Ancient Chinese Culture and How We Relate

My skin feels dry like the Gobi desert. Down below my office, the sounds of beeps and honks in the late morning Friday traffic barrage passerby. 

I am sitting at my desk behind the module. That is my dual monitor, modem, keyboard, and mouse. I have no idea how it works, but it turns on and off everyday like a charm. 

(In case you haven’t checked out my other articles, I will clue you in. I live in China.)

China and ancient are two words that go together like, marzipan and Vegemite, ants and a log, or red scarfs and black leather jackets. 

Now, while I don’t condone the scalping of cows, I do respect a good traditional garb. The Chinese, with all their history and culture, have the qipao ( 起跑). That’s the dress with no collar which clings tightly to a woman’s body.

It is a remanent of the Qing dynasty, when the Mongolians ran the show in Beijing.In that time, all the Han Chinese were forced to wear it. Then, as they laxed their policies to allow ethnic Chinese more freedom, local women decided with their own free will that they preferred to wear this style.

Shanghai in the 1920’s fostered another qipao comeback. Today it is worn by many Chinese and foreigners alike, both on special occasions and out on the town.

China has a lot of history and it’s one of the coolest parts of living here. If you get past the rich, often engrossing period of the 20th century, you can see it. You can see it in cities of  Xi’an 西安,  Nanjing 南京. You can see it on the Yangtze River 长江.

So when I see the word “ancient” for the daily blog post, I am overwhelmed by the possibilities about what I could write.

Perhaps the most interesting thought in all of this is how people relate with their ancient history today. 

To many Chinese, walking down the street with a coach bag, drinking a Starbucks coffee, and playing on their iPhone is a symbol of success. These types of things are a symbol of the middle class and thus a better life in China.

But perhaps that idea is a bit old hat now. 

The more time I spend around the middle kingdom, the more I realized that perceptions from stop over journalists and newly minted language grads is, while not exactly wrong, not exactly right either.

Many of my Chinese friends here have adopted these international customs and shed them accordingly as they prefer.A hip Chinese today will be much more in-tune with their rich ancient culture.

My good friend, for example, recently had the better part of a tattoo sleeve finished. On the sleeve are the five Taoist elements (with a preference for water because he is a fire element by birth). This is a guy that has spent 4-5 years in the U.K. and has many foreign friends.

A girl I once dated has a jade Buddha pendant suspended from a necklace around her neck. She did her undergrad in D.C. and is also quite aware of the west.

These two people illustrate how many Chinese have evolved from an infatuation with everything modern to an appreciation of that which is ancient. 

I wonder sometimes what that would me to me, an American who grew up inside of this contemporary culture. Many people my age disdain fast food, wearing logos, and going to Starbucks. However, Americans don’t have that deep pool of cultural melange in which we can dip our ladle.

I speak with them and after reflect what this all means to me, an American who grew up inside the womb of contemporary culture. Many of my friends disdain fast food, wearing logos, and going to Starbucks. However, while we have stopped frequenting these places, we also don’t have that deep pool of cultural melange in which to dip our ladle.

It seems that the best course of action for us is to take other people’s ancient artifacts and make them our own. We are the melting pot, after all.


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