Dear CHF members,
We apologize for making you wait longer than usual for the January issue of the CHF Newsletter, but we're confident you will find the wait was worth it. Starting from this issue, the Newsletter comes to you in a much expanded format designed by our new Editorial Team comprising:
our editors Snowybeagle and Imperial Marshak Mok,
writers Publius, Moon, and Centaur,
and lastly myself as chief editor.
This revamp of the Newsletter was first proposed by Snowybeagle in early December, and quickly won the approval of the staff. A key concept in the revamp was increasing the participation of CHF members in the production of the Newsletter, by having members contribute articles and/or work on the Editorial Team. Of the six current members of the Editorial Team, three are non-moderators. We have also given all the moderating staff a role in the Newsletter by tasking each of them with recommending interesting threads in designated parts of the forum for our Highlighted Threads of the Month section. This is why you will see a longer list of recommended threads in this issue than ever before. We hope at least some of them will match your areas of interest.
We would love to have feedback and suggestions from you, and we are also looking for more volunteers to write synopses of Highlighted Threads for future issues. If you have any feedback or ideas, or would like to volunteer as a writer, please send a PM to Snowybeagle or Imperial Marshal Mok.
1. Community News for December 2006
December was an eventful month for CHF, not least on the technical side. We had two software upgrades, and one database corruption which was fortunately remedied using GZ's regularly made backup copy of the forum database. Our membership also rose to over 5,000, although it should be noted that 110 of these are banned members like spammers and trolls
On the staff side, Yun temporarily returned to the position of Administrator after GZ decided to take a 2-month break until February 2007. Lifezard also joined the staff team to lend his expertise to moderating discussions in the Prehistory to Qin forum.
Lastly, we are pleased to report that both nominees for the Grand Historian Award in November-December 2006 won the award after voting by members ended in a tie. They are: Anthrophobia and Xu Huang. The GHA nomination and voting process has also been revised and refined, and the new guidelines can be found here: http://www.chinahist...showtopic=13928
2. Monthly Memo from Members
The newsletter team is happy to announce that we will be launching a special column each month with messages from 2 specially selected CHF members, writing about their experiences in CHF. This month, we have Richard Lim and Naruwan who have graciously agreed to share their remembrances.
2.1 Note from a newbie
Hello to everyone and warm thanks to snowybeagle for the invitation to contribute my thoughts as a newcomer to the forum. At this point, I am not so sure when and how I first came across CHF, the site having been known to me some time ago on account of the wide range of in-depth discussions of Chinese history and traditions. Most recently, I was interested in getting some information on early Han relations with the Hsiung-nu and found myself reading more and more of the rich discussion threads on this and other subjects. In fact, I found that I like CHF so much that I decided to join it not once but twice. Well, I joined before Christmas 2006 and my original registration and xiucai exam results were wiped out by the computer crash but still I recall fondly of having been warmly welcomed by the likes of Imperial Marshal Mok, Orchid Dreams and Publius in a series of posts that have since evaporated. I knew immediately I have come upon a friendly place.
I am excited and delighted to be able to join a forum community that is focused not only on cordial conversations but also on the process of discovery and learning. There is a certain tone of respect for ideas and knowledge that is found rarely on the web and which I treasure. The challenge of having to take the xiucai exam tickled me and I learned a great amount during the process (okay I confess I had to look up a good number of the answers from references; some of the questions are not exactly easy ones). The fact that a broad spectrum of people, from experts on Chinese history to rank beginners, inhabit and contribute to CHF is a considerable attraction and a tribute to the those who have built and maintained the site for the benefit of all.
