China is a country with
great diversity of religions, with over 100 million followers of the
various faiths. The main religions are Buddhism, Islam, Christianity,
China’s indigenous Taoism, along with Shamanism, Eastern Orthodox
Christianity and the Naxi people’s Dongba religion. The Hui, Uygur,
Kazak, Kirgiz, Tatar, Ozbek, Tajik, Dongxiang, Salar and Bonan peoples
adhere to Islam; the Tibetan, Mongolian, Lhoba, Moinba, Tu and Yugur,
to Tibetan Buddhism, and the Dai, Blang and Deang to Theravada
Buddhism. Quite a few Miao, Yao and Yi are Christians. Religious Han
Chinese tend to practice Buddhism, Christianity or Taoism.
Buddhism was introduced to China from India approximately in the first
century A.D., becoming increasingly popular after the fourth century.
Tibetan Buddhism, or Lamaism as it is sometimes called, is found
primarily in Tibet and Inner Mongolia. Now China has more than 13,000
Buddhist temples, with about 200,000 monks and nuns.
Islam probably first reached China in the mid-seventh century. During
the Tang (618-907) and Song (960-1279) dynasties, Arab and Persian
merchants of the Islamic faith came overland through Central Asia to
northwest China and by sea to the coastal cities in southeastern
China, bringing with them the Islamic faith. The Yuan Dynasty
(1279-1368) witnessed the zenith of prosperity of Islam. Now China has
more than 30,000 mosques and more than 40,000 imams and ahungs.
Christianity reached China several times after the seventh century,
and was introduced to the country on a large scale after the Opium War
of 1840. Now there are about four million Catholic believers, 4,000
clergy and more than 4,600 churches and meeting places in China.
Protestantism was introduced to China in the early 19th century, and
spread widely after the Opium War. Now China has about 10 million
Protestant believers, 18,000 clergy, and more than 12,000 churches and
25,000 other centers of worship.
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During the long course of
historical development, China’s different peoples have developed
individual customs regarding food, clothing and housing, in response
to their own particular environments, social conditions and level of
economic development. Generally, the Han people take rice and noodles
as their staple diet (people in the south prefer rice while those in
the north prefer noodles), love to eat vegetables, beans, meat, fish
and eggs, and pay particular attention to cooking techniques.
Mongolians often eat beef and mutton, and drink tea with milk.
Tibetans take tsampa (roasted highland barley flour) as their staple
food, and drink buttered tea, and highland barley wine, but Tibetan
herdsmen mainly eat beef and mutton. The Uygurs, Kazaks, and Ozbeks
enjoy roast mutton kebabs, unleavened bread and rice. Koreans like
sticky rice cakes, cold noodles and kimchi (hot pickled vegetables).
The Li, Jing, Dai, Blang and Hani all chew betel nuts.
The typical costume of Manchu women used to be the qipao (a
close-fitting dress with high neck and slit skirt). Mongolians wear
their traditional robes and riding boots. Tibetans love to wear
Tibetan robes, waistbands and boots. Koreans are known for their
boat-shaped shoes. Uygurs wear diamond-shaped embroidered skullcaps.
Yi, Miao and Yao women wear pleated skirts, and are often bedecked
with gold or silver ornaments.
Courtyard-type dwellings were traditionally the rule in Han areas.
Most minority herdsmen living in Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, Qinghai and
Gansu live in yurts. The Dais, Zhuangs and Bouyeis in southern China
often live in ganlan (multiple-storied houses raised on stilts).
In China, birthdays are not commonly celebrated, although city
dwellers do so more frequently than their country cousins, and
children and old people more than young and middle-aged people. No
special ceremony is occasioned by a birthday. Many people like to eat
“longevity noodles,” symbols of long life inspired by the noodle’s
shape. Nowadays, many city dwellers choose to eat Western-style
birthday cakes instead of noodles. According to the Marriage Law, a
man may legally marry at age 22 and a woman at 20, by acquiring a
marriage license issued by a marriage registration office. Thus, a
wedding ceremony is not a necessary legal procedure for marriage
registration, but only a way for relatives and friends to congratulate
the bride and groom. The newlyweds will offer “wedding candies” to
their colleagues and friends. In return, their colleagues and friends
will present the newlyweds with gifts.
Funeral ceremonies in China are very simple. Usually, a memorial
meeting is held to pay last respects to the deceased and allow the
living to express their grief. Cremation is the rule in cities, and
interment in rural areas. White is the traditional color of mourning,
but city people nowadays usually wear black gauze armbands to show
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Legal holidays in China
are New Year (January 1st), a national one-day holiday; Spring
Festival (New Year by the lunar calendar), a national three-day
holiday; International Working Women’s Day (March 8th); Tree Planting
Day (March 12th); International Labor Day (May 1st), a national
one-day holiday; Chinese Youth Festival (May 4th); International
Children’s Day (June 1st); Anniversary of the Founding of the Chinese
People’s Liberation Army (PLA) (August 1st); Teacher’s Day (September
10th); and National Day (October 1st), a national two-day holiday.
