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Firecrackers 爆竹 bàozhú

illustration from Ming Dyn (1628 to 1643 edition of Jin Ping Mei) copy jpg characers for baozhu  bamboo in jpg 2 copy     bàozhú   firecracker

An illustration of a fireworks display from the 1628–1643 edition of the Ming Dynasty novel Jin Ping Mei

爆竹        bàozhú, baoh-zhru        firecracker [or literally exploding bamboo]

The history of marvelous Chinese inventions is fascinating. The invention of firecrackers is an example.

The word for firecracker in Chinese is bàozhú (exploding bamboo) and is derived from the original firecrackers used in ancient China, perhaps as far back as the Han Dynasty (206-220 BC). At that time, pieces of green bamboo were thrown into a fire and then the bamboo would burst apart with loud bangs. In other words, these original firecrackers were not the same as those developed later, no gunpowder was included.

Li Tian, a monk living near Liu Yang city, Hunan province, is credited with having invented the modern firecracker. According to mythology, Li Tian filled a piece of bamboo with gunpowder to frighten away a persistent ghost that had been bothering the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) emperor Li Shi-ming. The loud bang did the job. The ghost fled and the emperor once again had peace. In honor of this great invention (pyrotechnic fireworks), Chinese traditionally held a festival in Li Tian’s honor on April 18th.

By the end of the Northern Song Dynasty (960–1127 AD), firecrackers consisted of paper tubes stuffed with gunpowder. The tubes were tied together with rope, forming a long string of firecrackers, which could be set off in succession. This produced quite a display of noise and smoke.

Noise and smoke, both are considered important for protecting a household. Noise chases away ghosts and other evils, such as poisonous insects (see my January 5, 2014 blog on the 5 noxious animals also sometimes called the five evils) and sickness. Smoke cleanses the house and also gets rid of poisonous insects and dampness, which can cause illness. Therefore, for a couple of thousand years firecrackers have been synonymous with health and peace, which leads to a prosperous future for the family.

Sources for fireworks: Joseph Needham Clerks and Craftsmen in China and the West 1970 p. 89-90; http://kaleidoscope.cultural-china.com/en/10Kaleidoscope8486.html; www.kracklinkirks.com/fireworks%20history.htm;

Illustration: “Ming Dynasty Jin Ping Mei fireworks” by Unknown – Jin Ping Mei, from Science and Civilisation in China p. 140. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Ming_Dynasty_Jin_Ping_Mei_fireworks.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Ming_Dynasty_Jin_Ping_Mei_fireworks.jpg.

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Shén 神 Another choice for mysterious or mystery?

temple roofline in China 2009 July

 

 

 

 

Shén    Shen mysterious 2 in jpg

Last week I talked about the character mysterious / mystery that I am going to use in my Ming Dynasty trilogy covers. There are other characters with the definition of mystery or mysterious. Another one is shén. However, when the character shén is used it implies mystery in the sense of spiritual. One way for a non-native Chinese speaker to discover which character is best is to look up what other words use that particular character. This gives a good idea of the underlying connotation versus the character’s denotation.   For shén [using the on-line dictionary http://www.mdbg.net/chindict/] we do find the word mysterious/mystery with both   shén mì and it is defined asmysterious / mystery.” However, there are many other words which use shén and refer to the divine, to Daoism, mythology, mystical, gods, and the miraculous.

What does this imply? Well, if you are writing a mystery which centers on the supernatural and paranormal, perhaps you would want to use the character shén versus because it implies a particular kind of mystery or mysterious event. It subtly alters your readers to another layer of meaning and insight.

Xuán     Xuan mystery 2 in jpg

Another character which can mean mystery is xuán. When xuán is used as a part of a word, we find a predominance of words referring to philosophical and spiritual schools of thought—Daoism, Buddhism, Confucianism. Xuán is also used in word combinations that refer to something being abstruse, simply difficult to understand. So, again, we find that although xuán can be used to mean mystery, it has a different underlying connotation from both shén and .

