Tuesday, July 29, 2008
The first Chinese rulers lived about 4,000 years ago. This early dynasty (period of rule) was known as the Xia. We know very little about Xia rulers, because this period of Chinese history has become mixed up with ancient myths and legends. Excavations have told us more about the Shang dynasty rulers over 3,000 years ago, who were waited on by slaves and fabulous treasures.
During the next period of rule, the Zhou dynasty, an idea grew up that the Chinese rulers were sons of Heaven, placed on the throne by the will of the gods. After China became a powerful united empire in 221BC, this idea helped keep the emperors in power. Rule of the empire was passed down from father to son. Anyone who seized the throne by force had to show that the over throne ruler had offended the gods.
Earthquakes and natural disasters were often taken as signs of the gods displeasure.
Chinese emperors were among the the most powerful rulers in history. Emperors of Chinas last dynasty, the Quing (1644-1912), lived in luxurious palaces that were cut off from the world. When they traveled through the streets, the common people had to stay indoors.
This stele (inscribed stone) on the above picture is located on the summit of Chinas holiest mountain, Taishan, in Shangdong province. To the ancient Chinese, Taishan was the home of the gods. For over 2,000 years the emperors climbed the carved steps to the temple to offer prayers.
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Shamisen or Samisen (三味線) is a Japanese three stringed musical instrument that is played with a specially designed plectrum. On the top and bottom of the instrument cat skin is stretched. The Shamisen is a development of the Sanshin, an Okinawan instrument, which in turn originated from the Chinese Sanxian. When played by a skilled person this three stringed instrument delivers the most amazing music.
Please have a look and listen below.
Please have a look and listen below.
Sunday, July 13, 2008
As mentioned in the previous post new ways of writing Japanese were invented around 800CE.This in turn led to the growth of forms of literature such as diaries, travel writing and poems. Elegant refined poetry called waka was very popular at the Emperors court. From about 1600, haiku which is a form of poetry consisting of on 17 syllables became a favorite form. Haiku was written by people from the samurai class, as well as by courtiers.
Female prose writers were especially important in early Japan. The courtier, Sei Shonagon who was born around 965CE won praise for her Pillow Book - a kind of diary. Female writers were so famous that at least one man pretended to be a woman. The male poet Ki no Tsurayuki wrote the The Tosa Diary under a womans name.
The poet Matsuo Basho 1644-1694 is one of the most famous haiku poets in and outside of Japan. Here is a typical example of a haiku by Matsuo Basho.
Furu ike ya
mizu no oto
Translation by Lafcadio Hearn:
Old pond — frogs jumped in — sound of water.
Friday, July 11, 2008
The Japanese language belongs to a group of languages that are not related neither to each other or any other known languages. It is totally different from the neighboring Chinese language, yet for many centuries Chinese characters were used for reading and writing Japanese. This was because people such as monks, courtiers, and the emperor were the only people who could read and write and they valued the Chinese civilization and ideas to a great extend.
However, as the Japanese empire grew stronger, and Japanese culture developed more of its own characteristics, it became clear that a new way of writing Japanese was required when the use of Chinese characters only showed not to be sufficient enough for the grammar of Japanese. So, around 800CE, two new ways of writing (KANA) were invented. Both were based on the Chinese picture characters (KANJI) that expressed sounds and were written using a brush and ink on scrolls of paper. One type, called Hiragana is used for purely Japanese words while the other called Katakana, is used mainly for non Japanese words or Japanese loan words.
To the upper right is a chart of the Hiragana