“The Geography of Thought” Helped Me Understand Why Chinese People Never Tell Me if Something is Wrong

People think differently. Cultures think differently. Coming from a culture dominated by the traditions of Western philosophy and the scientific method, here is something that may be difficult to grasp: Logic is not universally viewed as being objective. And in some cultures, “logical thinking” just really isn’t very important.

This is something that frustrates many foreigners (from western countries) when they move to China. That frustration can mount with time and usually leads to one of two outcomes: the foreigner in question becomes immensely annoyed with China and its way of life, or makes a concerted effort to understand a way of thinking that does not rely on logic as we know it.

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These ideas are the premise of “The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently… And Why”  by Richard E. Nisbett.  The author, who is a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, argues that different ecologies, social structures and philosophical traditions dating to ancient Greece and China have influenced Western (in this book, defined as the United States, Canada, Europe and the British Commonwealth) and East Asian countries (China, Japan, South Korea) to the extent that people from those countries actually perceive and think about the world differently. Nisbett also relies on the results of several psychological experiments to argue that people from Western and East Asian countries sometimes have “profound” cognitive differences.

The easiest way to even try to summarize Nisbett’s argument is to go back to the (intellectual) beginning – the philosophical traditions of ancient Greece and ancient China.

The ancient Greeks – remember, the creators of democracy – had a sense of personal agency. They believed that every human being is a unique individual. In addition to that, the Greeks were curious about the world around them and took steps to study and categorize the natural world, creating scientific principles that could be used to understand nature. The Greeks’ belief in individualism and categorization fostered a tradition of oral debate that ultimately led to the creation of logic itself; Aristotle is even said to have worked out the rules of deductive logic because he was sick of hearing nonsensical arguments during public debates.

The goal of deductive logic is to use reason to reach a conclusion that is necessarily true. That conclusion is concrete, because it has been proved.

Ancient Chinese philosophy, a huge influence on Japanese and Korean culture, emphasized the importance of social harmony. Avoiding friction with family, friends and colleagues and living within a clan – such as a family or village – was the only way to coexist peacefully in Chinese society, where hierarchy determined everything. Confucianism, the chief moral philosophy in China, stressed the importance of familial and societal relationships (children- parents; younger siblings- older siblings; wives- husbands; subjects- emperor) that formed daily life. There was no room for personal agency; instead, Nisbett suggests the importance of mutual relationships created a sense of collective agency. And when you live your life in a society that champions social harmony, understanding the context of any given situation is key to survival.

Chinese philosophy was never influenced by deductive logic. The ancient Chinese did not believe in absolutes. Instead, they believed the world is constantly changing (hence the importance of context) and full of contradictions – what appears to be true now may be untrue later, and vice versa.

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The sign of the Tao: Yin (the feminine, dark and passive) alternates with Yang (the masculine, light and active). The seemingly opposite forces appear to be contradictions but in fact they are interconnected. What appears to be true now may actually be the opposite of what it appears to be.

The influence of these philosophical traditions can be seen in their modern day heirs, Nisbett writes:

“The collective or interdependent nature of Asian society is consistent with Asians’ broad, contextual view of the world and their belief that events are highly complex and determined by many factors. The individualistic or independent nature of Western society seems consistent with the Western focus on particular objects in isolation from their context…. And the belief that they can know the rules governing objects and therefore can control the objects’ behavior.”

It’s easy to see where these different outlooks could clash – for example, contracts. In the Western world we tend to take contracts – whether for employment, housing or even a gym membership – quite seriously. When you sign on the dotted line, you are agreeing to honor the contracts terms and conditions as they are stated. No wiggle room here.

In East Asia (again, my own personal experience of this has only been in China) contracts can be more of a … suggestion. Yes, a contract is an agreement, but changing circumstances after the signing could potentially modify the terms of that agreement.

This can lead to some uncomfortable misunderstandings. Nisbett notes the example of the Japanese-Australian sugar contract dispute in the 1970s, when the East Asian emphasis on context came head to head with the Western emphasis on rules and order. In that case, Japanese sugar refineries agreed to provide Australian suppliers with sugar over a period of 5 years for $160 a ton. Shortly after the two parties signed the contracted agreement, the value of sugar on the world market plummeted. Due to the different circumstances, the Japanese asked for a renegotiation of the sugar contact. But to the Australians the signed contract was binding and therefore unchangeable, despite the altered context.

