News stories about China

update Here are some news stories we have found that we think tell you much about what is going on in China. We avoid stories on politics and economics as these are adequately covered on news web sites. These News stories are available as a news-feed so you can receive notifications of these automatically in your browser. Click on the RSS button to add it to your browser or copy and paste the link.

Thu 23rd Dec 2021

Edinburgh Zoo has negotiated a deal with China to keep its two giant pandas Yang Guang and Tian Tian for another two years. The zoo has been paying about $1,000,000 a year to keep the pandas but with Covid19 visitor numbers at the zoo have tumbled and so the cost will by about $500,000 a year. It was hoped that Yáng guāng meaning ‘sunshine’ and 甜甜 Tián tián meaning ‘sweetie’ would mate and produce a rare cub outside China but in spite of encouraging signs several times they have had no success. Even with artificial insemination Tiantian has not had a full term pregnancy. They were both born in 2003. With the success of the captive breeding program in Sichuan China the pandas are no longer classed as threatened with extinction.

You can watch the pandas on a live webcam .

This will be the last post for 2021. Christmas is now widely celebrated in the Chinese cities so we wish everyone Shèng dàn kuài lè ‘Merry Christmas’ and a happy 2022.

Edinburgh zoo pandas
Yang Guang and Tian Tian at Edinburgh Zoo. Photo courtesy Royal Zoological Society of Scotland and Edinburgh Zoo.
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Fri 17th Dec 2021

China is using the virtue of centralized planning to prepare for the inevitable consequences of the switch to battery powered cars. Electrical vehicles already make up 12.7% of car sales in China with over 3 million sold this year. The expensive lithium powered batteries only last about five years so there will soon be huge numbers needing disposal or recycling. It is planned that batteries can be refurbished and used for other purposes - such as storage of electrical power in large arrays. If they can not be reused they will be dismantled and the valuable metals extracted for construction of new batteries in an environmentally friendly way.

Mercedes Benz electric F 015 concept car
Mercedes-Benz electric F 015 concept car, Shanghai auto show 2015. Available on Creative Commons license .
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Wed 1st Dec 2021

A new film made in China ‘The Battle at Lake Changjin’ has already made an amazing US$890 million (made with a budget of $200 million). It tells the story of the Korean War when thousands of Chinese 'volunteers' helped North Koreans hold back an invasion led by American, British and Commonwealth troops in November/December 1950. The push by the South Koreans, backed by Allies, had pushed north nearly to the Chinese border - the Yalu River, Zhou Enlai then warned that China would not allow its border to be threatened. The Battle at Lake Changjin (or Chosin Reservoir) was a key moment of the ensuing war. The supremacy of the larger and better armed ‘UN’ forces produced many more casualties on the Chinese side (about 48,000) compared to 17,000 and is full of tales of heroism. The battle reached a stalemate with the Chinese and North Koreans holding the key area. It ended the 'UN' plan to unify the whole of Korean peninsular under effective American control. The film is one of many Chinese produced films that are dominating the cinemas in China, gone are the days that top American films seemed to be guaranteed high placement.

The Battle at Lake Changjin&rsquo,

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Tue 23rd Nov 2021

On 18th November power station workers were surprised to find clear images of snow leopards exploring the interior of their workplace on their surveillance cameras. The snow leopards are a rare and highly protected species that range over the western mountains of China: Tibet, Xinjiang, Sichuan, Qinghai and Gansu. The encounter happened at a hydro-electric plant in the Qilian mountains of Gansu on the border with Qinghai. The workers at first thought they might be foxes before noticing their much larger size.

snow leopard, chinese wildlife
Portrait of a male snow leopard (Panthera uncia) of the Rheintal zoo. Modifications made by Niabot . Image by Tambako available under a Creative Commons License

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Fri 5th Nov 2021

In a rather curious posting, Tesla CEO Elon Musk quoted from one of the oldest Chinese classics - the Book of Odes. This is an assorted collection of song lyrics up to about 600BCE from a variety of sources. The topics covered include love, marriage, victory celebrations, sacrifices and hunts. Elon Musk chose a fairly obscure poem:

Beanstalks are ignited to boil beans
The beans in the pot cry out
We are born of the same root
Why should we incinerate each other with such impatience?

The reason for the choice is not obvious. It seems a call for mutual tolerance and understanding with due note for sacrifice. The specific meaning could possibly have something to do with Musk's support for a new crypto-currency the 'dogecoin'.

