The Classical Gardens of Suzhou

March 18, 2020

UNESCO.org says, “Classical Chinese garden design, which seeks to recreate natural landscapes in miniature, is nowhere better illustrated than in the nine gardens in the historic city of Suzhou. They are generally acknowledged to be masterpieces of the genre. Dating from the 11th-19th century, the gardens reflect the profound metaphysical importance of natural beauty in Chinese culture in their meticulous design.”

The city of Suzhou has more than 2,500 years of history and was once part of the empire of Wu. The empire occupied the area in eastern China around Nanjing. Wu was one of the three major states that competed for supremacy over China after the Han Dynasty fell. The Three Kingdoms period of China took place between 220 – 280 AD.

Suzhou is located in the southern portion of Jiangsu province about fifty miles from Shanghai along the old Grand Canal. By the 14th century, Suzhou was established as the leading silk producer in China. Suzhou is also known for Kun Opera with roots in folk songs from the mid-14th century.

The Japanese art of bonsai originated in the Chinese practice of penjing (盆景). Penjing is known as the ancient Chinese art of depicting artistically formed trees, other plants, and landscapes in miniature.

Suzhou’s famous gardens were destroyed three times. The first time was during the Taiping Rebellion (1850 – 1864). Then the Japanese invaded China during World War II, and the gardens were destroyed a second time. During Mao’s Cultural Revolution, many of the gardens were destroyed a third time.

It wasn’t until 1981, several years after Mao’s death, when Deng Xiaoping ruled the Communist Party, that the gardens were rebuilt.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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What does it take to bring about change?

March 11, 2020

One thing I know for a fact is that Americans complaining about China will not change that country.

The Chinese choose to reflect the views of their leaders and ancient traditions rather than their own personal views. Americans, on the other hand, seek independence and pursue personal goals above the goals of society. As such, China can be described as a collectivist society, while most Americans are individualistic.

Traditional Chinese cultural values harmony, benevolence, righteousness, courtesy, wisdom, honesty, loyalty, and filial piety. The concept of harmony is the most important Chinese traditional value. This has been unchanged for thousands of years in spite of the influence from outside cultures and numerous invasions.

What does American culture value?

The Declaration of Independence states that “all [people] are created equal,” and this belief is deeply embedded in America’s cultural values. Americans believe that all people are of equal standing. That means the most important thing to understand about U.S. culture would be individualism. Americans are trained from childhood to become separate individuals responsible for their actions and the consequences of those actions. That individualism also helps explains why someone like Donald Trump is doing everything he can to destroy the country he now leads. With Trump, everything is about him.

The BBC reports, “Nonviolent protests are twice as likely to succeed as armed conflicts – and those engaging a threshold of 3.5% of the population have never failed to bring about change.”

Recently, I had an e-mail conversation with another American that said she’s spent some time in China more than a decade ago. It really bothered her that the Muslim Uyghurs in the Northwest province of Xinjiang did not have the freedom to protest and cause problems. The total population of Uyghurs in China is 11,303,155, and that is less than one percent of China’s population. In addition, the Uyghur’s engagement with China has been violent since the 1960s. The odds are against the Uyghurs.

What my internet friend did not take into account was the fact that the Chinese are not Americans. Her judgment was based on the culture she grew up in.

Maybe that internet friend filled with condemnation for China should take this advice: “When in Rome, Do as the Romans Do.”  This phrase refers to the importance of adapting yourself to the customs of another country instead of imposing your values on them.  In fact, all of her energy should be focused on saving her own country from destruction.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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2020 is the Year of the Rat

February 5, 2020

China’s Lunar New Year officially started several days ago on January 24th and ended yesterday on February 4, 2020.

Webexhibs.org reports, “The beginnings of the Chinese calendar can be traced back to the 14th century B.C.E. Legend has it that the Emperor Huangdi invented the calendar in 2637 B.C.E. The Chinese calendar is based on exact astronomical observations of the longitude of the sun and the phases of the moon.”

But centuries passed before the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD) modernized the calendar and made it official. The first lunar calendar used 10 months with 36 days each, as calculated through observation of the night sky. “It didn’t take long, however, for them to make the switch to a lunisolar 12-month calendar – a system they stuck to ever since.” – Military Time Chart.com

The Han Dynasty was one of the longest of China’s major dynasties. In terms of power and prestige, the Han Dynasty in the East rivaled its almost contemporary Roman Empire in the West.

SupChina.com says, “One of the greatest joys of celebrating the new lunar year is the feast on the eve of the holiday. In Chinese culture specifically, superstitions intertwine with food to bring about special dishes intended to bring good luck. Auspicious meanings are represented by a food’s appearance or pronunciation, and common homophones include words for prosperity, success, and family togetherness. …

“A whole fish is a staple for New Year celebrations in China and is intended to welcome prosperity for the entire year. …

“Dumplings represent wealth because of their close appearance to Chinese gold ingots, which are oval, boat-shaped hunks of gold used as currency in imperial China. …

“A whole chicken is usually served to represent family togetherness. …

“Spring rolls … are also a traditional food of the Lunar New Year. … Like dumplings, spring roll filling can be made based on personal preference. …

“Exceptionally long noodles … represent a long, long life. It’s customary to slurp down the noodle without chewing so that the strands aren’t severed. …

“The star dessert is glutinous rice cake … the word for cake sounds like the word for ‘tall,’ or ‘to grow,’ so eating glutinous rice on Lunar New Year symbolizes growth, whether it be in career, income, health, or even height. …

“Following the circular concept, certain round fruits are eaten during Lunar New Year to encourage family unity. Oranges and tangerines are especially popular because their golden color is believed to attract wealth … ”


But this year, the BBC reports that Beijing has canceled Chinese New Year celebrations in some provinces to control the spread of the dangerous new coronavirus.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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Say Hello to “The Farewell”

September 4, 2019

If you marry someone that grew up in China, the odds favor that you will also be married to a Chinese family. When I married Anchee in 1999, I got a lot more than a wife. In China, I also was accepted by her family, her friends, and I started to learn about the country of her birth, its long history, and its culture, and I haven’t stopped learning. The only thing I haven’t learned is Mandarin, a tonal language where what sounds like one word can be four words depending on the tone. I’m not tone deaf. I enjoy listening to music, but I cannot tell the difference between the sounds needed to pronounce four different words that sound like they are one word.

I saw “The Farewell” alone on a Monday morning in an almost empty theater with two other people that sat higher up in what I call the bleachers. The film offered more than the drama of a Chinese family that discovers their beloved grandmother in China has a short time to live. Throughout the film, the Chinese family and their friends, and even the Japanese bride hide the doctor’s verdict from the grandmother.

To keep this secret, her two sons that haven’t been to China with their families for twenty-five years, use the excuse of a sudden engagement to bring family and friends together for this unexpected wedding before grandmother dies. One son lives in the United States, and his brother lives in Japan where his son has a Japanese girlfriend, the bride to be.

The lead character is Billi. She was six when her mother and father moved to the United States. When we first meet Billi, she is in her twenties and living alone in a postage-stamp-sized apartment in New York City.  She can’t pay her rent, won’t ask her parents for financial help, and doesn’t want to move back home.

Billi played by Awkwafina, an actor that was born in New York City in 1988 as Nora Lum, grew up Chinese in the United States helping her understand the differences between the two cultures.

What I think made this film worth watching was witnessing Billi’s American individualism in conflict with China’s collective culture, until she remembers or learns, when in China, do as the Chinese do.  By the way, the grandmother lives in an older building. Many residential buildings in China’s cities are newer looking and more modern than what I saw in this film unless the story took place before the 21st century.

