Posts Tagged ‘China’

  • Love is strange doctor

    card for bride and groomChoosing a unique white wedding dress, sending out elegant invitations to guests, being led down the aisle by one’s father, shamelessly removing the garter, tossing the colourful bouquet, and giving out souvenirs may be considered as universal marriage traditions. However the reality is far from that. Rituals and customs could vary greatly between cultures, religions and countries, ranging from the sweet and romantic, to the strange and bizarre and at times even to the shocking and outrageous.

    Ghost weddings – China

    Whereas a wedding is generally expected to be the culmination of a loving and living bride and groom, ghost weddings are still celebrated in some provinces of northern and central China such as Shanxi and Henan. Such weddings are based on a grisly 3000 year old tradition which recommends that the unmarried dead sould not be left alone in the afterlife, otherwise the deceased’s family might get cursed.

    Originally this ritual was strictly for the dead and it involved two unmarried dead people. A wedding ceremony was duly celebrated and the two were buried together in the groom’s grave. Mainly aimed for young unmarried men who worked in coal mining and often suffered fatalities, this custom provided the bereaved parents with the opportunity to help their sons find a soulmate and be at peace even after death. It must be said that traditionally, parents felt obliged to assist their sons to settle down in a marriage.

    Although this tradition is supposed to have ended, especially with the sale of corpses being outlawed in China in 2006, studies and police reports show that this ritual is more alive than ever. Worse than that, besides being practised secretely, this custom has mutated to a more appalling nature, leading to grave robberies and at times even murders. Prices for female corpses or human remains have increased considerably as parents are ready to carry the financial burden, no matter how difficult it might be.

    Fat farms for brides – Mauritania

    While many brides go on strict diets to lose weight before the wedding, in rural Mauritania, an attractive bride is a girl with stomach rolls, stretch marks and overlapping thighs. In this society, a thin girl is considered inferior and unappealing and her slim figure will bring shame to her family. An old tradition in this country, known as leblouh, ensures that girls are round and corpulent at their weddings by force feeding them from the tender age of 5.

    During the school holidays or in the rainy season, when milk is abundant, girls are sent to ‘fattening farms’ where they are constrained to eat by older women, their aunts or grandmothers. A typical daily intake for a six year old includes two kilos of pounded millet blended with two cups of butter, as well as 20 litres of camel’s milk. Refusal to eat all this food will lead to a subtle form of corporal punishment such as squeezing the girls’ toes between two sticks. Vomit has to be consumed again.

    Historians claim that this tradition dates back to pre-colonial times when Mauritania’s population consisted of nomad white Moor Arabs. At the time, a man was deemed wealthy and well respected if his wives could afford to sit still all day and leave the household chores to black slaves. This laziness led these women to gain weight and by time, being overweight became culturally acceptable and regarded as high class.

    Even though health campaigners are trying to eradicate this old tradition, the leblouh practice has seen a resurgence in recent years. A successful fattenning process will make a girl of 15 look 30, making it easier for her to get married. Sadly, this custom causes endless illnesses and health problems to these girls in later years.

    Cursed wives – India

    When searching for a girl to marry, one tends to be attracted by looks or a charming personality. Yet in India, a man has to watch out for more than that since a woman born under Mangal Dosha (a Hindu astrological combination under the influence of planet Mars) is believed to be cursed and after marriage, she might lead to his untimely death.

    Such women are known as Mangliks and are looked upon with fear in Hindu society. Their choice of spouse is very limited as they are clearly not regarded as ideal prospective matches in the arranged marriages which take place in this country.

    A remedy to break this curse is to marry a clay pot during the kumbh vivah ceremony. This function is just like a real Hindu wedding where the woman has to wear a wedding dress and jewelery along with a thread. A priest is invited to chant the mantra and a marriage celebration takes place between the woman and the pot. Once the wedding is over, the bride will change her clothes, remove the thread and tie it around the pot. Later, when no one is watching, the pot will be drowned in a pond or in a river, thereby releasing the woman from the curse and making her suitable to marry a man.

    Spitting on the bride – Kenya

    One of the most emotional moments in a wedding is the point when a father accompanies his daughter down the aisle, then removes her veil and kisses her on her cheek before handing her over to her future husband. Yet although similar emotions will be involved during a wedding celebration of the Maasai people in Kenya, the father of the bride will spit on her in order to bless her.

    Whereas spitting in many cultures is associated with disgrace and humiliation, in this tribe, this act is regarded to bring good luck and fortune. In fact, Maasai tribesmen will spit on their hands before greeting and shaking hands with elders and it is also customary for them to spit on newborns in order to avert any bad luck.

    During a Maasai wedding, the bride’s head is shaved and lamb fat and oil is applied on her head. After her father has spit on her head and breasts, she will leave with her husband and walk away without looking back since she is fearful that she might turn into stone.

     (This article was published in The Wedding Supplement issued with The Sunday Times of Malta dated 12th March 2017)

    2017.03.12 / no responses / Category: The Sunday Times - Articles

  • East meets West

    For many Western societies, the idea of health is the absence of disease.Yet this is not the case in China, where the aspect of health embodies a comprehensive system that focuses on a balanced lifestyle which is in harmony with nature. Evolving along thousands of years of experimentation and studies about health and longevity, the philosophy of traditional Chinese medicine is today imbued with an ancient wisdom that aims to heal and regenerate not only the body but also the mind and soul.

    From 1994, this ideology is being fostered locally by means of The Mediterranean Regional Centre for Traditional Chinese Medicine which is located in Kordin, Paola. Run by a Chinese medical team which changes every two years, this centre has been regularly registering a remarkable increase in Maltese people who attend to receive treatment.

    Dr Xu Jinhua“We are very satisfied with the Maltese people’s response to our services,” remarked Dr Xu Jinhua, the present director of the centre. “In fact, last week, we treated 100 patients.”

    Dr Xu is no new face in this centre since this is the second time that he has joined the Chinese medical team to work in Malta. He was here four years ago and yet he had to undergo again an eight-month preparation programme in Nanjing before coming to our country.

    His interpreter, Xiaoyan Sun, described how the team of four Chinese doctors, a chef and herself were required to attend to this outward training in order to be able to provide the best service in Malta.

    training“Apart from physical training, our preparation was concentrated on strengthening our ability to communicate in English and learning basic details about Maltese culture and religion. Moreover, all members of the group were familiarized with some general fundamental knowhow to enable us collaborate better. This included learning rudimental information about traditional Chinese medicine in order to be able to co-operate with the doctors, and also getting used to cook so that we could relieve our chef from time to time. Meanwhile, we were also prohibited from visiting home in order to get adjusted to the experience of living in another country, whilst at the same time the group became more like a family.”

    teamGenuine dedication and commitment is the order of the day as these four Chinese doctors, who are specialized in acupuncture, provide their services at this centre in Paola, at Mater Dei Hospital, and at Gozo General Hospital. Additionally, as Dr Xu revealed, this team was sent with a further task to set up a Chinese clinic at St Luke’s hospital.

    Diagnosis of traditional Chinese medicine practitioners vary considerably from that of Western doctors.

    “From our first glance at the patient, we get a good indication of what the client might be suffering from,” explained Dr Xu. “Immediate tell tale signs are evident in the way one walks, in one’s facial expression and posture, in the colour of the skin, and whether one is thin or fat. Furthermore, a person’s vitality shows through the brightness of the eyes, the colour of the lips, and the state of the hair.”

    acuIt was interesting to discover that much information is also obtained by looking closely at a person’s tongue since its colour, shape and coating reflects the condition of the internal organs.

    “Our investigation includes also auscultation which is done by listening to the patients’ voice, sounds of breathing, and coughing. In the old days, the diagnosis concerned also olfaction; that is smelling the odour of the patient. However today this is somewhat difficult since people use many perfumes and this hides the personal odour of individuals.”

    Even pulse-taking is different since the Chinese physician uses three fingers: the index finger to check the heart and lungs, the middle finger to listen to the liver, and the ring finger to test the kidney.

    “During this time, the doctor also discusses with the patient about his lifestyle, his diet, whether he practices some form of exercise and if he has any stressful atmosphere at home or at work. This practice takes place in order to see whether the patient is suffering from any sort of imbalance which is resulting in pain. For the treatment to be effective, it is very important that a good relationship is created between the patient and the doctor.”

    gardenAlong these twenty-one years, the treatments at this clinic were mainly focused on acupuncture and massage. Yet this year, Dr Xu is keen to introduce a further specialized treatment which involves the use of traditional Chinese herbs.

    “Chinese herbs are used widely in China. There is a vast selection of these herbs, and all have their own particular characteristics and qualities. Their utilization could offer various benefits to the Maltese people. However, till now, we are prohibited from importing these herbs to Malta to treat the locals with them.”

    Probably, this restriction is due to the fact that these herbs are alien to our Western doctors. Nonetheless, possibly the time has come to make a change.

    Current medical team during this year's Notte Bianca (Photo - Xiaojin Su)“Last year, I had the opportunity to meet Dr Konrad Mizzi, Minister for Energy and Health, whilst he was visiting some medicine colleges and hospitals in China. At the time, I was glad to see that he seemed very interested in these traditional Chinese herbs, particularly those relating to treat infertility.”

    “Should treatment with these herbs be allowed in Malta, a Chinese doctor specialised in this sector would be able to attend regularly in our centre in order to diagnose patients and provide treatment. I am aware that presently some people in Malta are using IVF treatment to tackle this issue. Yet in those cases where a couple does not have any problems with the organs themselves, traditional Chinese herbs might offer a less expensive and more reliable natural solution. I must say that in China we have a 70 to 80 per cent success rate for cases of infertility in such situations.”

    Dr Xu pointed out that other countries, such as America, have now introduced these methods and they are having very satisfactory results. That is why he is looking very much forward to meet Dr Mizzi in order to discuss further this opportunity.

    “If this treatment is made available in Malta, I am sure that many people will benefit from it. Maybe at first, people might be wary or doubtful whether a herb will really be effective. Nonetheless, once people will start obtaining positive results, others will surely follow, and we would be doing a great service to this country.”

     (This article was published in ‘Fitness, Nutrition and Well-Being’ Supplement issued with The Times of Malta dated 27th January 2016)

    2016.01.27 / 1 response / Category: Times of Malta

  • A SPECTACULAR WONDERLAND

    Travelling at an impressive 300km/hr, a high-speed railway train took 5 hours and a half to reach Shanghai from Beijing. The voyage was impeccably comfortable. The train station was huge and amazing. Yet the actual surprise was the sheer difference between Beijing and Shanghai.

    Modern buildings merge with older ones in Shanghai1 (Photo - Fiona Vella)Traffic in Beijing was crazy but we had hardly left Shanghai’s train station when we were already blocked behind a long queue of cars. This is no wonder if one considers that about 24 million people live in this city. Recent modernization and progress in Shanghai have attracted many persons and in the last five years, the population tripled itself.

    Along the road, we observed that plain residential high rises were wide to an extreme. Besides them, luxurious or commercial high rises glistened beautifully as if in a bid to outshine the sun itself. Older traditional structures, together with buildings which formed part of the foreign concession areas, claimed the passers-by attention with their distinguished architecture.

    Originally, a simple fishing village, Shanghai’s economy expanded rapidly once it was turned into a commercial port. Since at the time, traders could only use the sea or waterways as a means of transportation, Shanghai’s wide harbour began to attract numerous Chinese from various parts of China and also several foreigners. A society of immigrants started to flourish, each of which began to leave their influences in this new city.

    In a few years, a large flat muddy area, overgrown with reeds, which was situated on the north bank of Huangpu River, was turned into a zone for foreigners and they named it the Bund. Starting from just a one-sided street, running in north-south direction, the location soon flourished with commercial buildings which increased further the significance and the economy of Shanghai.

    Yuyuan MarketYet in the mid-19th century, serious conflicts arose between the forces of Western countries and the Chinese, Qing dynasty, after China attempted to suppress the opium trade. Since the 18th century, foreign traders, particularly the British, had been illegally exporting opium which they imported from India. By the 19th century, this trade had grown dramatically, and the resulting widespread addiction in China began to cause serious social and economic disruption. Two Opium Wars broke out in which China was twice defeated and foreign concessions were established. It was in 1943, during the war between China and Japan, that the foreigners decided to abandon Shanghai.

    Between the 1950s and the 1960s, some of the elder people who resided in Shanghai, proposed to the government to demolish these colonial buildings which reminded them of a bitter past. However eventually, it was decided to retain these structures since they represented a real part of the city’s history, even if painful.

    The modern area of the Bund1 (Photo - Fiona Vella)In the last 100 years, the Bund frontage buildings were repaired and reconstructed several times. Today, this area is embellished with prominent and elegant structures which contrast deeply with the opposite side of the Bund wherein some daring and bizarre high rises have been built. At night, the latter, turns into a spectacular wonderland as the colossal structures are fully illuminated in bright and colourful lights.

    A visit to this district which looks like a strange combination of London and New York, will reveal why it has become the symbol of Shanghai and the pride of many of its residents. Crowds of visitors gather daily at the Bund in order to enjoy the beautiful scenery on the Huangpu River which divides the old and the modern zones. Nonetheless, if one wants to enjoy the experience to the full, a night boat cruise is certainly recommended.

    Our guide from Shanghai explained to us that this city has changed tremendously in these last years. In 1987, there were only 12 high rise buildings in Shanghai, whereas today, there are around 140,000. People have more money in their pockets, education facilities have increased, and life is more comfortable especially due to the efficient and far-reaching subway system. Yet he felt that simultaneously, Shanghai citizens were losing some important characteristics of the city. Indeed, when elders returned to the city after living far away, they could not find their way around as a number of the old landmarks have gone or are engulfed amongst the different modern landscape.

    Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Hall1 (Photo - Fiona Vella)The repercussions of the sudden modernization of Shanghai have always been the focus of the authorities which are trying their very best to mitigate the impact of such changes. Their plans and projects are comprehensively described in the vast exhibitions which are displayed at the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Hall which is located at the People’s Square. The centrepiece of the exhibition is a huge scale model of the city which shows all the existing and approved buildings. Moreover, a circular screen provides visitors with the opportunity to enjoy a fascinating 3D virtual tour around the city of Shanghai.

    Photo presentations explain how old buildings which were worth preserving and conserving, were carefully selected and restored, and then given a function in order to revive them. A particular example is the M50 contemporary art district which up to a few years ago was a disused industrial space. Another is the pedestrian walkway of Nanjing Road wherein 100 year old shops were amalgamated with new structures from where now, one can find speciality products of different trades standing next to famous brands.

    A corner in Yuyuan Garden1 (Photo - Fiona Vella)In Shanghai Old Street, which was reconstructed according to traditional Chinese style, visitors can roam around Yuyuan Market and absorb the allure of earlier times, whereas the nearby Yuyuan Gardens provide the beauty and serenity of a green environment. In the outskirts of Shanghai, ancient towns, such as Zhujiajiao, represent life of a distant and far simpler period in Shanghai. Concentrated under Shanghai’s Expo2010 motto ‘Better City, Better Life’, the main message of this place is to urge people to be proud as well as protective of their new city.

    A delightful wider look at the landscape of the city of Shanghai can be appreciated at a choice of revolving restaurants which are available on high towers. Definitely a surreal experience which gives you the ultimate impression of being on a totally different planet.

    (This article was published in Escape Suppliment of The Sunday Times of Malta dated 13th September 2015)

    2015.09.13 / no responses / Category: Times of Malta

  • Unlocking the Great Wall’s stories

    ‘He who has not climbed the Great Wall is not a true man’ declares a Chinese saying.

    After being confronted by the challenging steps of this legenday wall, I must admit that I understand fully the meaning behind this expression.

    Constructing the Great Wall of China

    A section of Juyongguan Pass (Photo - Fiona Vella)The Great Wall consists of a massive series of fortifications which extend over five thousand kilometres from east to west in north China. Since it outstretches over a number of provinces, one can visit its diverse sections from various locations. Its construction took around two thousand years and it involved the input of several dynasties which were ruling the country during different period.

    Since for many years, various Chinese states were at war against each other, by the 7th century BC, the locals had already mastered an excellent skill in the building of protective walls with which to defend their villages. It was from this period that construction of the Great Wall commenced.

    In 221 BC, Qin Shi Huang succeeded to win over all his opponents. He unified China for the first time, established the Qin Dynasty, and became the first Emperor. To impose a centralization of authority, he ordered the destruction of various defensive walls which had been built around the country by different feudal lords. Instead, he constructed new walls which connected a number of fortifications that were situated in the northern side of his empire. These were intended to shield his people and his country from the opponent nomadic tribe Xiongnu which resided in this area (today known as Mongolia).

    It was no easy feat to construct these walls in the chosen locations which winded throughout valleys or climbed across mountains. At the time, no machinery was available to facilitate this grueling work. Yet, the Chinese managed to erect these walls by utilizing the material that was available in each particular zone and by working according to the contours of the terrain.

    No one knows how many people worked or died during the construction of this wall. Many insist that the total number could easily reach millions. Certainly, their effort led to the creation of a unique masterpiece which today is regarded as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. In 1987, the Great Wall of China became also part of the UNESCO World Heritage List.

    A popular legend

    Meng Jiang NuThis wall is imbued with many narratives and legends. Yet the most popular is surely that of Meng Jiang Nü; a young woman who is believed to have lived during the 3rd century BC, in the Qin Dynasty.

    Her story recounts that one day, Fan Qi Liang, a young man who had been engaged to work on the Great Wall, succeeded to escape from this strenuous job. He ran with all his might along the way until at one point, he was so exhausted that he stopped to hide in the garden of Meng’s father.

    The two fell in love immediately as soon as their eyes met, and some time after, they got married. Yet unfortunately, their happinness did not last long as the man was located by soldiers and he was taken back to work on the wall.

    The woman waited and waited for her husband’s return. But when winter was close and he still did not come back, she sewed some warm clothes for him in order to protect him from the cold. She went in search of him at his work place but after she looked out for him wherever she could and inquired about him, she was finally informed that her husband had died and that he had been buried within the wall itself.

    This tragic news shattered the woman’s spirit and she was so griefed that she spent a whole day and a whole night weeping beneath the wall. Her desperation ran so deep that suddenly, the wall in front of her crumbled and a number of corpses slid out of it.

    Shocked at this gruesome scene, Meng Jiang Nü cut her finger and she allowed her blood to trickle on the corpses. At one point, she noticed that all her blood ran to a particular corpse and it was then that she recognized her husband’s body. She gathered him lovingly and gave him a decent burial. Then, she walked to a river and ended her life within.

    Juyongguan Pass – Beijing

    Juyongguan Pass in the mist (Photo - Fiona Vella)I had read and heard so much about the greatness of this wall that when I arrived at one of its sections in Beijing, known as Juyongguan Pass, I simply stood in silence and in awe.

    My eyes ran afar, up into the sky where a thick fog was hiding the highest part that was visible from the ground. Located at around fifty kilometres away from Beijing, this part of the wall is about 4000 metre long and is situated amongst the mountains of Changping District.

    This pass has always been renowned for its strategic significance and its impenetrability. Notwithstanding this, in 1644, a group of rebellious farmers led by Li Zicheng, managed to enter into Beijing by overcoming this area. It is said that this happenned not because of any weakness in the wall but due the fact that the local people were too impoverished to resist.

    Today, Juyongguan Pass is distinguished for its lovely scenic views of the surrounding forests, particularly since these change their colours according to season.

    Experiencing the magic of the Great Wall

    We arrived at nine in the morning in order to avoid the crowds but there were already many visitors climbing the wall. The weather was not very welcoming as it was drizzling and the fog made it difficult to take very good photos. Yet nothing could stop us from climbing that legendary wall which we had all dreamt so much about!

    Experiencing the Great Wall of China (I am the one in black) - (Photo - Fiona Vella)Up we went the first steps but soon we realized that it was not going to be that easy to climb too far. For the Great Wall’s steps were constructed in differing heights in order to make it difficult for the enemy to run up and make a surprise attack. Whilst some of the steps were low, others were quite high and after a short time, if you’re not the sporty kind, you’ll definitely find yourself out of breath.

    Step after step, we arrived at the first tower which consisted of a number of small rooms. I decided to check out a set of narrow stairs which led to the tower’s roof and from there, the overview of the open landscape was even more splendid. I looked around in a blending state of rapture, wonder and disbelief as I imagined that this could have been the same view that the legendary soldiers watched over. For a moment, time seemed to stop and the present melted into the past as I simply stood there holding on to the ancient stones.