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Problem solving approaches from Yang Liu’s infographic series “East meets West.” The blue side represents the west (confrontational) and the red side is the east (indirect).

The point of this post isn’t for me to go on about philosophy and international business disagreements. The reason I’m writing about this is because I personally know how confusing and even annoying it can be to live in a culture where you cannot understand the accepted rationale for anything (Why won’t anyone in China ever tell you if there is a problem in the workplace? How is a person ever expected to improve if they are never presented with the problem in the first place?) and I’ve seen how it can foster resentment. In Shanghai I once witnessed my colleagues from European and American backgrounds asserting that Hong Kong should be GRATEFUL for British colonization because the British gave them “the gift of a civilized society”.

All of this was said in front of Chinese people who understood English. There was no shame, only sheer belief in Western cultural superiority.

It’s important to recognize that any culture is going to think that their way is the “right” way unless it’s been exposed to another way of thinking. Sometimes you have to question everything you’ve ever been taught about what is sensible or logical and admit that your way may not be the only way. That’s not easy.

Some social scientists believe we have reached “the end of history” and that capitalism, modernization and democracy will eventually dominate every country on the planet; others suggest that we are marching toward an unavoidable ultimate clash between the West and East (specifically the Islamic Middle East) due to irreconcilable differences in values. Nisbett, however, argues for a future of Eastern and Western convergence.

“If social practices, values, beliefs and scientific themes are to converge, then we can expect that differences in thought processes would also begin to evaporate,” he writes.

Meaning… peace on Earth? That would be nice.

Half of China’s Population is Traveling During the National Day Golden Week

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Mao Zedong announcing the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 (Wikimedia Commons).

Today is the last day of the National Day “Golden Week”, a seven-day* public holiday in celebration of the founding of the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949.

Golden Week — there are two each year, following the Chinese New Year and National Day holidays — is better known for the massive wave of human migration it inspires. The entire country is on public holiday, and of course many people want to put their extra vacation days to good use. The result? Packed trains and airplanes, endless lines, jacked up hotel prices (in China and abroad!) and general chaos.

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One of my photos of Shanghai’s Yu Garden area during the 2014 National Day Golden Week. This is every tourist spot in the country on a public holiday.

About 589 million – more than half of the country’s population! — Chinese tourists were expected to travel either domestically or internationally during this year’s National Day Golden Week, according to a prediction from the Chinese Tourism Academy. Those travelers were expected to spend about $70 billion during the days set aside to commemorate the rise of the country’s Communist Party.

I did my own Golden Week adventuring in 2014 and 2015, back when I had the mental and physical fortitude to brave the crowds and financial rip offs in the spirit of exploring  China. This year I’ve opted for having a staycation in Shanghai, which tends to clear out during the holidays, and using my remaining vacation days to travel when the rest of the country returns to work.

I decided to observe National Day in my own way – by doing research (yay!) and finally learning the symbolic meaning of the PRC’s “Five Star Red Flag.”

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The large golden star on the upper left corner represents the communist revolution and the four smaller stars encircling it symbolize the country’s four social classes: the workers, peasants, urban bourgeoisie and national bourgeoisie. Together, the five stars are intended to illustrate the unity of the Chinese people under the Communist Party.

The more you know.

*note: Although the National Day public holiday is technically only three days (Oct 1-3) many employers offer their workers seven consecutive days (“Golden Week”) of vacation time. Afterwards, those extra days are essentially reimbursed by employees, who need to work four “make up” days during normal weekends.  After the seven-day holiday, many employees are required to work a 7-day week to make up for lost time.

An Ancient Jewish Community in China Believes It’s Being Monitored By the Government

China is probably one of the last places where one would expect to find the descendants of Jews who lived almost a millennium ago. But somehow a small community of Chinese Jews, who are thought to be descended from Middle Eastern merchants, has endured in Henan province until the present day.

Whether it will endure any longer is the subject of an article published by The New York Times on September 24, which reports that the “Kaifeng Jews” have suddenly and unexpectedly been targeted by the Chinese government.

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Two Jewish residents of Kaifeng captured by National Geographic in 1907

Kaifeng, the capital of the Northern Song Dynasty, was located on the heavily-traveled Silk Road. As a result, the city was a hub for foreign traders. China’s east coast is no stranger to Judaism and is home to four historically Jewish communities, according to the Sino-Judaic Institute. Shanghai, as I previously wrote, was famously one of only two ports in the world that accepted tens of thousands of Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Europe during World War II.

