Double Tenth – Taiwan/ROC

October 10

Double Tenth (10/10) celebrates the anniversary of the Wuchang Uprising which brought down a centuries-old dynasty in 1911.

Dozens of uprisings against the Qing Dynasty had failed between 1895 to 1911, most the work of small secret societies. What separated the Wuchang Uprising was that it originated from inside the Empire’s “New Army.”

The New Army had been created by the Emperor and his Manchu cabinet with the intention of putting down the many rebellions across China and protecting the country from foreign powers after the Boxer Rebellion.

The Army’s 8th Division, stationed in Hubei differed from other divisions throughout the country for several reasons:

First, the 8th Division was perhaps the most highly organized and cohesive.

Second, it was stationed in a port city and major transportation hub, Wuhan, on the Yangtze. Wuhan had been a cosmopolitan port. Thus, its members had access to foreign ideas and influence.

Third, its officers were highly literate. Many had studied abroad or graduated from military university.

Many in the New Army’s 8th Division were also members of secret societies, the two biggest being the Literary Society and the Society for Common Advancement. The two underground organizations merged in September 1911, united by their opposition to the Manchu government. (Most of the Hubei army and the members of the secret societies were Han Chinese, who considered the Manchu as foreign as if they’d been European.)

Viceroy administrative office after 1911 Wuchang Uprising
Viceroy administrative office after 1911 Wuchang Uprising

Ultimately, the military that was supposed to strengthen the Empire against foreign powers and subversive ideas was the cause of its downfall. On October 10, two-thousand New Army troops revolted. The governor fled Hubei, and within two days the Division occupied Hanyang and Hankou. As word of the rebellion spread, other provinces followed suit. By January 1, 1912, the revolutionaries had declared the new Republic of China, and the nearly three-century-old Qing Dynasty was no more.

Sun Yat-sen Memorial, Taipei
Sun Yat-sen Memorial, Taipei

Future President Sun Yat-Sen has often been called instrumental in the Wuchang rebellion, but he was in fact in the United States at the time, garnering support for the cause. The story is he was somewhere between Denver and Missouri and learned about the revolution from a newspaper in the hotel. He spent the next two months convincing the Western Powers not to support the Qing government, and he returned to China on December 29, 1911.

Double Tenth is the national holiday of Taiwan, aka the Republic of China, although recently some Taiwanese have questioned why this is Taiwan’s national day, since Taiwan was not a part of China at the time of the rebellion and hadn’t been since 1895.

Chinese New Year – Year of the Snake – Hong Kong fireworks

I was lucky enough to be in Hong Kong during the Chinese New Year this year. In China it’s known as the Spring Festival.

In case you were wondering, the inventors of fireworks are still the undisputed champions.

The whole show was about 30 minutes, non-stop explosive action. Here’s ten minutes. I shot this video from Wan Chai, looking out at Tsim Sha Tsui. Amazing show!

Chinese New Year Fireworks – Hong Kong – February 11, 2013

Chinese Tree-Planting Day

March 12
People's Republic of China flag

We tend to think of the environmental movement as something recent, that came along when the city passed out those big purple or blue recycling bins. But Tree-Planting Day is an ancient ritual in many cultures.

Arbor Day in China was originally a seasonal holiday observed during the Qingming Festival. Qingming means “Clear and Bright” (and no, it is not Scrabble eligible). Qingming falls 104 days after the winter solstice, on April 4th or 5th. During this time families remember and visit the graves of the dead, as well as enjoy the outdoor activities and the greenery of Spring.


In 1979, March 12th was officially designated as Tree Planting Day. But according to Cultivating the nation in Fujian’s forests: Forest policies and afforestation efforts in China, 1911-1937, the March 12th date went back to the 1920’s. Chiang Kai-shek, then leader of China, removed Tree Planting Day from the Qing Ming Festival in 1929 in order to establish it as a patriotic holiday rather than a traditional one.

