Your real chinese name is :
quick at hearing ; wise ; clever ; sharp-witted ; intelligent ; acute
When you think of comics you think of Marvel or DC from America or Manga from Japan. When asked, many do not know of Chinese comics, many believing that they are merely translated Japanese or American comic books. Chinese comics are called Manhua. The eldest being stone reliefs from 11C BC and on pottery from 5000 to 3000 BC. Chinese manhua was born roughly between the years 1867 and 1927. Because of the introduction of lithograph printing from the west, satirical drawings soon appeared in newspapers and periodicals. By the 1920′s palm sized books had been printed and were considered the predecessor of modern day manhua. Chinese comic books are seen as a way to entertain and educate the public of China. It’s content can include anything from literary classics, fiction and non fiction, fairy tales, myths and biographies. Due to the rising interest in Chinese visual art, popular culture and media, comic books have gained a lot of attention from academics in the more recent years. Around the time of the Cultural Revolution, politics showed up in in almost every aspect of everyday life. The comic book was no exception. Due to the content and artistry of comic books of the period of Cultural Revolution, these books are popular topics of study for modern day Chinese history as well as the communistic propaganda and the relationship between politics, art and education.
When thinking of religion in China, we think Buddhism or perhaps the worship of ancestors and deities. Mostly what we have seen in films or television adaptations, but what is the Chinese view on religion? Many travelling to China for the first time are often surprised or shocked at the differences between China and the western world. Beliefs and values play an important in the culture. The word religion only exists in western languages. In others a word had to be created. This is much the case with China. At the beginning of the century, the Chinese borrowed the Japanese word for religion. Currently there are five religions in China: Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, Islam and Christianity. Though due to the fact that religions are family based they do not demand the support of its members. Many believe that the term “religion” is inaccurate when speaking of Taoism or Buddhism and tend to refer to them as “cultural practices”. Much of who or what should be called religious in China is up for debate. It has been said that the general percentage of people that regard themselves as religious in China is amongst the lowest in the world.
Since it’s introduction in the first century, Buddhism has remained a popular religion in China. However the largest religious group in China is that of Chinese folk religion otherwise known as “Shenism” . It is the collective which includes Taoism and the worship of the shens. The shens are a collection of local deities, heroes and ancestors, and figures from Chinese myths and legend. Most recently Mazu, goddess of the seas; Huangdi, divine patriarch of the Chinese nation and the Black Dragon Caishen, god of prosperity and wealth.
Although Christianity in China is well established since the seventh century, it declined in the tenth through fourteenth centuries due to persecution. It was reintroduced in the sixteenth century and by the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries there had been an influx of European ideology in China. The Communist party of China, when it came to power in 1949, was seen as an atheist faction and viewed western religions as a tool of western colonialism and since then has preserved a separation of the church from state affairs. By the 1980′s more religious freedoms were granted and the traditional values and beliefs of Taoism and Buddhism were supported as a necessary part of Chinese culture.
Nowadays, Shenism-Taoism and Buddhism are the largest religions in China with around 30% of its population. Around 10% of the population are counted as non-Han ethnicities who follow their own tribal religions. It is believed that Christianity only covers around 3 or 4% of the population and Muslims are around 1 to 2%. It would seem that most of the population art agnostic or atheist, this being around the region of 60 to 70%. Confucianism is widely popular amongst intellectuals.
In my search to find out what I could about China, I interviewed two exchange students. Ding Wang and Weiran Zhang who are both here studying Digital Interaction Design and will be taking the Masters in Ethnography next year. They are here on the ‘3+1+1’ program, which enables them to earn dual degrees, one here in Scotland and one in their respective universities back in China.
I wanted to find out what they thought of China and to see how it differs from what I thought of China after having visited Xi’an in 2008 on a work expedition.
Allow me to start first, with my knowledge of my own country, Scotland. I cannot tell you all that much in terms of history, I was never interested that. I can’t recall any stories of Scotland’s history told to me by my family.
So when I asked Ding and Weiran about China I was a little taken aback when I found they had so much to say. Ding told me “China has a thousand faces,” that of the four ancient civilizations (China, India, Babylon, Egypt) China is the one who has kept its traditions and a lot of its culture has survived where the others have not. She believes China is a dynamic and energetic place, she also noted that life over here in Britain was particularly slow paced. They both referred to China as “the worlds biggest factory,” which, I was quite surprised by. I assumed that the Chinese would not mention something like that, given some of the poor living/working conditions and money the migrant workers get but as I later found they have strong values revolving around hard work which made me realize why she said that.
They both told me about the history of many of the major cities in China and about a few of the Dynasty’s too, they spoke for quite a while about China and its history. They knew a lot about it, which made me feel pretty bad for knowing next to nothing about my own country. It has never been a strong value of mine to know all about the country I live in, but they have a strong sense of honor over the motherland and they seemed to enjoy talking about it too and re-telling stories of China they must have once been told themselves.
