Archive for ‘Social & cultural’

08/07/2019

Seven Silk Road destinations, from China to Italy: towns that grew rich on trade

  • Settlements along the route linking Europe and Asia thrived by providing accommodation and services for countless traders
  • Formally established during the Han dynasty, it was a 19th-century German geographer who coined the term Silk Road
The ruins of a fortified gatehouse and cus­toms post at Yunmenguan Pass, in China’s Gansu province. Photo: Alamy
The ruins of a fortified gatehouse and cus­toms post at Yunmenguan Pass, in China’s Gansu province. Photo: Alamy
We have a German geographer, cartographer and explorer to thank for the name of the world’s most famous network of transconti­nental trade routes.
Formally established during the Han dynasty, in the first and second centuries BC, it wasn’t until 1877 that Ferdinand von Richthofen coined the term Silk Road (historians increasingly favour the collective term Silk Routes).
The movement of merchandise between China and Europe had been taking place long before the Han arrived on the scene but it was they who employed troops to keep the roads safe from marauding nomads.
Commerce flourished and goods as varied as carpets and camels, glassware and gold, spices and slaves were traded; as were horses, weapons and armour.
Merchants also moved medicines but they were no match for the bubonic plague, which worked its way west along the Silk Road before devastating huge swathes of 14th century Europe.
What follows are some of the countless kingdoms, territories, (modern-day) nations and cities that grew rich on the proceeds of trade, taxes and tolls.

China

A watchtower made of rammed earth at Dunhuang, a desert outpost at the crossroads of two major Silk Road routes in China’s northwestern Gansu province. Photo: Alamy
A watchtower made of rammed earth at Dunhuang, a desert outpost at the crossroads of two major Silk Road routes in China’s northwestern Gansu province. Photo: Alamy

Marco Polo worked in the Mongol capital, Khanbaliq (today’s Beijing), and was struck by the level of mercantile activity.

The Venetian gap-year pioneer wrote, “Every day more than a thousand carts loaded with silk enter the city, for a great deal of cloth of gold and silk is woven here.”

Light, easy to transport items such as paper and tea provided Silk Road traders with rich pickings, but it was China’s monopoly on the luxurious shimmering fabric that guaranteed huge profits.

So much so that sneaking silk worms out of the empire was punishable by death.

The desert outpost of Dunhuang found itself at the crossroads of two major Silk Road trade arteries, one leading west through the Pamir Mountains to Central Asia and another south to India.

Built into the Great Wall at nearby Yunmenguan are the ruins of a fortified gatehouse and cus­toms post, which controlled the movement of Silk Road caravans.

Also near Dunhuang, the Mogao Caves contain one of the richest collections of Buddhist art treasures any­where in the world, a legacy of the route to and from the subcontinent.

Afghanistan

Afghanistan's mountainous terrain was an inescapable part of the Silk Road, until maritime technologies would become the area's undoing. Photo: Shutterstock
Afghanistan’s mountainous terrain was an inescapable part of the Silk Road, until maritime technologies would become the area’s undoing. Photo: Shutterstock

For merchants and middlemen hauling goods through Central Asia, there was no way of bypassing the mountainous lands we know today as Afghanistan.

Evidence of trade can be traced back to long before the Silk Road – locally mined lapis lazuli stones somehow found their way to ancient Egypt, and into Tutankhamun’s funeral mask, created in 1323BC.

Jagged peaks, rough roads in Tajikistan, roof of the world

Besides mercan­tile exchange, the caravan routes were responsible for the sharing of ideas and Afghanistan was a major beneficiary. Art, philosophy, language, science, food, architecture and technology were all exchanged, along with commercial goods.

In fact, maritime technology would eventually be the area’s undoing. By the 15th century, it had become cheaper and more convenient to transport cargo by sea – a far from ideal development for a landlocked region.

Iran

The Ganjali Khan Complex, in Iran. Photo: Shutterstock
The Ganjali Khan Complex, in Iran. Photo: Shutterstock

Thanks to the Silk Road and the routes that preceded it, the northern Mesopotamian region (present-day Iran) became China’s closest trading partner. Traders rarely journeyed the entire length of the trail, however.

