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Styles of Erhu Tunes

Erhu, or erh-hu, is one of the most prevalent instruments in Chinese folk music. The prototype of erhu was a bowed, stringed accompaniment along with other traditional Chinese stringed and woodwind instruments as well as percussion and wind instruments in Jiangnan China over the Qing Dynasty and the early years of the Chinese Republic. Liu Tianhua (1895-1932) upgraded erhu into a solo instrument. The design of erhu was finalised after the founding of the PRC, as it was produced in state-owned instrument manufacturers in the context of the planned economy. According to Liu Tianhua, huqin was another name of erhu in the Republic of China (1912-1949). Nanhu was also used for calling erhu before the Liberalisation in 1949. Therefore, the concept of erhu in general research is circumscribed within erhu as a sole instrument in modern Chinese history.

The regional and ethnic variations in China breed the diversity of artistic styles. The regional music style plays an essential role in the development of erhu performance over the past hundred years. The style originates from life but is higher than life; it has simple folk customs and is closely related to regional culture and local customs. China has a vast territory and many nationalities. Each place has its own dialect, folk song and local opera. Due to the differences in climate, soil and other natural conditions, as well as diet, habits, local customs and other factors, a robust musical style comes into being. The characteristics of erhu style are mainly reflected in the music works infused by different regional styles and artistic forms. The musical style is a comprehensive concept, encompassing rhythm, tone, timbre, dynamics and structure.

Therefore, understanding the regional culture and musical connotation in significant source areas of erhu tunes is key to appreciate erhu.

Erhu tunes in Jiangnan Style

Jiangnan Sizhu has a long history of development, and has absorbed and carried the rich influence of many operas, folk arts and music genres in the south of the Yangtze River during its development, so that Jiangnan Sizhu has become a folk music genre within Jiangnan cultural heritage and high performance level. It has become the closest relative of erhu and the carrier that directly supplies erhu nutrition. Jiangnan music requires the erhu to play a sweet and soft timbre, and the inherent timbre of the erhu instrument itself is the material basis for the timbre needed to play Jiangnan music. On this basis, through the unique performance techniques of various Jiangnan music from left and right hands, it can make Jiangnan Erhu music full of strong Jiangnan music flavor.

Erhu tunes in Northern Shaanxi Style

Because northern Shaanxi is located on a plateau with a large area and sparsely populated areas, communication is inconvenient, so people often communicate with each other in the way of “screaming” without the slightest ambiguity and softness. The music melody in northern Shaanxi has a lot of fluctuations and often uses four-degree jumps into the interval. The musical personality is impulsive and straightforward, which also makes the music of northern Shaanxi feel free and easy and crude. The music bred on this land has inherited the unrestrained, simple and unrestrained characteristics of the Loess Plateau, which makes the Erhu in northern Shaanxi possess the same style and characteristics.

Erhu tunes in Xinjiang Uyghur style

Turpan Uyghur folk songs adopt three major music systems of East Asia, West Asia and Europe, and the content is very rich, among which music and dance are particularly prominent.  Its melody has three main characteristics: First, the rhythm is diverse.The second is that most of them have non-square structure, the melody is stretchable, the phrases are more irregular, and the lengths are different.  The third is rich in modes, frequent alternation, mostly seven-tone scales.  Comprehensive analysis shows that the artistic form of Turpan Uyghur folk songs fully embodies the Uyghur nationality, cultural traditions and national spirit; it reflects the history, social life and spiritual outlook of the nation, and is a concentrated expression of the cultural exchanges between the East and the West.

Erhu tunes in Inner Mongolia style

Inner Mongolia has lived in the vast grassland for a long time, and the free nomadic life has made Grassland Music its own unique music style. The rhythm is free and the melody is comfortable. Erhu music in Inner Mongolia is often borrowed from local musical instruments. Matouqin’s tone and technique use minor thirds vibrato, big slide, as well as horseshoe-like music rhythms and erhu bow throwing techniques to express this rhythm, and the swaying music melody and playing techniques on the horse’s back to express the unique charm of music.

Through the understanding of different music styles, the player can process the music more accurately when learning the music, and it can also enable the player to use the performance techniques more flexibly and accurately, and more appropriately express the music styles of different regional styles.


Li Wen graduated from Sichuan Conservatory of Music, Chengdu, Sichuan, China. (Sep. 2016 – June 2020)- Master of Arts in Chinese Instrument (Erhu).