Shaanxi, calligraphy, rubbing
Taking a rubbing of famous calligraphy at Xian Beilin museum, Shaanxi Copyright © Dreamstime see image license

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Thu 28th Oct 2021

You would think that having a distinct bands of opposite colors would make you stand out and put you in danger from predators. However recent research is giving a different story. Just like the zebra's stripes it is not obvious as to the purpose of the coloration. The surprising conclusion of a report by scientists from Britain, China, Finland and the United States is that the bands serve as camouflage. In the remote mountainous home terrain of the panda the black and white merges into light and dark shadows of rocks and trees to make them hard to make out from a distance. This is at odds with previous suggestions that the coloration was to aid pandas find each other at long distances.

giant panda, wildlife
Giant Panda bear

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Thu 21st Oct 2021

As part of the huge Belt and Road Initiative China has been building improved travel links to neighboring countries.

A new railway links China with neighboring Laos. Because the border is short and the terrain mountainous there has been limited contact between the countries over the centuries. Laos remains a relatively poor landlocked country. The 621 miles [1,000 kms] long link will become fully operational by December and has required long tunnels to traverse the steep mountains and valleys . It is expected that Chinese tourists seeking the warmer climate of Laos will be the main beneficiaries of the link.

laos, temple, buddhism
Buddhist temple at Luang Prabang, Laos. Image by NipponNewfie available under a Creative Commons License

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Fri 8th Oct 2021

It used to be common in the early morning, less so now, to see groups of people gathering in public parks to dance together. Although tai chi is done in silence the dance groups perform to the loud blare of amplified music. All the noise does cause problems at times and rival groups sometimes try to out compete each other by tweaking the volume still higher. The up to 100 million 'dancing grannies' are formidable opponents if you complain about the noise. Some groups have taken to wearing airpods but others have refused to turn down the music. Technology may now have a solution, a special gizmo can be pointed at the offending loudspeaker from over 164 feet [50 meters] away to silence it. The dance steps keep the participants fit and healthy and maybe the new quieter atmosphere will encourage younger people to take up the custom.

dancer, dance
Street dancer at the shore of Xihu (West Lake) on Sangongyuan (Three Parks) - Hangzhou, Zhejiang, China, 22.11.2014. Image by Hermann Luyken available under a Creative Commons License

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Thu 30th Sep 2021

A major water diversion project has been opened in Gansu province, north-west China. The project was started as early as 1958 but soon stalled before restarting again in 2006. It will bring 550 million cubic meters of water every year from a tributary of the Yellow River to the parched lands of southern Gansu. It will allow agriculture to flourish to a region that been constantly hit by periods of drought. It is one of China's poorest regions with limited access to tap water. The project forms part of several ambitious projects to redirect rainwater from the wet south to the dry north.

Gansu, lake, desert
The famous crescent lake near Dunhuang, Gansu

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Sun 19th Sep 2021

This year the annual celebration of the start of autumn chill is on the same day as the equinox 21st September.

The Autumn Moon Festival takes place at full moon in the 8th lunar month (15th day), it marks the end of harvest. Lanterns are lit and round moon cakes are cooked and consumed in large numbers - these are usually filled with soybean paste, lotus seeds and egg yolk and covered in pastry. As there is a tradition that a rabbit lived on the moon, rabbits are a popular image. Another tradition is to layout peaches, melon or grapes in a circle of thirteen as there are 13 lunar months in a year. Ancient pagodas were decorated with lanterns to shine at night. It celebrates Chang'e, the goddess of the moon, and particularly the romance with the archer god Houyi. Traditionally, spirits of the dead came forth to feast on the fruits of summer harvest. People would climb hills and mountains to watch the rising of the full moon with the greeting Kàn yuè liang ‘Look at the bright moon!’.

Ivory figure of Chang 'E

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Fri 10th Sep 2021
Saihanba, park, Hebei
18 July 2005. Image by available under a Creative Commons License

The effects of long term soil degradation by inappropriate farming and tree felling had turned the Saihanba area in northernmost Hebei into a desert of dust of little value to anyone.

Efforts to keep back the Gobi desert in north China began as early as 1962 with the planting of trees as a shelter belt. The efforts of nearly 60 years of continuous management are now bearing fruit. It has become national forest park and nature reserve and received an international ‘Champions of the Earth’ award in 2017. It is the world's largest planted forest and absorbs over 860,000 tons of CO2 each year.

The foresters have developed skills in nurturing tree seedlings and claim a 98.9% survival rate compared to about 8% in the early years. Trees are still being planted and by 2030 should cover over 309 sq miles [800 sq kms]. As well as trees the park is home to 610 species of plants and 261 species of animals. The park should have a noticeable effect on the air quality as far away as Beijing.

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Thu 2nd Sep 2021

Universal Studios makers of such films as Harry Potter, Jurassic Park, Transformers, Minions, The Great Wall and Warcraft have chosen Beijing for their fifth theme park.