Merchandise was passed along by middlemen who each travelled part of the way and overnighted in caravan­serai, forti­fied inns that provided accom­mo­dation, storerooms for goods and space for pack animals.

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With so many wheeler-dealers gathering in one place, the hostelries developed into ad hoc marketplaces.

Marco Polo writes of the Persian kingdom of Kerman, where craftsmen made saddles, bridles, spurs and “arms of every kind”.

Today, in the centre of Kerman, the former caravanserai building forms part of the Ganjali Khan Complex, which incorporates a bazaar, bathhouse and mosque.

Uzbekistan

A fort in Khiva, Uzbekistan. Photo: Alamy
A fort in Khiva, Uzbekistan. Photo: Alamy

The double-landlocked country boasts some of the Silk Road’s most fabled destinations. Forts, such as the one still standing at Khiva, were built to protect traders from bandits; in fact, the city is so well-preserved, it is known as the Museum under the Sky.

The name Samarkand is also deeply entangled with the history of the Silk Road.

The earliest evidence of silk being used outside China can be traced to Bactria, now part of modern Uzbekistan, where four graves from around 1500BC-1200BC contained skeletons wrapped in garments made from the fabric.

Three thousand years later, silk weaving and the production and trade of textiles remain one of Samarkand’s major industries.

Georgia

A street in old town of Tbilisi, Georgia. Photo: Alamy
A street in old town of Tbilisi, Georgia. Photo: Alamy

Security issues in Persia led to the opening up of another branch of the legendary trade route and the first caravan loaded with silk made its way across Georgia in AD568.

Marco Polo referred to the weaving of raw silk in “a very large and fine city called Tbilisi”.

Today, the capital has shaken off the Soviet shackles and is on the cusp of going viral.

Travellers lap up the city’s monaster­ies, walled fortresses and 1,000-year-old churches before heading up the Georgian Military Highway to stay in villages nestling in the soaring Caucasus Mountains.

Public minibuses known as marshrutka labour into the foothills and although the vehicles can get cramped and uncomfortable, they beat travelling by camel.

Jordan

Petra, in Jordan. Photo: Alamy
Petra, in Jordan. Photo: Alamy

The location of the Nabataean capital, Petra, wasn’t chosen by chance.

Savvy nomadic herders realised the site would make the perfect pit-stop at the confluence of several caravan trails, including a route to the north through Palmyra (in modern-day Syria), the Arabian peninsula to the south and Mediterranean ports to the west.

Huge payments in the form of taxes and protection money were collected – no wonder the most magnificent of the sand­stone city’s hand-carved buildings is called the Treasury.

The Red Rose City is still a gold mine – today’s tourists pay a hefty

US$70 fee to enter Petra

. The Nabataeans would no doubt approve.

Venice

Tourists crowd onto Venice’s Rialto Bridge. Photo: Alamy
Tourists crowd onto Venice’s Rialto Bridge. Photo: Alamy

Trade enriched Venice beyond measure, helping shape the Adriatic entrepot into the floating marvel we see today.

Besides the well-documented flow of goods heading west, consignments of cotton, ivory, animal furs, grapevines and other goods passed through the strategically sited port on their way east.

Ironically, for a city built on trade and taxes, the biggest problem Venice faces today is visitors who don’t contribute enough to the local economy.

A lack of spending by millions of day-tripping tourists and cruise passengers who aren’t liable for nightly hotel taxes has prompted authorities to introduce a citywide access fee from January 2020.

Two thousand years ago, tariffs and tolls helped Venice develop and prosper. Now they’re needed to prevent its demise.

