Dancing Hair – The Hair Swinging Dance of the Wa People 

China is not only a geographically vast and varied country, but is also very culturally diverse thanks to the many communities from different ethnic minorities living across different parts of the country.

This diversity has paved the way for the emergence of a variety of styles of folk dance performed among differing communities from different regions.

Without a doubt, the folk dance of the Wa people is one of the most mysterious and fantastic forms of folk dance in the world. Its representative movement – hair swinging – encapsulates this form of traditional folk dance with charm and spirit. 

Performance of the Hair Swinging Dance

Yiyun performing the Hair Swinging Dance at University of La Rochelle, France as part of Goldsmiths Confucius Institute CNY France Tour

The majority of Wa people still live in areas of southern China, such as Changyuan(沧源), Ximeng(西盟) and Menglian(孟连) in Yunnan province(云南省). Numerous high mountains and broad rivers have isolated many Wa communities from the developing modern world for a long period of time. Due to this geographic confinement, many communities have managed to maintain their unique traditional lifestyles, customs and values.

Many Wa people believe in a kind of natural worship and animism and regard natural phenomena as the actions of gods or spirits. This has led to religious celebrations and activities in which spells are combined with specific dancing, singing and a holy instrument (a specific kind of wooden drum). 

Photo of va ethnic community dancing

A Hair Swinging Dance ritual performed by Va people in China

In the last month of every lunar year, as well as the Keri month (格瑞月) of Wa year, Wa people would hold an important sacrificing ritual, called Kelukeluo or Kaoguoro (拉木祭祀) as pronounced in the Wa dialect. the Hair Swinging Dance is one of the most exciting parts of this ceremony.

When women start to swing their long black hair while dancing and the wood drum is beaten out in an energetic rhythm, the sacrificing ritual would reach its climax. The women’s dancing hair is said to appear like a fierce wind, a raging fire or even a cascading waterfall. The dancers’ movements not only show their respect to nature and God, but also their vigorous enthusiasm and optimism.

“These black waves of hair indicate the beauty of these girls, as well as their bold and generous characters.”

Photo of Yiyun performing Hair Swinging Dance in France

Yiyun performing Hair Swinging Dance in Espace Marc Sangnier, France as part of Goldsmiths Confucius Institute CNY France Tour

Originally the Hair Swinging Dance was a kind of self-entertaining dance, but it gradually became a popular form of dance that gained popularity across the whole of China and even across the world. You may well find that you gain a unique insight into the values of Chinese communities whilst watching or practicing this kind of folk dance.  

I am very delighted to introduce you to this attractive folk dance, through both my text description here and through my movement pieces. When I perform or practice the Hair Swinging Dance, my strongest feeling is one of concentration and disconnection with the world. Actually I am not able to think about anything else; I can only concentrate on myself, both physically and mentally.

I believe the reason for this is that whilst I am dancing, I shake my head as hard as I can, which weakens the function of my other senses and leads me to forget everything apart from the dance itself.

From my perspective, due to the constant hair swinging and head shaking, this form of dance can help to improve mental and emotional wellbeing as the strong sense of self-concentration needed can help to rid oneself of feelings of annoyance and insignificance in daily life and bring a sense of escape.

Such mediation through dance leads the dancer close to gods and spirits. 

Photo of Yiyun Li

Author: Yiyun Li, Dance Teacher

Yiyun Li is a dance teacher at Goldsmiths Confucius Institute. She mainly oversees the teaching of Asian Contemporary Dance and Chinese folk dance courses in the departmental as well as taking a key role in the departments Outreach for Schools programme. Her research specialisms include Movement Communication, cultural comparisons of folk dances and Chinese dance education. 

New developments for global Confucius Institutes

The Centre for Language Education and Cooperation and the Chinese International Education Foundation have been officially announced on 5th July 2020.

It has been a critical period for the development of Confucius Institutes – the growing need for providing Chinese language education across the world has put forward the demand on new levels of resources and high-quality Chinese language courses. In response to this demand, people from all walks of life, including many principals of partner universities, directors of Confucius Institutes, and other colleagues from China and abroad, have proposed forming a foundation that would support Confucius Institutes worldwide. During the 2019 International Chinese Language Education Conference, a general consensus was reached to advance this proposal. Several Confucius Institute partner universities with rich experience in educational exchange, such as Peking University, Fudan University, and Beijing Language and Culture University, together with a number of corporations and social organisations in China, have jointly initiated the formation of The Chinese International Education Foundation, a non-governmental foundation that will assume the cooperation and support of Confucius Institutes worldwide.