In 2019, the performer Li Wen served as a teacher assistant of Goldsmiths Confucius Institute for Dance and Performance, University of London for one year. During her stay in the UK, she has done a lot of instrumental music teaching and performance activities. She is currently conducting online Erhu teaching courses at Goldsmiths Confucius Institute for Dance and Performance, University of London and takes part in our outreach activities.

 

Tibetan Dance

Tibetan dance, or Tibetan ethnic dance has a long history closely connected with Han dance culture. It interacts with the dance culture of neighbouring ethnic groups and countries, forming a unique Tibetan dance culture in the Tibet Plateau of China. There are many kinds of Tibetan folk dances with their own characteristics, of which the most popular ones are Xie, Zhuo, Guozhuang, Guo Xie, Guo Zhuo, Xianzi, and Dui Xie. are the most famous circle dances.

Tibetan dance, on the whole, can be divided into national folk entertainment dance and religious dance. Both kinds of dance have their own rich cultural connotations, beautiful and natural dancing posture and unique dance styles and form. Among them, Qiangmu belongs to the most important sacrificial dance in the category of religious dance. The emergence and spread of the temple dance Qiangmu is closely related to the birth and development of Tibetan Buddhism. At the same time, due to the existence of different sects in Tibetan Buddhism, Qiangmu, also commonly known as Tiaoshen dance, can have different characteristics and varieties of dance forms, use of props, and costumes of performers.

Tibetan folk entertainment songs and dances also enjoy an amazing variety. Xie, a collective circle dance, is mainly composed of singing and dancing and accompanied by a string instrument.

Zhuo is a dynamic group dance involving repeated musical dialogues between dancers and relying on song, dance and lyrics. During a Zhuo performance we can often see different kinds of drums used as a dance prop.

Originating from the ancient Tibetans’ entertainment of singing and dancing around bonfires or indoor pots is Guozhuang, a mixed-tempo style in which dance movements include the simulation of animal postures, mutual verbal or non-verbal expressions of love and other elements. The style and characteristics of Guozhuang are distinctive in form, style and jumping method thanks to the influence of different regions and cultures in agricultural and pastoral areas.

Another dance style popular in the vast rural areas of the Tibet is Guoxie, sometimes referred to as “Tibetan rural song and dance”. During festivals, people sing and dance all night long. Men and women sing together in turns, praising the scenery of their hometown and pouring out their love; people dance hand in hand using strong, energetic, steady steps to a distinct rhythm. As the speed of dance gradually accelerates, all the dancers use the full soles of their feet to jump and stump the ground, making the atmosphere more and more inviting, lively and spirited through the collective song and dance.

Of course, there are many more Tibetan folk dances to introduce. If you find it interesting, I will be happy to share more details of the traditional Tibetan and Chinese folk dance with you next time.


 

Author: Wei Tianci

Wei Tianci is a graduate student of Beijing Dance Academy, majoring in Chinese folk dance. She also does Chinese classical dance of Han and Tang dynasty. Now, Wei is one of the artistic Teaching Assistants at Goldsmiths Confucius Institute for Dance and Performance. She hopes to be able to continue exchanging knowledge of the traditional culture of different places with international friends.

 

Qin – an instrument with a history

Qin or Gu Qin is a very traditional music instrument in China with nearly 3000 year-long history. In China, when we talk about Qin, we naturally connect it with the ancient Literati class – the prestigious intellectual group of scholar-officials. To some extent, Qin is the representative of this class and it also endows this beautiful instrument with some insightful meanings.

At the beginning, Qin had only 5 strings, which corresponded to the 5 elements in Chinese culture: Gold(Jin), Wood(Mu), Water(Shui), Fire(Huo) and Earth(Tu). Later, during the Zhou Dynasty, the Emperor Wen( Zhou Wenwang) and then Emperor Wu (Zhou Wuwang) added two stings to the 5-stringed Qin. Since then, the Qin has 7 strings until today.

When we look at the body of Qin we find an arch-shaped upper side under the strings and a flat baseplate. This is a reflection of Chinese Tianyuan Difang philosophy, literally meaning that the sky is round and the earth is square. Therefore, the upper side of the Qin represents the round sky, and the flat square baseplate references the earth.

Some of you may be familiar with a famous Chinese music piece called Gaoshan Liushui, High Mountain and Flowing Water in English. Behind this beautiful piece there’s a touching story about friendship.

