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A Glimpse of Chinese Culture
2003/11/27
 

Chinese civilization has its source far in the distant past. With a continuous history of 5000 years, it has undergone frequent transformations to produce a rich and vital cultural heritage.

 

Traditional Chinese Culture

Drawing from philosophy, religion, and ethnics; art and literature; science and technology; and even ecology and the environment, traditional Chinese culture embodies the development and wisdom of the Chinese people. It is not only the priceless inheritance of the people of China, but a great treasure belonging to all humanity.

 

Traditional Chinese philosophy is both profound and simple, intimately linked to both society and the individual. It propounds the theory of "as above, so below," and replies to the vexations of the "ten thousand things" –that is, the material world-with the concept of Harmony (he in Chinese). Harmony appears weak but is actually strong. There is nothing it cannot absorb and nothing it cannot penetrate. The Chinese character he, or Harmony, appears in the Chinese words fro peace, compromise, concord, and unison, and may be interpreted to include all of these meanings.

 

The philosophic concept of Harmony is expressed in both the Confucian ideal of Benevolence and the Daoist ideal of Non-Action. The taijitu, or Yin-Yang symbol, offers a visual representation of this concept. It depicts two opposing forces, each of which includes elements of the other and may transform into its opposite under certain conditions. The balanced interaction of these opposing forces creates a unified and harmonious whole. The ancient philosophy of balancing opposition to create a harmonious whole has fostered an individual and collective love of peace in the Chinese people. This is because in a collective situation, benefiting others contributes to overall harmony, which in turn benefits the individual. Conversely, harming others detracts from overall harmony, which in turn harms the individual.

 

Traditional Chinese culture is recorded not only in historical books and documents, but also in the records of architecture, such as ancient city walls, palaces, temples, pagodas, and grottos; artifacts, such as bronze objects, weapons, bronze mirrors, coins, clocks, jade and pottery objects, and curios; and folk culture, including cuisine, clothing, embroidery, tea ceremonies, drinking games, lanterns, riddles, martial arts, chess, and kites.

 

The Magic of Chinese Writing

The Chinese system of writing, which employs pictographic rather than alphabetic characters, has been in existence for several thousand years. Although Chinese characters are constantly evolving, their basic written forms were established by around 200 BC. Chinese writing is not only an expression of Chinese culture, but also one of the great achievements of early human civilization.

 

Pictographic Chinese characters resemble an ancient fossil record. They vividly capture the natural, social and spiritual face of the ancient world, and reflect the evolution of both the Chinese people and human society. The Chinese system of writing conveys ideas concisely and expressively, leading a number of countries to adopt Chinese characters as the basis for their written languages. Chinese language and writing are inseparable from the achievements of Chinese culture, maturing in step with society to become steadily more expressive and refined. Advances in modern science and technology have shown that the Chinese system of writing is well suited to the demands of information technology, computer technology, and digital technology. This unexpected confluence of modern technology and ancient culture has brought a new infusion of energy to the written Chinese language.

 

The Distinctive Art of the East

Imbued with the distinctive romance and charm of the East, Chinese art has garnered acclaim all over the world. Chinese calligraphy and painting, which appeared and evolved in tandem, are the guiding force of China's fine arts. They embody China's humanist spirit, and are unparalleled in the arts of the world.

 

The number of cultures that have produced the art of calligraphy can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Of them, China has the most ancient calligraphic tradition. Calligraphy has its source in writing. The earliest known form of Chinese writing, consisting of primitive pictographs, has been found engraved on 5000-year-old Neolithic pottery shards. China's painting tradition is extremely ancient as well. When tracing the origins of Chinese painting, what first comes to mind are the elegantly engraved prehistoric pots produced by China's "painted pottery" culture, dating from 5000 to 6000 years ago. By the time of the Warring States Period (475-221BC), Chinese painting had developed into a distinctive and mature art form. Colored drawings on silk from this period, unearthed from the tomb of the King of Chu in Changsha, are the oldest existing drawings in China and the world. Chinese painting continued to develop during the Eastern and Western Jin Dynasties (265-420AD), and flourished during Sui (581-618AD), Tang (618-907AD), Song (960-1279), Yuan (1271-1368AD), Ming (1368-1644AD) and Qing (1644-1911AD) Dynasties.