Source: SCMP

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08/07/2019

Disney’s live-action Mulan trailer lights up Chinese social media

  • More than one billion views of Mulan discussion in China hours after trailer screens during Women’s World Cup final
  • While some quibble over technical details, the vast majority are eagerly awaiting Disney’s first Chinese princess
Crystal Liu Yifei as Mulan in Disney’s live-action film which is eagerly anticipated in China.
Crystal Liu Yifei as Mulan in Disney’s live-action film which is eagerly anticipated in China.
Anticipation over Disney’s live-action movie Mulan is running high in China, with more than one billion views of the subject on Chinese social media in the hours after a teaser trailer was unveiled during Sunday’s final game of the Women’s World Cup.
While some online commenters had their doubts over technical details, most internet users appeared exhilarated at the prospect of Disney’s first Chinese princess, played by Chinese-American actress Crystal Liu Yifei.
The big reveals in Disney’s Mulan trailer, and fan reaction
By Monday afternoon, the hashtag Hua Mulan had been viewed more than one billion times on the Twitter-like Weibo service and nearly 770,000 comments had been made on the topic. Some 450 million views had been recorded for the topics “Mushu no longer in the movie Mulan” – a reference to the heroine’s fast-talking dragon companion in the 1998 animation – and “the look of Liu Yifei”.
“I got carried away by the fighting scenes. Mulan is courageous and strong. I look forward to seeing the eastern heroine Hua Mulan going global,” said one Weibo user.
“This is the first Chinese Disney princess. It’s so great and we feel so proud,” said another.
The movie, scheduled for release on March 27 next year, casts renowned action star Jet Li as the emperor who ordered the military draft to fight a northern invasion, and internationally-acclaimed actress Gong Li as a powerful witch. Donnie Yen Ji-dan, star of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and the Ip Man movies, plays Mulan’s martial arts mentor Commander Tung.
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Mulan tells the story of a fabled Chinese heroine who posed as a man and became one of the greatest warriors of her time, arguably in the Northern Wei period, or about AD400 to 600. She is one China’s best known fictional characters, with numerous theatrical references and poems which many Chinese know by heart.

The familiarity of the tale has presented a challenge for the production, with many Chinese online commenters questioning the historical details which can be discerned from the sketchy details provided by the trailer.

Many took exception to the opening scene of Mulan riding a horse to her home, built in the architectural style of tulou, common in the southern province of Fujian, when the legend places the heroine in the north.

“The poem said Mulan bade farewell to her parents in the morning and slept near the Yellow River at night. How can she live in a tulou in Fujian? Did she take a fast-rail train?” one internet user teased.

Another used the example to call for Disney to pay more attention to technical details when telling Chinese stories. “Please don’t be arrogant about Chinese stories.”

Also questioned in China was the message from the trailer that Mulan had become a warrior to escape a forced marriage, rather than the well known detail that she was saving her father from being drafted into the military in an act of filial piety.

But the overwhelming response was that fans should put aside their own perceptions of Mulan and celebrate the new edition as one of the few fully-Asian cast international movies, as well as its depiction of a powerful woman and Chinese values as “the only Disney princess who was not saved by a prince but instead became a fighting warrior”.

“Can our domestically produced period dramas meet the standard if we are here to be picky about looks and architecture? Even domestic directors can’t be perfect in restoring ancient costumes, make-up or architecture. Why should we ask so much from a foreign one? We should celebrate the cultural exchange rather than splitting hairs to find faults,” said one Weibo user.

“Mulan in the battlefield has outperformed men and showcased the traditional values of courage and protecting the country when needed. Chinese values, presented to the world by Chinese actors, is worth looking forward to. Please throw away the technical faults such as architecture,” said another.

Source: SCMP

21/06/2019

Yoga Day: Thousands of Indians celebrate the day

Indian yoga practitioners participate in a mass yoga session on International Yoga Day in New Delhi on June 21, 2019.Image copyright GETTY IMAGES

Indians across the country celebrated the fifth international yoga day on Friday.

Temperatures are soaring in many cities, including the capital Delhi, but that didn’t stop people from gathering outdoors and stretching and bending their way through at least an hour of yoga.

And everyone joined in – even the dog unit of the Indian army!

Dogs doing yoga with Indian armyImage copyright @SPOKESPERSONMOD/TWITTER

The Indo-Tibetan border police – and their dogs and horses – were not about to be outdone. They practised what they called yoga, doga and hoga.

And they were luckier than many of their counterparts – they got to practise their yoga in cooler climes, along India’s scenic Himalayan border.