Back in the Spring and Autumn period (770-476 B.C.), there was a brilliant Qin playing master named Boya Yu. One day he was playing in a wild field. A woodman called Ziqi Zhong happened to be passing by, and when he heard the music, he felt moved and immediately said: ‘magnificent like great mountains, mighty like flowing rivers!’. Boya was surprised by how much this man understood him and soon after that they became very close friends. That’s how the piece Gaoshan Liushui was created. After Ziqi passed away, Boya believed no one could ever understand him as well, so he destroyed his Qin and never played again.

Of course, they are so many other wonderful pieces and stories about Qin. If you are interested, we can write about them next time.


Author: Yuting Jiang

Yuting has been playing Zheng since the age of 7. Graduated from Xi’an Conservatory of Music in 2018, she now studies at Minzu University of China as a postgraduate, majoring in Historical Musicology with the focus on modern music of Western Countries. She also teaches Zheng in our short courses and participates in Goldsmiths Confucius Institute outreach activities.

The Relationship Between Wushu And Chinese Traditional Culture

Chinese traditional culture is broad and profound, and martial arts inherited from traditional culture not only has the traditional Chinese medicine’s way of maintaining health, but also has the influence of Taoism and Confucianism. The theory of five elements is a kind of material view with unity of opposites and development as the core in Taiji philosophy. The five elements give birth to the relationship of mutual generation and mutual restraint in the movement and change of Yin and Yang of all things in the universe, while traditional Chinese medicine and Qigong have the same origin. The ancients called Jing, Qi and Shen the “three treasures” of human beings.

There was a saying in ancient times that “the essence, Qi and spirit are the basis of human life”. Traditional Chinese medicine uses the theory of viscera and meridians to reflect the phenomenon of life – disease and injury. Qigong uses the theory of meridians and essence, Qi and spirit to discuss the function of life health preservation. Qigong is a technique to transform essence, Qi and spirit into each other. Traditional Chinese medicine holds that “kidney stores essence, lung stores Qi, heart stores spirit, liver stores blood, and spleen controls transportation and transformation”. Traditional Chinese medicine’s “theory of essence, Qi and spirit” adopts the coordinated way of action, idea, and breath to consolidate essence, Nourish Qi, and regulate spirit, so as to achieve the goal of double cultivation of life. The original meaning of Tao is road, which can be extended to law or formula. China is a farming society. It has been living in one place for a long time, thus forming a completely different cultural feature of “family”, opposite to the “individual” in western society.

It has become a feature of Chinese people that “what our ancestors left behind can not be easily discarded, but should be handed down from generation to generation.” The reason why the ancient martial arts practitioners summarized and refined some regular things in the actual combat, and arranged them according to certain principles, thus forming a simple routine is actually a kind of program, and also a concrete embodiment of the pursuit of “Tao” in Chinese traditional culture. In ancient times, all schools had strict requirements and rules for practicing martial arts and teaching morality. Shaolin Temple had “Ten Commandments in vain”, much like Wudang, which stipulated that all those who committed adultery, theft, evil, prostitution and gambling were in violation of the commandments and were not allowed to teach their skills. Under the influence of traditional moral concepts, these strict martial rules and precepts combine attack and defense techniques with life cultivation, and gradually form the idea of advocating martial arts and morality, which is the folk characteristic and fine tradition of Chinese martial arts. The essence of practicing martial arts is to cultivate the moral sentiment of traditional martial arts ethics, respecting the teacher and respecting the way, being polite and trustworthy, valuing justice over benefit, being lenient with others and being strict with oneself. According to the theory of Chinese Wushu, human body, mind and morality are inseparable.

Mental cultivation and cultivation of martial ethics are extremely important contents of Chinese martial arts. In different historical periods, martial spirit had not only affected the development of martial arts practice, but also played an immeasurable role in promoting and shaping the spirit of the Chinese nation. Wushu, as a cultural phenomenon, has both progressiveness and limitations. The individuals and groups who practice Wushu in China have fully accepted the Confucian ideas of “benevolent people are benevolent” and “seeking benevolence and getting benevolence is nothing to complain about”. And these thoughts are closely related to the carrier of Wushu culture.

