Videos about INTRO, China

An Introduction to Chinese Medicine and Exercise

Chinese Medicine

In all its forms, Chinese medicine is holistic - it considers the whole body (and mind). It sees diseases as symptoms of lack of balance in some aspect of the whole and seeks to bring the body back to harmony. Indeed, the word dis-ease simply means 'not at ease'. When the father of western medicine, Hippocrates, declared 'Let food be your medicine', he was very much in line with Chinese thinking. However, science, with its focus on reductionist logic, has led to a reliance on drugs which are intended to be direct fixes but which actually often further disturb the body's carefully balanced systems producing side effects. Further, drug-based medicine often addresses only symptoms and not underlying causes.


In China, exercise is everywhere - an important part of Chinese culture through the philosophical foundations of Chinese thought that emphasise the harmony of body and mind. Hence, exercise is not just exercise in the western sense, often it involves a spiritual or mental side as in the martial arts and QiGong. Balance (control) and suppleness are prized as much, if not more, than strength and stamina. This is seen beautifully in Chinese acrobatics.

The primary concept in the spiritual / mental dimension to native Chinese exercises is to achieve harmony of one's Qi. Qi is the flow of energy or life-force in the body, heaven and all living things - an ancient Taoist notion.

Schoolchildren, and many workers, begin the day with 15 minutes of exercise.

Ping Pong

Although the name sounds Chinese, 'Ping Pong' probably was coined because of the sound the ball makes when hit near and far (by oneself and your opponent). The exact origins are obscure but Ping Pong (Table Tennis) has been popular across the world, especially so in China, Japan and Korea.

China has had great success internationally at Ping Pong but it is its popularity among ordinary people that has given it a place in Chinese Culture. Ping Pong tables are commonly found in parks and other outdoor spaces. If you stop to have a look you may well be invited to a game!


An Introduction to Chinese Opera

Formed from an amalgam of traditional folk song, distinctive dialects and other regional performing arts, Chinese Opera has evolved into a complex, stylised story telling, combining masks, mime, dance, acrobatics and martial arts. Traditional instruments, such as the erhu, lute and gong, combine with highly refined literary dialogue, beautifully written with many nuances.

Even most Chinese need to see subtitles to follow the arcane language and unusual dialects. Color of face painting and costume is used to convey some aspects of each actor's character. Chinese Opera is full of symbolism.

The artists follow many years of training. It is said that 'one minute on the stage requires ten years practice behind the scenes'.

Chinese Opera joins with Sanskrit Opera and Greek tragi-comedy as among the world's oldest performance art. Long supported by China's imperial rulers, during the Qing dynasty Chinese Opera began to be enjoyed by common folk too, among which many of its roots lie.

Today, Chinese Opera is a world away from modern life, but that is part of its appeal and although no longer with a mass market it continues to survive and is enjoyed by Chinese and tourists alike. There are many regional variations; Beijing Opera is primarily a fusion of these. Performances usually take place in tea houses.


Arts and Crafts


Seals have traditionally taken the function of a signature and were used to identify ownership or authorship since ancient times. Metal, stone, wood, ivory, and jade can all be carved for a seal. Seals have a place in business even today.


This is style often used to decorate pots. Authentic cloisonne is made handmade using thin strips of brass or copper that are painstakingly glued into place on the pot to make a design. The different areas are then filled with layers of different coloured enamel. The pot is then fired and finally polished on a spinning wheel. The price of the pot depends on the intricacy of the design. Cloisonne can be used on other artifacts also, such as jewelry. This technique was developed in the 14th century (Ming dynasty).

Paper Cuts

This folk art craft dates from around the 6th century. Thin rice paper (usually red) is cut into designs for decoration of doors, windows, lamps and other objects - or even just to frame. Intricate designs and pictures are skillfully and carefully made by scissor or, more likely, sharp craft knife.

Paper cuts are often placed on front doors during the Spring Festival to bring good fortune to the family over the coming year.


Kites originated in China over 2,000 years ago. Making and flying kites is still a popular pastime in China. Traditionally the frame is made from thin strips of bamboo that is then covered with thin but strong paper and sometimes silk. Decoration can sometimes be elaborate. Common themes include swallow, butterfly, insects, clouds and many others.