Dogs and horses doing yoga alongside Indo-Tibetan border policeImage copyrightI TBPOFFICIAL

Among those who did yoga in more hostile climates were the armed forces on board the naval aircraft carrier INS Viraat which is docked off the coastline of sweltering Mumbai city.

Indian Armed Forces personnel take part in a yoga sesssion to mark International Yoga Day on the Indian Navy aircraft carrier INS Viraat anchored at the Mumbai harbour on June 21, 2017Image copyright GETTY IMAGES

In Gujarat, the soldiers got a little more creative with their yoga.

Source: The BBC

19/06/2019

Viewpoint: How the British reshaped India’s caste system

A priest sits in front of a Hindu templeImage copyright AFP

A Google search for basic information on India’s caste system lists many sites that, with varying degrees of emphasis, outline three popular tropes on the phenomenon.

First, the caste system is a four-fold categorical hierarchy of the Hindu religion – with Brahmins (priests/teachers) on top, followed, in order, by Kshatriyas (rulers/warriors), Vaishyas (farmers/traders/merchants), and Shudras (labourers). In addition, there is a fifth group of “Outcastes” (people who do unclean work and are outside the four-fold system).

Second, this system is ordained by Hinduism’s sacred texts (notably the supposed source of Hindu law, the Manusmriti), it is thousands of years old, and it governed all key aspects of life, including marriage, occupation and location.

Third, caste-based discrimination is illegal now and there are policies instead for caste-based affirmative action (or positive discrimination).

These ideas, even seen in a BBC explainer, represent the conventional wisdom. The problem is that the conventional wisdom has not been updated with critical scholarly findings.

The first two statements may as well have been written 200 years ago, at the beginning of the 19th Century, which is when these “facts” about Indian society were being made up by the British colonial authorities.

In a new book, The Truth About Us: The Politics of Information from Manu to Modi, I show how the social categories of religion and caste as they are perceived in modern-day India were developed during the British colonial rule, at a time when information was scarce and the coloniser’s power over information was absolute.

graphic
Image caption Conventional wisdom says the caste system is a four-fold categorical hierarchy of the Hindu religion

This was done initially in the early 19th Century by elevating selected and convenient Brahman-Sanskrit texts like the Manusmriti to canonical status; the supposed origin of caste in the Rig Veda (most ancient religious text) was most likely added retroactively, after it was translated to English decades later.

These categories were institutionalised in the mid to late 19th Century through the census. These were acts of convenience and simplification.

The colonisers established the acceptable list of indigenous religions in India – Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism – and their boundaries and laws through “reading” what they claimed were India’s definitive texts.

The so-called four-fold hierarchy was also derived from the same Brahman texts. This system of categorisation was also textual or theoretical; it existed only in scrolls and had no relationship with the reality on the ground.

This became embarrassingly obvious from the first censuses in the late 1860s. The plan then was to fit all of the “Hindu” population into these four categories. But the bewildering variety of responses on caste identity from the population became impossible to fit neatly into colonial or Brahman theory.

A leader of those formerly considered untouchable discusses a food shortage with a government official. Bengal Province, British India. | Location: Bengal Province, British IndiaImage copyright GETTY IMAGES
Image caption A leader of those formerly considered untouchable with a government official in British India

WR Cornish, who supervised census operations in the Madras Presidency in 1871, wrote that “… regarding the origin of caste we can place no reliance upon the statements made in the Hindu sacred writings. Whether there was ever a period in which the Hindus were composed of four classes is exceedingly doubtful”.

Similarly, CF Magrath, leader and author of a monograph on the 1871 Bihar census, wrote, “that the now meaningless division into the four castes alleged to have been made by Manu should be put aside”.

Anthropologist Susan Bayly writes that “until well into the colonial period, much of the subcontinent was still populated by people for whom the formal distinctions of caste were of only limited importance, even in parts of the so-called Hindu heartland… The institutions and beliefs which are now often described as the elements of traditional caste were only just taking shape as recently as the early 18th Century”.

