An introduction to Chinese culture
Chinese culture is one of the world’s oldest cultures. It has over 5,000 years of fascinating history that has had an impact on many other cultures in one way or another. Going through all of it would be impossible but we have picked out a few topics that you might find interesting and relevant for your interest in studying Kungfu in China.
Behaviors and habits in the Chinese culture
Finding a more hospitable and welcoming people than the Chinese is hard. They will do their best to help you whenever you are in need, sometimes you don’t even need to ask, they will offer if you just look like you could use a hand.
The Chinese are also a very curious people and in some areas, like the rural farmland where the kungfu academy is located, there are not that many foreigners. Some locals have never seen a foreigner “in real life” before. Therefore, do not be surprised when Chinese people try to talk to you (even though most do not speak English), or if they would like to get a picture together with you. It is a very common thing and it is simply because they are curious about you.
If you are staying in China for a longer period of time it is recommended to learn some Chinese so you will be able have basic conversations exchanging name, country, age, purpose of stay etc. It will make it easier for you to get around, but you will also gain respect from the locals for having learnt basic Chinese – even it’s just a few words.
In the Chinese culture, it is a beauty standard to be as light skinned as possible. This shows that you are so well-off that you do not need to work the farms outside in the sun. The Chinese are very fond of blond hair/beard and white skin, something that does not naturally occur in China. It’s the opposite of the Western beauty standard, where being tanned shows that you are so well off that you have time to relax in the sun either at home or on vacation.
One of the things most foreigners need to be prepared for is the thrill of bargaining. It is a very big part of the Chinese culture when it comes to shopping. You do not bargain in supermarkets or big shops with clearly labelled prices, but on the open markets, with taxi’s or even at your hotel it is possible. Bargaining is an art and landing on a good price gives great satisfaction. If they tell you about their starving kids, you probably did a good deal. If they agree to your first price straight away, you have probably paid overprice. It can take a little time to learn. In some areas around China, there is a tendency to overprice foreigners, but this is not a problem around the area of the academy. You don’t have to worry about this when you buy fruit at the nearby market for example.
Shaolin Kungfu & Buddhism
Shaolin Kungfu refers to the traditional cultural system that has developed over time from the Buddhist culture in the Shaolin Temple in the Songshan Mountains. It is based on a belief in the supernatural power of Buddhism and fully reflects the wisdom of Chan Buddhism. Shaolin Kungfu encompasses a complete technical and theoretical system, with martial arts and techniques as its major form of expression, and Buddhism belief and Chan (Zen) wisdom as the cultural connotation.
The wisdom of Chan Buddhism has had a profound cultural impact on Shaolin Kungfu. The practice of Shaolin Kungfu is based on the belief of Buddhism including wisdom belief and strength. The First Patriarch Bodhidharma is revered as its deity of wisdom and Kinnara as deity of strength. The aspiration for supernatural power and pursuit of supreme wisdom has always been the goals pursued by Buddhists. This is also the main reason for Kungfu’s mystical effects and distinguishes Shaolin Kungfu from other styles of Kungfu.
The very soul of Shaolin Kungfu is rooted in the wisdom of Chan Buddhism. The underlying basis of the belief system of Shaolin Kungfu is “Chan ding (Dhyana)”. The combination of Chan Buddhism with a unique system of martial arts has become the chief characteristic of Shaolin Kungfu and as such the adoption and practice of this strict belief system is what especially marks the monks of the temple as “Shaolin” monks who regard their personal perfection in this system as their ideal and lifelong goal.
Chan Buddhism pays special attention to achieving the goal of Buddhism via the daily strict precepts and religious doctrines. Shaolin Kungfu, as a component of Shaolin monks’ daily life, has also been included into the forms of Buddhism and Chan Studies. The main body for practicing Shaolin Kungfu is the Chan Buddhists who practice martial arts out of the understanding of the Chan Buddhism. They fully understand life and have no fear in their hearts, demonstrating great wisdom and courage. Chan Buddhism has enriched Shaolin Kungfu and Shaolin Kungfu brings to them the unique state of relaxation, freedom and divinity. The understanding of Shaolin Kungfu can only be achieved by long time practice and has an effect on every aspect of a practitioners life.
The inheritance of high level Shaolin Kungfu always depends on the teaching and oral instruction of masters as well as disciples’ spiritual comprehension of Chan Buddhism. To reach such level of Kungfu, monks have to improve themselves on both daily Chan studies and Kungfu practices. The idea behind Shaolin Kungfu is the belief in the combination of Chan Buddhism and martial arts.
Bruce Lee & Chinese Kungfu
As we all know, Chinese kungfu movies began to spread overseas from the Bruce Lee era, many modern Westerners began to know the Chinese culture from Bruce Lee. Now, Bruce Lee has become a martial arts icon , cultural idol and inspirational figure. His life became a classic example of intercultural communication.
