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Culture and traditions

Chinese traditions

The set of traditions of China encompasses one of the most ancient and complex cultures in the world. Highly influenced by the Buddhist religion, Taoism and Confucianism, its greatest exponents are mythology, art, philosophy and music. In this article you can learn what are the most important Chinese traditions today.

Below you have an index with all the points that we are going to deal with in this article.

Chinese New Year

The Chinese New Year, better known as the Spring Festival or lunar New Year, is the most important holiday of the year within the Chinese calendar, although it is also celebrated in other East Asian countries. This celebration is based on the lunisolar calendar used in China. Thus, the celebrations begin on the first day of the lunar month and end at fifteen days, coinciding with the Lantern Festival.

Chinese new year according to the lunisolar calendar

The start date of the Chinese New Year depends on the position of the Moon. Thus, the new year begins on the day closest to the winter solstice (December 21-23) and the day equidistant from the spring equinox (March 20-21). Given these dates, the resulting day always falls on a date that is between 45 days after the winter solstice and the 45 days before the spring equinox.

In addition, during the Chinese New Year celebrations it is frowned upon to talk about the past or punish children, since if a child cries during the New Year, he will cry all year long according to popular belief. It is also customary to open all the doors and windows of the houses from 0:00 to let out the previous year, with everything bad that could have happened in it. In this way, they ensure that the new year enters “clean” in each house.

Chinese Spring or New Year Festival

At lunchtime

The famous chopsticks They bring several interesting legends. One of the most popular is what is called Dayu Zhishui yu Kuaizi, dating back to the era of kings Yao and Shun.

Eat with chopsticks

By mandate of King Shun, soldier Da Yu had the mission of channeling the waters of the river that were causing severe flooding in the town. The soldier swore that he would solve this problem and, therefore, did not stop for a minute until he succeeded. However, one day he arrived hungry on a small island and decided to cook meat in a pot. When he finished, he realized that he had no cutlery, so he took two twigs from a tree and began to eat. And this is what he did since then.

In addition, chopsticks house a series of superstitions around them. For example, it is frowned upon to stick them in the rice, since it is largely reminiscent of the act of placing incense on funerals. It is also impolite to hit the plate with them, since it is what beggars do to ask for alms. If you want to learn to eat with chopsticks, you can do it with this interesting video:

On the other hand, the structure of the classic Chinese menu consists of about three or four cold appetizers that must be on the table before diners arrive. Once everyone is seated at the table, the main dishes will be served, among which there will be rice and four other hot plates. Soup is usually also served as a side dish. Very important is also wipe your hands with a warm cloth Before starting to eat.

It is considered impolite to fill the dishes too much, remove the rice inside the bowl, return a tray to the table without having taken anything from it and choose the pieces of food. All these gestures, among others, are frowned upon because they imply that we did not like the food. Remember that you should not leave the chopsticks inside the plate or drink until the host has done so.

Protocol at lunchtime in China

The address when sweeping

The Chinese live immersed in a culture full of history, knowledge and wisdom, so it is not surprising that they have a good handful of superstitions and customs somewhat strange. One of them is the one that has to do with the direction in which it is swept.

According to this belief, you should always sweep from outside to inside and, in addition, all the dirt must be gathered in the same dustpan before emptying it. This custom makes the most superstitious Chinese extremely careful when sweeping.

Sweeping direction matters in Chinese culture

This tradition is due to Buddhism, since, according to the god Buddha, the broom is one of the objects that attract the good luck (apart from elephants, red heart and corals, among others). In addition, the ideal thing would be that the bristles of the broom were of natural fiber and not of plastic, and in the center of the stick a green ribbon should be tied.

The position of the rings

The way in which the Chinese wear the rings on the fingers is governed on the basis of an ancient legend according to which each finger represents a different aspect of life.

Thus, the ring finger or fourth finger represents the couple and that is why the engagement ring should be placed on this finger, both in the man and in the woman. On the other hand, the thumbs represent the parents, while the indexes correspond to siblings and close friends.

The middle finger represents the I, that is, the self and the little finger is the representation of the children or, if there are none, it is a way of ensuring that there will be offspring.

The meaning of the rings in Chinese culture

Chinese pottery

Among the art forms of Chinese culture, pottery is one of the most prominent. Chinese pottery has been produced for thousands of years, specifically since the era of dynastic periods, approximately 20,000 years ago, during the Paleolithic.

