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.

Peace Memorial Day – Taiwan

February 28

228 Peace Memorial Park – Taipei

It started with a woman selling cigarettes.

February 27, 1947: Lin Jian-Mai was peddling black market cigarettes at a portable stand on Taiping Road in Taipei, Taiwan (then Formosa), when she was caught and arrested by anti-smuggling police from the “Kuomintang” (Chiang Kai-Shek’s Nationalist Chinese government). During the arrest she yelled and struggled with the agents, who had taken her wares and her cash. As a gathering crowd watched the commotion, an overzealous agent pistol-whipped the woman, hard.

The angry crowd surrounded the officers, who then fired warning shots to make an escape for themselves. One of the shots hit and killed a pedestrian.

Word of the incident spread. People were already angry at the corruption of the Chinese government, and the living conditions that had necessitated the black market.

A mob gathered outside the police station, demanding the guilty officer be brought out. When their demands were refused by the captain, the crowd grew angrier and set fire to a police vehicle.

The next day, February 28, amid anti-government demonstrations, the Governor’s security force fired upon the demonstrators with machine guns. Formosans rebelled, attacked mainlanders, and took over part of the city’s infrastructure. On March 7 Chiang Kai-Shek’s army arrived from mainland China for back-up. That’s when the slaughter really began.

The beating of the cigarette vendor may have triggered the 228 Incident, but tensions leading to something like this had been brewing for two years, ever since Chiang Kai-Shek’s government won back Taiwan in 1945 after a half-century of Japanese control.

Corruption and nepotism grew rampant. Taiwan was treated like a colony of the mainland. The Governor Chen Yi controlled the island’s economy and forced Formosans to pay unimaginable amounts for common  goods. The Taiwan Company, for example, was run by Governor Chen’s nephew. The company bought coal at 200 yen a ton and sold it to the people for 4,000.

“With his Chinese aides and ‘monopoly police’ [Chen] took over and expanded the Japanese system of government industrial and trade monopoly (sugar, camphor, tea, paper, chemicals, oil refining, cement). He confiscated some 500 Jap-owned factories and mines, tens of thousands of houses.”

Snow Red and Moon Angel, Time Magazine

Chen ran everything from “the hotel to the night-soil business.” And that included the cigarette factory.

It was in this crucible that Chen’s monopoly police beat a woman vending non-sanctioned tobacco—cigarettes that weren’t manufactured by Chen’s government-run companies. It was the spark that set the island aflame.

When Chiang Kai-Shek’s troops arrived from mainland China, they engaged in:

“‘three days of indiscriminate killing and looting. For a time everyone seen on the streets was shot at, homes were broken into and occupants killed. In the poorer sections the streets were said to have been littered with dead…There were instances of beheadings and mutilation of bodies, and women were raped,’ said one American witness.”

—   New York Times

Witnesses estimated as many as 10,000 people were killed. But there are no official tallies. The government banned Formosans from even mentioning what came to be known as the 228 Incident.

The riots and massacres would trigger the era of “White Terror” in Taiwan. The violence was further fueled by the Chinese Civil War between Mao Zedong’s Communist army and Chiang Kai-Shek’s Nationalist forces. The Communists eventually won everything but the tiny island of Taiwan, which calls itself, the Republic of China.

Even so, martial law in Taiwan didn’t end until 1987.

…I am reminded of the brief note I put down on my diary after seeing the movie, The Last Emperor. The note simply says, “A good and interesting movie, but a wrong title.” By a wrong title I meant that Pu-yi was not the last Emperor of China; there have been many since…One would include among them, Yuan Si-kai, Chiang Kai-shek, Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. Each of the them certainly behaved as emperor and wanted others to so treat him. The tradition of authoritarianism of the ruler is still deeply engrained in the minds of both the rulers and the ruled in Chinese culture. A forceful example can be found as recently as June 4, 1989 at Tienanmen Square. For the rulers, only glory and power count. Human rights, freedom of equality or respect for the lives of people have to surrender to the might of the rulers.”

—Tsung-yi Lin, from the Preface to Formosa Betrayed, by George Kerr

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.

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

Confucius’s Birthday – Teachers’ Day

September 28


Before embarking on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.



Today is the (observed) birthday of the man whom many believe to be the greatest teacher ever, Master Kung, K’ung Fu Tzu. Or as he’s known in English: Confucius.