It has 37 different rides including the popular Harry Potter rides found elsewhere in the

world but also new ones like ‘Kung Fu Panda Land of Awesomeness’.

It is jointly run by Beijing International Resort Co. and Universal Parks and Resorts and cost about $7.7 billion to build. It is located 20 miles east from the city center but does have its own subway station at the end of the Batong line.

Universal Studios Park

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Fri 20th Aug 2021

China has announced completion of a new railway link to Russia. The traditional route of the Trans-Siberian railway has a link into China through Ulan Bator in Mongolia and also links through Harbin in Heilongjiang province. The new bridge over the mighty Heilongjian/Amur river is further east linking Tongjiang and Nizhneleninskoye. The link joins the Trans-Siberian railway to Vladivostok at Birobidzhan. The bridge is 7,267 feet [2,215 meters] long and has taken seven years to build. It was financed as part of the Belt and Road Initiative.

Tongjiang-Nizhneleninskoye bridge

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Wed 11th Aug 2021

This year Chinese valentine's day falls on Saturday 14th August - precisely six months after the western version.

In China the festival is a moveable festival as it falls on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month [Qīxìjié means seventh night festival]. It commemorates the love between a Zhinu, weaver and the cowherd Niulang. The gods separated them and they were only allowed to meet on one night each year. The husband and wife are represented by the stars Vega and Altair and a bridge of magpies is made over the Milky Way which runs between them in the sky to allow them to meet. The magpies will only come if it was dry so she earnestly prayed for rain to keep away on this day.

It has now become a day for lovers to have a romantic evening and exchange gifts.

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Thu 1st Jul 2021

Analysis of a partial skull is changing people’s ideas of human evolution, The discovery of Peking Man back in 1926 caused a stir as the conventional view was that humans evolved in Africa and moved north into Europe before spreading out. Over the last hundred years it is clear that there were several species of humans and it is certainly not a case of simply following back to an original ‘Adam and Eve’. The new skull, although discovered in 1933 has only recently been studied and suggests a new species of humans from Asia which adds further complexity to the story of human evolution. The new ‘species’ has been called Homo longi, because ( lóng) represents the Chinese dragon. It gives further evidence that ancient Chinese culture developed independently from the rest of the world.

dragon man
A reconstruction of the whole human from the skull fragment.
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Thu 17th Jun 2021

A group of migrating elephants are being closely followed on Chinese social media. They set off from the nature reserve at Xishuangbanna in the remote south-western part of Yunnan province. They have traveled about 311 miles [500 kms] and are now quite close to Kunming, the provincial capital. One 'rogue' male has broken away from the group and is 10 miles [16 kms] away.

China used to have elephants roaming over a good deal of the country, for a long time there was an elephant stable at the Forbidden City Beijing as they were used for ceremonial parades, but the Asian elephants rapidly reduced in numbers and by the 1970s there were only 193 of them restricted to the far south-west. They are rarer in China than the Giant Panda and have been given top protection status. Numbers have risen to just 300 so this group of 15 have been given aid to prevent as much interaction with humans as possible. Roads are blocked and the animals receive daily food drops to encourage them to keep away, not always successfully, from farmer's crops.

It is hoped that the group can eventually be enticed back to their original home at Xishuangbanna but many followers on social media may like to see them set up a new home elsewhere.

sleeping elephants
Drone footage of the elephant group sleeping. Courtesy China Central Television (CCTV)
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Thu 10th Jun 2021

A Qing dynasty hard painted scroll has set a new record at auction. It's a long scroll measuring 61 feet [19 meters] long and was painted by Imperial court painter Xu Yang in the 1750s. The scroll commemorates Emperor Qianlong's military campaigns in Myanmar / Western China to try to capture jade mines as he had a major fixation with this semi-precious stone. It fetched $65million (414 million yuan) at a Beijing auction. Other examples of Xu Yang's work can be seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

scroll, Emperor Qianlong, auction, Xu Yang
A detail from the scroll. Photograph: Courtesy of Poly Auction. Available under a Creative Commons License

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Fri 28th May 2021

A local entrepreneur has turned his love for chocolate into a thriving business. Mo Xuefeng from Jiaxing (conveniently halfway between Shanghai and Hangzhou) became a huge fan as a boy and has been able to create a chocolate themed village; it attracted 50,000 visitors on the May 1st holiday. China imports most of its chocolate few people having the expertise to create a local chocolate industry.

chocolate cake
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Fri 14th May 2021

A CNN report describes how a local area in Jiangsu (south-eastern China) has become famous for its double yolk duck eggs. A double yolk is quite rare normally but this particular county has ducks laying double yolk eggs one in twenty times. Over many generations ducks have been selected that are more likely to produce the double form. The double yolk commands a much higher price and many are preserved in salt water and eaten as a delicacy. The famous county is Gāo yóu near Yangzhou. Local salt has been produced for many centuries making a wealthy area.

double yolk,eggs
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Fri 7th May 2021

The first commercial driver-less taxi service has been launched in China by Baidu. Although no-one sits in the driver's seat currently there is a ‘safety monitor’ in the front passenger seat. It is running within Shouqing Park, Beijing which will be a venue for the winter Olympics next year and is not part of the main road network.

