The Lovers Who Wanted to Save China’s Past

March 22, 2017

Smithsonian Magazine ran a piece on The Lovers of Shanxi. Lin Huiyn and Liang Sicheng are known today as the couple that wanted to save China’s ancient architectural treasures before they were lost forever. On the eve of World War II and Japan’s invasion of China, this married couple set out in the 1930s to search China and document the country’s architectural history.

Smithsonian said, “The couple would go on to make a string of extraordinary discoveries in the 1930s, documenting almost 2,000 exquisitely carved temples, pagodas and monasteries that were on the verge of being lost forever.”

Liang Sicheng is recognized as the “Father of Modern Chinese Architecture”. Princeton University, awarded him an honorary doctoral degree in 1947, and wrote “a creative architect who has also been a teacher of architectural history, a pioneer in historical research and exploration in Chinese architecture and planning, and a leader in the restoration and preservation of the priceless monuments of his country.”

His wife was the first female architect in modern China. Her passion was the restoration of China’s cultural heritage sites.  She died in 1955 of tuberculosis, and soon after her death, her husband was denounced during Mao’s Cultural Revolution, and Liang Sicheng died in 1972 before the Cultural Revolution ended. During the years after his first wife’s death, he witnessed the destruction of many of China’s architectural masterpieces.

But today, in China, this couple is remembered and honored for what they accomplished.

These two also visited one of the few surviving examples of ancient China’s architecture to see the massive four-mile-long wall built in 1370 AD that surrounds the city of Pingyao in Shanxi province. One reason this city’s ancient architecture survived the Mao era is because the city was too poor to tear everything down during the Cultural Revolution when Mao was attempting to erase history.

After Mao’s death, Deng Xiaoping reversed Mao’s policies and opened China to the world, and over the years many of the damaged buildings were rebuilt.

I can only hope that something similar will happen in the United States once the malignant narcissist Donald Trump is gone.

Today the ancient city of Pengyao is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Most buildings in the Old city are from the Ming and Qing dynasties. During the late Qing Dynasty, Pingyao was the financial center of China.

Discover Wu Zetian, China’s only female emperor

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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Eating Out in China’s Oldest Capital

February 14, 2017

In 1999, in China’s oldest capital, our hotel was in sight of Xian’s city walls.  We had a view of the ancient battlements that were several hundred years old and sinking. At night, the walls and towers were outlined with white Christmas lights.

I ached to get up there and walk on those walls that were wide enough to drive cars on.  I’d have to wait more than nine years before that happened.

To get an idea of the history of this city, it helps to know that it was the capital longer than any other city in China, and was first called Chang’an before it became known as Xian.

Several dynasties ruled China from this city:

BC 221-206 – Qin (Ch’in) Dynasty
BC 206 – 9 AD – Han Dynasty
581-618 AD – Sui Dynasty
618-906 AD – Tang Dynasty
Timeline of Chinese History and Dynasties

Beijing wouldn’t become the capital of China until 1279 AD during the Yuan Dynasty when Kublai Khan was emperor.

On our second day in Xian, we walked from the hotel and through an opening in the ancient wall into the city to a Xian restaurant. I went in first and the hostess, who didn’t speak a word of English, handed me a menu written in English.

Anchee, dressed more like a Chinese peasant than an American, walked in after me, and she was handed a menu written in Chinese. Then she glanced over my shoulder at my menu before taking it out of my hands and giving it back to the hostess.

“We’ll use the Chinese menu,” she said. Anchee grew up in China during Mao’s Cultural Revolution and didn’t leave until she was 28.

The prices in Mandarin were less than half the English version.  A stunned look appeared on the hostesses face.  It was a Candid Camera moment, and it was all I could do not to laugh.

This doesn’t mean every restaurant in China does this. In fact, most don’t. The double menu caper was probably the idea of the owner of that specific restaurant in a city known for tourism due to the Terra Cotta warriors and the tomb of China’s first Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi.

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A Brief History of New Year Celebrations

December 28, 2016

The earliest recorded festivities in honor of a new year’s arrival dates back some 4,000 years to ancient Babylon. For the Babylonians, the first new moon following the vernal equinox, a day in late March with an equal amount of sunlight and darkness, and this ushered in the beginning of a new year.

If the first recorded New Year’s celebration was in March, how did it move to January 1st?

The answer to that question may be found at History.com where we discover that Emperor Julius Cesar introduced the Julian calendar in 46 BC, and it closely resembled the more modern Gregorian calendar that most countries use today. In addition, Cesar made January 1st the first day of the year, partly to honor the month’s namesake, Janus, the Roman god of beginnings.

