Friday, June 22, 2012

Hungry Ghost Festival

China Blog Daily has an enticing article urging us to visit China in July for the Hungry Ghost Festival. The Chinese have the most fabulous, lyrical names for their festivals. Who could resist the Blue Dragon Festival, or the Clear and Bright Festival? The names alone promise great things.

According to the article (linked below), "Chinese traditionalists believe that this is a Ghost Month where the gates of hell are opened. Activities to keep the evil away include shouting, screaming, and whistling. It is also very important to stay away from water, it is believed that souls of the damned lie in the water waiting to pull you under. Halfway through the Ghost Month, large parties are thrown to please the spirits."

So, if you feel the need to shout, scream, or whistle in July you can attribute it to your desire to keep evil away. Also, the Chinese may be onto something in their warnings to stay away from water, at least in July. Though we on the Gulf Coast have lots of beautiful shoreline to tempt us in to water, it might not hurt to rethink that, especially given the often dangerous rip currents.

- Peggy

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

What Was Your Favorite Thing About China?

I get asked this question a lot, and if we're talking about the favorite thing I saw, my answer is the Terra Cotta Warriors. I had seen a traveling exhibit of the warriors in Birmingham some years ago, so I was familiar with them before my trip to China. Maybe that laid the groundwork for my fascination with the warriors. I've mentioned in a previous post that the scale of the excavation site in Xi'an is staggering. Seeing what an enormous undertaking the project is and will be for years to come makes quite an impression. Reflecting on the manpower, labor and craft that went into creating the army, it's hard to come up with anything of a similar nature, except maybe...the Great Wall. As our traveling companion Jason said "Texas ain't got nothin' on China." They go BIG in China.

Paige has kindly lent me her June issue of National Geographic which has an article about the warriors, as well as the rather hefty book she purchased at the site's gift shop and hauled back to the States. After perusing them, I offer these highlights for your consideration.

Emperor Qin (China's first emperor to unify China under a single dynasty, ruled from 221-210, and gave the source for the English name for the country -- Qin is pronounced "Chin," hence "China") believed that life underground after death was a continuation of life on earth. Therefore he wanted those things he valued most to be buried with him in his mausoleum. Construction of Qin's mausoleum took 38 years. He ordered exact replicas of his army to be installed in the mausoleum, placing the artists who created them under the threat of death if any two warriors were found to be alike.

Believing it to prolong life, Emperor Qin drank mercury. We now know it will make you crazy or kill you, or both. Qin's grave, as yet unexcavated, is reported to be surrounded by a river of mercury.

Mass graves have been unearthed in a village southwest of the mausoleum containing over a hundred human skeletons. Evidence suggests that some of them were buried alive. These are thought to be the remains of laborers killed during or after the construction.

Emperor Qin died at the relatively young age of 50. Upon his death, his son and successor ordered all of Qin's wives who had no children into the grave with their Emperor. I was going to get on my feminist platform and say that China was not a good place for a woman during this time, but really China was not a good place for anyone other than the emperor during this time.

In 1985 when a Chinese worker stole a warrior's head from the excavation site, he was executed.
Despite the cruel conditions under which the Terra Cotta warriors were created, their beauty and finely detailed execution are undeniable.

- Peggy

Monday, June 18, 2012

China Launches 1st Female Astronaut

Five hundred years after Wan Hu (China's first "astronaut" -- see earlier post), China launched its first female astronaut on Saturday. Liu Yang follows in the footsteps of Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, who was the first woman in space 49 years ago. The term "taikonaut" is frequently used to describe Chinese space travelers. It is a combination of the Chinese word "taikong" ("space"), and the Greek word "naut" ("sailor").

Link to the article about Liu Yang's mission:

Link to infographic about women in space:


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Starting a Conversation that Spans 10,000 Miles

I love The Chronicle of Higher Education. I always find things relevant to my classes, work, and now increasingly China. I found this article about Jinghua Liu, an international student at Penn State who has created a web site that allows Chinese and American students to ask each other questions.

The question/answer website is USA-China PhotoQuestion Exchange Project. Some of the questions are funny, like "Is your Chinese food WAY better than American Chinese food?" (-- um, yes. I can say that it is) or "Why do the Chinese like Lady Gaga?", but there are also serious ones like "What do you Americans think of Hu Jintao?"

Great learning tool. Check it out.


Monday, June 11, 2012

Ming Dynasty Astronaut

In another instance of serendipity, today while I was observing a summer camp class on rocketry, to help illustrate her point instructor Jenny Parker of Davidson High School showed an episode of Mythbusters entitled "Ming Dynasty Astronaut." Now it seems everywhere I go China connections pop up. Maybe they were always there or maybe I'm just more aware of them since our trip to China.

In the 16th century, Wan Hu, a Chinese official, tried to launch himself into the air on a chair using 47 rockets lit simultaneously by assistants. It didn't work, in fact it was disasterous, but he did get a crater on the moon named after him. Wan Hu is the first attempted astronaut recorded in history.

