Congee Concepts

I like congee. When my western friends reach for pizza or tomato soup as comfort foods, I do find myself missing that fragrant rice porridge with its accompanying bowls of tasting toppings. It seems I am not alone.  I’ve been seeing a lot of social media and articles discussing this south-east Asian dish. They mainly focus on it being the secret of a healthy life, and a pick-me-up when you’re ill. Whilst all of this is true, I can’t help but feel that these representations are somewhat missing the main point, and perpetuating some misperceptions. The Chinese, for one, eat congee as an everyday staple, some even consider a delicious treat. With family roots across central, northern and southern China, I have grown up with a variety of experiences of the 粥zhou (Mandarin for congee).


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Introductory Talk to Big Fish & Begonia: A Taster

This screening is part of the April Anime season. Anime is faux-French term predominantly used to refer to Japanese animation. Chinese animation is called Dong Hua.

That animation you’ve just seen, “Where is Mama” is a product of the first golden age of Chinese animation. The director, Te Wei,broke a lot of the established rules of the time, and instead of just imitating western animators like Disney, he attempted to create a very eastern style. 


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The Boss Behind the Cowherd and Weaver Myth

This time last year, I launched my book “From Kuan Yin to Chairman Mao: An Essential Guide to Chinese Deities” in the UK. Vivian Ni, the wonderful manager of Guanghwa in London, my bookshop of choice for the launch, wrote a lovely article for the occasion of Qi Xi, which she published on WeChat. I liked it so much that this year, I have translated it into English to share with my English-language readers on the same occasion of Qi Xi. The article contains a brief interview with me, I hope you enjoy it.


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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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Spring Festival: 8 Festive Dishes, 8 Festive Traditions

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.


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Moon Cakes

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!


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Zhongyuan: Ghost Month

 When I talk about Ghost Month, what comes up in your mind? 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 Daoist terms, as 上元 Shangyuan, 中元 Zhongyuan and 下元 Xiayuan. Shangyuan, or Qing Ming, the Chinese Remembrance Day, takes place on the 4th lunar month (see my other article). Zhongyuan, popularly known as 鬼节 (“Guijie”) or 鬼月 (“Guiyue”) Ghost Month, takes place on the 15th day of the 7th lunar month.


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Duan Wu (Dragon Boat) Festival

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.


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Qing Ming: It’s Not Just About Sweeping Tombs!

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.


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Chinese Tea at the Heart of Bloomsbury

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.


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