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CHINESE FOLK ART

UnderstandingChineseTraditions


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Paper-Cut (Jianzhi) Written by Artistic Chinese Creations.com

Paper cutting is a traditional art in China which has been making its way along the route of the long history of paper. The kind of art went after the invention of paper in Han Dynasty, once became one of the main form of arts, and was popular to the people of the time; even in royal families ladies were also judged by the ability at papercut. Most of the papercut artists are women. The themes of their works usually include everything in people’s daily life from dumb things to the surroundings. Familiarity makes them understand the real spirit of the art. The main tool for papercut is scissors. Once they are owned by a master of papercut, they will become so supernatural that the papercuts beyond imagination flow out of his/her hands in the chattering of a common pair of scissors. Another tool for paper cutting is engraving knives which are necessary to enhance a sharpened effect or to make a delicate job. No doubt that arts come from life and serve life. Papercuts are very popular in the countryside. The bright colors of red, green or light blue papercuts provide a strong foil to set off a merry atmosphere. So they are often found in wedding ceremonies or festivals in China. And people like to decorate their windows and doors using colorful papercuts.


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Written by Wikipedia.org

Dragon dance is a form of traditional dance and performance in Chinese culture. Like the lion dance it is most often seen in festive celebrations. Chinese people often use the term “Descendants of the Dragon” as a sign of ethnic identity. In the dance, a team of chinese people carry the dragon — which is an image of the Chinese dragon — on poles. The lead dancers lift, dip, thrust, and sweep the head, which may contain animated features controlled by a dancer and is sometimes rigged to belch smoke from pyrotechnic devices. The dance team mimics the supposed movements of this river spirit in a sinuous, undulating manner. The movements in a performance traditionally symbolise historical roles of dragons demonstrating power and dignity. The dragon dance is a highlight of Chinese New Year celebrations held worldwide in Chinatowns around the world. Dragons are believed to bring good luck to people, which is reflected in their qualities that include great power, dignity, fertility, wisdom and auspiciousness. The appearance of a dragon is both frightening and bold but it has a benevolent disposition, and so eventually became an emblem to represent imperial authority. One of the illustrations at right shows a Double Dragon Dance, rarely seen in western exhibitions, with two troupes of dancers intertwining the dragons. Even rarer are dances with the full array of 9 dragons (Kawlung), since 9 is a ‘perfect’ number. Such dances involve large number of participants from various organizations, and are often only possible under the auspices of the greater community.

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Photographed by Christopher Chan @ flickr

Dragon Dance (Wushi)


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Chinese Calligraphy (Shufa) Written by asiawind.com

Chinese calligraphy (Brush calligraphy) is an art unique to Asian cultures. Shu (calligraphy), Hua (painting), Qin (a string musical instrument), and Qi (a strategic boardgame) are the four basic skills and disciplines of the Chinese literati. Regarded as the most abstract and sublime form of art in Chinese culture, “Shu Fa” (calligraphy) is often thought to be most revealing of one’s personality. During the imperial era, calligraphy was used as an important criterion for selection of executives to the Imperial court. Unlike other visual art techniques, all calligraphy strokes are permanent and incorrigible, demanding careful planning and confident execution. Such are the skills required for an administrator / executive. While one has to conform to the defined structure of words, the expression can be extremely creative. To exercise humanistic imagination and touch under the faceless laws and regulations is also a virtue well appreciated. By controlling the concentration of ink, the thickness and adsorptivity of the paper, and the flexibility of the brush, the artist is free to produce an infinite variety of styles and forms. In contrast to western calligraphy, diffusing ink blots and dry brush strokes are viewed as a natural impromptu expression rather than a fault. While western calligraphy often pursue font-like uniformity, homogeneity of characters in one size is only a craft. To the artist, calligraphy is a mental exercise that coordinates the mind and the body to choose the best styling in expressing the content of the passage. It is a most relaxing yet highly disciplined exercise indeed for one’s physical and spiritual well being. Historically, many calligraphy artists were well-known for their longevity.


