chinese

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.

Ethnic Majorities and Minorities

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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

Cuisine and Geography

Xiao Long Bao

Image obtained from china.org.cn

In most Chinese restaurants outside of Mainland China, you can acquire anything from Singapore noodles to northern-style meat buns. But in China, cuisine is often determined by locale, with stores and restaurants toting specific ingredients from specific regions. There is actually a phrase used to explain the general principles of Chinese cuisine.

南甜,北咸 ,东酸,西辣

Nan2 tian2, Bei3 xian2, Dong1 suan1, Xi1 la4, 

The South is sweet, the North is salty, the East is sour, and the West is spicy. 

A good way to remember this is by remembering specific provinces. For instance, Sichuan food, known for its extreme spiciness, is located in mid-western China, just east of Tibet. Much of Sichuan food entails an assortment of peppers and peanut sauces meant to bring both joy and tears from their spiciness. In fact, there is a soup known as 麻辣烫 (Ma2 La4 Tang4), that translates to simply “numbing spicy soup,” which uses a significant amount of Sichuan pepper and chili oil. On the other hand, in the southern provinces like Guangdong, fruits including mandarins and tangerines are often used for flavoring dishes, giving is a sweetened flavor.

Another important difference in local cuisine is whether the staple food is rice or noodles. Most outsiders associate rice and tea as traditional Chinese cuisine; however, in northern and parts of western China, noodles are often served as a side instead of rice. These can also be flavored with local condiments, and the style eaten (thick vs. thin noodles, for instance) is up to personal taste.

If you are ever visiting China, be sure to take note of which region a restaurant caters to, for a menu featuring Sichuan cuisine will certainly be different than one featuring specialties from Beijing. And unlike Western Chinese restaurants, they may not have options from other localities to choose from.

Basics of Chinese Language

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Traditional of “Hanyu” on top, Simplified on bottom. Image from: Wikipedia

Chinese, or “Hanyu,” looks like a daunting mammoth of a language to anyone who grew up outside the culture. Here are some basics to the absolute beginner who is interested in learning more about the language.

  1. What became known as the Chinese language began developing as early as 1300-1200 BCE on oracle bones, but documents containing the written language date back to 3000-3500 years ago.
  2. Today, over 1.2 billion people speak the language. Dialects based on region and locality are numerous, but the standardized form is known as “Putonghua,” or the Beijing Dialect.
  3. There are two current forms of Mandarin Chinese written: Traditional and Simplified. Traditional was utilized for the majority of Mainland Chinese history and is still in use today, both in government and in Taiwan. Simplified is used primarily in Mainland China, and is often the version taught in overseas programs.
  4. Chinese grammar is perhaps the most basic in the world for a number of reasons:
    1. There are no plurals. Instead, numbers and “measure words” (such as a “cup” of water) are used to denote more than one of an object.
    2. There are no verb conjugations. To change tenses, you simply add one or two extra characters. There is also no difference between “present” and “future” tenses. It’s good to think of it as “it has been done” or “it has yet to be done.”
    3. Grammar runs as follows in almost every scenario: Subject + Verb + Object. Adverbs and adjectives are often placed before verbs.
  5. The most difficult part of learning Mandarin Chinese is the five tones. The way a sound is pronounced ultimately determines the meaning of the sound. For instance, the sound “ma” can mean “mother” or ” to scold,” dependent solely on the sound being made. Note that the characters used are also different, but when speaking it, the tone denotes the character being utilized.
  6. Each character represented an image of itself. A great example of this is 火,which means “fire.” You can easily see a crackling fire in the image, with two sparks flying, one on each side. More complicated characters combine numerous images into one.
  7. Anyone can learn the language! If interested in resources, be sure to check out the Sources of Learning page for more details!

Lapsang Souchong

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If you have never tried Lapsang Souchong, imagine the smell of a crackling fire in the woods. Now imagine that smell emanating from a hot cup of water. That is Lapsang Souchong.

Known as one of the most pungent black teas in the world, Lapsang Souchong is a flavor of tea originating from the Wuyi Mountains in Fujian Province. The flavor is obtained by placing the withered tea leaves over wooden fires, then sealed inside barrels to capture more of the smoky aroma. While the smell is stronger than most teas, the flavor is contained just enough to keep from being overwhelming. Due to the intensity of the scent, however, the tea is known for attracting either loving praise or complete and total distaste. Interesting enough, it was considered to be a favored tea flavor of Winston Churchill (The Story of Tea).

The Cheongsam, or Qipao

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Image Found at Modern QiPao

The Cheongsam, or Qipao in Mandarin, is a highly popular Chinese garment consisting of a one-piece, tight-fitting dress that generally comes down to the knees. Worn primarily by women, the dress is believed by most to have developed during the Qing Dynasty. It became popularized during the 1920s and 1930s when elite and upper class women began to wear it, particularly in Shanghai, only for its use to dwindle during the Communist Revolution. The style continued to flourish in Hong Kong, however, where many Shanghainese tailors fled. A recent resurgence has found the dress to be back in style both in Hong Kong and in Mainland China, particularly in Shanghai, for formal occasions or work attire.