    I could have stayed there to absorb within me all the history of the place but the group needed to move on and so, we climbed further. Over all, the set up of the wall repeats itself as its length is divided into steps and a number of towers. Yet I can say that I would have continued to climb all day if we did not have planned to visit other sites.

    Going down the steps was relatively easy but by then, the place had become quite crowded with people of all nationalities who came to visit.

    A love bound to eternity

    Lovelocks attached to the Great Wall (Photo - Fiona Vella)As I stole a last glance at this architectural and historic marvel, I noticed a quantity of lovelocks that were fastened to chains running along the Great Wall. On a closer look, I found out that these were decorated with heart designs and the names of couples were engraved on each of them. Our guide told us that those lovelocks formed part of an old Chinese tradition which stated that if a couple wrote their names on a lock and closed it on this chain, their love would be eternal, just like the destiny of this mythical wall.

    (This article was published in the Travel Supplement of the Sunday Times of Malta dated 21st June 2015)

    2015.06.21 / no responses / Category: The Sunday Times - Articles

  • Discovering the real art of a new culture

    China’s art sector is probably one of the most dynamic today since Chinese artists are constantly re-imagining the boundaries of art as they question their country’s role in the world. These artistic works can be viewed in the several popular art districts, key galleries and museums which are located in various areas around China.

    751D Park – Beijing

    I had thought that a visit to Beijing would only comprise an itinerary to historical sites. Therefore, this bustling contemporary art centre proved to be quite a surprise.

    Having been transformed from an industrial plant into an artistic hub, 751D Park boasts an area of 40,000 square meters and is now a very renowned area for art lovers. Its distinguished Bauhaus-style architecture has succeeded to blend harmoniously with the places’s new character which now houses many art galleries, bookshops, cafes and restaurants.

    Although I am not an avid art enthusiast, a stroll around the various shops and art exhibitions of this park served as a portal to another facet of China and its culture. Each outlet provided the opportunity to discover and purchase works of unique styles, original designs and ultimate creativity.

    Liu Fei - An enchanting war (1) - Photo by Fiona VellaI was particularly captivated by Liu Fei’s artistic exhibition named ‘An Enchanting War’. The artist described his sharp creations as his contemplation of future wars. Through them, he attempted to engage in social and political life in order to express his distaste and criticism on war. His main theme examined whether future warfare would be a performance of pretences? In his strong and bizarre artworks, there was no boundary between beauty and ugliness, and violence and contention were combined cruelly.

    The National Art Museum of China – Beijing

    The National Art Museum of China is dedicated to collection, research and exhibitions of modern and contemporary artistic works in China. Although this structure started to be constructed in 1958 and was open to the public in 1963, its architecture features the traditional Chinese style as the main building is roofed with yellow glazed tiles and surrounded by corridors and pavilions.

    This museum covers an area of more than 18,000 square meters and it includes 17 exhibition halls throughout its 5 storeys. It prides itself with more than 100,000 pieces of various collections, most of which are representative works of different periods and great artworks of Chinese art masters from the end of the 19th century till today.

    Artist Liu Xia besides her work at the National Art Museum of China - Photo by Fiona VellaSince its establishment, this national museum has organized thousands of various artistic exhibitions which reflect the development of Chinese art. These activities have attracted millions of visitors each year and so this museum has also served as a significant platform for the artists involved.

    During my visit, amongs its selection of expositions, this museum was holding the exhibition ‘Beautiful China: Call of Humanism’ which entailed the First National Fine Art Exhibition to help the disabled. The ensemble of 200 pieces of artworks included masterpieces of top artists of the contemporary art world,as well as works of disabled calligraphers and painters. Funds from the sales of these artworks were collected in order to assist the needs of the thousands of disabled Chinese individuals.

    M50 – Shanghai

    50 Moganshan Road or M50 art district as it is more popularly known, was a former textile mill in central Shanghai which has now been converted into a major zone of artistic galleries and exhibition spaces.

    This quarter started to become popular with artists in the year 2000 when the first individuals were initially attracted by the cheap rent of the disused industrial space. Soon, other artists followed suit and nowadays this complex has become known for its trendy and high art quality.

    Outdoor sculptures at 751D Park - Photo by Fiona VellaArt lovers who visit this place get a chance to enjoy and purchase some fantastic and unusual works directly from the artists themselves. The allure of this zone lies in the variety of displayed works using several mediums.Prices range from affordable to really expensive but one is expected to negotiate.

    Popular with both local and international visitors, this art quarter is unpretentious but interesting and often thought provoking. Amongst the wide selection of creations, it is engaging to notice also some works of a rebellious nature.

    (This article was published in the Travel, Leisure and Food Supplement in the Sunday Times of Malta dated 15 March 2015)

    2015.03.15 / no responses / Category: The Sunday Times - Articles

  • Stepping through the Forbidden City’s gate

    For many years, I read several features and watched various documentaries regarding the Forbidden City in Beijing. However, once I found myself in front of Wumen, its main entrance, I simply stood there in silence and awe.

    At an altitude of 38 metres, this area, which is also known as the Meridian Gate, is the highest section of the Forbidden City. Its imposing nature with five towers looking upon this square gave me shivers especially when I recalled that here, in the old days, the captured prisoners-of-war used to be presented to the emperor, whereas those sentenced for capital punishment were executed.

    As originally intended by those who constructed this site, I felt small and bewildered in the presence of such magnitude and as I stepped further through the gate, I felt thankful that nowadays this is only a tourist site.

    Internal decorations in the Forbidden CityThe Forbidden City was built to serve as the emperors’ royal palace. Within it, the emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties carried out their administration and lived together with their families. In fact, this site was used as the residence of 24 emperors until the last one, Aisin Gioro Puyi, emperor of the Qing Dynasty, abdicated in 1911.

    Emperor Chengzu of the Ming Dynasty started the construction of this city in 1406 and its completion took 14 years. Around 100,000 skilled technicians and millions of labourers were involved in this architectural masterpiece.

    Most of this magnificent palatial complex was built from wood and it is the largest wooden cluster in existence in the world today. Other material used included white marble from Fangshan which is situated in the limits of Beijing, and granite from Hebei Province.

    It was not easy to ship these stones to the city since there was no machinery at the time. Yet the Chinese succeeded to conclude this outstanding project by carrying this material on wooden rollers during summer and by sprinkling the roads with water in mid-winter in order to make an ice-path which could ease transportation. Water for the latter use was made available by digging out a well every half kilometer.

    Eventually, the whole city covered an area of 720,000 square metres and within it, one could find numerous palaces, pavilions, squares and gardens. In all, 9,999.5 structures were built; the half room accommodates only a staircase.

    Lioness stands in front of Gate of Supreme Harmony in Forbidden CityIt is interesting to note that the emperor could not have 10,000 rooms in his city since it was believed that the deity emperor Hade had that amount of structures in his Heavenly Palace. Therefore, out of respect, his son, who was the emperor on earth, could not have a residence as spacious as that of his father. Meanwhile, this huge amount of rooms in the Forbidden City was intended to prolong the life of the earthly emperor.

