Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Qixi Festival: The Legend Behind Chinese Valentine's Day

The 28th August is Chinese Valentine’s Day or the Qiqiao Festival (乞巧節), and celebrates a fairy tale from the Han Dynasty (206 BC–220 AD). Qixi Festival always falls on the seventh day of the 7th month on the Chinese calendar and is sometimes called the Double Seventh Festival, or the Magpie Festival.

The original tales tells of two lovers, Zhinü a goddess renowned for her weaving skills and Niulang, a mortal cow herder and was first told in a classic poem 2.5 k years ago. When the young Zhinü came to Earth looking for adventure she met and fell madly in love with the cow herder and they got married and had two children. However, when her mother the Goddess of heaven, found out about what her seventh daughter had done , she was angry and stole Zhinü back. The lovers were heartbroken. Niulang vowed to reunite and when an old ox from his herd revealed to him he too was once a god and if Niulang killed him he could use his hide to make magical shoes to fly to heaven.

When the Goddess of heaven discovered his plan she used her hair pin to create a river of stars that would become the Milky Way to separate the two lovers. Their cries touched the magpies and thousands formed a bridge for the couple to walk over. Eventually, Zhinü 's mother relented and agreed to let the couple meet one night out of every year on Qi Xi, (the seventh night).

Qi Xi came to symbolize true love. During the festival, girls make a display of their domestic skills and needlework and will offer fruit, flowers, tea, and face powder to Zhinü on the night of the festival. In temples, girls recite traditional prayers for dexterity in needlework and to marry a good and loving husband. Children will also pick wild flowers to hang on an ox’s horns in memory of the cow-god who sacrificed himself. In some parts of China young girls hide in pumpkins farms or beneath grapevines, hoping to hear the whispers of Niulang and Zhinü in the hope it would help them find a boyfriend. Hair washing ceremonies in early morning dew are common in the belief the dew is the tears from the separated couple.

In Taiwan, people release floating lanterns into the sky to make wishes for love. The Qi Xi festival inspired Tanabata festival in Japan and the Chilseok festival in Korea.

Amor Vincit Omnia

(Video Courtesy: Off the Great Wall by Youtube Channel)

Reviewed 28/08/2019

Monday, August 12, 2019

Foot binding: The curious and honorable history

There have been times in history when there was little difference between concubines and dancers. History tells us during the South Sung Dynasty (1127-1279AD), foot binding became an all pervasive preoccupation among the middle and upper class. The origins remain a mystery but many Western people were led to believe when the Empress Taki was born with clubfeet, her father made an edict that all high born women of China would have their feet bound. This myth was promulgated by the Christian Missionaries at the beginning of the 20th century, primarily because the truth was so unthinkable to them, as to necessitate a total fabrication. It appears Empress's father was transfixed with small feet and kept a large troupe of petite, erotic dancers, all with tiny feet. They would dance for his sensual pleasure on a floor of lotus leaves (ancient symbol of the vulva). This form of erotica became extremely popular but not all merchants could afford the upkeep of their own dance troupe. As a mark of respect all Chinese ladies of high society and merchant class had their foot bound. Foot binding was an attempt to emulate the emperor's dancers and the habit plunged hundreds of millions of Chinese men into ecstasies of sexual pleasure for a staggering one thousand years.

Foot binding started when the girls were between four and seven. Little bones were not completely formed and the tight bonding pulled the foot into a particular shape. The intention was to create a heightened arch by pulling all four lesser toes towards the heel. The great toe was left. The children could suffer great pain until the bones eventually set in the desired position (around eighteen years of age). There were professional foot binders for the wealthiest families but traditionally women were trained to do the binding and the task often fell on mothers and grandmothers normally carried out the binding which also included the application of balms and inunctions. Bandages were renewed daily with the bare foot washed and rubbed with alcohol, as a precaution against ulceration. Later the manipulated foot was confined within a strong convex soled boot to force the toes towards the heel. This created an exaggerated heightened arch coupled with proprioceptive changes in the skin over the decade and a half, the sole of the foot became hypersensitive and was referred to as a second vagina. Strange to even comprehend today but families would be very proud of their children with bound feet and the Lotus Foot was a status symbol. Having a daughter with bound feet was the equivalent of having someone in the family enter the priesthood or become a nun. The bound foot was assurance of a good marriage and a prosperous old age for the parents.

(Video Courtesy: RCC History by Youtube Channel)

For centuries,foot binding was principally the prerogative of the wealthy and merchant class and the lotus foot, which was three inches long, was a must for all genteel lovers.