The Confucius Institute Headquarters together with partners and colleagues from around the globe has successfully incubated a world-renowned language education brand—the Confucius Institutes—and laid the groundwork for a non-governmental way of operating these university programmes with university partners from many countries. The Headquarters and the founding institutions of the new Foundation have agreed to transfer to the Foundation the operation of the brands of Confucius Institute and Confucius Classroom. Once the Foundation is established, the Foundation will contact host and partner universities of Confucius Institutes to begin the transition. Once the transition is substantially complete, the Headquarters will be deregistered. Separately, the Centre for Language Education and Cooperation (CLEC) will be established to provide support for other Chinese language education programmes such as assistance with Chinese language majors at applicable colleges and universities, the build-out of Chinese language learning and testing centres, and the conduct of international language education and cooperation programmes.

The Foundation will be a non-governmental international educational charitable organisation registered in China with the support and membership of Chinese universities, corporations, and social organisations. The Foundation will expand and diversify resources, and improve the professional teaching services, to support and serve the Confucius Institutes. With support from the Foundation, university-to-university partnerships will serve as the developmental vehicle for Confucius Institute programmes as run by the partner universities. Chinese universities will provide the teaching, personnel resources and operational funding necessary to ensure that the support for and investment in Confucius Institutes remains undiminished.

From Music and Movement to Emotion and Engagement – An Introduction to the Choreographic Process

Performance of the Walker

The creative piece, The Walker, performed in celebration of Chinese New Year here at Goldsmith Great Hall.

Hello everyone!

My name is Ma Jiaolong and I currently oversee Chinese classical and Chinese sword dance short courses here at Goldsmiths Confucius Institute. I also help to further understanding of these art forms through departmental performances and an important focus of my work involves choreographing and creating new performance pieces for some of the department’s annual projects.

Since working here, I have created several works and performed in an exciting variety of external performances. This has proven to be a great way of imparting further knowledge of Chinese performing arts to the local community and has also been a unique experience for me. I would like to take this opportunity to share with you a creative experience that still particularly sticks out in my mind, namely the process of creating an original performance piece entitled The Walker.

The Walker involved a total of seven staff members from the department, including myself. Among them were He Yun (a talented player of the traditional Chinese stringed instrument, the guzheng) as well as three great female dancers, Liu Yiwei, Dai Yun and Gao Jiaying and two fine martial arts performers, Zeng Fu and Huang Hongquan. Although many of those staff members have now left the department, I look back fondly at our time performing together and feel thankful for the opportunity of working together with them.

The creative process for the project originated from a particular guzheng music piece that He Yun had been practicing. From the first time I heard it, I was really moved by the music and immediately thought of using it as a basis for a new creative project.

I kept the guzheng centre-stage and had the other performers move around it, so that it remained the focal point of the piece. Here the guzheng and the music which erupts from it is positioned as a central place; metaphorically it becomes a place and state of being that each performer strives to reach, a sort of pilgrimage site.

Individual body movements by each performer were designed to show how they have each traveled over the years, what they have encountered, how they have met and even how life eventually has to come to an end. Like a leaf falling from a tree, eventually we all fall back to our roots; each person is but a simple walker or passenger in their own lives.

Performances of the Walker

Jiaolong Ma and Yun He perform together in The Walker

He Yun was required to provide live accompaniment for every rehearsal. In order to be able to perfectly integrate the music with the dance, I altered aspects of her music a lot each time, which was rather a challenge as it meant she had to play the piece over and over again.

Sometimes, the dancer’s movements would also need to be altered and she would have to play the music from the start yet again. Her fingers soon became very painful, but she never gave up. At that time we could have used a pre-recorded accompaniment, but she refused that option as she believed going through this process together with everyone meant she would be able to breathe with the performers, to feel their movements with the music, to accomplish our goal and move forward together on such a journey.

The three female dancers Liu Yiwei, Dai Yun and Gao Jiaying played a very important role in this work. The psychological feelings expressed by each of their movements helped to inspire me with more ideas when I was choreographing. They enabled me to engage with different feelings and opinions and greatly enhanced the overall expressive power of the work.

Zeng Fu and Huang Hongquan were the two final martial art performers of the piece. As martial arts performers, being given an introduction to Asian Contemporary dance was a learning curve for them. They never missed a rehearsal and approached the beginning of each day with laughter and energy. They were unfamiliar with such movements, but after my demonstration and explanations would begin to imitate me.

After impromptu training sessions with everyone, they found the feeling of the dance in their own bodies and through their own efforts and everyone’s support were able to make the movements their own, leaving imitation behind and using bodily movements to express their own emotions. In essence, becoming great dancers.

