The First Cinderella was Chinese

August 7, 2012

Since I wrote about rural children living alone yesterday, I thought I’d write about a fairy tale today and let you know that the first known literary version of Cinderella in the world was published in China.

There is a myth that an earlier version existed in Egypt around the first century. If true, since Egypt did not have printing presses then, this may have been an oral story told around camp fires.

However, in 850 AD during the Tang Dynasty, the Chinese version of Cinderella was about a girl called Yeh-hsien. Source: Tales of Faerie

Although this video claims the Chinese Cinderella had bound feet, according to Bound Feet Women, foot binding didn’t appear in China until the Sung Dynasty (960-1276 AD), more than a century after Cinderella was first published.

The French version of Cinderella wouldn’t be published by Charles Perrault until 1697 — more than eight centuries later.

Another version of Cinderella would appear in 1867 and again in 1894 in England.

In 1945, the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow would present the premiere of Sergei Prokofiev’s ballet of Cinderella.

Walt Disney wouldn’t publish a version of Cinderella until 1946, more than a thousand years after Cinderella first appeared in China.

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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Note: This edited post first appeared December 23, 2010

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Ancient Feminism in China

February 6, 2012

Britannica Concise Encyclopedia says Feminism is a social movement that seeks equal rights for women.

The dates the Britannica throws out are the Enlightenment, a European intellectual movement of the 17th and 18th centuries and the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention, which called for full legal equality with men.

Merriam-Webster’s definition is “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes” and “organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests.”

In fact, for centuries, Western women had been treated as chattel—the property of men.

After watching the video and reading the entry in Britannica and the definition in Merriam-Webster, it’s obvious that feminism was alive and well in China more than a thousand years ago during the Tang Dynasty.

In fact, Emperor Wu Zetian (625 to 705 AD) was a very early feminist that ruled the Tang Dynasty as an emperor and was China’s only woman emperor.

The Tang Dynasty was a time of relative freedom for women. Women did not bind their feet (for a few more centuries) or lead submissive lives. It was a time in which a number of exceptional women contributed in the areas of culture and politics. Source: Women in World History

Wu Zetian demanded the right of an emperor and kept male concubines. She also challenged Confucian beliefs against rule by women and started a campaign to elevate the position of women.

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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Note: This post first appeared on November 08, 2010


Tea for Emperors and Tibet – Part 1/5

January 17, 2012

My weekend cup of Numi Organic Pu’erh tea reaches back into China and Tibet’s history almost two thousand years. The journey this tea takes starts in China’s Southwest Yunnan province along the border of Laos and Vietnam.

There are several varieties of tea — white, black, scented and green to name a few.

The mountainous region of southwest China in Yunnan Province produces a special tea called “Puer”.

The custom with “Puer” is to pick new tea and drink old tea. This refers to a practice unique for “Puer” tea of aging the tea in storage to obtain the unique flavor.

In addition, modern science has recognized “Puer” for its health benefits beyond black tea.


Chinese Puer tea – Part 1/3

In 225 A.D., when China was divided into the three kingdoms of Wei, Shu, and Wu, the prime minister of Shu led a military expedition to Yunnan.

Historical records say that many of the Shu troops came down with eye diseases. After they drank the boiled tea, it is believed that the troops were cured.

The leaves came from a tea tree in Yunnan. Over time, tea drinking for health benefits became a tradition in other areas of China including Tibet.

There is an old saying in Tibet. “Better three days without food than a day without tea.” Historical records show that Tibetans started drinking tea during the Tang Dynasty (618-906 AD) in 641.

Tibet does not grow tea trees, so the famous Tea Horse Road from Tibet to Yunnan was opened. Over the centuries, tens of thousands of horses were traded with China for tea.

In the early 19th century, Emperor Daoguang named “Puer” tea as a “Divine Tribute to the Kingdom of Heaven”.

Continued on January 18, 2012 in Tea for Emperors and Tibet – Part 2

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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Note: This five-part series of posts on “Tea for Emperors and Tibet” first appeared May 2010, as The Magic of “Puer” Tea, The Tea Horse Road, and Kambucha Fermented Tea.


Xi’an (Chang’ an) – China’s Ancient Capital – Part 4/5

October 24, 2011

Although Christianity and Islam were both introduced to China during the Tang Dynasty, Buddhism had deeper roots in the culture since it first arrived in China from India about 200 BC.

Christianity arrived in China in 635 AD (more than eight centuries after Buddhism and only a decade before Islam), when a Nestorian monk named Aluoben entered the ancient capital city of Tang Chang’ an.

Then in 629 AD, the Buddhist monk Xuanzang left Chang’ an against the emperor’s orders to travel the world in search of enlightenment. He went west toward India along the Silk Road with a goal to find original Buddhist scriptures.  He traveled 10,000 miles over three of the highest mountain ranges in Asia and was gone 16 years.

