Category Archives: Things Chinese

Cover Reveal for Judge Lu’s Case Files, Stories of Crime & Mystery in Imperial China

My collection of Ming Dynasty Judge Lu short stories is coming together and will be out April 4th. This is the cover for the book Judge Lu’s Case Files, Stories of Crime & Mystery in Imperial China—I hope you like it.

Judge Lu’s Case Files a collection of short stories

In traditional China, owls were considered a bad omen. The bird represented mystery and secrets–but also death. Owls appear on burial ceramics as far back as the Han Dynasty. They were thought to be capable of stealing a person’s soul and their arrival near a particular home forecasted an illness or death in the family. Such a harbinger of evil made the owl seem like the perfect symbol for Judge Lu, a magistrate in the early Ming Dynasty, in his quest for justice and his battle against crime.

I just found out that this collection, Judge Lu’s Case Files, Stories of Crime & Mystery in Imperial China,  is up for pre-order NOW. If you would like a copy of 12 short stories about the intrepid Judge Lu GET IT NOW AT Amazon and you’ll get a book the day it launches!

The Lantern Festival

The Lantern Festival, also known as the Spring Festival, marks the end of the two-week celebration of the Chinese Lunar New Year.

All of the New Year decorations are taken down and the New Year taboos are lifted. These taboos include things like not scolding children, not mentioning illnesses or using unlucky words (ex., the number 4), don’t ware old clothing, avoid breaking things like a mirror or bowl, and avoid sweeping or taking out the garbage.

Do you wonder why people avoid the last two—sweeping and taking out the garbage? It’s so they don’t accidentally throw out their good fortune. Yet, the house needs to be clean. What to do? People have a simple solution to this problem: reverse how they clean the floor, go from the outside to the inside of the house. Clever!

And, of course, there are special, tasty foods to eat. Tangyuan, a ball of sticky rice wrapped around a sweet filling, is a number one favorite, along with dumplings, sweet rice cakes, and spring rolls (with or without meat).

The lion dance is performed everywhere. Since the lion is strong and brave, it ensures a secure and safe life by chasing away possible disasters.

In the Spring Festival’s night sky there is a full moon, making it a perfect time for a moon-gazing party. People can view the full moon set in the dark sky or enjoy the moon’s reflection in a pool of water.

And, of course, the night is filled with lanterns. Lanterns everywhere and of all types. Their light in the darkness symbolizes chasing away evil, assuring a good, prosperous year ahead. Many lantern owners make a game for on-lookers by pasting a riddle to their lantern. Something to have fun with while enjoying the festive day.

To quickly learn more about this fun holiday, here are a few internet sources to look at: https://www.chinaeducationaltours.com/guide/chinese-new-year-taboos.htm; https://www.chinahighlights.com/travelguide/festivals/chinese-new-year-taboos.htm; https://blogs.furman.edu/chinamyths/2016/10/26/foods-of-the-spring-festival/; https://hashtaglegend.com/culture/6-must-eat-lucky-foods-during-chinese-new-year-spring-festival/; https://www.chinahighlights.com/festivals/lantern-festival.htm; https://cn.hujiang.com/new/p446587/

 

Sad Beginning for Year of the Rat

Today is the second day of the two week long Chinese New Year’s holiday. Normally, this is a time of joy, bringing family and friends together.

I’ve read that at this time–because people want to celebrate in their ancestral homes–the movement of people returning to be with their families causes the largest migration in the world. That is, several hundred million travelers are on the move. All within a couple of weeks. Amazing.

Unfortunately, this year, due to an outbreak of the deadly Coronavirus, this tradition was curtailed. The Chinese government has quarantined large areas of the country, particularly in the Wuhan region. All public transport, including airports and train stations, have been closed–essentially freezing people in place. This directly impacts tens of millions of people. Most may simply be unable to travel outside of the city where they are working in order to share the holiday with their loved ones. Others may be trapped mid-route. Many cities have cancelled their New Year celebrations.

This is a sad time for the Chinese nation. We can only hope that these drastic measures to contain the virus work, and that next year the people are able to celebrate the New Year fully.

Decorating for Chinese New Year

First, in preparation for Chinese New Year and before doing any decorating, every house should be thoroughly cleaned. Besides getting the house in order for the holiday season, when sweeping and cleaning, all old things and bad luck are swept out along with the dirt. Now the house is ready for a new beginning and good luck to come in.

