Art & Culture ~ China

What is culture? Culture is the behavior and beliefs of a society. It is how a certain group acts and dresses according to their customs and beliefs (click here for definition of culture). Chinese art and culture is very unique. Their styles of clothing, their education, beauty and their entertainment all reflect values of the individuals, the society and the government in China. During the Cultural Revolution, the people in China were going through hard times. They had to follow the government exactly or else they would be criticized and sometimes tortured.

What is Culture?

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Styles of Clothing -
In China, they take their styles of clothing very seriously. Depending on the dynasty at the time, styles of clothing would change. As China came about after the Cultural Revolution, styles of clothing continued to change drastically since more fabric and more machines were invented. During the Cultural Revolution in China, their styles of clothing were way different than what they are today. During the Cultural Revolution, men and women both wore tunics. Women's tunics were generally longer than the men's. Their tunics went all the way to the ground and they normally wore belts with the tunics. The men's tunics normally stopped at their knees. In ancient China before cotton was invented, most Chinese made their tunics out of ramie and the rich Chinese made their tunics out of silk. Because the tunics Chinese people wore were like long t-shirts, men and women would often put pants under their tunics and jackets over their tunics in the winter to help stay warm.

The yellow tunic shown above is what the women would wear in China. Most women wore a belt like the orange one shown above. The blue tunic is an example of a tunic that Chinese men would wear. It is a little shorter than women's tunics, barely touching their knees.

Education In China -

In China, education was not that important during the Cultural Revolution and most people could not even afford it. Often, girls would not go to school and instead they learned sewing and cleaning from their mother. Moying Li comments and says, "But it was not popular at the time for girls to attend public schools. Most of the education they acquired was at their mother's knees - sewing, cooking and housekeeping" (26). Moying Li was different though. Moying definitely had a hunger for knowledge. Her grandparents were well educated and they wanted their grandchildren to have a good education also. When Moying was just a little girl, she entered into a prestigious foreign language boarding school. Her experience at the foreign language school was not good and Moying soon returned home. During the Cultural Revolution, foreign books were banned. Moying's Baba did everything he could to get her the books she needed to be studying. Moying eventually created a secret book club where she read foreign books that she had found in an abandoned library. Moying thought that by getting a good education, she could succeed in life. Today in China, education is valued and every family works to send their kids to school.

This picture shows how the students dressed when they went to school during the Cultural Revolution.

This is a picture of a modern day classroom in China. It has really changed since the Cultural Revolution.

Feet Binding -

The Chinese tradition was to have your feet bound. In Snow Falling in Spring, Moying Li tells us, "It was the custom at the time for girls, aged three or four, to have their feet bound,-a traditional ideal of beauty and submission, compelling women to walk slowly. The smaller one's feet, the more desirable one would be considered by her future husband" (24). However, Lao Lao did not have her feet bound. When she was a little girl and her dad began the process of binding her feet, Lao Lao cried so much that her father stopped the process because he could not stand to see his little girl in so much pain. Because Lao Lao did not have her feet bound, she could walk faster than the other girls and she could move around and do things a lot easier. The only negative affect that came out of not having her feet bound was it made it hard for her to find a husband. In China, the size of your feet affected your beauty. Men in China looked for women with small feet. No one wanted to marry Lao Lao because her feet were so big.

These pictures show a lady's foot after being bound for a while and the process of how to bind someone's feet.
Foot binding was a way to stop women's feet from growing.Click Here for more information on Chinese foot binding.

This is a video on foot binding in China. Double click the video to view the YouTube website.

Entertainment -

When Moying Li entered into the foreign language school, she had to find a way to entertain herself. In china, the game of Ping Pong is very popular. While Moying was in school, her classmates and friends taught her how to play Ping Pong and many other games. In the novel Snow Falling in Spring, Moying tells us, “Various extracurricular groups were formed to teach us Ping-Pong, dance, drawing, track and field, and even how to raise rabbits and silkworms” (49). Also, after Moying Li left the foreign language school, she went to live at the movie studio, her and her brother, Di Di, had to find other ways to entertain themselves. Everyday, Moying Li, Di Di, and their two new friends would play by the lake, go fishing, and catch dragonflies using their homemade net tied to a bamboo pole. They would also go swimming sometimes in the studio's outdoor pool.

The game of Ping Pong is one of China's most popular sports. The video above shows a clip of two Chinese men playing ping pong. Double click the video to view the YouTube website.

Matchmaking -

Matchmaking in China was very common during the Cultural Revolution and it still is today. According to the website, Cultural China, it says, "
Matchmaking is a process of making a match of an unmarried man and woman by a matchmaker, which is a common way of choosing a spouse in ancient China. The traditional Chinese wedding is much involved with "matchmaking", or in other words, marriage introducer. In the Zhou Dynasty several thousand years ago, the post of "official matchmaker" was set up for management of marriage, supervising and urging young people of nubile ages or widows and widowers to marry."

In the novel, Snow Falling in Spring, the tradition was that the parents were to set out and either get a matchmaker or look for a suitable husband. Lao Lao's father and grandmother did not think they would be able to find a matchmaker or a husband for Lao Lao because she did not follow tradition and have her feet bound. Finally after some searching, they came upon the Zhang family and they matched Lao Lao and Lao Ye. Lao Lao and Lao Ye soon got married.

This video above is from Disney's Mulan. It is a scene where Mulan is visiting a matchmaker. Double click to view the YouTube website.