    Along the centuries, various parts of this ancient city were restored or rebuilt. However, its basic form and layout remains in the original state. In fact, its structures are spread out in an orderly manner alongside the central axis line which goes through from south to north. Moreover, its layout indicates the feudal hierarchy and reflects the traditional philosophy of yin-yang and the Five Elements.

    The Forbidden City is surrounded by 10 meter high walls and at each of its four corners there is a tower. Outside these walls, a 52 meter wide moat full of water encircles the city in order to strengthen its defense system.

    Thousands of tourists from various countries visit this site daily and yet the grandeur of this place is so amazing that its space seems unable to ever be exhausted.

    Taihe Dian squareThe largest square in the Forbidden City is Taihe Dian and it has an area of 30,000 square metres. On its four sides, one finds a number of bronze vats which used to be filled with water in order to prevent fire. Water was provided by the Inner Golden Water River which ran across this section of the city. Moreover, this river had the function of draining off rain water and to decorate the square.

    On the other hand, in the square which lies in front of the Gate of Supreme Harmony, visitors can observe the hall wherein the emperors administered their power, held ceremonies and summoned ministers. In this outer court, there is also the largest pair of lions in the whole city; the male has a ball under his paw, whereas the female plays with a cub.

     Curiously, in the Forbidden City, there is also the Palace of Abstinence wherein the emperor stayed and fasted for three days before he celebrated the sacrificial ceremony to the heaven and earth.

     Contrarily, other areas within this magnificent city were intended to appease the emperor’s pleasures; including numerous structures reserved for his concubines.

    Ancient moat surrounding the Forbidden CityThese concubines were selected amongst the most attractive females and were expected to dedicate their lives in order to please their emperor. Yet not all these concubines had the chance to sleep with the emperor; some only once, some not at all.

    Surely, those who did not succeed to attract the emperor’s interest were disregarded in a corner of the palace but they were never allowed to marry anybody else. Therefore, the main aim of these imperial concubines was the opportunity to bear a child of the emperor so that they could acquire more power. Indeed, that concubine whose son managed to become the next emperor was even given the title of Empress Dowager.

    Due to the massive size of this city, it is impossible to visit it all. Nonetheless, I believe that I have seen enough to impress me and to leave a memorable imprint on my mind.

    The exquisite designs and colours which were used in its construction are truly fascinating and marvelous. Likewise, the ancient furniture and decorations which adorn its palaces and halls are unique and superb.

    When this city was still in vigour, no one was allowed to enter into it without a permit. That is why, it is known as the Forbidden City. Yet in 1925, when the Qing Dynasty was over, this site was turned into a museum and in fact today, this city is also known as the Palace Museum.

    Within this period, around one million relics were collected from this city and many of them are exhibited in its illustrious halls. These artifacts include objects made from wood, bronze, pottery and porcelain that were designed by skilled artists during the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Other masterpieces comprise precious artworks, sculptures and numerous other treasures.

    Meanwhile, the Imperial Garden which lies at the end of the city is another attractive facet of this place. In ancient days, this was a private retreat for the imperial family and the imperial concubines.

    The Imperial Garden in the Forbidden CityThere are around twenty architectural structures in this garden which include pavilions, rooms, towers and halls. Each one of these bears a different style and is arranged symmetrically in hierarchical order.

    Rare flowers and trees were planted in this garden, some of which still survive today. This place was also adorned with a pond full of fish in order to create a sense of harmony and peace.

    One of the most renowned sections in this garden is Duixiushan; an artifical hill built of Taihu Lake Rocks of varying shapes. Its centre was formed into a cave and two stairways spiral up to the top from its southern and eastern sides. The imperial family used to climb up this hill to reach the Pavilion of Imperial View which sits at the top in order to enjoy the spectacular scenery during significant celebrations.

    In 1961 this city was included in the List of the Historical Monuments and Cultural Relics under State Protection and due restoration and preservation took place. In 1987, UNESCO inscribed the Forbidden City as a World Heritage Site.

    (This article was published in the Travel Supplement of the Sunday Times of Malta dated 15 February 2015)

    2015.02.16 / no responses / Category: Torca - Features & Articles

  • Shop around for the best look at life on the streets

    Qianmen Street – Beijing.JPGNanjing Road – Shanghai.JPG

    Calligraphy stall in Yuyuan Bazaar, Shanghai.JPGA poultry seller in Shanghai.JPG

    The cities of Beijing and Shanghai are definitely a mecca for those who love shopping. Never ending roads brim with hundreds of shops which offer an endless choice of all sorts of products.

    Ancient shops of different traditional trades stand side by side to modern ones which sell famous brand commodities. Flea markets provide the opportunity to look out for unusual items or for a good bargain but one must always keep in mind that most of the items are not genuine.

    Shopping can also be a way of getting closer to the locals especially in those areas where one is expected to negotiate the price. At times language could be a barrier since not all the Chinese can communicate in English. However, somehow, if you really want to purchase something, you’ll surely find a way to get across.

    Qianmen Street – Beijing

    Qianmen pedestrian street runs south from Tiananmen Square, just along the Beijing central axis for about a kilometre.

    This popular zone bears its origin to the ancient times of the Ming and Qing Dynasties when it was already renowned for its lantern fairs, theaters and tea-houses. Yet unfortunately, in 1900, this area was burnt down to ashes when Beijing was ransacked by the Eight-Nation Alliance.

    The present Qianmen Street has been rebuilt into four zones with particular areas designated for culture, food, shopping and entertainment. Stepping from one shop to another is like entering into a different world altogether.

    Elegant shops selling expensive jewellery with a particular focus on jade stand next to bargain outlets bursting with a multitude of souvenirs and knick knack objects. Popular Western fast-food outlets like Mc Donalds and KFC compete with traditional Chinese cuisine such as Qianmen Quanjude Duck Restaurant for the attention of hungry clients.

    An old style tram runs from north to south of Qianmen Street. However, for those who really want a taste of Chinese culture, walking is definitely better.

    Wangfuying – Beijing

    Wangfujing is very famous both with locals and with tourists as its outlets extend over a total length of about two kilometres. This flourishing business quarter dates back to 1260 and it has a long interesting history.

    In the wide main street, once again, West meets East since one finds huge shopping malls with international designer brands standing next to Beijing renowned trades, such as Shengxifu hat store, Tongshenghe shoe shop, and the Wuyutai tea house.

    However, here, the real delight for tourists lies in the narrower side streets which look rather like a busy beehive. Indeed, this zone is definitely not recommended for those who hate crowded places or for those faint at heart. For this is where you’ll witness the roots of the traditional Beijing, especially through some of the exotic foods which you will be offered.

    The different smells coming out of the numerous food stalls will entice you to look closer and maybe to try out something. The vast choice will consist of fresh fruit, dumplings, fried foods, and plenty of kebabs with all sorts of meat including lamb, chicken, pork, starfish, seahorse, worms, insects and live scorpions!