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Spring Couplets (Chunlian) Written by scils.rutgers.edu

On the Chinese New Year, families in China decorate their front doors with poetic couplets of calligraphy written with fragrant India ink, expressing the feeling of life’s renewal and the return of spring. It is said that spring couplets originated from “peach wood charms”, door gods painted on wood charms in earlier times. During the Five Dynasties (907-960), the Emperor Meng Chang inscribed an inspired couplet on a peach slat, beginning a custom which gradually evolved into today’s popular custom of pasting-up spring couplets. In addition to pasting couplets on both sides and above the main door, it is also common to hang calligraphic writing of the Chinese characters for “spring”, “wealth” and blessing. Some people will even invert the drawings of blessing since the Chinese for “inverted” is a homonym in Chinese for “arrive”, thus signifying that spring, wealth or blessing has arrived. While pairs of the door gods are pasted in the center of the door, spring couplets are pasted on each side of the door adn propitious words across the lintel at the top. In China, scholars would set up the tools and compose auspicious couplets for friends, relatives, and the publics. A calligrahper would prepare to write by first grinding the dry ink with water on an inkstone, and masterfully move the brush over red paper to produce powerful and clean strokes, forming elegant characters. The themes

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of the verses would suggest good fortune, longevity, and male offspring. Nowadays, most calligraphers still write but just for selling purpose. A couplet is made up of two lines of verse which are called the “head” and “tail” adn which should correspond with each other phonologically and syntactically word for wrod and phrase for phrase. In the past time, children would be given this kind of test or practice. Chinese people have a lot of different kinds of spring couplets. For businessman, they will have special words for earning more money, and gain good reputation around the world. For usual families, they would get some spring couplets listed good fortune, and luck.


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Chinese Acrobatics (Zaji) Written by ChinaStyle

Acrobatics is a performing art which combines physical strength and skill. The Encyclopedis Britannica describes acrobatics as “the specialized and ancient art of jumping, tumbling and balancing, often using apparatus such as poles, unicycles, balls, barrels, tightropes, trampolines and flying trapezes” Chinese acrobatics reached a high level of sophistication as early as the Warring States Period during the third century BC, with acrobats proficient at juggling seven daggers while manipulating 3-meter stilts. Acrobatic per formances are vividly depicted in brick paintings and stone engravings dating back to the Han Dynasty Various works depict acrobats performing hand tricks Such as jugging with swords, batls and bottles, as well as stunts using long poles, barrels, drum carts and galloping horses. A brick painting unearthed from a Han tomb in Pengxian County, Sichuan Province, portrays three acrobats-one performing handstands atop 12 stacked tables, another dancing on drums and a third juggling balls. A point well worth mentioning is that modern acrobatic performances continue to feature high-altitude handstands. A stone engraving “Bai xi tu” discovered in a Han tomb in Yinan County, Shandong Province, provides a vivid picture of ancient Chinese acrobats performing in a circus. The work entitled Varicty Show was found in a tomb in Beizhai Village some eight kilometers west of Yinan County The work can be divided into four parts viewed from left to right. Part one features ball and dagger juggling, as well as a man balancing a cross on his forehead while three boys perform stunts such as tumbling and hanging upside down on the cross. The performer possessed great


skill at simultaneously balancing the cross and avoiding seven plates placed at his feet. Part two shows an orchestra of 15 musicians playing chime stones, bells, jian-drums, zithers, xun(an egg-shaped wind instrument) and panplpes. Part three depicts “Tightrope Walking over a Mountain of Knives” and “Yulongmanyan Dance”. The former shows an acrobat performing handstands on a tightrope above a series of upright knives while a performer at one end of the rope appears to be spinning meteor-like bulbs and a performer at the opposite end juggles tridents. The latter is a majestic demonstration of acrobatic performances featuring imitations of laop fish, dragons and birds. Part four focuses on circus performances and stunts performed on drum carts. Great skill and daring is quite obviously required to perform handstands and spinning meteor-like bulbs on the backs of galloping horses or on moving drum carts. Numerous ancient items, including hand tricks, handstands, tightrope walking, horsemanship and pole climbing on moving carts, are still per formed in modern China.

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back to ancient times, with acrobats from the Eastern Roman Empire and india performing in China as far back as the Han Dynasty. During the golden age of the Tang Dynasty (618-907), Chinese acrobatics, music and dance spread to other countries through both land and sea routes of the silk Road as an important part of Chinese culture. Ancient lndia was celebrated for its magic tricks which were introduced to China by lndian monks and artists, and he tiped enrich Chinese acrobatics. The world of Magic by Sakamoto

Chinese acrobatics have long been used to promote cultural

Oiyoshi points out that Chinese magic and acrobatics were introduced to Japan in the

exchanges between Chinese people and people in other

17th year of the Kaiyuan Reign of Tang Dynasty Emperor Xuanzong (729). Magic and

countries. They also played an important role in spreading

acrobatic acts such as knife swallowing, fire spitting, tree growing and tightrope walk-

and developing science and technology in ancient China, with

ing were often performed at dinner parties held in the japanese royal palace. However,