As a result, the development process of martial arts is more embodied in “dogmatic, conservative, and archaic” elements, which occupy the main position. This kind of ancient Confucianism just restricts the development of martial arts in thousands of years. In a word, the martial virtues advocated by Chinese martial arts are closely related to the idea of “benevolence” as the foundation and valuing justice over benefit in Confucian culture. In other words, the ideological essence of Confucian culture is systematically and completely passed on to the people in the Wulin, so that Chinese martial arts and Confucian culture also complement each other and remain in perfect harmony.


He Zhong is a master of traditional sports in Beijing Sport University. She won the national second level athlete of Wushu and the national first level referee of Wushu routine. She loves martial arts, and hopes to carry it forward and share the love for the discipline with others, so that more people are introduced to, appreciate and practice martial arts.

 

Lantern Festival

The Chinese Lantern Festival is coming soon. What do you know about this festival?

According to the traditional Chinese lunar calendar, Chinese Spring Festival(Chinese New Year), begins with the New Moon and ends on the Full Moon, which is from the first to the 15th day of the first lunar month in a new year. The last day (the 15th day of the first lunar month) of the New Year is known as the Lantern Festival. In that way, the Lantern Festival is a‘festival within a festival’ and it is considered the ending point of the Spring Festival.

According to the historical records, the festival began to prevail during the Western Han Dynasty (206 B.C. – 24 A .D.) and flourished during the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 A .D.) and Song Dynasty (960 – 1279 A .D.). Its present name is in fact derived from the Tang Dynasty custom of hanging out lanterns on the night of the festival. Lantern can break darkness, illuminate the land as well as bring brightness and hope to people. Therefore the Lantern Festival has been observed and celebrated by people all over the country for more than 1,000 years.

What are the customs of the Lantern Festival? Let’s take a look together.

  • Enjoy Beautiful Lanterns

At the night of the festival, temples and parks are decorated with colourful lanterns made of paper, gauze and glass, painted with legendary figures, landscapes as well as the flowers and birds. After dinner, Chinese people like to walk around parks to enjoy the beautiful lanterns.

  • Guess Lantern Riddles

Guessing lantern riddles is a typical activity during the Lantern Festival that has been practiced since ancient times. Firstly, Chinese people hang colourful lanterns and fire firecrackers to celebrate the lantern festival, then they write riddles on papers and stick them on the lanterns for people to guess. Lantern riddles add to the festive atmosphere, showing the wisdom of the ancient working people and their yearning for a better life. Every year plenty of people take part in the lantern riddles guessing, which has gradually become an indispensable element of the Lantern Festival.

  • Play Lion Dance

During the Lantern Festival or assembly celebrations, people use lion dances to cheer. This custom has a history of more than a thousand years. It is usually completed by three people, two dressed up as lions, one as a lion head, one as a lion body, and the third one as a lion guide. The dance incorporates elements of Chinese civil and martial art. Civil arts express the taming of the lion, such as shaking hair and rolling, and the martial arts express the fierceness of the lion, including prancing, kicking, and rolling.

  • Play Dragon Dance

Since ancient times, China has been relying on agriculture. Good weather and rain are very important for producing harvest and life, and the ancient Chinese believed that the dragon had the function of calling the wind and rain, eliminating disasters and epidemics. Therefore, ancient Chinese people tried their best to get the protection of the dragon, thus forming the custom of dragon dancing during sacrifice or the Lantern Festival. When performing, these dragons circulated and exulted, and their movements were very complicated. During the Lantern Festival, there are more than a hundred “dragons” in some places, and the length of the team can even exceed 1 km. Each dragon team is accompanied by ten gongs and drums of spectacular size and sound.

  • Walk on stilts

Stilt walking is a popular folk performance of group skills. It is said that the ancient Chinese tied two long sticks to their legs in order to gather wild fruits from trees for food, which gradually developed into a kind of stilt walking activity. Stilt performers, walking on stilts, can perform such movements as sword dance, splitting, jumping stool, crossing the table, and yangge dance. Depending on their character, they have difference costumes and heights. Their lively performance includes singing, laughing and having fun, walking on the ground. The performers’ funny looks always attracts great interest among the audience.

  • Eat Yuanxiao (sweet round dumplings)

The trademark food of the Lantern Festival is called 元宵(yuán xiāo). It’s also known as 汤圆 (tāng yuán) in the South, and it’s one of the many tasty Chinese New Year desserts. On the Lantern Festival, every household eats Yuan Xiao. That’s why the Lantern Festival is also called Yuanxiao Festival.