Therefore, if you celebrate the New Year on January 1st, you are celebrating a pagan holiday. But all is not lost. Later, after the fall of the Roman Empire, Christian leaders in medieval Europe during the Dark Ages replaced January 1st as the first day of the year with days carrying more religious significance such as December 25, the anniversary of Jesus’s birth, and that lasted until Pope Gregory XIII (AD 1502 – 1585) reestablished January 1st as New Year’s Day in 1582.


Countries that do NOT celebrate the New Year on the first of January

For China, the first day of the New Year falls between January 21 and February 20.  The Chinese New Year is celebrated at the turn of the Chinese calendar, also known as the Spring Festival.

The Chinese New Year gained significance because of several myths and traditions. History.com reports the ancient Chinese calendar, on which the Chinese New Year is based, functioned as a religious, dynastic and social guide. Oracle bones inscribed with astronomical records indicate that it existed as early as the 14th century BC, during the Shang Dynasty.

Traditionally, the festival was a time to honor deities (gods) as well as ancestors. The Chinese New Year is celebrated in countries and territories that have significant Chinese populations, including Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mauritius, and the Philippines.

In 2015, China witnessed 261 million people on the move to celebrate the Lunar New Year holiday, and they traveled by road, rail and air—all over a short period of time. The Chinese Lunar New Year for 2016 takes place on Monday, February 8, and it is a national holiday that runs from February 7 – 13. If you are curious and want to see what it looks like in China when all those people are on the road at the same time, the International Business Times has a great photo spread to scroll through.

When we visited China in 2008 during this incredibly crowded holiday for travelers, the Lunar New Year was on February 7, the Year of the Rat. In 2017 it will be the Year of the Rooster on January 28th. Each year is related to an animal sign according to a 12-year-cycle.

Back during the Year of the Rat in 2008, it was so crowded when we were traveling in China, that it felt as if we were swimming upriver through an ocean filled with people and no water.

For readers who haven’t been to China and want to visit one day, this may be your only chance to experience a taste of what it’s like to live in a country with more than 1.3 billion people. By the way, 261 million people is more than 80% of the population of the United States. Imagine the gridlock if that many Americans took to the roads and air all at the same time.

 
2015 Lunar New Year in Shanghai, China

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the unique love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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Is There a Turkey Day in China Too?

November 23, 2016

Turkey is a fowl many Chinese seldom eat. However, eating duck and chicken is common. Duck is even considered a delicacy. In fact, the Unvegan says, “No trip to Beijing is complete without eating some Peking Duck.”

The Virtual Tourist says, “It is thought that Beijing roast duck, like the tradition of roast turkey in America and the UK, owes its origin to the roast goose that is still popular in Europe on festive occasions.”

Most Americans do not celebrate the Chinese New Year (the Spring Festival) and most Chinese do not celebrate Thanksgiving. After all, Thanksgiving is an American holiday that Canadians also celebrate, but on the second Monday in October.


Thanksgiving in Beijing with Peking Duck

CBS News.com reported, “America is the world’s biggest producer and exporter of turkeys. As a nation we’re also the largest consumers of turkey …” and “China is the second-largest market for U.S. turkey exports, reportedly buying more than $70.5 million in turkey meat in 2012.”

If you are visiting China during Thanksgiving, you have a choice between Peking Duck, which is easy to find, and turkey.

Go China says, “Just head to your local international grocery store (Jenny Lu’s in Beijing, Cityshop in Shanghai) and stock up on all the fixings: frozen Butterball turkeys, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie makings. But you better do it fast, there tends to be a run on these items so if you’re shopping on the last Thursday in November, you’ll be out of luck.”

In fact, if you are visiting Shanghai, the Shanghai City Guide is there to help you find where to buy your favorite food. There are even three Walmarts in Shanghai, and Time Out Beijing provides a list for China’s capital city.

Discover Wu Zetian, China’s only female emperor

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the unique love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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The Caverns of Southeast China

November 15, 2016

National Geographic reports on the Empire or Rock and says, “Beneath southern China’s cone-shaped peaks, arches, and spires lie some of the largest caverns in the world.


China’s Miao Cave

Back in 2008, after checking into a Guilin hotel in Southeast China, we hired a taxi and visited Reed Flute Cave (Ludi Cave) in Northwest Guilin.

Reed Flute Cave was named during the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 AD) due to reeds (Ludi Cao) growing near the cave’s entrance  still used to make flutes.

There are historical stone ink inscriptions inside the cave dated to 792 AD.


Lucky Turtle Photo taken by Lloyd Lofthouse

Millions have walked these paved pathways. Reed Flute Cave has been an attraction for over a thousand years, and the tour lasts about an hour.

During Times of war, the local people would hide in the cave. One grotto, the Crystal Palace of the Dragon King, has room for a thousand people.

Crown Cave and Seven-Star Cave were other underground attractions, but it was late and the next day we were on our way to cruise the Li River.

