1. Community News for August 2007
CHF has seen the recruitment of new staff, such as Non-han Nan Ban. Unfortunately, Wujiang, one of our long time staffs have decided to resign.
The CHF Staff plans to have a Juren exam (based on Chinese Culture) when Yun returns from his break.
Lastly, Kimchee has been voted as the July August 2007 Grand Historian Award winner. Congratulations!
2. Monthly Memo from Members
Jake Holman has been gracious enough to share a bit about himself in our Notes from a Newbie section, shares some of his CHF experiences.
2.1 Notes from a Newbie
My thanks to Publius for inviting me to contribute to the August Newsletter.
I'm not really sure how I first came across this Forum--must have been on one of my many internet searches--but I'm certainly glad I did! It is wonderful to be part of an internet community which shares my interest in China and Chinese history.
I am a retired high school history teacher, age 53 (I'll be starting a new job to pick up a little extra cash in southern California in September or October, part-time work in a friend's photo studio). I was born in Monterey Park, California (now known as "Little Taibei", as it is about 70% Chinese), and my interest in China was sparked by a book called "Ancient China", by Edward Schafer, which I read in the late 1960s. I would highly recommend it, along with "Life Along the Silk Road", by Susan Whitfield, for anyone interested in seeing a well-done popularization of ancient Chinese history. Schafer's book opened up a new way of looking at the universe for me--a great culture which looks at things quite differently from us in the west--and for that I shall always be grateful. I went to college at UCLA (Los Angeles), majoring in history (what else?) and afterwards met a man with an encyclopedic knowledge of Chinese history, philosophy, music and literature, Dr. Tain Tzey-yue (譚載嶽 ). We translated about a thousand Chinese poems together in the 1980s, until I moved to Arizona in 1989.
I taught history from the time I graduated from college (1976) until I retired in 2004 at age 50, in southern California, and later, Arizona. I love history because I am fascinated by how our perspectives on things change over time--even basic things we all take for granted. For example, our views on love and romance. The ancient Chinese, Romans and Greeks had a very practical view of the subject. In the west, it was in the Middle Ages, with the advent of chivalry, influenced in part by Islamic culture, that we placed love and marriage on a sacred pedestal. Now, in just the past couple of generations, we can see a return to the more ancient, practical view of the relations between the sexes. In short, the study of history gives you a sense of perspective and will lead you to ask many questions about things other people take for granted!
3. Cultural Column
Ullambana / Hungry Ghost Festival
Eight days after the Qixi 七夕festival, on the fifteenth day of the seventh lunar month, Taoists celebrate the Zhongyuan festival while the Buddhists observe the Yulanpen 孟兰盆 or Ullambana festival.
Both Taoists and Buddhist believe that people will become spirits once they die, wandering between heaven and earth.
The seventh month of the lunar year is devoted to the Festival of the Hungry Ghost, during which the gates of hell are thrown open and the spirits of the dead are released on 'parole' to roam the earth. Food, prayers, incense and 'hell money' are offered to appease the spirits. Celebratory dinners are held as well as performances of Chinese street operas or **getai**. No marriages or dangerous journeys, such as sea voyages, embarked on during this period.
According to traditional belief, on that day the god of earth visits the heavens and reports on the good and bad deeds of men. On the same day the hungry ghosts are allowed to leave the gate of hell. These ghosts have to be pacified and so most Chinese families make offerings of joss and yin money to the wandering ghosts. On this day, people burn incense, candles and joss papers. They also scatter rice, salt and tea so that the ghosts released from the netherworld could have their fill.
According to Buddhist culture, the seventh month of the lunar calendar is a "Month of Auspiciousness" and also a "Month of Happiness". After three months of cultivating and practicing Buddhist Teachings during the Rain Retreat, it is a month for the devotees to enhance their karma of religion which leads to Buddhahood. If there is one more person achieving enlightenment, he will bring more light and harmony to the world.
Hungry Ghost festival is an occasion that is taken very seriously by the Chinese. It is also a Buddhist festival known as "Ullambana". The Buddhist Ullambana sutra advocates diligent practice of filial piety and recompense the gratitude of our parents.