Yuanxiao are filled with sugar, roses, sesame, red bean paste, cinnamon, walnuts, nuts, jujube puree, etc. They are wrapped in rice flour into a round shape. They can be cooked in soup, deep-fried, and steamed, but are usually boiled and served in hot water.

They represent family reunions because 汤圆 (tāng yuán) sounds similar to “reunion” (团圆 / tuán yuán). Some businessmen also call this dessert 元宝 (yuán bǎo), meaning gold or silver ingots.

Despite being a night of fun and celebration, the Lantern Festival is also a night for families. Before Chinese New Year holiday ends, the family should reunite again. Take a break from the celebrations and relax with your family. Reconnect under the moon. Enjoy firework shows and performances while eating a bowl of yuan xiao.

This is China’s Lantern Festival! I hope you like it.


Jingwei Dong received her bachelor’s degree in Clinical Medicine from Lanzhou University and her master’s degree in Teaching Chinese to Speakers of Other Languages from Beijing Language and Culture University. She has obtained the certificate of an international Chinese language teacher and she loves teaching. She is good at traditional Chinese painting and loves paper-cutting, calligraphy, dancing and other traditional Chinese arts. She hopes to communicate more with people from other countries and share cultural knowledge and experiences.

The Spring Festival in China

On the occasion of the Spring Festival, I would like to share how we celebrate the Spring Festival in China.

First of all, how do we determine the date of the Spring Festival in China?

There are two ways to calculate time in China, the solar calendar and the lunar calendar. The solar calendar, or Gregorian calendar, which is the kind of calendar system used by most countries in the modern time. There are other calendars followed in different parts of the world. In China, the people observe the lunar calendar, called also the lunisolar calendar, Yin calendar or Xia calendar. Most of the Chinese holidays, such as the Qingming Festival, the Dragon Boat Festival, the Mid-autumn Festival, the Lantern Festival and the Spring Festival are calculated according to the lunar calendar.

Each time the moon aligns with the earth and the sun a new month begins. A regular lunar year has 12 months, however, in the same way the solar calendar adds a day every four years so to compensate any difference in the length of the earth’s travel around the sun, every two or three years the lunisolar calendar adds a 13th month – a leap month.

 

When is the Spring Festival?

The Spring Festival, commonly known as “Chinese New Year “, refers to a period of time. It is the most important traditional festival for the Chinese. It usually begins on the second new moon after the winter solstice, which falls between 20 January and 20 February of the solar calendar. On the evening of the 30th day of the last month in the lunar calendar, people stay up late and wait for the coming of the New Year. During the Spring Festival, people will go back to their hometowns to reunite with their parents and children, reflect on the past year’s experiences, celebrate the reunion of the family and look forward to the New Year.

What do we do during the Spring Festival?

During the Spring Festival, people would prepare wine, meat, and various kinds of dishes in advance. I am a girl from the north of China, where it’s a tradition to make steamed buns and date flowers during the Spring Festival. We also make dumplings shaped like silver ingots – a symbol of wealth.

The Spring Festival is also an occasion to make traditional decorations. We make couplets, Chinese knots, red lanterns and other red ornaments to decorate our house. People adorn their houses, and Chinese knots are hung in the streets. In the past, families on December 30 used to set off fireworks after twelve o ‘clock in the evening to welcome the New Year. Because smoke and noise released from fireworks pollute the environment, now most people in urban and rural areas forego on the real firecrackers, sometimes replacing it with electric ones.

The Spring Festival is also an occasion to make traditional decorations. We make couplets, Chinese knots, red lanterns and other red ornaments to decorate our house. People adorn their houses, and Chinese knots are hung in the streets. In the past, families on December 30 used to set off fireworks after twelve o ‘clock in the evening to welcome the New Year. Because smoke and noise released from fireworks pollute the environment, now most people in urban and rural areas forego on the real firecrackers, sometimes replacing it with electric ones.


Mengjuan Wang graduated from Beijing Dance Academy with a Master’s degree specializing in the basic theory of dance. Her research focused on the Long Sleeve Dance of the Han Dynasty depictions. She previously volunteered as a teacher in Xinjiang Province, China, and she is now one of the dance and performance artistic Teaching Assistants at Goldsmiths Confucius Institute. She hopes more and more people can understand and appreciate China’s cultural and artistic heritage.

 

“The Ancient Tea Horse Road” tour in France

I want to share with you my experience of leading an artistic tour in France.

