Feb 03

Made in China? No – invented in China

Often neglected by foreign tourists intent on seeing the world renowned Forbidden City, the National Museum of China (situated merely minutes away from the entrance of the Forbidden City) is a true gem of Beijing that should not be missed. With more than 1 million artifacts on display and around 8 million annual visitors, the National Museum is both one of the largest and one of the most visited museums in the world despite being overlooked by some.

The Museum occupies an imposing building that sits to the east of Tiananmen Square. Even the building itself is steeped in history – having been constructed in 1959 during the Great Leap Forward as one of the Ten Great Buildings celebrating the ten-year anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

After a renovation project that saw the museum closed off for four years, it reopened in 2011 as one of the largest modern museums in the world with more than 1 million artifacts inside.

The collection inside is equally impressive. From oracle bones (which contain inscriptions of the earliest forms of Chinese writing) to individual warriors from the First Emperor’s Terracotta Army to weapons from the Opium Wars, the museum boasts a variety of priceless and well-preserved artifacts from every dynasty in Chinese history.

One area the Museum pays particular attention to is Chinese inventions throughout the ages. In fact, a recent Chinese study concluded that ancient China had achieved no fewer than 88 scientific breakthroughs and engineering feats of global significance. The list includes plenty that many in the West would find surprising or dubious, such as the decimal system, crossbow, the stirrup, and even the game of football (soccer).

In a day and age where the ‘made in China’ label seem omnipresent, it’s easy to forget that ancient China has indeed contributed enormously to the scientific advancement of mankind. Although some of the study’s claims are certainly suspicious, there is no question that the ‘Four Great Inventions’ – of the compass, gunpowder, papermaking and printing – were used in ancient China long before they emerged in the West. After all, it was the eminent British scientist and historian Joseph Needham who first identified the four great inventions in the 1950s – before which point pretty much all in the West assumed they were the products of European minds.

Popularised in the Song and Yuan dyansties, the paper banknote – which revolutionised financial history – was made possible by the Chinese invention of paper and printing.

The National Museum, for instance, has a healthy collection of printed books dating from the 11th and 12th centuries A.D. These works perfectly display the collective marvels of papermaking technology and movable printing. When the first forms of paper appeared in Han China (around 1st century A.D), Europe was still using papyrus. It took more than 1000 years for papermaking technology to diffuse to the West, when it reached Spain. Similarly, woodblock printing in China was utilised as early as the 1st century A.D while movable printing was invented and widely used during the Song period in the 11th century – four hundred years before the appearance of the Gutenberg Bible in Europe.

The Chinese characters for gunpowder, ‘huoyao(火药),’ meaning ‘fire-medicine’ in English, is reflective of its origins.

Perhaps the most famous and ironic invention to have come out China is the gunpowder. Discovered in the 9th century A.D by Chinese alchemists searching for the elixir of immortality (the Chinese word for gunpowder is ‘fire medicine’), what they came across instead is a compound that ended lives prematurely rather than prolonging them. This technology was later perfected by the Europeans and used against the Chinese and other unfortunate peoples across the globe.

Despite having such an amazing collection from all periods of Chinese history, the National Museum lacks good quality English labels on most of the items. To make the most use of your time, therefore, you should really consider hiring one of Newman Tours’ expert guides in order to truly appreciate the place. Email info@newmantours.com or call 0086 (0) 138-1777-0229 to book to-day!

Jan 15

Heshen and the Dream Mansion

Explorers of Beijing’s hidden gems may be familiar with Prince Gong’s Mansion. Situated only five-minutes walk away from Beihai North metro station, this grand estate remains one of the largest and best-preserved princely seats in the Chinese capital.

Once inhabited by the influential Prince Gong – arguably China’s first ‘foreign minister’ and ardent reformer in the late nineteenth-century – his mansion is important not only as a splendid example of Qing-era architecture, but also as an asset to those who wish to take a closer look into the lifestyles of the rich and mighty in imperial China.

Few people, however, are aware of the interesting stories surrounding the earlier history of this mansion. In fact, Prince Gong was not responsible for the construction of the mansion that now bears his name. Nor was he even the most powerful person to have resided in it (that’s saying something considering that he was one of the most dominant figures in late Qing history).

