Archives for November 2014

Beijing and Xi’an

Part 1: Beijing

Although I had visited Beijing in 2010, I was still excited to go back for a second time. Some of the sites we saw were the same ones I saw in 2010, The Great Wall, The Forbidden City, The Temple of Heaven, The Lama Temple, etc. I even went back to the exact same Hutong house and visited with the exact same family that I had lunch with in 2010. The Forbidden City was just as beautiful as I remembered it, and also just as crowded! I thoroughly enjoyed being surrounded by so much ancient history. This visit also made our class lecture on the Feng Shui of the Forbidden City more interesting. One of the most interesting facts I learned was that the emperor and empress lived in houses that made three unbroken likes, which is the trigram qian (heaven), while concubines lived in the houses that created three broken lines, which is the trigram kun (ultimate yin energy).

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While visiting the Great Wall I couldn’t help but take some stereotypical dance photos, especially since I had on my Gamut Dance Company shirt. The part of the wall we visited was actually different than the part I visited in 2010. This part of the wall was less crowded and didn’t have any vendors trying to sell their products. Due to this, walking on the Great Wall was so much more peaceful, and I had a better time enjoying the scenery without the noise of vendors and other tourists.

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When we got to the Temple of Heaven we had some free time to wander around, and I was impressed with what I saw. There were hundreds of older Chinese men and women exercising. However, what really caught my eye were all of the men who were doing gymnastics and various kinds of pull ups on the uneven bars and the monkey bars. I hope I can be that active and physically fit when I am there age. Watching all of these men and women exercise made me wish that this kind of outdoor social group activity was practiced more in America. After watching people exercise we went to tour the rest of the park. This has to be my favourite picture of the entire trip! Nothing like a group photo at the Temple of Heaven.

 

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Part 2: Xi’an

I very much enjoyed my time in Xi’an. We first saw the Terracotta Warriors. The most interesting thing about the Terracotta Warriors was the fact that no two warriors are alike. This is really impressive when you see just how many warriors there are.

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However, as much as I enjoyed seeing the Terracotta Warriors, the highlight of my trip was learning how to ride a bike and then biking around the entire city wall of Xi’an. Marin was a great teacher, and I had a lot of fun. Initially I was nervous and scared, but after practicing and getting more comfortable riding a bike I was able to enjoy riding and looking at the scenery. After fishing my bike ride, I felt very accomplished. This is definitely an experience not everyone can say they have been through, and I’m overjoyed to be someone who can!

Another highlight of the trip was getting to see traditional Tang Dynasty dances. Even though this wasn’t the main attraction, or the reason people visit Xi’an, it was still exciting for me. I did traditional Chinese dance from age 5 to 11. I loved performing, and even though we were little kids my dance group and I got to perform at some big Chinese culture and Chinese dance events. I miss being able to do Chinese dance and seeing Chinese dance. Since seeing traditional Chinese dance is such a rare event for me, I was delighted to learn that we would be able to watch some dances during our time in Xi’an.

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The Terracotta Warriors: The Start of Fengshui

Who knew that broken bits and pieces of clay-made men could take your breath away because of its grandeur and beauty? It was as if the sight of the warriors took us back five thousand years to when its creator, the tyrant ordered the sacrifice of thousands of men for peace in his own afterlife. Qin Shi Huang, the ruthless emperor credited for consolidating China and the building of the Great Wall, feared that his enemies would attack him in the afterlife so he ordered an entire army to be built and buried with him so that they may defend him in the afterlife. The minute carvings of these warriors held us in awe as we wondered how many people died in the name of senseless paranoia. Before us was selfishness, power, and human folly that laid out the construction of a great civilization.

Walking around the pits, I thought about the readings of burial rituals. In 《中国大历史》or “The History of China,” historian Lv Si Mian traces the Han ethnic group back to the Kun Lun area, citing evidence in the ancient ritual text, “The Rites of Zhou.” This book records that the Han ethnic group worships their Terra Cotta Warriors and the Fengshui of Burial Rituals

