Friday, November 18, 2011

ON OLD AGE



 

Respect for the aged has always been a part of Chinese culture. As opposed to Western culture, where there are euphemisms for "old age", like "senior citizen" or "retired", in China, the word "old" has a connotation of honor. In traditional China, old people were respected. The older the person was, the more he or she was respected because the Chinese believed that the older a person, the wiser, and that experience is precious.

The calculation of age in China differs from that customary in the West. In China, a newborn baby is considered one year old. One more year is added to its age when a new lunar year begins. Thus, it is possible that only a few hours after its birth, a baby will already be considered two years old, as when the baby is born a few hours before the first day of the New Year. There are still Chinese people today who calculate their age according to the traditional way, while others have adopted the Western method. When asking someone their age, it is customary to ask whether the calculation is Western or Chinese.

In traditional China, until the age of sixty, birthdays did not receive any special attention. Age 6o, however, is regarded as an important milestone in life, since at this point in time one five-element cycle of 12 zodiac signs has been completed, and a new cycle begins. The sixtieth birthday would usually be celebrated with a big party. From this birthday on, birthdays would be celebrated every decade, at the ages of 70, 80 etc., until death. The older the age, the bigger the party and the gifts.

At the age of 71, men would be entitled to wear an official robe and a hat with a copper button. They had the right to use a walking stick with a jade handle carved with the relief of a dove as a symbol of longevity. Every man who reached the age of 81 would be reported on by the oldest man in the village to the emperor, who would order the construction of a memorial arch, financed by the empire's treasury, to honor him. From the age of 91 on, these aged men would receive a blessing from the magistrate four times a year.

In present-day China, adult offspring usually celebrate their parents' birthdays to express their gratitude and respect for them. It is customary to serve food rich in symbolical meanings, such as uncut long noodles and "peaches" - both symbolizing longevity. These "peaches" are not real, but dishes made of steamed wheat with a sweet filling. The people who attend the birthday party eat symbolical dishes as well, to express their wishes for the occasion. Usually, the presents given are things such as two or four eggs, long noodles, artificial peaches, wine, or money placed in a red envelope.

Apart from peaches and long noodles, there are other symbols of longevity such as mountains and rocks, the character 寿(shòu) (literally: longevity), deer and the Manchurian stork. The pine tree, due to its durability in cold weather, and the bamboo, due to its evergreen foliage, symbolize longevity too, as does the pear tree (), which has a prolonged life span. A white-headed bird symbolizes old age, and a picture depicting two birds on a peony branch expresses wishes for happiness, honor and longevity to a couple.

Like Westerners, the Chinese have their own Methuselah, a Daoist adept named Peng Zu  (péng) () , who was said to have lived for over 800 years. At the end of the Shang dynasty (1600-1046 BCE) he was 767 years old, and when he was 70 years old he still looked like a baby. Peng Zu said that a man with no knowledge of magic can reach the age of 120, if he relies on his vital force and protects it. If not, he will probably not reach this age. A limited familiarity with Dao will enable him to reach the age of 240; while a deeper knowledge will bring him to the age of 480. Longevity, according to Peng Zu, is based on simplicity. One should adjust one's body to the environment. In winter one should feel warm and in the summer one should feel cool.

One famous old man in Chinese history was Liang Hao (liáng)(hào) (913-1004 AD) who, at the age of 82, came first in the annual Imperial examination at the highest level. His memory was better than that of the younger examinees.

A special day in the traditional Chinese calendar is that of the Chong Yang Festival (chóng)(yáng)(jié)(literally: double yang festival), which is dedicated to honoring the aged. This festival is celebrated on the ninth day of the ninth lunar month, when two nines - numbers of the yang[1] principle, meet; hence the name of the festival. This is a day of pleasure for the aged, and the young send them baked delicacies. 

In traditional China, a man's age was apparent on his face. Young men shaved their faces and only after the age of 45 would they be allowed to wear a beard of any length they chose.

In everyday language, it is customary to address respected and honorable old people by the title "old" (lǎo)following the family name. For example, Guo Mo Ruo  (guō)()(ruò) (1892-1978), a famous poet, historian and prominent public personality, was called Guo Lao   (guō)(lǎo)(old Guo).

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(sān)(suì)(kàn)()()(suì)(kàn)(lǎo)
Literally: [From] the three-year-old [one can] see the adult, [and from] the seven-year-old one can see the aged.
From childhood develops the adult and the aged.
In English:
The child is the father of the man.
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()()(yuè)(de)(nán)(guā)()(lǎo)(xīn)()(lǎo)
Pumpkin in the seventh or eighth lunar month  the peel is old [but] the heart is young [literally: not old]
This is used to describe an old man with a young heart.


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(lǎo)()()()(zhì)(zài)(qiān)()
Literally: An old horse in the manger still wants to gallop a thousand li.[1]
Do not underestimate old people. They are experienced and still have high aspirations and potential

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(shù)(lǎo)(gēn)(duō)(rén)(lǎo)(jiàn)(shi)(duō)
 Old men have much knowledge and experience [just as] old trees have many roots
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(shǔ)(shēng)(jiāng)(de)(yuè)(lǎo)(yuè)()
Literally: Born to be like ginger – the older, the spicier.
The older the person the sharper he (or she) is.
The same idea is found in the idiom:
(jiāng)(shì)(lǎo)(de)()
Old ginger is spicier
Old people are sharper.