    Nonetheless, if you lose appetite, there is still more to see and buy in the other outlets which boast the true colours of China. Your preference and the amount of money which you are ready to spend will be the only limits. Exquisite shoes, silk scarves and ornaments, clothes, wood creations, colourful masks, stuffed pandas and toys, and a torrent of souvenirs are some of the items available in a much longer list.

    At the end of this visit, you’ll feel as if you have just been through a whirlwind of experiences. Definitely unforgettable!

    Nanjing Road – Shanghai

    Shanghai is a different world altogether from Beijing and this is clearly evident whilst walking along Nanjing Road. Believed to be the first shopping street in China, this road stretches for more than five kilometres with hundreds of different shops on each side.

    Here, shopping malls, department stores and boutiques with luxury brands like Dior, Chanel, Armani, Prada and Calvin Klein compete for clients’ attention with elegant and costly products. In fact, more than a pedestrian shopping street this area has also become a zone for both locals and visitors in order to experience the culture of modern Shanghai.

    It is best to visit Nanjing Road in the evening when the area is fully lit and quite spectacular.

    Yuyuan Bazaar – Shanghai

    This is an outdoor bazaar which stands next to the famous Yuyuan Garden. Its attraction lies in the wooden architecture of the shops and market stalls and in the traditional items which they sell.

    Since Shanghai is close to Suzhou, one will find a good choice of silk products here. Moreover, amongst the amazing array of traditional Chinese products, one can select amongst paintings by folk artists, calligraphy works and tools, including ink, paper, brushes, pens, and ink slabs, bamboo and wood carvings, bronze wares, porcelain tea-sets, jade pieces and pearls from Taihu Lake, to mention only a few.

    There are no boundaries to what you can actually find whilst exploring this bazaar. Indeed, in offhand corners, you might see people selling small animals and reptiles, and also bracelets of simple but fragrant flowers.

    A food market in Shanghai

    It is very easy to find yourself completely enthralled by the exciting and dynamic city of Shanghai, thereby feeling urged to explore also other areas which are outside the usual guided tours.

    Particularly endearing is the sheer contrast between the ultra-modern neon-lit high rises lying at the background of the raw and coarse atmosphere of meagre street food stalls where many locals gather to buy their grocery needs.

    Once again, your senses will be fully assaulted with unusual activities, smells and sounds. Here you can observe the wide choice of foods available which includes eggs of different poultry, river and sea fish and crustaceans, vegetables and fruit of whatever type and size, and various herbs and tea leaves.

    Live chicken and ducks look out from cages whilst one of them is being killed and cleaned there and then for a customer. Cute puppies look out expectantly from other cages, their destinies depending on who’s going to buy them.

    Surely, a visit to any of these markets should be included in one’s itinerary in order to experience the real China.

    (This article was published in the Travel Supplement of The Sunday Times of Malta dated 11th January 2015)

    2015.01.11 / no responses / Category: The Sunday Times - Articles

  • The Chinese who remained in Malta

    Il-qabar ta' Xu Huizhong.JPG

    Il-President Anton Buttigieg qed jghaddi l-Midalja lill-Ambaxxatur tac-Cina f'Malta.JPGL-ex Ministru Reno Calleja qed jghaddi l-Midalja lill-armla tal-inginier Xu Huizhong.JPG

    Last Sunday, many of us went to visit the cemeteries which are located around our islands in order to pay our respects to our dead relatives and friends.

    Many of us took with them a beautiful bunch of coloured and fragrant flowers which we left on the cold tombs made of yellowish stone or of icy white or dark black marble. Apart from showing love and respect, this gesture seemed to try to inject life where there was not.

    Others have also dedicated some time to clean the tombs by removing the weeds or by changing an old photograph with a new one.

    Thousands of red candles were lit so that their humble flame might accompany the soft prayers that were said for the deads’ souls.

    Many people had tears in their eyes. Even those whom their relatives had died a long time ago but still feel emotional at this loss.

    I find these death rituals very interesting, particularly when I observe how society continues to keep dear to its heart those who have died; sometimes even by continuing to treat them as if they were still alive.

    Whilst I walked along the paths of the Addolorata cemetery, I could notice all these customs. A pang of sadness crept into my heart when I noticed some bare tombs whom no one seemed to have visited. However, a closer look at the dates written on these tombs indicated that probably those particular families had ended and therefore nobody remained to visit.

    The tombs of Xu Huizhong and Gu Yanzhao

    I arrived in front of the tombs which I went to visit: those of Xu Huizhong and Gu Yanzhao; two Chinese engineers who died in our country whilst they were working on Dock Number 6 in Malta. Xu had died accidentally whilst Gu was deceased due to an illness.

    Their photos looked at me and I greeted them in name of their country and in name of mine. As a sign of respect, I put a bunch of white and yellow chrysanthemums on their tombs according to Chinese tradition which symbolizes sadness and grief. Then, according to my culture, I prayed to God to give them eternal rest.

    I remember that when I asked some Chinese individuals regarding why these two persons had been buried in Malta and were not taken back to their country, they informed me that this had been their relatives’ decision. This is because, according to Chinese culture, these individuals had to be buried in the country for which they were working because that was the only way how they could rest in peace: for they had to be present on the same land when the project on which they were working was successfully finished.

    Notwithstanding this, I still wondered what these persons’ relatives might have felt when they had to allow those whom they had loved, to be buried in a foreign country, and so far away.

    An honorary medal of the Republic of Malta for engineer Xu Huizhong

    I continued to think about this and so I decided to talk to ex-Labour Minister, Reno Calleja, who in 1979 was sent by Malta Prime Minister, Duminku Mintoff in order to present an Honorary Award of the Republic of Malta to the family of engineer Xu Huizhong. This honour was given to this man after he died tragically on 16th March 1979 whilst he was working at the construction of a new dock in our country.

    “That was a day which I will never forget!” revealed Calleja as soon as we started to discuss this matter. “More than that, I must say that personally, I consider that moment as the most salient one in my political career. I cherish it that much because on that day, I felt that I was becoming part of my country’s history; where Malta was presenting a very significant award to a foreign worker after his death, because he had lost his life whilst he was helping our country.”

    An agreement between Malta and China

    Calleja remembers clearly that period when China had agreed to help our country to regain its economic strength.

    “In those years, even China was a relatively poor country but it chose to help Malta all the same. It is during such moments that one can see the true friendship of a country: when it helps you in times when it is not so strong itself,” insisted Calleja.

    “The wise decision that Mintoff had made, when in 1972 he visited China with a Maltese delegation in order to meet Mao Zedong, after Nixon had did so too about a month before, was very much appreciated. And thanks to this choice, the Maltese people are still enjoying the benefit of this friendship, now that China has become a very rich country.”

    Many Chinese workers help in the construction of Dock Number 6

    “Apart from giving us financial support, the Chinese people helped us a lot by sending us many technical workers in order to attend to various important projects in Malta, including the construction of Dock Number 6,” Calleja continued to explain.

