Thursday, 23 September 2010

The Yunnan Stone Forest - China

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Just over an hour from Kunming in the Yunnan province resides one of the world's most unusual natural areas: The Yunnan Stone Forest. Arrayed across 96,000 acres is one of the world's most amazing geological formations. Despite what the name might suggest, these are not merely petrified trees. It is a region festooned with stone stalagmites, caves and other natural wonders that are unique to this Chinese land.

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Pushed up from the seabed millions of years ago, over the millennia water and wind have eroded the huge towers to their present shapes. Hundreds of feet high, they thread through an area full of trees that provide cool shade to view a colossus. Made chiefly of limestone, they are indeed one of the seven natural wonders of the world, even though they might have narrowly missed receiving the official title.

Over 200 million years ago these stalagmites rose from the sea floor to form dozens of peaks. Tourists today are fortunate that over the succeeding ages, the waters receded to reveal this amazing sight. Amid the peaks are thousands of native animal and plant species to delight any nature lover.

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There are different sections: the Major Stone Forest, the Minor Stone Forest and the Naigu Stone Forest. Each has its own essential character providing a different view of this geological wonder.

But, despite their magnificence which alone makes a side trip worthwhile, they are not the only attraction of the spot.

There is the Dadie Forest and the Dadie Waterfall. Almost 300 feet/91m high, the water splashing down and misting the air cools viewers who would otherwise be too stunned to note the heat anyway.

In the same trip, be sure to see the amazing Strange Wind Cave. A subterranean chamber, from August through November it experiences high winds for two to three minutes, which then subside and return like clockwork 30 minutes later. The sight also holds Hongxi Spring, Penfeng Cave and even an underground river.

There is also the larger Subterranean Stone Forest, 720 underground acres of spelunking excitement inside the enormous Zhiyun Caves. Not far away is the Long Lake. In the clear water, visitors can sometimes make out some of the many underwater stalagmites from the small island in the center.

Visit Yunnan Province and find out why, since the Ming Dynasty, the locals have called the Stone Forest the First Wonder of the World.


Thursday, 29 October 2009

Ancient Chinese Wedding Custom – the Betrothal

The betrothal would begin when the two families were satisfied with each other. First, both parents would exchange family credentials as tokens of intention. They would have an agreement on a monetary amount and gifts for the girl’s family after extensive discussion.

The girl’s family would choose a special day from several the auspicious wedding dates suggested by the boy’s family after receiving the gifts. Meanwhile, the girl’s family would also choose a date for exchanging betrothal gifts.

Generally, the boy’s family would present betrothal gifs, such as money, tea, cakes, pairs of male and female poultry, etc. In exchange, the girl’s family would present gifts of food and clothing.

Cakes would be distributed by the girl’s family to their friends and relatives in order to announce the wedding. The person who received the cake was expected to give congratulatory gifts.

After the presentation of gifts, the girl’s family would send an inventoried dowry by way of messenger to the boy’s family house. The dowry consisted of practical items, such as land, a house, furniture, servants, grain, etc. The procession of the dowry to the boy’s house is considered a display of the social status of the girl’s family and their love for their daughter.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Ancient Chinese Wedding Custom – Preparing for the Wedding Day

As marriage also meant that the bride would leave her former life behind, she had to live for a while in seclusion, always in the family’s cock loft, with only her closest friends. During this period, they would mourn, or curse, the loss of the former life. For this reason, the bride’s emergence on the wedding day also referred to coming out of the cock loft.

For the part of the groom, he was charged with installing the bridal bed on the day before the wedding. The time was carefully selected to influence fertility and a‘good luck woman’ man or ‘good luck man’, the person who have been someone with many children and many living husbands or wives, would preside over the installation.

After that, children would be invited onto the bed as an omen of fertility. Fruit that represented abundance and fertility,such as red dates, oranges, lotus seeds, peanuts, pomegranates, were strewn across the bed.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Rice Culture of China

Chinese culture, boasting a lengthy history, is composed of numerous sub-cultures. The agricultural way of life, centered around rice, has played an important part in the country’s history.
For thousands of years, the Chinese have been diligently cultivating their land. Blood, sweat and tears have been shed over their soil in the pursuit of favorable harvests. This reliance on the land for so many thousands of years accounts for China’s strong rural essence. The need for rice production has led the Chinese to pay particular attention to irrigation technologies, improving cultivation. The agricultural way of life, centered around rice, has had a strong influence on the social, economic, political and ideological developments of ancient China. In this sense, traditional Chinese culture may be considered a “rice culture.”