A robotaxi can be summoned by an app called ‘Apollo Go’ and costs around $5 a trip. Many people are fascinated by the novelty of the robotaxi service and so it is having to frequently stop as people get a little bit too close to take a a good look at the driver-less vehicles.

robot taxi,robotaxi
Image copyright Baidu Apollo.
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Sat 1st May 2021

An unusual Guinness world record has been set. In the south of Hainan Island, the southernmost inhabited land in China, a group of 110 divers have dressed as merpeople to set the record. Swimming with only a tail rather than two legs requires new skills to be mastered. You can see a video here. It was held at the Atlantis Sanya resort. Diving has recently become a very popular sport.

mermaid swimmers
Image copyright CGTN.
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Fri 23rd Apr 2021

The latest data show that the move of Chinese people to the cities continues. There are now 93 cities with populations over 1,000,000. This represents about 60% urbanization, not so long ago it was the other way with around 60% in rural villages and small towns. Of China's 30 provinces two have more than ten cities with over 1 million people. There are now ten cities with over 10 million inhabitants, that's a lot of people!

The big growth area is a long way from Beijing, in the mega-cities of Guangdong in the far south and also Jiangsu in the south-east.

Tiananmen Square, crowd
2004 PRC National Day at Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China. What a crowd! Image by pfctdayelise available under a Creative Commons License

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Thu 15th Apr 2021

The pet of the future is now available. A robot dog will offer many advantages, no food, no mess, no kennel fees and if a nuisance it can just be switched off. The developers of AlphaDog at the Weilan workshop may be on to a winning design, it is already selling well. The latest model is using A.I. to give a more convincing dog-like behavior and will soon be given a 'bark'. It can be taken out for walkies but currently will struggle with stairs. They cost about $2,500 at present which is expensive but much lower than the cost of keeping a real dog. In future the dog could be used for all sorts of uses including as guide dogs.

alpha robot dog
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Thu 8th Apr 2021

This year there has been a great deal of wind blown sand from the Gobi desert that has afflicted all north-eastern China. In Beijing the annual tree planting day on 12th March has seen over a million residents take part in activities. Nearly a million trees have been planted and the existing 6 million trees in the city have been given a check-over. There are plans to add over 10,000 hectares of forest and 400 hectares of green spaces. These should all help improve the look of the city and well-being of the citizens. Trees are considered to emit auspicious 'qi' particularly in the morning.

PKChina-26, Summer Palace, beijing, forest
View of Beijing from the Summer Palace. September 2019. Image by Paul Kerswill

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Fri 26th Mar 2021

Although it is getting close to April’s fool day this is a genuine news story. Over the centuries the Daoist (Taoist) tradition has had many ‘masters’ who have claimed extraordinary magical powers.

This year a man (actual name unknown) from Hubei area has claimed the power to enlarge breasts. He does this not by laying on hands but by psychic energy. He claims to be a Guhao master (a Daoist sect) of Zhuyoushu. Women have claimed the ‘treatment’ has gained them at least one inch of breast enlargement. He also claims to be able to make people taller, treat tumors and increase IQ. For each ‘treatment’ he has devised a scale of exorbitant charges.

Now the authorities are catching up with this charlatan (he of course lacks any formal Daoist accreditation) to answer allegations of fraud.

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Wed 17th Mar 2021

The flowering of cherry blossom is a welcome sign of a return to normal in Wuhan. After a year which began with a very tight lockdown of 52 days some medical workers are returning to admire the cherry blossom lining the streets and parks. More than 42,000 nurses and doctors from all over China answered the call to come to Wuhan to join in the fight against Covid-19 Grateful residents are now offering free tours and performances to the workers and their families in the cherry blossom season.

Cherry blossom
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Thu 4th Mar 2021

A new package of regulations has been brought in to help protect the fragile ecosystem along the Yangzi (Yangtze) river. The world's third longest river and the world's second in relation to water flow has had mounting pollution problems. The new laws hopes to co-ordinate controls of development and protect wildlife among the nine provinces through which the mighty river flows. Fishing will now be banned in some areas so the delicate ecological system can regenerate.