At the beginning of 2020, the dance drama “The Ancient Tea Horse Road” which I had created went to La Rochelle and Rouen, France to tour. The show combines dance, music, tea ceremony, and martial arts. All of the artists participating in the show are incredibly talented, and this is inseparable from every drop of sweat they shed during the show as well as rehearsals, therefore no matter where we go, we will strive to deliver an extraordinary performance, so that every spectator, even foreign, will be inspired to fall in love with Chinese culture and art.

Let’s talk about the rehearsal and the performance. It is inevitable that even the best of artists encounter different challenges during preparation, and so did we. For example, some of the martial arts performers found it difficult to perform certain dance moves. Offering them guidance, demonstrating and instilling some ideas in them helped them to express the desired emotions. Every actor tried their best to imagine and embody the feelings and emotions of the roles they played in the dance drama, even if it meant combining different styles and arts they are not familiar with in their performance. For example, our pipa actor Wang Mingyue, was not only responsible for the music part, but also the art of tea ceremony performance. This part of the show required martial arts performers, dancers and music artists to play roles within the tea art performance. Although performing pieces outside of your specialisation is a great challenge, the artists showed extremes strength, effort and dedication, and delivered outstanding performances.

When we walked into the theatre in France, we found that the theatre is also very formal. From the sound to the ground facilities the venue was outstanding, and some of our actors began to feel pressure after seeing it. That’s why it’s crucial for them to get familiar with the stage and practice there before going on to perform. There were also some actors who insisted on performing in spite of some small injuries or physical discomfort. This made me very touched when watching: a person who knows their sense of mission and doesn’t give up on any performance they can do.

One of the things that moved me was that all of the audiences in each show were very quiet, focused and absorbed in the show. Every time we performed, we would win their warm applause. This is a great encouragement for the actors, considering especially that we were dancing Chinese dance in a foreign country, and we received the audience’s love. This makes us as artists incredibly happy.

I am truly hoping that the pandemic will pass soon and everyone will be safe and healthy. After things return to normal, we look forward to sharing more Chinese programs to foreign audiences and bringing Chinese culture and art closer.


Jiaolong Ma

Author and Dance Teacher: Jiaolong Ma

Jiaolong Ma is one of China’s most acclaimed Chinese classical dancers. He has excelled in a wide range of dance categories, coming in first place at the Hehua Dance Competition 2015 and third place at the Tao Li Bei Dance Competitions of 2006 and 2009. He is a skilled performer and teacher of Chinese classical dance, contemporary dance, the Shen Yun dance technique and tai chi. Jiaolong currently oversees our Chinese classical and Chinese sword dance short courses and is an instrumental part of our departmental Outreach Programme.

Benevolence in Confucianism

Benevolence, (Chinese: “humanity,” “humaneness,” “goodness,” “benevolence,” or “love”) is one of the core values of Confucian tradition.

In order to understand Benevolence better, we should take a look at the way Confucius explained it to his students.

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Student Zi Gong asked Confucius if there was a single word that could be used as a personal rule for life? Confucius solemnly said: “Probably it is the word ‘forgiveness’!” How do we understand the meaning of forgiveness? Confucius said: “Love thy neighbour as thyself: Do not do to others what thou wouldst not wish be done to thyself: Forgive injuries. Forgive thy enemy, be reconciled to him, give him assistance, invoke God in his behalf.”

That is, Benevolence is the practice of interacting with others guided by a sense of what is good and right from our own perspective. If you can achieve “forgiveness”, you will achieve the goal of Benevolence.

The practice of Benevolence is up to oneself

Zi Gong sked Confucius, how can people cultivate Benevolence? Confucius responded with a metaphor: “For a craftsman, if he wants to do his job well, he must first sharpen the tools he uses. Similarly, a person living in a country should first be under the leadership of the capable officials of the country. Serving the country, and working hard to make friends with benevolent people.” The specific approach is as Confucius said to a student called Fan Chi: “Daily life must be humble; be cautious in doing things, and be loyal to others. These virtues prevail even in “barbarian” areas. Therefore, Confucius said: “Benevolence is up to oneself, one should desire Benevolence, and it is the ultimate goal.” These words mean to us that Benevolence is the result of personal striving, self-discipline and commitment.