While exploring the status of rice in Chinese culture a number of developments become apparent. According to Professor Zhang Deci, an expert on cultivation, rice first grew when people, who had lived mainly on hunting, fishing, and fruit collecting, happened to leave some seeds in low-lying areas. Later, these people began developing the land, making it more suitable for farming. Weeding, rice transplanting, and irrigating all originated in the Yellow River Valley region in the north, and Hanshui Basin region in the northwest. To date, traces of rice have been found in Hemudu of Yuyao, Zhejiang Province, Yangshao of Mianchi, Henan Province, Dachendun of Feidong, Anhui Province, Miaoshan of Nanjing and Xianlidun of Wuxi in Jiangsu Province, Qianshanyang of Wuxing, Zhejiang Province, Qujialing and Zhujiazui of Jingshan, Shijiahe of Tianmen, and Fangyingtai of Wuchang in Hubei Province. Archaeologists have confirmed that China started planting rice at least 3,000 to 4,000 years ago. In the 1970s, seeds of long-grained non-glutinous rice were unearthed from the Neolithic ruins at Hemudu in Yuyao, Zhejiang Province, the earliest records of rice planting in China, and the world.

By the time the western Zhou Dynasty (c.1100 BC - c. 771 BC) was in power, rice had become well accepted and extremely important, as can be seen from inscriptions on bronze vessels used as containers for storing rice. At this time, rice was a central part of aristocratic banquets.

During the Spring and Autumn Period (770 BC - 476 BC), rice became an important part of the diets for Chinese people. Later, in southern China, especially with the development of meticulously intensive farming techniques during the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD), rice rose to occupy an important position in Chinese culture.

The cultivation of rice led to the development of an economic lifecycle centered around agriculture: ploughing in spring, weeding in summer, harvesting in autumn, and hoarding in winter. In ancient China, vast amounts of land, including the present middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River region and North China region, were suitable for planting rice, with most Chinese working the land in particular ways during the different seasons.

Rice farming influenced many other aspects of the old Chinese economy. For instance, to be viable Chinese farming depended on sophisticated irrigation techniques. The importance of irrigation was outlined in the Twenty-Four Histories, a collection of books chronicling 4,000 years of Chinese history, which recorded dynastic histories from distant antiquity up until the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644). Books discussing rice agriculture appeared as early as the Warring States Period (475 BC - 221 BC), demonstrating the long history of China’s agronomy. Daopin (Strains of Rice), by Huang Xingsi, a book specializing in the rice planting techniques of the Ming Dynasty, was widely regarded as a complete collection detailing the improvements of rice through its many strains. The book also illustrates the significance of rice agriculture in traditional Chinese economy.

China was built on agriculture. During the period before the Qin Dynasty (221 BC - 206 BC), rice had become a specially prepared food. It was also used to brew wines and offered as a sacrifice to the Gods. What's more, rice was delicately made into different kinds of food, which played an important role in a number of traditional Chinese festivities.

First, rice is a central part of the Spring Festival (or lunar New Year) Eve dinner. On this occasion, Chinese families make New Year's cake and steamed sponge cake from flour turned from glutinous rice. The cake is called "gao" in Chinese, a homophony to another "gao," meaning high. People eat these cakes in the hope of a better harvest and higher status in the New Year. The cakes and the New Year's dinner symbolize people's wishes for a better future.

Second, rice dumplings are made on the 15th night of the 1st lunar month. This is the first day the full moon can be seen each New Year. People eat rice dumplings, known as Yuanxiao in the north and Tangyuan in the south ("yuan" means of satisfaction in Chinese), hoping everything will turn out as they wish.

Third, zongzi, eaten during the Dragon Boat Festival on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month, is also made of glutinous rice. It is said that people eat zongzi on this day to remember Qu Yuan, an official of the Chu State (about 340 BC - 278 BC), who committed suicide by jumping into the Miluo River. People throw zongi into the river to prevent fish eating Qu Yuan's body.

Fourth, rice is made into "Double Nine" festival cakes on the 9th day of the 9th lunar month each year. As people have just harvested their crops during autumn they can make these cakes with fresh new rice. Many people also follow the tradition of climbing a mountain on this day.

Finally, people eat porridge on the 8th day of the 12th lunar month. The porridge is made with rice, cereals, beans, nuts and dried fruit. It is said that Sakyamuni attained Buddhahood on this day, drinking chyle presented to him by a shepherdess, which he believes led him to enlightenment. As a result people bathe Buddha statues and eat porridge on this day.,

Sunday, 28 June 2009

The chinese pantheon (popular deities of chinese buddhism)

Wen Shu Shih-Li P'usa or Manjushri Bodhisattva

The Bodhisattva of Great Wisdom

"Manju" : marvelous, gentle
"shri" : combination of power, glory and merit
The name "Manjushri" means "gentle glory".

He is the embodiment of great wisdom (Sanskrit language: prajna).

He appears to those who meditate on him. He instructs them in the Dharma and stimulates them to develop wisdom. The image of Manjushri Bodhisattva is often seen in meditation halls, libraries and scripture study rooms in monasteries.

Depictions of Manjushri Bodhisattva

His right hand holds a flaming sword, which represents the sharpness of prajna that can cut through the growth of suffering and the net of wrong views. The flame lights up the darkness, just as the light of wisdom dispels the darkness of ignorance.

His left hand holds a magnificent blue lotus flower in full bloom, on which rests the Prajnaparamita Sutra (Great Wisdom Sutra). This sutra contains the essence of the great wisdom teachings of the Buddha. The lotus is the promise of the future for all beings who follow the Teachings.

He is often depicted as riding a golden-maned lion, which symbolizes the stern majesty of prajna. The lion is the king of the beasts and is fearless. Similarly, Manjusri Bodhisattva teaches the dharma without fear or favour, like the lion's roar.

Sometimes, the golden-maned lion is replaced by a green lion which symbolises the wild mind which can only be transformed by meditation.

The Worship of Manjushri Bodhisattva in China

There is a famous place in China which is the centre for the worship of Manjushri Bodhisattva - the Wutai Mountain in the province of Shanxi in China.

As written in a sutra, the Buddha predicted that after He passed away in Final Nirvana, Manjushri Bodhisattva would reside on a mountain name Wuting in a country in the east called "Great China", where he would teach the dharma. Hence, Chinese people regard that mountain, now called Wutai Mountain, as a sacred place for worshipping Manjushri Bodhisattva. Many temples dedicated to Manjushri Bodhisattva have been built there.

The Mantra of Manjusri Bodhisattva: a prayer for developing wisdom: Om Ah Ra Pa Tsa Na Dhi

Pu Hsien P'usa: Samantabhadra Bodhisattva

Samantabhadra or Universal Virtue is known to the Chinese as Pu Hsien and Fugen, to the Japanese. She is the personification of love, sacred activity, virtue, diligent training and patience. In the Chinese Pantheon she is seen in the triad with Kuan Shih Yin (Compassion) and Wen-Shu (Wisdom) as the Three Precious Bodhisattvas whose qualities make up the Buddha's Essence. In many Japanese and Chinese temples she is also found in the Trinity with Sakyamuni Buddha and Wen-Shu Pusa (Manjusri).

Imageries of Pu Hsien usually show her seated on a white elephant in various ways and holding a lotus flower or a scroll or book. The elephant, normally in a standing posture, may be crouching and may either have three heads or one head with six tusks.

Pu Hsien Fusa is well known for her limitless offerings to the Buddhas as well as her Ten Great Vows, which are directed towards benefiting sentient beings. They are:

1. To worship the Buddhas
2. To praise the Tathagatas.
3. To make offerings to all the Buddhas.
4. To confess past sins and to reform.
5. To rejoice in the virtues and happiness of others.
6. To request Buddha to preach the Law
7. To request Buddha to stay in the world.
8. To study the Dharma in order to teach it.
9. To benefit all sentient beings.
10. To transfer all merit and virtue to others.

Pu Hsien's sacred abode in China is in the Ngo-Mei mountain of the Szu-Chuan province.

In Japan her devotees for prosperity as well as longevity often worship her and there are some who also revere her as the divine patron in their meditational practices.

In the Sutra of Meditation on the Bodhisattva Universal Virtue (Pu Hsien Fusa) the Buddha lavished great praises on her and revealed that she was born in the Eastern Pure Wonder Land. Meditators who practise this meditation will generate great merits, which will free themselves from all kinds of hindrances as well as allowing them to see her excellent forms. The Buddha further gave a vivid description of her as follows:

"The Bodhisattva Universal Virtue is boundless in the size of her body, boundless in the sound of her voice, and boundless in the form of her image. Desiring to come to this world, she makes use of her divine transcendent powers and shrinks her stature to the size of a human being. She appears transformed as mounted on a great white elephant which has six tasks (representing the purity of the six senses). Under the legs of the elephant lotus flowers grow. The whiteness of the elephant is of the most brilliant of all shades of white which is so pure that even crystal and the Himalaya Mountains cannot compare with it!"

