The Culture Behind the Pantheon: Exclusive with RADII

Though often portrayed in Western media as a monolithic, atheistic monoculture, China has one of the most complex histories of religion and spirituality among the world’s civilizations. Understanding the histories, myths, and enduring spiritual and pop-cultural appeal of China’s long list of deities is essential to understanding the country as it exists today, says Xueting Christine Ni, who has a book on the subject out on Friday (June 1).

Ni, also somewhat of an authority on Chinese pop culture (she wrote about ghosts and ghouls for us around Halloween), has put together a “shortlist” of 60 beings — gods and goddesses, along with “spirits, immortals, heroes, elementals, sages, guardians and so forth” — showing the connective tissue of deep-seated spirituality connecting figures From Kuan Yin to Chairman Mao as the book’s title has it, to Chinese society and culture.

Ahead of the book’s release, RADII caught up with Ni for a dive into China’s complex canon of mytho-historical legends, and to hear why she thinks getting a handle on them can help anyone hoping to understand the country’s role in the world today.


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5 Other Major Chinese Festivals Besides CNY

You may think that as Chinese New Year comes to an end, there isn’t much else you can comfortably tap into to enjoy until the next one. That is not the case. Chinese life, even in the 21st century, is closely connected to their traditional festivals, of which there is a full calendar all year round. Here are five more you can look forward to after Spring Festival.


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On Chinese Arts in Western Media

Recently numerous friends on social media have pointed out to me the shockingly underinformed or dubious ways in which the Chinese arts have been represented in the Western media. I have been impressed by your astuteness and I thank you for your kindness.


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QMUL Confucius Institute Movie Night: Monkey Magic!

We are comingto the end of the Chinese Year of the Monkey, a year that was celebrated in the cinema with the release of “Monkey King 2″, the follow up to the 2014 Donnie Yen film. The Monkey, Sun Wukong, with his origins in the classic text “Journey to the West”, has now become an international symbol of Chinese culture, as important to China’s overseas image as Confucius, Mao Ze Dong, and Bruce Lee.


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DiaoChan: the Rise of the Courtesan

I first heard of Red Dragonfly Production last year when they toured the UK with “Autumn of Han”. I was delighted to find a theatre company bringing dramatisations of Chinese stories to the stage. Unfortunately busy schedules meant I missed the show, so it was with great anticipation that I attended the press night for their new play, “DiaoChan: the Rise of the Courtesan”.


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30 Years of Big Trouble

Last weekend I went to watch John Carpenter’s “Big Trouble in Little China” on the big screen, on the film’s 30th anniversary. The film, packed with great soundtrack composed by the director himself, punchy script and adventurous plot, has aged well with time. As an academic writer who focuses on Chinese pop culture, I often find myself dealing with subject matter my peers wouldn’t touch with a ten foot barge pole. John Carpenter’s “Big Trouble in Little China” is one such piece. Having just had a chance to see the 1986 film from a 70mm print, for its anniversary, I thought it was worth talking about, considering the impact this film has had on a whole generation of Western cinema goers, many of whom may have never seen the action adventures of the Chinese film industry which inspired this movie.


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Zhi Mei Zhai (Since 1600)

Amongst the many interesting cultural findings from my return to Guangzhou last year was 致美斋 or Zhi Mei Zhai, one of the four major soy sauce makers in China. Founded by the nobleman Liu Shou An during the Qing Dynasty, Zhi Mei Zhai has been making soy sauce for over 400 years, surviving even the Cultural Revolution (during which it was briefly named “Forever For the People”), because let’s face it, everyone needs soy sauce no matter what.


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