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.

Kunchi Matsuri

October 7-9.

At under half a million residents, Nagasaki isn’t one of the biggest cities in Japan, but it throws one of the biggest festivals in the Land of the Rising Sun.

The Nagasaki Kunchi Festival, or O-kunchi Matsuri is celebrated from October 7th to October 9th every year. Kunchi means ninth day—ku nichi. The autumnal festival includes magnificent parades and processions, but what it’s world-famous for is its show-stopping dance-travaganzas performed over the three days across the city with its center-point at the Suwa Shrine. Imagine “Nagasaki’s Got Talent,” except instead of performing as individuals or pairs, the city’s proud boroughs, or machi, face off in elaborate communal group dances. The routines, each lasting about a half hour, can include massive, intricate floats and moving props, beautiful costumes, and brilliantly choreographed moves, all centered around a cultural or historical theme, each neighborhood showing its pride and out-doing the others. The show is televised nationally.

Sources say the festival itself was the result of competition—religious competition. Back in the 1500’s, Nagasaki’s position in the southwest of Japan made it an ideal landing spot for Portuguese and then Dutch navigators and traders making their way from India. Along with the traders came the missionaries, and Nagasaki became an early Christian stronghold. During the reign of Tokugawa Hidetada (r. 1605-1623), Christianity was persecuted, and the Suwa Shrine was built in 1614 as the focal point of the Shinto revival in Nagasaki.

Of course, shrines alone don’t win converts, or de-converts for that matter. To compete with the Christian Easter processions, Nagasaki’s O-kunchi Matsuri was established in 1634. One of its original intents was to root out Christians, but by the 1690’s even the Dutch had box seats to the celebration.

One of the set pieces of the festival is the ancient Dragon Dance, stemming from the Chinese New Year’s tradition. Even back in the 17th century, Nagasaki boasted a large Chinese population. Dance routines and performances often give a shout out not only to Nagasaki’s Japanese heritage but to its multicultural past.

In August, Nagasaki is home to one of the country’s most moving commemorations. Just seven decades ago, Nagasaki was virtually incinerated by the world’s third atomic explosion at the end of World War II. Miraculously, the Suwa Shrine survived intact. Every year on August 9, residents gather at the Suwa Shrine on the anniversary of the bombing to remember the 70,000 townspeople killed in the attack.

Japanese Festivals, Helen Bauer and Sherwin Carlquist. 1965.
Nagasaki Kunchi Festival: [retrieved 10/7/14]
Suwa Shrine (Nagasaki) [retrieved 10/7/14]
Nagasaki Kunchi Matsuri [retrieved 10/7/14]

©Marufish. Creative Commons Attribution -Share Alike 2.0 Generic license
©Marufish. Creative Commons Attribution -Share Alike 2.0 Generic license


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


March 18-24

…when the night and day are equally divided, Buddha appears on earth for a week to save stray souls and lead them to Nirvana.”

Thus, in Japan the Sundays prior to the spring equinox (shuubun no hi) and the fall equinox (shunbun no hi) are known as O-higan. Days on which families visit and honor the graves of the departed. Ancestors are said to watch over the family like tutelary, guardian deities. That’s why we give thanks to our ancestors whenever we encounter success or prosperity . (But of course if we fail, it’s our own damn fault.)

Favorite foods are prepared for the departed, such as Ohagi (soft rice balls covered in sweetened bean jam), sushi, and vinegar rice & veggies. On the last day of the week, rice flour dumplings, special fruits and sweets are offered.

In Buddhism, O-higan is a time to focus on the 6 Perfections, or Pāramitā:

1. Dana – generosity

2. Sila – virtue

3. Ksanti – patience

4. Virya – effort

5. Dhyana – meditation (also ‘zen’)

6. Prajna – wisdom


The O-higan days have been celebrated in Japan since the 8th century. The name Higan literally means, “the other shore” and is short for Tohigan—to arrive at the other shore. The 6 Pāramitā are the bridge that will enable us to cross over to the other shore of Nirvana.

White Day – Japan

March 14

White Day is the complementary holiday of Valentine’s Day in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. Valentine’s Day is celebrated as well, but a little differently than in the U.S.

On Valentine’s Day women generally give gifts of chocolate and the sort to the men in their lives: giri choco (obligatory chocolate) and honmei-choco (chocolate with a romantic connotation).