The history is long. Originally, kites may have been developed for signalling and other practical purposes. By the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907), kite flying had become a pastime that involved relaxation and the appreciation of nature.

Much later, kites played a key role in the development of the airplane.


The Three Foundations of the Arts

These are calligraphy, poetry and music.

Chinese Calligraphy

Calligraphy is a highly regarded art in China. It is much more than stylised writing in the Western sense of calligraphy and is more akin to painting. Non-depictional and just black and white, line and space, Chinese calligraphy is startlingly beautiful in its simplicity yet enables a very wide range of expression and takes many years to master. Even a Westerner with no experience can sense the beauty of a good example, with its innate sense of balance. And the practice of it requires a harmony of self, brush and paper. Good calligraphy is said to embody the natural forms and movements of the natural world.

A popular type of calligraphy involves writing poetry in water outdoors using a large brush on the pavement.

Chinese Music

Chimes, bells drums and flutes (which could be made quite simply from bamboo), date back into antiquity. Later, by the time of the Tang dynasty (618 - 907) stringed instruments, such as the pipa (similar to the lute) and zither, which are plucked, and the erhu, with its vertically held strings, and Mongolian Horse-Headed Fiddle, which use a bow, were developed.

By the Tang dynasty, music - and dance - was widely enjoyed by all people and could be experienced at fairs organised by various temples. Folk songs telling the everyday tales of fishermen, herders and farmers were hugely popular among the peasants.

Influences from Buddhism and Islam added further flavour to the repertoire of Chinese music.

An interesting variant on the flute is made of clay and is a rounded pot with a number of holes and a spout to blow into. It resembles a small teapot and produces a beautiful sound.

Chinese Poetry

The 'Book of Songs' (Shi Jing) was the first major collection of Chinese poetry, comprising both aristocratic poems and rustic poetry, probably derived from folk-songs. It comprises 305 poems, some possibly written as early as 1000 BC. The work is one of the 'Five Classics' (Wu Jing), canonized by the Han Dynasty. The poems are said to have been selected and edited by Confucius from a total corpus of about three-thousand poems.

Chinese poetry has been influenced by the spiritual traditions of Buddhism and Taoism. The subject is often everyday life, a moment in time, appreciation of nature and a pointing to the underlying unity of life.

One of China's most venerated poets is Li Po (AD 701-762) who is also known as Li Bai. Here is an example of his poetry.

Visiting a Taoist on TaiTien Mountain

Amongst bubbling streams a dog barks;
peach blossom is heavy with dew;
here and there a deer
can be seen in forest glades.
No sound of the mid-day bell
enters this vastness,
where blue mist rises
from bamboo groves;
and from a high peak
hangs a waterfall.
No-one knows where he has gone,
so sadly I rest,
with my back leaning
against a pine.


Philosophical Ideas

There are a number of ancient philosophical ideas that link with each other in various ways and permeate Chinese culture.

Feng Shui

Feng Shui (pronounced 'fung shway') literally 'Wind Water' is the ancient Chinese concern for placement and arrangement of a space to achieve harmony with the environment. For a place to have 'good Feng Shui' is for it to be in harmony with nature, whereas to have 'bad Feng Shui' is to be incongruous with nature.

Feng Shui draws together a wide mix of geographical, religious, philosophical, mathematical, aesthetic and astrological ideas. Sometimes intuitive and derivable from common sense and our feeling of what is natural.

Underlying the practical guidelines of feng shui is the theory of Qi. The 'Book of Changes' ('I Ching') and 'The Five Elements are also sometimes brought into play.


Nature is generally held to be a discrete organism that breathes Qi (a kind of life force or spiritual energy). The details about the metaphysics of what nature is, what Qi is and does, and what breath consists in vary. However, it is not generally understood as physical, but neither is it meant to be metaphorical although it can be thought of that way.

The Five Elements

The Qi energy can be found in various forms identified as Wu Xing (5 Phases) - Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water. These energy phases are so-named because they tend to behave somewhat like the physical entities.

The notion of the Five Elements is found in Chinese medicine and Feng Shui.

Do not confuse the 5 elements of Chinese Metaphysics with the 5 elements of Greek philosophy (Wind, Water, Earth, Ether and Sky).