The Lotus Sutra has done much to attract great numbers of female devotees for Pu Hsien P'usa as they are promised that they too could attain Buddhahood, which is described in detail in the 10th Chapter of the Sutra. In Chapter 28 Pu Hsien Pusa also made this promise to the Buddha:

"In the latter five hundred years of the corrupt and evil age, whoever receives and keeps this sutra I will guard and protect, eliminate the anxiety of feeling away, and give ease of mind. Wherever such a one walks or stands, reading and reciting this sutra, I will at once mount the six-tusked white elephant king and with a host of great bodhisattvas go to that place and, showing myself, will serve and protect (him) comforting his mind, also thereby serving the Law-Flower Sutra. Moreover I will give them dharanis, and obtaining these dharanis, no human or nonhuman beings can injure them, nor any woman beguile them"

Still further on, one hears the Buddha extolling Pu Hsien with this promise: I, by my supernatural power, will guard and protect those who are able to receive and keep the name of the Bodhisattva Universal Virtue"

Pu Hsien Fusa is not generally worshipped by the 'average Buddhists as temples dedicated to her are very scarce. However, those who would like to form a karmic link with this great Bodhisattva may do so in most of the Kuan Yin temples where her images can be found and one of the most popular prayers to recite to her is:


Like all other great Bodhisanvas she is able to grant those who have firm faith in her, all kinds of favours that they are seeking. Those who cultivate her dharma will enjoy a longer life?span and they will most certainly not fall into the three evil paths (animal, ghost and hell realms) in their future lifetimes. Moreover, they will be protected by Pu Hsien P'usa from the dangers of flood, fire, war and poisonous food, and they will be rewarded with position and abundant wealth. Many a childless couple have also been known to be blessed with children who are bright and healthy after praying to her and, most important of all, she is able to impart great wisdom, which will be the greatest help to any cultivator who seeks the Way. The festive day of this great Bodhisattva falls on the 21st day of the 2nd moon and it is a great day for us to bring her to our heart.

to be continued

Friday, 12 June 2009

The History of Rocket Science

Early Fireworks and Weapons of War

Today's rockets are remarkable collections of human ingenuity that have their roots in the science and technology of the past. They are natural outgrowths of literally thousands of years of experimentation and research on rockets and rocket propulsion.
One of the first devices to successfully employ the principles essential to rocket flight was a wooden bird. The writings of Aulus Gellius, a Roman, tell a story of a Greek named Archytas who lived in the city of Tarentum, now a part of southern Italy. Somewhere around the year 400 B.C., Archytas mystified and amused the citizens of Tarentum by flying a pigeon made of wood. Escaping steam propelled the bird suspended on wires. The pigeon used the action-reaction principle, which was not stated as a scientific law until the 17th century.

About three hundred years after the pigeon, another Greek, Hero of Alexandria, invented a similar rocket-like device called an aeolipile. It, too, used steam as a propulsive gas.

Hero mounted a sphere on top of a water kettle. A fire below the kettle turned the water into steam, and the gas traveled through pipes to the sphere. Two L-shaped tubes on opposite sides of the sphere allowed the gas to escape, and in doing so gave a thrust to the sphere that caused it to rotate.

Just when the first true rockets appeared is unclear. Stories of early rocket-like devices appear sporadically through the historical records of various cultures. Perhaps the first true rockets were accidents. In the first century A.D., the Chinese reportedly had a simple form of gunpowder made from saltpeter, sulfur, and charcoal dust. To create explosions during religious festivals, they filled bamboo tubes with a mixture and tossed them into fires. Perhaps some of those tubes failed to explode and instead skittered out of the fires, propelled by the gases and sparks produced by the burning gunpowder.

The Chinese began experimenting with the gunpowder filled tubes. At some point, they attached bamboo tubes to arrows and launched them with bows. Soon they discovered that these gunpowder tubes could launch themselves just by the power produced from the escaping gas. The true rocket was born.

