Life in China 2017: A Picture A Day, January 13 – The use of dougong brackets goes back thousands of years in Chinese architecture. The word “dougong” literally means “cap and block.” They were/are a system of wooden interlocking pieces that gave the needed support because the walls were not load-bearing. They were layered under the wide eaves to support the load of the roof. The more important the building, the more layers of brackets. This system supposedly holds up very well in earthquakes, holding even when brick walls fall. They are credited as the reason so many ancient Chinese buildings lasted for so long. As time passed, methods changed some and the dougong brackets became more decorative and artistic. Today, you can still see beautiful, brightly colored dougong brackets on special buildings. These in the pictures are from the Po Lin Monastery in Hong Kong and the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall in Guangzhou. You can see more pictures of the ones used at the Po Lin Monastery in my blog post here: http://www.myownchinesebrocade.com/travel/2017/1/12/big-buddha-and-ngong-ping
Life in China 2016: A Picture A Day, December 30 – I posted a picture back on July 28th of Zoomorphic Animals used on the eaves of Chinese architecture, and told how the number used indicated rank in ancient China. Door Studs were another way that rank was indicated in ancient Chinese architecture. The pictured door was on a temple in Guilin. Being a temple, It has the highest number of studs found, which is 81 (9 rows of 9 studs). In modern times, door studs continue to be used as decoration, but originally they held on iron plates to strengthen the doors. Doors also often had, and many times still have, decorative knocker bases. The more important the building, the more elaborate the “pushou” or knocker base. They are usually found in the shape of one of the animals with special meaning in Chinese culture. These date back over 2000 years. As well as being decorative, they were functional as a knocker, and when the doors were closed, a lock could be fastened around the two rings. These two knockers were from the temple area in Ngong Ping, where we visited in Hong Kong last week.
Life in China 2016: A Picture A Day, October 23 – I’m not sure how I’ve made it this far into the year without posting specifically about dragons! Dragons, called龙 long, are HUGE in China and there is no way I’ll cover everything there is to learn about them in this paragraph! Most importantly, dragons in China are GOOD, unlike dragons in Western lore that are/were mean, ferocious enemies. Chinese dragons are mainly symbols of power and good luck. They have a very different look than most Western dragons. They have NO wings (although they can fly) and they don’t breathe fire; They have scales like a fish, the mane of a lion, the claws of a hawk, a long tail like a snake, the antlers of a deer, the mouth of a bull, the beard of a catfish, the nose of a dog, and eyes like a shrimp! Legend says that the emperor was a direct descendant of the dragon. Legend also says that the Imperial dragon had 9 dragon sons; today, you can still recognize nine different specific dragons, used in different ways. The dragon is also one of the Chinese Zodiac animals, the only mythological one of the group. Long ago, the dragon symbol was only allowed to be used by the emperor, but, today dragon symbols are widely used as a decorative symbol. This large ornamental pillar with a dragon wrapped around it is located in the Dalingshan Town Square, in Dongguan.
Life in China 2016: A Picture A Day, October 16 – Most people who haven’t been to China don’t realize that there are a large number of government sanctioned Christian churches which are perfectly legal for Chinese citizens to attend. The teachings aren’t the same as in foreign Christian churches though. You must commit your life to China first and God second. Christians who don’t agree with this often turn to “underground” churches, and those are the ones that the government isn’t happy about. In areas with a lot of foreigners, there are often special services, depending on the area, you need to show a foreign passport to participate in these. Leah was invited to attend a youth group at a Chinese Christian Church today. She took the bus to the town of Shilong which was about an hour and 10 minute bus ride from us. The youth group was held upstairs from the main congregation, and she took the first picture on her way up; you can see it’s a full house! In the picture with the sign, the part with the red cross is the church name, Shilong Fuyin Tang, basically Shilong Christian or Gospel Church. This was at the back of the building, which used to be the main entrance, so the rest of the sign says where to enter the church now. She went to a small museum in the afternoon, and the church she attended supposedly has about a 150 year history. The other picture shows an old picture of the church. Leah said the caption reads that “Christianity was brought to Shilong in the late 19th century. In 1863, an American missionary built Shilong Church, called Presbyterian Church. After the Boxer Rebellion (1900), the church was destroyed.” At some point (possibly 1918) it must have been rebuilt because it says a school was established, and that during a famine it was used to provide food and medicine. Thanks to Leah for the pictures and translations.