The AAAAA rated site consists mostly of large siheyuan-style mansions and gardens.

That dubious honour goes to Heshen – a late eighteenth century Qing official whose meteoric rise under Emperor Qianlong was almost as spectacular as his eventual fall and disgrace merely days after the old emperor’s death in 1799.

Heshen - one of the most corrupt officials in Chinese history.

Heshen – one of the most corrupt officials in Chinese history.

Several theories exist as to why Emperor Qianlong favoured Heshen so much. One states that the emperor was impressed by Heshen’s literary talents when the latter was a member of the royal guard. Another theory surmises that Qianlong was fascinated by Heshen’s handsomeness. A third theory (being the most interesting) instead speculates that Qianlong favoured Heshen out of guilt – because the young man’s appearance resembled one of Qianlong’s father’s concubines. As a young boy Qianlong was fond of playing pranks, and one of his gags eventually resulted in the death of the concubine. In order to assuage his guilt in his later years and believing Heshen to be the reincarnation of the concubine, Emperor Qianlong showered Heshen with unlimited royal favours for the remainder of his reign.

Once secure of the aging emperor’s trust, Heshen enjoyed almost complete freedom of his actions. As the minister responsible for tax collection, he was openly corrupt and practiced extortion on a grand – some would say national – scale. With his newfound wealth, Henshen was able to build a palace that rivaled the emperor’s own. He also hoarded all the riches he collected over the years in his dream mansion.

But what goes up must come down. With the death of Emperor Qianlong, Heshen’s only protective shield was gone. Wasting no time at all, the new Emperor moved swiftly to arrest his father’s old favourite. After a hasty trial, Heshen was found guilty and condemned to death (though accounts differ as to whether he was executed through torture or ordered to commit suicide). In the subsequent confiscation of his property, his wealthy estate was said to have contained property worth around 1,100 million taels of silver. Such an astonishing amount was reputedly estimated to be equivalent to the imperial revenue of the Qing government for 15 years (back when China’s GDP was around a third of the global total).

So much treasure was found in Heshen’s mansion that the imperial government would not have needed to collect taxes for the next 15 years.

So much treasure was found in Heshen’s mansion that the imperial government would not have needed to collect taxes for the next 15 years.

Luckily for us, He Shen’s mansion remains standing. Of course most would only know it as Prince Gong’s mansion, but it was through Heshen’s amazing wealth and his vision for a grand estate in central Beijing that made what we see today possible.

If you would like to learn more about Heshen and the stories regarding the ghosts that now supposedly haunt his mansion, why not book a Beijing Ghost Tour by emailing info@newmantours.com or calling 0086 (0) 138-1777-0229.

Nov 30

China’s Whacky Warlords

For thousands of years China has always been ruled by strange emperors, but what you may not know is that in the decades after the collapse of the imperial government China was ruled by successive waves of whacky warlords. What better way to get to know these eccentric regional despots than coming on Newman Tour’s latest addition – The Beijing Warlord Tour?

Indeed, from 1911 to 1949, China underwent a rough transition out of Imperialism, through attempted Republicanism, concluding finally in the rise of the Communists. Through this nearly 40-year period China was racked by Warlords, many of whom graced the cover of Time Magazine. Here is a rundown of just a few of our favourite Chinese Warlords.

Yuan Shikai

Yuan Shikai - Former President of China and the first of China's Warlords

Yuan Shikai – Former President of China, the first of the warlords and China’s real ‘Last Emperor’

Probably the most important warlord. Yuan originally harbored ambitions to become a government minister but was not clever enough to pass the imperial civil service exams. After failing twice, Yuan got fed up with it and instead used his family connections to become an officer in the army. Later rising to the rank of general, he led the Qing dynasty’s first real modern army and with the military firmly behind him became the most powerful man in China as imperial authority declined.

Notorious for being a conniving, two-faced individual, Yuan Shikai successively betrayed first the Guangxu Emperor and then the Xuantong Emperor. He played a part in ending the Qing dynasty when he chose to negotiate with anti-government revolutionaries rather than fighting them. Nevertheless, he later betrayed the revolutionaries in 1912 by forcing Sun Yat-Sen (the founder of The Republic of China) to give him the Presidency. The next year Yuan had Sun’s Prime Minster assassinated.

Yuan was seen as an able administrator, until in 1915 when he decided that he should revive the monarchy by becoming the new emperor. This didn’t go down especially well in China’s newly founded Republic and he was soon forced to stop. Many of Yuan’s loyalists, however, felt betrayed and became disloyalists. Yuan died after being largely abandoned by his men. His ill-conceived restoration of the monarchy not only ended disastrously for him but also heralded the beginning of China’s Warlord era from 1915 – 1930.

To find out more about Yuan Shikai, take a look at a humorous short documentary made by Newman Tour’s founder Daniel Newman.

Wu Peifu

Wu Peifu on the cover of TIME Magazine

Wu Peifu and his death-stare on the cover of TIME Magazine

Also known as “The Jade Marshal” and China’s greatest strategist. After foreign powers made the decision to recognise whichever Chinese faction controlled Beijing as legitimate, Northern China became increasingly unstable. A number of factions were vying for control and Wu Peifu was often at the heart of the turmoil. He twice won wars he should have lost by feigning retreat and luring his enemies into a trap. He was finally defeated, but not out of power, when one of his generals betrayed him.

He is said to have owned the world’s largest diamond, hung a painting of George Washington in his office, and refused to enter foreign concessions because of his patriotism. He refused a Japanese offer of the Presidency of China, offering to take it only if the Japanese all left. He later died from a tooth infection because he refused foreign aid.

Yang Sen

Probably the Strangest of the warlords, he was a Daoist Master with many wives. He was based in Sichuan, which was contested by 5 warlords, none whom could gain the upper hand.

Yang is reputed to have been a student and lived with Daoist Master Li Ching-Yuen, born 1677. After Li’s death in 1933 (and yes, you are reading those dates correctly) Yang wrote a book about the 256 year-old’s life. After WWII, a sports enthusiast, Yang headed Taiwan’s Olympic Committee, carrying the flag at the 1950 Olympics. He also chaired the Taiwan Mountain Climbing Association.

Ma Fuxing

Notorious even for a warlord. He was an ex-convict and was put in charge of Kashgar in China’s Muslim far west. Ma had once fought for the Qing Dynasty against the foreign forces during the Boxer Rebellion.

He had a harem of Uighur wives and required people to refer to him as Padishah, an Iranian word for king. Ma horded money and had a hay cutting machine which he used to cut people’s limbs off which he hung on the city walls with a note about why they had been executed.

Feeling that Ma’s excesses were too great, he was later removed from power in Kashgar and executed by his successor, Ma Shaowu.

The End of China’s Warlords

The end of this period in China’s history came about when the Communists emerged victorious from the Civil War. Many of the later warlords were supporters of the Nationalists and so didn’t stay in China after the founding of The People’s Republic.

This is only a tiny selection of the warlords that existed during this unstable period in China’s history. If you want to learn more about them and meet a few more, then sign up for our Beijing Warlords Tour today!

Nov 21

The Forbidden City and China’s Forgotten Royals

Coming to the Forbidden City Tour with Newman Tours means coming to visit one of the world’s most celebrated palaces. Attracting more than 14 million visitors annually, tourists flock to catch a glimpse of the complex that housed China’s royals for more than 500 years.

Containing almost 1,000 separate buildings, it is a place that cannot help but give visitors feelings of awe when they try to imagine the lives enjoyed by those who resided in this magnificent palace. For a special group of people, however, daily lives in the Forbidden City often equated loneliness and despair in spite of their unimaginably luxurious surroundings.

The most visited museum in the word is twice the size of the Vatican and thrice the size of the Kremlin.

One might think of the maids or eunuchs as the unhappy groups that’s being alluded to. Yet, the lives of the Emperor’s concubines – basically his lesser wives – were in many ways even more isolated and miserable than their lowly servants’. A concubine’s main duty was to produce a male heir for the throne – and to serve the purpose of securing dynastic succession the Forbidden City wasn’t just home to two or three concubines but more often hundreds and sometimes even several thousands.