Who knew that broken bits and pieces of clay-made men could take your breath away because of its grandeur and beauty? It was as if the sight of the warriors took us back five thousand years to when its creator, the tyrant ordered the sacrifice of thousands of men for peace in his own afterlife. Qin Shi Huang, the ruthless emperor credited for consolidating China and the building of the Great Wall, feared that his enemies would attack him in the afterlife so he ordered an entire army to be built and buried with him so that they may defend him in the afterlife. The minute carvings of these warriors held us in awe as we wondered how many people died in the name of senseless paranoia. Before us was selfishness, power, and human folly that laid out the construction of a great civilization.
Walking around the pits, I thought about the readings of burial rituals. In 《中国大历史》or “The History of China,” historian Lv Si Mian traces the Han ethnic group back to the Kun Lun area, citing evidence in the ancient ritual text, “The Rites of Zhou.” This book records that the Han ethnic group worships their ancestors in the Kun Lun area where the river flows deeply, the earth of jade yellow and mountains grand and luxrious. Present-day historians can pinpoint the origin of an entire civilization based on the recording of burial. Thus, Lv’s conclusion implies that the recognition of formal burial rituals by our ancestors marks the beginning of a civilization.
Burial rituals have another layer of importance which lies in the origins of fengshui, arguably one of the most important practices in present-day China. Many scholars believe that fengshui began with ancestor worship. Due to the veneration of the spirits of ancestors and the belief that ancestors in the afterlife will protect their descendants in the human world, Chinese people wanted to find the best spot to bury and further honor their ancestors. Furthermore, the spirits of their ancestors also lie in the tablets placed in homes and temples that are frequently visited. Therefore, it was imperative that fengshui was also applied to the home and temples that were built throughout history. When civilization began with burial spots, it developed further into homes and great architecture with the principles of fengshui heavily applied to its construction. The Terra Cotta Warriors may be the first construction that signifies this phenomenon.

 

 

Works Cited:

Minneapolis Institute of Arts. http://artsmia.org/terracotta-warriors/

 

“On the Origin of Fengshui and the History of Its Literature.”

吕思勉,《中2012_TerracottaWarriors_195国大历史》。李清华,北京嘉业印刷厂。2001年 2月 第一版。

Tai Chi in Heaven’s Palace

One of the most renowned martial arts practices in China is Tai Qi, or 太极拳。 Tai Chi is generally practiced by the elderly seeking to increase self defense skills as well as receive some of its health benefits, such as longevity. Having studied some Tai Qi in both Professor Shao’s and Professor Shen’s Chinese culture classes, I was ecstatic when I found out that we would be learning Tai Chi from a Tai Qi master throughout our stay in Beijing. Our one hour class was to be held the morning of our visit to Heaven’s Palace.

Before practicing Tai Qi, our Tai Qi master taught us how to properly salute student to master. “As a way to show respect to each other, you must make a fist with your right hand while keeping your left hand open. With your left hand, make a 45 degree angle and then have your right and left hands connect.  Once all is done, you bow slightly as a sign of respect.”

Hand formation

Hand formation

After we had all properly greeted our master, we proceeded to our lesson.  Our first Tai Qi lesson involved controlling our breathing, sense of balance, and cultivating and controlling our qi (or ball of energy around us).  For this lesson, we had to inhale as we cultivated qi from our stomachs and then exhale as we  pushed the qi in front of us. We took several turns practicing these motions in order to familiarize ourselves with them and proceed to the more advance stages.  After the instructor noticed that we had grasped the concept of breathing and cultivating qi fairly well, he incorporated a new element to our practice, motion.  Now, we had to navigate our energy ball while incorporating a step forward.  This made the lesson harder since we had to coordinate our forward motion with our breathing and energy ball movement.  After practicing this motion for over 30 minutes, we still could not properly perform the technique.  Seeing our frustration, our master called for us to gather in a group and decided to teach us why mastering this technique was so important.

“The reason why I have taught you this technique is to show you the power of momentum” our Tai Qi master said.  “This technique is the starting point to how we Tai Qi masters are able to use the energy and balance of our foes against us.  For example, knowing how to react based off of your opponent’s movements lets you turn an unfavorable situation into a favorable one.  Tai Qi is all about balance, Yin and Yang.”

So far, I have learned how to apply the principles of Yin and Yang in Feng Shui.  When applying Feng Shui to a home, there are various elements that represent Yang energy (active energy) and Yin energy (passive energy).  A good Feng Shui master must know how to balance both energies in order to maximize the Feng Shui in a particular place.  In Tai Qi, however, we learned from our technique that  Yin and Yang exist not only in our energy movements, but in the stances themselves.  Furthermore, if you have too much Yang energy and not enough Yin energy, you can easily be overpowered by your foe.  For example, if you over-extend yourself which requires you to put more energy on your front foot, then your weakness is the back foot, where your foe will probably strike at you, since not as much energy and effort is being put into.  This will most probably end up in you losing your sense of balance and falling to the ground.  Thus, once again, balance is the key.

While The Great Wall of China and the Terra Cotta Warriors were the highlights of our trip to Beijing and Xi’an, respectively, learning Tai Qi was, in my opinion, as unique of an experience.  While Tai Qi requires a lot of coordination and concentration, it is not that laborious of a practice.  Even though it is most common to see elderly practicing Tai Qi, any one is capable of learning if one commits the time to learn.  Moreover, it is a great and healthy way to exercise and it promotes healthy habits.  Tai Qi can also be practiced anywhere since it does not require a large amount of space!  While I do not see myself pursuing the career of a Tai Qi master, I might continue to indulge in some of its practices.

Artistic Evolution of Li Xioke

I was finally able to cross China Art Palace off my list of museum to visit after going last week. Located in the China Pavilion from the 2010 World Expo the museum holds the worlds largest collection of Chinese modern art. The museum was so large and contained so much modern art that I actually found the majority of my experience at China Art Palace overwhelming. After exploring the upper levels of the museum I wandered down to the ground floors where on a excluded floor I happened upon a large exhibition of work by the Chinese artist Li Xioke.

