Tomb Sweeping Festival


China is currently having a three-day public holiday and 4th April is the Qingming Festival, or Tomb-Sweeping Festival. Chinese communities across Asia visit the graves of their families to pay respects and this begins with a thorough cleaning, hence the name.

The BBC News website has some images from the ritual.

It is traditional to burn representations of things the deceased may need in the afterlife, such as paper money. Over time these have become much more elaborate and you can buy paper houses, paper furniture and paper phones. In this image, a relative is burning a paper iPad, iPod Nano and iPhone for their relative to use in heaven.


One Child Policy in China- Past, Present and Future

“Even if China’s population multiplies many times, she is fully capable of finding a solution; the solution is production. Of all things in the world, people are the most precious.”

Mao Zedong, Chairman of the Communist Party of China, made this statement in 1949 soon after the People’s Republic of China was formed. During this time, China experienced a massive increase in population, which at the time was considered a positive direction for China to go in. The mentality of people during this time was that population growth meant economic growth. After centuries of generations suffering from political unrest and epidemics, high population rates were not considered damaging to the Chinese people. This generation wanted to create new lives in a positive time in Chinese history.

It wasn’t until 1955 that the government introduced a birth control campaign that supported abortion in an effort to control the population growth. After a series of natural disasters and poor government planning a reported 20-30 million people in China starved to death between 1958 and 1961. The need to regulate the population started to become a serious issue.

It was in 1978 that Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping established the one child policy that limited the number of children people could have to only one. If a family did not comply with this law and produced a second child, there would be substantial fines. At a 2007 press conferences with Chinese officials, Zhang Weiqing was eager to exemplify the success of the one child policy, “Because China has worked hard over the last 30 years, we have 400 million fewer people.” This policy has created an enormous debate on whether it is hindering the basic human rights of Chinese citizens. Zhang Hui, mother of one little girl, believes that one child is enough and she would want one no matter the government regulations and fines. “I’m too busy at work to have any more,” stated Beijing native Zhao Hui. She also went on to say she is not alone in thinking this way. Many of her friends feel the same. A 2008 Pew Research poll three-in-four Chinese people (76%) approve of the policy. Professor Wang Feng, of the University of California, Irvine, confessed that because of the one child policy the Chinese citizen’s attitudes have evolved since the policy was instated in 1978.  “A lot of people simply don’t want that many children. People have accepted the policy,” said Wang. Over the years, the Chinese people have adapted to the childbearing regulations. For past generations, when it was typical to have many children in family, this policy would have seemed unrealistic.

For many in China there has been an acceptance of the one child policy but in some cases people are against it. Mother of two, Liu Shuling, escaped the traumas of a forced abortion when she decided to pay fines, amounting to four times her annual income, in order to have a second child. Liu Shuling and her husband were pleased to have a second son even if it was at the risk of loosing all financial stability. Liu Shuling’s husband admitted in an interview that a son was really what they wanted in order to help them when they reached an older age. Liu Shuling added, “To have a girl doesn’t work.”

Liu Shuling

Because of the one child policy, sex discrimination has become a huge repercussion. Most people prefer sons to daughters and will go to drastic lengths to have their one and only child be a boy. Abortion, neglect, abandonment, and even infanticide have become consequence of the one child policy. Everyday in China, 20,000 babies are born, but for every 100 girls there are 120 boys. The future generation of China will have to deal with the vast number of single men unable to find brides. There is also a fear that with such a high number of single men in China’s future society, there will a drastic increase in crime and violence. Jo Ming, a school principal with a belief that there needs to be a cultural balance between men and women, states in reference to the one child policy, “Once born, we are all equal, and we are all human beings. We need to respect each other. I think, even though some older people don’t agree, it should be eliminated.” The mentality that females are not as preferable as males is not a new attitude in China but only one that has worsened with the one child policy.

The one child policy was created to regulate the population and avoid poverty; however, there are still 600 million people living in China who earn less then $2 a day. Multiple generations will feel the effects of the policy. Because of the one child regulations, generational dynamics within a family have altered. In past generations, the parents were able to rely on their children in old age. For the present and future, a single child must take care of his or her parents and four grandparents. The one child policy has effected generations differently but all people in China are interconnected. A solution made during one generation seems to inevitably make way for an entirely new problem for the next generation. The one child policy was meant be a temporary solution and only last a generation. In 2010, after 30 years of the policy being enacted, the government shows no sign of stopping the regulations.

Our maps are wrong

Map of the World

I’m applying for a visa to visit China in May and when I went to the web site I encountered this map.

Now many countries place themselves in the middle of the map of the world – including the UK (though you could argue that’s the “right” way to do it as we’re on the Greenwich meridian… but then, we didn’t ask for China’s permission to do that, so go figure). So this isn’t a post about how everyone else does it wrong and “how crazy are the Chinese, look at this map!” Instead I thought it worth pointing out that our view of the world is not the same as other people’s. And none of us are right.

Which reminds me of one of my favourite sequences from The West Wing in which the power of maps to distort reality is illustrated rather powerfully. Enjoy.


The China Wide Web

Designing for the Chinese when it comes to websites is not as easy as converting the information into the Chinese language, there are many barriers to be considered. Here some light will be shed onto the Chinese web design world, the focus and reasoning behind website creation along with understanding parts that westerners would see as bad practice, or horrible design.

Chinese web design will not work for the western world, why? Culture, the Chinese web could be seen as a reflection of Chinese culture. The way people interact with each other and information to honour that is held in high regard to the local people, this along with other barriers creates more personalized web interactions.

