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Happy Mid-Autumn Festival

15 Sep

Image result for mid-autumn festival

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival from China to you!

Today (September 15, 2016) is the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival (Zhong Qiu Jie). The festival will fall on the 15th day of the 8th month on the lunar calendar, which just so happens to be today for 2016.  Although today is the official day of the holiday, most people in China will take a 3-4 day weekend to celebrate. 🙂 For example, at our university all classes are cancelled for Thursday – Saturday, with Friday’s classes made up on Sunday.
Based on the lunar calendar, on the 15th of the month, the moon should be a full moon, shining bright and beautiful.  So a lot of the stickers and pictures being sent around WeChat (Chinese version of Facebook) are full moons or things shaped like full moons. 🙂 

The moon has a special place in the world of Chinese art and culture, with many of my students great enthusiasts of the “romantic and beautiful night sky.” So during the Song Dynasty, the Mid-Autumn Festival or Moon Festival was created to celebrate the Harvest Moon. This is supposed to be the brightest, biggest, most beautiful moon of the year. 

One of the best and largest part of the Mid-Autumn Festival is the tradition of eating what are called “Moon cakes” (月饼 – Yuè Bĭng).  Moon Cakes are little pastries or cakes about 4 inches around and 2 inches thick.  The pastry crust tends to be pretty thick and then inside are any variety of treats or fillings. Most common in Henan is the red bean or Jujube paste, but there are many others with nuts and fruits inside.  (I’m not terribly fond of the paste ones, but a few of the nut versions are pretty good.)  The pastry top will somehow be stamped with a Chinese character of good fortune luck, peace, happiness, etc. They are usually passed around to family, friends, teachers, business colleagues, etc. Visit a Chinese shop before the holiday and for at least two weeks they will be selling these cakes like crazy.  

Image result for chinese moon cake bean

According to legend, the moon cake became a holiday tradition during the Yuan dynasty. China was under the control of Mongolian rulers at the end of the dynasty, and the Ming Chinese were fed up. They decided to stage a revolution, but had a difficult issue in the logistics of communicating their message to the people without tipping off the Mongolians. The story says that the leader Zhu Yuanzhang and his adviser Liu Bowen came up with the brilliant idea of using moon cakes. They started a rumor that a horrific and deadly disease was spreading through the area and that special moon cakes were the only possible cure. Of course the people began buying up moon cakes and hidden inside each moon cake was a message telling them the date and time for the revolution (Mid-Autumn Festival).  The Chinese revolted, the battle was won, and moon cakes became a permanent staple of the holiday! 🙂 

Image result for chinese woman one the moon

Another famous legend about the festival is that of a tragic romance. In the west, our culture has the beloved Man on the Moon, but in Chinese it’s the beautiful Chang’e, Lady on the Moon.  The story says that centuries ago there live a famous hunter, Hou Yi, and his wife Chang’e. At the time, the world was surrounded by 10 suns and they were burning the earth and its people to death. A brave man, Hou Yi took his bow and arrow and went out to shoot down nine of the suns. He saved the world in the end. As a reward, he was given a special potion that contained immortality. However, because he loved his wife so much and because the potion was only enough for one person, Hou Yi refused to drink it. After this, he was very famous and many people came to learn from him. But some also came to steal from him, including one wicked man. One day while Hou Yi was out, the evil man snuck into the house and attempted to steal the potion from Chang’e. She realized she could not keep him from taking it, and so drank it herself. The potion immediately gave her immortality, and her body flew up, up, up and up to the moon. Heartbroken, Hou Yi came home and prepared a feast on a table under the moon in honor of his wife and in the hopes that she would see his efforts and know how much he missed her. So (according tot the legend), ever since the Chinese like to eat big meals under the moon to remember her sacrifice and to celebrate their own families. 

Turkey: Church discovered in world’s biggest underground city in Nevşehir with never-before-seen frescos

24 Feb

“Turkey: Church discovered in world’s biggest underground city in Nevşehir with never-before-seen frescos”

by Matt Atherton via “IBT

Church fresco

An 1,500-year-old underground church has been discovered in Turkey with never-before-seen frescoes depicting Jesus and “bad souls being killed”. The church was found in the world’s largest known underground city in the Cappadocia region of central Turkey.

The frescoes have been described as depicting Jesus rising into the sky – known in Christianity as the Ascension – and the destroying of evil – known as the Last Judgement. The discovery of the church itself – which archaeologists suggest could be more than 1,500 years old – still has secrets to be revealed, as so far only the roof and uppermost part of the walls have been uncovered.

“Only a few of the paintings have been revealed,” said researcher Ali Aydin, who told the Hurriyet Daily News: “There are important paintings in the front part of the church showing the crucifixion of Jesus and his ascension to heaven. There are also frescoes showing the apostles, the saints and other prophets Moses and Elyesa.”