Yin Yang

This is the idea that opposites both contain each other and give rise to each other. These ideas are captured beautifully in the symbolisation of ... Further, that we need to take a holistic view and seek balance between opposites. Any two opposites are defined by reference to each other and in a dynamic relationship.

Although the origins probably predate Taoism, the idea is elaborated quite explicitly in the Tao Te Ching, if not by name.

Yin : Moon, water, cold, feminine, dark, passive force, ...

Yang : Sun, fire, hot, masculine, bright, active force, ...

Everything has an opposite, and opposites are relative, not absolute. They are interdependent.

There is always a trace of one in the other, like stars in the night sky. There can not be absolute darkness or absolute brightness, coldness or whatever.

One can transform into the other. For example, night becomes day becomes night. And if we look from space, we see that night and day actually coexist!

There are four possible imbalances: excess Yin, excess Yang, Yin deficiency, and Yang deficiency. They can again be seen as a pair: by excess of Yin there is a Yang deficiency and vice versa. The imbalance is also a relative factor: the excess of Yang 'forces' Yin to be more 'concentrated'. The darker the night, the brighter the stars look.

Yin / Yang is an important concept in Chinese medicine. Symptoms categorised as yin would be treated by foods that are said to yang.

The 'I Ching' ('Book of Changes')

The 'I Ching' attempts to elaborate on the nature of the universe.

Simplicity. The fundamental law underlying everything in the universe is actually utterly plain and simple, no matter how abstruse or complex some things may appear to be.

Variability. Everything in the universe is continually changing. By comprehending this one may realize the importance of flexibility in life and cultivate the proper attitude for dealing with a multiplicity of diverse situations.

Persistency. While everything in the universe seems to be changing, there is a persistent principle, a central rule, which does not vary with space and time.

This book is based on 64 diagrams that represent all the different ways to combine six 0s and 1s (yin or yang). For example, 101101. An unbroken line can be used to represent Yang and a broken line Yin. This gives 64 hexagrams that can be used as an oracle; providing an input for a new way of looking at a problem.

Dragon and Phoenix

The dragon and the phoenix, mythical creatures that date back into antiquity and only gradually took the form we know today, served in classical art and literature as symbolic of people of high virtue and rare talent. Together, the two symbolize happiness and married love.

The dragon symbolizes supreme power and was associated with the emperor. There is no connection with the Western dragon which symbolizes evil power.

The first emperor, Shi HuangDi, is said to have incorporated the emblem or totem of each tribe he conquered into his own. This may be part of the explanation of how the dragon took on its composite form. A dragon has the body of a snake, the scales and tail of a fish, the antlers of a stag, the face of a camel, the talons of an eagle, the ears of a bull, the feet of a tiger and the eyes of a demon.

The dragon is associated with water and the number 9.

Han Chinese often refer to themselves as 'descendants of the dragon'. In the West, it has also become a symbol of China itself although in China the panda is the preferred national symbol today.

The Phoenix (FengHuang) symbolizes virtue, foresight and devotion and was associated with the empress. The phoenix derived from the combination of the first two mythical phoenixes - the Feng which was male and Huang that was female - to symbolize a harmony of Yin and Yang. The phoenix carries with it eternal truths and is immortal - able to rise from the ashes of death. The phoenix will only stay where there is just rule.

The feathers of the phoenix are often depicted containing the five fundamental colors: black/blue, white, red, green and yellow that relate to the 'Five Elements'.

The phoenix or similar mythical 'fire-birds' appear in many ancient cultures, including that of ancient Greece, but there are some differences.

The dragon and phoenix are still embodied in traditional celebrations such as the Chinese New Year.


The number 9, being the highest value digit, is associated with the dragon and the emperor. Nine is often found in architectural and other features associated with the emperor, such as the imperial red doors with their 9 rows of 9 golden bolts.

10,000 was a number used to denote infinity. Hence the Forbidden City was often cited as having 9,999 rooms - just less than the mythical number of rooms in Heaven.

Further, odd numbers are considered to be Yang while even numbers are associated with Yin.

All the other digits have various associations too, with complicated rationales based in various ancient beliefs such as the Five Elements. Even today, 8 is considered to be a lucky number associated with prosperity and happiness, while 4 is an unlucky number. In some multi-storied buildings there is no floor marked as floor 4. A telephone number with lots of 8s and no 4s is the most expensive.