In fact, it is doubtful that caste had much significance or virulence in society before the British made it India’s defining social feature.

Astonishing diversity

The pre-colonial written record in royal court documents and traveller accounts studied by professional historians and philologists like Nicholas Dirks, GS Ghurye, Richard Eaton, David Shulman and Cynthia Talbot show little or no mention of caste.

Social identities were constantly malleable. “Slaves” and “menials” and “merchants” became kings; farmers became soldiers, and soldiers became farmers; one’s social identity could be changed as easily as moving from one village to another; there is little evidence of systematic and widespread caste oppression or mass conversion to Islam as a result of it.

All the available evidence calls for a fundamental re-imagination of social identity in pre-colonial India.

The picture that one should see is of astonishing diversity. What the colonisers did through their reading of the “sacred” texts and the institution of the census was to try to frame all of that diversity through alien categorical systems of religion, race, caste and tribe. The census was used to simplify – categorise and define – what was barely understood by the colonisers using a convenient ideology and absurd (and shifting) methodology.

n Indian woman sits infront of portraits of Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar during 122nd birth anniversary celebrations for Ambedkar in Hyderabad on April 14, 2012.Image copyright AFP
Image caption India’s constitution was written by BR Ambedkar, a member of the Dalit community which is at the bottom of the caste system

The colonisers invented or constructed Indian social identities using categories of convenience during a period that covered roughly the 19th Century.

This was done to serve the British Indian government’s own interests – primarily to create a single society with a common law that could be easily governed.

A very large, complex and regionally diverse system of faiths and social identities was simplified to a degree that probably has no parallel in world history, entirely new categories and hierarchies were created, incompatible or mismatched parts were stuffed together, new boundaries were created, and flexible boundaries hardened.

Group of Untouchables, India, circa 1890Image copyright GETTY IMAGES
Image caption Dalits, or untouchables, were at the bottom of the caste system

The resulting categorical system became rigid during the next century and quarter, as the made-up categories came to be associated with real rights. Religion-based electorates in British India and caste-based reservations in independent India made amorphous categories concrete. There came to be real and material consequences of belonging to one category (like Jain or Scheduled Caste) instead of another. Categorisation, as it turned out in India, was destiny.

The vast scholarship of the last few decades allows us to make a strong case that the British colonisers wrote the first and defining draft of Indian history.

So deeply inscribed is this draft in the public imagination that it is now accepted as the truth. It is imperative that we begin to question these imagined truths.

Source: The BBC

13/06/2019

Chinese tourists breaking rules ‘all over the place’ in Boracay

  • After a six-month closure, Boracay reopened in October with new rules that prohibit smoking, drinking, dining and littering on the beachfront. But the dos and don’ts seem to have escaped notice, especially among tourists from China and South Korea
  • Tourists enjoy Boracay’s famous White Beach in January. Photo: Shutterstock
    Tourists enjoy Boracay’s famous White Beach in January. Photo: Shutterstock
    Travel has changed a lot since the 19th century. Obviously. But attitudes towards travellers have not, if the diaries of Francis Kilvert are anything to go by.
    “Of all noxious animals, the most noxious is a tourist,” the English clergyman wrote in the 1870s, and while Kilvert asserted that it was the British who were “the most vulgar, ill-bred, offensive and loathsome” of them all – a contention that might be challenged today – an increasing number of places across the globe have had their fill of imprudent outsiders, regardless of where they are from.
    The island of 
    Boracay

    , in the Philippines, the original face of overtourism in the region, is one of them. In February last year, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte vowed to

    close

    the popular tourist hotspot, saying, “Boracay is a cesspool. It is destroying the environment of the Republic of the Philippines and creating a disaster.” The septic metaphor was no melodrama – a number of hotels, restaurants and other tourism-related businesses were dumping untreated sewage directly into the ocean, contaminating White Beach’s crystalline waters and tarnishing Boracay’s reputation. As Duterte decreed, the island shuttered for six months from April, during which time infrastructure was to be installed and new environmental requirements implemented.