Compared to his legacy, the circumstances of his life were somewhat underwhelming.

He was born in 551 BC in Lu, China, into a poor, once noble family. His father died when he was three. According to the Chinese philosopher Mencius, Confucius worked as a storekeeper, and also tended to oxen and sheep in the public fields.

A large chunk of Confucius’ life is missing from the record, as can be expected from a non-royal figure who lived 2500 years ago. But these gaps have been filled in by millennia of legends. We do know that by his early fifties, Confucius was in the employ of the Duke of Lu, Ding, as Minister of Public Works and as Minister of Crime. But Confucius left Lu and the court of the Duke at age 52. Whether it was because of some moral ambiguity on the part of the Duke’s, because of a social snub toward Confucius, or because of animosity from those vying for the Duke’s power, we can’t be sure.

Confucius spent the next several years traveling through China, to the states of Wei, Song, Chen, Cai, and Chu.

He returned to Lu in 484 BC where he lived out his remaining years. By the time of his death he had amassed a sizable following of students, who would formalize and carry on his teachings.

Like I said, underwhelming. But by the next century, Mencius would write, “Ever since man came into this world, never has there been one greater than Confucius.” Confucius was remembered as a sage who should have been king, in a world too shortsighted to see that.

Confucius once said he was not a “maker” of knowledge, but a “transmitter” of it. “I am not one who was born in the possession of knowledge; I am one who is fond of antiquity, and earnest in seeking it there.” (Analects)

Though his teachings and philosophy were based on studies of history, they were vastly different from those that came before.

He taught that rulers who governed by example and by virtue would have more loyal subjects than those who governed by force alone. That the society governed by the former system, and the people within it, would eventually lean toward goodness. And that humans are similar by nature, but their habits and practices “carry them far apart.” (Analects)

He defined the practices of virtue as Gravity, Generosity of Soul, Sincerity, Earnestness, and Kindness.

He condoned strong attachment to family and respect toward elders and ancestors.

And he put into words the Golden Rule of reciprocity: Don’t impose upon other what you would not want for yourself.

Ancient scholars studied for their own improvement. Modern scholars study to impress others.

There are an estimated 6 million followers of Confucianism around the world today, but these are a small minority of those who follow the teachings laid out by Confucius over 2500 years ago. Confucianism remains a dominant philosophical system in Chinese life. His philosophy and teachings fundamentally influenced Eastern thought since his lifetime, as well as Western thought following Confucianism’s introduction into Europe by Jesuit Matteo Ricci in the 16th century.

Since the 1990s, birthday ceremonies in honor of the Great Teacher have flourished in China, after decades of repression.

The nation of Taiwan celebrates this day as Teacher Day.

Confucius Temple Ceremony in honor of Confucius’s birthday.

Meanings of Confucianism

Confucianism Overview @

Mid-Autumn Festival

September 12, 2011

The Mid-Autumn Festival is known as Eighth Moon because it falls of the full moon of the eighth month. It’s also known as Mooncake Day, because billions of mooncakes are prepared for this holiday. (Though billions aren’t necessarily eaten. It’s more like the Chinese holiday fruitcake.)

For generations, moon cakes have been made with sweet fillings of nuts, mashed red beans, lotus-seed paste or Chinese dates, wrapped in a pastry. Sometimes a cooked egg yolk can be found in the middle of the rich tasting dessert. – Mid-Autumn Festival

One story of the popularity of mooncakes dates from the 1300’s AD. China was ruled by the Mongolian Yuan Dynasty, that overthrew the Chinese Sung Dynasty. To coordinate a secret attack on the ruling power, Han Chinese rebels hid secret messages inside mooncakes, which were then distributed throughout the kingdom. The revolution was a success.

Joyce Hor-Chung theorizes that had mooncakes been more tasty, there would have been no revolution, and the Yuan might still be in power today.

The importance of Eighth Moon in China goes back to the third millennium B.C. The traditional origin story of the holiday revolves around a beautiful young woman of unsurpassed beauty, and a rabbit.

Okay, not what I had in mind.

Getting colder.

No, the woman in question was Ch’ang-O, wife of Hou Yi. Hou Yi, you’ll remember from your textbooks, was the greatest archer in the land, famous for shooting down nine of the ten suns that scorched the earth, back in the Great Deci-Solar Debacle of 2170 BC.

