Monday, May 14, 2007

Qiao Family Compound 喬家大院

A true rags to riches story, Qiao Guifa was very poor and an orphan during his childhood. As a teenager, he traveled to Baotou to attempt multiple ventures. He ran several types of businesses including pawnshops and grain shops but eventually made a living as a servant during Emperor Qianlong (1711 - 1799) reign in the Qing Dynasty. Qiao Guifa and business partner, Qin started selling fodder, bean sprout and bean curd. Several years later, they had become very wealthy. The Qiao’s family enjoyed the peak of success while under Qiao Zhiyong who followed the principles of being industrious, modest and generous.

The first portion of the compound was built in 1756. There would be later renovations and additions to the compound. The compound is located in Qiao Town in the Qi Xian County within Shanxi Province. The area covers about 2 acres with the construction filling almost 4,000 sq meters. There are six main courtyards, twenty small courtyards and 313 rooms. The compound was built for family safety and against aggressive business related competition. The walls surrounding are about 11 meters.

The compound was so large and magnificent that people were astonished by the wealth of the Qiao family. Yet, the compounds value only consisted of less than one percent of the total Qiao fortune. The compound gained most of the recognition for its large scale but also received accolades for the exquisite craftsmanship reflected in the brick carving, woodcarving and murals.

The craftsmanship is accompanied by many tablets within the compound. Two particular tablets are the most valuable. The ‘ren zhou yi fu’ displays the handwriting of Li Hongzhang (1832-1901). He was a famous general during the Qing Dynasty. Qiao Family had donated large amounts of money to the Qing army. The second tablet ‘fu zhong lang huan’ was bestowed to the Qiao Family by verbal instruction from Empress Dowager Cixi (1836-1908). Qiao Family had donated money to pay for her escape from Beijing.

In 1991, the Qiao Compound became international renowned as a result of Zhang Yimou movie “Raise the Red Lantern” starring Gong Li. The mansion was used as the backdrop for the live of the fourth wife ‘concubine’ of a wealthy man during the 1920’s.

People’s Square 人民广场

People's Square (Ren Min Guang Chang) is a vast public square surrounded by government buildings. Before 1949 the Square was used as a course to race horses. After the Communist government came into play when betting and gambling was banned, a part of the course became the People's Square, used for spectator stands. During the 1990's the Shanghai Municipal Government building and the Shanghai Museum were moved out of their original buildings. One of the newest additions in the Square is the Shanghai Grand Theatre and the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Hall.

Other features include a 320-square-meter water fountain, subway station and an underground shopping mall. Because the square attracts many people, it makes an ideal venue for people watching. The People's Square has become an outstanding landmark in Shanghai due to its geographical conditions and governmental developing plan of Shanghai.

Bund and Nanjing Road 外滩, 南京路

The Nanjing Road located in Shanghai is one of the world's busiest shopping streets in the world (Yay Girls!). Near the Road is the Bund, a riverfront area famous for its view. This Road is also highlighted for tourist attractions and holidays such as celebrations for the Chinese New Year, the Spring Break (March Break), New Year's Eve, Christmas, and Easter. Some parts of the buildings and shopping centers also host a fireworks show over the main isle of the street. Although the Nanjing Road is popular for shopping, it is also known for its con artists who try to rip off tourists. Many times they focus on more inappropriate services for men and women. Often times, if you ask to take their picture they will leave you alone. They also stray from large groups.
The bustling Nanjing Road spans over 5.5 kilometers east to west. On both sides of the road are more than 600 shops and shopping centres carrying high quality, brand goods. The eastern part of the road is pedestrian-only with various attractions as well as its shops. Once the premier shopping street, it has been recently eclipsed by Huai Hai Road. Nevertheless, it attracts many people. Transportation is convenient as visitors can catch the metro at various points along the road. Filled with stores, art galleries and restaurants, this internationally known street is bound to fill up those already full suitcases.