    When Boracay 
    reopened

    , in October, it was heralded as a rare success in the ongoing fight against the tourist menace, despite the fact that thousands of

    islanders had been left without incomes

    , the nation’s economic growth had suffered and, heaven forfend, holidaymakers had been forced to cancel hard-earned vacations. And the rehabilitation is far from complete. In January, the Boracay Inter-Agency Task Force, the organisation overseeing the ecological overhaul, announced a 25.3 billion peso (US$485 million) action plan, which, if approved, will fund 233 projects related to the enforcement of laws and regulations, pollution control and prevention, rehabilitation and recovery of the ecosystem, and the sustainability of land activities, according to a report on Philippine news site Rappler.

    But still the tourists come, albeit in smaller numbers than before, and just as in pre-closure times, not all of them are welcome; in particular those who pay little attention to the new rules, which prohibit smoking, drinking, dining, littering, partying and fire dancing on the beachfront.
    A complaint about Chinese tourists, posted to Facebook in April. Photo: Facebook / @philippinesdefense

    On April 29, Wilson Enriquez, the Boracay Tourism Regulatory Enforcement Unit chief, revealed that tourists from China were the worst violators of these regulations, as stated in an article on the Philippines Lifestyle News website. Since the beginning of the year, 739 Chinese had been apprehended.

    “Tour guides have informed them about the ordinances but [Chinese tourists] are really stubborn,” Enriquez told the news site. Korean tourists took a distant second, with 277 apprehensions, with most infractions recorded for smoking, eating and drinking on the beach, or littering.

    Eighty per cent of the visitors Boracay received in the first quarter of this year hailed from China and South Korea, according to the local tourism office – the former accounting for almost half of all arrivals, 149,019 of 309,591 – so perhaps it is unsurprising that the Chinese break the most rules.

    One disgruntled Filipino took to social media (where else) to air their grievance, writing that Boracay had been “teeming with loud, garbage-throwing, spitting everywhere Chinese tourists” during their Holy Week visit, while another told Philippines Lifestyle News, “I saw [Chinese tourists] with my own eyes, breaking ordinances all over the place.”

    That there has been a recent rise in anti-China sentiment in the Philippines, a reaction to Duterte’s “love affair” with the Middle Kingdom, according to an article on SupChina’s website, should be noted. But really, if we want to be able to enjoy Boracay, or anywhere for that matter, for years to come, we should all stick to the rules and exercise respect for the community and environment hosting us.


    Airbnb bounces back in Japan

    A sign on the door to a block of flats in Tokyo communicating a ban on using units in the property for Airbnb, in March 2018. Photo: Reuters
    A sign on the door to a block of flats in Tokyo communicating a ban on using units in the property for Airbnb, in March 2018. Photo: Reuters
    It has been a year since Japan implemented its minpaku law, aimed at regulating short-term lets, such as those advertised on home-sharing site

    Airbnb

    . It effectively rendered hosts whose homes were not licensed illegal, and all those without the required permit were forced to delist their properties and cancel bookings. Almost 80 per cent of listings disappeared.

    However, Airbnb is back in business. In a statement published on June 6, the company said that 50,000 listings were now available in the country, as well as 23,000 rooms in hotels and ryokan. Just before the rules came into force last June, Airbnb had a total of 60,000 listings.
    Presumably the company’s efforts to appease local regulations will pay off next year, when Japan hopes to receive 40 million visitors as host of the 2020 Summer Olympics. Whether those 40 million will be welcomed by residents remains to be seen.

    Monkey troubles – wild macaque gets cheeky in Bali

    If you need any reminder that the macaques that roam Ubud’s Sacred Monkey Forest, in the uplands of the Indonesian

    island of Bali

    , are wild animals, then this tourist’s experience should jog your memory. While posing for a picture, a monkey climbed onto the lap of Sarah Wijohn, a visitor from New Zealand, had a good old scratch and then yanked down her top, almost exposing her to the world.

