Tag Archives: History

Happy Laba Festival!

24 Jan

Did you eat your porridge yet?!?

Today (January 24)  is the Laba Festival ( 腊八) or Rice Porridge Festival in China!  On the Chinese lunar calendar, La is the 12th month of the year, and ba represents the 8th day of that month.  So basically Laba means 12th month, 8th day.  And that day is today!!!  

The Laba Festival (like so many Chinese festivals) is mostly famous as a food holiday, one where the Chinese cook and eat delicious foods like the Dumplings of the Ghost Festival, the Moon Cakes of the Moon Festival, etc.  On the Laba Festival, people make different kinds of rice porridge filled with beans, nuts, dried fruit, etc.  

The next Laba will fall on January 13, 2019.


The Legend

According to the old stories, the Laba Festival was traditionally a day of offering sacrifices to the ancestors in honor of celebrating the harvest season.  I’m not really sure if this was the “upcoming planting for later harvest” festival or a “after the end of winter wheat harvest” festival, none of my students seemed to know either.  However, we do know that in the old days, the word for ‘sacrificing to the ancestors’ was ‘La’ and it happened on the La month (January-ish).  

Sometime during the Southern and Northern Dynasties (1st century AD) the festival was finally fixed to the 8th day of the La month.    The myths say that the number 8 “Ba” was chosen because it was on that day (La Ba – 8th day of La month) that Sakyamuni (Gautama Buddha), an Indian prince, was able to finally achieve enlightenment and rise as a Buddha. Sakyamuni was the son of an emperor from northern India who grew sad when he saw his people’s suffering.  He eventually abandoned the throne and chose to seek Buddhist enlightenment.  One day, starving and tired, a young shepherd girl offered him porridge made of rice, giving him strength to continue on his way.  A few years later, he attained enlightenment on the 8th day of the 12th month.  In honor of his suffering and success, people began offering rice porridge to the Buddha every year on that day.  

Over time, the harvest festival and the Buddhist festival came together in one big celebration. 


Image result for laba congee

Here in Dongbei (Northeast China), my students are all wishing each other Laba Day greetings and reminding each other to eat porridge.  The porridge they are talking about is sometimes called Laba Congee instead.  There are different variations; for example, some have lotus seeds and others have peas,  fruit or nuts in it.  Some have all kinds of stuff mixed together.  Apparently some areas of China have meat or tofu in it, and some vegetables, because my friend posted a picture of that kind.   

Because it is the 8th day, the Chinese like to add in 8 ingredients to make the porridge (I love China and their love of numbers).   So they boil it like normal porridge, with maybe some extra sugar to sweeten it. It takes several hours to make, especially the beans which have to soak.  

The first bowl is offered to the ancestors (for those who still honor them — it’s not quite as common here in China anymore, but the thought is there).  Then some can be sent to neighbors or friends, grandparents, etc.  Then the family eats the remainder together. Hopefully, you have plenty!  If there is some left over, it means next year will be bountiful! (Remember this is still a harvest festival). 

Image result for laba congee

Apparently in some of the old times, the businessmen and government officials would give it to the employees on Laba Festival as a treat, but it’s history goes even further back than that. Some say it was originally served only to the ancestors during the Hong dynasty and later became more commonly served in the Song dynasty.  A few say that it is made in remembrance of an emperor who grew up poor eating only congee and later asked everyone in the empire to eat it once a year to remember their origins.    Whatever the origins, Laba porridge has been part of the festival since the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD).  

Some people will also make Laba Garlic  as well.  A couple students I know have posted pictures of the process on their WeChat.  They peel the garlic and add it to a jar.  Then they fill the jar up with rice vinegar and sugar.  Eventually it turns GREEN!  They’ll keep it until the Spring Festival when they eat it for the holiday.  