While Judaism isn’t one of China’s five state-sanctioned religions, the authorities have turned a blind eye to the minuscule portion of the population that still adheres to the faith. Most of the Kaifeng Jews still living actually have little practical knowledge of Judaism. The city’s last rabbi reportedly died in the first half of the nineteenth century.

In recent decades, the community’s connection to Judaism is primarily cultural: individuals self-identified as Kaifeng Jews usually do not eat pork and often only know of their Jewish ancestry from old family stories about relatives who went to a synagogue or because of a family name marking them as one of the community’s eight historically Jewish clans (the names were conferred by a Ming Dynasty emperor).

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A model of the old Kaifeng synagogue at the Diaspora Museum in Tel Aviv

In recent decades Kaifeng has had a sort of Jewish revival.  Jewish organizations — offering everything from religious instruction to the opportunity to migrate to Israel— established themselves in the community to connect its residents to their cultural and religious history. Some began studying the Torah and the traditions of Judaism in earnest. The government didn’t seem to care, according to news reports, until the Kaifeng Jews began attracting foreign media attention.

Some Kaifeng residents say the government took action after a Jewish woman from their community won asylum to the United States by claiming she was the victim of “religious persecution.”

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A group of Chinese women at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.  The women told NBC news that they hope to become Israeli citizens (NBC News).

And now it appears that the government – perhaps in retaliation to the bad PR?  — wants to obliterate any of the small traces of Jewish history that still exist in Kaifeng.  A stone inscription marking the site of Kaifeng’s old synagogue was recently removed by city officials, who also prohibited groups from gathering to celebrate Jewish holidays. Some of the city’s Jewish descendants have told reporters they fear their actions and conversations are being monitored by the government.

What’s interesting is that many of the Kaifeng Jews said that they don’t necessarily see this as an act of antisemitism; rather, it may be a message to emphasize that the Communist Party’s political domination cannot be challenged by foreign organizations, especially those affiliated with unsanctioned religious groups.

But it seems that Kaifeng’s Jewish residents aren’t easily intimidated.

“Judaism,” as one man told the New York Times, “is all about endurance.”

10 Random But Amazing Facts About China (Part 2)

Due to a combination of moving house, exhaustion and severe internet censorship that blocked WordPress, it has taken me way too long to update since I posted part one. I could go on complaining about how frustrating it is to live under the yoke of extreme censorship, but instead I’ll go in the other direction and post more positive and fascinating facts about the Middle Kingdom.

5. The Plethora of Inventions that Originated in China

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An early representation of gunpowder weapons can be seen on the upper right corner. The man with snakes (I think?) coming out of his head is aiming a firelance; the man below him appears to be holding a grenade.

As one can likely imagine, a civilization that has been around for more than 5,000 years has probably introduced a lot of shit to the world.

I was schooled on China’s “four great inventions” – printing, paper, gunpowder and the compass – within my first few weeks in the country. It just seems to be something that has often come up during small talk with my various students. Many of them assume Americans don’t know much about China (can’t argue with that) so they’re happy to enlighten me. I’m usually happy to listen.

But while the four great inventions may be the most celebrated, they hardly make a dent on the enormous list of items that were developed in the Middle Kingdom. (A note on printing: Chinese printing, which dates as far back as 200 AD, relied on woodblocks or movable type that were hand-pressed onto paper by workers. This is different than the mechanical printing press developed by Johannes Gutenberg in the 15th century. )

Paper money was introduced as a form of currency in during the Tang and Song dynasties in the 7th century. Europe, in contrast, did not begin to use paper currency until after the 13th century – and only after it had been seen by explorers like Marco Polo during their adventures in Asia. Gun fanatics can also thank the Chinese for their preferred  instrument of self-defense, since the first gunpowder weapon was reportedly produced in China sometime during the 10th century.

The list of inventions can go on and on and on: kites, parachutes, crossbows, the decimal system, suspension bridges. Even an early version of ice cream.

In my personal opinion, the seismoscope (earthquake detector) may be the most impressive contribution on the list. Just hearing its nickname – the “Dragon Jar”–  is an indication of how epic it is.

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A replica of the device invented by Zhang Heng.