The Chinese are the inventors of the porcelain and, therefore, they have a long tradition in terms of techniques, enamels and innovations.

Chinese pottery

The first Chinese potters date back to the culture of Yangshao (c. 4000 BC). Later, already in the culture of Longshan, the lathe began to be used to perform the fineness and reach the height of certain pieces, as evidenced by several specimens preserved today.

The most famous productions around the world are the blue and white vases, dating from the time of the Mongolian dynasty of Yuan. At present, Chinese master potters continually seek to innovate to get increasingly perfected pieces.

Red string of destiny

The red thread of destiny is a widespread belief not only in China, but throughout East Asia, as it comes from Chinese and Japanese mythology. According to the legend, it exists in a emotional bond or "red thread of destiny" that comes with people who are destined to love each other from birth.

This thread exists even before these people get to know each other and it is unbreakable, although it may be more or less tense, depending on how strong the link between these people is. Literally, the text of the legend says: “An invisible red thread connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of time, place or circumstances. The thread can stretch or contract, but never break.

This is why there are several expressions in Japanese or Chinese that refer to the red thread, such as in we are building bridges with red threads or we are pulling hard on the red thread.

Red string of destiny

When getting married

In ancient China, men could have as many concubines as they wanted after getting married for the first time. However, this custom changed thanks to a law that was imposed from the 50s, according to which a man could only marry a single woman.

Although this tradition has changed today, some customs from ancient China have been preserved to this day. Today you can freely choose who will be your husband or wife, show respect for each other's parents It remains a fundamental value.

Asian young couple

Before getting married, for example, they should formally visit each other's parents. When the man visits his future in-laws, he must carry a series of betrothed gifts as a way to show your sincere intentions and as a symbol of the love you feel towards your partner.

In addition, once promised, the bride and groom should carefully choose the date of their wedding. As with choosing the baby's name, the wedding date must be based on the Chinese lunar calendar to attract good luck.

As for the wedding itself, the color red is the predominant one, since it is a symbol of love, fidelity and prosperity. The wedding day (called hun qi), the woman will wear her face completely covered by a veil of color, once again, red.

Chinese wedding with typical bride and groom attire

Foot bandage

The custom of the foot bandage from birth to Chinese girls is no longer practiced today. However, it was a deep-rooted custom until its decline began in the twentieth century. This tradition originated in the era of the Song Dynasty (10th century) among the dancers of the upper class, who should have «lotus feet«; the women of the lower classes did not practice it because it prevented them from performing well in their work.

The bandage of feet became popular with the passage of time, since men found it very attractive. To get “lotus feet,” women had to wear lotus shoes, that is, cone-shaped shoes representing a lotus flower bud. They were built with cotton or silk and were so small that they fit in the palm of the hand.

Today, there are families left in the city of Canton who pride themselves on having ancestors with “lotus feet”. But this tradition ceased to be practiced following the numerous campaigns against the bandage of feet that began in the twentieth century, since it was considered a barbaric and archaic practice that caused motor disabilities for life in women.

Comparison between shoes for the bandage of feet and current baby shoes

The meaning of the colors

Colors are key elements in Chinese culture, inheritance of the belief that surrounded them in ancient China. Thus, colors were considered to symbolize the social position of people. Today, however, this use has become obsolete and the colors only have a specific meaning.

The meaning of colors in China

He yellow, for example, was the color of the nobility and the privileged classes. In short, it was the color of emperors and empresses, princes and princesses, and they had the exclusive right to wear clothes of that color. But why the yellow color? Because it was the color of the earth, since agriculture plays a very important role in the Chinese economy.

The black and the WhiteInstead, they represent negative values ​​such as death and bad luck. This is why the color of the wedding dress at Chinese weddings is not white, and the objects, invitation cards and other elements related to the wedding are not white, but red.

The color Red It is the color of hope, good luck, animation, progress, beauty … In short, it represents everything good and, therefore, it is the color that the bride and groom wear at the wedding. The Chinese flag is also red as a way of representing these values.

Why is the flag of China red?

When celebrating birthdays

Chinese traditions and customs related to the celebration of birthdays are the most curious since the first year of life. For the Chinese, celebrating one year of life is a momentous event and, therefore, must be celebrated according to the call Zhuazhou tradition.

This ceremony involves the baby's parents placing a series of items in front of their little one and letting them freely choose the one they like best or attract attention. This choice, although a priori seems to be made at random, will actually be decisive to know what your inclinations and abilities will be during adulthood.