Chinese inventing gunpowder and contributing significantly

some people put the introduction of Chinese magic and acrobatic arts to japan at an

to world civilization. However, the initial use of gunpowder

even earlier date. The Shoso-in Tpeasure Depository in Nara, japan, houses a collection

in China was far removed from weaponry, but instead fo-

of Cultural relics from the Tang Dynasty, including a painted bow with a lifelike picture

cused on producing sound effects, smoke and pyrotechnics

depicting Chinese acrobatics and music. The picture shows four young boys performing

for acrobatic performances. Ma jun, a well-known inventor

on a long pole balanced on the head of a female performer, as well as three adults

who lived during the Three Kingdoms Period (220-280), cre-

climbing and a young girl sitting on a plate atop a similar long pole balanced on the

ated numerous mechanical devices, including a number of

head of a male performer Musicians playing flutes and pipas provide musical accom-

devices designed as props for acrobatic performances and

paniment for the performances. japan’s Pictures of Tang Dance features a laop number

court variety shows. Chinese acrobatics is said to have in-

of pictures vividly depicting music, dance and acrobatics from Tang Dynasty China. The

spired new ideas for inventions in foreign countries. Profes-

album is not only important for studies of ancient music, dance and acrobatics, but also

sor Joseph Needham noted that a French scientist invented

provides material evidence for the existence of Cultural exchange between China and

the parachute after learning from a friend that acrobats

japan. The pictures A Fourman Pyramid,(Fig.2-3) Balace two noles on thc head (Fig.2-4)

in the East used umbrellas as safety devices while doing

SPitting Fire (Fig.2-5) and playing tricks, (Fig.2-6) demonstrate the Superb skill of Chi-

tightrope stunts. The use of umbrellas as safety devices for

nese acrobatics. Another picture entitledEscaping into a jar (Fig. 2-7) shows a unique

tightrope not only originated in China, but also remains as a

Chinese acrobatic act based on magic and calisthenics. Chinese acrobatics was the first

technique employed by modern Chinese acrobats.

Chinese performing art to move onto the world stage in modern times. A Chinese ac-

Acrobatic exchanges between China and other countries date

robatic troupe led by the famous Chinese magician Zhu Liankui visited New York in the


The troupe visited 14 countries, including the Soviet Union, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Albania, Finland, Denmark, sweden and Austria over the two-odd years to convey the friendly feelings Chinese people hold for people in other nations. Performances rich in ancient Chinese culture helped the people from various countries realize that the Chinese are an industrial, courageous, intelligent, optimistic and civilized people, and that China is a peace-loving country willing to live together with other countries in a peaceful and friendly manner. Acrobats, China’s envoys of peace and friendship, have traveled around the world performing in more than 100 countries over the past 4o years and have been favorably received in numerous countries without diplomatic ties with China. Their beautiful performances have enabled citizens in various countries to feel the friendliness of Chinese people and have helped accelerate the process of establishing friendly relations. Photographed by Buz Carter @ flickr

For example, in 1957, the Soldiers Acrobatic Troupe toured Lebanon, Tu-

late 19th century. While in New York, Zhu used the opportunity to share

nisia, Morocco and Ghana, none of which had diplomatic relations with

skill at “Catching Fish in the Pond,” a magic act Zuo Ci performed for Cao

China. The Chinese acrobatic troupe arrived in Ghana just as Ghanaians

Cao, the powerful prime minister of the Eastern Han Dynasty some 2,000

were celebrating their National Day. Members of the Chinese delegation

years ago, with American magician William Robinson.

joined in the National Day Parade and not only played gongs and drums,

Acrobatic art became a means New China used to promote cultural exchange with other countries following the founding of the People’s Republic of China in October 1949. one year later, the Ministry of Culture acted in accordance with the wishes of Premier Zhou Enlai and formed a work team of seven people to prepare for the establishment of an acro-

but also joined Ghanaians in songs and dances. They attended a state banquet held to celebrate Ghana’s National Day, and the director of the acrobatic troupe presented the Ghanaian premier with a congratulatory letter from Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai. The highly impressed Ghanaian premier read the letter aloud.

batic troupe.The group included Luo Ruiqing, Liao Chengzhi, Tian Han, Li Bozhao and various other outstanding generals, senior playwrights and directors or high officials in charge of cultural exchanges with foreign countries. Famous acrobatic artists from Shanghai, Tianjin, Beijing and Wuhan were invited to perform in the Chinese capital, and a number of acrobatic items with rich national color were selected from their repertoires. The items included ‘jumping Through Hoops on the Ground,” “juggling with Jars,””Cycling Tricks,” “Traditional Magic,” “Hand Tricks,” “Diabolo Plays,” “Bowl Balancing,” “Plate Spinning,” “Flying from Pole to Pole” and “Wushu (martial arts) Performances.” in the following month, efforts were made to improve the items, as well as costumes, props and musical accompaniment under the direction of cultural officials Li Bozhao and Zhou Weizhi. Chinese leaders Mao Zedong, Liu Shaoqi, Zhou Enlai and Zhu De voiced great approval for their preview performance at Huairentang in Zhongnanhai and decided that they should form a performing troupe to tour the Soviet Union and other European countries. Zhou Enlai named the group as the Zhonghua Acrobatic Troupe. The group was officially established in 1953 and renamed as the China Acrobatic Troupe.