When choosing a Chinese word we have so many choices because each character used in creating that particular word brings with it a strong intellectual and emotional component. So, while my Mei-hua trilogy has religious and folk traditions included, they are a part of the cultural background of the period, not the central component of the stories, therefore, the character I chose was .

Lán Cǎi-hé, Larn Caai-her 藍采和 of the Eight Immortals

Lán Cǎi-hé, Larn Caai-her Lan Cai-he

 
 
Lan Cai-he

Lan Cai-he

Lán Cǎi-hé (also written as Lán Ts’ǎi-hó) 藍采和 exemplifies one of the 8 Immortals.  Lán Cǎi-hé is thought to have been a real person, but one whose behavior and life-style was outside the ordinary.  Lan can be portrayed as a woman or a man; Eberhard refers to her/him as an hermaphrodite.

Not much is known about Lán Cǎi-hé’s 藍采和 origin, although she may have lived during the Five Dynasties period (907-960) (Wong p. 32).  She dressed in colorful rags, was often shown wearing only one shoe with the other foot bare. In the summer her garments were quilted or stuffed with cotton and wool; in the winter she had only a thin gown.  Around her waist she wore a 3 inch wide sash made up of pieces of wood. She carried a basket of peaches or flowers and often wore flowers in her hair. She begged in the markets by clapping 3 foot long castanets.  Sometimes she was seen with a flute.

As a holy fool, she wandered around as a street musician, chronically drunk, singing and joking with people in the markets.  She gave what little money she had (after drinking her fill) to the poor.  Lai in his small, but charming book The Eight Immortals, noted that Lán Cǎi-hé was a humorist who “could make people laugh till they rolled on the ground” (p. 5).  Her songs, although often largely unintelligible, were about the vanity of life, and about immortality and life in the immortal lands; they also foretold the future.

She became a part of the 8 Immortals group when she met Lü Tung-pin and Chung-li Ch’uan (both a part of the 8 Immortals group) while traveling through the land of the immortals. Lü and Ch’uan were captivated by her carefree manner and beautiful voice and invited her to join them (Wong p. 32).  The Land of the Dragon, Chinese Myth gives another version: she passed out drunk in a tavern in Anhui and was taken to the land of the Immortals.  The only things left behind were her one shoe, robe, belt and musical instruments (p. 111).  This latter version just proves that goodness and spirituality don’t have to equate to perfection or rigid social norms!

Lán Cǎi-hé 藍采和 is the patron of minstrels.

The 8 Immortals

The 8 Immortals

References: Eberhard; Bartholomew; Eva Wong; Land of the Dragon, Chinese Myth; T.C. Lai The Eight Immortals.

 

Chinese and Vietnamese Americans

Veitnamese  and Chinese New Year celebrations remind us of the many Asian Americans we have in the U.S.

The Vietnamese Americans are the fourth largest Asian group in the US (Chinese, Asian Indian, and Filipino are the top three).  Their mass migration started after 1975 at the end of the Vietnamese War.  At that time, people were fleeing Vietnam as refugees and came to the US with little material resources, although a strong ethic and desire for education and for their family to succeed.  They left their homeland under duress.  If they had stayed, they or their loved ones (father, mother, brother, sister) would have become a political prisoner, perhaps tortured and killed.  They had little choice.  Once here, however, they have embraced the US as their new homeland, with the intent to stay.  They have assimilated politically, economically, even culturally.

Vietnamese Americans

Vietnamese Americans
from: http://images.chron.com/photos/2008/06/25/11826402/600xPopupGallery.jpg

 
Vietnamese prisoner in Vietnam

Vietnamese prisoner in Vietnam
from: http://www.inminds.co.uk/vietnam-tiger-cage.jpg
http://beirut.indymedia.org/ar/2006/03/3861.shtml.

At the same time, remembering their roots and valuing their own ethnic traditions are an important underpinning of their communities and families.  While the first generation is not as wealthy on average as the first generation economically motivated Chinese immigrants (remember, most refugees come with little to no resources—no matter what their social and economic status was at home), they have poured their commitment into their children and their children’s success.  Today, many second generation Vietnamese have completed college, become professionals, and can be considered successful in the US society.