Yangzi River, river, boat
Barge on the Yangzi river near the Three Gorges dam

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Thu 25th Feb 2021

The Lantern Festival on 26th February this year marks the final end to the traditional fortnight of Spring Festival celebrations. However most people have been back at work for some days already.

The ancient roots of this important festival is that the lanterns light the way for the ancestral spirits to go home to their tombs after joining the family for the festivities. Many bright, colorful lanterns are made of lucky red paper and some have riddles painted on them to entertain everyone and dragon dances are frequently performed. The most common form is hexagonal in design.

A long time ago the rich made lanterns the size of a brightly lit room where the host would entertain his guests.

lantern festival, festival, fujian
Lantern Festival, Daoist parade of gods (Ngi?ng-s?ng) in Luoyuan, Fuzhou. Image by LuHungnguong available under a Creative Commons License

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Fri 19th Feb 2021

‘Miss grandma’ and her sister have been making a new painting in the traditional Chinese style every day for many years. In a number of short Tiktok videos you can see how the 108 year old paints a variety of subjects with great skill.

In one quick video she paints a picture of plum blossom - a common motif at the continuing Spring Festival. Although many workers will return to work after a week of muted celebrations due to Covid, the traditional festival lasts two weeks, ending on the Lantern Festival on Friday 26th February.

Painting of plum blossom
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Wed 10th Feb 2021
Good Fortune for the year of the Ox

Everywhere in China the characters for Good Fortune fú and the Ox niú will be seen during the next week to welcome in the Chinese New Year of the Ox on February 12th.

Just in time for the celebration has been the news that China’s Mars explorer Tiān wén-1 (‘Astronomy-1’) has successfully entered orbit and will hope to send a lander to the surface in the summer.

Less seriously some students have been turning robots into service to help celebrate the Spring Festival. Tianjin University staff and students have programmed a robot to paint the character for good fortune based just on the eye movements of the operators.

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Thu 4th Feb 2021

After an eventful year of the Rat, let us hope that the Spring Festival on 12th February brings us all a better new year. The Ox is by tradition quiet and easy-going as well as practical and self-assured.

With the incidence of Covid-19 in China still at a very low level, everyone is concerned that the annual mass migration to be with family for the new year festivities may cause a resurgence, and so the advice this year is to keep travel to a minimum.

We've dusted off our Chinese New Year quiz with new fiendishly difficult questions. For a very comprehensive guide to everything about the most important traditional festival see our guide.

Wishing everyone xīn nián kuài lè A happy and prosperous new year.

Year of the Ox
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Thu 28th Jan 2021

China provides a little known, specialist service for foreign travelers.

It is a helpline with the easy to remember number '12345'. It is run from China Unicom buildings in Beijing and aims to answer visitor's queries in English or other languages. It is a 24x7 service aimed to answer a wide range of queries. At present explanations of the current Covid-19 restrictions are high on the list of common questions. The operators are trained to quickly redirect to the appropriate language speaker. They have built up a set of responses for the frequently asked questions.

The national emergency numbers 110 and 119 are a separate mandarin service and you may be able to be understood in English on these lines. The 12345 service is for non-urgent queries. The service is being beefed up ready for the increased number of expected visitors for the Winter Olympics 2022 to be held in Beijing.

Macau, city wall, people
Old streets of Macau at night Copyright © Dreamstime see image license

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Wed 20th Jan 2021

Chinese people have surprisingly few family names. One of the classics of Chinese literature is called the Hundred Family Names Bǎi jiā xìng which lists all the common ones from 1,500 years ago. It was one of the first set of characters that children would learn by heart. One colloquial way to refer to the Chinese people is as the Lǎo bǎi xìng ‘Venerable hundred surnames’ or just Bǎi xìng ‘Hundred names’. The term refers to the ‘ordinary working people’ not the government or rulers.

Some of the family names are used by millions of people. The most common one is ‘Wang’ which means ‘monarch, king, ruler’ and is shared by over 93 million people. However some families with only a few descendents have kept alive some very ancient names. This now causes a problem in the digital age because the character used for the family name are very rare and not in the standard fonts used by computers. So these families are being encouraged to change their name to a more common one. Because of China's huge population this affects a lot of people - about 60 million. The standard character set have now been extended from the basic 8,000 to 70,000 to accommodate many of these rare names but some people are still being left out. Their old written form is fine, it just can't be used digitally.

