Monday, June 11, 2007

Tradtions and Modernity in Today's China

Chinese people have a unique way of continuing to build on their past accomplishments. As China moves forward into modernity traditional aspects are combined with their new ideas and technological advancements.

In Beijing our group visited the Hu-tong back alleys. Here we saw courtyard homes from the dynastic period while riding in a pedi-cab. Besides the tour we were given a special opportunity to meet a Chinese painter Yanzhen Zhang. I was delighted that he invited us into his home because it gave us a chance to see how Chinese people live. We were especially lucky because his wife taught us how to make Chinese dumplings and later cooked a huge meal for us. I loved Yanzhen Zhang’s artwork style, which is a perfect example of mixing history and modernity. Yanzhen Zhang studied traditional Chinese painting and mastered it. He later continued studying modern art and incorporated what he learned with his skills in traditional painting. I really like the traditional style of Chinese paintings, especially the images that involve nature like cherry blossoms and bamboo. Being able to meet the artist, visit his studio and learn about his experiences makes the paintings I bought even more special. My favorite parts of the trip were interacting with Chinese people like the artist, the tour guides, the students at Shanghi University and the minority cultures in Guilin.

Another example is the tradition of kung fu at Shaolin Temple. This is a centaury old tradition that is kept popular today due in part from famous films from kung fu masters like Let Li and Jackie Chan. Visiting Shaolin Temple was a peak into the past, exploring the history of the temple and founding ideas of kung fu. Today the surrounding city is packed with people interested in keeping the traditions alive.
Later on my trip, I visited the southern cities of Guilin and Yangshuo. The Li River plays a very important role for the cities in this area, providing food and transportation. Later, we took a river cruse down the Li River to the town of Yangshuo where we discovered even more beautiful misty mountains. This area relies heavily on fishing from the river and cormorant fishermen are seen up and down the water floating on bamboo rafts. Cormorant fishing has been a reliable task throughout the past in this area. These birds are used to catch fish and return them to the fisherman. The agility of maneuvering a bamboo raft seems like enough of a task but these fishermen are able to fish even in the black of night. In their spare time, many have set of areas along the river where they will give tourists a relaxing ride downstream. This river ride exemplified to me the ingenuity of Chinese people. While we floated down the river every ten minutes or so we could come to a larger bamboo raft filled with food and treats. The people on these rafts provided snacks, drinks and souvenirs to the passers by. These basic bamboo rafts came equipped with stoves for cooking chicken, fish and shrimp. Later down the river there was a small drop, only about two feet, but enough of a drop to cause excitement on such a slow moving river. As the tourists squeal with excitement down the drop a large bamboo raft just a few dozen feet ahead snaps your picture with a digital camera and by the time you float by their raft your picture is printed and ready to be sold. I thought this was one of the most creative ideas. Here the people of Yangshuo took an ancient tradition of building bamboo rafts and incorporated modern technology to make a profit and appease tourists. It’s not everyday that you see a collection of brand new digital cameras, computers and photo printers floating down a river on a bamboo raft.

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