"Ullambana", meaning "to save hanging up side down", was derived from a story that came from India: "Mulian 目莲Rescuing His Mother from Hell". Mulian was Buddha's disciple. One day, when Mulian was in deep meditation, he saw his deceased mother suffering in the path of the hungry ghost in the netherworld. Using divine power, Mulian attempted to give his mother some rice. However, when his mother reached for the rice, her mouth caught fire and the rice in her hand turned into ash. Hence, she was always hungry. Mulian was heartbroken; he went to seek Buddha's advice.
Buddha said, "Your mother committed grievous evil deeds when she was alive. To save her world require the dharma power of the wise monks of ten directions. On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, make offerings to these monks. Then take the leftover rice, which you offer to the monks, and give it to your mother. Not only can she get to eat the food, her soul will also ascend to the Western Paradise."
Mulian followed Buddha's instruction. Indeed, his mother received the offering of food and was able to break away from her suffering. From then on, the story of Mulian rescuing his mother spread far and wide.
During the North-South Dynasty, Emperor Liangwudi (梁武帝) saw that this festival taught the virtue of filial piety. Hence, every year, on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, he held vegetarian banquets as offerings to the monks of the ten directions. This was also an opportunity to express our gratitude to our parents.
Be it Hungry Ghosts Festival or Ullambana, our ancestors have been following certain traditional ceremonies to celebrate the festival.
Some Chinese associations set up stages in the compounds of the community halls. A high platform is built displaying icons of the judge of hell and fruit, rice, meat dishes and wine offerings are placed on tables. This festival used to be celebrated with the lighting of paper boats in China, especially in places situated along a riverside. People gathered along the river and let their lighted wooden or paper boats float and drift on the river to guide the souls of those who have drowned in the rivers to a place of rest.
In the past, Taoist priests and Buddhist monks held large-scale sacrificial rites to appease and pray for the dead. At night, after having their fill on earth, the ghost would be sent off, back to the netherworld, with a grand ceremony. As the journey back to the netherworld was distant and misty, people who lived along the coast would light paper boats and lanterns to help transport them across the Naihe 奈河River that separated the mortal and the nether worlds. The river lanterns were made from waxed paper boards, cut into the shape of lotus flowers, and lit using candle or oil. The river lanterns followed the current of the river and lit the path to guide the ghosts.
As the river lanterns drifted into the distance, slowly disappearing from sight, the ghosts in people's minds were also carried away to the edge of the earth. The wicked ideas of ghosts and monsters conceived in the minds of people were also cast away. This enabled people to be rid of their spiritual sufferings and in turn, obtain peacefulness in life.
Source: Nagapuspa & Disappearing Customs in China Marshall Cavendish Editions
Many of the customary practices and forms of entertainment have virtually disappeared, or have been modified or simplified as Singapore accelerates its modernization process. Following an extract article from book "The Chinese Heritage" published by Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations on Chinese Operas and Ge Tai (stage singing):
Chinese operas 戏院 were a common form of entertainment and six to seven opera houses flourished in the city during the 1880s. Li Chun Yuan (梨春园) was undeniably the most popular of them. It was located at Smith Street in the heart of Chinatown, which was largely populated by the Cantonese.
Li Chun Yuan was a landmark for social interaction during that period. People went there to be seen as much as to see. It was also the reference point for the streets around that area. Two other opera houses near present day People's Park Centre, Qing Sheng Ping (庆升平) and Qing Wei Xin (庆维新), also put up Cantonese operas frequently. Their closest counterparts were Yi Yuan (怡园) and Zhe Yuan (哲园), famous for their Teochew operas. These were located near the old Tong Chai (同治) Medical Institution in Wayang Street.
Each dialect group supported its own professional opera troupe. The Hokkiens had the Sai Feng (赛风) troupe, the Teochews patronized the Lao Yi Zhi Xiang (老一支香) and Lao Sai Tao Yuan (老赛桃园) while the Cantonese enjoyed performances by Hai Tian You Yi Hui (海天游艺会). Community groups as well as temple organizers would hire these troupes to perform during festive or special occasions. All these players organized their own unions to protect their interests, such as the Ba He Hui Guan (八和会馆) and Theatrical Association (梨园公会).