This piece could not have been achieved with any performers missing; each played a vital role in the composition and creative and emotional effect of the work. When performers work towards a common goal without giving up, the journey will be full of meaning; the same is true of life.

After this work was performed, it was really well received by many audiences and we had a lot of positive feedback from audiences here in Lewisham, across the UK and Europe. There were even some critical interpretations of the piece that had never even crossed my mind during the creative process. This also made me learn a lot and understand more about how foreign audiences can interpret works in different ways and has given me greater motivation to take on challenges in my future creations.

You can watch a clip of The Walker here, which was featured as part of Goldsmith’s Confucius Institute 2019 Chinese New Year celebrations.

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.

Stories from my Year Abroad – “What is one of your most vivid memories of your time in China?”

Image of Shanghai

Photo Credit: Benjamin Patin, Unsplash

“What is one of your most vivid memories of your time in China?”

This is a question that is commonly asked to those who were lucky enough to study abroad. Unlike most other people who are asked this question, however, one of my most vivid memories from my time in China comes from my very first few days in the country – it’s not the first meal I ate, nor is it my first time stumbling over the language. In fact, it is not only a memory, but also a unique sensation that will never leave me.

Stepping out of the hotel lobby and into the late morning Shanghai sun, I will never forget the feeling of heat and humidity washing over my body. The heavy air which sticks to your throat, and the deep smell of hot concrete stay with me even today, and I can vividly recall this unique feeling. Although this is a feeling which many might describe as unpleasant, for me, it is tinted with nostalgia as it underpins my memories of this exciting time.

Stepping out into that heat, with my classmates beside me, for my first few days in China is something I will never forget. However, speaking of things that I will never forget, the heat would soon contribute to another ‘unforgettable’ experience later that very same day.

As a bunch of 20-year-old students on our first day in China, it was natural that we’d want to see and experience everything we possibly could. Under the burning August sun and in temperatures over 30 degrees, we immediately set off to the centre of Shanghai to take in the sights, getting off at People’s Park before embarking on a trek down Shanghai’s busiest shopping and tourist destination, Nanjing East Road.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Shanghai, Nanjing East Road is a popular tourist spot filled to the brim with souvenir shops, restaurants, cafes, and other tourist traps

Nanjing East Road in Shanghai

There is a popular phrase in Chinese, which directly transaltes to ‘people mountain people sea’ and is used to describe a very crowded place. Probably the ideal phrase to describe Nanjing East Road on summer evening!                 Photo Credit: Connor Jordan

Nanjing East Road connects the park to The Bund, one of Shanghai’s most iconic sightseeing spots. So, how perfect would it be, to walk from the park down to The Bund and experience both the bustling Nanjing East Road and close off the adventure with some pictures at an iconic part of the city. It sounded like the perfect plan, but one which in retrospect might not have been so well thought through.

We had only just arrived in China, having landed the day before and spending most of the afternoon and evening trying to make it to our hotel with heavy suitcases. We were jet lagged and weary, but wanted to make the most of our short time in Shanghai before moving on to Nanjing (a city a few hours away from Shanghai) to register at the university. As such, we were running off airplane food, coffee, and sugary drinks, and the fatigue was starting to show as we began our 20-minute trek down Nanjing East Road towards The Bund.

Not too long into our journey, one of the more reasonable of our cohort suggested we stop for lunch in one of the many restaurants, which seemed like a good suggestion and a way to temporarily beat the heat. As you might expect, we couldn’t reach a decision on what to go for, but as you might expect less, what we settled on was probably not the most ideal choice – McDonalds. Now, 7 years on, I can look at this and identify that this probably contributed to the events that were about to follow, but as they say – hindsight certainly is 20-20.

After our brief pit stop, we carried on towards The Bund, stopping occasionally to check in shops or to take photos. We were making good progress and most of us were feeling relatively fine, albeit tired, aside from one student. A noticeably tall and skinny student, since arriving in China he had barely eaten anything and stuck to drinking sugary drinks to keep his energy up. He had started to complain about feeling a bit shaky, so as the Pearl Tower crept into view at the end of the street, we were glad to finally reach our destination and take in this much celebrated Shanghai sightseeing spot, before heading back to our hotels to rest. We had just one more obstacle to overcome, which was crossing a busy street packed with loud cars and eager tourists.

As soon as we took our first steps to cross the road, out of the corner of my eye I saw the tall student grab another classmate’s backpack before falling to the floor with a loud thud. That’s when panic ensued – nothing in our year abroad meetings or handbooks had prepared us for this eventuality!