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Shadow Puppet (Piying) Written by travelchinaguide.com

More then 2000 years ago, a favorite concubine of Wu Emperor of the Han Dynasty died of illness; the emperor missed her so much that he lost his desire to reign. One day, a minister happened to see children playing with dolls where the shadows on the floor were vivid. Inspired by this scene, the smart minister hit upon an idea. He made a cotton puppet of the concubine and painted it. As night fell, he invited the emperor to watch a rear-illuminated puppet show behind a curtain. The emperor was delighted and took to it from then on. This story recorded in the official history book is believed to be the origin of shadow puppetry. Shadow puppets were first made of paper sculpture, later from the hides of donkeys or oxen. That’s why the Chinese name for shadow puppet is pi ying, which means shadows of hides. Shadow puppetry was very popular during the Tang and Song Dynasties in many parts of China. Shadow puppetry was related to politics. In Beijing, for example, during the reign of Emperor Kangxi, this folk art was so popular that there were eight generously paid puppeteers in one prince’s mansion. When the Manchu rulers spread their rule to various parts of China, they brought the puppet show with them to make up for the fact that they could not appreciate local entertainment due to language barriers. From 1796 to 1800, the government forbade the public showing of puppet shows to prevent the spreading of peasant uprising at the time. It was not until 1821 that shadow puppet shows gained some vigor. Today, shadow puppet shows face extinction like other traditional art forms such as Nuo Drama.


a mirror, her reflection matches her actions. The operator plays five puppets at the same time, each of which has three threads. Ten fingers handle 15 threads. No wonder the operator is compared to the 1000hand Kwan-in. To overcome the limit imposed when only the profile of puppets can be seen, shadow puppets use exaggeration and heavy dramatization. The faces and the costumes of puppets are vivid and humorous. The flowery color, the elegant sculpting and smooth lines make shadow puppets not only props but also artwork. A shadow puppet takes as many as 24 procedures and more than 3000 cuts. The figures all have a large head and a small body, which tapers down. A man has a big head and a square face, broad forehead and a tall Photographed by Regina loving Beijing @ flickr

strong body without being too masculine. A woman has a thin face, a small mouth and slim body without being too plump. Effeminacy and tenderness are the norm for Chinese beauty. Scholars wear long robes with an elegant demeanor, while generals in martial attire bring to mind bravery and prowess. A close up of a shadow puppet shows colorful costume and vivid countenance.The design of the figures follows traditional moral evaluation and aesthetics. The audience can tell a figure’s character by seeing his mask. Like the masks in Beijing Opera , a red mask represents uprightness, a black mask, fidelity, and a white one, treachery. The positive Shadow puppetry wins the heart of an audience by its lingering music, exquisite sculpture, brisk color and lively performance. Shadow puppet figures are from folklores and familiar to Chinese people. One mouth tells stories of thousands of years; a pair of hands operates millions of soldiers. This is how the shadow puppeteer works. Nicknamed the business of the five, a shadow puppet troupe is made up of five people. One operates the puppets, one plays a horn, a suo-na horn, and a yu-kin, one plays banhu fiddle, one is in charge of percussion instruments, and one sings. This singer assumes all the roles in the puppet show, which of course

figure has long narrow eyes, a small mouth and a straight bridge of nose, while the negative one has small eyes, a protruding forehead and sagging mouth. The clown has a circle around his eyes, projecting a humorous and frivolous air even before he performs any act. Lavish background pieces including architecture, furniture, vessels and auspicious patterns are featured in shadow puppet shows. Earthy art that it is, shadow puppet shows impress audiences by their vividness and refinement. A framed puppet can be a novel and pleasant souvenir.

is very difficult. That is not all; the singer also plays several of the over 20

Besides the figures needed in a certain drama, the shadow puppets in-

kinds of musical instruments in a puppet show. These ancient musical instru-

clude heroes from folklore and history, such as the four ancient beau-

ments enhance this ancient folk art.

ties, Xi Shi, Wang Zhaojun, Diao Chan, and Yang Guifei ; or the Monkey

The stage for shadow puppet is a white cloth screen on which the shadows of

King, Emperor Qin Shi Huang .

flat puppets are projected. Shadow puppet looks similar to paper-cut except

Shadow puppetry in Shaanxi is believed to be the most typical. The An-

that their joints are connected by thread so that they can be operated freely.

cient Cultural Street of Shuyuanmen is an ideal place to choose shadow

The scene is simple and primitive; it is the consummate performance that

puppets as souvenirs. Here you can select from hundreds of figures in

attracts the audience. For example, a puppet can smoke and breathe out a

different sizes and poses. Shadow puppets reveal a special world with

smoke ring ¨C with operator help. In one drama, as a maid sits in front of

their different figures.


Photographed by tkujimmylee @ flickr


Lantern Riddles (Dengmi) Written by babelstone.co.uk

Lantern riddles (Dengmi) are riddles that were written on the lanterns that are displayed during the Lantern Festival on the 15th day of the first lunar month. The riddles may also have been pasted onto walls for public entertainment, or simply written for private amusement. The first mention of of the custom pasting riddles onto the Lantern Festival lanterns occurs in Zhou Wu’s memoirs of life in the Southern Song capital of Hangzhou, Wulin Jiushi: Some people would cut out poems and verses [and paste them] onto silk lanterns; these would satirise or ridicule topical events, with [grotesque or humorous] pictures of people, and hidden meanings and obscure words, as well as jokes current in the old capital, all intended to poke fun at the passers-by. The phrase hidden meanings and obscure words evidently refers to riddles, but it would seem that the riddles were only one of a variety of amusing words and pictures that would be attached to the festive lanterns. Lantern riddles do not yet seem to have evolved into an independant art form at this time. It is not until the latter part of the Ming dynasty that a tradition of lantern riddles begins to emerge in certain parts of China. Although some compilations of riddles were produced during the Ming dynasty, there do not seem to have been many works specifically devoted to lantern riddles. One rare example is a late Ming compilation of lantern riddles and humorous cant entitled Xinqi Dengmi Jianghu Qiaoyu, that is recorded by Qian Nanyang (1899-1990) in his Hanshanghuan Wencun. Interestingly, lantern riddles are conspicuous by their absense from any Ming dynasty works of vernacular fiction. It is especially noteworthy that the novel Jin Ping Mei, which describes Lantern Festival festivities in detail in several places, including the composition and singing of “lantern verses� describing the splendour of the lanterns and associated festivities, fails to make a single reference to lantern riddles. The fact that Jin Ping Mei and other Ming novels and short stories make no mention of lantern riddles strongly suggests that the composition of riddles over the Lantern Festival was not a widespread activity during the Ming dynasty. Lantern riddles only seem to have become universally popular during the Qing dynasty. There are frequent references to lantern riddles by Qing dynasty writers, but it is the inclusion of a number of lantern riddles in the great seventeenth-century novel Honglou Meng that perhaps gave the practice of lantern riddling its greatest impetus. The popularity of this novel may have helped in the popularisation of lantern riddles, and the spread of lantern riddles beyond the capital. Many later novels followed Honglou Meng in describing the composition of lantern riddles, but I do not know of any earlier novel that makes any mention of the practice whatsoever.

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Photographed by Just Peter @ flickr


photo credit : gzlpw.com

Chinese Batik (Laran) Written by Artistic Chinese Creations.com

Chinese Batik is also called La Ran in China. Researches show batik originates from ancient China. It was then called La Xie. As early as in Qin and Han Dynasties, people in southwestern minority regions of China, finding that wax can prevent from dyeing, proficiently mastered the craft of batik. They used bees wax and worm wax as material in preventing dyeing. By the time of Dong Han Dynasty, the batik skill was rather mature. By Xi Jin Dynasty, a dozen of color batik products could be produced. In Tang Dynasty, batik prevailed. The batik skill has been passed on generation after generation in the minority regions of Guizhou province and it has been spread widely across different regions.

from actual life or stories, typical of the traditional culture. Thin blade of bronze knife, dipped in heated wax, freely draws designs on white cloth, which prevents from dyeing. Then colors needed are dyed on the cloth. Later, the cloth is put in hot water to boil and clear designs would appear on the cloth. The traditional batik designs are often evenly and harmoniously distributed on four sides. There are various patterns but in good order. The overall effect is stressed instead of paying too much attention to the details. The design patterns are of rhythmical beauty since the lines and points are orderly arranged. The peculiar batik ice line adds more charm to it. Apart from the traditional blue, there are many

Design of traditional Guizhou batik is based on realism.

other colorful batik. The ice line is characteristic of batik.