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(lǎo)()(shí)()
Literally: An old horse knows the way.
Old people are experienced and it is worthwhile to consult them.
This proverb is based on the following story:
During the Spring and Autumn period (770-476 BCE) Duke Huan  (huán)  of the State of  Qi   ()  led his army to attack a small state in the north. When he set out with his soldiers on this mission in the spring, grass covered the earth, but when they returned it was winter, with heavy snow and strong winds. The battalions lost their way and began to worry. Guan Zhong (guǎn)(zhòng), the senior minister to the Duke, said, "The old horses may know the way". The Duke accepted his advice and ordered some of the old horses to be chosen to lead the army. Finally, with the help of these old horses, the soldiers found their way back home.




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 (lǎo)(tài)(tài)(guò)(nián)(nián)()()()(nián)
An old woman celebrates the New Year – each year is worse than the previous one
 
 
 
 

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(liù)(shí)(suì)(xué)()(quán)(chí)(le)
A sixty-year-old man learns boxing – too late
People usually use only the first part of the proverb
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(qiān)(jīn)(nán)(mǎi)(lǎo)(lái)(shòu)
A thousand pieces of gold cannot buy slenderness in old age
Slenderness in old age indicates health.
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(huó)(dào)(lǎo)(xué)(dào)(lǎo)
He who lives until old age studies until old age
It is never too late to learn; one is never too old to learn.
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(mén)(shén)(lǎo)(le)()(zhuō)(guǐ)
Literally: [When] gate gods become old, [they] do not catch demons.
When a man becomes old, he is no longer useful.
This, as opposed to the following idiom:
(jiā)(yǒu)()(lǎo)(huáng)(jīn)(huó)(bǎo)
An elderly person at home [is like] a living golden treasure
An elderly person, who has experience and gives advice, is like a valuable treasure.
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(rén)()(bǎi)(nián)(zhuō)
Literally: Man is not a fool for a hundred years.
Man is not a fool for a lifetime.
Man becomes wiser as he grows older.
 A parallel proverb from the Bible:
בישישים חכמה וארך ימים תבונה (איוב יב, 12).
With the ancient is wisdom; and in length of days understanding. (Job, 12, 12)
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(jiǔ)(shí)(suì)(lǎo)(wēng)(xué)()(shù)(xīn)(yǒu)()(ér)()()()
A 90-year-old-man learns martial arts – the heart desires, but there is not enough strength
 


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(liù)(shí)(suì)(xué)()(quán)(chí)(le)

A sixty-year-old man learns boxing – too late

People usually use only the first part of the proverb

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(qiān)(jīn)(nán)(mǎi)(lǎo)(lái)(shòu)

A thousand pieces of gold cannot buy slenderness in old age

Slenderness in old age indicates health.

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(huó)(dào)(lǎo)(xué)(dào)(lǎo)

He who lives until old age studies until old age

It is never too late to learn; one is never too old to learn.

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(mén)(shén)(lǎo)(le)()(zhuō)(guǐ)

Literally: [When] gate gods become old, [they] do not catch demons.

When a man becomes old, he is no longer useful.

This, as opposed to the following idiom:

(jiā)(yǒu)()(lǎo)(huáng)(jīn)(huó)(bǎo)

An elderly person at home [is like] a living golden treasure

An elderly person, who has experience and gives advice, is like a valuable treasure.

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(rén)()(bǎi)(nián)(zhuō)

Literally: Man is not a fool for a hundred years.

Man is not a fool for a lifetime.

Man becomes wiser as he grows older.

 A parallel proverb from the Bible:

בישישים חכמה וארך ימים תבונה (איוב יב, 12).

With the ancient is wisdom; and in length of days understanding. (Job, 12, 12)

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(jiǔ)(shí)(suì)(lǎo)(wēng)(xué)()(shù)(xīn)(yǒu)()(ér)()()()
A 90-year-old-man learns martial arts – the heart desires, but there is not enough strength




 
 
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(ruò)(yào)(hǎo)(wèn)(sān)(lǎo)
Literally: If you would like to do things well, ask [advice from] three old men.
The expression "three old men" refers to three a
ge groups: 60-79  (xià)寿(shòu) 80-99 (zhōng)寿(shòu), and  100 and above (shàng)寿
 
 
(shòu)
 
 
 
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()()(rén)(lǎo)(zhǐ)()(xīn)(lǎo)
Do not be afraid of being old; only be afraid when your spirit becomes old
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(huā)(yǒu)(chóng)(kāi)()(rén)()(zài)(shào)(nián)
Literally: Flowers reopen in due time, [but] man will never be young again.
A man's time is limited.

 One should take advantage of one's youth to accomplish one's dreams.
 
 
 
 
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(bái)(tóu)(xié)(lǎo)
Literally: White-haired growing old together.
Growing old and grey together.
This describes a happy marriage of a faithful and devoted couple until death, and serves as a blessing to newlyweds.
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()(duǎn)(ér)(xīn)(cháng)
Literally: The hair is short but the mind is long.
 The shorter the hair, the greater the mind. 
Old people are wiser.
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(wèi)(dào)()(shí)()()()(xiào)(rén)(jiǎo)(zhì)(yǎn)(xiā)
Until the age of 88, do not laugh at the crippled and the blind
Do not make fun of disabilities in other people because you may become disabled yourself.
 
 

[1] Li () - approximately half a kilometer.



[1] Nine, as an odd number, belongs to the principle of yang, as opposed to even numbers, which belong to the principle of yin. 

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