He seemed conscious but unable to stand properly, so we dragged him back onto the pavement and into what little shade we could find. A bunch of young foreign tourists gathered around someone lying on the pavement had certainly started to gather the attention of passers-by, so some of our group attempted to disperse the gathering crowd whilst others tended to the student. Eventually, the tall student regained some of his strength, and as soon as he could stand, we called a taxi and some of the group escorted him to see a doctor immediately.

Image of The Bund in Shanghai

The Bund, taking during another (less dramatic) visit to Shanghai.                                                Photo Credit: Connor Jordan

As a reader, you can probably identify where we might have gone wrong and what had contributed to this dramatic event – heat stroke. We heard the news from the students who had accompanied him to see a doctor that he had briefly fainted from overheating, and coupled with having not eaten much and consuming only sugary drinks, alongside our lack of sleep, it had finally become too much for his body to bear. Suffice to say, this early experience served as a useful learning point for our class, and we soon knew not to underestimate the Chinese summer heat.

As time passed, we also found the poeticism and comic timing of our classmate collapsing before one of Shanghai’s most breath-taking sceneries – “it was just too stunning to handle!”

So, if someone asks me about my vivid memories of my time in China, the feeling of heat and story of my fainting classmate stand out strongly in my mind. It might not be the most typical story to tell, but to me, it has all the makings of dramatic year abroad tale – well intentioned plans, a series of poor choices, a dramatic conclusion, and some useful life lessons. Regardless, I don’t need to remember trivial things such as my first meal – it turns out, I have a photo of that anyway!

A pot of Shanghai noodles

Delicious 70p noodles – probably one of the better choices we made!
Photo Credit: Connor Jordan


Image of the Author

Author: Connor Jordan

Connor is the Personal Assistant to the Confucius Institute Director. He graduated with a BA in Chinese Studies and spent his year abroad in China studying at the University of Nanjing in Jiangsu province. Connor has a keen interest in Chinese culture and previously worked for a Chinese media organisation.

禾 | A Simple, yet Beautiful, Chinese Character! 

Fields of wheat

Image credit: Marcin Kempa

Chinese characters are one of the most important elements of the Chinese language and have evolved with the development of Chinese culture. They are embedded in multiple aspects of Chinese culture and are still shaping thinking today.

As a Mandarin lecturer, I personally encourage every Chinese learner to practice characters as much as possible as nowadays we are losing more and more of our connections with our ancestors and history.  Try to seize any chance you may get to learn more about this fascinating ancient writing system.

Today, I will briefly introduce you to the  beautiful character of (hé). This a very simple character but is also very commonly used as a component in many complicated characters.

禾 means  crop and grain; the shape of the character is somewhat like a rice crop bending heavily in the wind. Can you see it too?

Qiu Chinese Characters

The Chinese character for crop or crops, 禾, (hé)。

Now, let’s take a look at some characters containing  :秋, , (qiū,  jì, xiāng).  

秋  (qiū) is made up of on the left and 火 (huǒ) on the right. In the original character, the top radical signified  crickets whilst the bottom radical signified fire. People would hear crickets chirp a lot when autumn came around  whilst the fire described the farmers burning straw after harvesting to prevent pests. 

Thus, our ancestors took crickets and fire, these two most typical items, to symbolise the season of  autumn.  Later, as Chinese characters developed, the complicated cricket radical was omitted and only the radicals for fire () and straw/crop () were left to represent autumn. 

( jì) contains the radicals at the top and 子 (zǐ) at the bottom with and 子 signifying an infant or baby.   originally meant young crop with a  written at the bottom to indicate a young stage. Now the meaning of has evolved to mean season or a certain period, but there is  still a connection between  young crops and seasons, isn’t there? Here’s  a trick for helping to  memorise the character of 季, just think of the fact that young crops need a season to  harvest!

(xiāng) means fragrance or fragrant and today it is composed of the radicals at the top and ( rì ), meaning sun, at the bottom. However, in ancient times the character originally contained the symbol for mouth 口(kǒu)at the bottom, which then later changed to the radical for sweetness 甘 (gān). Thus, ancient Chinese people understood something fragrant to be a sweet or tasty grain from the crops.

It was only in recent times that the radical for sun 日 replaced the radical 甘 for sweetness, however, I still prefer to interpret  as 禾 (crops)  + (the sun) to depict the sun shining over croplands. Imagine you are standing a field of crops in the sunshine. What you can smell, wouldn’t you say it is the definition of  

The secret of Chinese characters

One radical can  help to understand the meaning of several different Chinese characters

That’s  the story in Chinese characters! Did you find it intriguing? 

Chinese characters are a magical window that allow us to see our ancestors’ world and how it has developed over thousands of years into the modern society that we know today. Through all the evolutions and simplifications of Chinese characters we can see how thinking has changed and yet how certain things remain constant despite the passing of time.