Chinese sculpture has its origins in the Xia Dynasty (21st-16th century BC). During the Qing Dynasty (221-207BC), lifelike terracotta burial figures of soldiers and horses were created for the tomb of Qin Shihuang, the First Qin Emperor. The discovery and excavation of thousands of these figures from the Emperor's tomb in Xi'an shook the world, and they were hailed as the "Eighth Wonder of the World" by foreign archeologists. China's Four Great Grottos-the Mogao and Maijishan Grottos at Dunhuang in Gansu Province, the Yugang Grottos at Datong in Shanxi Province, and the Longmen Grottos at Luoyang in Henan Province-are storehouses of ancient Chinese art, and treasures belonging to the entire world. Of these sites, the Mogao Grottos are the most ancient and contain the most magnificent cliff paintings and sculptures.

 

The ancestors of the Chinese people were gifted in both song and dance. Musical instruments have existed in China since remote antiquity. Ancient historical documents generally trace the history of Chinese music back to the time of the legendary Yellow Emperor, 4000 to 5000 years ago. A set of sixty-four cast bronze bells, made in the State of Chu during the Warring States Period (475-221BC), has been discovered in Hubei Province. Each bell produces two notes, with the set covering a range of over five octaves. A wide range of classical and modern music, including symphonic works by Beethoven, can be performed on the set, which is tuned to a diatonic scale in the key of C major. The bell has a beautiful tone, harmonious and pleasing to the ear. The fact that such a musical instrument was created in China 2400 years ago is truly a miracle in the history of world music.

 

Chinese dance also has an ancient history. China's dance tradition includes not only a rich traditional legacy, but also exceptionally beautiful and varied modern forms. Chinese dance has its origins in imitations of birds and animals by the earliest Chinese ancestors. The first large-scale dance performances appeared at the beginning of the Western Zhou Dynasty (1100 years BC), complete with storylines and orchestral accompaniment. The Qin (221-207BC) and Han (206BC-220AD) Dynasties saw the flourishing of the art, and the founding of traditional Chinese dance. With the height of the Tang Dynasty (618-907AD) came the creation of the brilliant "Imperial Tang" music and dance tradition.

 

A Rich Theater Tradition

China is a country with deep theatrical roots. Traditional Chinese opera originated in the Song Dynasty (960-1279AD), with a type of poetic drama set to music known as zaju. Over the centuries, this early operatic form evolved into over 300 different types, including Beijing opera, Shaocing opera, Henan opera, Guangdong opera and Sichuan opera. Of these, Beijing opera is the most famous, and has become known as China's national theater. These vital dramatic forms and their canon of over 10,000 different plays and operas continue to be performed on stages in cities and villages across China. China's dramatic traditions have produced many distinctive local opera styles. Kunqu opera, which first appeared in Jiangsu Province during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368AD), incorporates the best features of many other operatic styles, as well as elements of dance and martial arts. This unique and exquisite form of dramatic art features diverse melodies and choreography, ranging from gently lyrical to exciting and dynamic. Instrumental accompaniment is provided by a traditional Chinese orchestra consisting of dizi and xiao (bamboo flutes), sheng (reed pipe), suona (horn), pipa and sanxuan (string instruments), gu (drums), ban (clappers), and luo (gongs). UNESCO recently declared Kunqu opera a "Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity>"

 

Traditional Chinese opera had its 'golden age" during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368AD), and continued to thrive during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644AD). A number of exceptional dramatists and outstanding works appeared during this time. The greatest dramatist of the Yuan Dynasty was Guan Hanqing, whose most famous work is the tragedy of Dou E Yuan (Injustice to Dou E). Tang Xianzu, another great figure of traditional Chinese opera, lived during the late Ming Dynasty. His most famous work is the love story of Mudan Ting (The Peony Pavilion). Tang Xianzu was a contemporary of William Shakespeare, and their works are among the highest artistic achievements of their time in East and West, respectively. Traditional Chinese opera, represented by artists ranging from Yuan Dynasty dramatist Guan Hanqing to modern Beijing opera master Mei Lanfang, is one of the world's three great schools of performing arts. The other two are the dramatic traditions of Germany and Russia, represented by Bertolt Brecht and Konstantin Stanislavsky. Traditional Chinese opera holds a unique and lofty position not just in the history of Chinese culture, but in that of the entire world as well.

 

Classical Literature

China's earliest book of poetry, Shi Jing (The Book of Odes) appeared during the fifth century BC. This work is the oldest known anthology of poetry in the world. The famous poet Qu Yuan lived around the third to fourth centuries BC. His great work, Li Sao (One Encountering Sorrow), marks the beginning of romanticism in Chinese poetry, and is a treasure of both Chinese and world literature. Classical Chinese poetry reached its peak during the seventh to ninth centuries AD, during the Tang Dynasty. Li Bai was the greatest of the romantic poets of this era, known by later generations as the Celestial Poet. His contemporary Du Fu, known as the Sage Poet, brought realism in poetry to new levels. His work has been widely acclaimed as poetic history.