Now for some personal introductions. I am a Hong Kong Chinese whose parents originally hailed from and who now live in the U.S. My own background in Chinese history has been shall we say spotty on account of having gone to one of the English schools in HK where, I recall, the level of Chinese education was rather wanting (more our fault than theirs perhaps; one of our Chinese teachers was a nephew of 康有為) and where Chinese history was about memorizing and regurgitating semi-classicizing prose that treat dynastic history in a rather dry fashion. At the time I favored the subject of History as taught in English since I thought it was more “alive” and engaging. However, I came to realize that I do love learning about Chinese history and while in university in the US (Berkeley) - this was many years ago - took a reading course on Ssu-ma Ch'ien's Shi Ch'i (史記). It was rather fun reading the text at a glacial pace with a room full of non-Chinese (including the professor) and looking up almost every word in Matthew's Chinese Dictionary. Later on, I had cause to do some readings in medieval Buddhist Chinese texts under the guidance of experts such as Erik Zurcher but such ventures require the luxury of time which I do have often enjoy. Still, I have periodically tried to re-engage with Chinese history by reading not only secondary historical treatments but also the primary accounts, especially the dynastic histories. My own favorite periods are Han and T’ang but of course the Three Kingdoms too for romantic reasons. Coming upon CHF is a bit of a godsend because here I find a community of people who are interested in just such texts and topics and, moreover, seem to inhabit the subject by “thinking” and “living” with Chinese history. I look forward to being able to share ideas, post queries or reading question and generally get to know more people on CHF as I continue to study Chinese history. I think it will be a lot of fun.
2.2 Oration of an oldie
I first found out about CHF when I was more active on All Empires Forum. General Zhaoyun has invited me many times to come and check out the new CHF. At the beginning I was reluctant to participate. I know my political views on Independent Taiwan will be a target at a forum dedicated to Chinese History. Regardless of the enormous efforts made by General Zhaoyun, Yun and the many staff members to make CHF an unbiased platform for discussion of Chinese history, there will always be personal attacks and those who see Taiwanese Independence as a personal attack to them.
I eventually stayed because of the knowledgeable forum members. This forum is great because we have people who have a broad base of understanding to everything relating to Chinese history, such as people who have Chinese history academic backgrounds such as Yun, warhead. And etc. However, I am amazed particularly by the specialized members. People like Rudeboy who is an expert in genealogy, qrasy who is an expert in East/Southeast Asian linguistics, Liang Jieming and his models of Chinese Arsenal, and the list goes on.
There was a period of time when I felt this forum was overrun by people that will commence personal attack based on different political views. It even evolved to the point that my old account hansioux was banned for no particular reason. General Zhaoyun offered me to revive that account, but I felt that it can be used as a reminder that the balance of this forum needs to be monitored with care. During the darkest days of CHF, I was MIA. I finally moved back to Taiwan from 13 years of life in many countries and had no chance to visit the forum.
My biggest hope is that this forum does not become a site aiming solely to educate the English speaking masses on general Chinese history, but a site which solicits those unfamiliar with Chinese history read up on their own. Although I did not like the idea of the mandatory exam upon my return, fearing it would deny new specialists members from joining CHF, I now realize that as long as the forum can stay in a perfect balance of generalists and specialists, I will always return in hope of new discoveries.
3. Cultural Column
Our culture columnist, Moon, writes about the coming Lunar New Year which has been celebrated in China since antiquity. This is the first of a 2-part article. In the first part, she makes an introduction to the cultural aspects of the Lunar (Chinese) New Year. In the second part which will be published in the next newsletter, she will go into various preparations undertaken by families to celebrate the festival.
(I) INTRODUCTION TO THE CULTURAL ASPECTS OF CHINESE NEW YEAR
Among all traditional Chinese festivals, the Lunar New Year is the most significant and most important. The New Year falls on a different date each year as Chinese calendar follows the lunar cycle. It begins on the first New Moon after the sun enters Aquarius, which occurs between 21st January and 21st February of the Western solar calendar. It concludes on the 15th day of the first lunar month with the first day of spring, Lì Chūn 立春, which is also celebrated as the Lantern Festival.
This is traditionally a time for family reunion and remembering of the ancestors. Preparations include buying presents, food and clothing and cleaning and decorating houses. Each day of the festival is marked by a different celebration with the first few days being entirely a family affair.
The 7th day of the New Year is everybody's birthday and people consider themselves a year older on this day rather than on their real birthday.
According to legend, villages were often attacked by a hideous monster called Nián 年who stayed deep in the mountains but came out from its lair during the first fifteen days of the lunar New Year to look for food. It ate whatever it caught and it had a particular appetite for children, as it loved the youthful chi of young children.