Hou Yi had an elixir, a pill for attaining immortality, but he was told he would have to pray and fast for a year before taking it. His wife Ch’ang-O was as curious as she was beautiful. Finding the pill hidden in the rafters, she swallowed it and immediately began floating toward the moon. She landed on the great white orb, where she’s been stranded ever since. Instead of a “Man in the Moon”, the Chinese refer to Ch’ang-O, the Woman on the Moon.

There on the moon lives the immortal Ch’ang-O, with only a Jade Rabbit to keep her company (and, we can assume, an occasional astronaut). The Jade Rabbit on the moon is an important character in Chinese folklore. His sworn duty is to continually make the elixir of immortality for the Gods.

Origin stories vary, but they say Hou Yi eventually built a house on the sun, (Yang) and visits Ch’ang-O on the moon (Yin) once a year on the full moon of the eighth month, which is why the moon is so full and bright on this night.

Today families and friends gather to share mooncakes, pomelo, stories, and good times. Lanterns are lit, Mid-Autumn trees are planted, dandelions are plucked, and incense is burned in honor of the goddess on the moon, Ch’ang-O, who will increasingly watch over the earth as temperatures drop and summer makes way for fall.

Google Moon

Mid-Autumn Festival

Mid-Autumn Festival

Enjoying the Wind and Moon Together

Hungry Ghost Festival

August 14, 2011
August 30, 2012
August 20, 2013

No, not those kind of ghosts.

The period of Ghost Month–the seventh month of the Chinese lunar calendar–comes to a climax on Zhong Yuan, the Hungry Ghost Festival, on the eve of the fifteenth day. During Ghost Month the gates of the afterworld open to allow the dead to walk the earth and seek food.

Families prepare meals for the departed on Zhong Yuan. Many say prayers and burn special incense. Also, it is said these ghosts can enact revenge on those who wronged them in life.

There is a superstition against doing all sorts of activities during Ghost Month, including swimming–kind of unfortunately, as the Olympic swimming events occur smack in the middle this year.

In China the festival bears some similarity to Qingming–Tombsweeping Day–except the Ghost Festival focuses solely on the departed of previous generations.

Other traditions include the placement of a chair and alter outdoors in a prominent location for priests. Dishes of peaches and special flour-made rice are placed underneath the alter and spread by the priest to the souls of the dead. Atop the alter are symbolic sacrifices, including food and cakes, meant to invoke the gods for better weather and healthy crops. Families also make and burn fake paper money in tribute to the dead.

Zhongyuan Festival


Qixi – Night of Sevens

7th night of the 7th month, Chinese Lunar
August 6, 2011
August 23, 2012

According to Chinese tradition, when a man proposes on The Night of Sevens, his bride to be is blessed by seven fairies from the heavens that brings luck in uniting their love forever.

How To Propose on the Night of Sevens


It’s Valentine’s Day in China. But it’s not named for a 3rd century Roman saint. Today’s “Qixi” Festival (Night of Sevens) has its roots in the legend of the Weaver Princess and the Cowherd.

There are many versions of the story. In one, a Weaver Princess comes down from the heavens to do a little skinny dipping. A Cowherd happens across her and—urged on by his mischievous ox—steals the Princess’s clothes. When the Princess finally comes out of the water to retrieve them, she has to agree to his proposal of marriage, as he had seen her in the buff (’cause them’s the rules.)

The Princess grows to love the Cowherd and together they have two kids; however, when the Princess’s grandfather, the Jade Emperor (some sources say her mother) hears about the match, he is not happy. He forces the Princess back to the Heavens, where her job is to weave the clouds. The Princess is the star known as Vega.

When the Cowherd, through some misadventures of his own, finally makes it up to the heavens to see her with their two kids, the Emperor separates them, placing a great river in the sky between them. The river is the Milky Way, and the Cowherd is the star Altair. Their two children are the smaller stars beside him.

It’s said that the two lovers are allowed to meet only once a year, in mid-summer, on the 7th evening of the 7th moon in the Chinese lunar calendar.

Qixi means “Night of Sevens” but it’s also called “Daughter’s Day.” In Japan, it is known as Tanabata and is also celebrated on July 7th. (7/7)

The traditions and rituals related to the festival have gone through several incarnations over the past 2000 years. These days Qixi is a day of romance for lovers and can be compared in many ways to Valentine’s Day in the West.