Just as Yuan Shikai had previously linked Arbor Day with the Qingming Festival, Chiang Kai-shek…severed Arbor Day from the Qingming Festival and relocated it on the anniversary of the death of [former leader] Sun Yat-sen, March 12…
…By choosing the anniversary of Sun’s death as the date for the new national day, Chiang Kai-shek transformed the activity of tree planting into a more explicit celebration of the nation.

Also doing so, Chiang Kai-shek “established a symbolic link between himself and Sun Yat-sen.”

Sun Yat-sen

So who was Sun Yat-sen?

One of China’s most influential leaders.

He established the Three People’s Principles of China in 1923, which became part of the founding ideology of not only Chiang Kai-shek’s Republic of China, but was also adopted by Mao Zedong’s Communist government.

The 3 Principles are the Principles of Minzu, Minquan, and Minsheng. Roughly translated, they refer to ‘government of the people, by the people, and for the people.’

  • Minzu: that there would be a government uniting the ethnicities of China through a constitution, rather than one dominating imperial monarchy.
  • Minquan: that the people of China would have a voice in government through voting, recall, initiative and referendum.
  • and Minsheng: that the government would serve the people, not the other way around.

In 1920s China this was a revolutionary concept, literally. Sun lived a remarkable life, starting out as a small-town doctor before becoming politically active, and ending up President of the Republic of China. He died of liver cancer in 1925.

Sun’s experiences with Confucianism and his education in the West, (He attended school in Hawaii) lent to his ideological formations. He walked a fine line, speaking against both laissez-faire economics and Marxism, though he reached a cooperative agreement with the Communists as leader.

Sun Yat-sen is unusual in that he was revered by both the Republic of China and the People’s Republic of China. Parts of the 3 People’s Principles were incorporated into China’s National Anthem.

China’s Arbor Day

Sun Yat-sen

Tree-Planting Day

Emulate Lei Feng Day

March 5

“A man’s usefulness to the revolutionary cause is like a screw in a machine. It is only by the many, many interconnected and fixed screws that the machine can move freely, increasing its enormous work power.”— from the Diary of Lei Feng

Since 1963, March 5th has been known as “Emulate Lei Feng Day” in China. Under Chairman Mao Zedong, schools would study Lei Feng’s diary, create Lei Feng teams to serve their communities, and teach children to be perfect citizens all around, all in the hopes of being just like the legendary Lei Feng.

Jung Chang recalls in Wild Swans:

Every afternoon we left school to “do good deeds like Lei Feng.” We went down to the railway station to try to help old ladies with their luggage, as Lei Feng had done…I stood on the street with an umbrella, anxiously hoping that an old lady would pass by and give me an opportunity to escort her home—as Lei Feng had done…

leifeng1 leifeng2 leifeng3

(Propaganda posters of Lei Feng)

Who was Lei Feng?

Lei Feng was born into a poor family in Wangcheng, Hunan. He was orphaned at an early age, and taken in by the Communist Party. He started grade school just after the Chinese Revolution. After six years of school, he worked a number of ordinary jobs—a messenger for a local government office, a worker for the Anshan Iron and Steel Company; a truck driver in the People’s Liberation Army. During his service he was known for doing good deeds and donating part of his paycheck to social causes. Until one day at age 22, he died while helping a truck to back up.

So why was Lei Feng—one in a billion—chosen to be canonized by the world’s most populous nation?

In 1963 the babies of the Revolution of 1949 were hitting their teens. Born in 1940, the 20 year-old Feng was among the last generation that would recall life under the old capitalist regime of Chaing Kai-Shek.

Like millions of others, life before the revolution had not been kind to Lei. His father—according to Time Magazine—“was buried alive by the Japanese, his two brothers starved to death, and his mother hanged herself after being raped by a landlord.”

Lei Feng’s tragic life story entailed all the evils of pre-Communist China. The Japanese, the capitalists, the corruption, the landlords. After his mother’s death Feng was literally raised by the Communist party. One official write-up on Feng would bring this point home with the title: “My Mother was the Party.”

