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.
Posted in Blog and tagged belief, books, Buddhism, china, Chinese culture, Confucianism, culture, Daoism, deities, gods, immortals, interview, literature, mythology, pantheon, RADII, religion, sinology, spirits, tradition
If you’re reading this you probably already know about Chinese New Year, so I won’t spoil the festive occasion with too much scholarly detail. 8 is the lucky number in China so here are 8 festive foods and 8 festive traditions for Spring Festival. Since CNY is as big as Christmas and China is vast, every region has its variation of customs. Having a northern mother and southern father, mine will be a mixture of northern and southern broadly speaking, leaning towards southern because that’s where I spent my childhood.
Posted in Blog and tagged china, Chinese, Chinese New Year, culture, festival, food, Spring Festival, tradition
When I was living in China twenty years ago, the Chinese didn’t do Christmas. With our collection of household gods, national celebrations and local traditions, there really wasn’t room for another jolly old man in red. Now, it’s a different matter, and “Sheng Dan Lao Ren” appears all through December, across China.
Posted in Blog and tagged celebration, china, Chinese, christmas, custom, festival, tradition
Tiny sticky cakes with a salted egg yolk in the middle. Sounds tasty, no?
One baked lotus seed paste mooncake with one egg yolk weighs about 180 g, has 790 calories, and contains 45 g of fat, so they taste good, but aren’t so good for your figure, unless you want to end up looking like the autumn moon!
Posted in Blog and tagged china, Chinese, culture, festival, food, mid-autumn festival, moon cake, Moon Festival, tradition
This year’s Ghost Month started yesterday. Are you now thinking of Dias de Muertos? You’ve got the right idea. This is the Chinese version. There are three traditional festivals of the dead on the Chinese annual calendar, known in Taoist terms, as 上元Shang Yuan, z中元Zhong Yuan and 下元 Xia Yuan. Shang Yuan, or Qing Ming, the Chinese Remembrance Day, takes place in the 4th lunar month (see my other article). Zhong Yuan, popularly known as 鬼节 (“Gui Jie”) or 鬼月 (“Gui Yue”) Ghost Month, takes place on the 15th day of the 7th lunar month.
Posted in Blog and tagged china, Chinese, culture, customs, festival, Ghost Month, rituals, tradition, Zhong Yuan
Summer is here again, with Dragon Boat Festival to mark it. This year, instead of delivering my culture tweets, I’ve put together an article, so that people interested to look further can read more about it. After all, Dragon Boat Festival is China’s major traditional summer festival, and probably the second most well-known celebratory event after Spring Festival.
Posted in Blog and tagged calamus, china, Chinese, culture, dragon boat, Dragon Boat Festival, Duan Wu, festival, herbs, mugwort, summer, tradition
清明 Qing Ming Festival originated about 2500 years ago in the Zhou Dynasty. It takes the name of a season in the third month of the Chinese agricultural calendar, the season of seed sowing and spring ploughing, when the sky is clear and the air is bright, as indicated by its name. Apart from being an important agricultural season, Qing Ming is also China’s festival of the dead, and a national holiday. Here I outline some traditions observed during the festival. Just so you don’t get bored I am enlivening them with some personal experiences.
Posted in Blog and tagged ancestor, china, Chinese, culture, festival, festival of the dead, Qing Ming, spring, tomb sweeping, tradition
Being both a bookworm and a tea connoisseur, I’ve wanted to go to the LRB tearoom ever since I heard of it. What could be better than a tearoom, in a bookshop! In July, we finally found time in our hectic schedule, between filming, and the convention period, to pay it a visit.
Posted in Blog and tagged bookshop, cake, china, Chinese, culture, london, tea, tearoom, tradition
There is a plethora of legends and folk tales on how the origin of the order of the Chinese zodiac. One popular tale is of the animals being invited to heaven to wish the Jade Emperor well on his birthday. The Cat loved to sleep but asked the Rat to wake him up on the day of the Jade Emperor’s birthday. The Rat did not do so but instead left the Cat to sleep away the big day while he sneaking up to Heaven…..
Posted in Blog and tagged animals, china, Chinese, culture, folklore, new year, story, tradition, zodiac
To the Chinese, Spring Festival is as big, important and family orientated as Christmas. In fact the two have some rather similar traditions on ushering in good luck. During Victorian times Twelfth Night, the end of Christmas on the 6th of January, was still celebrated. Do you know that popular children’s game? Whoever finds the dry bean in the cake gets to be king, whoever finds the dry pea gets to be queen and everyone else has to wait on the king and queen. Provided you don’t choke on them, finding the dry bean or dry pea represents good luck coming your way.
Posted in Blog and tagged beans, china, christmas, culture, festival, food, luck, tradition, twelve night, victorian