The Zhuazhou tradition has been celebrated since the era of the Song Dynasty (A.D. 960-1279). It is a purely family party, not an occasion for large parties or elaborate gifts. Gifts brought by family members should not be fancy (eg gold or silver), but should be limited to toys or dim sum, one of the typical dishes of China.

Zhuazhou Tradition: First Birthday Celebration

Another custom to keep in mind if we interact with someone native to China is the one that has to do with give and receive gifts. First, gifts must be delivered and received with both hands, never with only one.

In addition, it is not clear to open the gift if the person who has given it to us is still in front of us: you must wait until it is gone. On the contrary, it is considered polite to contain oneself, although we can also wait for the other person to insist that we open it or even ask if we can do it.

Returning to the theme of colors, you should avoid wrapping gifts in white or black paper wrappings, since, as we have said before, these are the representative colors of the negative (death or bad luck).

Give and receive gifts with both hands in Chinese culture

Finally, another of the quintessential Chinese traditions to turn years is to take the famous longevity noodles or sau mein accompanied by buns. These are noodles that can measure even 1 m in length representing a prosperous, long and healthy life. That is why chopping the noodles or biting them is considered an act that will fill our lives with bad luck, as this would mean that we "shorten" our lives.

In everyday life, these noodles are called yi mein or noodles e-fu or yify and they are made with egg and wheat flour. Its color is yellow-gold and its texture is hard and spongy to the touch because of the carbonated water with which the dough is made. They are consumed mostly in southern China and Hong Kong, although today they are sold dry in plastic containers.

Longevity noodles or "sau mein"

Dragon

It is well known that the dragon is a legendary animal in the folklore of China. This mythological animal, according to Chinese belief, is made of parts of nine different animals: deer horns, dog nose, lobster eyes, lion's mane, fish scales, cat whiskers, eagle claws, snake tail and beef nose.

In addition, it is the personification of the concept of yang (male), whose female equivalent is the Chinese phoenix.

Chinese dragon tradition

The dragon is intrinsically related to water according to various popular beliefs. Thus, it is believed that waterfalls, rivers and seas are under his command. Therefore, there are four Dragon Kings representing the East Sea, the South Sea, the West Sea and the North Sea.

Numerous cultural references of today's China have to do with dragons. Thus, for example, the number 9 is closely related to this mythological being, since it is described as a being formed by 9 attributes and 117 scales, of which 81 are masculine (or, what is the same, 9 × 9) . In addition, the dragon is one of the 12 animals that make up the Chinese zodiac.

The famous Duanwu party o Dragon Boat Festival, as its name suggests, is also related to dragons, since, after all, they are racing on “dragons” boats. These ships, assembled by teams of up to twelve rowers, have a dragon head carved in the bow. In the following video we can see an example of a dragon boat race held in the city of Shanghai:

One-child policy

As of 1979, a population control measure was introduced in China according to which each couple can have at most one child.

This regulation is known as only child policy and was established in order to radically control the birth rate, given the excessive population growth in China. Currently, China is home to a fifth of the world's total population, which makes it the most populous country in the world.

This law was introduced in the late 1970s to reduce the various social and environmental tensions that were happening in China. As expected, there are equally defenders and detractors of this measure, the latter in response to the "aggressive" manner in which it was introduced.

One-child policy in China

Another important aspect related to birth control in China is infanticide of girls. This means that in China there is a male child preference about women, since, as it is considered, men are the ones who inherit the lineage and will take care of the grandparents in their old age, while the role of the woman is limited to the care of her family.

Because of this, the Chinese woman, when she becomes pregnant, is usually under severe pressure to give birth to a male child, since otherwise, she will have to face abuse and humiliation.

Have daughters in China

Flying lanterns

Flying lanterns, Chinese lanterns, wish balloons or tissue paper balloons are a kind of aerial lantern made of paper. This custom is very common throughout the Far East, although in recent decades it has been gaining popularity in the West as well.

Tissue paper balloons in China and Taiwan

The materials used for its preparation are rice paper and bamboo, the latter for the elaboration of the framework, although there are also metal ones. Inside the flashlight, a paraffin base is created that ignites so that the flame heats the air inside the flashlight and it rises to the sky due to a decrease in density.

