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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.

Health Qigong – The maintainer of mental health

As the pace of work and life continues to accelerate, people today are facing more and more pressure. They are constantly adjusting themselves in order to adapt to social development and environmental changes. This can lead to long-term mental fatigue, which in turn can have a negative impact on our mental health. According to data released by the World Health Organization in 2007, about 1 billion people worldwide are experiencing the effects of psychological and mental health issues, and this number is still rising year by year.

For many of us, this can be triggered by negative emotions. How can we tackle these negative emotions so that we can restore mental health, instead of heading towards mental health issues? Some people choose to play games online, other turn to overeating, others yet find a few friends to get drunk. In fact, other than a temporary ways to vent out our emotions, these methods do little good for our mind and body.

Is there any way to relieve our bad emotions without harming the body? Yes! Health Qigong is a good choice. A large number of experimental research results shows that long-term practice of Health Qigong can relieve anxiety and depression. Elderly people, students, and white-collar workers have tried repeatedly. For example, a study found that after three months of practicing Health Qigong Wu Qin Xi, middle-aged and elderly women’s positive emotions were significantly enhanced, negative emotions were significantly alleviated, and their mental health scores were significantly improved.

Some specific movements in Health Qigong exercises can effectively improve mental health. For example, In Health Qigong Liu Zi Jue or Six Sounds exercises (六字诀) , the theory of traditional Chinese medicine holds that the heart will respond when the sound “HE” (呵) is pronounced, and that exhalation while pronouncing ”HE” will help to rid the heart of turbid Qi. And it has the functions of clearing heat and reducing the fire, calming the mind, and nourishing the heart.

In addition, in Health Qigong Yi Jin Jing or Tendon-Muscle Strengthening Exercises (易筋经) , the movement of “Black Dragon Displaying Its Claws” (青龙探爪势), the two ribs can be alternately opened and closed by turning around, probing the claws left and right, and bending forward, so as to soothe the liver, regulate qi, and regulate emotions. Traditional Chinese medicine believes that the liver controls venting, indicating that the liver has the functions of stretching, raising, and regulating its capacity. People’s modal activities are not only governed by the heart, but also closely related to the liver. They can also dredge the channels of the liver and Qi and smooth the mind and mood, besides improving the mobility of the waist and lower limbs.

Moreover, Health Qigong Wu Qin Xi or Five-Animal Exercises (五禽戏) is a set of physical and mental sports with rich connotations. In the process of practice we should not only carefully imitate the movements of each animal, but also try our best to understand their psychological state and imitate their psychological characteristics. When practicing Tiger Exercise (虎戏) , try to mimic the manner of a tiger, mightiness and majesty with eyes staring ahead; you think you are a fierce and incomparable tiger patrolling on the hills. Try to mimic the manner of a deer – swiftness, freedom, and unrestrainedness when practicing Deer Exercise (鹿戏) , thinking that you are a light-hearted and alert sika deer playing in the grass. When practicing Bear Exercise (熊戏) , try to mimic the manner of a bear: composure, tranquillity, dexterity, as well as heaviness, thinking that you are a calm and honest black bear walking in the forest. When practicing Monkey Exercise (猿戏) , try to mimic the manner of a monkey: agility and quickness, and the nature of glancing around, thinking yourself are a clever naughty monkey climbing the tree. When practicing Bird Exercise (鸟戏), it is expected to manifest the manner of a bird: calmness, lightness, elegance and grace; think that you are a safe and carefree bird flying in the sky.

In the process of these intense and realistic psychological imitations, our mental state changes quickly involuntarily. This immersive feeling can quickly change our mental state and free us from bad emotions. When we are calm and relieved, we can often see our troubles from a different perspective and find that they are not as serious as we thought. If we persist in practicing, our hearts will be livelier, our psychological endurance will become stronger, and our mind will naturally become healthier.

All in all, practicing Health Qigong can not only strengthen the body, but also improve people’s mood, improve people’s social adaptability, and have a positive effect on people’s mental state. Finally, everyone is welcome to join us in learning and practicing Health Qigong to maintain physical and mental health! Take care, thank you!

Author: Chengmei Liang: Mandarin and Chinese martial arts teacher

Chengmei teaches Tai Chi and Qigong short courses in Goldsmiths Confucius Institute. She also oversees 1-1 Mandarin short courses in the department and works as part of our Outreach for Schools programme.


Covid-19-related Mandarin terms and related poems

Covid-19 has changed the whole world, reshaped the whole world. It might have caused lots of panic and anxiety, but it also pushed us to reconsider the relationship between nature and mankind. Today, I would like to share with you some of the idioms and terms related to Covid-19.

First: wear a face mask, 戴口罩 (dài kǒu zhào), in a store, in a classroom, on public transport: we all need to wear it.

Second: social distancing, 社交距离 (shè jiāo jù lí). We should always mind the distance for the safety and health of each other.

Third: the pronunciation of Covid-19 should be 新冠 (xīn guān), not 新冠 (xīn guàn)

Forth: if there is a confirmed case, 确诊 (què zhěn) in our community, we need to take extra precautions.

Fifth: many countries are researching vaccinations 疫苗 (yì miáo) for this new virus, hopefully these developments will soon be available.

Sixth: 隔离 (gé lí), isolation. When you develop symptoms, you must stay home, protect NHS and others.

Seventh: 封城 (fēng chéng). When a pandemic breaks out, we may have to lock down (封城 (fēng chéng)) our city to stop the spread of the virus.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, there has been lots of warm messages and support sent by different nations to each other. For example, Japan sent so many face masks, accompanied with poems written on the boxes. The poem goes:


qīng shān yí dào tóng yún yǔ, míng yuè hé céng shì liǎng xiāng

This poem is quoted from ”Seeing Off Imperial Censor Chai”, written by a poet named Wang Changling from Tang dynasty. It can be translated as “Blue mountains of different nations share the same clouds and rain, bright moon shines above the same earth.”

Another quite popular poem is “山川异域,风月同天。”. This can be translated as “mountains and rivers apart, wind and moon at heart.”

HSK (Chinese Proficiency Test) Centre in Japan donated 20,000 face masks to Wuhan when the first round of pandemic broke out, with these characters on the boxes. It was written by a Japanese king named Changwu who donated 1000 kasayas (traditional buddhist robes) to Buddhist monks in Tang dynasty.

The whole world is different now, however, tomorrow, the sun will also rise. Interestingly, you will find there are so many ancient poems often using the symbolic of the moon to express emotion.

One more poem to share with you is


qǐ yuē wú yī, yǔ zǐ tóng cháng

This poem is quoted from ‘the Book of Songs”.

“Can’t you say, you don’t have a cloth? I will share mine with you.”

Ancient Chinese poems find their vitality and life again during this pandemic. They inspire us to work together, to think in-depth and to conquer the hardships. We call it 共(gòng)克(kè)时(shí)艰(jiān),which means to mutually counter the hard time.

Photo of Shu Gao

Author: Shu Gao, Mandarin Lecturer

Shu Gao studied at Nanjing Institute of International Studies before graduating from Nanjing Normal University with an MA in Linguistics (Translation Studies). She has translated abridged versions of Jane Austin, Marilyn Monroe, When Summer Comes and a number of other books. She currently lectures in Chinese on our Undergraduate Chinese studies programmes in the department and oversees our Mandarin for Beginner’s short course.

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. 

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.