Thanks to Chinese characters, we are still able to catch a glimpse of the landscape that our ancestors saw; we are able to understand the thinking – be it trivial or grand – behind each and every character.

Mandarin Lecturer and Post Author

Mandarin Lecturer and Author: Jianmei Yang

Jianmei acquired the National Certificate for Teachers issued by Hanban Headquarters in China. She previously worked in Jiangxi University of Traditional Chinese Medicine researching TCM translation and teaching methods. She has also previously worked in South Korean teaching Chinese as a foreign language. She currently oversees several undergraduate Mandarin modules here at Goldsmiths Confucius Institute as well as our Lower-Intermediate and Intermediate Mandarin short courses for members of the local community.

The Art of Chinese Scarf and Silk Dance

Goldsmiths Confucius Institute dancers perform a Chinese ribbon dance peice

Chinese scarf and silk dance (巾舞 Jīn wǔ) refers to a dance where the practitioner holds a scarf or silks and is one of the unique creative art forms to emerge from ancient Chinese dance. The use of scarves helps to not only improve the muscular strength of the dancer in the movements it requires but also greatly expands the expressive power of the dancer’s body and allows emotional expression to become yet more vivid.

The history of the scarf dance can be traced back to the Han Dynasty (202 BC ~ 8 AD) in China. Han Dynasty stone portraits show rich images of this form of scarf dance that depict different shapes and vivid life. This highly expressive type of dance matured in the Han Dynasty and has a long history that has been passed down to the present day. 

Han Dynasty rubbings

Rubbings of Han dynasty stone portraits. Photo credit: Baidu

Additional rubbings of Han dynasty stone portraits depicting dancers with silk. Photo credit: Baidu

Many images of dancers holding a scarf can be found in different artistic and historical representations of Chinese classical and folk dance. One of the most well-known forms is Dunhuang dance, which is also known as Chinese ribbon dance. This dance is represented in the Buddhist paintings that appear in the Mogao Caves located in a desert along the former silk road in Dunhuang in north-central China.

The ancient Mogao Cave murals show many depictions of Feitian, a type of ethereal flying being. Feitian are said to have beautiful voices and sing wonderful songs; the long silks they wear float and flutter in the sky, showing their freedom and elegance. Feitian dancing with long silks is one of the most distinctive features of the dance postures of these Dunhuang depictions.

Image of Feitian on Dunhuang murals. Photo credit: Baidu

Performing with long silks and ribbons in one’s hands was a vibrant dance form popular in imperial China and favoured by Chinese nobility. This long silk dance is also a foundation of todays Chinese ribbon dance (a branch of classical Chinese dance). During training, it is necessary to combine manipulation of silk with graceful body contortions as well as specific rhythmic body movements and a momentum that gives the audience the sense that the dancer is floating and air-bound. 

In 2019, here at Goldsmiths Confucius Institute, we began the department’s very first Chinese ribbon dance short course in order to introduce this art form to Goldsmiths staff and students and the local community here in Lewisham.

The content of the Chinese ribbon dance course consists of three main parts: 

  1. Body movement training
  2. Ribbon skills training
  3. Dance clips training

This dance course absorbs teaching techniques from Beijing Dance Academy, we hope that through this course, students will feel the elegance of Dunhuang dance, the lightness and beauty of silk and let this unique Chinese art form help them to fully awaken their bodies and gain inner peace and freedom. 

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.

Cross-cultural Communication through Movement

Dancer on the Shore

Yiyun performing one of her own Asian contemporary dance pieces

Hello everyone!

My name is Yiyun Li, a dance teacher at Goldsmiths Confucius Institute. I am mainly involved in teaching and research relating to Asian contemporary dance and Chinese folk dance here in the department.

I would like to introduce you to a special way of cross-cultural communication, Asian Contemporary Dance (ACD).

“Contemporary dance is a genre of dance performance that developed during the mid-twentieth century and has since grown to become one of the dominant genres for formally trained dancers throughout the world, with particularly strong popularity in the U.S. and Europe. Although originally informed by and borrowing from classical, modern, and jazz styles, it has since come to incorporate elements from many styles of dance. Due to its technical similarities, it is often perceived to be closely related to modern dance, ballet, and other classical concert dance styles.” – Concordia University Contemporary Dance Program

Asian contemporary dance not only developed from fundamental Western contemporary dance but also combined lots of elements of movement from traditional Asian performance, such as Chinese classical dance, Chinese folk dance, Asian minority and ethnic dance and other forms of movement and performance art in Asia.

