Chinese Culture, Tradition, and Customs
Chinese culture, tradition and customs
Present day Chinese culture is an amalgamation of old world traditions and a westernized lifestyle. The two co-exist like the traditional Yin Yang formula of balance. This can be seen in the juxtaposition of towering skyscrapers with heritage buildings, the contrast of western fashion with the traditional Chinese Qipao dress, the people's paradoxical affinity for both dim sums and McDonald's.
Ancient Chinese Culture is older than 5000 years. Chinese cultural history has enormous diversity and variety. The sophisticated Chinese civilization was rich in the Arts and Sciences, elaborate Painting and Printing techniques and delicate pottery and sculpture. Chinese architectural traditions were much respected all over the world. Chinese language and literature, philosophy and politics are still reckoned as a strong influence. Chinese culture managed to retain its unique identity till the advent of Western culture in the mid-19th century.
Chinese Religion, Philosophy and Politics: Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism have left a collective and lasting impression on Chinese culture and tradition. Confucianism propagated “Ren” (Love) and “Li” (rituals), signifying respect for society and social hierarchy. Taoism advocated the controversial philosophy of inaction. Buddhism emphasized on the need to attain self- emancipation through good deeds.
China, a large united multi-national state, is composed of 56 ethnic groups. Han Chinese account for 91.59% of the overall Chinese population, and the other 55 groups make up the remaining 8.41%, according to the Fifth National Population Census of 2000.
These numerous ethnic groups share China's vast lands but at the same time many live in their individual communities. The relationships between the different ethnic groups have been formed over many years.
While hundreds of Chinese dialects are spoken across China, a minority language is not simply a dialect. Rather, it is a language with distinct grammatical and phonological differences from Chinese. Language families include Sino-Tibetan, Altaic, Indo-European, Austro-Asiatic, and Austronesian. Twenty-one ethnic minority groups have unique writing systems.
Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism are the three major religions in China, although it is true to say that Confucianism is a school of philosophy rather than a religion.
Buddhism in China
Buddhism is the most important religion in China. It is generally believed that it was spread to China in 67 AD during the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220) from Hotan in Xinjiang to Central China. During its development in China, it has a profound influence on traditional Chinese culture and thoughts, and has become one of the most important religions in China at that time.
Three different forms of this religion evolved as it reached the centers of population at varying times and by different routes. The social and ethnic background in each location also affected the way in which each of these forms developed and eventually they became known as Han, Tibetan and Southern Buddhism.
Over its long history, Buddhism has left an indelible impact on Chinese civilization. Many words and phrases have root in a Buddhist origin. Take a colloquial phrase as an example, 'to hold the foot of Buddha at the moment" means "to make a last minute effort". This reveals in a sense the true attitude of the Chinese toward the utilitarian aspects of belief. Many people kowtow to whatever gods they encounter and will burn incense in any temple.
In literature traces of Buddhism and Zen are obvious. Quite a few famous poets in Tang Dynasty like Bai Juyi were lay Buddhists but this did not prevent them from indulging in a little from time to time. Just as today's white collar classes go to bars, the Tang scholars went to restaurants to drink and flirt with the almahs.
In today's China, Buddhist temples, Buddhist caves and grottoes and Buddhist Holy Mountains, especially the ones listed in the national or provincial historical and cultural relics, have become the hot spots for tourism. It is not uncommon for the income of a temple to cover the expenses of a whole county or district.
Taoism in China
In the Chinese language the word tao means "way," indicating a way of thought or life. There have been several such ways in China's long history, including Confucianism and Buddhism. In about the 6th century BC, under the influence of ideas credited to a man named Lao-tzu, Taoism became "the way". like Confucianism, it has influenced every aspect of Chinese culture.
Taoism began as a complex system of philosophical thought that could be indulged in by only a few individuals. In later centuries it emerged, perhaps under the influence of Buddhism, as a communal religion. It later evolved as a popular folk religion.