When Xuanzang returned in 645 AD, he had 1,300 scrolls of Buddhist Sutras, and requested the building of a pagoda, which became the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda—nearly 65 meters tall (more than 213 feet).  It was made of rammed earth, and the pagoda would collapse more than once and be rebuilt.  No one knows exactly how the Tang Dynasty engineers managed to build a structure that tall of rammed earth.

Neville Gishford‘s Discovery Channel documentary, China’s Most Honourable City, reveals the answer to a mystery when a hidden crypt beneath the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda is discovered using ground based radar. When The Tang Dynasty collapsed due to rebellion, the city was destroyed, but the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda was left untouched.

Gishford reveals that even though Tang Chang’ an was destroyed, the city was copied throughout Asia and one city in Japan, Kyoto (formally the imperial capital of Japan – 794 to 1869 AD), was a scaled replica of Tang Chang’ an.

In fact, in 1974, the modern city of Xi’an and Kyoto formally established a sister-city relationship.

However, this was not the end of Chang’ an (Xi’an). It would be rebuilt a third time.  In 1368, nearly five hundred years after the fall of the Tang Dynasty, the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1643 AD) would rebuild the Great Wall in addition to Xi’an as a defense against the Mongols that had conquered and ruled China during the  Yuan Dynasty (1277 – 1367 AD).

Continued on October 21, 2011, in Xi’an (Chang’ an) – China’s Ancient Capital – Part 5 or return to Part 3

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

To subscribe to “iLook China”, sign up for an E-mail Subscription at the top right-hand side of this page and then follow directions.


Xi’an (Chang’ an) – China’s Ancient Capital – Part 3/5

October 23, 2011

From the Qin to the Tang Dynasty, 62 emperors ruled China from Chang’ an (Xi’an). The China Daily says in and around Xi’an, there are about 500 burial mounds where the remains of emperors and aristocrats rest.

The largest tombs mark the passing of Emperors Qin Shi Huangdi (259 – 210 BC), Tang Gaozong (628 – 683 AD), and his wife Empress Tang Wu Zetian (624 – 705 AD).

When we left Neville Gishford‘s documentary, China’s Most Honourable City, in Part 2, Chang’ an was the capital of the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 AD) with a population of over a million — six times the size of ancient Rome.

The Daming Palace, where the Tang Emperors ruled China, was 800 years older and nearly five times larger than Beijing’s Forbidden City. This huge palace was built in one year.

However, it wasn’t the Daming Palace that made Chang’ an (Xi’an) powerful. Long before Manhattan, Hong Kong, Paris and Dubai, Chang’ an was where the world came to shop.

Over a thousand years ago, the wealth of the West poured into China (and it is happening again) and arrived at Chang’ an over the Silk Road.

But wealth wasn’t the only thing China gained. Major religions also arrived in China at this time.

Islam was barely a century old, when Silk Road traders brought this religion to Chang’ an. In another post, A Road to the Hajj from China, I wrote, “The ancient city of Xi’an in Shaanxi province is home to about 60,000 ethnic Chinese Muslims.”

Xi’an claims it has a Muslim history going back thirteen hundred years when Islam was first introduced to China in 650 AD.

In fact, the oldest mosque in China was built in 685-762 AD in Chang’ an during the reign of Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang Dynasty.

Continued on October 20, 2011, in Xi’an (Chang’ an) – China’s Ancient Capital – Part 4 or return to Part 2

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

To subscribe to “iLook China”, sign up for an E-mail Subscription at the top right-hand side of this page and then follow directions.


Wu Zetian, China’s only Female Emperor — a “Very Early” Feminist (Viewed as Single Page)

September 21, 2011

After writing the post about Detective Dee, I decided to combine the four-part series of Emperor Wu Zetian (624 – 705 AD), who was the only woman in China’s history to be an emperor.

Her rise and reign has been criticized harshly by Confucian historians but after the 1950s has been viewed in a better light.

Emperor Zetian ranks alongside Cleopatra—the last Pharaoh of Egypt, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Queen Isabella of Spain, Queen Elizabeth I of England, Catherine the Great and Queen Victoria.

However, In 637 AD at fourteen, Zetian did not have the official status of a court concubine. She was a serving girl in the Imperial palace.

The second and third emperors of the Tang Dynasty were her husbands and seventeen of the emperors that ruled after her second husband died were her children and their children. Empress Zetian gave birth to four sons and two daughters.

After her first husband Emperor Taizong died, she became a nun in Ganye (Buddhist) Temple where she stayed for several years before being chosen at the age of twenty-seven to be a low ranking wife of Emperor Gaozong, the second Tang emperor’s son.

Historical records say Zetian was a stunning beauty and that because of this Emperor Gaozong was attracted to her, but some scholars say it was her intelligence that won him over.