People also put up special decorations to celebrate the New Year. Here are some of the most common. And, as you’ll see, many of these make great projects for the family’s children so that they can participate in the New Year’s fun.

Two of these were discussed in the last blog post:

  1. Pasting up a red square with the word fu written on it. Fu means good fortune or happiness, something every family can use! This character can be pasted on the window or door either right side up or upside down. When it’s upside down it signifies that good fortune is pouring out and into the household.
  2. Pasting up window and door paper cuts. These are almost always in red, an auspicious color of good luck and joy. It also protects the house against evil or bad luck.
  3. Chinese red lanterns. Not only do they brighten up the night, they drive away bad luck—especially when hung in front of the door. The lanterns can often also be seen hung on trees and outside of buildings.

To learn how to make these lanterns go to: https://www.thepurplepumpkinblog.co.uk/how-to-make-paper-lanterns/

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Auspicious plants to have in the house.
    1. Blooming flowers with unopened buds. Fresh flowers symbolize wishes for a prosperous New Year. The flowers can be plum blossoms, orchids, peonies, chrysanthemums, and peach blossoms. Orchids suggest fertility and abundance, and it particularly good for the household wanting to grow its family. Peonies stand for prosperity. Yellow chrysanthemums represent wealth, prosperity, and longevity.
    2. The “lucky bamboo” (which is not actually bamboo, it’s the Dracaena sanderiana), symbolizing good luck and prosperity.

Photo from TNS, see more at: https://www.visaliatimesdelta.com/story/life/home-garden/2015/02/25/lucky-bamboo-fortuitous-plant-home/24024857/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Tangerine or kumquat plant with its fruits round, gold shape. It’s thought to an auspicious plant which produces lots of fruit, therefore, it symbolizes wealth and abundance.
  2. The jade plant because it attracts wealth and good fortune.

 

Do you see a theme here? Yes, indeed: good luck and prosperity. That means in health as well as economically. Happiness and joy are important, too. New Year is a time of optimism about the future. People avoid talking about anything negative or bad. This is not the time to discuss sickness and death. Positive thoughts and positive activities, such as family and friend get-togethers mark the entire 15 day celebration of the New Year.

If you would like to make some decorations for celebrating Chinese New Year there are some very good web sites with free information. A few you might try are:

https://homeschoolsuperfreak.com/chinese-new-year-for-kids/     extensive coverage of many things about Chinese New Year plus fun decorations with printables

https://holidappy.com/holidays/Easy-Printable-Craft-Projects-for-the-Year-of-the-Rat    free printable craft projects for Chinese New Year

https://www.china-family-adventure.com/chinese-new-year-crafts.html    excellent site for making Chinese New Year crafts

https://www.hellowonderful.co/post/8-CRAFTS-TO-RING-IN-THE-CHINESE-NEW-YEAR/     very nice DIY Chinese New Year crafts

https://www.redtedart.com/paper-mice-finger-puppets/     for easy, simple shaped mouse/rat finger puppets FREE

Other sites to consider for overall Chinese New Year coverage are:

https://homeschoolsuperfreak.com/chinese-new-year-for-kids/     extensive coverage of many things about Chinese New Year plus fun decorations with printables

https://www.chinahighlights.com/travelguide/special-report/chinese-new-year/paper-cutting.htm

GUO NIAN HAO! (guò nián hǎo) 过年好

Happy New Year!

 

Lantern image from http://davaocitybybattad.blogspot.com/2012/01/chinese-new-year-of-dragon.html.

Chinese New Year Paper Cuttings

January 25th 2020 is Chinese New Year day. A typical, happy greeting is:    Gong Xi Fa Cai!       恭喜發財            Wishing you happiness and prosperity!

In decorating their houses at this time, people like to paste Paper Cuttings on their windows and doors. This enduring and cheerful tradition goes back at least 1500 years. The Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, is one of the main times of the year when fresh paper cuttings will decorate houses.

Red paper is preferred and is the most commonly used because red symbolizes happiness but, really, any color can be used.

Since 2020 is the year of the rat, many paper cuttings will have its image either cut out in the center or drawn on the paper. If the latter, a border will be cut out around the square, forming an elaborate frame.