The tiny foot provided endless amusement, with often the smell of the unwashed foot holding charms for some, who referred to it as a fragrant bed aroma. Dr Chang Hui Shang considered that the alteration in walking due to the smaller foot caused changes in the female genitalia with sensitive folds developing in the labia. Further heightened sensuousness was experienced by the increased curvature of the sole of the foot which was referred to as a second vagina. The big toe was proportionately large and tactile. A useful extension. Foot kissing and sucking was a common practice with the whole foot being placed in the mouth. Bound or lotus feet were considered the source of magical eroticism.

Lotus feet secured a worthwhile marriage. Despite their misshapen appearance, Lotus feet were looked upon as the most erotic part of a woman's body, and the delicate slippers or bootees worn to cover them were no less delectable. Chinese husbands respectfully coveted their wives' tiny Lotus shoes and would sometimes display them on a small plate (with room to spare) to show off the foot size.

Women commonly owned several hundred pairs of these shoes. They spent long hours embroidering them with symbols of fertility, longevity, harmony and union. Shoes worn on the wedding night often depicted explicit erotic scenes as a way of instructing the virgin bride. There were also “Tiny Foot Festivals" where ladies competed to see who had the smallest feet. Some wealthier families even dyed their daughter’s tiny feet just to make her to more attractive to would be suitors. When courting, if a man wanted to make sexual advances towards a lady he would drop an item as if by accident and tentatively touch her feet. If she did not become enraged, then the man was free to peruse his advances. If she became angry with him then no apology would be acceptable, even if it were truly accidental.

Foot binding fell out of favour when China became a republic in 1912 and had virtually disappeared in most provinces by the time Mao Tse-Tung officially banned the practice in 1949. With the passing of the fascination for small feet came the condemnation of the practice, it was branded as rude, lascivious and overtly sexual, leading men to stray from their responsibilities. The Chinese blamed western influence for foot binding, and in particular the Victorian preoccupation for excessive corseting. This was not without irony however, because at the height of the European fashion, an attractive corseted waist measured twelve inches, or one foot.

The coming of Christian missionaries to China combined with the Cultural Revolution eventually saw the end to foot binding. Rich and affluent families were easily recognised by the women with Lotus feet. Many went into hiding and today there are still pockets of survivors who have bound feet. Contrary to the popular belief these women continued to live normal active lives including heavy farm labour. Provided they continued to support their feet with Lotus shoes the architecture of the foot remained true. Those who suffered most were the woman whose feet were unbound leaving them freaks unable to move without pain and there are many accounts of sightings of old women being carried on the backs of relatives through city streets.

(Video Courtesy: Farland Chang by Youtube Channel)

Another reason commonly cited in modern literature is foot binding was a physical means of preventing married women from infidelity by physically restricting their movements. This would seem unlikely since there is no evidence to support restriction of the female gender in higher Chinese culture. Distortion of historical events or presentism , is a common error and a form of culture bias. To avoid this, historians restrict themselves to describing what happened and attempt to refrain from using language that passes judgment.

(Video Courtesy: Ellise Boyle by Youtube Channel)

Reviewed 13/08/2019

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Tiger-head shoes

Tiger-head shoes (Chinese: 虎头鞋) are an example of traditional Chinese folk handicraft used as footwear for children. In Chinese culture, tigers are regarded as auspicious and people believed tiger patterned shoes (cat-head shoes in the North of China) help ward off evil spirits and make children as strong as tigers. The vivid image of tiger-head pattern was thought to expel evil spirits and protect their children from diseases and disasters.

The origins of tiger-head shoes are unknown, but there are many legends. One involves a monster who stole away all the children from a village with one exception. He was a little boy wearing shoes decorated with a tiger’s head. The shoes were made by his mother who was gifted in embroidery. People began to imitate the practice. Tiger-head shoes were especially popular in North China, with several regional variations in design. The best known is from the southern part of Hebei province.

Hu Shuqing, from Qixian County, Central China’s Henan Province, started collecting them after she was given a pair of shoes from others as a gift. Over 17 years, she has amassed hundreds of thousands of tiger-head shoes which is valued over one million yuan ($145,000).

Making tiger-head shoes requires high level embroidery and needlework skills. The tiger’s mouth, eye, eyebrow and nose are often given exaggerated outlines to express its power. The vamp (upper part of the shoe) is mainly coloured in red and yellow. Hu has called for protection of the traditional Chinese folk handicraft.