Street shows provided the masses with free entertainment. Various temple authorities would host opera performances for a few days at a stretch as part of their thanks-giving celebrations. At such times, not only were the areas fronting the stage packed with an enthusiastic crowd, but the plot behind the stage would also be filled with itinerant hawkers selling food, toys, handicrafts and other knick-knacks. It was not uncommon to see gamblers huddled in groups, hoping to make a fast buck.
Besides professional opera troupes, several clan associations also nurtured opera talents among their membership. Among these were the Khek Community Guild, Gu Cheng Hui Guan (古城会馆), Dong An Hui Guan (东安会馆) and Gang Zhou Hui Guan (冈州会馆). In recent years, the Bukit Timah Hokkien Association has also sent its troupe to perform at community centres and it has received encouraging reviews.
Before the Second World War, there were already several enthusiastic opera supporters who formed troupes and put up performances, thereby enriching the cultural life of the Chinese. Apart from those set up by clan associations, there are now other groups such as Ping She 平社 (The Singapore Peiping Drama Society) doing Beijing operas, Chinese Theatre Circle putting up Cantonese shows and the Amateur Musical and Dramatic Association, which used to perform in the Han dialect, but which are now singing in Teochew. Among such associations are the Yu Yu (余娱), Liu Yi (六一), Tao Rong (陶融), Xing Hua (星华) and Nan Hua (南华). Another popular troupe is the Hokkien Xiang Ling (湘灵) Musical Association.
Stage singing 歌台 of Mandarin songs developed from the days of singing in teahouses. With the growing influence of western music, stage singing developed into an art form in itself. Most performers would sing pop tunes, to the accompaniment of western musical instruments like drums, guitars and bongos. A performance would often include short skits, especially comical ones.
More information on getai: http://v2.stomp.com....tai/history.jsp
4. Forum Picks (formerly Forum Favourites)
Chinese Pirates in history: http://www.chinahist...showtopic=18935
Emperors/kings traveling out of their domains, How many were there?: http://www.chinahist...showtopic=18919
Sui and Tang Dynasty
Death Penalty Abolished, What Led Xuanzong to Abolish Capital Punishment?:
Chinese Art of War
Preparation against tunnelling section of the Mozi, Is there a translation available?:
Ancient Chinese Arsenal
Some Questions about Chinese Zhou arsenal: http://www.chinahist...p...=18922&st=0
Ancient Chinese weapons pictures; Shang to Han, From a private Taiwanese collection : http://www.chinahistoryforum.com/index.php?showtopic=17405&st=0&start=0 ://http://www.chinahistoryforum.com/in...=0&start=0
Prehistory to Qin
Noteworthy women of the ear:
Translation of Bios of Cao Caos sons: http://www.chinahistoryforum.com/index.php?showtopic=10106
Five Dynasties, Liao, Song, Xia, Jin and Yuan
The battle of the Diaoyuchen, Mongke's death and the all-out retreat of the Mongols :
Li Zicheng and his Shun Dynasty, Peasants' rebellion: http://www.chinahist...p...30&start=30
Lacquer-ware Photos : http://www.chinahist...showtopic=18886
Chinese Science, Technology, and Medicine
Ancient Chinese Astronomy: Palaces, Constellations, Learning and Web-archiving their Names & Artworks: http://www.chinahist...showtopic=15957
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General World History and Culture
An Overview Of European Weapons, Gallery For Medieval Western Weapons - Dedicated to MC420 : http://www.chinahist...p...t=0&start=0
Is History a Natural Science: http://www.chinahist...howtopic=18613=
CHF Newsletter Staff
Editorial Team: Imperial Marshal Mok, Snowybeagle, Publius, and Yun
Cultural Columnist: Moon
Special Thanks to the CHF Community
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CHF Newsletter August 2007
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