A couple of other very popular images on these red squares are:

  • the character chun for spring—which is a positive word because spring suggests a new beginning and growth—and
  • the character fu for good fortune, happiness, and luck.

If chun or fu are written on the paper, they will often be pasted upside down on the window or door. Being upside down symbolizes the dumping out of the character’s goodness and blessing the house with prosperity and luck.

Gong Xi Fa Cai! 

 

 

Image is a free stock photo from rgbstock.com

Hungry Ghost Month and the Zhuangyuan Festival

We are in the midst of Chinese Ghost Month. It’s the 7th lunar month (August 11th through September 9th in 2018) of the year. The gates of the underworld open on the 1st day of the 7th lunar month and close on the 30th. During this time, ghosts and spirits of the departed wander the earth. It’s the only time of the year when they can freely leave the underworld and move among the living. Traditionally, Chinese believed this month was particularly dangerous. There would be more disasters than normal, both natural and man-made.

The spirits, called Hungry Ghosts, roam the world seeking revenge and trying to find a living person to replace them in the underworld. Today, many still encourage extra caution during this month. Older people and children, for example, should not go out at night. Everyone should be careful to avoid needless risks.

Who are these ghosts? Everyone who has died will not become a wandering ghost–only those who died in unhappy circumstances, such as people who are guilty of a crime, committed suicide, or died violently or prematurely.

The ghosts travel the world looking for food and entertainment. To keep them from causing too much mischief—in case they are disappointed with what they find—people put out food, ghost money (also called joss paper), papier-mâché renditions of items the ghosts need in the afterlife (clothing, furniture, etc.), and burn incense sticks. The most important day for offering sacrifices to them is the 15th day of the 7th lunar month. It’s called the Hungry Ghost Festival (the Zhongyuan Festival). It is on this day that the grandest celebrations/sacrifices are offered. This year (2018) the Zhongyuan Festival day is August 25th.

In the past, to appease these lost souls and ensure safety for the living, families and communities would burn paper money (called ghost money because the ghosts could use this money in the netherworld) and hold open-air banquets with theatrical troupes providing fun for the spirits and the human guests. Buddhist monks and Taoist priests also performed ceremonies to alleviate the ghosts’ suffering. All of these activities, by families, communities, and the temples, were to placate the spirits. That is, once the spirits have eaten the food and enjoyed the entertainment, they should not cause trouble. After all, it would not be polite to hurt someone who has just shown you such generosity! Many families and communities today still remember the wandering ghosts in this way.

For a selection of ghost stories based around this tradition, read A Banquet for Hungry Ghosts: A Collection of Deliciously Frightening Tales by Ying Chang Compestine. It’s for children, but everyone, no matter the age, will enjoy it.

The Chinese American Family organization has a wonderful site with lots of information on this special month. They also have crafts and other ideas for families to learn more about the Hungry Ghost Festival and Ghost Month. http://www.chineseamericanfamily.com/hungry-ghost-festival/ .

NOTE: Other sites for more information on Ghost Month and the Zhuangyuan Festival (the Hungry Ghost Festival) are:

https://www.yourchineseastrology.com/holidays/ghost-festival/

https://www.yourchineseastrology.com/calendar/ghost-month.htm

https://www.thoughtco.com/ghost-month-and-ghost-festival-2279383

If you do anything special during this month or on the Zhuangyuan Festival, I’d love to know what you did.

Veneration For The Family Ancestors

In looking though pictures I took in China some time ago, I found this picture which reminded me of the unbreakable tie between the living and dead within a Chinese family. It is reflected in what we commonly refer to as ancestor worship.

Regard for one’s family and one’s ancestors has a long, long tradition in China. It goes back to the Zhou Dynasty (1122-256 BC) and remains strong among many Chinese today. This regard—with its ritual and prominently placed table—is, as we said, sometimes called ancestor worship.

The table or altar holds pictures and/or plaques with the names of the family’s male line, for China has been a patrilineal system for thousands of years. A patrilineal system means that people count only the male side of the family as important in determining who is an ancestor and who isn’t. Your father’s side are your ancestors. Your mother’s side are not considered your ancestors, that is, they are outside your direct lineage. However, your mother–having given birth to you–will be included on your family altar, just not the rest of her lineage. Therefore, your obligations for showing reverence is only for your father’s side of the family. The latter are the people who will appear on your family altar.