Life in China 2016: A Picture A Day, October 11 – Moon gates are very old elements used in Chinese architecture and gardens. They can be indoor or outdoor and serve as a connection or transition between two places. Sometimes you actually have to step over a threshold, which adds even more emphasis to the concept of entering a new place. The full moon is “worshipped” in China, and considered a symbol of happiness. The moon gate represents the full moon rising and is therefore very inviting for people to pass through. Today we visited the Lingnan Museum of Fine Art and Keyuan Park and this moon gate was in a garden area between the two. We had planned to visit Keyuan Garden, a very well-known garden in Guangdong Province, but it was closed today :-( We will have to go back! I’m sure they have more moon gates in the garden!
Life in China 2016: A Picture A Day, October 8 – I think any country with rivers and lakes has its own style of picturesque bridges and China is no exception! Many of the bridges, whether they are arched, zigzagged, have pavilions in the centers, or something else, have stone balustrades with decorative baluster heads. Long ago, carvings of dragons and phoenixes were used only for the baluster heads on the grounds of imperial buildings; The Forbidden Palace in Beijing has many. In my picture, the dragon baluster heads are around the Drum Tower at the Chiwan Temple in Shenzhen. The bridge is one near us, I’m not sure if the carvings represent flowers or clouds, but they are interesting. Many modern bridges just have plain baluster heads. Other common designs for the more ornate ones are lions, flames, and pomegranates. You can see the plain ones in my post on Zigzag Bridges https://linda-walsh-n6tp.squarespace.com/config/pages/568757bdd8af102bf3da0525
Life in China 2016: A Picture A Day, September 28 – The neccessary elements of a Chinese garden are: water, architecture, plants, and rocks. Often walls and winding paths are also included. Different types of rocks serve different purposes, but one of the most treasured types of rocks are unique limestone formations. The most famous gardens have rocks from a place called Tai Lake (Taihu), which is near Suzhou, where there are many famous classical gardens. This picture shows a limestone rock formation near the Lotus Pavilion in Songshan Lake. It looks like the Taihu rocks I’ve seen in Suzhou, but I really don’t know, I’m no rock expert! I included Leah in the picture so you could see the size of the rock. Rock formations like these are actually considered to be “sculptures.” There are also many smaller rocks of different kinds around the park, and also, all of the much smaller ones that make up the footpaths I posted a picture of back in May. It seems rocks in Chinese gardens are basically equivalent to flower plantings in Western gardens. We also have a specific Rock Garden near us. Here is a 5 minute video about a replica of a Classical Chinese garden in New York City. It tells a lot about the meaning of rocks in Chinese gardens. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ttb2UtMUbIU
Life in China 2016: A Picture A Day, July 28 – Yesterday, while in Guangzhou, we happened to walk past the Sun Yat-sen Children’s Library. I like looking at old Chinese architecture so we went inside of the gates to get a better look. One of the features it had were the “wenshou,” or “zoomorphic ornaments.” These ridge animals have been used in Chinese architecture for over 2000 years! They are considered to be a good luck symbol as it was traditionally believed that they were capable of putting out fires. The number of animals was indicative of the status of the owner of the building. The Throne Hall at the Forbidden City in Beijing has eleven animals, which is the largest known amount. This library, built in 1933, has six animals on each sloping ridge point, arranged in the standard order: first comes a god riding a phoenix, then a dragon, a phoenix, a lion, a “heavenly” horse, and a “sea” horse. The ferocious looking creature at the back of the line of animals is “chiwen” also known as the “ridge devouring beast” when used like this.
Life in China 2016: A Picture A Day, July 26, 2016 - Today, we took a bus to Guangzhou to pick up our new passports. This is the Canton Tower, a well known landmark along the Pearl River in Downtown Guangzhou, or the historic Canton. The Canton Tower opened in 2010 and at 1954 feet tall, it held the title of the tallest tower in the world for a short time. It is still the tallest In China and third tallest in the world. I haven't been in it yet, but It is used for telecommunications, has restaurants, numerous observation floors, cinemas, a "Sky drop" ride, and at the top of the wide main section is the "Bubble Tram" a spinning cable car ride around the rim! The daytime photo was taken from the US Embassy location and the nighttime photo was taken while we were on an evening river cruise.
Life in China 2016: A Picture A Day, July 16 – In Eastern China, cities have been growing rapidly since the early 80’s. It’s amazing how fast a building can go up! Watching the construction looks a little different than in the Western world because generally, bamboo scaffolding is used. It takes the bamboo 3-4 years to reach the maturity used for scaffolding. The bamboo is hollow, so although it is very strong, it is also flexible, which is great for an area prone to typhoons! Because the bamboo is lighter weight, it can be put up and taken down much faster than steel, and pieces can be cut much easier for special sizes. And, bamboo is only a tenth of the cost of steel. Today, the bamboo scaffolding is tied together with nylon or plastic strips. The men who assemble bamboo scaffolding, called “bamboo scaffolders,” are nicknamed “spiders” and their profession is a highly respected one because of the skill needed for the job. Here are a couple of good 3 to 4 minute You Tube videos about bamboo scaffolding in Hong Kong. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vwDIS_3RqxY
The pictures are, starting with the large one and going clockwise: A building in the next town, Dalingshan, with scaffolding up for maintenance work, a worker who looks like he’s polishing some metal on the same building, a pile of bamboo waiting to be assembled, close-up of how the poles are tied together, and the last one is actually steel scaffolding around one of the villas where we live.