 

The classical Chinese novel reached its height during the Ming (1368-1644AD) and Qing (1644-1911AD) Dynasties. Famous novels of the time include Sanguo Yanyi (Romance of the Three Kingdoms) by Luo Guanzhong, Shui Hu (Water Margin or All Men Are Brothers) by Shi Nai'an, and Xiyou Ji (Journey to the West) by Wu Cheng'en. The greatest novel of the period is Honglou Meng (Dream of the Red Chamber) by Cao Xueqin. With its multitude of characters, numerous conflicts, and complex plot development, this work has been praised as an encyclopedia of feudal Chinese society. These great works of Chinese literature have been translated into numerous foreign languages, and are famous all over the world.

 

Art Festivals and Contemporary Art

The China National Arts Festival is a government-sponsored event that has been held six times since its inception in 1987. Its president and honorary president are chosen from among China's top leaders. Each session of the festival has presented a dazzling array of artistic forms, and provided a forum to display the results of Sino-foreign artistic collaboration and exchange.

 

The development of Chinese opera into a contemporary art form exemplifies the merging of Eastern and Western cultures. Traditional Chinese opera originated during the Song Dynasty (960-1279AD) and Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368AD), based on traditional Chinese folk music. In modern times, it has assimilated elements of European opera, giving rise to a new form of national opera, of which The White Haired Girl is a representative example.

 

The combination of traditional subject matter with modern stage techniques has become increasingly common. The Chinese ballet Raise High the Red Lanterns is a case in point. Based on traditional Chinese dance, opera, and martial arts, and incorporating Western ballet techniques, the work has met with enthusiastic audience response. The Chinese adaptation of the musical Cats, under the title "Rhapsody for Rainy Night", offers not only a unique plot, but also novel music and stage design, in another example of the artistic merging of East and West.

 

Modern Chinese dance has gone through a particularly intense evolution. The Guangzhou Modern Dance Troupe is representative of this trend. Characterized by unrestrained choreography and the use of "alternative" body language, this troupe combines dance, costumes and music in an assault on the senses that is avidly welcomed by younger audiences.

 

In the last several years, a number of writers have experimented with using modern drama to explore various pressing social issues. Incorporating subject material from everyday life, lively and witty plots, and appealing characters, these plays have created a sense of immediacy and interchange with their audiences and met with great success.

 

China's bright rock stars excel at capturing audiences with their spontaneous and unrestrained styles, forging personal experience into musical "variations on life". Even though rock musicians are generally limited to performing in bars, where they proclaim their existence at the top of their lungs, young people are riveted by the movements, expressiveness, and audience interaction of rock 'n roll.

 

The fans of Chinese popular music are legion. CCTV (China Central Television) and local TV stations often broadcast large-scale competitions to promote pop music and publicize new singers. A multitude of pop stars brighten the popular music field, forming a galaxy of luminaries from which new idols regularly emerge. These pop stars, along with those coming up in the ranks, provide China with yet another source of social and cultural enrichment.

 

A number of leading figures have emerged in the fields of painting, sculpture, and fashion, to share with the world their unique perspectives on aesthetics, life and society. These enterprising and vital young artists are full of fresh visions and styles. The apprentices of China's earlier generations of masters, they have also been influenced by modern Western schools of art. As a result, they possess modern artistic sensibilities in addition to strong traditional artistic foundations. For instance, young artists have pioneered the use of innovative new techniques in traditional Chinese painting, in an attempt to infuse this traditional Chinese art form with the flavor of modern life.

 

International Exchange

Since time immemorial, the Chinese people have engaged in extensive cultural exchange with other ethnic groups, assimilating the best of foreign cultures to enrich their own. From the Han Dynasty (206BC-220AD) to the Tang Dynasty (618-907AD), cultural elements introduced from Asia, Europe and Africa contributed significantly to the flourishing of classical Chinese civilization. In modern times, Western art forms, such as oil painting, drama, symphonic music and ballet, have rapidly spread throughout China to become integral elements of Chinese culture.

