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Little New Year, which falls about a week before the lunar New Year, is also known as the Festival of the Kitchen God, the deity who oversees the moral character of each household. In one of the most distinctive traditions of Spring Festival, a paper image of the Kitchen God is burnt on Little New Year, dispatching the god’s spirit to Heaven to report on the family’s conduct over the past year.

The Kitchen God is then welcomed back by pasting a new paper image of him beside the stove. From this vantage point, the Kitchen God will oversee and protect the household for another year. The close association of the Kitchen God with the Lunar New Year has resulted in Kitchen God Festival being called Little New Year. Although very few families still make offerings to the Kitchen God on this day, many traditional holiday activities are still very popular.

Studies of popular Chinese religion indicate that the Kitchen God did not appear until after the invention of the brick cooking stove. The cooking stove was a fairly late development in the history of human civilization. Ancient writings indicate that the Fire God, the earliest form of the Kitchen God, was worshipped long before the stove was invented.

Zhu Rong,China’s ancient Fire God was a popular folk deity and had many temples built in his honor. Stone lined firepits, an early form of the brick stove, are still commonly used amongChina’s ethnic minorities. People in these regions make offerings to the Firepit God. The Firepit God appeared between the Kitchen God and the Fire God in the history of Chinese folk deities. The Kitchen God appeared soon after the invention of the brick stove. The Kitchen God was originally believed to reside in the stove, and only later took on human form.

Legend has it that during the Later Han Dynasty, a poor farmer named Yin Zifang was making breakfast one day shortly before the Lunar New Year, when the Kitchen God appeared to him. Although all Yin Zifang had was one yellow sheep, he sacrificed it to the Kitchen God. Yin Zifang soon became rich. To show his gratitude, Yin Zifang started sacrificing a yellow goat to the Kitchen God every winter on the day of the divine visitation, rather than during the summer as had been customary. This is the origin of the Kitchen God Festival, or Little New Year.

There are numerous customs associated with honoring the Kitchen God and determining the date of the Kitchen God Festival, or Little New Year. The date of this holiday was sometimes assigned according to location, with people in northern China celebrating it on the twenty-third day of the twelfth lunar month, and people in southern China celebrating it on the twenty-fourth. The date of Little New Year was also traditionally determined according to profession. Traditionally, feudal officials made their offerings to the Kitchen God on the twenty-third, the common people on the twenty-fourth, and coastal fishing people on the twenty-fifth. The person officiating at the sacrificial rites was generally the male head of the household.

The evening before Little New Year, the image of the Kitchen God that has been overseeing the household for the past year is taken down from its position by the stove. While the image is dried in preparation for burning, offerings and firewood are prepared. The firewood may include bundles of pine, cypress, holly, and pomegranate twigs. A new image of the Kitchen God is purchased, and figures of horses and dogs are plaited out of sorghum stalks. The offerings include pig’s head, fish, sweet bean paste, melons, fruit, boiled dumplings, barley sugar, and guandong candy, a sticky treat made out of glutinous millet and sprouted wheat. Most of the offerings are sweets of various sorts. It is thought that this will seal the Kitchen God’s mouth and encourage him to only say good things about the family when he ascends to Heaven to make his report. The Kitchen God will be invited to sit in a sedan chair for his trip to Heaven. Consequently, the day before Little New Year, streets and alleyways everywhere are full of vendors selling papermache sedan chairs and paper gold and silver ingots for the Kitchen God’s journey, and singing songs in his honor.

When a family makes offerings to the Kitchen God, it is in the hopes that he will ask Heaven to protect their household. According to an old maxim, “In Heaven good deeds are reported, on Earth safety is ensured.” The new image of the Kitchen God is not pasted up until Lunar New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day, in a ceremony known as “welcoming back the Kitchen God.” According to a saying from southernChina, “On the twenty-fourth day he ascends to Heaven; on New Year’s Day he returns to Earth.”

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The Qingming (Pure Brightness) Festival is one of the 24 seasonal division points in China, falling on April 4-6 each year. After the festival, the temperature will rise up and rainfall increases. It is the high time for spring plowing and sowing. But the Qingming Festival is not only a seasonal point to guide farm work, it is more a festival of commemoration.

The Qingming Festival sees a combination of sadness and happiness.

This is the most important day of sacrifice. Both the Han and minority ethnic groups at this time offer sacrifices to their ancestors and sweep the tombs of the deceased. Also, they will not cook on this day and only cold food is served.

The Hanshi (Cold Food) Festival was usually one day before the Qingming Festival. As our ancestors often extended the day to the Qingming, they were later combined.

On each Qingming Festival, all cemeteries are crowded with people who came to sweep tombs and offer sacrifices. Traffic on the way to the cemeteries becomes extremely jammed. The customs have been greatly simplified today. After slightly sweeping the tombs, people offer food, flowers and favorites of the dead, then burn incense and paper money and bow before the memorial tablet.