Do your part

Once, Confucius said while discussing the idea of Benevolence with his students: “When it comes to the matters of Benevolence, you should not act humble in front of the teachers. You should fight for the first place without delay.” We should therefore strive to be exemplary in practicing Benevolence.

Confucius also taught that cultivating Benevolence helps when facing hardship and distress, e.g. living in material poverty for a long time. Similarly, people who do not cultivate Benevolence cannot achieve a peaceful life for a long time. On the other hand, those who are guided by Benevolence always regard it as the greatest happiness in life. According to Confucius teachings, a wise person views Benevolence as the most beneficial life norm.

Conditions for benevolent governance

Zi Gong asked Confucius how to deal with political affairs in a way that reflects the spirit of Benevolence. Confucius pointed out three conditions: sufficient food, sufficient armaments, and the people’s trust in the government. Zi Gong asked again: “If it is unavoidable, which of the three conditions can be removed first?” Confucius said: “We should remove the armaments first.” Zi Gong asked again: “If the situation is still not allowed, which one should be removed?” Confucius responded: “Then the food should be removed. Since ancient times, people have always died, but if the government cannot win the people’s trust, nothing can be established.”

Benevolence is the great principle between heaven and earth, and the virtue of a saint. Simply put, “Benevolence” is love. In Chinese Mandarin, the character Benevolence combines “person” with “two” in the form of its font, which indicates a relationship between people. It also forms the grounds of social and family relationships: there is benevolence of parents towards children, and vice versa; virtues of kindness, respect, filial piety, righteousness, empathy, friendliness, etc. develop between individuals within a family and in wider social contexts. These principles of ethical relationships expand to the political hierarchy of monarchs, rulers, leaders and ministers in society. Therefore, Benevolence is not only the moral relationship of the family, but also the political relationship among the society. Benevolence emphasized that in any social structure people should love others from the bottom of their hearts instead of relying on external force.

The teachings of Confucius regarding the virtue of Benevolence influenced many Eastern and Western philosophers. Confucianism became a source of inspiration particularly among the philosophers of Enlightenment (e.g. Voltaire), and the Chinese Hui Muslims. It also influenced some modern Chinese movements such as the New Life Movement, as well as the martial arts culture in China.


Image of philosophy lecturer, Lingling Shan

Image of the author, Lingling Shan during 2020 Chinese New Year celebrations at Goldsmiths

Lingling Shan graduated from Jilin University in 1999. Her special interests in cultural differences between the West and the East have nourished her teaching and research. She has spent time in the United States as a visiting scholar (2014-2015) and researched on Religious Differences in China and America.

Here in the department, Lingling currently lectures in Chinese on our Undergraduate Chinese studies programmes. She also lectures on our credit course modules in Chinese Philosophy and Chinese History open to all Goldsmiths students and oversees our HSK training short courses.

矢 | Hidden Tricks to Learning Chinese Characters!

Are the characters the most challenging part of learning Chinese? I’m sure nine out of ten learners would say yes. But believe it or not, character learning could also be the most interesting part of your Chinese class! Yes, indeed, when reading characters, you’re in fact connecting to the world of thousands of years ago! You are actually reading stories of our Chinese ancestors through the characters!

But how do we read these stories? In this article, I will reveal some secrets behind the characters to you.

Firstly, let’s check out 矢shǐ! As you can see from the picture, 矢 stems from the shape of an arrow. The character’s meaning follows the shape.

In HSK1-3,these 3 characters contain 矢:知,医,矮. How can we understand the story of these 3 characters with arrows? Discover them one by one now.
(1) 知 zhī

知 zhī consists of 矢 and 口
Our philosophical Chinese ancestor interprets 知in this way: when you say what you know, the words are quick and accurate, like an arrow hitting the bullseye.

(2) 医 yī
医 yī consists of 矢 and 匚

The shape of 医 is like an arrow in the box. How does “an arrow in the box” relate to “doctor”?
Here’s the story: In ancient times, it is the doctor’s job to pull out the arrows from the wounded and put them into a box during the war.

That’s why the Chinese ancestor use 医, an arrow in the box to symbolize the doctor.

(3)矮 ǎi
矮 ǎi consists of 矢 and 委.

Take a look at the right part which is 委 wěi: it is composed of 禾 hé (crop) and 女 nǚ (woman). A lady kneeling beside a withered crop, symbolizing obedience.
When you take a look at the whole character 矮 ǎi, the 矢(arrow) on the left, alongside the kneeling woman indicates her diminutive height, which is emphasized by her submissive posture.