 

Connie Chung, Chinese-American

Connie Chung, Chinese-American
From: http://assets.makers.com/maker/Connie%20Chung%20Portrait.jpg.
http://www.makers.com/moments/chinese-americans

The Chinese Americans are the largest, and certainly among the oldest Asian ethnic groups we have. [Note: I am using Asian as the US Census does: people with origins in the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent.]  San Francisco’s Chinatown, which was established in the 1840s, is the oldest Chinatown in the US and has the highest density of Chinese-American residents.  Most of these are, or were originally, from Guangdong province and Hong Kong and, therefore, are Cantonese speakers—Remember when I greeted you last week with Gong Hei Fat Choi! for Happy New Year?  The reason is because historically most of our Chinese immigrants came from these southern areas; areas that have a long tradition of migrating out of their country for jobs and other economic opportunities.  (Note: this includes other Chinese languages, but I’m using Cantonese as a catch-all for the Yue language branch of Chinese.) In the past, mostly men came and stayed in their new host country in order to make a living and send money home.  Some of these men returned to their home areas periodically to take a wife, who may have remained in his home village living with his parents, or (once our immigration laws changed) brought them to the US to live.

In the last 10 to 20 years or so, more and more of our Chinese immigrants from mainland China are Mandarin speakers.  This is bringing a change within the Chinese-American communities in terms of language use.  Mandarin apparently is taking over as the lingua franca of the American Chinese diaspora.  However, I must say that when I overhear a group of Chinese at a University or in a large, mixed group setting speaking with each other, they use English.  Perhaps English is considered a “neutral” third language for them—one which doesn’t privilege any one of the various Chinese languages over another.  Not to mention the fact that it is also the common language of the US and they all are adept at its use.

In terms of modern immigration, more and more mainland Chinese are emigrating to the US through the EB-5 Investment Visa, which allows powerful, wealthy Chinese access to US citizenship.  Under the EB-5 Visa, established in 1990 (under the first President Bush), a green card is given with the right to permanent US residency in certain US states.  This type of Visa is given to those who invest at least US$500,000 in projects listed by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Servies (USCIS) (http://www.uscis.gov/working-united-states/permanent-workers/employment-based-immigration-fifth-preference-eb-5/eb-5-immigrant-investor).

Population Change among Chinese Americans:

Year                population                               increase over

                        According to Census              past 10 years

1980                   806,040                                + 85.5 %

1990                1,645,472                                + 104  %

2000                2,432,585                                + 47.8 %

2010                3,347,229                                + 37.6 %

 

Naturally, the Chinese and Vietnamese Americans will be found at all levels of the U.S. socio-economic ladder but, overall, both of these immigrant groups have contributed quite a bit to our country.  Personally, I am happy with the diversity they’ve added to our cultural understanding, yes, but (I’m being VERY selfish here) they’ve each (as with other Asian cultures) brought wonderful variety to our food cuisine!   I love American comfort foods, but who can resist the flavors and textures of these “new” dishes?!  If you’re interested in learning more, go on the Internet and type in foods from whatever country intrigues you—you will have a bountiful harvest!

Enjoy!

Final Note:

To check on how many people are in each ethnic group in the US go to: http://www.census.gov/.  You can get 2013 data as well—in some areas.

A site where delicious recipes are generously shared is: http://rasamalaysia.com/.

A good paper on Vietnamese in the US today is at: http://www.bpsos.org/mainsite/images/DelawareValley/community_profile/us.census.2010.the%20vietnamese%20population_july%202.2011.pdf.

For a quick overview of Chinese in the US see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_American#Statistics_of_the_Chinese_population_in_the_United_States_.281840.E2.80.93present.29.

Why do Chinese characters look so complicated? Part 2 蝴 蝶

As we said in the last post (January  3, 2014) the radical makes up an essential part of a character but there often is a second part, which usually gives further information.  The word butterfly, hú dié, hur dier ( ) is a great example.  The first word in this combination is , hur ().

Its radical is chόng, chongr , which means bug. The second part is the character hú, hur, meaning foolish, reckless. Continue reading

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