Think about the ancient civilisations of Asia, and if you’re anything like me, it won’t be long before you begin conjuring up mental pictures of beautiful men and women dressed in fabulously rich and decadent clothing; the iconic Japanese kimono [着物], the elegant Chinese cheongsam or qipao [旗袍] or perhaps even the Korean hanbok [한복]. The fabrics used to make these garments have long been popular trade commodities between the east and west – especially silk, which has been developed in China since around 3500 BC – and intricately decorated, through printing, dyeing, weaving and embroidery.
Silk brocade remains a popular Chinese export even today and its history goes back to at least the third century AD. Often mistaken for tapestry or embroidered fabric, brocade is in fact woven and is traditionally used for clothing, bedspreads, furniture and many other household items. The fabulous patterns and scenes depicted on brocade were often so intricate and beautiful that they appealed to the belief they were real…
It’s not often that you will find a song which will take your breath away. I discovered this one last year, and many listens later it hasn’t lost the tender beauty or the power it held over me the first time I heard it.
Unbelievingly, I first discovered Xǐ huan [喜欢] ‘Like’ as a free download. It’s by Zhāng Xuán [张悬], most commonly known as Deserts Xuan or Chang, a Taiwanese singer who is thought to be one of the leading voices of contemporary alternative Chinese music. It’s from her second album, released in 2007 and entitled, Qīn ài de…wǒ huán bù zhī dào [親愛的…我還不知道], ‘Dear…I Don’t Know Yet’.
A long-time independent musician and composer, Chang began writing songs barely into her teens. She was performing her own music on stage by the age of 16 and at 19, she had written over 100 pieces of music. She chose the stage name ‘Deserts’ because it was “mysterious and suggests something hanging in limbo”; like her personality.
If there’s an animal the Chinese venerate more than any other, it’s the dragon. In ancient China, only the Emperor could wear such an emblem of supreme power; it was a capital offence even to be found with the symbol of a dragon on your person. In western folklore the dragon is a frightening and dangerous monster; intelligent, but cruel and destructive. In China however, the dragon is a noble creature of the heavens and even kind to humans; as this popular folk tale will tell.
A long time ago when there were no rivers but only the vast eastern sea, where dwelled four great dragons; the Long Dragon, the Yellow Dragon, the Black Dragon and the Pearl Dragon. The dragons were boisterous creatures and the Jade Emperor had long bade them out of his court. They loved to play among the clouds and paid little attention to the people living far below them, until one day they saw a spiral of fragrant smoke emerge from between the clouds.
Chinese New Year is more commonly known as Chūn Jié [春节] or ‘Spring Festival’ in China. As in other cultures, the festival celebrates the declining of winter and the coming of Spring’s warmer weather. In China’s more remote places and especially in ancient times, the winter weather was very harsh and villages could be cut off for weeks from the rest of the country.
There was once a village in ancient China which was ravaged by a great beast, called the Nian. On the first day of every new year it would come to the village, destroying houses and devouring livestock, crops and even people; especially children.
A very happy Chinese New Year to everyone celebrating! February 3rd marks the start of the biggest festival in the Chinese calendar, which ends with the Lantern Festival on 17th February. As I’ve been writing about Asian folklore a lot recently I thought I’d continue this with some of the stories surrounding the start of the lunar new year.
The Chinese lunar calendar is a twelve year cycle, with each year given the name of an animal. This year is the year of the Rabbit. If you were born in the year 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987 or 1999, you are most likely* a Rabbit!
The culture of Japan was heavily influenced by China in the past, and so it isn’t a surprise that many Japanese spirits borrow their identity from Chinese culture, picking up Japanese characteristics on the way. It is from China that the next Dōbutsuen creature, the shōjō, finds its origin.
The shōjō is a type of spirit which lives near water. It very much resembles human beings, except that it has a red face, red fur and in most depictions, a tail. Shōjō are famed for their great love of alcohol, and in Japan are closely connected to sake [酒] in folk tales.
There has been a lot of media coverage recently over prime minister David Cameron’s trip to China, through which he is seeking to forge stronger commercial links with the country. While there are billions of pounds at stake, it’s easy to understand why Cameron is eager to make Britain appear a good choice of partner to the Chinese government. However, given the increasing concerns over human rights and political freedom on the mainland, he is being questioned for his priorities; and rightly so.
I’m not a political expert. I’m just an ordinary person, and not Chinese at that. I haven’t seen what is happening first hand in the country. But what I have seen is enough to make me worry about the message Cameron is sending. This, for example, is not enough. “Deeply held concerns” is not strong enough a phrase to do justice to how the British people feel, or should feel, about the situation of human rights in China.