Li Xioke is a contemporary Chinese artist born in Beijing in 1944, and is the son of renowned Chinese traditional artist Li Karen. It is said that many of his works show traditional influences of his fathers art, but also integrates western artistic influences. For the majority of his artistic career he has traveled throughout China, (Tibet, Zhangjiajie, Yellow Mountain, Yellow River, Yangtze River) being influenced by the landscape and the people which he then features in his sketches, paintings and photographs. The works featured in this exhibit spanned from the 1970s to current works done in 2014.

The time line of Li Xioke’s career can be compared to the opening up of China to the west in 1980 as prior to 1980 his works depict traditional chines painting values and post 1980 his works begin to show western influences. All of Xioke’s early works are created using ink on paper and exclusively feature landscapes which are painted in great detail to show every aspect of the scenery. As his artistic career progresses post 1980 he begins to experiment with more westernized aspects of more abstracted perspective, photography and digital art. Additionally in his later works he begins to show more of a focus on human subjects. He begins including them in his landscapes, and creating portraits as well.

Climbing Tiandu Peak, Ink and Color on Paper, 1978

Climbing Tiandu Peak, Ink and Color on Paper, 1979

Snow Covered Road, Ink and color on paper, 2014

Snow Covered Road, Ink and color on paper, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These two painting show the difference in the way he uses color in his early work as opposed to his more recent works. In the 1979 ink and color on paper the color is dispersed throughout the pieces but appears washed out in a typical Chinese painting fashion. In his more recent work he isolates the color to one area, using extremely vivid colors to draw the eye of the viewer.

Fenghuang County of Xiangxi, Ink on Paper, 2009

Fenghuang County of Xiangxi, Ink on Paper, 2009

 

This piece is one that represents the vast majority of his early works. In this painting the viewer can see far off into the distance displaying his attention to detail. Additionally in this work he draws stark, fine lines to create the out lines of his structures, such as the roofs of the buildings and the bridge. In his later works his lines take on amore hurried feel as they no long appear as fine. He begins to blur them together revealing a more abstracted take on the landscape.

Sketching of Maohe River, Ink on Paper, 2012

Sketching of Maohe River, Ink on Paper, 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This last pice shows his experimentation with silk screen and photography as well as his move away from landscape and towards portraits. This kind of art work is something that is extremely popular in the art scene in the contemporary art scene in the United States right now.

Tibetan Traces, Silk Screen, 2011

Tibetan Traces, Silk Screen, 2011

Li Xioke’s works are a great example of the what affects that the opening of China and collaboration with western societies might have had on Chinese art and the art market as a whole. Without the exposure to art movements in the west Xioke artistic evolution might never have happened in the way that it did.

Fengshui in Beijing

“Welcome to Beijing!” our tour guide said to us on the bus from the train station to our hotel. “I have good news for you. Because the APEC meeting started today, you will have no pollution for the next couple days. Also, when I checked the weather for the next couple days, the weather will be in the 60s, so good weather for you all!”

Indeed, our first day in Beijing seemed like an auspicious day – robin blue sky, a nice fall breeze in the air, a friendly tour guide and a fancy hotel near the financial district which had friendly shopkeepers and consumers. Our first meal in Beijing was a gluten-free hot pot meal which ensured that our two celiac classmates would be not be morbidly sick. When we went to visit the Forbidden Kingdom the next day, there was little traffic on the roads, the skies were just as blue and the gardens green and lovely. Inside the Forbidden Kingdom, it wasn’t crowded, there was no trash despite the frequent tourists and the buildings looked new (our tour guide told us that they were repainted in 2008 for the Olympics). All in all, we were able to appreciate the grandeur style of the architecture and the pristine, well-kept area. The buildings reminded me of the historical dramas that I used to watch, showing that the architecture was so well-kept that it remains camera-ready.

The positive feelings we have about Beijing’s environment and architectures could be tied to the good chi that flows into the city and the fengshui concepts that are embedded into the centuries of city planning. The city itself is boasted to be in the ideal position of the nation, a due to the great flow of chi into the area. The city is surrounded by mountains to the left and right, symbolizing support for the city from all of the people and the water that flows in represents abundance wealth streaming in to enhance prosperity within the city.

The Forbidden City exemplifies the work of fengshui in Beijing. It is situated in the center of the city, the position that represents heaven and god. It is believed that the emperor is the Son of Heaven, therefore it makes sense that the emperor’s palace is situated where he is closest to the Heavens. Furthermore, the structure of the Forbidden City was built based on the structures of the trigrams, with the emperor’s work and sleep rooms composed of three unbroken lines, representing Yang energy, Qian. On either sides are three halls made of three broken lines, representing the Yin energy, Kun. Concubines occupy these halls.

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