Dating to 132 AD, the nearly 2,000-year-old device was remarkably accurate even by modern standards. The detector is based around a giant bronze vessel with eight dragons snaked down the outside of  it, each with a bronze ball in its mouth. Each snake represents a primary compass direction. When the seismoscope picked up the direction of an earthquake tremor – which were not detectable to humans in the same location –  the bronze ball would fall from the mouth of the corresponding dragon and into the mouth of the toad at the base. As a result, observers could estimate the location of an earthquake.

4. The Peking Man Confirmed Existence of Homo Erectus Humans

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Most of the Peking Man fossils disappeared in 1941. The Chinese Academy of Scientists is in possession of a tooth found at the scene.

The fossilized remains of the Peking man, as noted in the title, confirmed the existence of the Homo Erectus stage of human evolution.

This is a notable fact because the discovery convinced scientists of the idea that the Homo Erectus species – the first of which had previously been discovered in Java and dubbed Pithecanthropus erectus (“upright ape-man”) – were predecessors to modern humans, and not simply the remains of “deformed apes.”

Discovered by a Swiss scientific team, the prehistoric fossils were found in a cave near Beijing (then known as “Peking”) in 1921. After a series of excavations throughout the 1920s, archeologists managed to recover several teeth, skull fragments and a lower jaw that were thought to be as much as 750,000 years old. Follow up excavations by Chinese scientists also unearthed additional skull caps as well as stone tools and evidence that the prehistoric people who lived there used fire -– all in all, the largest hoard of Homo Erectus fossils that have ever been found.

Interestingly, the discovery of the Peking Man fossils led some researchers to suggest human development originated in Eurasia, and not in Africa as commonly accepted by the scientific community.

But the most fascinating part of the Peking Man story may be its ending. The fossils disappeared in 1941 while they were being prepared for transport to the United States, following the Japanese invasion of China. There are several theories about the fate of the famous fossils. Some hypothesize they vanished into the ocean during shipping on a sunken American ship; one theory suggests they may have been ground up and then used as medicine (for reasons I don’t understand and couldn’t find a satisfying explanation for). According to National Geographic, there is a possibility the lost fossils were buried in a Chinese port city under what is now an asphalt-paved parking lot

3. China (Might) Have the Longest Continuous Written Language on the Planet

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This ancient bone fragment contains examples of early Chinese writing.

China is often cited as having the world’s longest continuous civilization still in existence, an honorific that is actually hotly contested by some academics and writers .

Of course, it’s difficult to speak in terms of absolutes when discussing millennia-old history. What we do know is the Chinese written language (then old Chinese) is at least 3,500 years old. Ancient Egyptian and Sumerian were likely written down before old Chinese; however, unlike its predecessors, the Chinese written language survived.

The earliest samples of written Chinese date to around 1500 B.C. during the Shang dynasty. The writing samples were a record of divination practices and were etched onto animal bones and shells, leading them to be called “oracle bones.”

Chinese written characters were standardized during the Qin dynasty, the first to unify the country’s collection of small city-states under the control of a single imperial dynasty (221-206 BC).

China is considered to be one of the world’s “cradles of civilization.” Its oldest settlements were located in the Yellow River valley and reportedly date to at least the Bronze Age.

2. Shanghai Gave Refuge to Thousands of Jewish Refugees Fleeing Nazi Europe 

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A Jewish girl with her Chinese friends in the Shanghai Ghetto  (photo: Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum)

When European Jews were rushing to flee Nazi-occupied Europe, there were few places where they could find refuge. At the time,  the United States was turning away refugees unless their visa was guaranteed by a U.S. citizen. Thirty-two countries simply wouldn’t provide haven to any but the most selective group of prominent Jews.

Only the ports of the Dominican Republic and Shanghai remained open to Jews hoping to escape from Nazi persecution. In the years leading up to the Second World War, Shanghai was an open port city – meaning, anyone could enter without a visa. Unlike the rest of the country, Shanghai was not solely governed by the Republic of China. Instead, the city was split between a number of Chinese and foreign business interests into “concessions”: self-governing sections of the city controlled by China, Imperial Japan, the United States, Britain and France.

Ho Fengshan, a Chinese diplomat serving in Vienna during the 1930s, purportedly took advantage of Shanghai’s open port to issue a number of “fake visas” to the Jewish citizens of Vienna.  The fake visas, although unnecessary for entrance into Shanghai, allowed Jews to book passage on ships leaving Europe for the Pacific.