(Video Courtesy: New China TV by Youtube Channel)

Reviewed 9/06/2019

Friday, April 19, 2019

A new Sino-American preoccupation : Limited edition sneakers

International sneaker freakers from China to the US clamber for limited edition kicks and vintage collectors’ items, such as Air Jordan, Nike Air Max, Adidas Yeezy Boost, Revenge X Storm, Fear of God Military, and more. Young collectors globally share the same love for basketball and rap music, with sneakers the common bond. The love of celebrity is a global phenomenon and what these icons have on their feet is ‘cool’, and desirable and all the more so, when these are limited edition.

Limited quantities of any popular commodity promote fierce competition amongst buyers eager to possess them and according to Forbes , there is a billion-dollar secondary resale market for rare sneakers. In China, SoleStage , is a leading limited-edition sneaker reseller. SoleStage was founded in 2013 by three young sneaker freakers, all of whom, started collecting were they were young teenagers. They eventually realised the profit potential from limited edition resale.

At first the trio had to convince buyers because of their ethnicity they might be selling fakes. So, they worked hard to build their reputation as honest brokers and purveyors of rare, and authentic products. By 2018, they had built a successful resale business and now they have three stores in California (Los Angeles), Irvine and Santa Clara, and one in New York City, as well as Beijing. Future plans are to expand,

SoleStage is an American-based brand that understands the US market, and according to the company, their Chinese heritage allows them an advantage over competitors in the Chinese market. SoleStage, Beijing can bring authentic US fashion and sneakers to China, and conversely make collectable Chinese brands available to the US.

(Video Courtesy: NBA by Youtube Channel)

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Friday, May 4, 2018

The Antelope: New generation of smart shoes

Chinese tech company Xiaomi has collaborated with wearable technology brand Amazfit to create a line of sneakers with a built-in Mijia Wisecore chip to track the wearer’s activity, like steps and calories burnt and more advanced aspects of the run. Users are able to incorporate the data into their fitness routines without needing to wear a wristband or carry a device. Runners will be able to receive further insights, with the shoes able to calculate metrics such as foot strike and touchdown times. To date the Antelope is only for sale in China and is available in four colours for men and three for women , and a breathable sole with elastic responsive cushioning that acts as a shock absorber. The outsole is produced by Goodyear. The company has yet to announced plans to release the shoe outside the Chinese market, but they are available in US sizes 6-12, with women's models also in sizes from 5-9. So the Antelope may be available at a store near you, sometime soon.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Year of the Dog: No shoes, please.

The Chinese calendar is based on the movement of the moon around the sun. There are twelve months in the Chinese year but only 354 days in the year. Whilst the Chinese New Year's Day always falls on the first day of the Chinese lunar calendar, the dates vary each year on the Gregorian calendar, between January 21th and February 20th. Only the first three days of Chinese New Year are statutory holiday, but many people take 7 consecutive days off. This year is the Year of the Dog and for people born in a year of the dog (1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006, 2018). The Dog is the eleventh of all zodiac animals.

As an agricultural culture, the Chinese New Year or Spring Festival holiday traditionally was set to start at the beginning of the growing season, which nowadays corresponds to the beginning of a new business year. The hope is always the new zodiac year will bring prosperity and success so it is important to get a good start to the year. During the Chinese New Year thousands flock to the temple, to pray for good fortune in the coming year. The customs is similar to Hogmonay, in that debts are cleared, the house is cleaned and family and friends meet for a feast. Family’s homes and surrounds are cleaned prior to the festival in order to rid the home of any bad fortune from the previous year. Old decorations are removed and replaced with new ones for the Spring Festival. Having a clean home also makes way for good luck in the New Year. Domestic cleaning is never undertaken during the festival in case it sweeps away good fortune.

Chinese New Year is a time for family and get together. The New Year’s Eve dinner is a major event with certain foods are prominent because of their symbolic meanings, based on their names or appearances. Fish is a must, as the Chinese word for fish sounds like the word for surplus. Eating fish is thought to bring a surplus of money and good luck in the coming year. Other favourites include dumplings, spring rolls, glutinous rice cakes, and sweet rice balls.

Pyrotechnics are a tradition at Chinese New Year. The significance of the fire crackers is to "sound out" the old year and "sound in" the new year. Displays start with one string of small firecrackers, followed by three big firecrackers. The louder and more colourful (red) the three firecrackers are the better and luckier it’ is for the coming year. Evil spirits have an aversion to anything red and loud noises.