Asian contemporary dance aims to improve understanding of Asian philosophies, histories, aesthetics and national characters through body movement. This newborn subject is a bridge linking ancient and contemporary times, Eastern and Western cultures, as well as dancer’s inner minds and physical movement.

The teaching methods of ACD are highly creative and unique compared to traditional movement courses in which students learn movement by only imitating and repeating. The following are the three major differences.

The first one is in the warm-up part. We warm-up by improvisational dance (free movement), in which students can be both physically and mentally awaken by naturally scanning their body. Then the sense of body-mind connection would come up, that is able to provoke dance’s imagination and creativity, in order to break the existing physical movement restrictions which might be formed by dancer’s previous training, and lead us to explore more movement possibilities.

“I learned about the body as an object of scientific study and then trained in a movement form that privileged listening to and moving from inner impulse.”

The second unique aspect is the stretching and basic muscular training, which would take place after a warm-up to prevent injury and improve our body quality.

The training model of ACD is a combination of several movements training systems, such as basic training in Ballet (芭蕾基训 Bālěi jī xùn), breathing and basic elements of Chinese Classical Dance (身韵古典舞呼吸与基本元素 Shēn yùn gǔdiǎn wǔ hūxī yǔ jīběn yuánsù), modern dance floor techniques (现代舞地面技巧 Xiàndài wǔ dìmiàn jìqiǎo), some typical motions of Chinese Folk Dance (中国民间舞代表性动作 Zhōngguó mínjiān wǔ dàibiǎo xìng dòngzuò) etc. By the diversity of training system in the course, a student would learn many kinds of stylized movements and understand cultural inclusion through dance practice.

The third difference is the final choreography, which is created by both student and teacher and means there will be more than one style in the final piece of choreography.

This practice is challenging for many students, but it can develop their artistic expression skills dramatically and allows them to appreciate dance composition and other forms of contemporary arts. More importantly, students gain an insight into Asian cultures through embodied body movement.

I have found that this mixed movement training system of ACD is such a special embodied way to achieve communication in a cross-cultural context.

Dance Teacher Profile

Author: Goldsmiths Confucius Institute Dance Teacher, Yiyun Li

Yiyun Li is a professional dancer, experienced dance teacher and creative choreographer who has worked in Chongqing No.47 College as a specialised dance teacher and for 5 years at Chongqing Broadcasting and Television Station as a choreographer.

Yiyun obtained the Gold Award of a performer in a professional group and Silver Award in performance for her self-choreographed dance piece Taste of Sichuan in the Third Shaanxi Province Lotus Dance Contest. She was also awarded the honour of Excellent Choreographer in 2012. Yiyun teaches on our Outreach for Schools programme as well as our Asian Contemporary Dance and Chinese Folk Dance short courses here at Goldsmiths Confucius Institute.

Top Tips for Learning Chinese in Lockdown!

Image of woman and books

Photo Credit: Lacie Slezack

Quarantine and isolation at home can be boring. However, it can also be a great chance to brush up on your Chinese language skills. You may find you now have the time to attempt new ways of learning the language that you never had before.

We all know that watching movies and listening to music are highly recommended activities for learning a language as they can help improve listening and sometimes even speaking skills. But do you find yourself sometimes struggling to keep up with what is being said or sung?

I have heard lots of students say that the fast-moving images and plots of TV series and films can very often distract them from focusing on listening. Music is often also not such a great Chinese language teacher as the Chinese language has tones, which may not be decipherable from listening to the lyrics.

That’s why I find this little thing—喜马拉雅 (Xī Mǎ Lā yǎ)— quite a useful tool for learning Chinese at home.

Himalaya Language App

Himalaya Audio Book App

喜马拉雅, meaning Himalaya, is an app. that has a huge variety of audio content, including classic literature, modern novels, news and even various podcasts and content recorded by strangers from all over the world.

If your Chinese level is elementary or intermediate, you can choose something easy to understand. It is also possible to slow down the play speed to make sure you can carefully tune-in and understand what is being said more easily.

Listening to Music App

Listening to Chinese Audio

If you are an advanced Chinese learner and like a challenge, you can choose to listen to works with vocabulary from certain dialects, such as Beijing dialect, Northeast dialect, Sichuan dialect, etc. to further enrich your knowledge of the Chinese language in its cultural context.

Chinese Grammar Points

Chinese grammar: Why do we use ‘上’ for going to the bathroom, but ‘下’ for going to the kitchen?

In addition, you can also record your own work and save it on 喜马拉雅, and compare it with other people’s work in order to gain feedback on how you can improve all whilst practising your speaking at the same time.

Uploading Works

Users can upload their own recordings to the site.

Even as a native speaker, I myself enjoy playing and listening to news or novels on this app. when cooking in order to relax and help further improve my own language level!