Nián 年 was afraid of only three things: bright flames, loud noise and the colour red. So as a safeguard against Nián 年, villagers painted their house doors red and a fire was kept burning in front of their doorways. All through the New Year period they stayed up making loud noises. Usually they burnt firecrackers to create plenty of noise as well. And as a double measure, while the children were sleeping, parents would slip red packets under their pillows to make sure Nián 年 could not get near enough to harm their child. All these measures and activities eventually scared Nián 年away for good!
Since then the colour red has always been considered lucky, while the act of giving red packets from parents to their children was to protect them from being carried away by some evil creature. Over time, the practice of giving red packet lucky money has flourished, becoming popular amongst Chinese all over the world.
It is a Chinese tradition for married couples, as well as older relatives such as grandparents, to give children and unmarried adults the red packet (or hóng bāo 红包). This lucky red envelope with money inside is given out to signify good fortune and good energy. The amount of cash inside the red packet is usually an even number as odd numbers are regarded as unlucky.
Chinese believe that the red packet brings good luck to the person who gets it AND to the person who gives it. Many old Chinese say the red packet is given to symbolize longevity for the one who gives it. The money inside the red packet is called Yā Suì Qián 压岁钱, which means “suppressing age money”. The Chinese believe that giving children a red packet allows the older person to “borrow” the young chi from the children and in exchange, some lucky money is given in a red packet.
The 15 Days of Lunar New Year
Starting everything anew for the year also means wearing new clothes and shoes for all Chinese. This signals a fresh and clean start for the coming year. On New Year's Day, it is customary for the young to offer New Year greetings to their elders. In return, red packets will be given to the young to wish them good fortune.
Traditionally, firecrackers were used to ward off evil spirits and to welcome the New Year with a loud bang. Until firecrackers were banned in Singapore in 1970, most shops would burn a long string of firecrackers at the shop front to bring good fortune. As the lion symbolized prosperity and good luck, lion dance troupes are also engaged by some shop owners to usher in the New Year.
Most Chinese families have a vegetarian meal as the first meal on New Year's Day. To eat meat is to take life and it is considered bad to take life as the first action in the New Year. In any case, the food for New Year's Day is prepared the day before. No one wants to use a meat chopper on New Year's Day. However, this custom has been modified, and some people will do without meat only for the noon meal, but will eat meat in the evening. The noon meal on the second day is called “starting of the year dinner”. This signifies that the New Year has begun. This meal is usually quite early in the day, around 10am. After this the families start visiting relatives to wish them a happy New Year. Often the day is ended by eating dinner with close relatives, such as a sister or brother.
One thing that traditionally every home must have at New Year's is the traditional box of sweets for guests to eat whey they come to visit. Traditionally, this consisted of dried lotus seeds, coconut strips, melon strips, and melon seeds.
Another custom is that people do not sweep floors on the first day. It symbolizes sweeping all the money away. If the house is very dirty, and must be swept, it must be swept towards the door, so as to keep the money in the house.
The 1st day is for visiting friends and relatives. There is a system to this visiting; the younger must visit their elders, whether it is the older generation, or older brothers and sisters. A hostess gift is always taken when visiting at New Year's. Originally these were gifts of fruit or homemade steamed cakes. Nowadays, a pair of oranges does the job. Married couples must carry many of the red packets of lucky money to give to young people and children. “Young” includes all unmarried persons of both sexes. It is not uncommon for a person thirty or forty years old, to receive this red packet from his parents or relatives because he is still “young”. When people see each other, they say auspicious words in New Year greetings like the famous gōng xĭ fā cái! 恭喜发财 which means "congratulations (on making it through the previous year) and may you get rich (in the new year). Other greetings include, "good health", "may you get a promotion" to working people, "may your grades improve" to students, etc.
Children are warned not to quarrel or use swear words during this season. Visits can be made on any of the first fifteen days of the Year.
Some businesses reopen on the second day, but most on the 4th or 5th day. Some have a token reopening on the 2nd day, because it is propitious to do so according to the Almanac. The token reopening takes the form of opening the door and shifting some chairs or tables, and then the business “closes” for the day.
