Wednesday, November 16, 2011



           China is the most populous country in the world, with more than 1.3 billion people. About 92% of the population belong to the Han (hàn)ethnic group, and the others, comprising 55 minority ethnic groups, each have their own history and culture.

The People's Republic of China has attempted to limit population growth by implementing the one child policy, which allows only one child per urban family. In rural areas it is permitted to have two children if the first child is a girl. This policy has since led to a ratio of 115 males to 100 females.

China is the third largest country in the world. Though its geographical borders are well delineated on modern maps, they have seldom been static. China's political borders today include a territory much greater than that of the ancient Chinese empire. The ancient Chinese believed that the world was square, and that their country was located in its center. On their maps, this square-shaped world was surrounded by four vast seas, in which there were islands called "external barbarians". Thus, it was natural for the Chinese to call their country "the Middle Kingdom" (zhōng)(guó), and all the other states - "external countries" (wài)(guó). 

In the Daoist book Lie Zi (liè) () , titled after its writer, the famous philosopher from the 4th century BCE (whose existence, however, is doubted by some), there is a description of a state surrounded by four seas.

China features a variety of landscapes – mountain ridges, powerful rivers and vast plateaus. Three main rivers divide China into three main areas: northern China, which is irrigated by the Yellow River (huáng)() (yellow – because of the silt that it carries from the plateaus of Inner Mongolia); central China, which is irrigated by the Yang Zi (yáng)() River; and southern China, which is irrigated by the Western River. The longest is the Yang Zi or Chang Jiang (cháng)(jiāng). The highest mountains are found in western China, in the ridge of the Heavenly Mountains (tiān)(shān).

China is also divided into 30 provinces, including mountainous Tibet, Mongolia, and four Manchurian provinces. Originally, the center of China extended along the middle course of the Yellow River.

The first settlements in China appeared more than 5,000 years ago on the plateau between the cities of Luoyang (luò)(yáng) and Jinling (jīn)(líng), and expanded to the southwest, toward the Yang Zi River. Various ethnic groups were assimilated into these settlements, while others moved toward the western regions. The Chinese astronomers considered the city of Luoyang, which served as the emperor's residence, as the center of the world.

As time passed, during periods of famine caused by drought or wars, China's borders extended southwards and the population grew, particularly between the years 200 – 400 BCE. Despite the expansion to another climate zone, the basic elements of the Chinese culture did not change. To the north and west of the empire dwelled nomadic tribes, considered by the Chinese as barbarians. These included the Tibetans, whose economy was based on sheep farming; the Mongolians, whose economy was based on breeding cattle; and the Huns, a continuous threat from the north, whose economy was based on horses.

The geographic isolation of China had a strong influence on its development. To the west and south, the mountains of Tibet isolated China from the rest of Asia, and to the east, the ocean separated China from the rest of the world. Most of the Chinese population live on the eastern plateaus, while in the west the population is less dense. The mountain ridges divide China from north to south, and separate the western plains from those on the east coast.

The particular type of surroundings significantly influenced the ancient Chinese culture. People were completely dependent on the powers of nature – the seasons, rain and rivers, which dominated their way of life, beliefs, work and leisure. The natural environment not only defined the Chinese culture, but also assured its preservation by the natural dividers that separated it from the other great cultures in ancient times.



If you have not been to Suzhou ()(zhōu)and Hangzhou (háng)(zhōu),[1] your life is not worthwhile

Another idiom praising these cities for their beauty:


Literally: Above there is Heaven [and] below there is Suzhou and Hangzhou.

In Heaven there is Paradise and on Earth there is Suzhou and Hangzhou.

All roads lead to Chang'an (cháng)(ān)[1]  
This parallels the idiom:
All roads lead to Rome.
                                             The three great inventions
This is said of the three great inventions of the Chinese: gunpowder, printing and the compass.
Sometimes four inventions are referred to, with the addition of paper:
The four great inventions
Said of the invention of gunpowder, printing, the compass and paper.
The seven necessities 
Said of firewood (chái), rice (), oil (yóu), salt (yán), jam (jiàng)vinegar () and tea (chá), which  were considered the basic necessities in ancient China.
This idiom first appeared in a play from the Yuan (yuán) dynasty (1280-1368 CE) in which one of the characters says: "Get up in the morning, first open the door [and think of] the seven necessities". Hence the full version of this idiom:
Literally: Open the door [and think of] the seven necessities.
The three life forces
This refers to heaven, earth and man.
Eat in Guangdong 广(guǎng)(dōng) [and] dress yourself in Shanghai (shàng)(hǎi)
A saying that was popular in China during the 1920s, when Guangdong province was considered the best place to eat, and the city of Shanghai the best place to buy quality clothes. 

[1] Chang'an was the capital city of China during the Western Han 西()(hàn)(206 BCE – 8CE) , Sui (suí)  (581-618 CE) and Tang (táng)dynasties. 

[1] Suzhou and Hangzhou are cities near Shanghai that are famous for their beauty.

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