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A 1940 edition of the Shanghai Jewish Chronicle

Ho’s scheme was discovered in 1939 and he was removed from his post. But he managed to distribute about 500 of these “visas” per month before the German and Chinese authorities became aware of his actions.

Shanghai had taken in more Jewish refugees than any other city in the world by the time the Second World War broke out in 1939, according to a report from The Atlantic. But while the city’s Jewish population may have swelled to as many as 200,000 people, most didn’t stay for long. By 1943 Japanese forces had taken control of Shanghai and forced the city’s foreign population – including most of its Jewish residents – into housing for stateless refugees that is now known as the “Shanghai Ghetto.” While its residents were liberated in 1945, a majority of Shanghai’s Jews chose to either return to Europe or immigrate to the United States – which had loosened its visa restrictions – during the late 1940s.

“From 1949 to 1956, the Jewish community in Shanghai effectively ceased to exist,” Rabbi Shalom Greenberg told The Atlantic in 2013. At that time the city had about 2,000 Jewish residents.

But some remnants of Shanghai’s Jewish population have managed to survive decades later. The Jewish Refugees Museum, which operates inside of a former synagogue, still stands in a neighborhood that contains multiple buildings that were used by Jewish organizations in the 1930s and 1940s.

1. The Earliest Recorded Use of Marijuana Comes From Chinese Medical Texts

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The Chinese character for cannabis (“Da Ma”). “Ma” can alternatively describe hemp, cannabis or numbness, while “Da” translates to big or great. So marijuana is… “Big Numbness.”

Cannabis is among the oldest cultivated crops and has been used for one reason or another by humans for estimated 12,000 years. And despite where you may stand on the modern-day debate regarding medical cannabis, its medicinal properties have been noted by healers for at least two millennia.

Archeological evidence indicates the cannabis plant originated in central Asia. Chinese societies began cultivating hemp for its useful fibers and was the primary source of clothing for thousands of years. Chinese legend suggests  the medicinal benefits of psychoactive cannabis (Cannabis sativa and indica – Cannabis sativa L., which does not get people “high”, is the source for hemp fiber, oil, etc.) was discovered by the mythical Emperor Shun Nung around 2800 B.C.  According to legend, Shun Nung discovered the property of several plants used in traditional Chinese medicine by testing the products on himself.

The first written record about medicinal cannabis can be found in The Chinese Book of Herbal Medicine (200-250 AD) which was purportedly a compilation of oral traditions based on Shun Nung’s discoveries. Cannabis is recommended as treatment for approximately 100 ailments, including gout, rheumatism and (in what seems counter-intuitive by today’s standards) “absentmindedness.”

The early Chinese surgeon Hua Tuo is credited with being the first person to use cannabis as a surgical anesthetic, drying and powdering the plant and then mixing it with wine for easy consumption. As many sources report, the Chinese characters for anesthetic used today literally translate to “cannabis intoxication.” Tuo would reportedly use a combination of cannabis and acupuncture to dull pain during both external and internal procedures.

But while cannabis may be one of the 50 fundamental herbs of Chinese medicine, in modern China possession of the plant can be met with a hefty prison sentence and in some cases of trafficking, even death. The potential consequences for marijuana possession are, however, far lighter for Western expats in China, who often are not charged at all.

10 Random But Amazing Facts About China (Part 1)

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There are so many unbelievably beautiful places in China. This is from my trip to the epic Yellow Mountain in Anhui province.

It seems as though whenever I read about China in the news, its in the context of “look at the weird shit that happens in that country.” Clearly there’s infinitely more to China than ghost towns or massive traffic jams or the airpocalypse. Or cheap labor or uncomfortably unusual local delicacies like urine-soaked boiled eggs (THIS IS NOT A THING IN LIKE 99 PERCENT OF THE COUNTRY) … the list could go on. So in defiance of this trend, I present my very own listicle of 10 random yet amazingly interesting facts about the Middle Kingdom.

10. China will (maybe) have the world’s largest Christian population by 2030

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China’s ruling Communist Party may be an atheist organization, but that doesn’t mean religion has no place in the lives of the average Chinese person.