The Ancient City of Ping Yao

The history of Ping Yao stretches over 2700 years. Ping Yao was called the Ancient Tao before the Dynasties of Qin and Han. The county, also named Ping Yao, show records it was the manor of a tribal king in ancient China named Yao. During the Spring and Autumn Period, the county belonged to the Kingdom of Jin. The Warring States Period brought the city into the Kingdom of Zhao. The Qin Dynasty and Han Dynasty each named the city Pingtao and Zhongdu county, respectively.
The original construction of the city dates back to the western Zhou Dynasty. Later the city underwent a renovation during the Ming Dynasty for defense purposes. Most of the original architecture remains intact and in good shape since the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Ping Yao is located within the Shanxi province positioned 715 km south west from Beijing and 80 km from the provincial capital of Taiyan.
Ping Yao was the economic center of China during the late Qing Dynasty. At the time over half of China's financial institutions were located here. One of the institutions, Rishengcheng was the first draft bank in China. The financial reach of the traveled as far as New York and San Fransisco in America.
The city is now known for its well preserved ancient city walls. The wall encloses the city with a length of 64 kilometers. The wall reaches 12 meters high and 3 to 6 meters wide. There are six city gates that help contribute to the other name of the city. From the air, the city resembles the shape of a tortoise. Traditionally the tortoise is considered a symbol of longevity. Also along the wall there are 72 watchtowers and 3,000 external battlements. The watchtowers are to represent 72 people of great wisdom while the external battlements represent the 3,000 disciplines of Confucius.

Also nearby is the Dachengdian Temple. The only Confucius temple built in the Song Dynasty to be renovated later in 1163. There is a history of over 800 years in this temple.
In 1986, the Peoples Republic of China designated Ping Tao as a historic city. Ping Yao became a World Heritage Site in 1997 along with Zhenguo Temple and Shauanglin Temple.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Yungang Stone Cave

Yun-gang Stone Cave Overview

One of the most fascinating, singular sites in the Shanxi province is the Yungang cave system. Located near the city of Datong at the base of the Wuzhou Shan Mountains, these caves are recognized by the United Nations as a world heritage site. Construction on the site began in 460 C.E. with the aim of creating a monastery and a testament to the Buddha. It took decades for the stone caves to be carved out and for the religious icons to be created. The final result was astounding: there are 252 grottoes total (which are commonly grouped together into fifty-two caves), with more than 51,000 Buddha carvings and statues, ranging from thumb-sized pieces to one fifty-six foot tall giant.

The caves are, for the most part, in extremely good physical condition. Many caves still possess layers of paint. In addition to the surviving Buddha and Bodhisattva statues, there is a well-preserved frieze that runs through many of the caves. This frieze tells in relief the story of the life of Siddhartha Gautama and how he attained awakening and became the Buddha.

Although in many ways the site has been remarkably well-preserved, it still has suffered an understandable amount of weathering and erosion given its incredible age. The front wall has eroded completely in many places, leaving the Buddhas exposed to open air; some of the larger statues are visible from a distance.

Foreign artifacts have also found their way into the caves over the centuries. Weapons and lion statues from Persia and Byzantium, tridents and curling acanthus leaves from Greece, draperies and head dresses from India are all present inside the grottoes. There are even statues from other religious tradtions: one cave features Vishnu sitting on top of a bull, Shiva, and an unidentified guardian wielding a trident.

Ying County Wood Pagoda and the Hanging Temple

Ying County Wooden Pagoda

The Ying County Wooden Pagoda, originally named the Sakyamuni Pagoda at Fogong Temple, rests northwest of Ying County in the Shanxi Province. It is the only pure wood pagoda in China. Built in 1056 during the reign of the Liao Emperor Qing Ning by a monk called Monk Tian, the pagoda is the front centerpiece of the Buddhist Fogong Temple.

The pagoda is an octagonal structure with five stories, 67.31 meters in height, the tallest pagoda in China. However, there are four secret stories underground, staircases leading downward are hidden under doors in the floors of the first story on down, creating nine floors in all. The first floor gateway faces a statue of Sakyamuni which is 10 meters tall and there are many Buddhist paintings lining the walls. Each floor contains statues, scriptures, and paintings of Buddha, Bodhisattvas, and Disciples.

The pagoda has survived many earthquakes in the past 900 years of its existence. During the Yuan Dynasty an earthquake lasted for seven days, yet the pagoda remained intact. It is a strong structure, reflecting the achievement of wood architecture of ancient China.

An interesting note is that there is an inscription “The Miracle of Heaven” hanging below the eaves of the third and fourth floor which was written by the Ming Emperor Ying Zong. He was on a spiritual journey, passed through Ying County, and held a banquet at the Pagoda, relishing its peace and beauty.

Hanging Te
The Hanging Temple near the city of Datong of the Shanxi Province is a monastery built during the Northern Wei Dynasty in 491 A.D. Residing at the foot of Mt. Hengshan (one of the five sacred mountains of Taoism), the temple hangs on the side of the mountain by an intricate framework. Wooden crossbeams were half-inserted into the rock, with the rock acting as support.

The temple is dedicated to Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism, making it very unique. Sculptures of the different religious leaders, Sakyamuni, Confucius, and Laotzu appear together as well as other sculptures, carvings, and altars. The 40 wooden halls linked by bridges and stairways lead in only one direction due to lack of space.