You got 矢?Take a look at this summary to review.

Am I right? Does it help a lot to memorize 知, 医 and 矮?Isn’t it a fun way to explore Chinese with the stories and thinking behind the characters? There are many more interesting stories with characters to know. Let’s reveal one by one in the future!


Jianmei acquired the National Certificate for Teachers issued by Hanban Headquarters in China. She works in Jiangxi University of Traditional Chinese Medicine which research on TCM translation and teaching methods. She worked in South Korean as a Chinese teacher in 2014 who gained rich experience. She is easy-going and passionate with having large responsibilities.

The Short Dance Film “Love Knows No Borders”: Creative Experience

The short film Love Knows No Borders made in March this year when the pandemic broke out in Wuhan is the product of the common wisdom and strength of all the teachers and volunteers in Goldsmiths Confucius Institute.

The film is mainly composed of segments of group and solo dance.

The group dance part mainly undertakes the narrative function. From the short film, we can see that at the beginning, we form a line and put on masks, which symbolizes the beginning of the pandemic. One can notice that all our face may seem expressionless, yet showing determination and calm. We also integrate calm attitude into the narrative of dance. Later, we line up in a row, form a circle and a triangle, with symphonic movements, to symbolize the strength from all walks of life fighting the epidemic together. At the end of the video, everyone jumps up, takes off the mask and throws it into the air, symbolizing the disappearance of the epidemic and the return of people’s health and freedom. Therefore, the group dance part weaves a complete logical pattern and a clue for the whole film with the strength of a team. We used the form of group dance to express our understanding of the spirit of working together and forging ahead.

In the segment of solo dance, we mainly aimed to give full play to the lyrical function of dance, focusing on four themes. The first aspect is the idea of being trapped; the second is confronting and fighting, the third is righteousness, and the fourth is hope.

We can see that there are two types of colors in the dance scenes in the short film. One of them is mainly depressed and gloomy black. For example, in the first half of the short film, we can see a dancer (Jiaolong Ma) in a dark room, so to express struggling in pain and the quest for living space; a dancer (Yiyun Li) expressing hope in the predicament in front of the iron window; and a dancer (Xueqi Zeng) showing suffering from illness with dance movements full of rising and falling.

In the next scene, the colors gradually became brighter, and the dancers (Xuyang Su and Rong Wang) use simple movements to show that the sun is not only shining into the house, but also into people’s hearts and minds.

Then there is a segment integrating several martial arts movements. With vigorous and powerful movements, the martial art volunteers (Hongli Zeng and Fu Zeng) and teacher (Chengmei Liang) of our Confucius Institute show the courage to drive away the virus and the confidence to win.

In the following scenes, much brighter colors are used to show hope and light. For example, the dancer (Jiaying Gao) holding a white fan resembling butterfly wings expresses yearning for the peaceful and beautiful world. The dancer holding a green silk ribbon is me. My original intention of designing this dance is to draw a heart-shaped route in the air with the long silk to show love and hope. At the same time, the long green silk represents harmony and connection, which means that all people in the world are connected together. The virus has come, however, it should not be a reason to isolate us, but a new starting point for us to form closer ties.

In fact, the theme of human connection and the common destiny of human beings runs through the entire film. Starting from the beginning, a verse is written on the screen: ”When looking up, we see the same sky and clouds, and people in all directions share the same sorrow (举首白云天共远,四方上下与同愁).” At the end of the video, we use the words ”Caring about the community of human destiny and protecting the ark of the common destiny of mankind”, bringing forth the theme. In addition, we also spent some efforts on the selection of the theme song, and finally decided the song “Warm heart with heart, equaling to the whole world”. The lyrics says: “Let us warm heart with heart, which is equal to the whole world”. In the emotional flow of music, we integrate Chinese dance elements and Western contemporary dance elements into one, with the purpose of reflecting a fusion of Eastern and Western cultures in the form of dance.


Author: Goldsmiths Confucius Institute Chinese ribbon dance teacher, Xueting Luo

Xueting graduated from China’s leading institution for dance training, Beijing Dance Academy. Her main research directions are Chinese dance aesthetics, Chinese classical dance and universal dance education.

Xueting currently oversees the Chinese ribbon dance short course here at Goldsmiths and is a member of the department’s Outreach for Schools programme, which provides Chinese dance and arts learning experiences in schools across the UK.