To be selected as a concubine for the emperor, eunuchs were sent to search within and beyond China for the perfect match. Concubines weren’t necessarily chosen for their looks but also for their child rearing capabilities, levels of education and families’ status in society. Those who were selected were guarded closely by the eunuchs and would never be allowed to leave the Forbidden City under normal circumstances. To most of the imperial concubines, therefore, the safety and luxury of the Forbidden City must have felt less like a blissful utopia and more like a prison with no way out.

All this doom and gloom can make one forget the fact that concubines were technically royalty, and it is for this reason that many women as well as their families were deeply honored for the opportunity to send their daughters into the Forbidden City. The more successful concubines can become extremely rich and even accrue a great deal of political power.

True power behind the throne – Empress Dowager Cixi rose from concubine to become China’s most powerful individual for almost 50 years.

In fact, imperial China’s last effective ruler started out as a lowly concubine. Empress Dowager Cixi began her ascend as a sixth-ranked consort – which was among the lowest of the imperial concubines – and ended up governing all of China for almost half a century. By giving birth to Emperor Xian Feng’s only male heir, Cixi was able to rule from the Forbidden City and dictated orders on behalf of her son, who was too young to make decisions for the country. Her legacies may be controversial but she was no doubt a stronger ruler – and it is not surprising that the Qing dynasty collapsed merely three years after her death in 1908.

Where did all the bedrooms go? Only with guides at Newman Tours will you find the answers to the type of questions that others will never even think to ask.

Where did all the bedrooms go? Only with guides at Newman Tours will you find the answers to the type of questions that others will never even think to ask.

While the imperial concubines were much neglected in their lifetimes, few visitors to the Forbidden City realize that they continued to be neglected till this very day. As one strolls through the palatial complex, the emperors’ various halls and residences are on display for all to gawk at. Yet, very few visitors will take the time to visit the concubines’ living quarters at the back and sides of the palace. In fact, most of the concubines’ former bedrooms no longer exist: they are not deemed to be important enough for preservation and have instead been converted into display rooms for ceramics and other historical artifacts.

Thus, even in death the emperors’ concubines continue to be neglected by historians, preservationists and tourists alike. For much of their lives the Forbidden City was all they had. It was their home as well as their prison. So the next time you visit the Forbidden City, why not do it with one of Newman Tours’ expert guides so you can learn more about China’s forgotten royals.

Newman Tours offer The Forbidden City Tour as public, private and select tours. Your experience and perception of the place will not be the same without us.

Nov 18

Will Xi’an’s City Wall Come Tumbling Down?

Taking a trip with Newman Tour’s One Day Tailored Best of Xian Tour is a good way to get acquainted with the picturesque Xi’an City Wall, which is renowned as one of the world’s largest ancient military fortifications left standing. At an impressive length of 14 kilometres, it measures comfortably as China’s longest – and some would say only – city wall still preserved in its entirety.

Enclosing an area of about 36 square kilometres, the Xian City Wall has protected the city for more than six centuries and is now a major tourist attraction.

Looking serene and composed, it is certainly a mega-structure that has stood the test of time. Yet, its greatest existential challenges may very well lay further ahead.

Originally constructed in the 1370s on the orders of the first Ming emperor, the wall contains 18 city gates, 98 ramparts and close to 6,000 battlements. Standing at 12 meters tall and almost 18 meters thick at the bottom, the wall was so strongly reinforced that it was able to withstand artillery shelling when a warlord besieged the city in the chaotic 1920s. Japan air raids also left little lasting damage.

A far greater threat emerged in the 1950s, however, with the rise of movements that targeted symbols of the feudal-era that were seen to have impeded social advances promised by the post-imperial age. Only the intercession of powerful individuals prevented the Xi’an City Wall from being torn down like many other ancient city walls across China.

Although it does affect traffic in ways that often make the locals grumble.