An urban housing project was taking place in the city of Nevşehir, where the church was found. It is part of a huge number of early dwellings, which form the largest known ancient underground city. The underground city itself was discovered in 2014, and around four miles of tunnels have been uncovered. The experts believe people lived here around 5,000 years ago.

Archaeologists have had to pause their excavations, however, as the winter humidity can damage the paintings. However, they have managed to reveal the ceiling of the structure which mainly sits underground, and were fascinated by the huge frescoes which can be found across the inside of the roof and top of the walls.

“We know that such frescoes have so far never been seen in any other church,” said Hasan Ünver, mayor of Nevşehir. “It was built underground and has original frescoes that have survived to this day. This place is even bigger than the other historical churches in Cappadocia.

“It is reported that some of the frescoes here are unique. There are exciting depictions like fish falling from the hand of Jesus Christ, him rising up into the sky, and the bad souls being killed. When the church is completely revealed, Cappadocia could become an even bigger pilgrimage center of Orthodoxy,.”

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Oldest Surviving Copy of Hebrew Bible Recognized as UNESCO World Treasure

19 Feb

“Oldest Surviving Copy of Hebrew Bible Recognized as UNESCO World Treasure”

Stoyan Zaimov via “Christian Post

Aleppo Codex

The Aleppo Codex, the oldest surviving copy of the Hebrew Bible that some experts believe all versions of the Old Testament stem from, has been recognized by UNESCO as an important world treasure.

I24News reported that the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization added the millennium-old Codex earlier this week to its International Memory of the World Register, which honors some of the most important discoveries relating to human history.

Adolfo Roitman, the head curator of the Shrine of the Book Museum in Jerusalem, which holds the Codex, explained its significance, stating that all current versions of the Old Testament stem, “in one way or another, from this ancient manuscript.”

Dead Sea scrolls
Amir Ganor, director of the unit for the prevention of antiquities robbery in the Israeli Antiquities Authority, shows a document, thought to be an ancient text written on papyrus, at Jerusalem Magistrates Court May 6, 2009. According to the Israeli Antiquities Authority, the document is written in ancient Hebrew script, which is characteristic of the Second Temple period and the first and second centuries CE. This style of writing is primarily known from the Dead Sea scrolls and various inscriptions that occur on ossuaries and coffins. It was seized from two men suspected to be antiquities robbers in an elaborate undercover operation.

The Codex is believed to have been written somewhere around the year 930 in the town of Tiberias on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. It has been moved around through several different cities, and as many as 190 pages are missing from the surviving copy, though scholars disagree where and when they were lost.

It was smuggled out of Syria and arrived in Israel in 1958, before it was eventually moved to the Israel Museum in the mid-1980s.

It is also not clear who precisely owns the Codex, though filmmaker Avi Dabach, who is planning to make a documentary about the ancient manuscript, believes that it belongs to the Jewish community that fled Syria.

“In the 1960s the Aleppo-Jewish community sued the people who brought the Codex to Israel. … The Israeli Authorities decided to confiscate this item and then, from a position of strength, force on the community an arrangement,” Dabach has said.

Although the Aleppo Codex is considered the oldest copy of the Hebrew Old Testament, there are much older fragments of biblical manuscripts in existence, such as the 2,000-year-old Dead Sea scrolls. . . 

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Chinese Lunar Calendar

12 Feb

Introduction to the Chinese Lunar Calendar
and Origin of the Zodiac Animals

Zodiac.jpg

Happy Year of the Monkey!

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Discovery of the World’s Oldest Tea

31 Jan

Archaeologists have discovered a huge stash of the oldest tea in the world buried in the tomb of an ancient Chinese emperor. The tea (pictured right) was badly decomposed, but analysis showed only the finest tips (bottom left) had been picked and buried with the emperor. Similar tea was found in a tomb in Tibet (top left) Archaeologists have uncovered the world’s oldest set of tea leaves from the tomb of an ancient Chinese emperor! 

 Living 2,150 years ago in the Western Han Dynasty, Emperor Jing was a major fan of the delicious drink.  Like all the rest of us tea lovers, Emperor Jing understood the power of the tea leaf and its healing/renewing abilities.  

The collection of tea leaves was 42 feet x 8 inches. That is a major tea haul! If you ever tried drinking tea from leaves rather than a lipton bag, you’ll know that it only takes a small amount to go a long way. This amount probably lasted him a long while in the afterworld!  