Showing respect and honoring your ancestors is not a one-way street. By properly caring for your ancestors, they will, in turn, watch over and care for you. In other words, familial ties are not broken at death. Your ancestors and you are forever linked. This interconnection has been consistently supported and reinforced throughout history by both Confucian and Taoist traditions and beliefs.

Venerating your ancestors is a primary filial duty. It is because of your ancestors that you exist–that you were born and nurtured, allowing you to grow and prosper. It is only fair that you show proper recognition, regard, and respect to them. You owe your life to all of them. For this reason, people offer burning joss sticks, plates of food, and cups of tea to the ancestors by placing them before their pictures and tablets. It’s a sign of shared nurturing and support.

A New Year’s coming!

It’s hard to believe that we’re almost to Chinese New Year’s Day again. The year slipped by so quickly! I hope you all had a productive and prosperous year of the Rooster. It was a wonderful year for me, as you might have noticed on my books tab: the third book in my Mei-hua trilogy, Trapped, was nominated for an Agatha Award and for a Silver Falchion Award. Both are great honors.

 

While I don’t know everything this new year of the Dog will bring, one thing for sure is that I am coming out with a new early Ming Dynasty series. The first novel is Deadly Relations.

Deadly Relations launches on—you guessed it—February 16th, Chinese New Year’s Day. Continue reading

What would we do without umbrellas?

It’s spring and very, very wet. Finally, after days of rain, we have sunshine for a couple of days before more rain. All of this rain makes me think of umbrellas. Obviously, they are a wonderful tool for walking outdoors on rainy days, but when we were in Taiwan many years ago, I also discovered how useful they were for creating a patch of shade in the hot, burning sun.

Umbrellas. According to Joseph Needham,[i] while umbrellas, as sun-shades, were known in Greece and Rome times, the collapsible mechanism we take for granted probably came from the Chinese.

INFO BLOG Chinese making an umbrella May 2017

How far back into Chinese history the umbrella goes varies a lot. Some claim it was first invented somewhere around 3000-3500 BC,[ii] but it certainly was around by the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD). Early on, umbrellas were made of paper and silk and were sun-shades. Because they were expensive, they were a status symbol of the upper classes and the royal family.

These early umbrellas had four parts: the head, handle, ribs, and shade. The frame was of mulberry bark and bamboo and the silk or paper covering became a canvas for works of art.

In time, the umbrella evolINFO BLOG Chinese paper umbrellas May 2017ved: First, the paper shades were covered with an oil to make them impermeable to rain and expanding their use. But the really remarkable thing about these early Chinese umbrellas was how they evolved from a fixed frame to a collapsible frame. These coINFO BLOG Chinese umbrella May 2017llapsible umbrellas worked by means of sliding levers, pretty much the same as we use today.

 

The first indication that the Chinese umbrella could be collapsed was in 21 AD, during Wang Mang’s reign as the first and only emperor of the Xin Dynasty.[iii] This umbrella was to protect the Emperor as hINFO BLOG Wang Mang's collapsible umbrella 21 AD May 2017e rode in his four-wheel, ceremonial carriage, so it was quite large. The mechanism was so new and innovative that it was a secret. Besides the collapsible frame, the handle had bendable joints, allowing it to be extended or withdrawn.

Needham does go on to say that there is some evidence that the mechanism had been developed as early as the Zhou Dynasty (around 600-500 BC). If so, it was probably invented by a woman named Yun shih, the wife of an artisan.

Truly a remarkable history for our simple, and much-needed, umbrella! The next time you open up your umbrella think of its long past and its country of origin: Ancient China.

Pictures from:

en.people.cn/102774/8017371.htm;

http://www.infoniac.com/offbeat-news/the-most-important-inventions-of-ancient-china.html;

http://www.i-china.org/news.asp?type=15&id=819;

http://www.umbrellahistory.net/umbrella-history/chinese-umbrellas/.

References:

[i] Joseph Needham Science & Civilisation in China, Volume IV:2, pp. 70-71.

[ii] https://sites.google.com/site/ancientchineseinventions/Home/the-invention-of-the-umbrella; http://www.umbrellahistory.net/umbrella-history/chinese-umbrellas/; http://www.chinahighlights.com/travelguide/culture/paper-umbrella.htm.

[iii] Needham, ibid; http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/emperor-wang-mang-chinas-first-socialist-2402977/.