Beijing's Hutongs and Courtyards

For those who want to experience the local customs, as well as the history and culture, of Beijing, a visit to the HuTongs (alleys) and SiHeYuans (courtyards) is an indispensable part of a visit to Beijing. The HuTong A hutong is an ancient city alley or lane, typical in Beijing, where hutongs run into the several thousand. Surrounding the Forbidden City, many were built during the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties. In those times, the emperors planned the city and arranged the residential areas according to systems of etiquette. The center of the city of Beijing was the royal palace - the Forbidden City. The word 'hutong' came from the Mongolian language about 700 years ago. It originates from the word 'hottog' in Mongolian meaning 'water well'. Where there was a spring or well, there were residents. The word 'hottog' became 'hutong' after it was introduced into Beijing. Hutongs are the passages formed by lines of siheyuans (courtyards). One hutong connects with another, and siheyuan connects with siheyuan, to form a block, and blocks join with blocks to form a neighbourhood. In ancient China, there was a clear definition for a street or lane. A 36 m wide road was called a big street (DaJie). An 18 m wide one was called a small street (Lu). A 9 m wide lane (or smaller) was called a hutong. The shortest hutong is just 10 m long, and the narrowest hutong is only about 40 cm wide. Some hutong have more than 20 turns. Most of the hutongs in Beijing are in east-west or south-north directions. That resulted from the need for houses to face south so as to take in more sunshine. The Weaver and the Cowherd There are many stories and fairy tales about hutong. Near the Forbidden City, in the heart of Beijing lies a hutong called 'Girl Weaver', which is named after a fairy from the Heavenly Kingdom, who descended to the human world and married a cowherd. Her enraged father, the Celestial Emperor, took the girl back and separated the couple with the Milky Way. Symmetrically, on the other side of the Forbidden City, there used to be a 'Cowherd Bridge'. In part, this tale suggests that emperors living in the Forbidden City are sons of Heaven. In the rich and historical culture of Beijing, the hutong has a very special and important position. It is not only a kind of architecture, but also serves as a window into Beijing folk life and an embodiment of the history and culture of Beijing. The SiHeYuan A standard siheyuan consists of houses on all four sides. The house that stands at the north end facing south is called the 'main house or 'north house'. The ones on each side are called the 'side houses', and the one which stands at the south end facing north is called the 'opposite house' or 'south house'. The siheyuan's entrance gate is usually at the southeastern corner, in accordance with the traditional concepts of the 5 elements that were believed to compose the universe, and the 8 diagrams of divination. Normally there is a screen wall inside the gate so that outsiders cannot see directly into the courtyard; it is also believed to protect the house from evil spirits. Outside the gate of larger siheyuan, there is a pair of stone lions, one on each side. Such a residence offers space, comfort and quiet privacy. It is also good for security as well as protection against dust and storms. The gates are usually painted vermilion and have large copper door rings. The courtyard often contains a pomegranate or other type of tree, as well as potted plants. Usually a whole family lives in the compound. The elder generation lives in the main house, the younger generation live in the side houses, and the south house is usually the sitting room or study. From their size and style, one can tell whether a siheyuan belongs to ordinary folk or the powerful and rich. The simple house of an ordinary person has only one courtyard with the main building on the north facing, across the court. The mansion of a titled or rich family would have two or more courtyards, one behind another, with the main building separated from the view of the southern building by a wall with a fancy gate or by a GuoTing (walk-through pavilion). Behind the main building there would be a lesser house in the rear and, connected with the main quadrangle, small 'corner courtyards'. Not only residences, but also ancient palaces, government offices, temples and monasteries were built basically on the pattern of the siheyuan, a common feature of traditional Chinese architecture. Once ubiquitous in Beijing, siheyuans and hutongs are now rapidly disappearing, as entire city blocks of hutongs are leveled and replaced with high-rise modern buildings. Residents of the hutongs are entitled to apartments in the new buildings, of at least the same size as their former residences. Many complain, however, that the traditional sense of community and street life of the hutongs cannot be replaced. However, some particularly historic or picturesque hutongs are being preserved and restored by the government.

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