The temple was originally built on the cliff to avoid flooding, rain, and snow. It was also built there to reduce noise, following a Taoist principle.

Tienanmen Square

Tienanmen Square: Beijing

-Christina Benitez

A main attraction of Beijing is Tienanmen Square. It is the Sweeping Square Of The Gate Of Heavenly Peace. It is also known as the "soul" of China. The Square is composed of paving stones and has been the scene of the 1989 student demonstrations and their violet climax. It is also the center of the Communist universe and a enormous statement of state power. Chairman Mao is buried here and the monolithic Chinese parliament overlooks the square.

Today, Tienanmen Square has become the backdrop to vast military parades that go along the northern perimeter of Chang'an Jie (Avenue of Eternal Peace).

The square has an authoritative design but has become a "battleground" for the tussle between government and disaffected groups. However, the square acts as a huge park, with couples strolling hand in hand, children playing, and enthusiastic kite flying. The view here is said to be astonishing. In the early evening, soldiers of the PLA troop out to lower the Chinese flag, which attracts large crowds of people. The square brings together the city's people.

There are many soviet style monuments. To the north is Tienanmen Gate, with its huge portrait of Mao. South is the Mao Zedong Mausoleum. The hall was constructed the year after Mao's death in 1976. To the very south lies the Quanmen Gate which is one of the few remaining gates of the old wall of Peking. The West side of the square is dominated by the Great Hall of the People, where China's parliament meets. Visitors can enter the building when the National People's Congress is not in session. Opposite of this site is the Museum of the Chinese Revolution and the Chinese History Museum.


Overview of Shanxi

Shanxi is a province in the northern part of the People’s Republic of China. China is composed of twenty-two provinces, most of whose boundaries were established in the late Ming dynasty. Shanxi’s name literally means “the west of the mountain” or “mountain’s west,” and it is derived from the province’s position to the west of the Taihang Mountains. The other provinces that border Shanxi are Hebei to the east, Shaanxi to the west, and Henan to the south; to the north is Inner Mongolia, an autonomous region that belongs to the PRC. Much of the Shanxi/Shaanxi border is formed by the Yellow River, and much of the Shanxi/Inner Mongolia border is formed by the Great Wall of China. Shanxi occupies an area of 156,000 square kilometers (about 60,000 square miles) and has a population of over 32 million.

The capital of Shanxi is the city of Taiyuan. Taiyuan is an extremely old city which has been destroyed, flooded, and rebuilt many times since its construction in ca. 500 B.C.E. Historically, Taiyuan has some times been referred to as the Dragon City, owing to the number of kings that have come from there. Modern day Taiyuan is well-known for its Liuxiang shopping district and the serious environmental improvement efforts. These efforts, including the construction of parks along the Fen River and the lowering of thee city’s pollution and environmental impact, have been praised by the United Nations and are being emulated in other cities across China. Other notable locations in Shanxi include the village of Dazhai, which was singled out during the Cultural Revolution as a paradigm of exemplary work ethic and hardiness on the part of the peasant proletariat.

The Shanxi Province is at a high altitude, and it is characterized by a cold, dry, and arid climate, and it is also frequently plagued by sandstorms. Annual rainfall is between 400-600 millimeters, and the water resources of the province are steadily declining. A certain degree of Shanxi’s economy is based upon agriculture; important crops include wheat corn, potatoes, beans, and millet. Agriculture in Shanxi is limited to only these items by the province’s climate and dwindling water resources. Shanxi contains 260 billion metric tons of known coal deposits, about one third of China's total. As a result, the province is a leading producer of coal in China, with annual production exceeding 300 million metric tons. The extraction and refinement of coal is Shanxi’s largest economic endeavor.

Another notable feature of Shanxi is the presence of the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center. The center, which is actually a considerable distance from Taiyuan, is one of the four satellite launch centers of China’s space program. The site has been primarily used to launch meteorological satellites and other earth resource satellites, but it has also launched a number of ballistic missile tests.