In contrast to the sadness of the tomb sweepers, people also enjoy hope of Spring on this day. The Qingming Festival is a time when the sun shines brightly, the trees and grass become green and nature is again lively. Since ancient times, people have followed the custom of Spring outings. At this time tourists are everywhere.

Qingming is the best time for Taqing, or a spring outing, getting out and enjoying the early blossoms before summer. During the spring, everything in nature takes on a new look, as trees turn green, flowers blossom, and the sun shines brightly. It is a fine time to go out and appreciate the beauty of nature during the festival.

Swings are very popular amongst children and are usually found on playgrounds. As a popular custom on Tomb Sweeping Day, swinging not only stops the chillness from eating cold food, but also develops a child’s bravery.

Meanwhile, Ju is a rubber ball made of leather on the outside and stuffed tightly with feathers on the inside. Cuju means “kick the rubber ball with foot”. It was a popular sport played by the ancient Chinese during the Qingming Festival. The Yellow Emperor was purportedly the initiator of Cuju, and he invented it to train his soldiers.

People love to fly kites during the Qingming Festival. Kite flying is actually not limited to the Qingming Festival. Its uniqueness lies in that people fly kites not during the day, but also at night. A string of little lanterns tied onto the kite or the thread look like shining stars, and therefore, are called “god’s lanterns.”

The Qingming Festival is also a time to plant trees, for the survival rate of saplings is high and trees grow fast later. In the past, the Qingming Festival was called “Arbor Day”. But since 1979, “Arbor Day” was settled as March 12 according to the Gregorian calendar.

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The Laba Festival falls on the eighth day of the twelfth lunar month. This holiday may be traced back to the ancient Chinese custom of sacrificing game to the ancestors during the last month of the lunar year. Following the ritual, the participants feasted together on the sacrificial meat in an early expression of the Chinese tradition of communal eating. The Laba Festival is popularly referred to as Laji Festival (End-of-Year Sacrifice Festival), another indication of its ancient origins and association with early sacrificial rituals. It is also said that Sakyamuni Buddha attained enlightenment on the eighth day of the twelfth lunar month. As a result, with the introduction of Buddhism to China, the Laba Festival also became known as the Day of Enlightenment.

Eating porridge on the Laba Festival is a very old tradition. As Buddhism became integrated into Chinese society, “Laba porridge” became known as “Buddha porridge,” in commemoration of the date of Buddha’s enlightenment. Legend has it that after Sakyamuni left secular life to become a monk, he meditated so deeply that he often forgot to eat. Once, when he was close to dying of starvation, he encountered a woman tending her flock. The woman saved his life by feeding him rice porridge with milk, enabling him to continue meditating and attain enlightenment on the day of Laba Festival. In order to commemorate this incident, every year at the Laba Festival Buddhists eat Laba porridge, also known as Buddha porridge. Many versions of the legends concerning the origins of Laba Festival exist in different regions of China.

The two most important traditions associated with Laba Festival are eating Laba porridge, and praying for peace and good health in the coming year.

Virtually every household in China eats Laba porridge on the eighth day of the twelfth lunar month. Filled with nuts and dried fruit, today’s Laba porridge is both tastier and more appealing to the eye than the “Buddha porridge” of the past. Today, Laba porridge serves as a symbol of good fortune, long life, and fruitful harvest.

The custom of eating Laba porridge is not only an expression of respect for Buddha and the ancestral spirits. Laba porridge is also a very nourishing and healthful food. In his encyclopedic classic of herbal medicine Bencao Gangmu (Compendium of Materia Medica), eminent Ming Dynasty physician Li Shizhen states that rice porridge “increases the life force, produces saliva, nourishes the spleen and stomach, and resolves sweating due to weak constitution at health.”

Eating Laba porridge is a distinctive and popular tradition of the Laba Festival. Buddhist tradition equates porridge with good fortune. Friends, family, and neighbors customarily exchange gifts of Laba porridge to express good wishes. In the past, devout Buddhists presented gifts of Laba porridge to the emperor and local officials. It can be seen that Laba porridge was a favorite holiday gift not only among the rulers and bureaucracy of feudal China, but also in every strata of society.

Laba Festival falls during the depths of winter, when all kinds of food can be easily stored in Nature’s cooler. The harvest is in, and people can turn their attention to preparing and enjoying a wide array of delicious dishes. In addition to Laba porridge, many different types of pickled vegetables and special dishes are popular during Laba Festival, including garlic pickled in vinegar and pickled Chinese cabbage. In northernShaanxiProvince, it is obligatory to eat Laba noodle soup, made with eight different shredded ingredients. In the Tongguan-Lintong region ofShaanxiProvince, Laba noodle soup is made with hot chili peppers. Hot Laba wine is popular all overChina during Laba Festival.