Wang Zhideng seal
The personal seal of Wang Zhideng

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Thu 14th Jan 2021

A continuing archeological dig has pushed back the history of Chinese palaces by another 1,000 years. Not so long ago it was considered that a complex settled civilization in China only went back about 3,000 years. The latest discoveries at Shuanghuaishu in Henan province, it is just to the north of Zhengzhou near the Yellow River. The remains found are hard to spot as they are mainly made of rammed earth, any stones would have been taken away and used in later buildings. A courtyard covering 8,611 sq feet [800 sq meters] has been found from over 5,000 years ago. which would have been in front of a royal palace. These remains predate the Xia dynasty (c.2100 - 1600BCE) and even before the birth of the Yellow Emperor (born c. 2718BCE)

Shuanghuaishu Dig
Archeological dig at Shuanghuaishu, Zhengzhou, photo credit China Daily .

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Wed 6th Jan 2021

The scales of the rare armored animal, the pangolin, are highly prized in China for their use in TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine). The Chinese species is a scaly ant-eater (Manis pentadactyla) somewhat like the American armadillo. The Chinese government is taking strong action against illegal imports. The dried scales were once believed to be effective against fevers and nervous diseases. Yesterday 17 smugglers were sentenced to between 12 an 14 years in jail for trafficking 23 tons of scales into China worth a probable $28 million. The pangolin is very rare in China but a related species (Smutsia gigantea) is more common in West Africa from where these scales were illegally smuggled.

pangolin, wildlife
Photograph of a pangolin. From Lucile and William Mann's participation in the National Geographic Society-Smithsonian Institution Expedition to the Dutch East Indies, 1937. Image by Lucile and William Mann available under a Creative Commons License

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Wed 30th Dec 2020

The famous Shaolin Temple has now launched, jointly with Henan University, degree courses in Chinese Kung Fu. Bachelor, master and doctorate courses are available for international students. Many of the successful students will return home to teach Kung Fu at teaching centers. The Shaolin Quan Wushu technique dates back around 1,500 years. Kung fu Gōng fu can be translated as ‘fighting competition’ which describes the many competitive fights between the contending schools of martial art.

Henan, Shaolin , martial arts
Shaolin martial arts display Copyright © Dreamstime see image license

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Thu 24th Dec 2020

In recent years the Western celebration of Christmas on 25th December has had increasing observance. This is chiefly an excuse to go out shopping and buy presents for children in the cities - only about 3% of Chinese people are Christians. ‘Shengdan Laoren’ is a transliteration of ‘Santa’ as ‘sheng:’ saintly ‘dan:’ birth followed by ‘laoren:’ old man. As Santa is dressed in lucky red this greatly adds to his appeal. To wish someone ‘Merry Christmas’ you can say shèng dàn kuài lè. It is not a public holiday in China.

Christmas in China
Christmas decorations in China, photo credit University of Maine .

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Thu 17th Dec 2020

On Thursday 17th December the Chang'E 5 completed its mission to bring back samples from the surface of the moon. This makes China only the third nation to achieve this feat. The successful mission, named after 嫦娥 Cháng É the Chinese goddess of the Moon, is one more significant step in the Chinese space missions that should eventually put people on the planet of Mars.

The samples come from an unexplored region of the moon called "Ocean of Storms" and should provide crucial information about how and when it was formed. It's 48 years since the last lunar rock samples were brought back to Earth.

surface of moon
The surface of the moon as photographed by Chang'E 5. Photo courtesy of Chinese Lunar Exploration Program (CLEP).

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Wed 9th Dec 2020

China is extending its control of the rain over a huge area of land. It has long been known that you can seed clouds with a type of salt (silver iodide) that causes it to rain or snow. In order to bring rains to drought prone regions China is extending its weather control to 5.5 million sq. kms by 2025 (an area the size of India) on the Qinghai-Tibet plateau. The salt is dispensed by either airplanes or anti-aircraft guns.

It's hard to be sure of the effectiveness the seeding of the clouds because if it rains it maybe would have done that regardless.

threatening cloud

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Wed 2nd Dec 2020

Quite a number of artworks that were stolen or looted many years ago are being bought up and returned back to China. The latest example is a bronze horse's head that was looted from the Old Summer Palace, Beijing at the end of the Second Opium War in 1860. A combined Anglo-French looted and burned down the Emperor's great pleasure garden. Many artworks were taken away. A magnificent set of sculptured heads of each of the astrological animals designed by the Jesuit missionaries to China was made into a huge water clock. The horse's head was modeled by Italian artist Giuseppe Castiglione . Macau billionaire Stanley Ho (who died in May) bought back the artwork at auction in 2007 and donated it to the Chinese state in 2019. Only seven of the twelve original sculptures have been found and returned.

