Category Archives: China

Chinese New Year 2013

Year of the Snake

Year of the Snake

Gung Hay Fat Choy! Happy Chinese New Year!

Today (Sunday, February 10, 2013) is the first day of this important annual celebration marking the start of the new year according to the Chinese lunisolar calendar. The holiday is also known as the Spring Festival because in pre-modern times it was the seasonal sign that farmers in China had to start sowing their fields.

The date usually falls in the months of January or February and each new year is represented by one of the twelve creatures of the Chinese Zodiac. 2013 is the year of the Snake, also called the Junior Dragon. According to ancient Chinese wisdom, a Snake in the house is a good omen because it means that the family will not starve.

People born under the sign of the snake (1929, 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013) share certain personality characteristics. They are said to be cunning, thoughtful and wise. They are also great mediators and good at doing business.

The characteristics of the Snake are tempered by one of the 5 Chinese elements of Metal, Water, Wood, Fire, and Earth overlaying a 5-year cycle of characteristics on the original 12-year cycle.

In 2013, that element is water. Water Snakes are influential and insightful. They are good at managing others, are motivated, intellectual, determined and resolute about being successful at whatever they do. Although they are affectionate with family and friends, they tend to hide this side of their personality from colleagues or business partners.

More than a billion people around the world will be ushering in the Year of the Snake with festivities that last for a few weeks after new year’s day.

Not only is holiday celebrated in China, but also in countries and territories with significant Chinese populations, including Taiwan, Macau, Mauritius, Philippines,Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, as well as in Chinatowns  everywhere from Canada to the US to Africa to Australia.

Within China, regional customs and traditions concerning the celebration of the Chinese new year vary widely. People will pour out their money to buy presents, decoration, material, food, and clothing. It is also traditional for every family to thoroughly cleanse the house, in order to sweep away any ill-fortune and to make way for good incoming luck. Windows and doors will be decorated with red color paper cutouts and Chinese poetry about good fortune, happiness, wealth and longevity.

Typically on New Year’s eve, Chinese families gather for the annual reunion dinner which is a big feast. Dishes include pork, duck, chicken, sweet delicacies as well as fish. The tradition is that the fish is not finished during the meal, so that it can be stored overnight – a belief that the years will be blessed and profitable. Families end the night with firecrackers. Early the next morning, children greet their parents by wishing them a healthy and happy new year, and receive money in red paper envelopes. The Chinese New Year tradition is to reconcile, forget all grudges and sincerely wish peace and happiness for everyone.

Celebrations traditionally run from Chinese New Year’s Day itself to the Lantern Festival on the 15th day of the first month of the Chinese calendar.

We wish a happy, healthy, prosperous and peaceful year to all!


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Filed under China, Chinese New Year 2013, Chinese Zodiac, Rabbit in the Moon by Deborah and Joel Shlian, Year of the Snake

“Body doubles” doing criminals’ time in China?

Apparently in China you can hire someone to serve your prison time for you.

According to Quora contributor Ti Zhao who was born and partially raised there, this is known as ding zui (translation:“substitute criminal”).

The practice is actually  illegal and not very common, says Ti Zhao.

However, Jeffrey Sant in a Slate article claims that wealthy people buying their way out of trouble, while a much poorer “body double” sacrifices his or her freedom for cash is not at all uncommon and has been documented in the Chinese media.

In August, during the sensational trial of Gu Kailai, the recently convicted murderer and wife of ousted Communist Party official Bo Xilai, a number of Chinese citizens began speculating online that the woman in court was actually a 替身 – tisthen (translation: “body replacement”).  As a result, Chinese blocked the term.

So if you want to learn more about this practice, you’ll probably have to find your sources outside of China.



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Filed under body double, China, substitute criminal

First emperor Qin may have used “just-in-time” production methods for his weapons

We set much of the plot for our medical mystery/thriller “Rabbit in the Moon” in Xi’an in Shaanxi province. If you’ve ever traveled there, you’ve certainly seen the tomb of Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor who unified China. In 210 BC, Qin was buried surrounded by terra cotta likenesses of over 8,000 of his personal soldiers as well as 150 calvary horses and 130 chariots with 520 horses. Each clay soldier carried swords, axes, spears, lances and crossbows made of the bronze.


The tomb was first discovered in March, 1974 by local farmers when they were digging a water well. Still not completely excavated, the site draws crowds of tourists who marvel at the individually sculptured faces of the soldiers.

