Since ancient times, Chinese culture has been strongly influenced by Confucianism and conservative philosophies. For much of the country’s dynastic era, opportunities for social advancement were afforded by high performance in the prestigious imperial examinations that originated in the Han dynasty. The literary focus of the examinations affected the general perception of cultural refinement in China, such as the belief that calligraphy, poetry and painting were higher art forms than dance or drama. Chinese culture has long emphasised a sense of deep history and a largely inward-looking national perspective. Examinations and a culture of merit are still highly valued in China today.
The first leaders of the People’s Republic of China were born into the traditional imperial order, but were influenced by the May Fourth Movement and reformist ideals. They sought to change some traditional aspects of Chinese culture, such as rural land ownership, sexism and the Confucian education system, while preserving others, such as the family structure and the culture of obedience to the state. Some observers see the period after the founding of the PRC in 1949 as a continuation of traditional Chinese dynastic history, while others argue that Communist Party rule damaged the foundations of Chinese culture, especially through political movements such as the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, in which many aspects of traditional culture were destroyed as they were denounced as “regressive and harmful” or “remnants of feudalism”. Many important aspects of traditional Chinese morality and culture, such as Confucianism, art, literature and performing arts such as Beijing opera, were changed to suit government policies and propaganda of the time. Access to foreign media remains severely restricted.
Today, the Chinese government has accepted many elements of traditional Chinese culture as an integral part of Chinese society. With the rise of Chinese nationalism and the end of the Cultural Revolution, various forms of traditional Chinese art, literature, music, film, fashion and architecture have experienced a vigorous revival, and folk and variety arts in particular have attracted national and even global interest. With 55.7 million inbound international visitors in 2010, China is now the third most visited country in the world. Domestic tourism is also huge; in October 2012 alone, an estimated 740 million Chinese holidaymakers travelled within the country.
Literature in China
Chinese literature is based on the literature of the Zhou dynasty. The concepts covered in the classical Chinese texts include a wide range of thoughts and topics such as calendars, military, astrology, herbalism, geography and many others. Some of the most important early texts are the I Ching and the Shujing within the Four Books and Five Classics, which served as the Confucian authoritative books for the state curriculum in the dynastic era. Starting with the classics of poetry, classical Chinese poetry developed to its heyday during the Tang dynasty. Li Bai and Du Fu opened up forking paths for poetic circles through romanticism and realism respectively. Chinese historiography began with the Shiji, the total volume of the historiographical tradition in China is referred to as the twenty-four Histories, which together with Chinese mythology and folklore provided a large stage for Chinese fictions. Spurred on by an emerging middle class in the Ming dynasty, classical Chinese fiction experienced a boom in the histories, city novels, and novels of gods and demons represented by the Four Great Classical Novels, which include Water Margin, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Journey to the West, and Dream of the Red Chamber. Together with the wuxia fictions of Jin Yong and Liang Yusheng, it remains an enduring source of popular culture in the East Asian cultural sphere.
In the course of the New Culture Movement after the end of the Qing Dynasty, a new era began for Chinese literature with written vernacular Chinese for ordinary citizens. Hu Shih and Lu Xun were pioneers of modern literature. After the Cultural Revolution, various literary genres emerged such as fog poetry, scar literature, young adult fiction and Xungen literature influenced by magical realism. Mo Yan, an author of Xungen literature, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2012.
Cuisine in China
Chinese cuisine is highly diverse, drawing on several millennia of culinary history and geographical variety, with the most influential known as the “Eight Great Cuisines”, including the cuisines of Sichuan, Cantonese, Jiangsu, Shandong, Fujian, Hunan, Anhui and Zhejiang. They all feature precise skills in shaping, heating, colouring and flavouring. Chinese cuisine is also known for its breadth of cooking methods and ingredients, as well as the nutritional therapy emphasised by traditional Chinese medicine.In general, China’s staple food is rice in the south, and wheat-based bread and noodles in the north. The diet of the common people in pre-modern times consisted largely of grains and simple vegetables, with meat reserved for special occasions. And bean products, such as tofu and soya milk, remain as a popular source of protein. Pork is now the most popular meat in China, accounting for about three-quarters of the country’s total meat consumption. However, there is also a Buddhist cuisine and an Islamic cuisine. Southern cuisine has a wide variety of seafood and vegetables due to its proximity to the sea and milder climate; it differs in many ways from the wheat-based diet in arid northern China. In the countries that host the Chinese diaspora, many offshoots of Chinese cuisine have emerged, such as Hong Kong cuisine and American Chinese cuisine.
Sport in China
China has become a world-class sports destination. The country has been awarded hosting rights for several major global sports tournaments, including the 2008 Summer Olympics, the 2015 World Athletics Championships and the upcoming 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup.
China has one of the oldest sporting cultures in the world. There is evidence that archery (shèjiàn) was practised during the Western Zhou dynasty. Sword fighting (jiànshù) and cuju, a sport loosely related to club football, also date back to China’s early dynasties.
Physical fitness is strongly emphasised in Chinese culture, with morning exercises such as Qigong and T’ai Chi Ch’uan widely practised and commercial gyms and fitness clubs gaining popularity in the country. Basketball is currently the most popular spectator sport in China. The Chinese Basketball Association and the American National Basketball Association have a large following among the population, with local or ethnic Chinese players such as Yao Ming and Yi Jianlian being highly regarded. China’s professional football league, now known as the Chinese Super League, was established in 1994 and is the largest football market in Asia. Other popular sports in the country include martial arts, table tennis, badminton, swimming and snooker. Board games such as Go (known as wéiqí in Chinese), Xiangqi, Mahjong and more recently Chess are also played at a professional level. In addition, there are a large number of cyclists in China, with an estimated 470 million bicycles (as of 2012). Many other traditional sports, such as dragon boat racing, Mongolian-style wrestling and horse racing are also popular.
China has been participating in the Olympic Games since 1932, although it has only been participating as the PRC since 1952. China hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, where its athletes won 51 gold medals – the highest number of gold medals of any participating nation that year. China also won the most medals of any nation at the 2012 Summer Paralympics, 231 in total, including 95 gold medals. In 2011, Shenzhen in Guangdong, China hosted the 2011 Summer Universiade. In 2013, China hosted the East Asian Games in Tianjin and the 2014 Summer Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing.