Welcome to the Cultural Traditions series! In this series we will be focusing on various countries and their unique traditions. From China to Mexico, we plan on visiting at least one country on every continent (except Antarctica!). We will begin with a look at China. As one of the most ancient civilizations in the world, China has over five thousand years of unique culture and traditions to look at-. Today we will be looking at three of these traditions.
It’s a common misconception that tea originated in England. Rather, its origins date back nearly five thousand years ago in China, with most historians crediting the discovery to Emperor Shen Nong, who was known to taste many herbs in an attempt to discover any medicinal properties. (“Tea for Tourists”) The popularity of tea spread throughout the continent of Asia and, eventually, thanks to the Silk Road, to Europe and later the New World.
Tea culture wasn’t always widespread in China. Originally, tea was considered a delicacy reserved for the elite, such as the monarch. However, when trade routes throughout China became more commonplace, the cost of tea lessened, making it more widely available to the public. It wasn’t until the Tang Dynasty that tea became a staple throughout all of China, thanks in part to Lu Yu, a tea expert, who wrote a book called The Classic of Tea. His book introduced the concept of tea drinking as a spiritual experience and also analyzed the history of tea and how it should be properly prepared and served. Today tea still remains an important aspect of Chinese culture and is often served to guests as a sign of respect and hospitality.
Do you have a favorite gemstone? Some are captivated by the deep blue of sapphires, while others prefer a classic ruby red. In China, jade is considered a lucky stone, sometimes called the “Stone of Heaven.” Jade can appear in green, white, or yellow-white being considered the most valuable in ancient China, though green is the most commonly seen in Chinese carvings or jewelry. Archaeological artifacts have been found all throughout the country, with some even being found at burial sites as a symbol of heaven and earth. Today, jade is still highly favored in China as a lucky stone and is frequently worn on necklaces.
The final thing we’ll be looking at today is a traditional Chinese activity called the diabolo, or the Chinese yo-yo, dǒu kōng zhú. The diabolo is a bit different than the average yo-yo. The diabolo has the appearance of an axle with two cones on each end and is controlled by a string attached to two batons. Diabolos are quite popular among both children and adults. Some circuses and school programs in China involve the diabolo as part of the show, especially during the Chinese New Year. Meanwhile, some adults use the diabolo as part of their workout regime! Just watching someone use a diabolo is fascinating, especially if they’re a skilled player who can perform many tricks. When using a diabolo, you can take pride in the fact that you are playing one of the oldest games, with historians dating this invention back to the 4th millennium B.C. That’s a long time ago!
Though the Chinese New Year has already passed, this would be a wonderful time to share all you have learned with your friends and family! What was your favorite Chinese tradition to learn about? Until next time and stay tuned for more articles about different regions all around the world!
再见 (See you later!)
Weber, Irena. (2018). Tea for Tourists: Cultural Capital, Representation, and Borrowing in the Tea Culture of Mainland China and Taiwan. Academica Turistica. 12. 143-154. 10.26493/2335-4194.11.143-154.