The flying lanterns are used in China and in Thailand in equal parts. An example of its use is the famous Moon Festival, as well as the Lantern Festival, both celebrated by both Chinese and Thai people. In Thailand, in addition, the lantern can be seen at the Loy Krathong and Yi Peng festivals. In the following video we can see how they celebrate the Lantern Festival in Chiang Mai (Thailand):

The spirit of the tiger

The Tiger has a special value in Chinese culture. The so-called "Spirit of the Tiger" is owned by those who have born in february, between three and five in the morning, a time in which everything is under his command.

In ancient China, the tiger was known by the name of Hu. Those born in the astrological placement of the tiger will be people capable of breaking with the classical schemes of society to pursue their ideals and become a legend.

The spirit of the tiger in the Chinese tradition

A man born tiger will be bold, powerful and enthusiasticIn addition to being rebellious, charismatic and unpredictable, features that will fascinate everyone. In ancient China, moreover, it was considered that a tiger-born son would bring good fortune to the family, especially because it would protect them from fires, ghosts and thieves.

Chinese woman

The treatment that Chinese women have received has evolved over time, as has happened in most developed countries. In ancient times, however, Chinese women occupied a low place and were often assigned the most despicable and exhausting jobs. Indeed, ancient Chinese society was highly male chauvinist, as proverbs like the one quoted below show: "Listen to your wife, but never believe what she says."

Although Chinese women have been discriminated at a general level, this machismo has been especially marked in the rural areas of the country, where they were considered and made them feel inferior and, in short, submissive. This is why traditionally Chinese families prefer to conceive a boy rather than a girl.

Discrimination against women in ancient China

It was not until 1992 when a decisive law emerged to safeguard the fundamental rights of women, that is, the basic rights of every human being. Through this law, the macho mentality was also channeled towards a more modern and egalitarian vision of women.

Today, although there are still some foci where much remains to be done, the 21st century Chinese woman It is far from what could be seen in the previous century. Today, women can participate in political, cultural, educational and family sectors, and have support in terms of their rights and freedoms.

How does today's Chinese society treat women?

Name the children

For the Chinese, welcoming a newborn is a unique experience that is not repeated again. And the way the Chinese have to do this is related to the name they give their son or daughter. All of this is related to the concept of shenminwenhua, that is, the mystery and the elementary signs.

Chinese parents consider the time and the day in which your child was born are decisive when naming him. This is because every hour and date is correlated with a specific element of nature, be it fire, water or earth. Therefore, the name must necessarily be associated with the corresponding element. Even, in case of doubt, there are many parents who turn to a fortune teller to choose a name.

Date and time you have a child in China

Funeral

There are numerous differences between eastern and western funerary customs. Thus, during the funeral mass, it is tradition to distribute chocolate coins to the attendees as a symbol of continued prosperity and as a way to comfort them at the same time. This custom does not respond to a superstitious belief, but is done as a way of remembering that death is not the end point in people's lives.

Chocolate coins during the funeral mass at Chinese funerals

To remember the anniversary of the death, family members do not worship the deceased or feed him or believe that not doing so will attract bad luck. What the Chinese do is leave fruits before a photo of the deceased and light candles. To pray for him or her, you must greet previously with three bows.

As for the burial, in China and other Asian countries there is a belief that, the higher someone is buried, the better their next life will be and, therefore, they are buried in hanging coffins. Traditionally, many families have their own hill on which to bury their ancestors. These coffins, such as those found on the mountain of Wuyi, have become a tourist attraction.

Hanging coffins

Clothes and accessories

The traditional traditional costume of women used in China is called qipao or qipaor. From it derives another very popular dress known as chenongsam, an outfit very similar to the typical Tibetan and Vietnamese clothing.

Qipao: traditional costume of Chinese women

The use of qipao dates back to the Qing Dynasty (1644), when the Manchus began using a kind of unisex dress, straight and in one piece, which they gave the name of qipao, what does it mean flag dress literally. This is because the Manchus brought the administrative division system according to flags.

At first, the female qipao was quite baggy and concealed practically the entire body, but since 1990 it was designed to adapt more to the body, so that it became more slender and tight. Since this new design highlighted the female figure, it became the typical outfit of Chinese high society.

Traditional "cheongsam" makeup

On the other hand, the hanfu It is also another of the typical Chinese costumes. Although traditionally it has been used by the Han ethnic group, Hanfu ended up becoming one of the typical garments at a general level. He kimono japanese or the hanbok Korean are inheritance of this garment.

In summary, the hanfu exists for more than 3,000 years and is said to be the pledge of the legendary Yellow Emperor. In the beginning, the Hanfu was made up of a yi, a narrow-cut tunic that reached the knee, and a chang or narrow skirt that covers up to the ankles.