Lei Feng: "China's Favorite Screw"
Lei Feng: “China’s Favorite Screw”

Another reason for Lei Feng’s posthumous popularity may have been the convenient existence of so many photographs of him doing good deeds. As Jung Chang pointed out, “Lei Feng’s good deeds were miraculously recorded by an official photographer.”

The book “Lei Feng Spirit” by Shi Yonggang states that government propaganda on Lei Feng started in 1960 when a photographer named Zhang Jun was assigned to do a story on a “model soldier who had donated 200 yuan to disaster relief.”

Other photographers followed suit.

After his death, Lei Feng’s 200,000 word diary was published and schoolchildren were encouraged to study it. It includes such entries as “I am all for the Party, Socialism and Communism.”

Jung Chang writes:

“Gradually, during the course of 1964, the emphasis began to shift from boy scoutish good deeds to the cult of Mao. The essence of Lei Feng, the teachers told us, was his ‘boundless love and devotion to Chairman Mao.’ Before he took any action, Lei Feng always thought of some words of Mao’s. His diary was published and became our moral textbook. On almost every page there was a pledge like: ‘I must study Chairman Mao’s instructions, and be a good solider of Chairman Mao’s.'”

The final aspect of Lei’s life that allowed him to become the symbol of China’s youth was his death at age 22. In 1960s China, collectivity and conformity were the qualities of the day—hence the screw analogy. Feng’s death allowed him to break free of the conformity that bound his living compatriots. Not only would he be frozen in time as a young man, but there was no danger of him or his deceased family benefiting from his near sainthood. He was perfect symbol: young, selfless, loyal, and dead.

Reports of Lei’s death make it hard to separate the man from the myth.

“Lei died in the line of duty…”
“Lei died after being hit on the head by a wooden pole that was accidentally knocked over by a fellow solider.”
“Lei Feng: PLA soldier who died in a car accident…”

The truth may be a combo of all three. According to Qiao Anshan, the man driving the truck that killed Lei, he and Lei were cleaning the truck at Fushun Army base when Lei asked Qiao to back it up. “A rear wheel struck a pole from which barbed wire hung, but I didn’t realize this and hit the accelerator hard, pushing over the pole and killing Lei Feng.”

Lei Feng’s popularity has waxed and waned over the past 40 years, depending on political trends. He disappeared in the ’80s after it was noted that Feng wore a leather jacket and Omega watch—symbols of the Western bourgeois capitalism he was supposed to disdain. But he made a comeback in 90s during a government-led return to conservative communist values.

Today the Party has found a new way to get in touch with China’s youth: video games. One video game offers players the nail-biting adventure of following in the “Lei Feng Spirit”:

“For beginners, sewing and mending socks is the only way to increase experience and to upgrade,” said Jiao Jian, a six-grade pupil in Yuexlu District, quoted by the newspaper. “Every time you are promoted to a higher level, your clothes will become more average.”

World of Warcraft, watch out!


Chinese Lantern Festival

15 days after Chinese New Year
February 6, 2012
February 24, 2013

Experience is a comb nature gives us when we’re bald.

— Chinese Proverb


If you thought Chinese New Year was big this year, guess what:

It ain’t over.

Chinese New Year celebrations last for 15 days, right up until the first full moon of the year. The fifteenth night of the first lunar month, and culmination of the party, is the Lantern Festival.

There are many stories about the festival’s origin. According to one legend, a coastal village came under attack by ship. The villagers ran up to the mountains to hide. When the attackers moved on, a villager remaining in town lit up a sky lantern to signal to the villagers in the mountains that it was safe to come down.

Another legend says that the Jade Emperor in Heaven planned to unleash a fire of vengeance upon a town that had killed his favorite Goose. A fairy, hearing of the plan, warned the townspeople to light a bevy of lanterns on that day. From Heaven it appeared the town had already been set ablaze, and the Jade Emperor did not destroy it.

Moral of the story: do not mess with a Jade Emperor’s Goose!

Jade Emperor
Jade Emperor

People across China and Taiwan greet the first full moon of the year by creating their own short-lived Milky Way. Thousands of Sky Lanterns are released into the sky, in one of the most spectacular sights of the new year.

Before sending one’s sky lantern up into the heavens, it’s good luck to write a wish or prayer on the lantern or on a piece of paper inside it. The higher the wish and lantern ascend the more good luck they are believed to bring.

The Taiwanese word for Sky Lantern–Tian Ding–means “having a baby boy.”

The festival is called Yuan Xiao in Chinese. Yuan Xiao is also the name of the little glutenous rice-flour dumplings consumed in mass quantities on this day.

Chinese New Year 2009: Year of the Ox

[published January 26, 2009]


Year of the Ox:

Ox: You are a born leader, and you inspire confidence in those around you. You speak little, but are quite eloquent.  You are steadfast, solid, hard-working, goal-oriented, mentally and physically alert and generally easy-going, but remarkably stubborn. Be careful about being too demanding. You are also methodical and good with your hands. You will make a good surgeon, general or hairdresser.

— ancient Chinese Fortune Cookie

Actually they don’t have Chinese fortune cookies in China. Fortune cookies are an American thing.  Although the Chinese did hide secret messages in Moon Cakes way back in the 14th century, the closest cookie you’ll find to the modern incarnation date from 1800’s Japan.

Makin' fortune cookies, Japan, 1878
Makin' fortune cookies, Japanese etching, 1878

The legend is that fortune cookies were brought to North America by Chinese laborers around the time of the 1849 Gold Rush, but there’s no evidence of this.

They were probably were introduced in the U.S. by a Japanese immigrant in San Francisco in the 1910’s. Another claim is that they were made by a Chinese restaurant owner in L.A. So the question isn’t are they Japanese or Chinese, but are they Northern Californian or Southern Californian?

Fortune cookies became a staple at Chinese restaurants in the U.S. after World War II.

Chinese Zodiac

The Chinese Lunar Calendar is one of the oldest calendars in the world, and probably the oldest known horoscope.

The Rat is the first year of the 12-year cycle. An ancient legend explains the order of the animals. The twelve animals of the zodiac quarreled with each over who would be first, and the gods were asked to decide. A race was held, in which the 12 animals of the zodiac had to cross a river.

Ox was the first across the river. Little did he know Rat had hitched a ride on his back, and Rat darted across the finish line when they reached the other side. For this reason Ox is second.

Perhaps because of Rat’s savvy, “Years of the Rat” always coincide with a U.S. Presidential election. Since 1900, “Year of the Rat” elections have re-elected the sitting President, with the exceptions of 1912 (Wilson), 1960 (Kennedy), and 2008 (Obama).

Today marks the beginning of the year of the Ox.

Barack Obama is one of two “Oxes” to be elected President. [Gerald Ford and Chester Arthur were also “Oxes” but took over for resigning and assassinated Presidents.] The other was Warren G. Harding, who died in office, and whom until recently, many historians considered to be the country’s worst President.

15 Presidents (5 each) have been Rats (including George Washington), Snakes (FDR & JFK),  and Pigs (Jefferson, Jackson, Reagan).

Rats, Snakes, Pigs & other Presidents by Chinese Zodiac

“The ancient Chinese attributed the origin of all life to the balance between heaven and Earth, and the yin and the yang.”

Shelly Wu, Chinese Astrology

Chinese New Year is one of the most widely celebrated holidays in the world.

Chinese New Year

Feb. 7, 2008
Jan. 26, 2009
Feb. 14, 2010
Feb. 3, 2011
Jan. 23, 2012

The Chinese Calendar is one of the oldest calendars in the world, dating back thousands of years, though it has undergone many changes in that time.

The Chinese calendar is a lunisolar calendar. New Year usually begins on the second new moon following the winter solstice, or the first new moon after lichun.

(Lichun is one of 24 markers that chart the solar year. It falls on or around February 4 in the Gregorian calendar.)

There are 12 months in the Chinese calendar, each lasts 29 to 30 days. The months track the course of the waxing and waning moon. This results in a calendar shorter than the solar year by about 10 days. To keep consistent with the solar year and the changing of the seasons, an intercalary month is inserted every three years. (The Chinese calendar is much, much, much more complicated than that. For a better explanation see:

Calculating the Chinese New Year

or in pdf format:

Countries that celebrate the lunar New Year include:
Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, Mauritania, Viet Nam (Tet), Indonesia, Mongolia (Tsagaan Sar) Thailand (not an official holiday), Laos, and Brunei. Also cities across AustraliaCanada, and the United States have large Chinese New Year celebrations, making it one of the most widely celebrated holidays in the world.

Year of the Rat

2008 (or 4706 in the Chinese calendar) was the Year of the Rat. Rat is the first symbol of the Chinese Zodiac. There are two stories regarding how Rat came to be first:

Many years ago, according to an Ancient Chinese legend, Buddha decided to choose animals as the signs of 12 year cycle. He summoned all the animals to be present at a meeting next morning and he would secretly select the first 12 animals arriving to be the signs of a year respectively. The rat and cat, who were good friends, agreed to wake each other up. Next morning Rat, who woke up first, broke his promise and left cat sound asleep as he quietly left alone to arrive at the meeting.

Buddha selected the first 12 animals as they arrived to be the signs for the years. They came in this order: the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, and the pig. By the time the cat arrived everyone was celebrating their good fortune and that is why there is no cat in the zodiac. Needless to say, Cat and Rat became enemies from then on. Chinese Zodiac Symbols

Chinese Zodiac

Another legend is that Rat tricked Ox into carrying across the river on his back, then dashed to the finish before ox had time to get out of the water. Thus Rat is before Ox.

Either way, the important thing to remember is that Rat is tricky, full of promises and good words, but in the end just wants to win the race.

Coincidentally, the Year of the Rat always falls on election year. [Hmmm…
Fox News Hires Karl Rove]

[published Feb. 7, 2008]

2009 was the Year of the Ox. 2010 was the Year of the Tiger [the sexiest of all zodiac symbols –Ed.], 2011 was the Year of the Rabbit, and 2012 is the Year of the Dragon!

Chinese Zodiac

Chongyang – China’s Double 9th

As the days grow shorter and colder, the Chinese celebrate Chongyang, an old festival honoring ancient people. Wait, no—an ancient festival honoring old people.

Chongyang is also known as Double Ninth. As the highest odd single number, 9 is considered especially lucky in Chinese culture. Chongyang falls on the 9th day of the 9th month of the Chinese calendar.

The tradition is so old that no one really knows how it began.

One story of the festival’s origin tells of a boy named Heng (or Huan) Jing who studied under a Taoist teacher. The old man warned Heng Jing how to avoid the plague that was killing the villagers of the Ruhe River region. He told the boy the devil would rise up from the water on the 9th day of the 9th month. He instructed Heng Jing to tell his townspeople to pin Cornus leaves (or tie Dogwood twigs) to their clothes, soak chrysanthemums in liquor, and climb up a nearby mountain.

Now, these days a student like Heng would do the socially responsible thing and commit his master to a hospital for the mentally unstable, but Heng Jing did as he was told. Sure enough, on the 9th day of the 9th month the devil rose from the waters. But as the devil pursued Heng Jing and his people up the mountain, the overpowering scent of the Cornus and chrysanthemum made the devil dizzy, and he fell back into the water.

Ever since, the Chinese have celebrated Double Ninth by drinking chrysanthemum wine and pinning Cornus leaves to their clothes.

One of the most popular activities of Chongyang is “Deng Gao”, which means going to a high place. Chinese families and groups trek up to the hills or mountains with dogwood twigs. Those who can’t make the trip, eat cake instead. (Gao is a homonym for both ‘high’ and ‘cake’.)

Culturally, Chongyang is enjoyed as the last time of year people can hike the mountains and enjoy the great outdoors before the onset of winter. Chongyang has a special place in Taoism. In the philosophy of yin and yang, even numbers are associated with yin while odd numbers are associated with yang. The double of the highest odd single digit represents a benevolent combo of yin and yang. – the Chongyang Festival – Double Ninth – Chongyang: The Double Ninth Festival