On the 4th day the Household Gods return to earth and are ceremoniously received with the burning of incense and firecrackers. All business reopens on this day, except some who prefer the 5th day for one reason or another. All forms of gambling at home must cease on this day and the ban is re-imposed for the year, until the Household Gods ascend to Heaven again on the 24th day of the 12th Moon. However nowadays, people usually do not observe this ban.
According to some ancient writings, the first eight days of the New Year are: - 1st day for chickens, 2nd for dogs, 3rd for pigs, 4th for sheep, 5th for oxen, 6th for horses, 7th for human beings and 8th for grains. The belief is that if these days are clear and bright the respective creatures born on those days will mature well and will be healthy. If the days are dark, the creatures borne will not prosper and will face disaster.
One special tradition for Southern Chinese is to eat raw fish on the 7th day, Rén rì 人日. The raw fish is sliced till very thin, almost like tissue paper, and eaten with a mixture of fresh vegetables, condiments and specially prepared sauce comprising ingredients such as plum sauce, sugar, vinegar, sesame oil, pounded groundnuts, and other ingenious concoctions of the chefs. Raw fish is colloquially called Yú shēng 鱼生 which literally is “fish raw”. Fish is Yú which has the same sound as the word “excess” or “extra” and shēng 生 is also life. Therefore to eat Yú shēng is to have extra life.
Birthday of the Jade Emperor falls on the 9th day of the New Year. The Jade Emperor is the Ruler of Heaven. This festival is particularly popular and observed by people from the Fujian Province. Celebration of his festival is a very big affair starting from midnight of the 8th day until the early hours of the 9th day.
The 15th day of the New Year is the Lantern Festival 灯节. On this day, all families perform ancestral worship once more, have another reunion dinner for the family, after which working members return to their work again. Lantern festival is also known as Yuán xiāo 元宵 because of the old practice of having colourful lantern displays and processions. In ancient times, even the Forbidden City was opened to the public on this night. On this night many temples are full of worshippers and even curious onlookers. The worshipping in some popular temples goes on all night from dusk till dawn.
In past New Years in Singapore, there was no lack of noise from the burning of firecrackers from homes and in the streets. It was great fun to enjoy the freedom to burn firecrackers. Since it is now banned, the people have only themselves to blame for their unrestrained burning of this great Chinese invention, making it a danger to life and property. It is sad and lamentable for the New Year while the ban lasts.
The New Year is no longer what it used to be.
4. Highlighted threads of the month
Home to Beginners;
More on etymology and English translation of the title of the Chinese monarch in Why Emperor?Chinese Art of War;
What if China invaded Japan?
The thread details aspects of Chinese and Japanese military strengths and weakneses during varying time periods. The thread also discusses logistics: geographic, weather, supplies, other nations in the area, etc
Chinese never used bronze armour? Other than helmets
CHF members discuss Chinese armour and helmet materials, including decorative elements. Kenneth provides numerous images, explanations, and sources.
The Battle of the Talas River, 36 BC
This was not the Battle of Talas which preceded An Lushan's rebellion during the Tang Dynasty, but a lesser known conflict which some suggested had an actual and the only historical confrontation between Han soldiers and Roman soldiers.
Two things worthy of note from this thread.
First, it is the only battle with detailed records of a Han assault on a city.
Second, the Han deputy commander, Chen Tang, of the Han-Tarim region actually forged an imperial decree to mobilise his troops against the last independent Xiongnu ruler whom he (with reasons) suspected of imminent hostile actions. This gave rise to a dilemma.
Chen Tang's superior officer wanted to obtain permission from the Imperial court, but the capital was months away in travelling time. Furthermore, the ministers in the capital were woefully ignorant of the border situations.
On the other hand, military adventurism was the most expedient way commanders in Chen Tang's position could seek to rise in prominence, fame and fortune. Rewarding aggressive handling might well be detrimental to the empire in the long-term.
Is Guan Yu's reputation undeserved?, Did he betray both Liu Bei and Cao Cao?