 

Traditional Chinese culture has had a profound effect on other countries, particularly China's Asian neighbors. During the 17th and 18th centuries, the introduction of Chinese painting, architecture, drama, poetry, artifacts, and writings to the West gave rise to a high tide of interest in China throughout Europe. Many famous European thinkers, including Descartes, Montaigne, Voltaire and Goethe, were influenced by Chinese culture to varying degrees. China's magnificent art and culture had a distinct effect on the European Enlightenment of the 18th century. Today, with the ongoing deepening of China's opening of and reforms, Sino-foreign cultural exchange is becoming steadily more extensive and closely coordinated.

 

Chinese musicians have brought their unique talents and styles to a wide range of international musical events and competitions, winning great acclaim and numerous awards. Chinese musicians and performing groups are making their marks all over the world, and many foreign musicians and groups come to perform in China as well.

 

China currently has over fifty national and local symphony orchestras, which offer a total of over one thousand performances every year. Large symphony orchestras, such as the China Symphony Orchestra and the Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as numerous orchestral groups, skillfully perform difficult classical works from around the world. These groups often tour abroad, and have performed commercially in countries known for their excellent symphony orchestras, such as Australia, France, Italy and Germany. Increasing numbers of internationally recognized, first-class symphony orchestras come to China as well, including the Philadelphia orchestra and Berlin Philharmonic. Numerous Chinese conductors and composers working abroad are also becoming recognized in international music circles, and attaining great success.

 

In June of 2002, the "Three Tenors"-Luciano Pavorotti, Placido Domingo and Jose Carerras-appeared in a major musical production at the Forbidden City in Beijing. The audience numbered in the tens of thousands. The event was held in the central courtyard of the Forbidden City, a magnificent imperial complex with a history spanning more than six centuries. As the light of the summer moon shone upon the ancient capital, the three great Western tenors raised their voices in a song. Three Chinese sopranos joined the Western masters for several numbers and engaged in deep conversation with them at the celebratory banquet after the performance. The concert received extensive media coverage. Long after it was over, people all over China were still enthusiastically discussing the Three Tenors at the Forbidden City.

 

Chinese acrobatics has achieved unparalleled international acclaim, winning China the accolade of the Land of Gold Medals. Chinese acrobatics has its origins in the lives and folkways of the people, arising from productive labor, daily life, religion and ritual. For instance, acrobatic acts such as Shuttlecock Kicking and Diabolo Twirling are based on popular games and sports, while Pole Climbing evolved from techniques warmly loved by the common people, brimming with life and energy. Chinese acrobatic troupes have performed in over 100 countries and regions around the world, with acts such as Rolling with Cups, Plate Spinning and Bench Balancing winning gold medals at numerous international competitions and events. The distinctive national style of Chinese acrobatics brings audiences worldwide a fresh and exciting experience.

 

Arts and Crafts

China has numerous exquisite traditional arts and crafts. Among the most famous are carving and metalwork, embroidery and painting, ceramics and porcelain and cloisonné enamel inlay. Bamboo furniture, woven bamboo and grass objects, paper cuts, lanterns, kites and toys are popular traditional craft items, while Chinese jade and ivory ornaments, cloisonné and embroidery are treasured by people all over the world.

 

Ceramics and porcelain are among the most well known inventions of ancient China. The most outstanding porcelain is made in China's porcelain capital, Jingdezhen in Jiangxi Province. A famous saying describes Jingdezhen Porcelain as "white as jade, bright as a mirror; thin as paper, tone like a chime". China's ceramics capital, Yixing in Jiangsu Province, is the home of purple sand pottery. Produced using the area's unique purple sand clay and special firing techniques, Yixing pottery is both beautiful and distinctive.

 

Most of China's cloisonné is produced in Beijing. These precious objects are often chosen as gifts for honored guests visiting China. Cloisonné, a decorative combination of copper and enamel, is known as enamel inlay. The production process is extremely complicated and involves a number of steps, each of which demands a high degree of skill. Copper wire is first soldered onto a hammered copper base in a various patterns. The individual cells are then filled with powdered colored enamel, and the pieced is fired, polished and finally gilded. The finished product is very valuable, both aesthetically and as a collector's item.

 

Embroidery is a traditional craft that has flourished over the ages. China's four main styles of embroidery developed in Suzhou, Hunan, Sichuan and Guangdong. An embroidery artist may use several dozen different stitches to portray flowers, people, animals, scenery or any number of meticulously designed patterns.

 

China's Cuisines

When the subject of Chinese food comes up, foreigners who have visited China will often laughingly lament that their stomachs were not big enough to try all the different dishes. For example, surveys indicate that Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province in southwest China, has over 1500 different types of snacks alone. It would take about four years of dedicated eating to try them all one type for each day. And even then, local snacks from all over the rest of China would still be waiting.