    “These Chinese workers have worked along with the Maltese labourers and our people got enriched in the principles of work as they learnt about the Chinese culture from these people. It was a culture of a people of great humility with vast enterprise together with a devotional sense of duty towards their own country. The enthusiasm shown by the Chinese workers as they worked with quality and precision, even when they were doing this for another country, inspired the Maltese to behave like them. And if the Chinese labourers were working with much dedication in order to make their country proud, the Maltese labourers were getting busy so that their country would be thankful to them,” Calleja said.

    “When Dock Number 6 was ready, I attended to the opening ceremony and I swear that I noticed many workers cry when they saw Mintoff’s face alight with satisfaction for the good job that everyone had made.”

    Reno Calleja goes to China in order to present the Medal

    Unfortunately, this fantastic narrative has also its negative side; including the instance of the death of engineer Xu.

    “In 1979, I was invited to visit China in order to represent the Malta-China Friendship Society. When I advised the Prime Minister about this, he requested me to go to China in April because he had something in mind,” remembered Calleja.

    “After a fortnight, Mintoff informed me that he had decided to give a Medal of the Republic of Malta on an honorary basis after his death to engineer Xu Huizhong and I was recommended to take it with me on my visit to China. Soon ex-President of Malta, Anton Buttigieg, organized a ceremony wherein he invited the ex-Ambassador of China in Malta, as a representative of the Government of the People’s Republic of China in order to present him with this medal. Then this medal was handed to me and I took it with me to China.”

    Here, Calleja showed me some photographs of those distinguished moments.

    “A very big ceremony was organized at the great Congress Hall in Shanghai in order to present this medal to engineer Xu’s family. For this event, I prepared a speech in Maltese which was translated in Chinese by a Maltese student. This student was Clifford Borg-Marks whom today is the Ambassador of Malta in China.”

    “During this ceremony, I had the privilege to meet engineer Xu’s widow and his children who all appreciated very much this honourable award that our country had given them. However, I can never forget the sad face of his widow who thanked me respectfully and said nothing more.”

    From then on, Calleja has kept in contact with Xu’s family.

    “Regrettably, a year after I met her, Xu’s widow died of grief. Yet her children kept in contact with me and they came to Malta in order to visit their father’s grave. Now, Xu’s grand-daughter has informed me that when she grows up, she would like to become an engineer like her grandpa.”

    Chinese traditions

    An interesting fact is that the Chinese people do not celebrate the death rituals during our same period. Furthermore, they have more than one ceremony related to paying respect to their dead.

    Qingming Festival

    Among these traditions, there is the Qingming Festival or Tomb Sweeping Day. This festival takes place on the 4th or the 5th April, according to the traditional lunar calendar.

    During this festival, the people remember and honour their ancestors by praying, cleaning tombs, re-painting calligraphy on tombs, burning incense or offering food, tea, drinks and other accessories on the tombs. Moreover, on this day, some people may carry willow branches with them or hang them on their doors in order to ward off the evil spirits which may roam around on Qingming.

    Since the Qingming takes place with the beginning of the Spring season, these celebrations usually include also family outings and kite flying. Some farmers start ploughing their fields on this day.

    The Ghost Festival

    During this festival which takes place in August, people will pay respects to all deceased whether young or old. Some of the activities which take place during the Qingming are also undertaken throughout the Ghost Festival; including the offering of food and the burning of incense.

    Other celebrations could include the releasing of miniature paper boats and lanterns on water. This ritual is intended to direct the lost ghosts and spirits to their resting places as some people believe that on this day, the deceased will visit the living.

    (This article is a translation of the Maltese original version which was published in the series KOBOR IL-MALTI (Part 25) in Torċa dated 9th November 2014)

    2014.11.09 / no responses / Category: Torca - Features & Articles

  • With a salutation

    Il-qabar ta' Xu Huizhong.JPGGu Yanzhao.JPG

    Ic-cerimonja tal-5 t'April 2014.jpgQiu Guangling u Shi Qidong.JPG

    On 5th April 2014, representatives from the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Malta and a number of Chinese persons, together with some Maltese individuals, including Malta Minister of Finance, Edward Scicluna, Mayor of Santa Luċija, Frederick Cutajar, and members of the Malta-China Friendship Society, attended to a ceremony in respect of two Chinese workers who died in our country in 1979.

    These two workers formed part of a group of hundreds of Chinese workers who were sent by the Chinese government in order to assist Malta in the construction of Dock Number 6 or as it is popularly known as the Red China Dock. This took place according to an agreement between China and Malta in the 1970s, wherein China agreed to help our islands in order to strengthen our economy.

    The two Chinese workers who lost their life in Malta

    Unfortunately, Xu Huizhong, a Chinese engineer aged 47, lost his life tragically on the 16th March 1979 whilst he was assisting in the construction of the dock. He was honoured with the Medal of Honour of the Republic of Malta on the 23rd April 1979. On the other hand, engineer Gu Yanzhao, died of natural causes at the age of 46.

    These two Chinese workers were buried in Malta according to their relatives’ decision since in Chinese culture, it is believed that in order to rest in peace, these individuals had to be present on the same land when the project on which they were working was successfully finished. Moreover, they believed that in this way, they would continue to be remembered with respect by the Maltese people.

    In the words of Minister Scicluna, “There is no higher sign of friendship than to give your life in order to help another country.” And now that with these articles, I am getting much fonder of China and its people, I could not allow myself not to investigate more this story and all the narrative that I knew that I would discover…

    The ancient tradition of the Qingming Festival

    I started my exploration by visiting the tomb of these two Chinese workers which is located at the Addolorata cemetery. I took with me a colourful bunch of flowers as a sign of respect and love. However, when I arrived in front of these tombs, I realized that I had met another Chinese cultural aspect as unlike my bunch, all the flowers that were left on these tombs after the ceremony, were white and yellow. As soon as I returned home, I researched about this and I learnt that this was part of the ancient Chinese tradition known as Qingming Festival.

    In order to help me to understand better this concept, this week, I met Qiu Guangling and her assistant, Shi Qidong, at the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Malta. They informed me that this festival formed part of the 24 aspects of the Chinese lunar calendar wherein among the various celebrations, people celebrate the beginning of the Spring season and the rememberance of their dead ancestors. Some refer to this festival as Pure Brightness Day or Tomb-Sweeping Festival and this generally takes place around the 5th April.

    The legend of Jie Zitui

    Often, the Qingming Festival is associated with Jie Zitui who during the 7th century B.C. lived in the province of Shanxi. It is said that he was one of the few officials who followed Chong Er, the son of the Duke of Jin, when he had to leave due to severe restlessness in his country.

    Chong Er lived for 19 years in exile and his situation became so miserable that eventually everyone abandoned him, except for five individuals, including Jie Zitui. This official respected his leader so much that when Chong Er was dying of hunger, he cut a piece from his thigh and cooked it for him so that he could get back his strength.