Beijing Overview and Tiananmen Square

Beijing is the heart of the Middle Kingdom. It is also the capital city, therefore the Chinese "universe" orbits Beijing, and the political power is heavily based here. The main dialect spoken in Beijing is Mandarin Chinese. An important part of Beijing is the Forbidden City. The Forbidden City is Beijing's "walled heart", thus the forbidden city is a prime example of Beijing culture and custom. The plan of the Forbidden City extends outward, framing Beijing in a broad "grid" pattern composed of wide boulevards and squares.
Beijing has heavily modernized, however old reminents still remain which has made the city a melting pot of modern and past customs. The streets are filled with workers, soldiers, entrepeneurs, and loads of tourists.
Despite its rapid adaption to western culture, the city doesn't lack history. The Lama Temple and the Temple of Heaven are the most prominent examples of Beijing architecture. The Great Wall also snakes its way north of the capital city, where the Summer Palace makes for an excellent sight to see.
Beijing is also the home of students learning madarin. The city has been given the nickname "Big Mac" because you can find fast food almost everywhere throughout the city. Another extremely popular Beijing dish is the Peking duck. It is very hard to get around the city because its roads are heavily populated and chaotic. Walking around the city is also very tiring because the city is very big. The most popular methods of transporation include; walking, buses, subway, renting a bicycle, or a cheap taxi.

Oriental Pearl TV Tower 东方明珠电视塔

The Oriental Pearl TV Tower is located next to the Huangpu River in the Pudong New District of Shanghai. The construction of the tower started in 1991 and was completed four years later in 1995.

The Tower is a towering 1,535 ft high making it the tallest tower in the continent of Asia and the third tallest tower in the world. To give the structure the stability needed, the building starts several stories below ground.

There are three observation levels in the building, the lowest at 295 ft, the next at 863 ft, and the tallest at 1,148 ft. There is a revolving restaurant 876 ft up. The antenna spire that broadcasts the television and radio programs alone is 387 ft.

Large double decker elevators take visitors, a maximum of fifty people per elevator, up the tower at the rate of seven meters per second.

The Tang Dynasty poet Bai Juyi inspired the design of the tower by a line in his poem "Pipa Song." The line is, "大珠小珠落玉盘” which translates approximately to, "like pearls, big and small, falling on a jade plate." The poem is about the music of the Pipa insrument.

Pudong New District 浦东新区

Pudong is a financial district in Shanghai that has been developed and built up over the last seventeen years to become China's financial and commercial center. Pudong literally means "East of the Huangpu River" and the Bund is located on the opposing side of the river. Pudont is one of the larger districts of Shanghai and has come to epitomize the modern city.

Pudong was once mostly farmland until development began in 1990. The development was designed to create a new Special Economic Zone in Shanghai where more liberal economic laws are in place to help China catch up to the West and Japan. This is in line with the selective economic liberalization Deng Xiaoping started in the 1980s. Since Shanghai is a directly administered city, at the level of a province, its districts are governed at the level of a prefecture level city. Pudong is governed at the level of a sub-provincial level city.

In 2005, Pudong's GDP was $25.5 billion, a testament to the success of this Special Economic Zone. Pudong has attracted many investors from within China and from around the world. It seems as though Pudong will help ensure a bright future for Shanghai and for China.

Shanghai and Yu-Yuan Garden

Shanghai - on top of the sea.

Shanghai is the largest city in China, and the third largest city in the world. The 2000 census put the population of Shanghai to 16.738 million The city has one of the biggest ports, and is the center of China's modern day economy. It's biggest economic rival in the country is Hong Kong. Shanghai is also a large political hub. The city of Shanghai actually has province level status in China.

There is no single "downtown district" in Shanghai; the center of urban life is scattered throughout many districts. The city has a very extensive public transportation system, and for a city of it's size, traffic is relatively smooth and convenient. It is considered to be the "birthplace of everything modern in China."

Now for the weather in Shanghai. The climate is classified as humid subtropical. In normal terms, it experiences all four seasons - freezing temperatures in he winter, and an average of 90 degrees in the summer months of July and August. Heavy rain is frequent in the early summer. It says that it gets ridiculously hot in the summer months, but as we're going in May, it probably shouldn't be as bad as it would be in July or August.

The Yu-yuan Garden is considered to be one of the four finest Chinese gardens in China, and is located in the center of the Old City in Shanghai. It took 20 years to build the garden, and Pan Yunduan began the construction in 1558. It was a private garden built to please his father, who was a high ranking officer in the Ming Dynasty.

The garden takes up 5 acres of land and is divided into 6 general areas. These are: the Grand Rockery, Heralding Spring Hall, the Inner Garden, Jade Magnificence Hall, the Lotus Pool, and the Ten Thousand-Flower Tower. Each area is separated by a dragon wall.

Much damage was done to the garden over the years, and finally the Shanghai government repaired it in 1956-1961. At the end of this time, it was opened to the public once again. In 1982, it was declared a national monument.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Handy Exchange Chart

I've gotten a little chart together, exchanging renmenbi into U.S. Dollars:











































Bird's Nest Stadium

The Beijing National Stadium, or bird's nest, will be the central location for the 2008 Summer Olympics. The government received many entrees for design. Thirteen designs were showcased in Beijing for public vote. Of those, three designs entered the final competition. The design from a Swiss-based architecture firm that collaborated with China's Institute of Architecture Design and Research won. While most comments are positive, some residents feel it seems "messy and incomprehensible." Another worrisome item was the "disproportionate" cost of the retractable roof, which would have taken up one-eight of the total cost. They decided to omit that feature.