Giri choco is given by women to their superiors at work as well as to other male co-workers. It is not unusual for a woman to buy 20 to 30 boxes of this type of chocolate for distribution around the office as well as to men that she has regular contact with.”

[Remind me to work in Japan.]

The counter-holiday, White Day, was promoted in the 1980s by the confections industry. One month after Valentine’s Day men relieve their guilt at receiving such gifts by buying the women in their lives chocolate in return. The March 14 chocolates generally cost 2 to 3 times as much as Valentine’s Day chocolates, and are boxed in white boxes, hence the name White Day.

I tend to avoid reporting on holidays promoted by the chocolate industry. Not out of any dislike of chocolate. On the contrary it’s my favorite food group. But there’s generally no rationale or history for the holiday other than to promote a particular confection. And depending on which calendar you look at, virtually every week in the year has a chocolate or candy holiday associated with it.

This week, for example, is American Chocolate Week.

March 19 is National Chocolate Caramel Day

March 24 is National Chocolate Covered Raisins Day

April hosts National Licorice Day, Chocolate-Covered Cashews Day and Jelly Bean Day.

And so on…

And National Chocolate Day? It’s on July 7.

And October 28.

And December 28.

And December 29.

You get the picture. There’s not any scrumptious chocolate candy combination you can name that doesn’t have its own holiday.

So why December 28 and 29? My guess, two more chances to indulge before those dreaded New Year’s resolutions kick in!

If you’re in Japan, enjoy a delicious, calorie-laden White Day! And if you’re in North America, I recommend celebrating two days at once with a delicious home-made Chocolate Pie.

After all, March 14 is also Pi Day!

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

March 10 Tibetan Uprising

March 10, 1959

It’s been over 50 years since the fated tragic uprising of Tibet in March 1959.

Mao Zedong’s newly empowered government invaded Tibet in 1950 to repudiate the state’s autonomy and enforce the communist line.

The Tibetan governor was taken prisoner by the People’s Liberation Army, leaving a 15 year-old Dalai Lama as the region’s leader. Opposition to Chinese rule grew steadily during the 1950s coming to a head in 1959.

The Khampas—the small Tibetan guerilla fighting force—requested official Tibetan aid from the Dalai Lama in February 1959, but the Dalai Lama refused to violate his position on non-violence.

Dalai Lama with Mao Zedong, 1955

At 25, the Dalai Lama was anxious for a diplomatic resolution. He accepted an invitation by representatives of the Chinese government to attend a theater performance on March 10, 1959…even though he was instructed by the Chinese to keep his attendance a secret and to not be accompanied by Tibetan forces or bodyguards.

As word of the unusual requests of the Chinese government spread, the people of Tibet feared their leader would be kidnapped.

“By the morning of 10 March an estimated 30,000 people had surrounded the Dalai Lama’s summer palace, the Nobulingka, to prevent their leader from going.”

Throughout the next week massive demonstrations against the Chinese government grew in Norbulingka and Lhasa. On the 12th, 5,000 Tibetan women demonstrated in Lhasa.

When on the 16th two Chinese grenades exploded outside the Dalai Lama’s palace, he was finally convinced he needed to leave his home country before a full-on attack could endanger the Tibetan civilians surrounding the palace.

“Dressed in a military uniform and with a gun hanging over his shoulder, the Dalai Lama walked out of the gates of Norbulingka without anyone recognising him…”

He escaped to India, never to return again.

The following week the Chinese bombarded the palace with 800 grenades, killing an unknown number of the thousands camped outside, protecting the Dalai Lama.

“Chinese reports state that 5,600 rebels had been ‘liquidated’ by the beginning of April…Local government was dissolved and military government imposed on Tibet. Thousands were rounded up and imprisoned and tortured. The Chinese conducted house-to-house searches to try and find guerillas, and in any house where they found arms the residents were executed. The authorities in Beijing officially denied that a revolt had taken place, and claimed that the Khampa guerillas had kidnapped the Dalai Lama.”

The Dalai Lama has spent the past half-century in exile, traveling the world, promoting peace and non-violence.

History Leading up to March 10, 1959

Chronology of Events

The Tibetan Independence Movement – Political, religious and Gandhian perspectives – by Jane Ardley

Blog: Students for a Free Tibet

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!