Ironically the Xi’an City Wall does in some ways pose as an obstacle to the modernisation of the city it was supposed to protect. Its very presence can create headaches for transit officials, who must build roads around the few gates large enough for traffic to pass through. Another vexatious issue is the fact that certain underground metro routes are blocked by the foundations of the wall. As any resident of Xi’an will attest, the congestions inside the city wall can be horrendous even outside of peak hours. Therefore, in terms of more practical matters at least, the livelihood of your average Xianese is not always enhanced by the existence of the Wall – however beautiful and culturally significant it may be.

These inconveniences notwithstanding, the locals as well as the central government are now firmly committed to the preservation of the City Wall. Nevertheless, the tides of time is a harsh enemy – and the situation is only exacerbated by the nature of 21st century city building.

Indeed, the increase of pressure on the ground as a result of high-rises built in recent years around the wall and the excessive extraction of ground water have led to subsidence and cracks. Locals often report noticing the cracks getting bigger as the years go by.

Last year the crack was only the size of a finger, reports local media.

Of course, that is not to say the Xi’an City Wall will collapse anytime soon. Its long-term future, however, is a source of intense concern for relic protection experts across China. All the more reason to visit the site with one of Newman Tours’ expert guides whilst you still can.

You can cycle your way on top of Xian’s ancient protective wall as part of Newman Tours’ One Day Tailored Best of Xi’an Tour.

Jun 12

The Curse of the Skyscraper – The Shanghai Tower

Towards the end of 2014, the gargantuan Shanghai Tower finally topped out and reached it’s target height of 632 meters, making it the tallest structure in China. This behemoth of a building, which now dominates the Shanghai skyline not only towers above the Jinmao Tower (421m) and Shanghai World Financial Centre (492m) immediately next door to it, but will also be more than 120 meters taller than the 101 Building in Taipei (509m), which was the previous holder of the title of tallest building in East Asia.

This will certainly put smiles back on the faces of any members of the Chinese architectural community that feel size really matters. However, it is interesting to note that the Shanghai Tower does not aim to become the tallest building in the world.

That title will continue to belong to the Burj Khalifa in the United Arab Emirates, which has been laughing down at its opponents from the clouds since its completion in 2009 from a vertigo-inducing height of 828 meters.

Since Shanghai has already has the world’s longest trans-oceanic bridge, the world’s longest metro system and is clearly very keen on superlatives, one can’t help but wonder why they aren’t also aiming to build the world’s tallest tower as well.

One possible explanation as to why the Chinese authorities have resisted the temptation to compete with Dubai is that they give credence to the economic theory most commonly referred to as the “Curse Of The Tallest Tower”. According to this theory, man’s attempts to construct the world’s tallest buildings right through from Babel to the Burj, have resulted in economic disaster. However, if this is the case, what the Chinese authorities may have failed to recognise are the larger economic truths that have given substance to this myth.

Economists have long since acknowledged that there is often a correlation between towering hubris and financial ruin, as the commissioning of enormous engineering projects often occur during periods of over-investment and excessive expansion. Illustrating this theory, they most often cite extreme examples such as the following:

1. The completion of the Chrysler and Empire State buildings in the late 1920s, coincided with the beginning of the Great Depression.
2. The completion of Kuala Lumpur’s Petronas Towers in 1997 was immediately followed by the Asian Financial Crisis.
3. The completion of the Burj Khalifa in 2009 was immediately followed by the Dubai debt crisis.

However, the fact that economists usually refer to the world’s tallest buildings as a means of dramatically illustrating their theory does not mean that the same idea cannot be applied to non-superlative examples of exuberant engineering projects.

The average housing price in China tripled between 2005 and 2009, and in April 2011 a report came out claiming that 64 million apartments in China are still standing empty. Perhaps then, rather than simply taking the “Curse Of The World’s Tallest Tower” at face value, the Chinese authorities should therefore think more about the economic dangers of excessive investment that make this superstitious belief an authentic economic barometer

Jun 07

Top 5 Fascinating, Mysterious and Downright Strange Chinese Burial Practices

Whether it be sending the Emperor or one’s Grandfather off to the afterlife, burial practices form a pinnacle of importance in China. From concubines being buried alive, to the commissioning of thousands of pottery warriors or burning paper I-Pads. The Chinese burial practice tradition dates back to Neolithic China (8,000 years ago) where tribal leaders would be buried with jade daggers and congs and all manner of goodies to accompany them into the afterlife. We have compiled a top five list of the sometimes strange, sometimes gory, sometimes spectacular examples of Chinese burial practices.