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Part1 Food Symbolism

InChina, foods are given particular meanings, so that a type of food can only be eaten by some specific individuals in certain occasion, or must be eaten in specific occasion.

Usually, an honored guest will be served a snapper’s head or shell to hail him and show warm welcome in some districts.

Noodles are the symbol of longevity in Chinese culture. They are as much a part of Chinese birthday celebration as a birthday cake with lit candles is in many countries, so that youngsters or seniors all will have a bowl of Long Life Noodle in the expectation of a healthy life. Since noodles do symbolize long life, it is considered very unlucky to cut up a strand.

Eggs hold a special symbolic significance in many cultures, andChinais no exception. The Chinese believe eggs symbolize fertility. After a baby is born, parents may hold a “red egg and ginger party”, where they serve round hard-boiled eggs to announce the birth. (InCentral China, the number of eggs presented depends on the sex of the child: An even number, usually six or eight Red Boiled Eggs with a black point dotted on one end will be delivered for a boy and an odd number, usually five or seven without black point for a girl). Egg rolls or spring rolls resemble the shape of a gold bar, and thus are often served on the New Year as a symbol of wealth and prosperity in the coming year.

Fish also play a large role in festive celebrations. The Chinese word for fish “Yu” sounds like the homophonic words both for wish and abundance. As a result, on New Year’s Eve it is customary to serve a fish for dinner, symbolizing the wish for accumulations of prosperity and wealth in the coming year. In addition, the fish is served whole, with head and tail attached, symbolizing a good beginning and ending for the coming year.

Ducks represent fidelity in Chinese culture. If you are ever invited to a Chinese wedding banquet, don’t be surprised to spot a mouthwatering platter of Peking duck on the banquet table. Also, red dishes are featured at weddings as red is the color of happiness. (You may find them served at New Year’s banquets for the same reason.)

Chicken forms part of the symbolism of the dragon and phoenix in Chinese culture. At a Chinese wedding, chicken’s feet, referred to as phoenix feet, are often served with dragon foods such as lobster. Chicken is also popular at Chinese New Year, symbolizing a good marriage and the coming together of families, and serving the bird whole emphasizes family unity.

Seeds — lotus seeds, watermelon seeds, etc — represent bearing many children in Chinese culture. Visit an Asian bakery during the Chinese New Year, and you’re likely to find a wide assortment of snacks with different types of seeds in them.

There are other foods, snacks and fruits which symbolize good wishes under special circumstances, including dried bean curd, black moss seaweed, peanuts, pomelos and oranges.

Part2 Table Manners

Talking about eating habit, unlike the West, where everyone has their own plate of food, inChinathe dishes are placed on the table and everybody shares. If you are being treated by a Chinese host, be prepared for a ton of food. Chinese are very proud of their culture of cuisine and will do their best to show their hospitality.

And sometimes the host will serve some dishes with his or her own chopsticks to guests to show his or her hospitality. This is a sign of politeness. The appropriate thing to do would be to eat the whatever-it-is and say how yummy it is. If you feel uncomfortable with this, you can just say a polite “thank you” and leave the food there. There are some other rules that are suggested you follow to make your stay inChinahappier, though you will be forgiven if you have no idea of what they are.

1. Never stick your chopsticks upright in the rice bowl, lay them on your dish instead. Otherwise, it is deemed extremely impolite to the host and seniors present. The reason for this is that when somebody dies, the shrine to them contains a bowl of sand or rice with two sticks of incense stuck upright in it. So if you stick your chopsticks in the rice bowl, it looks like the shrine and is equivalent to wishing death upon a person at the table.

2. Make sure the spout of the teapot is not facing anyone. It is impolite to set the teapot down where the spout is facing towards somebody. The spout should always be directed to where nobody is sitting, usually just outward from the table.

3. Don’t tap on your bowl with your chopsticks, since that will be deemed insult to the host or the chef. Beggars tap on their bowls, and also, when the food is coming too slow in a restaurant, people will tap their bowls. If you are in someone’s home, it is like insulting the host or the cook.

4. Never try to turn a fish over and debone it yourself, since the separation of the fish skeleton from the lower half of the flesh will usually be performed by the host or a waiter. Superstitious people deem bad luck will ensue and a fishing boat will capsize if you do so. This is especially true to southerners inChina(to be specific, such asGuangdong, Guangxi andFujianprovinces, etc.), since, traditionally, southerners are the fishing population.

Part3 Chopsticks

It’s commonly known that the Chinese invented chopsticks (orkuaiziin Chinese) as a set of instruments to be used when eating but the reason behind that is not commonly known. Actually, the Chinese were taught to use chopsticks long before spoons and forks were invented in Europe (the knife is older, not as an instrument for dining but as weapon). Chopsticks were strongly advocated by the great Chinese philosopher Confucius (551-479BC). Chinese people, under the cultivation of Confucianism, consider the knife and fork bearing sort of violence, like cold weapons. However, chopsticks reflect gentleness and benevolence, the main moral teaching of Confucianism. Therefore, instruments used for killing must be banned from the dining table, and that is why Chinese food is always chopped into bite size before it reaches the table.