Image result for laba garlic



Whistling Through the Vines

1 Jun


The province of Henan resides in central China, and is home to the largest population here. Although the modern day center is the famous Beijing, China’s history has to a large extent actually centered around Henan itself. Of the six ancient capitals in the country, three of them are in Henan.  If you’ve ever watched some of the popular Chinese martial arts films, you will have heard the names “Luoyang,” Kaifeng,” and “Shaolin Temple.”  I now can proudly say I’ve been to all these places and more! At this point, I’ve visited:

  • Anyang
  • Xinyang
  • Nanyang
  • Pingdingshan
  • Zhoukou
  • Zhumadian
  • Zhengzhou
  • Xinzheng
  • Kaifeng
  • Luoyang

and more! 

This past weekend, I got the opportunity to add a new city to my list — Gongyi (巩义市).  Gongyi is a small city about 1 hour from Zhengzhou (the capital).  On one side you have Mount Song and many hills (beautiful!). On another, it is bordered by the Yellow River, one of the 2 most famous in China. 

Image result for Gongyi map

The entire trip for us was planned by the Henan Tourism Organization (the provincial tourism committee), so we didn’t actually have to pay for anything. However, the cost wasn’t bad at all even if you did pay.  


The bus ride up there costs about 10RMB ($1.50) and was extremely interesting just on its own. We passed the lovely shrine/temple shown above (I’m not exactly sure what that was – we didn’t stop), but even more awesome were the hundreds of Cave Homes we passed!  Here in Gongyi, many people actually still live in caves dug into the cliffs surrounding the area.  Although most westerners think “oh poverty!”, this isn’t actually true.  A lot of these homes are really nice and awesome!  They have running water and electricity, drive up roads, yards and gardens in the front, elaborate front doors, etc.  They are really nice, just inside a mountain. I wasn’t able to get excellent photos since we just drove past them, but sometime I want to go back. 

When you arrive in the city, you’ll see a lot of things dedicated to DuFu (杜甫). DuFu lived in the Tang Dynasty (700s) and is considered perhaps China’s best poet!  According to the Chinese, he was born here and is still revered as seen through the statues and monument decorating the city.  According to the tour guide, the Chinese consider him the #1 literary person to know and he has often been considered the “Chinese Shakespeare.” His ancestral home is here too!



Once we arrived, we had a small trek to our restaurant so we walked through the Imperial Mausoleums of the Song Dynasty (960-1279).  Also called the “Song Tombs”, this area is where all but one emperor of the North Song Dynasty are buried.  They include Tai Zu (Zhao Kuangyin), Tai Zong (Zhao Guangyi), Zhen Zong (Zhao Heng), Ren Zong (Zhao Zhen), Ying Zong (Zhao Shu), Shen Zong (Zhao Xu) and Zhe Zong (Zhao Xu).  🙂 

This part was free (it’s just a giant city part area where you can walk around) and was huge for a city park. A great place to take your kids for a picnic! Up towards the tombs themselves are a long row of stone statues that were really interesting. 



After lunch, we got back on the bus and took about a 20 minute ride to the Kang Mansion (Kangbaiwan – 河南巩义康百万庄园).  “Baiwan” means Millionaire, so this is the home of the Millionaire Kang family.  Considering that they lived hundreds of years ago, that’s a pretty big claim!  


The family originated with Kang Ying-Kui in the Ming Dynasty, and its fame lasted more than 400 years (that’s 13 generations!).  According to a monument inside, the family was famous not only for its wealth, but also for its honor. The monument is a plaque written by an emperor honoring the Kangs for having 8 generations of “good, noble, honest sons.”  Apparently, they were loyal, fair, honest, and not corrupt–well worth honoring!


Kang Ying-Kui came to fame by suppressing Bailianism (a so-called the White Lotus Religion– mixed Buddhism with Taoism and worshipped a goddess Wusheng Laomu).  The group didn’t fit in with the accepted religions of the time and allowed men and women to “interact in a shockingly free manner.” 😛 (Apparently they brought a bunch of “groups” together and were a threat of rebellion.  Anyway,  the Kangs were really fashionable and already pretty rich from their own business (river transportation and agricultural products).  There was some sort of phrase like “if you travel 1000 miles you’ll still be on Kang property).  This brought them to the notice of the royal family who helped raise them up even further. 