Scientists have been particularly interested in how the bronze weapons were made.  A recent study of 40,000 bronze arrowheads published in the Journal of Archaeological Methods and Theory argues that these weapons were manufactured within various multi-skilled units that would have included a master artisan and a quality control supervisor rather than in a Ford motor car assembly line model. The authors state that “this system favored more adaptable and efficient logistical organization that facilitated dynamic cross-craft interaction while maintaining remarkable degrees of standardization.”

If true, this ancient “just-in-time” approach was a precursor for the same method favored by companies like Toyota today.

The distance between each carved soldier is quite small, so the assumption is that they were placed in the pit fully outfitted with their weapons. According to the researchers, this suggests that the weapon manufacturers had to coordinate their work with the statue carvers in order to keep the production flow efficient. Given that Qin was known to deal harshly with those who didn’t please him, there must have been incredible pressure on the 700,000 indentured slaves, prisoners of war, skilled artisans and others said to have worked on his mausoleum complex. Skeletons in iron shackles unearthed at the site suggest they didn’t always make the grade.

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Filed under Asia, China, Rabbit in the Moon, terra cotta warriors

“Left-over women” in China

CBS news recently highlighted a growing issue in China: successful working females who are still single by age 30 are being labeled “left-over women”. The term has been officially adopted by the government and has clear perjorative implications. According to the CBS piece, Chinese men want to marry younger women who they consider to be more subservient. The irony is that as a consequence of the one child rule  introduced in 1978, many Chinese parents went to great lengths to have sons rather than daughters, so the pool of women  today is far outnumbered by men. It is estimated that by 2020 there will be at least 30 million more men than women in China.

A Chinese blogger (Offbeat China) describes these so-called “left-over women” as having “three highs”: they are highly educated, highly paid and highly independent. The blogger goes on to say:

“The age threshold of being a leftover women keeps lowering in recent years. It used to be 30 years, now 25. But sometimes will find girls around their early 20s claiming that they are leftover women. There are also different hierarchies of leftover women. Single women between 25 and 27 are the “fighters” (剩斗士, sheng dou shi), meaning that they still have the courage and energy to keep looking for true love. Leftover women between 28 and 31 are the “doomed to be left” (必剩客, bi sheng ke, pronounced the same as Pizzahut in China), meaning that their chances of being ever married is very low and they are oftentimes too busy working to land a husband. Those between 32 and 36 are “leftover fighting Buddha” (斗战剩佛), meaning that they survive the cruel professional world but still remain single. Women of 36 and older are “leftover goddess” (齐天大剩).”

Many of these successful women say they would rather remain unmarried than marry someone who is not their equal. Whether a spoof or real, in this Youtube video, a  young woman sings about the situation. The lyrics say “if you have no house, no car and no money in the bank, don’t think of marriage with me!”

This phenomenon is more common in urban areas in China where the best educated women making high salaries tend to live. It is also an issue in other Asian countries such as  Japan, Taiwan and Singapore. Last year the Economist reported that about a third of Japanese women in their early 30s and more than 20 percent of Taiwanese women in their late 30s remained unmarried. At least half those women will never marry. In Singapore, 27 percent of college-educated 40- to 44-year-old women were single.

How this will all play out remains to be seen. Let us know your thoughts by commenting here. Thanks!

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Despite new economic freedom, still no mention of Tiananmen

As we wrote in an earlier post,  this month marked the 23rd anniversary of what the Chinese government refers to only as “the June 4th incident”. Yet that “event” became a pivotal moment for the nation as leaders made a deal with its citizens: you can get rich (in fact, Deng declared “to get rich is glorious”), but don’t try to bring down One Party Rule.

Our recent trip to SE Asia included stops in south China and Hong Kong. With each visit since 1989 we’ve seen extraordinary changes. China has made impressive economic gains: second largest world economy, over 300 million people living middle and upper middle class lives, and almost 100 billionaires. The big cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou on the mainland are so modern, it’s hard to find much of old China  there.


(photo of Guangzhou)

And Hong Kong- well that’s like New York on steroids.


(photo of Hong Kong)

What continues, however, is the fear by the government of any kind of rebellion resembling the failed 1989 student movement, or worse, the successes of the recent Arab Spring. Internet censors are constantly checking for key words like “Tiananmen” or “Charter ’08”, the online proclamation that China should embrace democracy which sent Liu Xiabo, winner of the 2110 Nobel Peace Prize to jail for 11 years.

