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Write: Prof.Dr.Ayşe Selçuk Esenbel Photos: Ömer Orhun
China, From Ancient Civilization To Modernity
China, From Ancient Civilization To Modernity
China is an ancient civilizatıon and at the same time a frontier in modernity as a rising new global power.
Contradiction? China is the only one among the ancient civilizations whose writing system, classical language and political history of the centralized state have continued to be used as part of its modern experience to this day.
For example, the word Zhongguo, meaning the Middle Kingdom, which is still commonly used to refer to China today as part of the name People’s Republic of China, was actually invented back in the 3rd century B. C. In 221 B. C., the First Emperor of China, known as Qin Shi Huang of the Qin dynasty (221 B. C. -206 B. C.), unified most of the territory that we know as historic China under a centralized imperial state by abolishing the regional kingdoms and hereditary fiefdoms.
The new state owned all land in the name of Heaven and collected taxes from the people to be used for public works such as irrigation canals, dams, or defense systems such as the Great Wall, as well as imperial highways to ensure communication and transportation. Justice was served through proper management of the Empire as a great patrimonial estate.
Shakespearean In Scale
A Socialist republic, China today has developed a pragmatic policy toward state capitalism that has integrated successfully into the global market economy. Still, the strong value of state leadership for many people in China goes back to the historic experience of the Middle Kingdom. This is great drama Shakespearean in scale.
The First Emperor, who was known to be an extraordinarily brilliant political and military genius sometimes bordering on the megalomaniac, decided that the new empire, which abolished local aristocratic rule, would achieve justice and glory through a bureaucracy staffed by men of merit and talent.
THE HAN PEOPLE
Still, China is also the historic homeland of the vast majority of the Chinese people, who have preferred to call themselves the Han, referring to the glorious Han dynasty (206 B. C. -220 B. C.) that followed the rapid decline of the Qin. The Han succeeded in forming the long-lasting political traditions and culture that enabled the dynasty to survive for close to four centuries contemporary with the Roman Empire, which started getting silk from China during this period.
Thus, modern China is also the homeland of a people with a strong sense of bonding to the geography and politics of the vast physical topography that has been their homeland for many millennia since ancient times. In this sense, the terracotta statues of the First Emperor’s tomb in Xian and the writings on the strange oracle bones of antiquity have a direct bearing on the self-identity of contemporary Chinese people as their ancestral legacy.
At the same time, however, China is also historically a multi-national cultural experience. And Xian is the homeland of many Chinese Muslims who traditionally wear white cotton attire (white is the color of Islam in Chinese culture) and cook delicious kebabs in the street as a reminder of their roots in Central Asia and its cuisine.
SCENES FROM EVERYDAY LIFE
Everyday scenes in China today reflect the complexity of life in one of the fastest growing economies in the world. The rise of China as a new player will have a major role in shaping the global future. The exciting future of this old world empire in new form that has risen again as of old gives us scenes of talented painters and calligraphers who still draw in the elegance of the classical tradition even though this is no longer the China of old but that of a pragmatic Socialism. What the future holds in this newly burgeoning world, only time will tell.Chopsticks are believed to have been invented in China. Easy to learn to use, chopsticks can be made either of bamboo or of silver.
According to Jasper Becker in his book Dragon Rising, China controls 60 percent of the global textile grade and 70 percent of the toy business. Cheap Chinese goods are in demand all over the world, and China herself is getting rich in a way hitherto unseen in the early 21st century.
Preparing to become a super power in the near future, China is a country that has managed to open up to the future without sacrificing its established traditions.
There are many choices for shopping in China, which is undergoing transformation from a giant empire to an entrepreneurial nation. Everyday life as lived in the country’s shops provides some clues about Chinese culture. A young girl and her little friend in a shop selling ceramics decorated with typical Chinese motifs explains how trade has continued down the generations.
Did you know that one out of every five people in the world speaks Chinese as their mother tongue? Made up of different language groups, Chinese is not a language but a family of languages. There are upwards of 40,000 characters, each representing a concept, in the 3,500-year-old Chinese language.
China’s imperial legacy is hidden in the details. Chinese cities are home to an astonishing richness as evidenced on almost every street corner. A richness that manifests itself now in a Chinese ideogram, now in a window detail. At daybreak the streets fill with young people off to do sports, while the parks fill with older people come to play chess. Instead of grim factories, there are pastel-painted apartment buildings and dazzling shopping centers.