China, to Ding and Weiran, is also a modern country. With, in their opinion, some of the most modern cities there are. They also noted that although China may have the richest city, it also has the poorest village. These villages are soon becoming cities they told me, with the ‘Open Door’ policy that can only be called to have come into full action by 1949. The Open Door policy basically meant other countries were allowed to trade with China, because of this China has been quickly becoming more and more modern since then. A village one day could be a city the next, this reflected Ding and Weiran’s knowledge of the history of the cities, they expressed that there was a huge amount of ‘young’ cities as apposed to ‘old’ cities like Xi’an. Even though the older cities are being modernized they expressed that it was a great tragedy that a lot of the heritage of some of these places was disappearing but were reassured by the fact that at the moment most cities have to retain some of their heritage and history and are not allowed to completely re-shape a city.
So I come back to the question in the title. A girlfriend asks her boyfriend, if your mother and myself were drowning, whom would you save? I found out that Chinese women sometimes ask this question to their boyfriends. At first you may think, what a weird question and as a westerner I’d probably agree with you. You may also think that it’s quite a silly question. I’d also agree with you on that. This question is full of pitfalls and problems, more than we could understand. Family is one of the most important values a Chinese person has, if not the most important. Everything revolves around the family and mostly the mother, as she is the one who gave birth to you. The Chinese work incredibly hard not for themselves but so they can support their families as it is their duty, responsibility and desire to do so. They have a huge amount of respect for their families. So given that family is the most important thing to a Chinese person and that their honour is at stake if they abandon them think again about the question the girlfriend has asked her boyfriend. Put yourself in the shoes of the boyfriend, you want to spend the rest of your life with this woman, so you want to please her but you cannot possibly disgrace your family by saying you’d choose her. How can you decide? The reality is that there is no good answer to this question, only problems. If the man chooses his mother, the girlfriend will feel unloved but if the man chooses his girlfriend he will disgrace his family honour and the girlfriend will feel horribly embarrassed to be with a man who would do that. When Ding and Weiran explained this to me, I couldn’t help but think, well why on earth would you ask a question like that? They told me, it wasn’t to see whom he would choose, it was simply to meddle and test him. Not everyone does this, I must stress that, but it’s not out of the ordinary if this were to happen.
So my question is, how do we connect with a country so vastly different from our own?
Through popular culture like movies which are worldwide provides a great outlet to sell china to potential tourists. The most popular Chinese movies in the western world would have to be “Hero”, “house of Flying Daggers”, “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon” and “Mulan”. These films all share very similar images, stereotypes and places of china. All these films are set in the past, characters wear traditional clothes and live in courtyard houses. Furthermore these films are all kung Fu martial art films with beautiful scenery of china. The film “Mulan” features the Great Wall of China. These films do not match up with modern china which is about city life. The cities are full of pollution and don’t have amazing scenery and open space. The traditional courtyard housing is being demolished to make way for modern skyscrapers to accommodate the population. Furthermore the tradional clothing is only worn for tourists, shows and special occasions in today’s society. These films depict Chinese as being happy and give a positive view of china as a place to visit.
However there are films out here that give a negative view of china like “Kudan”, “red Corner” and “Several Years in Tibet”. These films contain recent Chinese history like the cold war and the Dali Lama. The Chinese government have expressed their displeasure in these films as they contain actions the Chinese are not proud of. These films have been banned in china, as the images shown in these movies is not what china wants to show their citizens or to be depicted as to the outside world.
China want to be shown as a country that can do no wrong and are happy for the past to represent china as there are heroic deeds in their past which portrays china in a positive light. There are no heroic deeds in recent history so they do not want their recent actions to represent them.
Since China want to be portrayed in a positive way the relationship between the film industry and china is difficult.
“ Hollywood has learned the hard way that besmirching china can have long running implications for the many arms of a modern media conglomerate” (Ben fritz and John Horn, Los Angeles Times, March 16, 2011)
Film companies don’t want to make the mistake of making films like “Kudan”, “Red corner” and risk upsetting a country. Therefore companies making films don’t want to portray china in a way that they will dislike as it will affect business and business with china. China is now playing a bigger role in funding and creation of films. Also DVDs are probably produced and packaged in china cheaply to be sold around the world. Marketing and selling in china is also on the rise. Therefor companies want to portray china the way they want to continue doing business with china. China only allows 20 foreign films a year to be shown as they want to reduce the amount the outside world can influence the Chinese people in the way that they behave. The films that are chosen to be viewed are heavily censored, for example the films are not to have any religion, sex or violence. Many aspects of what makes a good story are removed from the film due to censoring. The World Trade organisation is trying to get china to change their policy on 20 foreign films a year to be removed.
Overall china is sold to potential tourists as being a place stuck in the past with stereotype images and places, like traditional clothing, historical landmarks, and country side living with martial arts. This is how china wants to be portrayed as it shows positive china where everyone is happy. However this does not match up with the countries desire to be modern country where they are building modern cities, advancing technologies, building the worlds products and becoming a super power.