 

China has eight major regional cuisines, including Sichuan, Cantonese, Hunan and Shangdong styles. China's food culture has the following distinctive characteristics:

1.     Emphasis on eating: According to an ancient saying, "Eating is the people's Heaven".

2.     Emphasis on nourishment: The "five cereals" (rice, millet, glutinous millet, wheat and beans) are said to nourish the "six organs" (liver, heart, spleen, lung, kidney and pericardium). Diet is considered paramount in maintaining good health.

3.     Emphasis on flavor: Chinese cooking emphasizes flavor, color, aroma and presentation. Differences among these elements form the basisof the different regional cuisine.

4.     Emphasis on harmony: Harmonizing the interaction of various foods in order to achieve balance between Yin and Yang is the guiding principle of Chinese cuisine.

 

Chinese cuisine is a rich and meaningful art. Every detail of seasoning, ingredients and cooking is important. It is culturally distinctive, while also being open to new influences. It has evolved constantly over the ages, and continues to break new culinary ground. People who eat Chinese food have a relatively low occurrence of obesity, unlike those who follow a Western diet. This is certainly good news for people who love to eat but also want to lose weight!

 

Tea is an important part of China's food culture. Tea is made from the leaves of the tea plant, an evergreen shrub of the camellia family. The tea plant was first cultivated and processed in China, which is known as the birthplace of tea. The tea plant prefers a warm and humid climate, and is extensively cultivated in the southern provinces of China's Changjiang (Yangtze) River valley. Pu'er tea plants, grown in southwestern Yunnan Province, can grow up to 17 meters (55 feet) tall. The green leaves of the tea plant must undergo a complicated process before they can be steeped into tea. Varieties grown in China include green tea, black tea, oolong tea and white tea, each of which has numerous sub-varieties.

 

Traditions involving the preparation, serving and drinking of tea run throughout Chinese history. It is said, "Offering tea to guests enhances friendship; drinking tea when thirsty moistens the throat and creates saliva; drinking tea when weary soothes the muscles and relieves fatigue; enjoying tea when resting perfumes the mouth and nose; enjoying tea when vexed lightens the heart and clears the mind; drinking hot tea when blocked stimulates elimination and cuts grease." Chinese people believe that tea is good for the health and can cure disease, and even more importantly, can uplift the spirit. Drinking tea is an indispensable part of gathering with friends and entertaining guests.

 

China's tea culture includes both the art of tea drinking and the world of famous tea ceremony. Tea drinking was introduced from China to Japan during the Tang Dynasty, where it developed into the highly stylized Japanese tea ceremony. Chinese tea drinkers, on the other hand, are more concerned with enjoyment than with ceremony. "Enjoying tea" involves not just sampling different varieties, but is also an opportunity for aesthetic appreciation and self-cultivation.

 

Holiday Celebrations

China's many ethnic groups place great emphasis on holiday celebrations. The traditional holidays of the majority Han people include Spring Festival (Lunar New Year's), Lantern Festival, Dragon Head Festival, the Festival of Clear Brightness, Dragon Boat Festival, Praying for Wisdom Festival, Mid-Autumn Festival and Double Ninth Festival. Ethnic minority holidays include the Dai people's Water Sprinkling Festival, the Mongolian Festival of Nadam, the Tibetan Shoton Festival, the Festival of Fast-Breaking of the Hui People and the Miao people's Dragon Boat Festival. These holidays offer a vivid expression of traditional folkways and customs.

 

Spring Festival is the most important of the traditional Han holidays, as well as the most festive. Families across the land make special New Year's purchases, wrap dumplings, paste New Year's couplets on their doors, display dragon lanterns, hold Lion Dances, set off fireworks and drink toasts to the New Year. These customs have been passed down without a break since the Han Dynasty, thousands of years ago. Spring Festival marks the start of the lunar year, and is a celebration of the renewal of Nature and the rebirth of all living things. This holiday continues to be celebrated today just as it was thousands of years ago, with the same traditional activities and festive atmosphere. The only difference is that now, CCTV (China Central Television) broadcasts a gala Spring Festival special every year, consisting of a first-class lineup of performers and a wide variety of colorful acts-a holiday "feast for the spirit" for all of China.