Although China doesn’t have one actual national bird, the red-crowned crane is often one that is recognized for its importance in Chinese culture. However, there is a joke you hear often in China about the “construction” crane being the national bird of China! I found references to it all the way back to 1993! It seems that wherever you go… other than true rural areas, you find some kind of construction happening! Shenzhen, the nearby city where we lived for 4 years, had a population of 30,000 in 1980. That year, the government decided to make it a “Special economic zone” and by 2014, the city’s population had grown to over 10 million! The population of the entire metropolitan area was over 18 million! Growth is moving outward, and currently they are working on connecting public transportation routes for the entire Pearl River Delta area. I’m sure the next five years are going to bring dramatic changes to the area we are now in. The top picture shows our view across Songshan Lake (taken today after the rain), and the other shows the growth happening south of us along the lake. The real red-crowned crane is from Safari Park, the Shenzhen Zoo :-)
Often when there are footbridges across ponds or lakes in China, they aren’t straight, but have many turns or bends, therefore the name “Zigzag” bridge is used most often in English. The bridge pictured is at a park we visited today. It is called a “jiuqu qiao,” meaning the “nine-bend bridge.” When we first came to China and visited the famous nine-bend bridge at the Yu Gardens in Shanghai, I was told that the bridges are made this way because the belief is that evil spirits can only go in straight lines, thus they are stopped on these bridges. Now, as I’m reading online, other possibilities are that it is because of Zen philosophy and the idea of mindfulness, to get you to slow down, pay closer attention and concentrate on the present moment. Also, according to Feng Shui, the energy moves too quickly when it goes in straight lines, so paths and bridges are made with bends to make the energy flow smoother. So, three possibilities…maybe a combination of all? I don’t have a definite answer! The aerial picture is a screenshot from Google Earth to show all the turns on the bridge, and you can see the pavilion is also in the middle of the bridge. We stopped and ate our lunch there today…very peaceful :-)
Today we visited the Nantou Ancient Village in Shenzhen. People tend to think of Shenzhen as just a modern city because 30 years ago it was just a fishing village, not a known city. But…people did live there, and there is history to be learned! Shenzhen grew up rapidly around the villages. Unfortunately, these old villages continue to be torn down to make room for high rises. Nantou is one old town that some effort has been made to preserve. The preserved South Gate dates back to 1394, when it was built as part of the wall around the town. It is a place where you can see the contrast of old and new. One feature I enjoy of old (and reproduction) Chinese architecture is the eaves tiles, called wadang. Their purpose was to protect the wooden rafters by blocking the rain and wind as well as being decorative. The first ones known date back to about 1000BC. The close-up picture is from the old bank building and the other shows the old Government offices. You can see the roofs with eaves tiles in the center and on both sides.
Life in China: A Picture a Day 2016, Feb 10 - I’ve always enjoyed seeing the contrast of old and new architecture in China. I didn’t think we had any right here in Songshan Lake, as it’s a fairly newly developed area, but we found this building yesterday. We rode our bikes down this new road it’s on, which I guess was always a road of sorts since this house is here! We live in the housing in the background, which is across a small inlet from the lake, and there is new housing going up on the other side of the road. I really like that this old house is all decorated for Chinese New Year. They also had a big garden and a horse across the street. If these people own the land this old house is on, they are going to be quite wealthy when they decide to sell it!
Life in China: A Picture a Day, 2016, January 8 - In China (at least in the areas we have lived), housing complexes are called “yuan” or “gardens.” Along with the housing, most incorporate the four important elements of a Chinese Garden: plants, water, rocks, and some type of architecture. This picture is the small lake near the building we live in. It is situated in the middle of a group of tall buildings, but is a very peaceful place to go. The small building on the right actually sits in the middle of lake, reached by a wooden boardwalk at the back side. There are all kinds of plants and rocks around the edge of the lake, right now there are beautiful yellow irises blooming.
Life in China: A Picture a Day 2016, January 3 - This is the gate or archway to Dalingshan Park, in the town next to where we live. Although you just walk right under, it is definitely a separation between the lively, noisy, business area behind where I stood, from the peaceful, quiet, park on the other side.