China’s major traditional festivals include the Spring Festival, the
Lantern Festival, Pure Brightness Day, the Dragon Boat Festival, the
Mid-Autumn Festival and the Double Ninth Festival. Ethnic minorities
have also retained their own traditional festivals, including the
Water Sprinkling Festival of the Dai people, the Nadam Fair of the
Mongolian people, the Torch Festival of the Yi people, the Danu (Never
Forget the Past) Festival of the Yao people, the Third Month Fair of
the Bai people, the Antiphonal Singing Day of the Zhuang people, the
Tibetan New Year and Onghor (Expecting a Good Harvest) Festival of the
Tibetan people, and the Jumping Flower Festival of the Miao people.
Spring Festival Each year, when winter is at its end and spring around
the corner, people throughout China enthusiastically celebrate the
first traditional holiday of the year, the Spring Festival. In the
past, when the Chinese people used the lunar calendar, the Spring
Festival was known as the “New Year.” It falls on the first day of the
first lunar month, the beginning of a new year. After the Revolution
of 1911, China adopted the Gregorian calendar. To distinguish the
lunar New Year from the New Year by the Gregorian calendar, the lunar
New Year was called the Spring Festival (which generally falls between
the last 10-day period of January and mid-February). The evening
before the Spring Festival, the lunar New Year’s Eve, is an important
time for family reunions. The whole family gets together for a
sumptuous dinner, followed by an evening of pleasant talk or games.
Some families stay up all night, “seeing the year out.” The next
morning, people pay New Year calls on relatives and friends, wishing
each other good luck. During the Spring Festival, various traditional
recreational activities are enjoyed in many parts of China, notably
lion dances, dragon lantern dances, land-boat rowing and
Lantern Festival The Lantern Festival falls on the 15th day of the
first lunar month, the night of the first full moon after the Spring
Festival. Traditionally, people eat sweet dumplings during this
festival. Sweet dumplings, round balls of glutinous rice flour with
sugar filling, symbolize reunion. During the festival people display
multicolored lanterns on the streets and courtyards, and stroll around
admiring them at night, hence the name “Lantern Festival.” Some places
also hold evening parties for people to guess riddles written on
Pure Brightness Day Pure Brightness Day falls around April 5th every
year. Traditionally, this is an occasion for people to offer
sacrifices to their ancestors. In recent years, many people have also
been going to the tombs of the revolutionary martyrs to pay their
respects. At this time of year the weather has begun to turn warm, and
the earth is once again covered with green. People love to go to the
outskirts of cities to walk on the grass, fly kites and appreciate the
beauty of spring. That is why Pure Brightness Day is sometimes also
called “Walking amid Greenery Day.”
Mid-Autumn Festival The Mid-Autumn Festival falls on the 15th day of
the eighth lunar month, which comes right in the middle of autumn,
hence its name. In ancient times, people would offer elaborate cakes
as sacrifices to the Moon Goddess on this day. After the ceremony, the
family would enjoy sitting together to eat the pastries. The festival
came to symbolize family reunion, and the custom has been passed down
to today. On this mid-autumn night the full moon is especially bright.
The whole family sit together eating moon cakes while admiring the
moon in its perfect splendor.
The Double Ninth Festival
This festival falls on the ninth day of the ninth lunar month.
According to Chinese tradition, the ninth day is an auspicious day;
and the ninth day of the ninth lunar month is the most auspicious day.
On this day, the Chinese people customarily ascend a hill, eat cakes,
drink wine and admire chrysanthemums. Since the late 1980s, the Double
Ninth Festival has become a festival for old people. Various kinds of
activities to show respect and concern for the elderly are held
throughout the country; old people are also invited to attend
celebration meetings and watch theatrical performances.
Dragon Boat Festival It is generally believed that this festival
originated to honor the memory of the patriotic poet Qu Yuan, who
lived in the State of Chu during the Warring States Period. In despair
at not being able to halt the decline of his country, he drowned
himself in the Miluo River in modern Hunan Province on the fifth day
of the fifth lunar month after the capital of Chu fell to the State of
Qin in 278 B.C. Legend has it that after Qu Yuan’s death people living
on the banks of the river went out in their boats to try to find the
corpse. Every year thereafter, on this day people would row their
boats out onto their local river, throwing sections of bamboo filled
with rice into the water as an offering to him. Today, the memory of
Qu Yuan lives on, zongzi (pyramid-shaped dumplings made by wrapping
glutinous rice in bamboo leaves) remains the traditional food and
dragon-boat races are held.
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