The date reporting the first use of true rockets was in 1232. At this time, the Chinese and the Mongols were at war with each other. During the battle of Kai-Keng, the Chinese repelled the Mongol invaders by a barrage of "arrows of flying fire." These fire-arrows were a simple form of a solid-propellant rocket. A tube, capped at one end, contained gunpowder. The other end was left open and the tube was attached to a long stick. When the powder was ignited, the rapid burning of the powder produced fire, smoke, and gas that escaped out the open end and produced a thrust. The stick acted as a simple guidance system that kept the rocket headed in one general direction as it flew through the air. It is not clear how effective these arrows of flying fire were as weapons of destruction, but their psychological effects on the Mongols must have been formidable.

Following the battle of Kai-Keng, the Mongols produced rockets of their own and may have been responsible for the spread of rockets to Europe. All through the 13th to the 15th centuries there were reports of many rocket experiments. In England, a monk named Roger Bacon worked on improved forms of gunpowder that greatly increased the range of rockets. In France, Jean Froissart found that more accurate flights could be achieved by launching rockets through tubes. Froissart's idea was the forerunner of the modern bazooka. Joanes de Fontana of Italy designed a surface-running rocket-powered torpedo for setting enemy ships on fire.

By the 16th century rockets fell into a time of disuse as weapons of war, though they were still used for fireworks displays, and a German fireworks maker, Johann Schmidlap, invented the "step rocket," a multi-staged vehicle for lifting fireworks to higher altitudes. A large sky rocket (first stage) carried a smaller sky rocket (second stage). When the large rocket burned out, the smaller one continued to a higher altitude before showering the sky with glowing cinders. Schmidlap's idea is basic to all rockets today that go into outer space.

Nearly all uses up to this time were for warfare or fireworks, but there is an interesting old Chinese legend that reported the use of rockets as a means of transportation. With the help of many assistants, a lesser-known Chinese official named Wan-Hu assembled a rocket- powered flying chair. Attached to the chair were two large kites, and fixed to the kites were forty- seven fire-arrow rockets.

On the day of the flight, Wan-Hu sat himself on the chair and gave the command to light the rockets. Forty-seven rocket assistants, each armed with torches, rushed forward to light the fuses. In a moment, there was a tremendous roar accompanied by billowing clouds of smoke. When the smoke cleared, Wan-Hu and his flying chair were gone. No one knows for sure what happened to Wan-Hu, but it is probable that if the event really did take place, Wan-Hu and his chair were blown to pieces. Fire-arrows were as apt to explode as to fly.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Colors in Traditional Chinese Culture

For more than 2000 years, the Chinese people have used brilliant colors. Today in modern China, red is a very popular color. However, contrary to popular belief, ancient peoples did not pay special attention to the color red.

Traditional Chinese physics taught that the five elements are water, fire, wood, metal and earth, in that order. They correspond to black, red, blue-green, white and yellow, respectively. Ancient Chinese people believed that the five elements made everything in nature. Five thousand years ago during the reign of Huang Di (known as the Yellow Emperor) people actually worshiped the color yellow. From that period forward, through the Shang, Tang, Zhou and Qin dynasties, China's emperors used the Theory of the Five Elements to select colors. Because people understood that "colors come naturally while black and white are first," they gradually established a relationship between colors and the principle of the five elements, which guided the natural movement of heaven and the heavenly Tao. People chose clothing, food, transportation and housing according to natural changes in the seasons--from spring to summer and autumn, and then to winter. Traditional Chinese views regard black, red, blue-green, white and yellow as standard colors

The I-Ching, or Book of Changes, regards black as Heaven's color. The saying "heaven and earth of mysterious black" was rooted in the observation that the northern sky was black for a long time. White represented gold and symbolized brightness, purity, and fulfillment. White also is the color of mourning.

The Chinese people, both ancient and modern, cherish the color red. Red is everywhere during Chinese New Year and other holidays and family gatherings for it symbolizes good fortune and joy.

Blue-green indicates spring when everything overflows with vigor and vitality. Yellow symbolizes the earth. The old saying, "Yellow generates Yin and Yang," meant that yellow is the center of everything. Color embodies an even richer culture in Chinese folk traditions. Yellow is the color for emperors. Yellow often decorates royal palaces, altars and temples. Yellow also represents being free from worldly cares. Therefore it is also a color respected in Buddhism. Chinese culture created a close and binding relationship between color and ceramics, murals, paintings, and poetry...even city planning. Many of the silk goods unearthed from ancient tombs have maintained their original colors of brown, red, black, purple, and yellow. Chinese pottery and lacquer ware uses rich color even more extensively. The formulation of richly colored glazes infuses these pieces with a brilliant and lustrous appearance. For ancient Chinese people, color feeds the spirit and expresses the depth of human experience.