    Finally, there came a time when Chong Er succeeded to win back his deserved throne and he returned to Jin as a leader. Together with him, he took those loyal officials who had remained with him through the worst time and he gave them the title of noblemen. Yet for some reason, Chong Er forgot Jie Zitui who now was an invalid due to the personal sacrifice that he had done for his master.

    Nonetheless, when Chong Er realized his mistake, he immediately went to Mian mountain in order to find Jie Zitui who had gone to live there with his mother. But Jie Zitui had discovered serenity in this natural refuge of the mountain environment and he did not want to leave it to return to the city. Therefore, although he was aware that Chong Er was looking for him, he remained hidden with the hope that his friend will eventually give up and leave him alone.
    Yet this did not take place, for Chong Er was so resilient to find him that he decided to set the mountain forest on fire in order to force his friend out of his hideout. The huge fire which was lit continued to burn for three days until all the mountain was burnt out. Alas, when the people of Chong Er went in to look for Jie Zitui, they found him burnt together with his mother.

    At these terrible news, Chong Er fell into miserable grief for what he had done and out of respect towards these two persons, he buried them at the foot of Mount Mian and changed its name to Jie. Moreover, he built a temple on it in honour of their memory.

    In order to remember this tragedy, he ordered that each year in those particular three days, nobody could light a fire in his house and only cold food could be eaten. This started the Hanshi or the Cold Food Festival.

    Then, around 300 years ago, during the Qing Dynasty, this festival was incorporated witin the Qingming Festival and this event was changed into a celebration of rememberance and sacrifice for the ancestors. Nowadays, the Cold Food Festival is celebrated a day before the Qingming and the activities continue for three whole days.

    Just like we do in November, when we visit our cemeteries in order to show respect towards our dead relatives, in China these activities take place in April. Indeed, during this festival, a lot of Chinese people gather into cemeteries wherein they clean the tombs, repaint the calligraphy on them, burn incense and leave white and yellow chrysanthemums which in Chinese culture symbolize sadness and grief. Furthermore, they offer food and drink to their dead, and relatives meet on the tombs or in the surrounding gardens in order to eat together.

    Yin House Feng Shui

    It is interesting to know that when one is choosing a place for burial in China, usually, Feng Shui experts are called according to an ancient tradition. The main aim of Yin House Feng Shui is to choose the correct site for burial so that the energy of the dead is turned into a positive one in order to bring luck to their families. In fact, Chinese people believe that if the dead are not allowed to rest in peace in a place which guarantees their serenity, their living relatives would incur dire consequences.

    The Imperial Tombs of China

    This principle regarding tombs originated when man created the concept of a soul and therefore introduced also the idea of a life after death. Therefore, along the years we can observe various transitions in tombs which serve as a mirror of the ideas of the society which made them. In fact, as time passed, we can notice that tombs became more refined until in the period of the greatest dynasties, the imperial tombs took the shape of whole temples in the belief that the leader could continue to enjoy the same beautiful environment that he was used to during his life even after death.

    The Mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shi Huang

    This mausoleum was constructed by the Emperor Qin Shi Huang in the 3rd century B.C. in order to serve as his tomb. This enormous building was one of the first structures which were built for this reason, wherein the surrounding environment was chosen appositely in order to offer the right ambience to the emperor after his death.

    According to ancient writers, originally, this mausoleum was around 120 metres high and its base was 2167 square metres. Many trees and plants were sown in the area in order to embellish the zone. A dike that was 10 metres high and 1400 metres wide was constructed to avoid inundation of the territory from the nearby rivers. Moreover, the course of the river that passed through the south of the mausoleum was altered and its new route led to Weihe river so that its waters would not be an obstacle.

    It is estimated that around 12.8 million cube metres of earth were used in order to build the foundation of the emperor’s tomb and those of nearby tombs in the same site, together with the construction of the dike and the manufacturing of the statues that were made to adorn the place. Meanwhile, a further 1.2 million cubic metres of earth were required to fabricate the emperor’s tomb. It is interesting to note that all this stone was cut from the quarries of Mount Ganquan which was located 200 km away from the site of this mausoleum!

    In the meantime, Emperor Qin Shi Huang ordered to put priceless artistic works of great skill in his tomb, including jewels made of gold and silver, artworks, writings, clothing and many more accessories. Finally, there was so much wealth in this mausoleum that it was too difficult to calculate how much time, work, material, money and lives it came to cost. Yet certainly, once the emperor died, he buried everything with him and without knowing, he conserved some of the best cultural treasures which were to be enjoyed by later generations.

    However, the emperor wanted more than this as an accompaniment to his voyage after death. In fact, in order to build this tomb, apart from the best tradesmen who were selected, its construction which involved many years, was done my many criminals, by farmers who had not paid the taxes and by slaves. Besides the emperor’s tomb, these were ordered to build another tomb that was located around 1400 metres away and finally all the criminals were buried in it once the emperor was dead. In fact, during archaeological excavations, an area of 1200 metre squared of human bones was unearthed.

    Ironically, though the emperor was preparing such a fantastic place for himself after death, he was terrified of death and he dedicated many years in search of the elixir of life in order to acquire the font of eternity. Since he was a cruel tyrant, there were several attempts on his life but he always succeeded to avoid getting killed. Until eventually luck left him when during one of his voyages, he swallowed some mercury pills which were supposed to prolong his life!

    Ultimately, Emperor Qin Shi Huang was so much hated by the people, that his dynasty ended soon after his death and his tomb was robbed and burnt more than once. Yet this mausoleum was so huge that in 1974, whilst some Chinese farmers were digging to construct a well, they came upon another part of this site which was still intact and everyone was surprised.

    A group of archaeologists was called in order to excavate this place and among the enormous and unique discoveries, they found also a whole army of terracotta soldiers which were accompanied by horses with carriages of actual size. Hundreds of such soldiers were found and each of them had individual faces with different characteristics. However, it is believed that there are around 8000 soldiers in all to be unearthed. Moreover, it seems that there are also 130 carriages with 520 horses, and 150 cavalry horses buried in this mausoleum.

    Each year, this discovery attracts thousands of tourists to this site and when some of these artifacts are exhibited in other countries, many people go to visit them. This fact was confirmed also by the Senior Curator of the Malta National Museum of Archaeology, Sharon Sultana, when in 2007 an exhibition with 81 artifacts from the mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang, consisting of 10 terracotta soldiers and 2 horses were displayed in this museum.

    Other traditions related to Qingming Festival

    Since this festival takes place during the beginning of Spring, this is the time when farmers start to plough and sow their fields. This is also a period when many beautiful flowers enhance the Chinese landscape and so part of these celebrations include also walks in the splendid countryside. These days offer also particular moments for young people to meet and many new love stories begin at this time. As a cheerful greeting to this new season, the sky is filled with numerous kites that are made with great skill and in various forms and so these days are also enriched with beautiful and positive memories.

    (This is a translation of an original article which was published in Maltese in the series PONT MAĊ-ĊINA (5th Part) in the newspaper Torċa dated 20th April 2014)

    2014.04.20 / no responses / Category: Torca - Features & Articles

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