The Wonders of Chinese Culture
In order to celebrate Chinese New Year, The National Museum of Scotland hosted a family-friendly weekend of activities and traditional celebrations on the 17th and 18th February, showing visitors Chinese traditional cultures which ranged from the bamboo flute to Chinese Go.
Chinese culture is one of the oldest cultures in the world and dates back thousands of years. It is also thought of as the dominant culture of Eastern Asia. So, what makes it stand out from the others? And what are the main differences between Eastern and Western culture? One of the main characteristics of Western Asia is that they incorporate myth and legend into their traditional culture and customs, much like in Scottish mythology.
Many participants brought their children to the event and commented on how meaningful and interesting they found the activities.
The museum’s learning officer Rachel Drury said: “We not only give a warm welcome to Chinese New Year but are also educating visitors on Chinese traditional culture. People can learn more about China from this event, and it is a good way to learn through entertainment, especially for children.”
The following Chinese folk tales have been cherished for generations, so as to share their culture with the world.
The Bamboo Flute
In China, bamboo is not only a panda’s favourite food but also the material used to make a traditional wind instrument called the DIZI (flute). The DIZI is an important Chinese musical instrument and is widely used in many genres of Chinese folk music, Chinese opera, and the modern Chinese orchestra.
This is a traditional Chinese story of the Dizi. A handsome young Miao man, who was known for his ability to play beautiful melodic music with pieces of bamboo leaves, was adored by many girls. Unlike the others, one girl refused to accompany the young man’s music in order to be noticed by him. She told him that to play music with bamboo leaves did not impress her and that she would accompany him if could play a piece of music with a bamboo pole. After a long time of thinking, the young man picked up a straight piece of bamboo, made a few holes in it, and blew through the top. It made such a beautiful noise that the girl decided that she had to accompany the wonderful music from the bamboo flute. Through the words of her song, the young man realised how much the girl cared for him and fell madly in love with her.
Chinese calligraphy is a traditional way of writing in China, and is a unique form of artistic expression through Chinese symbols. Wang Xizhi is known as the greatest Chinese calligrapher of all time. It was said that Wang was the official calligrapher of Spring Festival couplets which he made every Chinese New Year eve. Couplets are two red rectangular bits of paper which are attached to the front door of Chinese homes during Chinese New Year and are said to bring happiness and hope for the coming year. Examples of Wang’s calligraphy were so highly sought after that they were often stolen. One new year, in order to avoid his couplets being stolen, Wang wrote the words on his door of a Chinese proverb meaning misfortune which read: “Blessings never come in pairs; misfortunes never come singly.” Legend has it that on the morning of New Year’s Day, Wang changed the writing on the couplets to: “Blessing has come from today; misfortunes have gone out last night” and received great praise.
Paper cutting is the art of carving patterns on paper with scissors or a knife and is one of the oldest and most popular kinds of folk art in China. Paper cutting is most commonly seen during important events such as weddings, childbirth and Spring Festival.
Legend has it that one day, a poor flower selling orphan saw an old woman cutting paper into the shape of a flower. The paper flowers made by the lady were so eye-catching that customers travelled from all over to buy them. One day, the little girl asked the old woman to teach her how to cut the paper flowers as she did, but the old woman only let her water the fresh flowers in her secret garden and sharpen her scissors on a nearby stone. Two years later, the old woman and her garden mysteriously disappeared, and, as if by magic, the little girl found that she could cut the paper flowers by herself, even without the watchful eyes of the old lady. Ever since the exquisite workmanship of the young girl has been passed down from generation to generation.
Although tea drinking is a long-standing tradition in China, its exact origin is still unknown. Some say however that it was discovered by the Chinese Emperor Shen Nong in 2737BC, when a leaf from a shrub fell into the water the emperor was boiling.
The game of Go is considered one of the oldest board games in the world and was considered by ancient Chinese scholars as one of the four essential arts of China.
Go is believed to have been created by the ancient Chinese emperor Yao as a teaching tool for his son Danzhu who often fought with others. One day, Danzhu’s father asked him to pick up some black and white pebbles from the ground and draw lots of small squares on a board.
Emperor Yao told his son that the game was a way to fight without causing harm to himself or others. The emperor then explained to his son the rules of the game which are as follows: One player is the General and the black and white stones represent the two teams of soldiers. The players take turns placing the pebbles on the lines of the board, one at a time. The aim of the game is to capture the other team’s pebbles and whoever has the most pebbles at the end wins.
During the game, Danzhu found that his black soldiers were always destroyed by the white soldiers. His father told him the reason for him losing the game was because he was not thinking clearly. The game was very special for the emperor because it would teach his son that he would never win a war without a clever strategy.