A. (2013). Pre-modern East Asia: a cultural, social, and political history. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

The Art of War

Many know the name, but not many know the history. The Art of War is a fascinating self-help book of sorts, with militaristic means in mind but lessons that can be taught to and applied by anyone in practically any field. It is separated into 13 chapters detailing specific components of warfare, including the use of spies, the utilization of terrain, and when the best time to take an offensive is. Beyond being a good military strategist, the text also focuses on being an intelligent and virtuous individual, referencing Daoist beliefs and inferring that one must be both wise and fair to win battles. The Art of War focuses not only on how to win battles, but on how to be a paragon of generals so that all may follow.

While its impact on leaders throughout history has been undeniable, the history of the text itself is a matter of debate. Initially it was believed to have been published approximately 2500 years ago by Sun Tzu (also known as Sun Wu) during the Spring and Autumn Period of Chinese history. What makes the actual text debatable are several factors, the first being that there were actually two texts named The Art of War, with the second being published 2100 years ago by a man who was also named Sun Tzu but who was often referred to as Sun Bin. Anachronisms, traditional characters, and a lack of punctuation utilized in the original text have also made copies and translations difficult to verify. Indeed, many translations disagree on wordings and rely on a very specific version or a later copy of the text for support. Most translations, however, maintain the same structure of the text, and the lessons to be learned and advice given remain consistent.

Despite its age, the text is still in use today by those not only involved in military but also by businessmen and women. Anyone in a competitive field will find some grain of truth in The Art of War, with metaphorical guidelines meant to be applied in life, competition, and, above all, one’s own character.


S., & Trapp, J. (2012). The Art of War: A New Translation. New York: Chartwell Books.

Dynasties – The Xia


Oracle bones. Image Source

The Xia Dynasty is the first recorded dynasty in the history of China, though the leaders and emperors said to have ruled during that time are surrounded by legend and unproven claims. Per early Chinese historians, including Sima Qian, the dynasty existed from approximately 2852-1778 BCE, being first established by the ruler Fuxi in the Central Plain region of modern-day China. The majority of the Xia rulers are credited by early Chinese historians with certain major developments, both culturally and politically. Fuxi was credited with animal domestication, while his successor Shennong is said to have spread the knowledge of agriculture. Following that was Huangdi, or the “Yellow Emperor,” who is estimated to have reigned from 2700-2590 BCE. He is believed to have introduced both ceramics and writing to the Chinese civilization. All three are described as mythical creatures in legend, half-human and half-animal, and the feats attributed to them add to their status in early Chinese mythology.

From there, a series of five emperors ruled, with the latter two, Yao and Shun, being believed as having established the model for ruling, choosing individuals of merit rather than family to carry on the imperial rule. It was during this period that the agrarian calendar is also thought to have developed.

The Xia dynasty was eventually overthrown in 1766 BCE when Da Yi, also known as Cheng Tang, overthrew the final emperor and established the Shang dynasty. Legend states that this was due to the Xia succumbing to tyrannical rule, with Da Yi restoring peace and virtue to the government, but very little archaeological evidence supports this.

Roberts, J. A. G. The Complete History of China. Stroud, Sutton, 2003.

Ethnic Majorities and Minorities


Image edited by The Cultural Palace of Nationalities, Beijing. 1984.

China has recognized a significant number of ethnic communities within its borders during its 5000-year-long existence, with many following traditions and speaking languages outside of modern Chinese culture. To date, there are at least 55 ethnic minorities that are registered and recognized as residing within China. Some ethnic subcultures number in the hundreds of millions, while others contain a few thousand and are isolated in customs, religious beliefs and traditions. All are considered to be Chinese, per the Chinese government. The most prominent ethnic communities found within China include the following:
⦁    Han – 汉族: The most numerous, and therefore the ethnic majority, in China, nearly one billion people living in China today are considered Han. They can be found all throughout China, primarily speak Chinese, and are either non-religious or follow Chinese traditional ways, including Confucianism and ancestral worship.
⦁    Mongolian – 蒙古族 : A mainly nomadic group living primarily in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. They predominantly speak Mongolian and follow various shamanistic practices.
⦁    Hui – 回族 : One of the largest ethnic minorities in China, the Hui are very similar to the Han, with the exception that the majority practice Islam. The Hui live throughout China but are concentrated in the Northwestern regions.
⦁    Tiebetan – 藏族 : Located primarily in Tibet, Tibetans are vastly different from Han Chinese culturally. They tend to practice Buddhism and believe various forms of mythology, as well as speak several forms of Tibetan rather than Chinese.
⦁    Uygur – 维吾尔族 : A Turkish minority living in China that practices Islam. They primarily live in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and follow Islamic custom and laws.
⦁    Miao – 苗族 : The Miao are actually a collection of non-Han ethnic minorities, some of whom disagree that they are related to other Miao. They live primarily in the southern Chinese mountains, speak Hmongic, follow folk legends and traditions, and are known for sometimes extravagant headdresses.
⦁    Yi – 彝族 : Located in rural, mountainous regions, the Yi number between 7-9 million. They speak several Loloish languages as well as Mandarin, and many know Yi script as well as Chinese characters.
⦁    Zhuang – 壮族 : One of the largest ethnic minorities in China, the Zhuang primarily live in Guanxi Autonomous Region. Most speak Zhuang and Cantonese and follow traditional religions and gods.
⦁    Buyi – 布依族 : A minority primarily living in the south and extending into Vietnam, the Buyi consider themselves part of the Zhuang ethnicity. They speak Tai and follow local traditional religions.
⦁    Manchu – 满族 : The Manchu are spread throughout the majority of China; in fact, China has a history of several Manchu Emperors. They speak Chinese, with only a small percentage speaking Manchurian, and are mostly non-religious.
It is widely known that several ethnic minorities are in current contention with the Chinese government; however, they are included in this list due to being included in Chinese censuses.

For more information, feel free to check out: Chinese Ethnic Groups