Eating Chinese food would not be as enjoyable if the wrong utensils were used. Using two slim and slippery sticks to pick up grains of rice and little pieces of meat and vegetables is actually not a difficult task to accomplish. In fact, there are foreigners who are as competent in using the chopsticks as the Chinese.

 The truth of using chopsticks is holding one chopstick in place while pivoting the other one to pick up a morsel. How to position the chopsticks is the course you have to learn. First, place the first chopstick so that thicker part rests at the base of your thumb and the thinner part rests on the lower side of your middle fingertip. Then, bring your thumb forward so that the stick will be firmly trapped in place. At least two or three inches of chopstick of the thinner end should extend beyond your fingertip. Next, position the other chopstick so that it is held against the side of your index finger and by the end of your thumb. Check whether the ends of the chopsticks are even. If not, then tap the thinner parts on the plate to make them even.

When dining with Chinese friends or business partners, it is always better for foreigners to try learning how to maneuver the chopsticks. You should only ask for a fork and spoon if all else fails. Using chopsticks to eat rice is a problem to most foreigners. Generally the tip to eat rice is to bring one’s rice bowl close to one’s mouth and quickly scoop the rice into it with one’s chopsticks. Since this is difficult for foreigners, and so simply lifting portions of rice to the mouth from the bowl held in the other hand is perfectly acceptable.

There are superstitions associated with chopsticks too. If you find an uneven pair at your table setting, it means you are going to miss a boat, plane or train. Dropping chopsticks will inevitably bring bad luck. Crossed chopsticks are, however, permissible in a dim sum restaurant. The waiter will cross them to show that your bill has been settled, or you can do the same to show the waiter that you have finished and are ready to pay the bill.

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1 Soli

As Chinese saying goes: “Songs originated from the appearance of human being.” “There are many kinds of music in Heaven and Earth.” Chinese soli of instrumental music to a larger extent vividly reflects the long history, the diversity, strong local flavors and uniqueness of Chinese folk instrumental music culture. As for the playing of different folk instruments, there are a great many talents all over the country The multiethnic regions are usually famous for the specialty of their ethnic instruments and the specific playing forms, such as lusheng and zhixiaoqu of Sichuan and Hunan; rewapu and dutaer tanchang ofXinjiang; and eagle-bone fluteof Tibet and Qinghai.There is suona horn in Zhongyuan (the central plains), northeast China, and westeast China, which has a long history with rich connotation, simple styles and skillful playing. In southeast China, there are well-known hanyue zhengqu in Guangdong and minnan zhengqu in Fujian.

2 Tutti

mong tutti, the popular ones are blowing music with drumbeats, blowing and percussion music, music of gong-and-drum, and sizhu music.

As the old poem lines go: “The wind and drum flute and xiao can attract fairies; while the suona horn can make devils leave.” As life is full of happiness and joy, as well as grief and misery, music is one of the fittest music that can make one enjoy life with abandon. The main instruments of this music are suona horn,guanziand flute; the minor ones are percussion instruments.

Among national folk instrumental music culture, wind and drum music is the most widely and longest spread one for it is most closely connected with custom traditions and has the richest humane values and music art values. So far, on most occasions such as festivals, weddings, funerals, celebrating the one-month old of a newborn, birthday celebration, beam placing, this music is widely heard.

Wind music with drumbeats accounts for a large portion in this collection.

Blowing and percussion music is of similar importance as wind and drum music in north China such as shanxi, and has similar features and functions in South China.

As the ancient poem lines go: “We worship our ancestors with music of qin, se and drum to pray for rain for the crops to stimulate our morale” Like drumbeat music, music of gong-and-drum has a long history and is colorful all over the country It is a popular folk art on the occasions such as festivals and celebrations and has taken deep root in local life. They are full of local flavors and cultural aesthetic meanings, among which, the most famous ones areJiangzhougong-and-drum music of Shanxi;shehuogong-and-drum music of Qinghai; Zhoushan gong-and-drum of Zhejiang;Daliuzi of Tujia ethnic group of Hunan;Chaozhoudaluogu of Guangdong. There are immeasurable cultural and art values in its music structure, colorful rhythms, moving expressive forms and deep music meanings.

As the ancient poem lines go: “Strings and Bamboos can make melodious music.” Sizhu music or xiansuo music are popular practically all over the country, which is characterized by its special characters and lasting taste. In the north China, there are errentai paiziqu of Shanxi andInner Mongolia; xiansuo shisantao ofBeijing; pengbaban of Shandong; and bantouqu of Henan; in south China, the playing and enjoying of sizhu music such as Guangdong music, Jiangnan sizhu, Fujian nanyin has become a unique pastime.