    Fortunately, neither Wijohn nor the primate seemed too scarred by the incident, unlike those who have written blog posts about being attacked by the animals and made videos advising how not to catch rabies from the “crazy monkey forest”.
    Here’s an idea: don’t go.
    Source: SCMP
05/06/2019

China runs Confucian culture courses for religious leaders in bid to boost control

  • Communist Party says those taking part pledged to ‘cultivate the Chinese cultural character of our nation’s religions’
  • Confucius has been rehabilitated by party in recent years as a means of rallying patriotism and countering foreign influences
The Communist Party for decades attacked the sage as a symbol of feudalism, but now Confucianism has been elevated. Photo: AP
The Communist Party for decades attacked the sage as a symbol of feudalism, but now Confucianism has been elevated. Photo: AP
China has begun five-day Confucian culture immersion courses for religious leaders in the sage’s hometown as part of a campaign to extend government control over faith communities through a

process of Sinicisation

.

The ruling Communist Party’s United Work Front Department said in a news release on Monday that the activity was designed to ensure the primacy of traditional Chinese values above all.

“To hold activities here … is a collective tribute to excellent traditional Chinese culture and a conscious identification and integration with Chinese culture,” said the release, posted on the department’s website.

Participants pledged to “cultivate the Chinese cultural character of our nation’s religions so that our nation’s religions are rooted in the fertile soil of excellent traditional Chinese culture, and to ceaselessly and deeply advance the Sinicisation of our nation’s religions”, it said.

The five-day immersion courses are being held in the sage’s hometown of Qufu. Photo: United Front Work Department
The five-day immersion courses are being held in the sage’s hometown of Qufu. Photo: United Front Work Department

President Xi Jinping has launched the harshest crackdown in decades on religious practices, especially those viewed as foreign such as Christianity and Islam, while at the same time elevating home-grown Confucianism.

While for decades the officially atheistic Communist Party attacked Confucius as a symbol of feudalism, he has been thoroughly rehabilitated in recent years as a means of rallying patriotism and countering foreign influences.

Confucianism’s emphasis on strict social organisation, advancement through study and exam taking, adherence to hierarchy and maintenance of social harmony appeals especially to the heavily bureaucratic party, which brooks no challenge to its authority.

Xi has repeatedly called for religious leaders and believers to be guided by “socialist core values”. Party bureaucrats overseeing religion have demanded that key religious tenets and texts such as the Bible and Koran be interpreted “in conformity with the demands of modern Chinese development and excellent traditional Chinese culture”.

That has been accompanied by a campaign of removing crosses and bulldozing many churches, destroying mosques and locking an

estimated 1 million Chinese Muslims

in camps where they are forced to renounce Islam and their cultural traditions.

Despite international condemnation, China claims it upholds freedom of religion and is seeking only to ensure regulations are followed while discouraging religious extremism and violence.
Those participating at the launch of the five-day course included the president of the Chinese Taoist Association, vice-president of the Chinese Islamic Association, chairman of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association and president of the Chinese Christian Association.
Confucius was believed to have been born in the 6th century BC in the eastern town of Qufu. He is credited with authoring or editing key texts of statesmanship and social order, particularly the Analects that contain his key aphorisms and teachings.
The sage’s legacy is also invoked in the name of the 
Confucius Institutes

, quasi-academic bodies set up in colleges and other centres of education around the world.

Several US universities have rejected offers to open Confucius Institutes on their campuses or declined to renew contracts over concerns about Chinese government political influence.
Source: SCMP
04/06/2019

Tiananmen Square: What happened in the protests of 1989?

File photo of protestersImage copyright AFP
Image caption By early June 1989, huge numbers had gathered in Tiananmen Square

Thirty years ago, Beijing’s Tiananmen Square became the focus for large-scale protests, which were crushed by China’s Communist rulers.

The events produced one of the most iconic photos of the 20th Century – a lone protester standing in front of a line of army tanks.

What led up to the events?

In the 1980s, China was going through huge changes.

The ruling Communist Party began to allow some private companies and foreign investment.

Leader Deng Xiaoping hoped to boost the economy and raise living standards.

However, the move brought with it corruption, while at the same time raising hopes for greater political openness.

Protesters in Tiananmen SquareImage copyright GETTY IMAGES
Image caption Protesters in Tiananmen Square, 1989

The Communist Party was divided between those urging more rapid change and hardliners wanting to maintain strict state control.