Bronze horse head. Image credit: China News Service

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Wed 25th Nov 2020

A long time collector of historic photographs of China wants to find a buyer. Stephan Loewentheil has accumulated over 20,000 photographs of China taken between 1850 and 1920 over the last few decades.

It is a unique collection with many very rare images of life in China from this tumultuous period. He is keen to sell it to an institution or individual in China so that the collection at last goes home. There are many images by the largely unknown Chinese pioneers of photography: Lai Fong, Liang Shitai, Pun Lun Studio and Tung Hing Studio.

Guofen launch,satellite
A traditional weaver at work (1870) by William Saunders. Image credit: Stephan Loewentheil Photography of China Collection

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Wed 18th Nov 2020

In these dark days of approaching winter (in the northern hemisphere) now might be a good time to explore one of China's great cultural gems. As travel into China is very restricted at present it is good that it is now possible to make the trip with your computer. At the Mogao caves near Dunhuang, Gansu province there was a treasure trove of ancient paintings and writings preserved in the dry desert for up to 1,600 years. Western explorers in the early 19th century bought up many of these items so about 40,000 items are now spread between more than ten countries including the UK, France, Russia and Japan. The UNESCO world heritage site is located near the junction of the old Silk Road route to China, where traders in exotic goods chose the long desert road either to India or towards the Middle East and Europe. The 'Digital Dunhuang' project aims to reunite these lost items in the virtual world.

You can already visit and appreciate the beauty of the 30 richly decorated caves using the web site Digital Dunhuang and the fascinating artwork within them.

Gansu, Dunhuang, Buddhism
The Mogao Caves with magnificent Buddhist paintings and sculpture at Dunhuang, Gansu

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Thu 5th Nov 2020

The world's biggest shopping spree is timed to fall on China's new 'festival/holiday'. A very recent special day, is ?Single's Day? when young, single people buy themselves presents. The festival started among men at Nanjing University in the 1990s and has caught on very rapidly in cities throughout China and amongst single women too. The choice of date is based on the fact that 11.11 has four single 'ones' in it, representing two 11 couples. It is now a popular day to declare love and propose marriage, a second Chinese Valentine's Day. More importantly it has become the world's busiest shopping day (mostly online but also in shops). Alibaba heavily promotes it as a special occasion to spend money and has already held one special bargain period (Nov. 1st to 3rd)this year.

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Thu 15th Oct 2020

China is continuing to successfully launch satellites at an increasing pace. The Mars probe Tainwen-1 Tiān wén was successfully launched back in July. It will reach the Red planet in February and will aim to land a roving probe on the surface soon after.

Meanwhile on the far side of the Moon the lander and rover of the Chang'e-4 probe are still working fine. Its rover, Yutu-2, or Jade Rabbit-2 Yù tù is still delivering useful data after over 22 months of operation.

The latest set of rocket launches have been to put more monitoring satellites in Earth orbit. The Gaofen-13 satellite launched on the 12th October will monitor the skies in visible as well as infra-red wavelengths at a high resolution ( Gāo fēn means high resolution or high score). As well as giving vital geographic information (growth of crops etc.) it also acts as military defense as it can detect stealth fighter airplanes invisible to radar.

With the end of high tech. co-operation with the U.S. China is building an independent space program. It is now also building a network for global positioning ( Běi dǒu-3 series) so it is no longer reliant on the U.S. controlled GPS system of satellites.

Guofen launch,satellite
Image credit: Xinhua Agency
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Thu 1st Oct 2020

There is good cause for double celebration today because the Mid Autumn festival and National day fall on the same day - the next time this will happen is 2031.

The Autumn Moon Festival takes place at full moon in the 8th lunar month (15th day), it marks the end of harvest. Lanterns are lit and round moon cakes are cooked and consumed in large numbers - these usually are filled with soybean paste, lotus seeds and egg yolk and covered in pastry. As there is a tradition that a rabbit lived on the moon, rabbits are a popular image. Another tradition is to layout peaches, melon or grapes in a circle of thirteen as there are 13 lunar months in a year. It celebrates Chang'e, the goddess of the moon, and particularly the romance with the archer god Houyi. Traditionally, spirits of the dead came forth to feast on the fruits of summer harvest. People would climb hills and mountains to watch the rising of the full moon.

National day marks the founding of the Peoples' Republic on 1st October 1949. There are often three days of public holiday for it normally, and so accounting for the weekend this year the combined celebrations last until 7th October - a whole week's holiday.