3 Court Music

There is a record about music in “Yugua in Tijing: “Emperors in ancient times eulogized virtues with music and made sacrifice to the God with magnificent music.” Since the beginning of the Chinese nation, virtually all the dynasties have had the tradition that emperors eulogized virtues with music; therefore, court music is a national music with rich historical connotations. Since the establishment of the system of “music under government control” in the Northern Wei Dynasty, most of court musicians are from this system, which is especially obvious in the Ming andQing DynastyThat is to say, court is a place not only for the development and spreading of folk music, and court music is the flowering and polishing of folk music. As a result, Beijing Volume, Hebei Volume and Inner Mongolia Volume include some numbers of court music.

4 Sacrificial Music

There are descriptions for folk sacrificial scenes of dancing and singing in “Donghuang taiyi” and “Dongjun” of Jiuge byQu Yuan(a great ancient Chinese poet). For a long time, people like to highlight ethnic and tribal cultures with ritual music so as to achieve the effect of mystery and shock. Inner Mongolia Volume and Heilongjiang Volume include Shamanist sacrificial music, which reflect the characteristics of local sacrificial music cultures of Mongolia ethnic group, Dawoer ethnic group, Ewenke ethnic group, Elunchun ethnic group and Hezhe ethnic group. Hunan Volume and Guizhou Volume also include music for sacrificial ritual and religious ceremonies, which reflect the local customs of communication between man and god, and the customs of making sacrifice to spirits. Shandong Volume, Beijing Volume and Hunan Volume include some numbers of music for sacrifice toConfucius, which reflect the fact that Chinese people of different times have placed a stress on Confucian culture.

5 Religious music

The collection includes a lot of music numbers ofBuddhism, Taoism and Islam, from which we can know their basic styles, for there is rich cultural information in the three religions.

 

Putting up or changing door gods, is an important custom among the Chinese during Spring Festival. Door gods are pictures of deities posted on the door outside and inside the house. They are expected to keep ghosts away, protect the family and bring peace and good fortune. They are named according to function. There is the main door god, the secondary door god, the back door god and the wing room door god.

A typical Chinese house has a huge front gate/door with two wings that open in the middle. The door gods always come in pairs facing each other. It is considered bad luck to place the figures back-to-back.

The image of a chubby baby is considered as a wing room door god, symbolizing good luck, longevity and fertility.

The main door god comes in several different forms. The earliest door gods were Shen Shu and Yu Lei. They were assigned to guard the entrance to heaven under a magical peach tree that grew on Mount Tu Shuo, where they either let people pass into heaven, or rejected them, based on their life’s deeds. The Jade Emperor decreed that those who had done evil should be caught, bound and thrown to the tigers. Zhong Kui the ghost-catcher was a door god in the Tang Dynasty. Strictly speaking Zhong was not a real door god but a mythical ghost-catcher and he is often called the “backdoor general”.

Nowadays, the most common door gods are Ch’in Shu-pao and Yuchi Gong, who became popular during the Yuan Dynasty. Ch’ in has pale skin and usually carries swords; Yuchi has dark skin and usually carries batons. According to a Tang Dynasty legend, the emperor ordered the two generals to guard his door while he slept to keep away a ghost that had been bothering him. With the two men standing guard at the door, the emperor slept peacefully. The next day, the emperor, not wanting to trouble his two loyal generals, called on men to hang portraits of the two men on either side of his door. Ordinary families soon adopted the imperial custom, putting woodblock prints of the ever-vigilant generals on their front gates in the hope of attracting good luck and fending off evil spirits.

The Door God business soon spread throughout China, adding other folklore heroes and mythological figures to the repertoire.

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Like the Han people, the majority ethnic group in China, over 70 per cent of the Manchus are engaged in agriculture-related jobs. Their main crops include soybean, sorghum, corn, millet, tobacco and apple. They also raise tussah silkworms. For Manchus living in remote mountainous areas, gathering ginseng, mushroom and edible fungus makes an important sideline. Most of the Manchu people in cities, who are better educated, are engaged in traditional and modern industries.

Manchus have their own script and language, which belongs to the Manchu-Tungusic group of the Altaic language family. Beginning from the 1640s, large numbers of Manchus moved to south of the Shanhaiguan Pass (east end of the Great Wall), and gradually adopted Mandarin Chinese as their spoken language. Later, as more and more Han people moved to north of the pass, many local Manchus picked up Mandarin Chinese too.

An ethnic group originally living in forests and mountains in northeast China, the Manchus excelled in archery and horsemanship. Children were taught the art of swan-hunting with wooden bows and arrows at six or seven, and teenagers learned to ride on horseback in full hunting gear, racing through forests and mountains. Women, as well as men, were skilled equestrians.