 

The Lantern Festival falls on the fifteenth day of the first lunar month. This festival might be considered a holiday for lovers. The celebration reaches its peak in the evening, when every household has been decorated with colored lanterns and streamers. Families stroll through the streets, young and old together, admiring the lanterns and engaging in guessing games. In classical times, even young unmarried women, generally confined to the home, were allowed outside to enjoy the lanterns on this holiday. Most traditional love stories about young scholars engaging in illicit assignations with beautiful women are set on Lantern Festival night.

 

Dragon Boat Festival commemorates the poet Qu Yuan, a patriot who drowned himself to save his country 2000 years ago. On this holiday, it is traditional to eat the unique and delicious pastry known as zongzi, and participate in dragon boat races.

Mid-Autumn Festival more closely resembles a holiday for poets. On the evening of the fifteenth day of the eighth lunar month, the full moon hangs large in the sky. As people eat moon cakes and melons and admire the lunar orb, many emotions fill their hearts. Such feeling as yearning for loved ones, nostalgia for the past, and longing for home provide a fount of inspiration to poets, and many renowned works of classical Chinese literature are associated with Mid-Autumn Festival and the moon. There is quite an art involved in moon cakes as well. These pastries come in many flavors, including Suzhou style and Guangzhou style. For small children, who may have a minimal understanding of painting and poetics, eating the delicious moon cakes and melons is certainly the most inspiring part of this festival.

 

Double Ninth Festival, held on the ninth day of the ninth lunar month, is a traditional holiday of the Han people that dates back to ancient times. On this day, people go on excursions to the mountains, where they admire the fall chrysanthemums and adorn themselves with the fruit of the prickly ash. Happily they wander the mountain slopes, imbibing in the spirits they've brought along. Climbing to a high place is the most important custom of this holiday. Since ancient times, groups of people have gathered to go mountain climbing on Double Ninth Festival. People living on the flatlands south of the Changjiang (Yangtze) River, deprived of any mountains to climb, invented a kind of pastry made out of rice flour in which they inserted small colored pennants. The words for "pastry" and "high" are homonyms in Chinese, so these pastries represented climbing to a high place and averting misfortune.

 

Travelers who happen to meet up with the Dai people's Water Sprinkling Festival will quickly find themselves soaked to the skin, part of the enjoyment of this unique celebration. Holding basins and buckets, the young and the old, male and female alike chase and splash water at each other. The more water one is splashed with, the more respect and good fortune one is said to receive. According to an old legend, twelve beautiful maidens once had to fight off an evil ghost. After stabbing the ghost, each maiden took turns holding it down. The evil ghost was scalding hot, so they doused it with water to cool it off until it finally died. The Water Sprinkling Festival is held in remembrance of these young women. This holiday, which falls on the fifteenth day of the sixth month of the Dai calendar (several days after April 5 by the standard calendar), is also celebrated in Thailand, Myanmar (Burma), and Laos.

 

Every July and August, the ethnic Mongolian peoples of Inner Mongolia, Gansu, Qinghai and Xingjiang gather on the vast grasslands of northwestern China for the traditional Festival of Nadam. Nadam means entertainments or games in the Mongolian language. In modern times, the Festival of Nadam has become a grand sports meet, replete with ethnic color and traditions. Activities include wrestling, horse racing, archery, horse lassoing, Mongolian chess and other traditional competitions. In many places, modern sports and games, such as track and field, volleyball, basketball and tug-of-war may also be seen. Skilled performances of martial arts, polo, mounted archery, mounted swordplay, dressage, group equitation and motorcycle stunts display the ruggedness, industriousness, intelligence and bravery of nomadic peoples. The horses who perform in the distinctive dressage event are trained in a special gait, in which only one foot at a time may leave the ground.

 

The Festival of Nadam has a very long history. In the past, it included large-scale ritual ceremonies, in which lamas burned incense and lit lamps, recited Buddhist sutras and invoked the deities to avert misfortune. Today, the content of the festival has changed considerably. Not only are numerous exciting competitions and performances held during the daylight hours, but many festive and auspicious entertainments are offered at night as well. As the music of horse head fiddles wafts over the grasslands, young couples joyously dance hand in hand around the bonfires, while elders raise their voices in pastoral song.

 

In recent years, Western holidays such as Christmas, Valentine's Day and Mother's Day have also become popular throughout China, and are celebrated by many young people in the Western manner. Many mothers receive felicitations from their sons and daughters on Mother's Day, young women are given flowers on Valentine's Day, and on Christmas, children may receive Christmas presents from Santa Claus, or Old Man Christmas as he is known in China.

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