One year after being married to Gaozong, Zetian outperformed the other wives and concubines to become the Empress.

After becoming Empress, she advised Gaozong on many political issues, which benefited the empire. Eventually, she earned the title of “Queen of Heaven”.

When Emperor Gaozong became seriously ill, he named Zetian to deal with the affairs of state in his name. He died in 683 AD, and Zetian’s third son Lixian became emperor.

However, a month later, Zetian, as the Empress Dowager, removed Lixian from power. Then she turned to her fourth son, but at first, he refused and then eventually accepted the title and became known as Emperor Tang Ruizong.

Zetian believed her sons were weak, so she continued to control the affairs of state as the Dowager Empress.

After Gaozong’s death, she funded the carving of the 17 meter high (almost 56 feet) Lu Shena Buddha, the largest rock carved Buddha in the Longmen Grotto.

It is believed that the Buddha’s face is modeled after Zetian, since she funded the project.

Although there are rumors and gossip that Zetian had many lovers, it is obvious from her age when Emperor Gaozong died that the stories are exaggerations encouraged by her political enemies and the imaginations of future scholars of history texts and authors of fiction, such as the Detective Dee movie.


Mandarin

After eight years of ruling the empire without officially being the Emperor, Zetian made a shocking decision. In 690 AD, she changed the Tang Dynasty into the Zhou Dynasty and declared herself an Emperor when she was age sixty-seven.

While Zetian ruled the Tang Dynasty, the economy, culture, social and political affairs prospered. She was also a talented military leader who reformed the army. After the reforms, without leaving her palace, she managed military conflicts with rival states and defeated them.

Under her leadership, the empire expanded and grew stronger.

Near her death in 704 AD, Zetian returned the throne to her third son Lixian, who became Emperor again.

Some scholars claim that she became a Buddhist for political reasons, but she had many Buddhist temples built and sculptures of Buddha made, and these projects were expensive.

However, as far as affairs of state were concerned, she did not allow her Buddhist beliefs to influence her decisions. For example, she promoted officials that earned the right through merit. There is no evidence of favoritism. In fact, officials convicted of failing in their duties to the people were punished and often beheaded.


Mandarin

She also did not rule as a tyrant. Before making decisions, she listened to all opinions on an issue. Today, historians study her ruling style, and the evidence says her political decisions were wise ones.

During the fifty years that Zetian ruled the Tang Dynasty as Dowager Empress and then as an Emperor, China’s borders expanded north, south and west and she did not lose any of the territory gained.

She understood that with the people’s support, political stability was guaranteed. When there were tragedies such as floods, the dynasty quickly offered relief so recovery was swift.

Although imperial family members of the Tang Dynasty staged revolutions, most of the rebellions were suppressed in a few months.

While Zetian ruled China, the role of women in society changed drastically and due to her, feminism existed in China more than 1,300 years ago. Women didn’t have to worry about the clothing they wore. They were free to explore the arts such as writing poetry. Women rode horses, played Chinese chess, wrote and played music and practiced archery as men did.

Even after Zetian was forced to retire at age eighty, there were officials that called for her return. The historical records show that the Tang emperors that followed her were not as wise or trusting as she was.

There is a collection of fifty-eight of Zetian’s poems. Most of her poetry was written for temple ceremonies and some for travel.

She also wrote many books and collected art. For example, Zetian edited the Book of Agriculture, which influenced agricultural development during the Tang Dynasty.

In fact, there is evidence that Zetian respected decisive men such as her Prime Minister De Renji (represented by the fictional Detective Dee in the recent epic Chinese movie), and she often talked about Li Shimin, her first husband, with respect.

After her death in 705 AD, her third son, Lixian, was removed as emperor due to a plot.

In 710 AD, Zetian’s grandson, Li Longji, defeated a rebellion that intended to take over the dynasty and returned his father to the throne. Eventually, Longji would become Emperor Tang Xuanzong, and under his rule the Dynasty prospered again.

However, when Yuanzong grew old, he neglected his duties and spent too much time with his favorite concubine. During those years, the officials became corrupt and this led to the Shi Rebellion, which his son, the next emperor, suppressed.

After that, the eunuchs gained too much power, and the next fourteen emperors from 756 to 907 AD were weak leading to the eventual collapse of the Tang Dynasty.

The historical evidence says Emperor Wu Zetian, as an ancient feminist, should have earned praise since she did a better job as Emperor than most of the men that ruled the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 AD) did.

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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 lusty love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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Ancient Chinese Inventions that Changed the World

July 24, 2011

The first Seismograph

When critics accuse the Chinese of stealing technology from the West, consider that China was the most technologically advanced nation in the world for more than two thousand years until the middle of the 19th century.

One example of China’s technological abilities was when the first seismograph was invented in 132 AD.