Learning can be without limits in any form, I’m sure you can also find many more innovative and intriguing ways to learn Chinese either online or offline, and when you do, don’t forget to share them with us!

Image of the author

Image of the author, Mandarin Lecturer, Hao Lan, during his time teaching Mandarin Chinese in Thailand.

After graduating from Yunnan Minzu University with an MA, Hao Lan worked as a lecturer in Chinese at Zhejiang University of Finance & Economics for several years where he gained a wealth of teaching experience. He has overseen a range of courses, including elementary, intermediate, advanced and HSK training courses. Lan Hao specialises in second language acquisition and teaching Chinese as a foreign language and oversees Mandarin language teaching on our BA Chinese language programmes as well as Credit Courses and Short Courses in Mandarin Chinese here in the department.

Taoism: A Hermit Philosophy?

Image of a Hermit Crab on the shore

Image of a hermit crab. Photo credit: Ahmed Sobah

Many people think that Taoism is a hermit philosophy. Its focus is on the criticism and transcendence of reality, not the construction of reality. So in terms of governing a country, it cannot be compared with other Chinese philosophies.

Among all these misconceptions on Taoism, one is the core value of it—Wuwei. Wuwei is the basic idea of Taoism and the basic method of its practice. The idea has been translated into many words like:


“ruling by doing nothing”


“governance without actions”

These are all good terms, however, they are also liable to cause misunderstandings. While Wuwei might seem a rather distant and intangible philosophical concept for many, this popular cartoon image might help you to understand the concept more clearly.

Image of an inner peace turtle

Still from the film, Kung Fu Panda Legends guise: Turtle Master Soul.

Turtle in Chinese is Wugui, a homophone of Wuwei. In this movie, the turtle demonstrates rather an authentic form of Taoism thinking—inaction.

Wuwei was first proposed by the ancient Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu who believed that all things in the world are produced by Tao and running with Tao.

The movements of all things in the world follow the law of Tao. So what is the law of Taoism?

Lao Tzu said:

“Humanity, earth, earth, heaven, heaven, law, and Taoism are natural.”

(Daode Jing · Chapter 25)

Thus, we can deduce that the most fundamental law of Tao is nature or the primitive cosmology. Since Tao is based on nature, then things should develop naturally and take their natural course, so that they can be in a natural state consistent with the Tao. Without interfering with Tao, and without affecting things with human’s selfish intention, can things exist normally and develop healthily, so that the ruler can govern a country effortlessly and peacefully. Therefore, in the view of Taoism, dealing with people and cultivating one’s mind should be based on natural inaction, and avoid delusions.

Lao Tzu said:

“Teach the saint to do Wuwei, do the teaching without saying a word.”

(Tao Te Ching · Chapter 2)

“In moral virtue, there is nothing to do; under moral virtue, there is thought.”

(Tao Te Ching · Chapters 38 )

“ For learning day by day, for the loss of the Tao, and the loss is so bad that resulted in inaction. Action by inaction.”

( Tao Te Ching ·Chapters 48)

In short, according to the Taoist view, under the state of natural inaction, things can develop smoothly according to their own laws, as well as the body and society. If humans interfere with the development process of things or change the natural state of things in accordance with a certain subjective desire, the result will only be like this Chinese idiom:

“ Help the shoots grow by pulling them upwards”.

Therefore, wise people should adopt inaction to maintain health and govern the world. Only in this way can the goals be achieved.

Of course, “governing inaction” is by no means doing nothing. “Doing nothing” means you just let it be and be lazy in ruling. But “governing inaction” means not doing things at your own selfish will and not acting against the rules.

On the contrary, for things that are in line with the Tao, you must do what you want. But what you do should be in agreement with nature, and follow nature’s law; do it by nature, not by man. So this kind of behaviour will not only avoid destroying the natural process and natural order but benefit the natural development and growth.

In modern society, with the development of science and technology, not only have people’s material lives been greatly improved but also people’s spiritual lives have become more and more abundant. However, in sharp contrast to this, people’s happiness in life has not improved with the improvement of living standards; on the contrary, in many cases, people feel more unhappy and unhappy than before.

The reason is that modern society is presented in front of people with many colourful forms. In the face of various material and spiritual temptations, people’s needs and desires have been unprecedentedly stimulated, but people’s ability to meet their needs and desires is limited, which leads to endless pain and annoyance in people’s hearts.

‘…people’s ability to meet their needs and desires is limited, which leads to endless pain and annoyance in people’s hearts.’