The Han Dynasty believed Jade had preserving properties so buried the deceased in Jade suits!

The Han Dynasty believed Jade had preserving properties so buried the deceased in Jade suits!

1) Fast forward 6,000 years from Neolithic China to the infamous tyrannical Emperor Qin who decided priceless artefacts were not enough to protect him in the great beyond, only 8,000 pottery warriors would suffice (You might have heard of them; the Terracotta Warriors) and an enormous tomb. This tomb has yet to be unearthed and presents even the most blasé archaeologists with a tantalising mystery about what lies within. From whispers about rivers of mercury to ancient booby traps the tomb will be unearthed when technology is advanced enough to preserve everything inside upon excavation.

2) Not long after Emperor Qin went crazy, probably as a result of self inflicted mercury poisoning, the subsequent Han Dynasty is when live burials went out of fashion. Meaning prior to this point very much alive servants, concubines, soldiers, you name it, were buried alongside their leaders. The Han, realising human life was valuable and should be preserved for more useful purposes,decided instead to bury their greatly esteemed with models. Tombs were often full of pottery pigs, dogs, dancers, servants and even cleaners as a substitute for the real thing. The practise of live burials did surface again in the Ming Dynasty of 1368-1644; if you were in the unfortunate position of being a Forbidden City Concubine and your Emperor died you would not be relieved of your duties but instead forced to join him in his tomb still breathing!

3) Another famous tomb excavation was for the rather portly Lady Dai, who upon dying of a heart attack in 163BC was wrapped in twenty layers of silk, found within four rectangular pine constructs that sat inside one another, buried beneath layers of charcoal and white clay. As a result her body is the most perfectly preserved mummy in the world with her skin still soft and joints that could still flex. Due to the excellent condition of her body doctors were able to give this 2,100 year old corpse a full autopsy and even diagnose her primordial back pain…

Remains of Lady Dai

Remains of Lady Dai

4) In a move of the same vein of Han Dynasty practicality, the Tang Dynasty were a little more sensible about their burial practices realising that the problem of grave robberies could be solved by painting the precious objects rather than actually providing them. They also started burying the deceased in mountain sides rather than spending cash on fancy tombs.

Tang Dynasty Tomb

Tang Dynasty Tomb

5) Modern Day Burial practices have changed radically compared to 2,000 years ago but are still gravely important to the Chinese. The government are driving a ‘cremation only’ policy, meaning in some provinces past a certain date if someone died it is illegal to bury them. Of course China is an incredibly superstitious country with an ingrained belief in the utmost importance of proper burial practices- the perfect burial site being in the side of a hill overlooking a body of water. So before the new law was put into practise there was a spate of suicides among the elderly desperate to avoid the cremation only policy.

Article by Amber Godsland

Jun 06

The Undefinable Dao – An Introduction to Daoism

Statue of Laozi

Statue of Laozi

The ubiquitous Dao, which means “the path” or “the way” in Chinese, is everywhere in China, and yet it remains elusive. As the opening line of the “Dao De Jing” says, “The Dao that can be described is not the true Dao.” However, with a few simple facts, it is easy to become a Daoist Sage. This is the word on the Dao:

The origins of the Dao are usually credited to a man named Laozi. Sometimes spelled Lao-tzu, he is usually described as an aged scholar who was born in the 5th century B.C., and would therefore have been a contemporary of both Buddha and Confucius.

Laozi is said to have traveled the countryside contemplating nature and teaching. According to legend, when he grew weary of cities he boarded his oxen and rode off into the sunset, stopping only to write the Dao De Jing because a student asked him to. However, since his death, Laozi has come to be worshiped as a god.