Moon festival, food, cake
Moon cake for the Mid Autumn (Moon) Festival

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Wed 23rd Sep 2020

The largest palace complex in the world marks its 600th birthday this year. The Forbidden City (as only the privileged few had any access) took 14 years to build at great expense. The Ming dynasty Emperor Yongle had decided in 1406 hat he must move his capital further north towards the still troubled northern frontier. The Forbidden City is the largest and best preserved collection of ancient buildings in China. 200,000 worked on the immense project including thousands of families who were forcibly uprooted and moved from the former capital of Nanjing, 600 miles away, to build the new capital. The buildings have only a few levels as they are built of wood making them less prone to damage by earthquake. The use of wood has required a continuous cycle of renovation over the intervening centuries. The Forbidden City remained in use up to the forced removal of Emperor Puyi in 1924.

The modern center of Chinese government has not moved far from the Forbidden City - the government buildings of the People's Republic are located immediately to its west at Zhongnanhai. Although completed in 1420, it was officially inaugurated on Chinese New Year 1421 so we can expect many more stories about it before February 12th 1421.

Ming dynasty, Forbidden City, view, Beijing
View of the Forbidden City, Beijing from the peak of Jingshan Hill

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Thu 17th Sep 2020

All nations are looking at ways to make our cities greener, but the experience in Chengdu might give pause for thought.

The vertical style urban jungle has been used on a large scale in the Qiyi City Forest Garden, Chengdu, Sichuan. The eight apartment blocks were built in 2018 and all 826 of them were quickly snapped up when put on the market.

Urban forest,Chengdu
Image credit: European Pressphoto Agency

However the development has hit an unforeseen problem. The new green spaces on every balcony have found insect tenants too, and so the few residents have to fight a battle with clouds of mosquitoes. The planners forgot that jungles are not only full of lush vegetation but a whole range of insect life that is not quite so welcome.

Only ten families have so far braved the insect menace to take up permanent residence.

Another threat that seems inevitable is that over time the plants will become both large and old. So branches and whole plants are at increasing risk of tumbling down from a great height.

You can also watch a short video about this story here.

Video not visible
Vertical urben forest

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Thu 3rd Sep 2020

A new adaptation of the acclaimed sci-fi book by Chinese author Cixin Liu is to be made for Netflix by joint US - China production teams. David Benioff and D.B. Weiss who brought Game of Thrones to our screens will write and produce the epic story in an English adaptation. It is set at the time of the cultural revolution in China (1966-75) and concerns scientists discovering a sophisticated alien menace.

In this time of increased U.S. - China tensions it's heartening to see a new collaboration being forged.

Three body problem book
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Thu 27th Aug 2020

Over the last few years the Chinese government has supported the astonishing growth of Confucius Institutes over the world. By the end of 2019 there were 541 institutes in 162 countries. Their aim is to promote the teaching of the Chinese language and learning about Chinese culture. They arrange classes in Mandarin, Taichi, calligraphy, painting, dance, opera and other cultural pursuits. With the cold war between China and the US under President Trump these have been seen by many as a sinister attempt to foster a pro-Chinese movement - a development of Chinese soft power. To counter this criticism they are now being re-branded as 'Chinese language learning centers'. This is a less contentious title because just learning the language does not imply any loyalty to the country of China; as even hostile news reporters need to learn the language.

The U.S. government has reclassified the institutes as 'foreign missions' and that has led to similar circumspection in other countries include the UK, Australia and India. There is some basis behind these suspicions because each Confucius Institute is controlled by Hanban ( Hàn bàn) in Beijing. This Chinese administrative center chooses who is funded and who is employed as well as the texts used in classes. As a result many academic institutions are reviewing their relationship with Confucian Institutes and many in the U.S. have now shut down. Many students and teachers are lamenting the suppression of interest in foreign cultures. Surely it should be possible to separate learning about another country from supporting a foreign government?

Qufu, Confucius
Statue of Confucius at Qufu, Shandong

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Wed 19th Aug 2020

19th August 2o2o is the first day of the seventh Chinese month. The 7th month of the traditional calendar is associated with ghosts. The Hungry Ghost festival in the middle of the seventh month is the main festival but some people also mark the start of the month - Ghost Gate. This is when the ghosts come back to the world of the living for a month. The ghost month is considered unlucky, spirits wander around for the whole month and so new projects and enterprises should not be started. One superstition of relevance is to avoid sticking chopsticks vertically into the rice bowl as this invites in the ghosts. Other superstitions include not to take pictures at night (the ghosts don't like it) or go to the beach or buy a new house.

ghost,  battle
Section from a 19th century Chinese Hell Scroll showing the ghost of Yue Fei accusing the traitor Qin Hua in the sixth and seventh court of hell. Available under a Creative Commons License

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Hangzhou, Zhejiang, west lake
West Lake, Hangzhou. Copyright Richard Wingfield, October 2017.