I wasn't able to find a free video of the Mythbusters episode where the legend is recreated, but you can learn more about Wan Hu here:

Illustration courtesy of Civil Air Patrol portraying Wan Hu

Saturday, June 9, 2012


798 Art District (the Greenwich Village or Soho of Beijing) was one of the areas I would have liked to have had more time to explore, especially the galleries. It is located in an old, decommissioned complex of military factories in Beijing. There were numerous cafes, shops, and art galleries. I found many of the sculptures, statues, and signs intriguing, often humorous and therefore photo-worthy. ~Paige

Friday, June 8, 2012

Advising the Dream of Studying Abroad

This program aired on CCTV when we were in China. I caught a good bit of it and watched the rest when I returned. It's a 26 minute interview with Henry Chang, President of CEDCA Educational Consulting. The company assists Chinese students aged 10-18 who wish to study abroad. It's an interesting interview and worth watching considering that China is now the number one foreign country sending students to the U.S.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

100,000 Strong Initiative

For those of you who have been inspired to study in China, a good place to start collecting information is the "100,000 Strong Initiative." The mission of the initiative is as follows:

"Citing the strategic importance of the U.S.-China relationship, in November 2009, President Barack Obama announced the “100,000 Strong” initiative, a national effort designed to increase dramatically the number and diversify the composition of American students studying in China. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton officially launched the initiative in May 2010 in Beijing. The Chinese government strongly supports the initiative and has already committed 10,000 “Bridge Scholarships” for American students to study in China.

This initiative seeks to prepare the next generation of American experts on China who will be charged with managing the growing political, economic and cultural ties between the United States and China. The initiative also seeks to develop specific opportunities and funding sources for underrepresented students to study in China."

Opportunities exist for high school students, undergraduate, graduates and doctoral-level students to study in China. You may have to do a bit of digging around, but the 100,000 Strong web site also gives other resources to investigate. For college students, definitely visit your International Studies Office for more information. I would love for some of you to be able to experience China...and I look forward to reading your blogs!


Monday, June 4, 2012

What do China and the Banjo have in common?

I know it sounds like the start of a bad joke, but stay with me. I was searching NPR for the link to a story I heard this afternoon about Chinese students attending high school in send to my dean, when I ran across "What do China and the Banjo Have in Common?" It sounded quirky, so I opened the video and watched. It blew me away, and yes, it's sappy, but I teared up when the artist spoke the lyrics to the first song in English. She echos my sentiments. It's ten minutes. Watch it.

Oh, and I did find the original piece I was searching for -- also worth a listen:


Shanghai is Sinking

 Our tour guide in Shanghai, Chris, told us that the city is sinking. I made a note of this and on researching it found a good article from ABC which appeared last summer. The collapsing water table is to blame. At one point the city was sinking at a rate of 4 inches per year. Here's a link to the ABC article if you're interested:

The story mentions the Huangpu river and the Bund, which we have previously posted about. I said that the area reminded me somewhat of the New Orleans River Walk. We saw lots of Chinese tourists there taking pictures and enjoying the skyline. Shanghai has been called the "oriental Paris," and today is the financial capital of China. While Bejing spreads out and out and out, Shanghai goes up and up with numerous skyscrapers and more on the way, as the construction boom attests.

The "oriental pearl" television tower has come to symbolize Shanghai (you see it on lots of postcards) and is the 3rd largest tv tower in the world.  Alice said that it was comparable to the Statue of Liberty in New York City which explains the long lines of tourists waiting for their turn to get an elevator up the the observation level -- that, and it has a great view. For more information, visit:

Saturday, June 2, 2012

More Flora & Fauna

In many of the places we visited the trees had metal tags on them, which I thought simply identified their species. As the tags were inscribed in Chinese I couldn't tell anything to the contrary. However, in Beijing, our guide Michael, enlightened me that green labels on trees denoted an age of 100-300 years. A red label indicated that a tree was 300-500 years old! According to Michael there were 45,000 such tagged trees in Beijing alone. Unfortunately I did not get the breakdown of how many of the 45,000 were green labels and how many were red. However, the fact that there were so MANY old trees existing in such an urban area as Beijing (remember 17-20  million people) was amazing.

Beijing has two flowers to represent it. Chrysanthemums are for cold weather and roses are for warm. Since we visited in May we were treated to a dazzling display of roses, the likes of which I have never seen. Down every highway median and on the walls lining either lane of traffic roses bloomed for miles and miles. Beijing has six "ring roads" which circle the city and it seemed like there were roses on all of the rings. I can't imagine the amount of money that was spent on growing and planting the flowers, but I did on numerous occasions see workers tending them (as opposed to Shanghai where I never saw anyone tending the various plants and blossoms, although they were obviously well cared for). The blooms were quite large in rich colors of red, pink, salmon, yellow, tangerine, and white. The roses were absolutely glorious and they made being stuck in traffic almost enjoyable.

Paige stops to smell the roses.
One final related tidbit -- at the Olympic Park in Beijing we were tickled to see a sign on the grass that read: "Tender fragrant grass, how hard-hearted to trample them."

This picture taken by Beverly West Leach