14.02.2010 - 28.02.2010 6 °C
“The finest and most splendid city in the world.” Marco Polo (Travels)
Our last week in China was spent in Hangzhou which was the epicenter of silk, porcelain and Longqing tea production during the Qing dynasty.
In the tea fields
Fancy a cup of cha ?
It was a delight to be there ! Unlike Shanghai which of course has its good points Hangzhou was a quiet haven by comparison and much more traditional.
Hangzhou’s serenity is best felt at West Lake which is Chinese esthetics at its best ! Circumflexed rooved Chinese pavillons are dotted beside willow trees and in the surrounding parks inviting people to sit there and enjoy the beauty of the lake.
So beautiful it was and is the Northern Song dynasty poet Su Dongpu compared it to a legendary ancient beauty called Xi Zi :
“The shimmering ripples delight
The eye on sunny days
The dim hills present a
Rare view in rainy haze
West Lake compares to Xi Zi the beauty at her best:
She is gorgeous richly clothed
Or plainly dressed.”
Music was forever heard played at all hours of the day by the retired or families and friends as if expressing their gratitude through their music to those who built the lake and designed the landscape.
Official flower of Hangzhou
The Osmanthus is the official flower of Hangzhou.
It’s a flower native to China and thus has no translation in English other than its botanical name Osmanthus fragrans.
“When the osmanthus flowers bloom, happy events will come soon.”
Park Life in hangzhou
Of course like in Shanghai’s parks here too the green areas around the lake but also downtown are a hive of activity. Not only is there music but also card playing, Chinese chess, witty banter, breeze-shooting, quiet contemplation, Qijgng, romantic walks the lot !
We rented some bicycles at our guest house which was a relief for my foot and arms and we cycled around the lake soaking up its magnificent views, pagodas and temples.
While in Hangzhou I read a very interting book on Hangzhou called Hangzhou by Monique Van Dijk and Alexandra Moss (Atomic Energy Press – Bejing Matric Cultural Communication company).
I learnt that what we see practiced in the parks and along the shores of West Lake is not tai chi but Qigong which has existed for over 2000 years ! The version we behold they explain is the version developed by the Han dynasty physician Hua Tao (145 – 208 A.D.)
His version consists of a set of exercises known as “wu qin xi” which are movements which mimic the tiger, deer, bear, monkey and bird.
The purpose of Qigong is to harmonise the body and mind to reach a natural state of relaxation.
Qi in the minds of the Chinese is an energy which flows through the life of the cosmos. It is also the art of controlling and guiding Qi. It also means “breath” and is similar to the Hind concept of prana.
Qing Hefang street
Buddha at the entrance
One evening we went to Qing Hefang street which is the old street in Hangzhou. As the sun set the red lanterns awoke and wafted in the gentle breeze turning everything into a warm red glow. The street is a marvel to look at I itself. You really feel at the eastern most end of the Silk Road in the thick of the import and export trade of Hangzhou’s prime exports : silk, porcelain and Lonqing tea.
Its historicity exuded by the fine wooden circumflexed roved buildings and the wafting red lanterns, the gentle hustle and bustle and the amazing work of the craftsman dotted here and there in the street selling their handmade arts and crafts from silk embroidery pictures to glass ware, porcelain and traditional Chinese medicine gave you a feel of yesteryear and of what must have so impressed Marco Polo !
Like last year when I was in Beijing I can’t help but feel humbled by the eceletic array of creativity and the high level of artistry of Chinese arts and crafts. Hangzhou is a perfect illustration of how advanced the Chinese people are in the arts !
One night we met Felix from Taiwan. He kindly invited us and the staff out to dinner at a restaurant owned by a Taiwanese friend of his. Although the food wasn’t the same standing as depicted in Ang Lee’s Eat, Drink Man, Woman ( a fantastic film by the way !) the food was scrumptious and we ate to our heart’s content !
Taiwanese meat balls
While we were having our pre-dinner drinks he told us that since he’s been living in Xiamen which is the closest town to Taiwan and the Chinese city the most influenced by Taiwanense culture that he’s observed that the Chinese people have been indoctrinated by the CCP. He arrived at this conclusion each time when he asked people what was China’s form of communism ? He said that they reply in robot mode a list of facts that they’ve memorized – they are not the one speaking !