This particular type of tea, Camellia Sinesis, comes from a type of small evergreen shrub known as a tea tree. The leaves and buds of the tree are used to create a special, expensive green tea.  There are actually two varieties of the tree–one is used to create the Chinese teas (such as White Tea, Oolong, Pu’er, Green Tea, etc.) and the other is used to create Indian Assam teas. The leaves of the tree have long been applied in Chinese traditional medications and as a caffeine provider.  I’m guessing it was pretty easy to bring the emperor over as a tea supporter 🙂

The tomb was located in Xi’an, China. Xi’an is now world-famous due to the discovery of the Terra Cotta army buried under the local hills and is only about an 8 hour drive from where I live!  I’m really excited; maybe I could see this tea pile 🙂 Emperor Jing’s tomb contained “50,000” terra cotta animals and statues, along with other great treasures.

The extra amazing thing about the tea beyond its age is the fact that it is some of the earliest proof that researchers have about the Silk Road.  It is believed that the emperor may have traded his tea with Tibet where similar tea remains were found dating not long after.  This shows the the Silk Road probably moved thorugh Tibet at the time.  

Resources:

  1. Daily Mail
  2. Medicine.Net
  3. Wikipedia (Don’t Shoot Me)

History of Our World: The Korean Origins and Foundations Myth

9 Oct

Korean legends are a fascinating world to immerse yourself in–of course as an avowed student of Myths and Mythology, I could perfectly happily spend my entire life in the fantastic world of eastern stories.  Of a particular interest to me are the origin stories of creation and cultures, a passion which led me to research the Korean story of creation and the Korean culture’s origins.

Mythology and stories about the beginning of the world can be divided into two categories ~ 1) Creation Myths which tell of the origin of the world and 2) Foundation Myths, a subset of the Creation genre, which more specifically relate the origin of a people, nation, or culture. 

As one of the great ancient peoples, it is only natural that much of Korean myths come through to us in the oral tradition.  Still, Koreans do not have much in the way of “Creation of the Earth” myths ~ most of their stories and legends presume that the world was already in existence when the tales begin.  

There are a few minor oral tales that claim the world began (as so many origin stories hold) in a time of utter chaos and an absence of any type of creation or order.  The stories go on to say that suddenly a crack appeared in the heavens, dividing the earth from the skies.  But those are very minor, basic tales lacking any deep specifics or embellishments.  

Rather, Korean myths tend to fall into the realm of Foundation Myths ~ sharing the origins of Korea and the Korean peoples. There are several variations, of which the most popular is the Myth of Tangun, which speaks of Hwangun, a beautiful character of strength and eternal goodness.

Once upon a time, many centuries ago, the great Heavenly God Hwanin had a noble son whose name was Hwangun.  Hwangun had looked upon earth and fell in love, wishing greatly for the chance to come to earth and rule over it so that it might prosper.  After learning of his son’s desire and examining the situation on earth, Hwanin decided that his son’s leadership would benefit the earth and so decreed that Hwangun should go to earth and take charge.

Before he left, Hwanin gave his son three Treasures from Heaven that would signify his authority and right to rule.  Taking these with him, Hwangun finally embarked on his great mission.  Taking 3000 spirits with him Hwangun first alighted on a mountain in Myohyangsan, a place in the modern-day North Korea.

Along with his great assistants, the spirits of the wind, rain, and cloud, Hwangun began implementing his leadership and guided the earth into a time of prosperity and splendor.  

After some time had passed, Hwangun began to be pestered by a tiger and bear who came visiting him and begging for human forms.  Taking pity on them, Hwangun set before them a test~ they were to fast for 100 days and then they would receive their human bodies.  Now, the bear was very diligent and passed the test, finally transforming into a female and enjoying her new form. The tiger was not so steadfast and failed to transform.  But the bear was greatly saddened, for she realized that there was no one on earth for her to mate with and thus no children would come to her.  So daily, she went to the alter and pleaded with the Heavens to provide her with a child.

Once again feeling pity for the tragic bear-woman, Hwangun transformed himself into a human form and married the woman.  Together they had a son, who they named Tangun.  Tangun was the man who, in the time of Emperor Yao (one of the Five Emperors of China in the 2300s-2200s BC), established the first human Korean city in Pyongyang and the first Korean dynasty~ the Choson dynasty.

There are of course several variations of this initial story, but this is the tale in its original and most basic form. Even, to me, the most beautiful form.  

What do you think? Does this sound familiar to your culture’s foundation myth? Any themes or similarities that cross cultural bounds?  Let me know in the comments!

If you are interested, this story is some-what re-told (with major alterations) in the Korean drama “The Legend“~ it’s a great watch, both for the beautiful storyline and insight into Korean cultures/ideology.

Behind Tomb Connected to Alexander the Great, Intrigue Worthy of “Game of Thrones”

12 Dec

“Behind Tomb Connected to Alexander the Great, Intrigue Worthy of “Game of Thrones”

by Heather Pringle via “National Geographic

Detail of Alexander the Great from a mosaic.