The artistic language is simple, pure, straightforward and

The formation of ice lines is that wax lines are destroyed

powerful. Especially, its design pattern is free from con-

in constant rolling and dyeing of the cloth, which soaks

finement of details. Bold variation and exaggeration are

into the lines of the cloth, leaving natural patterns on the

employed. Such variation and exaggeration are out of the

cloth. The natural patterns are enchantingly beautiful. Like

simple but wide imagination and it is full of charms. Batik

fingerprints of human beings, they are different from each

designs are quite rich and colorful. Most of them are taken

other, which further augments the depth of its beauty.


Photographed by Wang Qingwei @ flickr


Beijing Opera (Jingju)

many other local operas were incorporated.

Written by travelchinaguide.com

It is generally accepted that Beijing Beijing opera, more commonly known as

opera gradually came into being after

Peking opera to westerners, is deemed the

1790 when the famous four Anhui opera

national opera of China. The accompanying

troupes came to Beijing. Beijing opera

music, singing and costumes are all fasci-

underwent fast development during the

nating and artistic. Full of Chinese cultural

reign of Emperor Qianlong and the no-

facts, the opera presents to the audience

torious Empress Dowager Cixi under the

an encyclopedia of Chinese culture as well

imperial patron, and eventually became

as unfolding stories, beautiful paintings,

more accessible to the common people.

Photographed by zdzarski.junior @ flickr

exquisite costumes, graceful gestures and acrobatic fighting. Since it enjoys a higher

An actress playing a female warrior pos-

reputation than other local operas, almost

es with her weapon.In the ancient times,

every province of China has more than

Beijing Opera was performed mostly on

one Beijing Opera troupe, who is called

open-air stages in markets, streets, tea-

“piaoyou” in Chinese. This kind of opera is

houses or temple courtyards. The orches-

so popular among Chinese people, espe-

tra had to play loudly and the performers

cially seniors, that even a “Beijing Opera

had to develop a piercing style of sing-

Month” has been declared.

ing, in order to be heard over the crowds. The costumes were a garish collection of

Beijing opera has an over 200-year his-

sharply contrasting colors because the

tory. The main melodies originated from

stages were dim and lit only by oil lamps.

Xipi and Erhuang, in Anhui and Hubei re-

It is a harmonious combination of Grand

spectively and over time techniques from

Opera, Ballet and acrobatic display, consisting of dancing, dialogue, monologue, acrobatic combat and mime. The Beijing opera band mainly consists of orchestra band and percussion band. The former frequently accompanies peaceful scenes while the later often follows scenes of war and fighting. The commonly used percussion instruments include castanets, drums, bells and cymbals. One person usually plays the castanets and the drum simultaneously, which are the conductor of the whole band. The orchestral instruments mainly compose of the Erhu, the Huqin, the Yueqin, the Sheng (reed pipe), the Pipa (lute) and other instruments. The band usually sits on the left side of the stage.

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Photographed by Liping Yang @ flickr


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Temple Fair (Miaohui) Written by CRIENGLISH.com

The most important holiday for the Chinese is

ed along with the development of Buddhist and

have their own festivals, some of which are held

the Chinese New Year, also called the Spring Fes-

Taoist activities, are a kind of mass gatherings

regularly. During the Spring Festival, temple fair

tival. During the festival period, everyone goes

that integrate religious worship, entertainment

is one of the most important activities, and a

back to their hometown and spends several days

and commerce.

traditional cultural event that features all kinds

with family, and people hold many celebrations.

Temple fairs in Beijing have a very long history,

Beijing has several fairs during the period. The

and saw a boom especially during the Ming and

fairs are held at various ancient temples, so they

Qing dynasties (1368-1911) as well as the Re-

are called “temple fairs.� Temple fairs, originat-

public of China (1912-1949). Major temples all

Photographed by ambrozhoujing @ flickr

Photographed by shininglai @ flickr

of Chinese folk art. So far, there have been more than 10 major temple fairs held each year in Beijing. In traditional temple fairs around Beijing, there

Photographed by shininglai @ flickr


Photographed by Yu Tan @ flickr

Photographed by sheilaz413 @ flickr

are performances and booths demonstrating and selling traditional arts and crafts. The fairs have lots of games to play, food to eat, performances and lots of people. In the temple fair you can taste numerous kinds of local snacks, court food and other dishes. Most temple fairs feature dragon and lion dances, waist drum dancing, lotus blossom fairy dances, ground and clam dancing as well as other folk performances, and some even stage traditional wedding ceremonies. In rural areas, the temple fair is an excellent opportunity to capture some color in an otherwise fairly drab country. For foreigners, temple fair is definitely a cultural experience, because it airs Chinese cultures from a very detailed perspective. While enjoying the samplings of Chinese delicacies, you can appreciate craftsmanship and artworks displayed by local artisans. Photographed by Cole & Tree @ flickr

