China boasts one of the oldest existing cultures in human history. For thousands of years, known as the Middle Kingdom, the dynastic China asserted its cultural influence on many of its neighboring nations in a multitude of areas, from architecture to commerce, art to religion, customs to language, governance to politics, and literature to philosophy.
Here are a handful of examples to illustrate the colorful tapestry of the Chinese culture.
The Chinese Written Language
The word Chinese can mean anything that has to do with China, or the Chinese language itself, in written or oral form. The Chinese written language has its roots in ancient times when people relied on using logographs to communicate. Instead of being constructed in alphabets, each Chinese word is a character represented by a unique combination of dots, lines, and strokes. The earliest examples of Chinese writings are the logographic inscriptions found on animal bones, turtle shells, and bronze vessels. The oldest of which dates back thousands of years. In ancient times, emperors and kings used these objects in religious rituals to solidify their imperial position and political authority. This association of political authority and writing conferred social status and privilege upon those who could read and write. It gave rise to the scholars’ class in China.
Calligraphy occupies a special place in the Chinese culture. More than writing with an ink brush, calligraphy is held in high esteem as a visual art form like painting. The ability of calligraphy writing is a time-honored tradition for scholars to pursue. Through calligraphy, the Chinese characters are more than words on a piece of paper; they become an artistic expression carrying motion and emotion.
Confucius and His Teachings
The name Confucius is synonymous with some of the age-old wisdoms and quotable sayings that remain popular today. Referred to as Kong Fu Zi or Kongzi in Chinese history, Confucius is the Latinized name of China’s Great Scholar and Teacher, who was born over 2,500 years ago. He aimed to establish order and stability in China’s feudal society by unifying human virtues with time-honored traditions and religious rituals. His teachings were rooted in the importance of continuous education and self-cultivation. Over time, it became a philosophy and way of life with lasting influence in the Chinese culture.
The Mid-Autumn Festival
The Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Full Moon Festival, falls on the 15th day of the eighth month in the lunar calendar. It is the second most important festival after the Lunar New Year Festival. The Festival’s popularity reflects the multiple traditions and customs: to give thanks for bountiful harvest, to pray for fortune and fertility, and to reunite with family. The celebration of the Festival is known for colorful lanterns, family reunion dinners, and delicious mooncakes. Today, aside from China, countries like Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, and Philippines all celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival.
The Sweet Mooncake
The sweet delicious moon cakes enjoyed at Mid-Autumn Festival have a fascinating history. In the 13th century the Mongols led by Kublai Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan, defeated the rulers of the Song Dynasty to establish the Yuan Dynasty. Like today, most of the Chines people during that era were Hans. They were unhappy to be ruled by Mongolians, a minority tribe of Northern China. A plan to organize a widespread uprising was hatched. The secret message for the time of the uprising, which was to take place on the 15th day of the eighth month, was hidden in mooncakes. The plan was successful, which led to the formation of the Ming Dynasty. Since then, mooncakes and the Mid-Autumn Festival became an annual tradition.
The Legends of Kung Fu
Commonly known as Kung Fu, the Chinese martial arts come in many different fighting forms or known as schools of combat techniques. Some of the popular schools include Hung Gar, Choy Lay Fat, Shaolin Kung Fu, Tai Chi, and Wing Chun. The legendary Bruce Lee, who leveraged his Kung Fu ability into international stardom, was a practitioner of Wing Chun. In Chinese folklores, Kung Fu warriors occupy a special place as the instruments for good and righteousness. They are revered for their fighting skills, bravery, and loyalty.
In Shimmering Across Time, the author Mak Ming weaves many elements of the colorful Chinese culture into his award-winning historical novel (2022 American Writing Awards Finalist). For readers who have an interest in China and its people, this enthralling story will transport them to an unforgettable journey that is rich in cultural references. For history buffs who are curious about the most tumultuous one-hundred-year period in China and Southeast Asia, this novel will not disappoint.