The traditional costumes of male Manchus are a narrow-cuffed short jacket over a long gown with a belt at the waist to facilitate horse-riding and hunting. They let the back part of their hair grow long and wore it in a plait or queue. During the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) the queue became the standard fashion throughout China, eventually becoming a political symbol of the dynasty. Women coiled their hair on top of their heads and wore earrings, long gowns and embroidered shoes. Linen was a favorite fabric for the rich; deerskin was popular with the common folk. Silks and satins for noble and the rich and cotton cloth for the ordinary people became standard for Manchurians after a period of life away from the mountains and forests. Following the Manchus’ southward migration, the common people came to wear the same kind of dress as their Han counterparts, while the Manchu gown was adopted by Han women generally.

In places around Aihui County, Heilongjiang Province, however, Manchu people lived by their old traditions and customs and used their own ancient language until 1949, when the People’s Republic of China was founded.

Houses of the Manchus were built in three divisions, with the middle used as a kitchen and the two wings each serving as bedroom and living room. By tradition, the bedroom had three “kang” (brick beds which could be heated in winter), which were laid against the west, north and south walls. Guests and friends were habitually given the west “kang”, elders the north, and the younger generation the south. With windows generally open to the south and west, the houses stayed warm in winter and cool in summer.

A favorite traditional Manchu meal consisted of steamed millet or cakes of glutinous millet. Festivals were traditionally celebrated with dumplings, and the New Year’s Eve with a treat of stewed meat. Boiled and roast pork and Manchu-style cookies were table delicacies.

Monogamy has always been practiced by the Manchus, with young people engaged at the age of 16 or 17 by parental will.

On the wedding day, the bride had to sit the whole day on the south “kang”, an act inaugurating “future happiness.” When night fell, a low table with two wine pots and cups would be set. The bride and bridegroom would, hand in hand, walk around the table three times and sit down to drink under the light of a candle burning through the night on the south “kang”. They were congratulated amid songs by one or several guests in the outer room. Sometimes the ceremony was marked with well-wishers casting black peas into the bridal chamber before they left the new couple. On the fourth day, the newlyweds would pay a visit to the bride’s home.

A variety of manners were observed by the Manchus. Children were required to pay formal respects to their elders regularly, once every three to five days. In greeting their superiors, men were required to extend their left hand to the knee and idle the right hand while scraping a bow, and women would squat with both hands on the knees. Between friends and relatives, warm embraces were the commonest form of greeting for all men and women.

The Manchus used to believe in Shamanism, which in the early days was divided into the court branch and the common folk branch. The former was generally practiced by priestsorcerers in the palace. During the early Qing period, those eligible for the office of “shaman” were mostly clever and smart people with a good command of the dialect of the royal Aisin-Gioro clan. Shamans were employed to chant scriptures and perform religious dances when imperial services were held. Shamanism remained popular among the Manchus in the area of Ningguta and Aihui County in northeast China until the nation-wide liberation.

Shamans of the common Manchus generally fell into two categories: village shamans, who performed religious dances to exorcise evil spirits through the power of the gods, and clan shamans who presided only over sacrificial ceremonies. Every village had its own shaman, whose sole job was to perform the spirit dance. Only seriously ill patients saw a real doctor. Religious rite was generally performed by a shaman attired in a smock and a pointed cap festooned with long colored paper strips half-concealing his face. Dangling a small mirror in front and bronze bells at the waist, he would intone prayers and dance at a trot to the accompaniment of drumbeats.

Military successes and triumphal marches or returns were inevitably celebrated with sacrificial ceremonies presided over by shamans. Up to the eve of the country’s liberation, making animal sacrificial offerings to the gods and ancestors was still a big event among the Manchus in Aihui County.

The Manchu funeral arrangement was unique. No one was allowed to die on a west or north “kang”. Believing that doors were made for living souls, the Manchus allowed dead bodies to be taken out only through windows. Ground burial was the general practice.

Jumping onto galloping horses from one side or onto camels from the rear was the most popular recreational activity among the Manchus. Another favorite sport was horse jumping in celebration of bumper harvests in the autumn and on New Year holidays at the Spring Festival.

Skating is also a long established sport enjoyed by the Manchus, as it is by the whole Chinese people. In the Qing Dynasty before the mid-19th century, skating was even undertaken by Manchu soldiers as a required course of their military training. Pole climbing, swordplay, juggling a flagpole, and archery on ice are the more interesting sports of the Manchu people.

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Naxi men are well known for their laziness. Apparently, there are three ambitions for a Naxi man:

• Build a house
• Marry and have a son
• Bask in the sun

When they are not otherwise engaged, Naxi men enjoy hunting, raising birds, playing Naxi music and practicing calligraphy, a list that clearly shows a mix of traditional concerns (hunting) with Chinese influences (calligraphy, or pretensions to being a scholar).