In the mid-1980s, student-led protests started.

Those taking part included people who had lived abroad and been exposed to new ideas and higher standards of living.

How did the protests grow?

In spring 1989, the protests grew, with demands for greater political freedom.

Protesters were spurred on by the death of a leading politician, Hu Yaobang, who had overseen some of the economic and political changes.

Archive picture of Deng and HuImage copyrigh AFP
Image caption Deng Xiaoping (left) with Hu Yaobang

He had been pushed out of a top position in the party by political opponents two years earlier.

Tens of thousands gathered on the day of Hu’s funeral, in April, calling for greater freedom of speech and less censorship.

In the following weeks, protesters gathered in Tiananmen Square, with numbers estimated to be up to one million at their largest.

The square is one of Beijing’s most famous landmarks.

It is near the tomb of Mao Zedong, the founder of modern China, and the Great Hall of the People, used for Communist Party meetings.

What was the government’s response?

At first, the government took no direct action against the protesters.

Party officials disagreed on how to respond, some backing concessions, others wanting to take a harder line.

The hardliners won the debate, and in the last two weeks of May, martial law was declared in Beijing.

On 3 to 4 June, troops began to move towards Tiananmen Square, opening fire, crushing and arresting protesters to regain control of the area.

Who was Tank Man?

On 5 June, a man faced down a line of tanks heading away from the square.

He was carrying two shopping bags and was filmed walking to block the tanks from moving past.

"Tank Man" in BeijingImage copyright GETTY IMAGES

He was pulled away by two men.

It’s not known what happened to him but he’s become the defining image of the protests.

How many people died in the protests?

No-one knows for sure how many people were killed.

At the end of June 1989, the Chinese government said 200 civilians and several dozen security personnel had died.

Other estimates have ranged from hundreds to many thousands.

In 2017, newly released UK documents revealed that a diplomatic cable from then British Ambassador to China, Sir Alan Donald, had said that 10,000 had died.

Do people in China know what happened?

Discussion of the events that took place in Tiananmen Square is highly sensitive in China.

View of Tiananmen SquareImage copyright GETTY IMAGES
Image caption Tiananmen Square now – full of tourists and surveillance cameras

Posts relating to the massacres are regularly removed from the internet, tightly controlled by the government.

So, for a younger generation who didn’t live through the protests, there is little awareness about what happened.

Source: The BBC

03/06/2019

No compulsory Hindi in India schools after Tamil Nadu anger

Indian schoolchildren are silhouetted against a national flag as they participate in Independence Day celebrations in Chennai on August 15, 2016.Image copyright GETTY IMAGES
Image caption Tamils argue that imposing Hindi will jeopardise their language

The Indian government has revised a controversial draft bill to make Hindi a mandatory third language to be taught in schools across the country.

The draft bill had met particularly strong opposition in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, which has always resisted the “imposition” of Hindi.

In 1965, it saw violent protests against a proposal that Hindi would be India’s only official language.

Tamil is one of the oldest languages and evokes a lot of pride in the state.

However the government decision has not calmed tensions in Tamil Nadu.

The two main political parties in the state, the DMK and AIADMK, have both said that simply revising the draft to say Hindi would not be mandatory is not enough.

The state teaches only two languages – Tamil and English – in the government school curriculum, and the parties do not want a third language introduced at all.

A DMK spokesman told the NDTV news channel that the third language clause would be used as a “back door” to introduce Hindi anyway.

Their rivals, the AIADMK, which allied with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the general elections but lost badly in the state, had a similar view.

“Our party has always been clear in our stand. We have always followed a two-language policy. Though mandatory Hindi has been revised in the draft now, we still cannot support this three-language system. Our government will talk to the union government for our rights,” former state education minister and AIADMK spokesman Vaigaichelvan told BBC Tamil.

On Monday, #HindiIsNotTheNationalLanguage began trending on Twitter in India, which saw many from Tamil Nadu facing off against people from other parts of the country and asserting their right not to have the language “imposed” on them.