Taiwanese beef soup
He said that the reason being is that the Chinese can’t think for themselves. At university he said they’ve been trained to memorise not analyse.
He also said that the Chinese are revisionist. For example a grave of KMT soldiers who fought against the fascists in WWII were discovered in Europe and transported back to Taiwan. The Chinese authorities got hold of the story and photshopped the grave site to make it appear that the soldiers were from the Chinese mainland.
Another Taiwanese soup
Also, Chinese modern history as know it isn’t how the Chinese know it. Tiananmen Square for example Is unheard of !
Taiwanese beef jerky
He also mentioned that the Chinese can be very warm, friendly and hospitable but when you talk politics with them particularly political hot potatoes like Taiwan, Tibet and Xintiang the relationship can turn sour very quickly !
These were very informative and interesting insights into China ones that will stay with me forever and ones that I will always bear in mind when I’m in China and for which I’m very grateful so if you’re reading this Felix thank you !
A visit to the Silk Museum in Hangzhou
Hangzhou is the number one silk producer in the world for it produces more than 100 million metres of silk fabric every year ! It accounts for more than a fifth of China’s total output !
As a result it’s no surprise that Hangzhou is home to The National Silk Museum which opened in 1992 and is the best museum in the world on silk history !
Upon entering the museum one of the first things you read is that the history of silk is the history of the pursuit of beauty.
I find this a beautiful way to define the long path silk has traced since its inception and a perfect illustration of mankind’s unending endeavor to find beauty.
Silk history in brief
Chinese sericulture and Chinese silk craftsmanship and trade is 5000 years old and is and “intangible cultural heritage” as stipulated by UNESCO.
10000 – 2000 B.C.
Invention of silkworm breeding and silk reeling in Qingtai Henan Province.
Mulberry trees are cultivated on which silkworms breed.
(Linen in Egypt, Wool in Baylon, Cotton in India).
1500 – 1000 B.C.
The above is introduced to Korea and Japan.
Chinese silk transported to Siberia and Central Asia
200 B.C. – 500 A.D
Silk production influences the invention of paper.
Zheng Qian sent as envoy to the western regions initiating trade on the Silk Road.
0 – 500 A.D
Silk fabrics produced in the Persian Gulf and the Mediterreanean.
Persian silk gains renown
Silkworm breeding and silk weaving first practice in Vietnam and in South East Asia.
Silkworm breeding and silk weaving introduced to India and Central Asia.
Silkworm eggs brought to the Roman Empire. Sericulture appears in Italy.
Sagdia becomes the centre of silk production in central Asia.
Italy begins sericulture.
Spain begins sericulture.
12th – 13th century A.D. (The Song Dynasty 1127 – 1279 A.D)
Lyon, France becomes centre of silk production in Europe.
Shilpbulding flourishes as does the Silk Road.
14th – 20th century Ming Dynasty (1368 -1644) and Qing dynasty (1644 – 1912)
Silk transportation went from Hangzhou to Suzhou, Nanjing and Beijing. They operated on an unprecedented scale known as the famous Three Official Weaving Workshops in the Yangtze Delta. (Jiangnan san Zhizai)
Zheng He travels from 1403 – 1433 discovering east Africa in 1421 – 1422 bringing with him silk and porcelain and other Chinese exports.
In 1750 the quantity of Chinese silk exported to Europe:
Figures of silk exports in the mid 18th century
UK FR HOLL SWE DEN TOTAL
Raw silk (60kg) 988 200 198 13 1397
Silk fabrics (100kg) 5640 2530 7460 1790 809 18329
Madame Pompadour started the fashion for Chinosierie in Europe and started the embroidery craze in Paris.
Temples in Hangzhou
Linquin Temple is one of the most important and largest Chan monasteries in the country.
Also in Hangzhou is the Jingui Temple which is regarded as the ancestral temple of the Soto Zen sect in japan therefore many Japanese worshippers pilgrimate here.