It's nick-name "bird's nest" came from the media who felt that it did indeed look like a birds nest. This look is caused by curved steel-net walls that function to integrate the stairs, walls and roof into one system. The stadium covers and area of over 140,000 square meters an will hold up to 100,000 spectators. Its construction is budgeted at almost 450 million USD. Considering its size, it is an environmentally conscience building. Some of it's "green" features include: rainwater collection system, translucent roof providing sunlight to the grass, and a natural ventilation system. Inflated cushions will be installed inside the structure to provide protection from the weather. The lobby will have restaurants and shops.

During the Olympics it will be the site of the Opening and Closing ceremonies, as well as all track and field events. After the Olympics it will be used for national and international sporting events and cultural activities.

Wang-fu-jing Business District

Wangfujing street, or the "walking street", is one of the Chinese capital's most famous shopping streets. It is now considered the central heart of the city. Wangfujing is a fairly long street, where most areas of Beijing are easily accessible. The street is home to many department stores, boutiques, souvenier shops and areas that sell food and Chinese paintings.

Wangfujing is a seven hundred year old commercial street. During the Qing Dynasty, many aristocratic estates and residences were built there. A well, full of sweet water was found soon after, which gave the street its name, "wang fu" means aristocratic palace and "jing" means well.

Much of the road does not allow cars or other motor vehicles, which allows the street to be full of pedestrians. Before the late 1990s, trolleybuses, buses and other traffic ran through the street, making it very congested. During 1999 and 2000, modifications were made to make Wangfujing Street car-free, except for the trolley tours.

One of the major shopping malls, Oriental Plaza, is located at one end of the street, Wangfujing Nankou. The street heads north and ends at the Sun Dong An Plaza.

Great Wall of China

One of the country's most significant representations of culture and history is the Great Wall of China. The wall takes the shape of a gigantic dragon. It winds across northern China from east to west, passing through deserts, grasslands, mountains, valleys and plateaus. The wall is over 4,000 miles long, with an average height of 40 feet and a width of 16 feet.

The first part of the wall was built in 770 BC and the construction continued on for centuries, when each dynasty continued to add more. It was built in order to protect China from raids by the Mongols and Turkic tribes. The primary purpose of the wall was not to keep out the people who could scale the wall, but to insure that semi-nomadic people on the outside of the wall could not cross their horses or return easily with stolen property. During those times, the weaponry only consisted of swords, spears, lances and bows and arrows, nothing strong enough to defeat the structure of the wall.

The wall was one of the most strategic military structures. It is complemented by defensive fighting stations, to which wall defenders could retreat if overwhelmed. Each tower has unique and restricted stairways and entries to confuse attackers. Barracks and administrative centers are located at larger intervals. And, in addition to the usual military weapons of the period, specialized wall defense weapons were used. The watch towers, which were spread about a half mile apart were used to house troops, send smoke signals and store weapons.

The materials used were those available near the site of construction. Near Beijing, the wall is constructed from quarried limestone blocks. In other locations it may be quarried granite or fired brick. Where two such materials are used, two finished walls are erected with earth and rubble fill placed in between with a final paving to form a single unit. In some areas the blocks were cemented with a mixture of glutinous rice and eggwhite. In the extreme western desert locations, where good materials are scarce, the wall was constructed from dirt rammed between rough wood tied together with woven mats.

Even today, new parts of the wall are being discovered. In Oct. 2002, a 50 mile section of the wall was discovered in northwestern china, centuries after being submerged by the sands that move across the arid area each year.
The Wall is included in lists of the "Seven Medieval Wonders of the World" and it was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.

Long-ting Park & City Gate 龙庭

Long-ting Park was built during the Song dynasty and is located in the city center, along the Imperial Way. In the park are many souvenir shops and traditional restaurants.

Dragon Pavilion

The Dragon Pavilion is a famous monument in this city. It was the emperor’s palace during the Jin and Song Dynasty and later became a Taoist temple when the Yuang Dynasty ruled. You must climb 72 steps to enter the palace and the entrance has nine carved dragons. Behind the Dragon Pavilion is a public park with two lakes, Pan Lake and Yang Lake.

Iron Pagoda

The Iron Pagoda is an octoganal Buddhist pagoda made of glazed bricks, origionally build during the Song Dynasty in 1049 A.D.