Photographed by beijinger @ flickr

Photographed by sonicyang @ flickr


Photographed by Will Su @ flickr

Photographed by lv2wang @ flickr

Photographed by 1980Nic @ flickr


Photographed by yiucho @ flickr


Face Changing (Bianlian) Written by travelchinaguide.com

Sichuan Opera (Chuan Ju) originated at the end of

Face changing is a magical art. Actors change more

the Ming (1368-1644) and the beginning of the Qing

than 10 masks in less than 20 seconds! By raising the

Dynasty (1644-1911). With immigrants flooding into

hand, swinging a sleeve or tossing the head, an ac-

Sichuan, different dramas were brought in to blend

tor uses different masks to show different emotions,

with the local dialect, customs, folk music and dances.

expressing invisible and intangible feelings through

Gradually, brisk humorous Sichuan Opera, reflecting

visible and tangible masks. From green to blue, red,

Sichuan culture, came into being.

yellow, brown, black, dark and gold, these masks

Face changing is the highlight of Sichuan Opera. It is said that ancient people painted their faces to drive away wild animals. Sichuan Opera absorbs this ancient skill and perfects it into an art. There are three types of face changes. In the Wiping Mask routine the actor applies cosmetic paint in a certain position on his face. If the whole

show fear, tension, relaxation, slyness, desperation, outrage, and so on. Sichuan Opera master Peng Denghuai changed 14 masks in 25 seconds, and reverted to four masks after revealing his true face. This was his latest Guinness World record, breaking his previous one. Hong Kong super star Andy Lau was said to respect Mr. Peng as teacher and mentor in this stunt.

face is to be changed, the cosmetic paint is applied to

Today hi-tech is used to enhance this traditional art.

the forehead or eyebrows; for changes on the lower

Lasers and twinkling lights add a touch of mystery.

half of the face, paint is applied to his cheeks or nose;

And modern faces like Zorro are invited to the stage.

or to other specific parts. The Blowing Mask routine works with powder cosmet-

Sichuan Opera, like hot-pot and other Sichuan cuisine winners, is exciting, rich and good-natured.

ics, such as gold, silver, and ink powders. Sometimes a tiny box is placed on the stage; the actor draws near and blows at the box. The powder will puff up and stick to the face. Sometimes the powder is put in a cup. The secret to success in this act is to close the eyes and mouth and to hold the breath. The Pulling Mask routine is the most complicated. Masks are painted on pieces of damask, well cut, hung with a silk thread, and the lightly pasted to the conspicuous part of the costume. With a flick of his cloak the performer magically whisks away the masks one by one as the drama develops. One Sichuan Opera master also used qi gong movements as he changed face color from red to white, then from white to black.

Photographed by yiucho @ flickr

face one by one. The silk thread is fastened in an in-


Photographed by chris_starscream @ flickr


Photographed by Joshua-sun @ flickr

Opera Facial Make-Up (Lianpu) Written by Artistic Chinese Creations.com

Opera facial make-up originates from totem in ancient times, develops into facial paintings of the Song and Yuan Dynasties, and eventually takes the shape of facial costume of the Ming and Qing Dynasties. It is a pattern of put-on facial makeup for opera actors and actresses in the stereotype roles of implying commendatory and derogatory connotations and differentiating benevolence and malevolence, enabling the audience to get a glimpse of the inner world of actors and actresses through their symbolic facial make-up. In this sense, facial make-up has obtained the reputation as “painting of heart and soul”. Opera facial make-up utilizes the color of red, purple, black, white, blue, green, yellow, dark red, gray, golden and silver,

Photographed by Pengjun Jia @ flickr

“painted face” and clown. It plays the artistic functions of

with each color representing a unique stereotype character. In general, red symbolizes utter devotion and loyalty; purfaithfulness and integrity; white implies craft; blue represents valor and vigor; green signifies justice and chivalry; yellow exemplifies cruelty. Dark red is reserved for loyal old generals while golden and silver are used for Buddha, gods, ghosts and demons. Opera facial make-up, as the product of fine artisanship, has become part of the masterpieces in the thousands years of Chinese culture and art.