Suspense is rising as archaeologists sift for clues to the identity of the person buried with pomp and circumstance in the mysterious Amphipolis tomb in what is now northern Greece. The research team thinks the tomb was built for someone very close to Alexander the Great—his mother, Olympias; one of his wives, Roxane; one of his favorite generals; or possibly his childhood friend and lover, Hephaestion.

Over the past three months, archaeologist Katerina Peristeri and her team have made a series of tantalizing discoveries in the tomb, from columns sculpted masterfully in the shapes of young womento a mosaic floor depicting the abduction of the Greek goddess Persephone. The tomb’s costly artwork all dates to the tumultuous time around the death of Alexander the Great, and points to the presence of an important person.

Alexander himself was almost certainly buried in Egypt. But the final resting places—and the rich historical and genetic data they may contain—of many of his family members are unknown. The excavation at Amphipolis is bound to add a new chapter to the history of Alexander the Great and his family, a dynasty as steeped in intrigue, conspiracy, and bloodshed as the fictional Lannisters in the popular television series Game of Thrones. Among Alexander’s family, “the king or ruler who ended up dying in his bed was rare,” says Philip Freeman, a biographer of Alexander the Great and a classical historian at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa.

Palace Intrigues

To understand these palace intrigues, one must begin with Alexander’s father, Philip II, who ascended the throne of ancient Macedonia in 359 B.C. At the time, Macedonia was a modest mountain realm north of ancient Greece, but Philip had big dreams. He transformed Macedonia’s army from a band of ragtag fighters into a disciplined military machine, and he armed it with a deadly new weapon, thesarissa, a long lance designed to keep enemy troops from closing in on his phalanxes.

Map of Greece and surrounding countries, showing the town (Amfípoli) where the tomb is located

NG STAFF

A natural-born conqueror, Philip led his army to the west, crushing and intimidating the major Greek city-states until all had surrendered to his rule. “Philip II was a traditional warrior king,” says Ian Worthington, author of By the Spear: Philip II, Alexander the Great, and the Rise and Fall of the Macedonian Empire. “He was always in the thick of battle.”

By custom, Macedonia’s kings married multiple wives, often for the purposes of sealing political alliances with powerful neighbors. Alexander’s mother, Olympias, was a daughter of the king of Molossia, a realm that encompassed part of modern Albania, and she claimed descent from the legendary Greek hero, Achilles. She was one of Philip’s many wives, and according to ancient historians, she schemed relentlessly at court to put her son on the Macedonian throne. Some historians even suspect that she poisoned Alexander’s older half-brother, impairing his mental faculties.

For a time, her intrigues seemed to succeed. Philip groomed the young Alexander as his heir, providing the boy with a first-class education from a renowned tutor, Aristotle, and encouraging his prowess as a warrior.

But important Macedonian nobles at Philip’s court viewed Alexander as half foreign and possibly illegitimate. By the time Alexander reached his late teens, Philip seemed to share these doubts. He took a new Macedonian wife, and during a drinking party, Philip allowed Alexander’s legitimacy to be publicly questioned. Then Philip drew his own sword on Alexander, a mortal insult.

Photo of the two sphinxes found at the tomb.

Two guardian sphinxes sit on a marble lintel at the entrance to the tomb at Amphipolis.
PHOTOGRAPH BY THE GREEK CULTURE MINISTRY, EPA

Philip later tried to patch things up, but he had created a dangerous enemy. Exactly what happened next is the subject of debate, although the bare facts are well known. In 336 B.C., Philip threw a lavish public wedding for one of his daughters and invited members of neighboring royal houses to attend this state occasion.

As part of the festivities, Philip planned to stage public games at daybreak in the theater at Aigai, his capital city. He strode into the stadium, wearing a white cloak over his shoulders. On one side was Alexander; on the other was his new son-in-law. Philip waved away his bodyguards, and as he stood at the center of the theater, the large crowd began to roar with approval.

“That was the last thing he ever heard,” says Worthington. An assassin stepped out from the crowd and stabbed Philip to death as the guests watched in disbelief. In the ensuing bedlam, the murderer, a man named Pausanias, bolted from the theater toward a spot where horses were tethered and waiting for him. But just as Pausanias was about to escape, he tripped and fell, and three of Philip’s bodyguards speared him to death.

Conspiracy Theory

Did Pausanias act alone? Some ancient texts suggest that he did, assassinating Philip in a jealous rage. Many of the ancient Macedonian nobles were bisexual, and Philip was no exception. He had taken Pausanias as his lover, and when he tired of him, he discarded the young man and even allowed others to sexually abuse Pausanias. So Pausanias may have murdered Philip in an act of revenge. . . .”

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Cleopatra: Portrait of a Killer

8 Dec

Interesting twist on the commonly told love story of “Cleopatra and Marc Antony.”  Everyone remembers the love story, no one remembers that it probably was less love than politics.  Also interesting look at archaeology and new technology**DB

 

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