Too bad, so many Americans are not interested in learning about other cultures. “The Farewell” opened July 12, 2019, and its total domestic lifetime gross to date is about $12.8 million. More Americans should see films like this one instead of cartoons like “Monsters, Inc.” that grossed almost $600 million.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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The Life of Dogs in China

July 3, 2019

Thought Co says, “Dogs are known the world over as man’s best friend. But in China, dogs are also eaten as food.”

While it is true that dogs are still food for some, most Chinese do not eat dog meat. In fact, ltl-school reveals, “the simple fact is most Chinese adore dogs just like many western households do. The practice of eating dog meat in China is actually much less common than most expats think. …  One thing we can say for sure, eating dog is NOT common practice in China and Chinese restaurantstofu and pretty much anything else is much more common.”

I’m a vegan and visited China several times starting in 1999 and my last trip was in 2008. Not once did I see dog meat offered on any menu, and I also did not see dogs in cages in the farmers’ markets I visited. I saw ducks and chickens in cages waiting to be bought and slaughtered, but there were no dogs or cats.

In fact, China is more vegan and vegetarian-friendly than in the United States.

GBTimes reports China’s love-hate history with dogs. “China began domesticating dogs thousands of years ago, producing many of the breeds that remain popular today. Over the centuries, however, the Chinese have also developed a complicated love-hate relationship with its canine population.” …

“In ancient China, the dog was one of the most honoured and cherished animals.”

Then during Mao’s Cultural Revolution, “Dogs were seen as a symbol of the bourgeois, therefore they were involved in the class struggle,” Marina Shafir explained. “There was a mass extirpation of dogs, and many of the original Chinese dog breeds almost became extinct.”

Then once Mao died along with his Cultural Revolution, dogs made a comeback, not as food but as an honored and cherished family member.

What is it like owning a dog in China today?

The Culture Trip answers that question. “Walk down any street in Shanghai or Beijing and you’re sure to see little brown poodles dressed more extravagantly than their owners, schnauzers with impressive beards, and shiba inus that look like they’ve been ripped straight from a meme. Little old ladies are more likely to be seen with a dog buggy than a baby buggy, and Uncle Ma is able to impress his friends with his samoyed, as if it were a Bulgari watch.” … “Dog ownership is on the rise. There are an estimated 100 million registered dogs in China, with the real number being likely even higher.”

In addition, the BBC reveals that Taiwan has banned the selling and eating of cats and dogs and that in mainland China, “The practice of eating cats and dogs has become less common as pet ownership rises, and new generations have different attitudes to eating domestic animals.”

If you are a hardcore meat eater, hate vegetables and tofu, and want to try out dog, “Each year in June, the city of Yulin in southern China hosts a dog meat festival, where live dogs and cats are sold specifically for eating and an estimated 10,000 are slaughtered for their meat,” but you better hurry because in 2016 there were large protests against this festival throughout China.

However, if eating dog and cat ends in China, never fear, because there is a better country to visit if you want to chow down on dog. South Korea, according to the BBC, has an estimated 17,000 dog farms, and then there is Thailand and Vietnam.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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Will China rebuild its cities so they become people friendly?

June 12, 2019

Most cities were built to be friendly to cars and not people, but there is a growing movement to change that. The April 2019 issue of National Geographic Magazine (NGM) published “To build the cities of the future, we must get out of our cars

Countries across the world, including the United States and China, or starting to build and/or rebuild cities to turn them people friendly.

The first page of the 20-minute read NGM piece started with, “SHANGHAI, CHINA Near the center of this city of 24 million, China’s largest, the Yanan expressway crosses under the North-South Expressway. The country has gained half a billion city dwellers since 1990—and nearly 190 million cars. ‘It’s truly almost incomprehensible what happened in China,’ says American urban designer Peter Calthorpe, who has worked there extensively. With nearly 300 million more people expected in cities by 2030, Chinese planners say they’re changing course, prioritizing walkable streets and public transit over cars. …

Chinese planners say they’re changing course, prioritizing walkable streets and public transit over cars.