Philosophical Taoism speaks of a permanent Tao in the way that some Western religions speak of God. The Tao is considered unnamed and unknowable, the essential unifying element of all that is. Everything is basically one despite the appearance of differences. Because all is one, matters of good and evil and of true or false, as well as differing opinions, can only arise when people lose sight of the oneness and think that their private beliefs are absolutely true. This can be likened to a person looking out a small window and thinking he sees the whole world, when all he sees is one small portion of it. Because all is one, life and death merge into each other as do the seasons of the year. They are not in opposition to one another but are only two aspects of a single reality. The life of the individual comes from the one and goes back into it.
The goal of life for a Taoist is to cultivate a mystical relationship to the Tao. Adherents therefore avoid dispersing their energies through the pursuit of wealth, power, or knowledge. By shunning every earthly distraction, the Taoist is able to concentrate on life itself. The longer the adherent's life, the more saintly the person is presumed to have become. Eventually the hope is to become immortal.
Confucianism in China
Confucius was China’s most famous Philosopher. He lived in Ancient China during the Zhou Dynasty. Confucius was a government official, and during his lifetime (he lived from 551 to 479 B.C. ) he saw growing disorder and chaos in the system. Perhaps due to the turmoil and injustices he saw, he set himself to develop a new moral code based on respect, honesty, education, kindness and strong family bonds. His teachings later became the basis for religious and moral life throughout China.
The Five Virtues of Confucius
Confucius believed that a good government was the basis for a peaceful and happy society. And the basis for a good government was good officials. In order to become a “good official” a person had to master the following Five Virtues:
“Li” for ritual etiquette, manners, gravity
"Men's natures are alike, it is their habits that carry them far apart."
“Ren” stands for Kindness to the fellow man
“Forget injuries, never forget kindnesses."
“Xin” stands for truthfulness, faithfulness and sincerity
“The superior man is modest in his speech, but exceeds in his actions”
“ Yi” for righteousness or honesty, generosity of soul
“When we see men of a contrary character, we should turn inwards and examine ourselves”
“Xiao” for filial piety, for strong family values
“The strength of a nation derives from the integrity of the home”
Beijing Roast Duck
It is often said that if you are in Beijing, there are essentially two things that you must do; one is to climb the Great Wall of China, and the other is to eat Peking Duck. Once confined to the kitchens of the palace, the legendary Peking Duck is now served at thousands of restaurants around Beijing, as well as around the world.
The origin of the Peking Duck dates back to the Ming Dynasty, about 600 years ago. Cooks from all over China travelled to the capital Beijing to cook for the Emperor. It was a prestigious occupation as only the best chefs could enter the palace kitchens. A top cook was even able to reach the rank of a minister!
It was in these kitchens where dishes of exceptional quality such as the Peking Duck were first created and crafted to perfection by palace chefs. However, many of the recipes for such "foods of the Emperor" were later smuggled out of the kitchen and onto the streets of Beijing. With the eventual fall of the Ching dynasty in 1911, court chefs who left the Forbidden City set up restaurants around Beijing and brought Peking Duck and other delicious dishes to the masses.
In the winter season, when chilly temperatures and frigid winds prevail over the land, people like to eat food that instantly warms their bodies and lifts their spirits. For that, the hot pot is a delicious and hearty choice. Families or groups of friends sit around a table and eat from a steaming pot in the middle, cooking and drinking and chatting. Eating hot pot is not a passive activity: diners must select morsels of prepared raw food from plates scattered around the table, place them in the pot, wait for them to cook, fish them out of the soup, dip them in the preferred sauce, and then eat them hot, fresh, and tender. They can also ladle up the broth from the pot and drink it.
The high temperature in the hot pot is symbolic of the warmth of tender feeling that those people sitting around it have for each other, while the round shape of the apparatus is a hint at the lack or complete absence of irregularities in the man-to-man relationship. Undoubtedly, this way of eating is not only a figurative embodiment but a visual indication of the willingness to eat from the same pot and to share the same lot. This is the most highly prized merit of group consciousness.
The hot pot is not only a cooking method; it also provides a way of eating. It is not only a dietary mode; it is also a cultural mode. As a dietary mode, the hot pot can be used by many people dining together, or by one person eating alone. Yet how few are those solitary diners to be found in a restaurant! In a hot pot restaurant it's really hard to meet with a customer dining by him/herself. This is not because the diner wants to economize, but because dining by oneself in front of a hot pot is devoid of interest and joy.