In fact, according to Taoism, all the pains and worries in life are derived from human beings going off-track from Tao. People are not satisfied with the existing natural state, but always try to transform life according to their own wishes and the requirements of others and imagine that this will make life better. As everyone knows, this destruction of natural life order seems to bring immediate happiness and joy to people, but it’s doomed to cause natural disasters and endless pains in this world.

“Whatever has happened before will happen again. Whatever has been done before will be done again. There is nothing new under the sun.”

Things may change as time flies but the Tao will be always the same.

It’s time for our modern people to abandon arrogance and search for the laws of harmony with nature through continuous reflection and self- examination.

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.

New Beginnings: From Mandarin Chinese to Online Qigong

Image of Open Lake

Photo Credit: Emile Guillemot

Why on earth would anyone want to do this?!

Hello, my name is Ian, a retired Senior International Business Executive and Consultant with a very fulfilled life as a drummer (rock & African), motorcyclist, would-be guitarist, cook, movie-goer, director and dad. So, when I decided to try my hand at Mandarin, this was the question I really had to ask myself.

I already had a good life. I was loving being retired, so why would I want to bring some whole new levels of stress into my life?

The answer was obvious really. Although I’ve lived in China, have a lovely Chinese wife, and had just bought a house in Sanming (Fujian Province), my Mandarin skills were almost non-existent. This was something I knew I’d been putting off but really had to fix.

I scoured the internet looking for an introductory Mandarin course as I knew I would need the encouragement and discipline that goes with some formal teaching, and finally found Goldsmiths Confucius Institute Mandarin short courses. Eventually, I signed up, rather nervously!

Why nervously, you might rightly ask? Surely Goldsmiths has a great reputation as a centre of learning? Surely the courses they offer will be well-structured and taught? Well yes, of course, that is true, but I am 63, have no great language skills, and learning Chinese is extremely hard!

How do I know all this? Well, I live with my Chinese wife and daughter and they have routinely encouraged me in my efforts by laughing out loud and passing helpful comments like:

“Nobody in China is ever going to understand you.”

Not to mention, there is also the necessary element of learning of pinyin, tones and committing to memory thousands of Chinese characters.

My fears were later confirmed when I bumped into a group of senior university staff outside our classroom. They jovially asked what I had been doing. I explained I was trying to learn Mandarin, with their retort being:

“Don’t envy you that, learning Chinese is so bloody difficult!”

Now I think you understand, I knew this was going to be tough.

And truly, it was difficult at the start. I was the oldest and possibly the least experienced in our smallish Mandarin group class and, despite being a highly paid and nimble-minded businessman, the pace was just too much for me! So I talked to Confucius’ admin staff and agreed that a 1-1 course was probably more suitable for me, and they set this up in a few days so I didn’t lose out. It was very helpful.

This is where I met my teacher (老师 lǎoshī), and now friend, Chengmei Liang. She was everything that I needed in a Mandarin teacher. Warm, friendly, flexible and endlessly encouraging and patient. We agreed on the course materials we would use, set a sensible pace, and made the lessons as much fun as we could. We even shared a little Chinese tea to keep us going. It was a very civilised and very rewarding experience.

Image of student and teacher

Ian and Mandarin lecturer and Martial Arts instructor, Chengmei Liang

I know what you are thinking, she simply introduced me to basic Chinese and took it easy with me. I suppose that’s a little true. But it also misses the fact that she is also a Chinese martial arts graduate and teacher, so trust me, she is definitely not someone to mess with!

After two terms, and taking on additional business responsibilities, I decided I should lighten my load and ease my mind. I decided to suspend my Mandarin classes in favour of joining Goldsmiths Qigong short course (traditional and gentle healthy and spiritual martial arts exercises). I am so happy that I did; it hass been fantastic to relax both my body and mind with such a varied and friendly group of people.

Qigong students in class

Ian and his fellow Qigong short course students pose for a photo after class.

We’ve all been gently stretched and challenged as tranquil Chinese traditional music plays in the background. One and a half hours just flies by, and my strength, flexibility and balance have all improved as a result. Our next challenge, sadly brought about by Covid19’s quarantine, is to try and continue our classes remotely using Microsoft Teams so that we do not lose our momentum.

So there you have it. It was definitely worth it, and my thanks to Chengmei and Goldsmiths for making this journey possible and enjoyable.

I hope that my new found skills will allow and help me socialise more easily with family and locals whenever we ‘holiday’ in our new Chinese home! So please wish me/us well!

Image of student drumming

Ian practising one of his favourite pastimes, drumming.

Ian is a keen student, eager to learn new skills and take on new challenges. He is currently enrolled in Goldsmiths Confucius Institute Qigong short course and has also participated in the department’s Mandarin for Beginners and 1-1 Mandarin short courses.