Although the Communist Party expects active – and even retired – party members to abstain from religious activities, its constitution protects what it calls “normal religious activity” for Buddhists, Taoists, Muslims (with some restrictions), Chinese Catholics (which is separate from the Roman Catholic Church) and Protestants (officially the “Three-Self Patriotic Movement”) who are members of state-approved religious organizations.

On mainland China most people follow some version of Buddhism, Taoism or a local folk religion, if they follow anything at all. But Christian churches have been flooded with new members since the 1970’s; the number of Chinese Protestants alone has risen 10 percent each year since 1979. The country even has its own mega-church celebrities. And while Christians currently only make up five percent of China’s population, that still amounts to a substantial 67 million people. Some analysts have suggested the number could be higher, since available statistics rely on reports primarily from state-sanctioned churches and do not include information from underground house churches.

Partially as a side effect of what the Center for Foreign Relations calls a “spiritual vacuum” resulting from China’s quick – and competitive – economic growth, social scientists seem to think Christianity will continue to attract new followers in the world’s most populated country. One highly-publicized prediction from a Purdue University professor determined that, if membership rates keep up, China could have the world’s largest population of Christians by 2030 (160 million versus 159 million in the United States).

9. China’s “elderly rights” law makes it illegal for people to neglect their parents

Filial reverence and responsibility is a virtue that has been stressed in traditional Chinese culture for centuries. But as of 2013, that virtue has been intertwined with the law of the land.

According to Chapter II of a Chinese law called the “Protection of the Rights and Interests of Elderly People,” family members – with an emphasis on sons and daughters – are legally required to provide financial support and comfort to their elderly parents (here defined as 60 years old or above). Healthcare, housing, maintenance support (“The supporters have the duty to help farm the land the elderly contract to farm, and take care of the trees and livestock contacted or owned by the elderly, but the earnings there from shall go to the elderly”), comfort and “attention to special needs” must be covered by family members of the elderly.

Family members must also respect the autonomy of the elderly; the law specifically states that older people should have control of their property rights and forbids children from interfering in decisions regarding marriage or post-marriage life.

The idea of “filial piety” is still commonly idealized in Chinese culture. As the New York Times mentioned, Chinese media likes to publish feel-good articles featuring examples of that reverence, such as the story of one young Chinese man who pushed his disabled mother in a wheelchair for 93 days so she could visit a popular tourist destination.

8. China gave us “Panda Diplomacy”

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The Chinese word for panda translates to “bear cat”

Everyone loves beautiful, wide-eyed, squishy-looking pandas ( xióngmāo), and the Chinese government must know it. Because after decades of gifting pandas to various nations in shows of diplomatic friendliness that has come to be known as Panda Diplomacy (seriously), the nation’s leaders decided to reverse course and make a profit from their adorable commodity.

In the 1980’s China announced it would offer 10-year leases on pandas to foreign zoos (in many cases at least a portion of the fee is donated to wild panda conservation efforts). The loan terms state any cubs born during the loan are automatically the property of the Chinese government.

Fun fact: “Panda Diplomacy” has been a thing since the 7th century, when Empress Wu Zetian first gifted a set of pandas to Japan. And speaking of that…

7. Empress Wu Zetian was China’s only female sovereign ruler

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The only women cut-throat enough to usurp the living Chinese emperor and then establish an imperial dynasty in her own right has been fantastically described by one writer as the “Chinese Cersei Lannister.”

But as the adage goes, the truth is often stranger than fiction. And unlike Cersei, the real-life Wu Zetian actually managed to seize a throne held by a weak male ruler to spearhead a five-decade grip on power. Her reign – alternatively as regent, dowager empress and finally as the sovereign herself – was generally peaceful and defined by a loosening of restrictions and tax burdens on peasants, the cultural elevation of women and the expansion of China’s borders.

Okay, she did a lot of crazy shit too.

Wu Zetian’s rise to power could fill the plot of at least one season of an HBO drama. Born during the Tang Dynasty, highly-educated Wu became a concubine (of course) to the Tang Emperor Taizong when she was fourteen… only to become his son’s concubine as well following Taizong’s death. Long story short, Wu became the son’s – now the Gaozong Emperor – “favorite” concubine, bore his children, accused his empress of murdering a baby, and then rose through the resulting chaos to become empress herself. Some stories suggest Wu ordered that the former empress’ hands and feet be cut off, and then her body submerged in a vat a wine so she would drown to death. Continue reading “10 Random But Amazing Facts About China (Part 1)”