Even Apple has had to tailor its iPhone sold in China to satisfy the government.  A recent online Daily Feed article stated that “development testers have found that when you ask about Siri about Tiananmen Square, or ‘the events of June 4, 1989,’ they receive confused or nonsensical responses. Attempts to even ask for directions to Tiananmen Square return similarly garbled results. This last detail is particularly odd because, apart from its role as site of pro-democracy protests, Tiananmen Square is a major landmark in Beijing. From a geographic standpoint, not being able to locate it is roughly akin to an American iPhone saying it doesn’t recognize the phrase ‘Central Park.'”

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Filed under Asia, Charter 08, China, June 4th incident, Rabbit in the Moon

23rd anniversary of Tiananmen

Hard to believe 23 years have gone by since the Tiananmen massacre of June 4, 1989. Despite the distance of time, any official discussion of the event the Chinese government still refers to as merely the “June 4th incident” is taboo. While Hong Kong remains surprisingly open in terms of freedom to assemble and protest about that night (there are yearly candlelight vigils on the anniversary of Tiananmen), there were no demonstrations reported across Mainland China where the events of June 4th are still considered “counter-revolutionary”.

Tank Man

“Tank Man”

When the Shanghai Composite Index opened today at 2,246.98, several bloggers within China interpreted this as the 23rd anniversary of the June 4, 1989 crackdown when read from right to left. Their blogs were immediately shut down by censors. The Chinese have a long tradition of being superstitious- especially about numbers. There has been some speculation as to whether the fall in the index represented the work of hackers, but many believe that to be highly unlikely.

In the meantime, a spokesman for the US State Department encouraged the Chinese government to  “release everyone still serving sentences for their participation in the 1989 demonstrations; to provide a full public accounting of those killed, detained or missing; and to end the continued harassment of demonstration participants and their families.”

Liu Weimin, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, expressed “strong dissatisfaction” with the statement.

Despite its acceptance of a more Western style capitalistic approach for its economy, the Chinese government is committed to one party rule at all costs.

Liu Xiaobo, the winner of the Nobel Peace prize in 2010 and was involved in the 1989 demonstrations  is serving an 11 year sentence for his  internet proclamation “Charter ’08” urging China to end its one party rule and embrace democracy.

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Filed under Asia, Charter 08, China, Deborah Shlian, medical mystery thriller, Rabbit in the Moon, Tiananmen massacre

Guide to pronouncing Chinese names

By popular request, we are adding a pronunciation guide for those who have said that would will help them pronounce some of the difficult Chinese names in our novel, “Rabbit in the Moon”.

The official system of romanization used in China today is known as Pinyin.  It is now almost universally adopted by the Western media. Although non-Chinese may initially encounter some difficulty in pronouncing romanized Chinese words,  many of the sounds actually correspond to the usual pronunciation of the letters in English. The exceptions:

c: is like the ts  in ‘its’

q: is like the ch  in ‘cheese’

x: has no English equivalent, and can be best described as a hissing consonant that lies somewhere between sh  and s. The sound was rendered as hs under an earlier transcription system.

z: is like ds  in ‘fads’

zh: is unaspirated and sounds like the j   in ‘jug’

a: sounds like ‘ah’

e: is pronounced as in ‘her’

i: is pronounced as in ‘ski’ (written as yi  when not preceded by an initial consonant).

However, in ci, chirishizi , and zhi,  the sound represented by the  final  i  is quite different and is similar to the ir  in ‘sir’, but without much stressing of the r  syllable.

o: sounds like the aw  in ‘law’

u: sounds like the oo  in ‘ooze’

e: is pronounced as in ‘get’

u: is pronounced as the German (written as yu  when preceded by an initial consonant)

When two or more finals are combined, such as hao, jiao, and liu, each letter retains its sound value as indicated in the list above, but note the following:

ai: is like the ie  in ‘tie’

ei: is like the ay  in ‘bay’

ian: is like the ien  in ‘Vienna’

ie: is similar to ‘ear’

ou: is like the o  in ‘code’

uai: sounds like ‘why’

uan: is like the uan  in ‘iguana’

(except when preceded by j, q, x , and y; in these cases a u  following any of these four consonants is in fact u  and uan  is similar to uen)

ue: is like the ue  in ‘duet’

ui: sounds like ‘way’


A few Chinese names are shown below with English phonetic beside them:

Beijing = Bay-jing

Guilin = Gway-lin

Xi’an = Shi-ahn

Qing Nan = Ching Nan

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Filed under China, international thriller, Rabbit in the Moon