Laozi rising into the wild on his ox

Laozi rising into the wild on his ox

The Dao itself is in many ways a philosophy. The three tenets or jewels stress compassion, humility, and moderation. Daoism seeks harmony with nature and like nature, the Dao is eternal, spontaneous, and indescribable. Daoist writings include many poetic contradictions in order to describe something at once eternal but spontaneous. If one attains this harmony though, they can live a long and healthy life. Laozi himself is said to have lived to be 999 years old!

While living to 999 years of age may seem unreal for non-believers, it is certainly reflective of China’s obsession with immortality. In fact, Daoists were the chosen go to people for many emperors looking to extend their life spans. Unfortunately, however, many of the substances the Daoists experimented with in their potions, such as mercury, were better for preserving the dead and are thought to have shortened the lives of dozens of emperors.

Another key concept in Daoism is “Wu Wei”, the Daoist theory of doing by not doing. What the Chinese mean is going with the flow, so if you end up in a flash flood but swim with the current, you may survive better than struggling. This leads to the story of butcher Ding who is so skilled he can butcher a whole cow with one cut, and because he goes with the grain, he never has to sharpen his knife. The same idea is applied to philosophy, where an emperor can rule his people by leading by example or performing ceremonies. Though some emperors may have took the do nothing precept too far and really did do nothing.

Daoism as a religion gets caught up in the Chinese religion paradox. Ordinary Chinese people do not put much stock in organized religion, but religious tradition pervades every aspect of life, even for the non-religious. The ancient Chinese worshiped nature and their ancestors, mostly for practical reasons. Daoist philosophy, an attempt to harmonize with nature, soon became an organized religion because it matched the already existing worship of nature. Likewise its founder Laozi, a sage ancestor, became a god.

Now, Daosim has many temples throughout the world. Like other religions, Daoism has monks and gods. Many Daoist temples included a place for monks to live and study. These monks imitate Laozi’s quest to join the Dao. While some people specialize in Daoism, classically most Chinese people skip between Daoism, Buddhism, and other beliefs like Confucianism. For example, many Daoist Temples have a statue to Guanyin, the most popular Buddhist goddess in China.

Guan Yu, the red faced general

Guan Yu, the red faced general

Daoism has many of its own gods, but the most famous are Laozi; the Jade Emperor, ruler of Heaven; and Guan Yu, the red faced general seen in many restaurants, himself a symbol of loyalty and wealth.

Since Daoism is a natural philosophy it has served as the spiritual backbone of many secret societies and martial arts. Often these secret societies became revolutionary and tried to defeat weak or foreign rulers, such as the Yellow Turbans who helped topple the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220AD) or the Boxers who attacked the foreign colonialists during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912AD).

Daoism is thought to have 400 million followers, but its reach is much greater. Daoism like Buddhism has become part of Chinese Popular Religion. Even many who aren’t religious at all practice the Dao. It is a part of many Chinese rituals and festivals, such as the Qingming Festival, which is also known as Tomb Sweeping Day.

As a way of nature, the Dao also dictates ordinary things like health and food. The Chinese tradition of cooking balanced meals with many vegetables, all five flavors, and a mix of ingredients, for example, is the influence of Daoism and tradition. So the next time you eat in a Chinese restaurant, o wise sage, you will know you are becoming closer to the eternal way of nature.

May 31

The Taiping Rebellion: Who was Hong Xiuquan?

Hong Xiuquan: Warrior, zealot, strategist, and monarch. He was one of the most fearsome people of the 19th Century, but is relatively unknown in the west today. He was the firebrand behind the Taiping Rebellion, which killed as many as 20-50 million people, ravaged a large portion of South East China, and foreshadowed the end of the Qing dynasty, and China’s imperial rule.

Hong Xiuquan was born into an environment of simmering clan warfare between his ethnic group, the Hakka, and the Cantonese, then known as the Punti. This warfare would continue throughout his whole life, and was a major influence on the choices he would later make.

The man himself

The man himself

Although intelligent and hard-working, his dream to become a Qing Dynasty official was doomed from the start. The corrupt imperial examinations had a measly one percent pass rate, and required years of careful graft to be paid. He eventually grew frustrated with this impossible task, and sought another, more direct path to power.