The six harmonies Pagoda
The Qing Tang river tidal bore was and is so spectactular that viewing it began as early as the Han dynasty and the 3 Kingdoms. However it was also disastrous forcing farmers to relocate away from it due to the flooding it caused.
To appease the natural forces the local people during the Wuyue Kingdom built the Six Harmonious Pagoda in 970 AD.
It was intended to restore a balanced relationship among the six directions of the universe – north, south, east west, heaven and earth so it aimed not only to control the ravaging tides but also to bring harmony to the world.
A poem on the six pagodas:
“The setting sun behind the
Western hill glows,
And towards the East Sea
The Qiantang River flows.
You can enjoy an endless sight
By ascending to a greater height .”
Tea is big in Hangzhou a fact that can’t be ignored because the mountains surrounding Hangzhou are filled with tea fields. Hangzhou is renowned for its green tea known as Longqing or Dragon Well Greeen Tea so renowned that Hangzhou produces a fifth of China’s total output of tea !
Near to Hangzhou is Meijiezue village an hour’s bus ride away. It’s a Longqing Tea village and you’re free to stroll through the tea fields up the mountain slopes which we did.
If you’re interest in reading up on the history of tea in China which goes back some 5000 years check out:
Lu Yu’s “Classic of Tea” (8th century A.D.)
Emperor Shen Nong’s text “Shen Nong Herbal”
Laoshe “ Tea house”
Jiaoran “ An ode to tea drinking.”
Relationship between foreigners and the Chinese
The overall impression of the Chinese people we’ve encountered in our travels in Beijing, Shanghai, and Hangzhou, is that they are mostly warm, friendly and affable.
The staff at our Beijing guest house and at the Hangzhou guest house where we stayed were just that and very hospitable.
Of course our relationship is a business one we’re paying guests and they are our hosts but despite this I genuinely felt that they were not being artificial and that they weren't simply pulling their marketing smiles.
I can’t agree with some people I’ve met who’ve travelled to China who’ve said that the Chinese are hard people conjuring up an image of them as somewhat insensitive or lacking warmth.
Of course, we’ve met some Chinese people who’ve given us a frosty welcome such as the staff at Mingtown guest house in Shanghai but the number of friendly Chinese we met outnumbered those who were unfriendly.
I recall the local grocery stall owner next door to the Mingtown guest house who was all welcoming smiles and hellos whenever we passed him and more than wiling to pass the time and day with us despite our smattering of Chinese an his smattering of English !
There was also the brief encounter at refreshment area with a Chinese gentleman who asked us where we from and who made us feel welcome with his smile and warm exchange despite the language barrier.
There was also another brief encounter with a tobacco store owner. He made clear that he loved England and it wasn’t simple flattery I felt he genuinely believed what he was saying. He even said that he loved England more than China ! He also said that if he had his way he would throw all the Americans out of China because he hated them. This surprised me because I would have thought they would have hated the English for the pain the British inflicted during the Opium wars but no if he had to choose between the English and the Americans in china he would choose the former. I couldn’t quite understand why due to the language barrier but the point was made and gave me food for thought.
Even our encounters with the men in blue, grey and green uniforms wasn’t that bad either. Despite the few who casted us somewhat menacing and suspicious looks as we passed them by which could be translated as “I’m and what I represent is in charge here and if you so much as try to undermine my authority there’ll be trouble !” there were occasions when we asked the men in grey and blue for help which they gladly gave. However striking up a conversation with them seems impossible not only because of the language barrier but also of a tacit agreement of distance being established between civilian and officer.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)
Take a stroll along Qinghefang historic street in central Hangzhou and you’ll come across several TCM stores !
They’re works of art in themselves !
I did try to get a consultation but the language barrier was too great !
Unlike Western medicine which focuses on controlling the symptoms of a disease, TCM is able to treat the root or cause of the problem and after eliminate the need for further treatment.
The theories behind TCM can be found in the Yellow Emperor’s Canon of Medicine compiled between 100 BC and 300 AD.
Emperor Shen Nang believed to be the godfather of herbal medicine in China not his discoveries in his encyclopedia of medicinal herbs entitled “Shen Nong Ben Cao Ting”.