Discover Wu Zetian, China’s only female emperor

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the unique love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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Tibet by Rail but watch out for the Altitude

November 8, 2016

Many people think of Tibet as the Roof of the World. For centuries, Tibet was isolated, because it was difficult and time consuming for anyone to go there, even armies.

ChinaHighlights.com explains why. It isn’t just the distance and all those mountains. It’s the altitude. “Nearly all tourists entering Tibet experience highland altitude sickness,” China Highlights said, “For some the effect is strong, but for most it is just an inconvenience. The reaction varies from person to person, and experts cannot say who will be affected, but statistically old people are more likely to feel stronger altitude sickness than the young, the unfit/unhealthy are more likely than the fit/healthy, and males are affected more strongly than females.”

As for the distance, in 1903, the British Empire sent an army to Tibet from India to protect its interests, and it took a year for Sir Francis Younghusband’s invasion force to reach Lhasa in August 1904.

A book was written about that invasion, The British Empire & Tibet 1900-1922. Asian Affairs says, “The great value of Dr. Palace’s study is to highlight the much neglected China angle to the Tibetan issue … [this book is] helping to indicate the very important place of the Tibetan affair in the story of Western imperialism”

Today, the journey to Tibet is not as daunting.  Besides an airport, there is the train that leaves Beijing and arrives in Lhasa forty-eight hours later. The length of the rail line is 1,215 miles (1,956 km), and it was opened for travelers July 2006.

Tourists, both foreign and Chinese, take the train to Tibet to learn more about the people while others stay, changing the demographics.

The train to Tibet sometimes reaches elevations over 5,000 meters (16,404 feet).

One Western tourist, who had been to Tibet twice, said that the ethnic groups in Tibet are not mixing together. She said there was a Chinese area and another where Tibetans lived.

Makes sense. In America’s cities emigrants tend to stick close to their ethnic/cultural group. In the past, there have been Irish, Jewish, and German communities, and today there are Vietnamese, Latino or Chinatowns.

If you plan to visit Tibet and don’t want to risk the altitude sickness, China Highlights says, “Adverse reaction to altitude is usually reduced if one acclimatizes by reaching high altitude over a period of at least a few days (3 days is usually enough).”  Instead of flying to Tibet or getting there by rail or car/bus, you could do what Tom Carter did and walk.

Discover Anna May Wong, the woman that died a thousand times.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the unique love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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China’s Laowai, their sexual fantasies, and The Exact Unknown

November 2, 2016

If God really thought sex was a mortal sin, why did He give young men so much testosterone? In fact, visit the Mayo Clinic.org to discover the facts. The Mayo Clinic says, “Testosterone is a hormone produced primarily in the testicles. Testosterone helps maintain men’s sex drive and sperm production.”

In addition, HealthDoc13.com reports that from age 18 to 30 “Your sexual appetite is prodigious (huge, enormous) and sex often occupies the front burners of your mind. It requires very little stimulation to achieve an erection.”

This post is a book review. The stories in Isham Cook’s collection, The Exact Unknown, reveal men driven by the often oppressed and censured male libido. These stories are not an author’s sex fantasy as some Puritanical minds might think, because many of the characters in these stories don’t achieve their goal, charming Chinese beauties that aren’t as easy to seduce as some think.

This collection is set in modern China where women are considered equal to men and are experimenting with that freedom and their sexuality. In case you are unaware of it, bound feet women in China and concubines as the property of men — you know, legal sex slaves — was officially ended by Mao after his famous liberating ‘Women hold up half the sky’ speech.

I think the best story in this 5-star collection of testosterone driven characters was Good Teacher, Bad Teacher starting on page 103 of the paperback.  John Cobalt is from Los Angeles and he’s teaching English in Guangzhou, China to Chinese college students. “This strange six-foot-five American dressed in what struck his employers as pajamas … went barefoot both in class and out on the street. … If that wasn’t bad enough, some students complained to the department head they could make out Cobalt’s penis against the flimsy fabric of his pants, in its flaccid state to be sure, yet they considered this to be highly improper nonetheless.”

To discover how Cobalt ends up with a devout and loyal following of Chinese college graduates, who are mostly female, you’ll have to read the book.

My second best choice would be The Curious Benefits of Neurosis starting on page 130 in the paperback that’s about a sex addict who sets out one night to visit as many massage parlors as possible with some surprising results.

I must warn you that there are a few well-written stories in this collection that have nothing to do with the out-of-control libidos of foreigners hoping to exploit the women of China.

The author sent me a complementary paperback copy of this book for my honest opinion that I’m sure modern, born-again Puritans will not approve of.

Discover China’s First Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi, the man that unified China more than 2,000 years ago.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the unique love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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