During the Spring Festival, gifts are exchanged with the most common hóng bāo or red envelopes (yāsuì qián),containing an even number of new bank notes as odd numbers are related to cash given during funerals. Red symbolizes good luck (lee see). It was widely believed with each one hundred dollars received in these holy packets your life span is increased twofold. Traditionally these are given to children, young unmarried adults and (retired) seniors but sometimes employers will reward their workers with red envelopes. In the cyber age young people exchange cyber money via red envelope apps for fun.

The magical effects of the hóng bāo can be nullified by the Yu Quan Demon, a malicious spirit that manifests itself in the teeth of the dead. To avoid this, the custom is to burn three sticks of incense every night five minutes before sleeping for three days before and after the Chinese New Year.

The practice of giving Mandarin oranges (always in pairs) is also a symbol of good luck. Giving gifts of clocks, watches or other time pieces should be avoided. To the superstitious these symbolise time running out, as well as relationships coming to an end. The Chinese word for shoes sounds similar to evil, and since people step on shoes, they should be avoided as gifts.

Families follow a set of beliefs and superstitions to start the year on the right note and there are many superstitions observed during the Spring Festival season. These taboos usually apply up to a month before the festival and continue to the end of the festival (day 15, the Lantern Festival).

Washing Hair in the first three days is considered bad luck for fear of washing away good luck.

Crying children is bad karma and so the young are placated fastidiously. Children are also spared from all punishments even if they are misbehaving.

It is normal is clear all debts before the beginning on the new year and asking for a loan, lending or begging during the festival is not a done practice, as it is believed it will only bring misfortune.

Talking about anything related to death is strictly forbidden as is wearing black clothing.

Using knives or scissors should be avoided as they may cut off fortune.

People born in the Year of Dog, have many excellent characteristics, such as being honest, trustworthy, loyal and very good friends. They are popular in social circles and like helping their friends find and fix their bad habits. Often whilst they may be worried and anxious inside, Dogs are determined to see things through and no matter how they feel inside, the job must be done. Men are straightforward and genuine but also opinionated, and always ready to correct others and defend their stance. They care deeply for their family and any stubbornness fades in the face of their loved ones. They work to understand and compromise, resulting in a harmonious family life. Women born in the Dog year are very cautious. They are indifferent towards people they don’t like, and don’t trust easily. But once they do, it’s permanent. They are intensely protective of their friends and family. They are genial and independent. They love outdoor activities and being in nature. However, they are also hard workers and don’t give up until they succeed. Security and a stable income are her requirements for a career.

2018 is a most unlucky year with trouble and danger lurking at every corner. There will be unforeseeable problems in work and the Dog’s financial situation is at risk. Dogs will also find it difficult to communicate with loved ones too. In order to not make things worse, Dogs should keep a low profile. Thinking before they speak and act is the key. Overall, this is a year that Dogs must get through. The directions of fortune and wealth for Dogs this year are the southeast, southwest and north. It would be the best to put the bed, worktable and sofa in these positions of the room. To avoid bad luck, do not put important furniture in the south and east. The lucky colors in 2018 are yellow, red and orange. Decorating the home or wearing these colors will help greatly with changing luck for the better. Colors to avoid are green and gray. Lucky numbers that will open the road to wealth are 4 and 6. It’s the Chinese tradition to wear red underwear every day during their zodiac year. Dogs can try this to ward off the bad luck. Once past this year, Dogs can continue on their steady and quiet road to happiness.

In China, it is still popular to name dogs Wàng Cái (旺财). It means “prosperous wealth” and comes from dogs’ barking sounds (旺旺—wàng wàng).

Zao Jun is the Kitchen God (or Stove God) and he is a popular domestic deity. Many household keet paper effigy in his honour and he has a very important role to play. At the Spring Festival. The common belief is he returned to Heaven ach year at this time to report on the activities of every household over the past year to the Jade Emperor The Jade Emperor (Yu Huang). who will in turn either reward or punish a family based on Zao Jun's yearly report. To prevent Zao Jun from giving too much information about the family sticky sweet cakes (Chinese New Year's cake) are left as offering in the hope his mouth will be too sticky to tell all on the family. The lips of Zao Jun's paper effigy are often smeared with honey to sweeten his words to Yu Huang (Jade Emperor), or to keep his lips stuck together. After this, the effigy will be burnt and replaced by a new one on New Year's Day. If the household has a statue or a nameplate of Zao Jun it will be taken down and cleaned on this day for the new year.