Inside, there are 19 different parts and about 65,000 square meters.  There are 53 multi-story buildings, 97 “bungalows,” 73 cave homes, and approximately 570 rooms in total.  It was built in the 17th – 18th centuries (1600s-1700s), and the architecture is in the form of the North China “Loess plateau” style.  Basically, that means it was in the era’s feudalistic form (many small buildings with hundreds of carvings and art in the wooden, brick, and stone beams.  It follow strict formality and traditionalism–“building face the street, ports on the river, cave dwellings in the mountains–everything according to its place and order.” In the 1960s and 1970s, their home was one of the 3 largest in China–today it’s the only one of the three that is open to the public. 

Admissions: 30RMB (about $4.50)

Anyone 60 years or older get 1/2 their tickets (I think?).  People 70 years or older aree free.  Full time students can have 1/2 price and children under 1.4 meters are free. People with disability cards are free, as are servicemen and disabled veterans. 

Opening hours: 8:00-18:30

2. Take NO.11 bus in Gongyi city to terminal station (1 Yuan) and then transfer to Kangdian town by minibus (1 Yuan).
Website: Here

Gongyi Grottos


Fabulous! The Gongyi Grottos is a Buddhist temple created around the Northern Wei period of 479-499 AD.  The statues though are as old as 384 – around the 600s AD.  There is the nearby Longmen Grottos in Luoyang, but the Gongyi set is somewhat more well preserved (although not quite so large). 


To be honest, a lot of the younger people were quickly bored here — but as a historian and cultural student, I found the place truly fascinating.  They have one very elaborate, colored and painted temple area with a tall statue surrounding by the various Buddhist deities on either side.  All set in beautiful painted depictions of myths and stories. 


All in all, it was a lovely day full of awesome art, history, and culture. My favorite kind of trip!

#Door to the #Past

31 May

There were a few hundred of these lovely doors (each painted a different way on top). The middle class and nicer neighborhoods in town are still in the old kinda #Traditional style with a big front Door to the courtyard and small rooms for the Family off the center. Very Awesome!  And Beautiful artwork!

Chinese #Art ~ Ceramic Wall Art

28 Mar


One of the beautiful art pieces decorating the ceramic walls of the Chinese Summer Palace in Peking.

Ancient Murals Found in Chinese Tomb

18 Mar

“Ancient Tomb Decorated with Vibrant Murals Found in China”

by Owen Jarus via “LiveScience”

Male servant

Continue reading

Happy Chinese Lantern Festival!

11 Feb

Happy Lantern Festival!  Tonight is the night (15 days after #ChineseNewYear ) when the Chinese light paper lanterns and send them up to the sky.  

My picture wasn’t very good 😭 I’ll post a better one later. But the #moon sure was pretty! Here in Zhengzhou, we have the highest smog records for the country, so the moon is a rare night.  Today was perfect for the festival! Clear skies, brisk air, and a good wind. 😄 

Wishing you all the best and a great upcoming year! 🍀

#China #travel #festival, #traditions #lifeabroad #international

Old Cartoon Music Machine

27 Oct

Nature’s Guardian

21 Oct

An old stone guardian carved into the stone pathway up the mountain. Keeping all the creepy crawlies out an the beautiful natural atmosphere safe.


Treasure Trove of Ancient Human Footprints Found Near Volcano

20 Oct

Treasure Trove of Ancient Human Footprints Found Near Volcano

by Michael Greshko via “National Geographic


Nine miles from the volcano the Maasai call the “Mountain of God,” researchers have cataloged a spectacularly rare find: an enormous set of well-preserved human footprints left in the mud between 5,000 and 19,000 years ago.

The more than 400 footprints cover an area slightly larger than a tennis court, crisscrossing the dark gray mudflat of Engare Sero, on the southern shore of Tanzania’s Lake Natron. No other site in Africa has as many ancient Homo sapiens footprints—making it a treasure trove for scientists trying to tell the story of humankind’s earliest days. . . .


Medieval Castle Rebuilt with Medieval Technology

7 Sep
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