Naxi men use hawks in their hunting and previously they used to sit on the bridge parading their hunting hawks and watching the women walk by. Despite their much-vaunted reputation as a matriarchal society the truth is somewhat different. As a general rule young boys are allowed to be as naughty as they please, while girls help their mothers with the chores as soon as they are able. Furthermore, girls marry out, and kinship is reckoned from the father’s side – making the whole social edifice appear a very male-friendly (if not wholly male-invented) form of matriarchy.

The association of the Naxi with matriarchy seems to be an unfortunate consequence of another closely related ethnicity known in Chinese as the Mosuo, who do in fact practice matrilineal descent.

The Musuo, who are based to the north-west of Lijiang, are classified by the Chinese authorities as belonging to the Naxi ethnicity, a categorization that the Naxi usually strenuously oppose.

One small piece of history – look for a missing index finger on the right hand of some elderly men. Apparently this indicates that they had no wish to be conscripted to fight for the Kuomintang against the Japanese in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

The fight against the Japanese was another interesting chapter in the long-running story of a route which joined Lijiang with Tibet , a route which came to be known as the southern branch of the Tea and Horse Route .

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Of the 1,598,100 Bai people, 80 per cent live in concentrated communities in the Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture in Yunnan Province, southwest China. The rest are scattered in Xichang and Bijie in neighboring Sichuan and Guizhou provinces respectively.

The Bais speak a language related to the Yi branch of the Tibetan-Myanmese roup of the Chinese-Tibetan language family. The language contains a large number of Chinese words due to the Bais’ long contact with the majority Chinese ethnic group–Han.

Situated on the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau, the Bai area is crisscrossed with rivers, of which the major ones are the Lancang, the Nujiang and the Jinsha. The river valleys, dense forests and vast tracts of land form a beautiful landscape and provide an abundance of crops and fruits. The area round Lake Erhai in the autonomous prefecture is blessed with a mild climate and fertile land yielding two crops a year. Here, the main crops are rice, winter wheat, beans, millet, cotton, rape, sugar-cane and tobacco. The forests have valuable stocks of timber, herbs of medicinal value and rare animals. Mt. Diancang by Lake Erhai contains a rich deposit of the famous Yunnan marble, which is basically pure white with veins of red, light blue, green and milky yellow. It is treasured as building material as well as for carving.

Origins and History

Archaeological finds from Canger and Haimenkou show that the Erhai area was inhabited as early as the Neolithic Age, and artifacts of that period indicate that the people of the region used stone tools, engaged in farming, livestock rearing, fishing and hunting, and dwelt in caves. Possibly, they began to use bronze knives and swords and other metal tools about 2,000 years ago.

The people in the Erhai area developed closer ties with the Han majority in inland provinces in the Qin (221-207 B.C.) and Han (206 B.C.-A.D. 220) dynasties. In 109 B.C. the Western Han Dynasty set up county administrations and moved a large number of Han people to this border area. These people brought more advanced production techniques and iron tools, contributing to the economic development of the area. During the Sui (581-618) and Tang (618-907) dynasties, the farming there had reached a level close to that of the central plains.

Bai aristocrats backed by the Tang court unified the people of the Erhai area and established the Nanzhao regime of Yis and Bais. Its first chief, Piluoge, was granted the title of King of Yunnan by a Tang emperor.

Slaves were used to do heavy labor, while “free” peasants were subject to heavy taxation and forced to render various services including conscription into the army. Some of them, who lost their land, were made slaves.

The Nanzhao regime lasted for 250 years. During that period of time, while maintaining a good relationship with the central government, the rulers cruelly oppressed the slaves and mercilessly plundered other ethnic nationalities through warfare. Productivity was thus seriously harmed. This caused slave rebellions and uprisings. Nanzhao’s power came to an end in the year 902. Then a regime based on a feudal lord system, known as the Kingdom of Dali, was established. The kingdom adopted a series of measures such as abolishing exorbitant taxes and removing conservative ministers. As a result, social productivity was restored.

The kingdom lasted for over 300 years (937-1253) as a tributary to the Song Dynasty (960-1279) court. It sent war-horses, handicrafts and precious medicines to the court, and in return received science and technology, as well as books in the Han language. Economic and cultural exchanges with the Hans contributed greatly to the development of this border area.

The kingdom was conquered by the Mongols in the 13th century, and Yuan Dynasty (1206-1368) rule was established there. The Mongols designated Yunnan a province while establishing Dali and Heqing as prefectures. In order to strengthen their control over Dali, the Yuan rulers offered former chieftains official posts and granted their families hereditary privileges. Though land was mainly concentrated in the hands of the local aristocracy at that time, the feudal lord system began to give way to a landlord system.

The Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) took power from the Yuan rulers in 1381. The Ming court removed local chieftains and replaced them with court officials. This kind of reform resulted in the weakening of the political and economic privileges of the local lords, brought freedom to the slaves and raised the enthusiasm of the peasants for farming. Those Bais and Hans who had emigrated were encouraged to return, while Hans from other areas were persuaded to settle there. This measure accelerated the development of the landlord economy of Bai society.

In addition to the continuation of the Ming policy of dispatching officials from the central government, the Qing (1644-1911) court also appointed local officials and chieftains to rule over the Bais.

Some Bai people in remote areas still suffered feudal exploitation and oppression at the time of liberation.

Culture and Folklore

Over the centuries, the Bais have created a science and culture of their own. Agriculture was dominant in the Erhai area as early as the Neolithic Age. People then knew how to dig ditches for irrigation. During the Nanzhao regime, they began the cultivation of rice, wheat, broomcorn, millet and several other crops, and built the Cangshan water-conservancy project which could bring water to tens of thousands of hectares of land. To their credit are inventions and advances in meteorology, astronomy, calendar, architecture, medical science, literature, music, dancing, carving and painting. Among the representative works of the Bai people are Transit Star Catalogue for Time Determination by the Ming Dynasty scholar Zhou Silian, Collection of Secret Prescriptions by Chen Dongtian and Tested Prescriptions by Li Xingwei. These classics recorded and summarized in detail the valuable experience of the Bai people in astronomy and medicine.

The superb architectural skill of the Bai people is represented by the three pagodas at the Chongsheng Temple in Dali. Built during the Tang Dynasty, the 16-storey main tower is 60 meters high and still stands erect after more than 1,000 years. It bears a resemblance to the Dayan Pagoda (Wild Goose) in Xi’an, an ancient Chinese capital city in today’s Shaanxi Province. Figurines in the Shibaoshan Grottoes in Jianchuan County are lifelike, possessing both the common features of figure creation in China and the unique features of the Bai artists. The architectural group in the Jizushan Temple, with bow-shaped crossbeams, bracket-inserted columns, and gargoyles representing people, flowers and birds created with the open carving method, shows the excellent workmanship of the Bai people. The Bais also have high attainments in lacquerware.

They have created a wealth of literary works reflecting their life, work, and struggles against nature and oppression. The epic, Genesis, sings the praises of the communal life of Bai primitive society. Some poems by Bai poets have been included in the Complete Poems of Tang Dynasty. The History of the Bais, Anecdotes of Nanzhao and Kingdoms of Southwest China are among the best historical works written by Bai historians. They provide important data for the study of the history of the Erhai area.

The Bai people are good singers and dancers. The “Lion Dance,” created during the Nanzhao regime, was appreciated in the central plains during the Tang Dynasty. Bai opera, known as chuichui, is an art form combining folk music and dancing. It has also absorbed some of the characteristics of Han operas.

The famous painting depicting the Resurgence of the Nanzhao was created in 899 A.D. by Bai painters Zhang Shun and Wang Fengzong. This masterpiece was stolen by foreign imperialists in 900 from Beijing.

Customs and Habits

The Bais are Buddhists and worshippers of “communal god.” Dotted with monasteries and temples, Dali has been known as a “Scented Wonderland.” Abbots who held huge amount of land and other property in the past were big landlords and usurers. The ordinary people were heavily burdened by this caste and by religious activities which required sacrifices of cattle and other valuables.

Monogamous families have been the basic social cells of the Bais, with a very few people who practiced polygamy. Parents live with their unmarried children, but only in big landlord families did four generations live together. Before the founding of the People?¡¥s Republic of China in 1949, matches between young men and young women of the same surname or clan were not permitted, while marriages between cousins were encouraged, and were arranged by the parents. High bride prices caused many poor families to fall into debt. Women were discriminated against, and only men had the right to inherit family property. But all such feudal practices and customs have been fading away since 1949. Young people now enjoy the freedom to choose their lovers.

The “March Fair,” which falls between March 15 and 20 of the lunar calendar, is a grand festival of the Bais. It is celebrated every year at the foot of the Diancang Hill to the west of Dali city. It is a fair and an occasion for sporting contests and theatrical performances. People gather there to enjoy dances, horse racing and other games. June 25 is the “Torch Festival.” On that day, torches are lit everywhere to usher in a bumper harvest and to bless the people with good health and fortune. Streamers bearing auspicious words are hung in doorways and at village entrances alongside the flaming torches. Villagers, holding aloft torches, walk around in the fields to drive insects away.

New Life

Democratic reform and socialist transformation proceeded in the Bai areas in much the same way as in the Han inhabited areas, but the reforms were carried out in a more gradual manner in those areas with vestiges of pre-capitalist economic organization. Cooperatives were set up to boost production on the basis of abolishing class exploitation and the remnants of primitive communalism.

The Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture was founded in November 1956 after the completion of the democratic reform and socialist transformation.

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