Photographed by Jyezhu @ flickr

ple embodies fortitude and resourcefulness; black manifests


Photographed by yo_heaen @ flickr


New Year Print (Nianhua) Written by artelino.com

Popular Chinese prints are commonly known in

posted on doors outside and inside the house.

the Western hemisphere as Chinese New Year

Their function was like that of the foo dogs

prints. The term is a bit misleading. These Ni-

- keeping the evil spirits out and inviting the

anhua - New Year pictures - were by no means

good ones to come in. The typical Chinese house

restricted to the celebration of the New Year.

had a huge front gate door with two wings that opened in the middle. Therefore door gods al-

Many of these prints were attached outside of

ways come in pairs and must be placed prop-

doors and were renewed for the New Year. Oth-

erly. Otherwise you are in for trouble, or as a

ers were burned in New Year celebrations. Thus

Chinese saying goes “Door gods wrongly placed

the term “New Year Prints”. But also lanterns or

- trouble to the right and to the left.”

fans were decorated with nianhua.

* Auspicious Images of Good Luck - This print

The popular Chinese print has prevailed in China

category showed symbols of good luck, longev-

for centuries. The subjects and the woodblock

ity and fertility. The image of the chubby baby

printing techniques made it an art form with

belongs to this category.

very distinctive features of its own. And it has been rooted among the common people from its

* Stove Gods - Traditional Chinese homes had a

very beginning.

small shrine above the kitchen stove. Inside the Photographed by wuzhenyang @ flickr

The early origins of Chinese New Year Prints can be traced at least back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD). Images of gods were pasted to doors of temples and common houses. A scientific analysis of the images of Buddha found

shrine was a printed image of the Stove God.

ject to major variations and rejuvenations. Cel-

The Stove God was something like the good

ebrated centers for the production of New Year

buddy of the family.

prints were Yangliuqing of Tianjing, Yangjiabu of Weifang and Taohuawu of Suzhou.

* Gods of Wealth * Daoist and Buddhist subjects

in the Mogaoku Caves showed that woodblock

Up to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911 AD) the pic-

printing was on a high level at the time of the

tures were thriving. Comparable to the popular

* Narratives, Folk Tales and Legends - This

Tang Dynasty.

Japanese print during the Edo and Meiji era,

category of prints was not connected to any

the Chinese folk print emerged with new sub-

deeper religious meaning or customs. There

jects from such fields as the traditional Chinese

were thousands of different print images that

opera, novels, real life events, landscapes and

could be bought from little print shops in the

flower-and-bird paintings.

streets. The subjects were from legends, folk

From the Song Dynasty (960-1127 AD) on, woodblock printing of popular Chinese prints had become a widespread commercial business and habit for the common people. Their use spread throughout China. During the Yuan Dynasty

Popular Chinese prints can be well categorized

(1279-1368 AD) the Chinese New Year prints

by their subjects. The subjects have their ori-

continued to exist, but showed a low profile.

gins in the Buddhist religion or old folk tales.

The Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 AD) saw a major renaissance of the popular Chinese print. The subjects, the techniques and styles were sub-

And although there are wide variations, certain iconographic patterns prevail. * Door Gods - Prints with door god motifs were

tales or operas. Merchants and artisans offered the designs mostly requested by the common people. The images of this category are the best representatives for the concept of the common popular Chinese print. * Scenes from everyday’s life


Photographed by Dave Yiu @ flickr


Red Envelope (Hongbao) Written by wikipedia.org

A red envelope or red packet is a monetary gift which is given in Chinese society. The name comes from the red envelope in which the money is contained. It is called lai si (also transcribed lai see) in Cantonese, Ang Pao in Min Nan/Taiwanese and Pung Pao in Hakka. Red envelopes are often presented on social and family occasions such as a wedding reception or a holiday such as Chinese New Year. The purpose of the red packet is that the red color of the packet symbolizes good luck. The cash amount contained is usually required to be of an even number as odd numbers are related to cash given during funerals. The cash amount given for weddings is usually to cover the cost of the attendees, to help the newly married couple. During Chinese New Year, a red envelope is typically given by married to the unmarried. Any unmarried individual is eligible regardless of age. There are no clear literary sources from which to date the origin of the red envelope tradition. During the Qing Dynasty, elders would tie coins

Photographed by BlueAlgae @ flickr

together with red string. These were believed to protect the elderly from sickness and death. It was widely believed that with each one hundred dollars you receive in these holy packets your life span is increased twofold. However, the magical effects of the Hong Bao are nullified by the Yu Quan Demon, a malicious spirit that manifests itself in the teeth of the dead. To protect yourself from the Yu Quan Demon, it was customary to burn three sticks of incense every night five minutes before sleeping for three days before and after the Chinese new year. The tradition evolved to the modern red envelopes after printing presses became common in China after the establishment of the Republic of China in 1911.

Photographed by @Leo@ @ flickr

Chinese Folk Arts  

Introduction to the some of the amazing Chinese folk arts.

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