After reading a religious text from a western missionary, Hong Xiuquan couldn’t help but relate to one of the text’s foremost characters. He decided, after some deliberation, that Jesus Christ was in fact his brother.

With delusions of being the brother of Jesus Christ, he gathered followers in the south, with the intention of violently overthrowing the Qing government. He promised an end to minority rule in China (the Qing was a Manchurian dynasty, and so despised by the Han majority), to re-distribute land to the peasantry, to end Confucianism and Buddhism, and to finally put a stop to the imported evil of opium use.

The Qing government couldn’t effectively respond to the Taiping Rebellion, as Hong Xiuquan was born into one of the most desperate periods in China’s imperial history. During his lifetime, the Qing government lost the Opium Wars to the British, and with it a great deal of money and influence, leaving them close to bankruptcy. Life expectancy, literacy, and quality of life were desperately low. The Qing government were in no position to quell the rebellion.

In the midst of this chaos, Hong Xiuquan rose to power, and had some military successes. However, he lost control of his homeland, deep in the south of China and by the time he established a capital in Nanjing, he had no way to retreat.

As he conquered, he burned crops and destroyed villages, but this ultimately proved unsustainable. Towards the end of his bloody 13-year reign as the ironically titled “Heavenly King of Great Peace,” even he and his highest officials were starving.

To end a lifetime of misfortune, he slowly starved on a diet of wild vegetables. The Qing forces were closing in around him and he knew that he couldn’t create his dream of a Christian Kingdom in China. The Qing would stay in power for nearly another 50 years.

So Hong Xiuquan had a hard life, but should we feel sorry for him? For all the death and destruction that he caused, he is revered in modern China as a peasant rebel against a corrupt oligarchy, and is even portrayed on the Monument to the People’s Heroes in Tian’anmen Square. He may have failed at his given tasks and killed about four percent of the world’s population, but is fondly remembered in modern China nevertheless.

Death and destruction during the Taiping Rebellion

Death and destruction during the Taiping Rebellion

Hong Xiuquan also had an interesting, albeit unintentional impact on Shanghai’s architecture. To learn more about how his influence can be seen in modern Shanghai, join us on a French Concession Tour.

Morley Weston

May 24

Great Books About China’s Future

For those that want to learn more about Shanghai and China’s Future, here are some tried and tested recommendations from Newman Tours:

New Shanghai: The Rocky Rebirth of China’s Legendary City
by Pamela Yatsko

A good academic book for those that wish to learn more about how modern Shanghai has emerged.

•Paperback: 308 pages
•Publisher: John Wiley & Sons (8 Nov 2000)
•Language English
•ISBN-10: 0471479152
•ISBN-13: 978-0471479154
•Product Dimensions: 22.9 x 15.5 x 2.5 cm

Find it on Amazon.com


Governance and Politics of China: Third Edition
by Tony Saich

One of the leading English language texts on Chinese politics, this book not only analyses current economic, social and foreign policy, but also outlines the challenges that China is likely to face in the 21st century.

Paperback: 448 pages
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan; 3 edition (9 Dec 2010)
Language English
ISBN-10: 0230279937
ISBN-13: 978-0230279933
Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 15.6 x 2.4 cm

Find it on Amazon.com


The Writing on the Wall: China and the West in the 21st Century
by Will Hutton

One of Britain’s leading political analysts argues that China’s economy is running up against a set of increasingly unsustainable contradictions that could have a damaging universal fallout.

Paperback: 448 pages
Publisher: Abacus (10 Jan 2008)
Language English
ISBN-10: 0349118825
ISBN-13: 978-0349118826
Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 12.6 x 2.4 cm

Find it on Amazon.com


Mr. China
by Tim Clissold

A Wall Street Banker tells us the story of his attempts at making big money in China. In doing so he makes it clear why doing business in China is such a big risk, and passes on some very valuable lessons indeed.

Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Constable; New edition edition (27 May 2010)
Language English
ISBN-10: 1849013071
ISBN-13: 978-1849013079
Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 13 x 2.4 cm

Find it on Amazon.com

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