Bruce Lee was the kungfu superstar and great kungfu master for generations. In his life he made and realized three vows: bringing Chinese kungfu to the world, bringing Chinese movies into the world market and creating a unique kungfu style. Almost every modern Westerner began to know about Chinese kungfu and Chinese because of Bruce Lee.
As a kungfu warrior, Bruce Lee studied and developed his kungfu his whole life. Learning Chinese kungfu, studying foreign boxing, Bruce Lee kept an open mind while he integrated the essence of all varieties of kungfu styles. He made rapid progress in his kungfu skills by hard work, and created Jeet Kune Do (JKD). He founded Jun Fan Kungfu Institute in United States of America, teaching and spreading Wing Chun and Jeet Kune Do. Bruce Lee told the world about his understanding of Chinese kungfu and philosophy in different speeches and competed with elites of different martial arts schools in competitions around the world.
Chinese Language and Calligraphy
Chinese is spoken by the Han majority and many other ethnic groups in China. Nearly 1.2 billion people speak some form of Chinese as their first language (around 16% of the world’s population). Standard Chinese (Putonghua/Guoyu/Huayu) is a standardized form of spoken Chinese based on the Beijing dialect of Mandarin. It is the official language of China and Taiwan, as well as one of four official languages of Singapore. The written form of the standard language, based on the logograms known as Chinese characters (hànzi), is shared by literate speakers of otherwise unintelligible dialects.
As for calligraphy, it occupies a distinguished position in the field of traditional art. It is not only a means of communication, but also a means of expressing a person’s inner world in an aesthetic sense.
To practice calligraphy requires the basic tools of ‘four treasures of study’ (writing brush, ink stick, paper, and ink slab) as well as much concentration on guiding the soft writing brush charged with fluid ink, and writing on the paper where the ink will diffuse quickly. Once the brush movement hesitates, a black mark is created, so speed, strength and agility is the essence of fine artwork. When writing, many calligraphers will forget all worries and even themselves, combining all thoughts in the beauty of their art. Thus it can be compared with Qigong, which can mold and improve a person’s temper and promote well being.
Traditional Chinese Medicine
Traditional Chinese Medicin (TCM, Zhong Yi) takes a far different approach than western medicine. With a history of 5,000 years, it has formed a deep and immense knowledge of medical science, theory, diagnostic methods, prescriptions and cures. TCM includes various forms of herbal medicine, acupuncture, massage (Tui na), exercise (qigong), and dietary therapy.
The Physiology of Chinese medicine holds that the human body’s life is the result of the balance of yin and yang. Yin is the inner and negative principles, and yang, outer and positive. The key reason why there is sickness is because the two aspects lose their harmony. Seen from the recovery mechanism of organs, yang functions to protect from outer harm, and yin is the inner base to store and provide energy for its counterpart.
TCM Doctors believe that vital energy or ‘Qi’ – moving and energetic particles, state of blood, and body fluid are the essential substances that links together to form the human body, and the basis for internal organs to process. They are channeled along a network within the body – Jing Luo as their channels. On the physical side, vital energy, serving to promote and warm belongs to the properties of yang. Blood and body fluid to moisten possesses the properties of yin.
It is a wonder that TCM doctors can cure countless patients without any assistant apparatus, only a physical examination. The four methods of diagnosis consist of observation, auscultation and olfaction, interrogation, pulse taking and palpation.
Chinese Calendar & Zodiac
The Chinese calendar is a lunisolar calendar which arranges the year, month and day number upon the astronomical date. It is used for traditional activities in China and overseas Chinese communities. It determines the dates for the Chinese traditional holidays, and instructs Chinese people in selecting the lucky day of a wedding or funeral, for opening a venture, or a relocation.
Chinese Zodiac (Sheng Xiao) derives from the similar concept in western astrology and means “circle of animals”, which respectively are rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. It represents the twelve earthly branches, used to symbolize the year in which a person is born. According to the old customs, when a person reaches one’s birth year (Ben Ming Nian), one must tie a red belt, wear red socks, underwears, and so on. According to Chinese traditions, it’s not lucky to marry or have a child in one’s birth year.
Zodiac together with the Five Elements (metal, wood, water, fire and earth) are also considered important factors when naming a new born Chinese baby. According to Chinese tradition, a good name much supplement and complement a person’s fortune. A person’s life will be good if the five elements are balanced. When a child is born, his birth year, month, day and hour will combine to give him eight characters (Ba Zi), each representing a particular natural element. If all five elements are present in a child’s eight characters, then the child will be more likely to live a balanced and harmonious life. But most of the time, a person’s eight characters will be unbalanced. This can be circumvented by giving the baby a name that makes the characters more balanced. For example, if one is lacking water, then having a name that contains water can solve the problem.
For a few more subjects within Chinese culture take a look at the academy´s culture blog.