“The key test may come in Xiongan, a 680-square-mile stretch of swampy land, including a heavily polluted lake, about 65 miles southwest of Beijing. In April 2017 President Xi Jinping announced, again to general surprise, that he wanted to build a new city there. Ultimately it could house five million people and relieve congestion and pollution in Beijing.”

The guide for building these people-friendly cities is the Emerald Cities Rule book, and China is in the best position to build these cities.

“Emerald Cities: Planning for Smart and Green China,” published in 2017 lays out green building and sustainability practices for low-carbon city planning and construction in China and abroad. Emerald Cities proposes 10 principles to help set a new development direction for Chinese cities: from urban growth boundaries and transit-oriented development, to small blocks with accessible public space and car control, to green buildings and sustainable infrastructure at constructive detailed planning and community levels. The 10 principles aim to establish green, healthy and economic vibrant cities, while solving pollution and livability challenges faced by China’s cities. Emerald Cities was jointly published by China Sustainable Transportation Center and Glumac with support from Energy Foundation and Energy Innovation.”

What do U.S. President Donald Trump and his administration want to build? Trump wants to build a wall that will divide people and promote hate and segregation while he holds rallies across the U.S. promoting hate and segregation.

However, the U.S. also has the possibility offered by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal that is similar to what Xi Jinping wants to do in China, so there is still hope for America to join China in making the world people friendly instead of focused on hate, segregation, and greed.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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China’s Respect for the Wisdom of Judaism

May 29, 2019

In most of East Asia, the perception of Jews as expert moneymakers does not have the religion-based antagonism that often accompanies the same stereotype elsewhere in the world. While both Christians and Muslims have persecuted Jews for religious reasons, China hasn’t done this.

In fact, South Korea and China respect what may be learned from the wisdom of Judaism.

“Close to 50 million people live in South Korea, and everyone learns about the Gemara (the Essence of the Talmud). ‘We tried to understand why the Jews are geniuses, and we came to the conclusion that it is because they study Talmud,’ said the Korean ambassador to Israel,” says Muqata

“In my country we also focus on family values.” The South Korean Ambassador continued. “The (Jewish) respect for adults, respect and appreciation for the elderly parallels the high esteem in my country for the elderly.”

Another significant issue is the respect for education. In the Jewish tradition, parents have a duty to teach their children and devote a lot of energy and attention to it.

For South Korean parents, their children’s education is also a top priority. How valuable is education to Jewish tradition? “Maimonides (1135 – 1204 C.E.) in his great code of Jewish law has an entire section devoted to teaching, teachers, students, and the concept of knowledge and education. The basic value is that teachers are to be respected and given honor.

“One should rise before one’s teacher, speak respectfully to one’s teacher, and treat one’s teacher with greater probity than even one’s parent.” The Talmud teaches. “Parents bring a child into this world but a teacher can bring a child into the World to Come” into a world of spirit, creativity, ideas and self-worth and ultimate immortality.

These ancient Jewish values have also found a home in China. Newsweek reported, “The apparent affection for Jewishness has led to a surprising trend in publishing over the last few years: books purporting to reveal the business secrets of the Talmud that capitalize on the widespread impression among Chinese that attributes of Judaism lead to success in the financial arts.”

Newsweek said, “Titles such as Crack the Talmud: 101 Jewish Business Rules, The Illustrated Jewish Wisdom Book, and Know All of the Money-Making Stories of the Talmud share the shelves with stories of Warren Buffet and Bill Gates.”

“The admiration for Judaism stems from a history that goes beyond business.” Newsweek continued. “About half of the dozen or so Westerners active in Mao Zedong’s China (1949 – 1976) were Jewish, and that also led to increased interest in Jewish culture among Chinese intellectuals,” said Xu Xin, professor of Jewish studies at Nanjing University.

Jewish Learning says, the “Although Talmud is largely about law, it should not be confused with either codes of law or with a commentary on the legal sections of the Torah . Due to its spare and laconic style, the Talmud is studied, not read.”

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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