Hanfu traditional men's suit in China

Literature

Chinese literature is one of the richest on the planet. Its history goes back to the Ming Dynasty, which used this artistic manifestation as a means by which to entertain the literate masses of China.

Chinese literature

Many historians agree that in the s. XVII, China already had more written texts than any other country in the world thanks to the diffusion of the xylographic printing and the invention of the printing press of mobile types by Bi Sheng.

Five are the most important classical Chinese texts: the Book of the odes, The classic of the story, The book of changes, The rites classic, Annals of springs and autumns and The music classic.

On the other hand, Confucian books, such as The great teaching or The doctrine of the just medium They are basic works in Chinese literature. In the field of Chinese prose, the so-called Four Classic Novels, whose titles are mentioned below: Romance of the Three Kingdoms (Luo Guanzhong), At the water's edge (Shi Nai’an and Luo Guanzhong), Journey to the West (Wu Cheng’en) and Dream of the Red Mansions (Cao Xueqin and Gao E).

Literary Tradition in China

Feng Shui

Feng shui literally means wind and water and refers to a Chinese philosophical system belonging to Taoism. This ancient set of beliefs is based on the harmonious and conscious occupation of space in order to obtain a positive influence About people.

Based on a knowledge called shenminwenhua, which deals with the mysterious and impossible things to see, the territory occupied by Feng Shui is divided into two spheres: on the one hand, the earth or ken kai and, on the other hand, the sky or yu kai, being the first tangible and the second invisible and unknown.

Costume jewelery based on Feng Shui protection

According to Feng Shui, it's the vital breath or chi which modifies the shape and arrangement of things in space, as well as the orientation (cardinal points) and temporal changes. This is why there are several Feng Shui schools where the shape of rivers, mountains and even the layout of homes and their relationship with this vital breath are studied.

Many are the Chinese buildings whose architectural design is based on the idea of Yin Yang (Opposites without opposition), since according to this idea, each cardinal point emanates a certain energy. The Bank of Hong Kong or Shanghai are examples of buildings constructed based on the principles of feng shui.

Ying Yang and feng shui

Traditional music

The musical tradition of China dates back to the time of the Zhou Dynasty (1122 BC – 256 BC), that is, the beginnings of Chinese civilization. So important in the past was music for the Chinese, which today continues to be a source of culture, especially in mainland China, where several of the most ancestral customs in the field of arts are kept alive.

Chinese music tradition

Focusing on traditional Chinese music, it is played with woodwind instruments and percussion, such as the dizi, the paigu, the gong, the paixiao, the dishes, etc.

Also typical are some stringed string instruments such as dahu, gaohu or yehu, and other stringed strings such as zhù, yangqin or konghou. On the other hand, Chinese bamboo flutes are also typical, which, along with the guqin, are the oldest Chinese instruments. As for vocal music, more emphasis is usually placed on the melody than on harmony and is usually sung in falsetto. In the following video we can see an example of what a traditional Chinese ballad would be:

Practice taichi

He Tai Chi or tai chi chuan, adapted to Spanish as Tai Chi (all together and without tilde), is a type of martial art developed in China that is currently practiced throughout the world. In the People's Republic of China, the taichi it is practiced very frequently, so it is not strange to find people practicing it in parks.

The movements of the taichi are basically slow and fluid, aimed at improving the quality of life both emotionally and physically. It is definitive, it is a physical-spiritual practice in which physical exercise is combined with the technique of meditation. It is important to mention in relation to this, that in the field of Tai Chi Chuan there is no grade system as in other combat sports (eg karate or Kung Fu).

The practice of taichi in China

Take you

Tea is the favorite drink of the Chinese, mainly for its beneficial properties. In China, there is a whole tea drinking culture that does not respond only to a custom, but goes further: it is a way of maintaining health.

Drink tea in China

It is not strange when walking through the streets of the country to cross with Chinese loaded with a thermos of hot tea in hand, especially adults and the elderly. You can even ask for hot water in any establishment to fill the thermos and they will provide it to us for free.

In addition, China has a wide variety of teas, among which stands out, above the rest, the Green Tea, which is obtained from the natural drying of the leaves of the tea tree. For the Chinese, green tea is much healthier than black tea, in addition to helping lower cholesterol, lose weight and prevent various diseases.

China is the second largest tea producer in the world after India, where drinking tea is another of the Indian customs par excellence.

The cultivation of green tea in China

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