Censorship, a driving force in the China wide web, could be seen as a hindrance and a blessing to the web design world, where websites are banned a new website can be created purely for the Chinese people, centred on their own preferences. “It limits your freedom, but meanwhile, it has a positive effect on UI design and content presentation. There is less room for gimmicks. It forces you to concentrate on useful content and how to present your content.” – Whitecrow Zhu

Before getting deeper into the cultural aspects of China it would be good to see an example of a popular Chinese website:

Sina could be seen as a copy of Yahoo as we know it, providing news, mail, blog platform, instant messaging, communities etc. At first glance of this site, most western users would leave; the website is cluttered and full of images and text, general ‘bad design’.

Many websites in china follow this style, and are popular and well used, why you may ask yourself, well this could be because of cultural influences and web design practice that is used in china.

The above website example is based on a design principle called “Designing for clicks” this form of creating websites is placing as much recent information on the front page as possible allowing the user to interact with what they find interesting, also allowing people to see an over view of everything at once.

The concept of ‘Face’ plays a role here, this could be likened to what we know as honour, and you can gain it or lose it. This cultural aspect affects the design of websites, having a website trenched in text and links is showing people what your site has to offer, nothing is hidden from the user, this leads to trust of the site, unlike western counter parts where the user is lead down a path to where the designer wants them to go, this could be seen as dis-honest to the average Chinese user.

Other cultural influences on designing for clicks can also be understood when seeing how the Chinese interact with information, at school there is more focus on memorizing facts, rather than understanding the information they are being given. The idea that later in life this information can be understood and put to use when it is needed this is reflected in how websites are read. Upon logging onto a site information can be digested then the user can go deeper into the site at their leisure.

In the same way the western world would shun Chinese web design the same could be said the other way around,  upon logging onto a minimalist website Chinese people are more likely to leave thinking there is nothing of interest, so would  Chinese web design ever be seen in the western world?

An opinion here would be no, simply because Chinese web design focus’s a lot on the Chinese people, traditions, celebrations and festive past times. Colour use holds different meanings to them as it would to us. Acceptance of cultural differences is as positive as it has been in the past, diversity is the spice of life as we like to say, Chinese culture has a lot to offer us, including new ways to create the web, but understanding the way Chinese people use the internet can help us branch out into their culture and vice versa.

Chinese Knots

Chinese knotting is an ancient folk art that involves the tying and weaving of a single length of cord or rope into a variety of shapes, varying in complexity, that each hold their own symbolic meaning. Most knots are double layered and symmetrical and have two cords entering the knot from the top and two leaving from the bottom. Each kind of knot is named after its shape or the symbolic meaning that it carries. Knots can vary in colour, but are most commonly made with red cord, as the colour red is a symbol of good luck and fortune in China. Today they are mainly used as decorations, given as gifts on special occasions or used as buttons or adornments on clothes. However these knots have a long history, and originated as a way of recording information and events, before the creation of Chinese characters.

Although, due to the delicate nature of the art, few ancient examples of knotting exist today, there is evidence that the history of knotting goes as far back as 100 000 years. For example, the recent discovery of tools that would have been used for the tying and untying of knots, and reference to knots in ancient literature. They were first used as a form of communication, a method of recording historical events and a symbol of a contract or formal agreement. For example, when archiving an event, the nature of the event would be recorded in the shape of the knot and the importance or significance was emulated in the size of the knot. An event of great historical importance would be recorded with a large and complex knot, whereas less significant events would merit only small, far simpler designs. It was also widely used in traditional Chinese clothing, as a means of fastening or decorating garments, as knots proved to be far stronger than bone buttons.

Even today, Chinese knots are rich in symbolic meaning, and therefore hold a great deal of sentimental value when given as gifts or passed down through families. The Chinese word for ‘rope’ is ‘shèng’, which has similar properties to the words for ‘spirit’ and ‘divine’; therefore knots also carry great spiritual meaning and have been used as objects of worship. The word for ‘knot’ itself is ‘jié’ and is related to many other terms that reinforce the symbolic meaning of the knots. For example, ‘tuán jié’ which means ‘to unite’, ‘jié hūn’ meaning ‘to marry’ and ‘jié guŏ’ meaning ‘result’ or ‘outcome’ are just a few.

It is no wonder then that knots have been so closely related to love and marriage in Chinese culture. In ancient times and even now, lovers may give a knot as a token of their love, for example the ‘truelove knot’ or ‘double happiness knot’, which are often associated with weddings and symbolize mutual love and growing old together…


True Love Knot

Double Happiness Knot

The following knot is a traditional Chinese button knot, used for thousands of years before the invention of zips as a way of fastening clothes. It was also not only functional but a beautiful way of decorating garments and is still used today…

Button Knot

In China fish are associated with wealth and good fortune, as the word for fish is similar to the word for ‘plentiful’. So a knot in the shape of a fish would perhaps be given as a gift to wish a friend good luck in a new endeavor…

Gold Fish Knot

Another common knot is the butterfly knot. The butterfly is also a symbol of love and longevity, particularly the strong bond between lovers, therefore a butterfly knot is the perfect gift for a new couple…

Butterfly Knot

In todays China, a land that is evolving at such a rapid rate in order to keep up with the demands of modern society, it is comforting to know that ancient traditions such as knotting, passed down through so many generations, are still alive and continue to intrigue and delight people the world over.