The series of cities separated by defense walls during the Ming and Qing dynasties were expanded outwards with temples placed on opposite corners geometrically. Streets were laid out in an orderly north-south east-west grid pattern. Gardens were laid for each emperor in which he could stroll and find peace of mind. While the young generation admires this architectural concept, it also enjoys ice skating and other winter sports.
Evidence of feng shui, the Chinese art of arranging space, is apparent in city planning as well. According to the principles of feng shui, all important buildings should face south, thereby turning their backs, albeit symbolically, on the enemy nomadic hordes of the northern steppes. In a letter he wrote in the 18th century, Emperor Qianlong has this to say of Beijing: “My city is the center around which the rest of the world revolves.”
Symbol of China, the dragon is believed to bring infinite happiness and wisdom. One of the 12 zodiac signs in China, the dragon is thought to resemble a giant, fire-breathing lizard with wings and a spiky tail.
Beijing’s neighbor Xian is a city that has been home to various Chinese dynasties for two thousand years. And the Terracotta Soldiers found by villagers trying to dig a well in the area are one of the most important archaeological finds in the world. It was believed that these Terracotta Soldiers would be resurrected to defend the emperor. Together with them, the temples displaying the opulent architecture of the imperial period are another must-see.
A symbol of longevity in China, the bamboo tree has a wide area of use. Reaching up to 38 meters in height, the wood of the tree is used for everything from musical instruments to paper production
Turkish Airlines has flights from Istanbul to Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou and back. For more information: www.thy.com
Hand-carved wood, antiques, porcelain, silk and other textiles, and electronic equipment are some of the things you can buy in China.
Peking Duck is a priority must-try for visitors to China. Other Chinese specialties include lamb chop stew, Chinese spring rolls, dumpling soup and fruit fritters
Five important events in China:
Chinese New Year (January – February)
Water-Splashing Festival (April)
Dragon Boat Festival (May)
Ghost Month (August)
Birthday of Confucius (September)
China’s rapidly developing cities offer a wide array of accommodation alternatives. The Beijing-Shanghai-Shiyan triangle is especially rich in five-star hotels.
Three books for getting to know China a little better:
1. Soul Mountain - Gao Xingjian
2. Dragon Rising - Jasper Becker
3. China and the World - Harry G. Gelber
China’s unit of currency is the ‘Yuan’, which is easily exchanged for Euros or U.S. dollars. Bargaining is also customary outside the shopping centers and markets.
Experienced travel guides do not recommend renting a car in the city centers. Beijing and Shanghai boast advanced subway systems, and station signs and public announcements are given in English.
ON THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA
Rising proudly in the morning light reflected off the wooded hills, the Great Wall of China is, in a word, impressive. Apple-cheeked women seated at the roadside sell wild apples under a bright blue sky. As poplars sway in the breeze, the leaves of the Chinese maples scatter golden rays. The colors themselves seem to leap from an authentic imperial palette. Can any trip to China be complete without seeing this wall?
Laoshe Teahouse in Beijing is the ideal spot for sipping a cup of jasmine tea to the accompaniment of a Chinese opera. Reservations may be necessary for evening performances.
The bicycle is a popular mode of transport in China, and you can rent one either from the rental agencies or at the hotels. When you want to leave your bike, you can lock it at a special parking area. What’s more, there are bicycle repair shops along the road.
Must-see’s in Beijing, China’s touristic capital, include: The Forbidden City, Tiananmen, the Palace Museum, the Heavenly Temple and the Summer Palace. There are also more than 20 temples worth seeing in the city.
To get to know China better you can watch the films of world-renowned cineaste Wong Kar Wai. An award-winning director, he has won acclaim around the world with his films, In the Mood for Love, 2046 and The Hong Kong Express.
TİMUR ÖZKAN, Editor of China Through the Eye of a Traveler
What comes to your mind at the mention of China? The Great Wall, the first manmade structure visible from space, the legendary terracotta soldiers at Shiyan, Chinese cuisine, one of the richest in the world, Confucius, founder of a 2,500-year-old school of philosophy, and acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine, said to be a cure for every ill. And to all these must be added Napoleon’s famous words: “Let China sleep, for when she wakes, she will shake the world.”
According to a famous Chinese proverb, ‘A picture is worth a thousand words.’ And China is just such a country. China is at the same time the world’s fourth biggest touristic attraction. Among the country’s biggest tourist draws are capital Beijing, ‘today’s China’, former capital Shiyan, ‘yesterday’s China’, and the country’s modern face, Shanghai, ‘China’s tomorrow’.