When Zhang Heng‘s device measured an earthquake in 134 AD, he predicted the location.

Han Ministers did not believe the scientist. Then a courier arrived and reported that an earthquake had taken place where Zhang said it did.

In 1951, Chinese scientists from China’s National Museum worked on recreating Zhang Heng’s seismograph. Since there was a limited amount of information, it took until 2007 to complete the reconstruction.

In comparison, it wasn’t until the 18th century (AD), about seventeen hundred years later, that there was any record that Western scientists even worked on developing a seismograph.

The Compass

The Chinese were the first to notice that the lodestone pointed one way, which led to the invention of the compass. The first compass was on a square slab, which had markings for the cardinal points and the constellations. The needle was a spoon-shaped device, with a handle always pointing south.

Archeologists have not been able to discover the exact time the ancient Chinese discovered magnets. However, it was first recorded in the Guanzi, a book written between 722 – 481 BC.

Later in the 8th century AD, magnetized needles would become common navigational devices on ships.

The first person given credit for using the compass in this way was Zheng He (1371 – 1435 AD), who went on the voyages made famous in a book by Louise Levathes, When China Ruled the Seas.

Since the Chinese value education above business and the military, it makes sense that Chinese invented and used devices such as the compass and the seismograph centuries before the West did.

The Compass was also considered a symbol of wisdom. About the 12th century, through trading, the technology spread to Arabia and then reached Europe.

Paper

Imagine the rise of civilization without paper.

In fact, without paper to print books that spread ideas, would men have walked on the moon?

Papermaking is one of the four significant inventions from ancient China. Almost 2,000 years ago, Chinese discovered how to make paper.

In 105 AD, Cai Lon invented a way to make paper and submitted his discovery to the Han emperor.

This method soon spread to the rest of China, and the emperor rewarded Cai Lon by making him a member of the nobility.

The basic principles of papermaking invented by Cai Lon are still in use today.

To make paper was a six-step process, and properly manufactured paper lasts for centuries.

In fact, Buddhism arrived in China about the time of the invention of paper and this helped spread Buddhist ideas, which contributed to the spread of civilization.

By the 12th century, more than a thousand years later, the paper making process reached Europe, which may have contributed to the Renaissance of the 12th century and what followed.

The Printing Press

Six hundred years after paper was invented, the Chinese invented printing and the first printed books were Buddhist scripture during the Tang Dynasty (618 – 906 AD). The most basic printing techniques are older. Engraving came later and the carving, printing technique originated during the Tang Dynasty.

When we talk about paper and printing, we are talking about collecting knowledge, preserving and sharing it.

In fact, Ancient Chinese culture was preserved due to the invention of paper and these printing methods, which wouldn’t reach Europe until after 1300 AD, centuries later.

Once there were mass produced paper books being printed to share Buddhist ideas, the religion spread through China into Korea and Japan. The same happened in the West with the Gutenberg Bible and the spread of Christianity in the 1450s.

In China, for a thousand years, printing techniques improved until there were multi-colored printings.

Then during the Sung Dynasty (960 -1276 AD), the printing board was invented, which used clay characters. One character was carved into a small block of clay. Then the clay was put in a kiln to heat into a solid block. This method was efficient for printing thousands of sheets. These blocks would be placed together to create sentences and paragraphs of Chinese characters.

Later, the characters were carved into wood and over time, printing developed into an art.

Without the Chinese invention of printing, Christianity, Islam and Buddhism may not have spread to the extent that they have.

Gunpowder

Sulfur is the main ingredient for gunpowder, which was first developed during the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 AD).

During the Northern Sung Dynasty, in 1044 AD, the book “Essentials of Military Art” published several formulas for gunpowder production.

It is ironic that the Sung Dynasty (960 – 1276 AD) used a Tang Dynasty invention to defeat them.

Several ingredients for gunpowder were in wide use for medicinal purposes during the Spring and Autumn Period of China’s history (722 – 481 BC).

According to the famous book “Records of History”, Chang Sangjun shared secret prescriptions with Pien Ch’iao (around 500 BC), who promised not to give the secret away, and then he became famous as a doctor of Chinese medicine.

In fact, gunpowder was discovered by accident.

While mixing ingredients to find an elixir for immortality, Chinese scientists stumbled on the formula.

Fireworks and rockets were invented but were first used to scare away evil spirits.

The irony is that gunpowder, which has killed millions when used as weapons, was discovered during the search for immortality.

One theory says that the knowledge of gunpowder came to Europe along the Silk Road around the beginning of the 13th century, hundreds of years after being discovered in China.

It is also ironic, that Britain and France used advanced gunpowder weapons to defeat China during the 19th century during the Opium Wars.

Note: There were more inventions than this short list shows. If you read the comments for this post, you will discover a few more.

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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 lusty love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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