Ashura initiated a discussion which quickly became rather heated about Guan Yu's reputation for loyalty. The fact that he is a traditional figure of worship among those in law-enforcement and their nemesis, the triads, could be understood that he was supposed to represent, loyalty among brotherhood, the Chinese concept of "Yi". The tradition probably got tangled between the historical Guan Yu as described in SGZ and the folklore of SGYY.
After tearing through the myths, how should one view his erstwhile submission to Cao Cao in a hopeless situation, and subsequent departure to Liu Bei who was allied with Yuan Shao on the verge of a showdown with Cao Cao?
Was it his departure due to his loyalty to Liu Bei? Or dissatisfaction that Cao Cao did not grant him his desired female war captive?
Did Guan Yu in any way fail his obligation to either Liu Bei or Cao Cao?
Ultimately, the question one must ask is whether a flawed character is still deserving of admiration or even worship? Or did it just make him just another mortal with failings, worthy of note, but no more?
Yun has translated some basic information about an outstanding but little-known general of the Age of Fragmentation, known for defeating armies many times larger than his during a Northern Expedition that ultimately failed through no fault of his own.
Was killing his brothers necessary?, Tang Taizong's fault?
A long time poll question that analyzes this critical junction in Chinese history. Many CHF members have and are contributing to this ongoing topic and have shared some interesting theories and analysis.
Is Xi Xia considered a part of Chinese history?, on par with say the Jin, Liao, or Ming?
Within this seemingly simple question, CHF members discuss whether there can be dual powers claiming the Mandate of Heaven and whether a ruling house needs to establish certain criteria, i.e. being "The" ruling power in China and being of a certain ethnicity, to be considered a legitimate Chinese dynasty. Finally, the question of whether a regional power has to be a legitimate dynasty in order to be considered a part of Chinese history is considered.
What if the Ming continued Zheng He's voyages
To answer this question, CHF members examine the political and economic strengths of the early Ming, and compare them with the purpose and costs of the Zheng He voyages.
Was Empress Dowager Cixi a capable ruler?
Empress Dowager Cixi has been remembered in history as the woman who destroyed late-Qing China. There are many tales of her avarice, her greed for power and her ruthlessness. This ultimately leads to the question of whether she was a capable ruler.
There are arguments for and against her, however; perhaps what is truly missing is a historian's view of Cixi's policies and Cixi's hand in the daily running of the Empire. We have too much hearsay and many books written of her that are slanted to one end. It would have been a lot more comprehensive if we have the records of the Qing Dynasty, of the hand of Cixi in the policies and governing of the country that perhaps could provide a more convincing argument?
Why couldn't China modernise?
This thread critiques 19th-century China's inability to modernise and compares the factors within China with those of Japan, which successfully modernised.
Chinese science, technology - Its effect on China
Eric presents some of his work, largely based on Joseph Needham's studies, to elaborate on Chinese history and technology, which is a popular topic at CHF.
Compass-cart/ wagon "south-pointing cart", Rediscovered/ explained
The mechanics and origins of the south-pointing cart popularized by Joseph Needham's studies are discussed by CHF members.
The "dragon" is not the cultural icon of Chinese?, Do you agree?
The Dragon has become synonymous with China, but how did this happen and why is it popularly believed?
More discussions on what appeals cities have in the thread What is your favorite Chinese City?Asian History;
Kingdoms that existed in Thailand before Sukhothai, Translations... again...
This is a revival of an older thread that discusses old Thai and Malay kingdoms. Of particular interest is the discussion on the location of the enigmatic Chitu kingdom described in the Sui dynastic history. Was it on the Malay peninsula, or in Indonesia?
CaoCao74 began a nice gallery of Asian Artillery that is worth checking out.
Other noteworthy threads recommended by our moderators:
Chinese Ethnic Groups and Peoples;
Prehistory to Qin;
Tripartite division of Jin - who got the best deal, 三家分晋 How was the division of spoils decided
Why Qin's demise did not lead to fragmentation?, Why didn't the states or zhuhou re-emerge?
Where did the Shang people come from?, North, East, West, Northeast, Southeast, Central..
CHF Gallery and Museum;Chinese Board (中文论坛);