Mandarin is the official language spoken in China, but there are many different dialects – two of these are Cantonese and Shanghainese.
Not all characters in Chinese stand for one word. Together, each character can stand for a sound, and the sounds make up words. You can see some examples of this below.
There are around 50,000 characters in the Chinese language, but most people know just a few thousand.
The government in China is a communist one-party state. People do not vote in elections.
The world’s tallest mountain, Mount Everest, is on the border of China and Nepal. Mount Everest is part of the Himalayan Mountains, which is a mountain range just south of the Chinese border.
The most common religions in China are Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism.
In China, people have a lot of respect for their elders. Grans and granddads will be the ones that the whole family has the most respect for, even ahead of mums and dads. Grans and granddads are listed to for advice, and to understand about their lives and history. Families take care of their grandparents as they get older by inviting them to live in their home.
Chinese New Year happens on a different day around the end of January or beginning of February every year, depending on when the cycles of the moon take place. Chinese New Year always has one of 12 different animal themes, each with different meanings – rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. These animals make up the Chinese zodiac calendar.
The Chinese invented a lot of things we still use today – these include paper, gunpowder, porcelain (like some cups and plates), silk, and even ice cream!
There are many different styles of cooking in China, depending on which region of the country you’re in. Each one uses different spices, ingredients or ways of cooking.
Some foods in China that might seem strange include chicken feet, pig brains, ‘thousand year old eggs’ (not really 1,000 years old – just preserved for 100 days) and flower bulbs.
The Chinese flag is red to represent the revolution in 1949. The large star represents the communist party government, and the four smaller stars represent the four social classes in China.
Chinese history is grouped by dynasties. A dynasty is a group of rulers who are in the same family, like the Normans, Tudors and Stuarts of England. The last dynasty in China was the Qing dynasty.
The first dynasty who ruled China as a unified country is the Qin dynasty (pronounced ‘chin’). First Emperor Qin had a collection of statues of soldiers made to be buried with him so he’d have an army in the afterlife, similar to the collection of items that the Egyptian pharaohs would have in their pyramids. These statues are called the Terracotta Army, and about 2,000 of the statues have been discovered by archaeologists.
Names to know
Confucius (551-479 BC) – Confucius was an important Chinese teacher, politician and philosopher. His ideas and beliefs about how people should act towards each other, and how they should live, formed the basis of Chinese culture and society. A strong belief in what Confucius taught is called Confucianism. The Analects of Confucius is a collection of things Confucius said and taught.
Mao Zedong (1893-1976) – Mao Zedong, also known as Chairman Mao, was the first leader of the People’s Republic of China. His controversial political ideas are greatly revered in China, and people there still consider him a great leader.
Qin Shi Huang (259-210 BC) – First Emperor Qin was the first leader of China after the country was unified in 221 BC.
Puyi (1906-1967) – Puyi from the Qing dynasty was the last emperor of China.
Chinese New Year is the biggest holiday celebrated among Chinese people. It is often referred to as the spring festival because it signals the beginning of spring. It is a time when families and friends get together to say goodbye to the old and welcome the new.
The exact origin of this holiday is too old to be traced, but many explanations still exist. One idea is that the holiday originated when a beast named Nian (which means ‘year’ in Chinese) came out the night before the New Year and started to prey on the people in the villages. Of course, the people were very frightened by this monster and so a brave old man went up to the beast and said to him that instead of eating the people of the villages, he should eat the other beasts that frightened these people. Nian followed the old man's request and all of the beasts were chased into the forest. The old man rode away on Nian's back; as it turns out, the man was an immortal god. The people of the village were very grateful to the old man for giving them a peaceful life. Before the old man left for good, he told the people to put up red paper decorations on their windows and doors at the beginning of each New Year because the colour red scared the beast. They also set off firecrackers to scare away the horrible beast.
Very few people know when this holiday is celebrated without looking at a traditional Chinese calendar because it never falls on the same day. The ancient Chinese used a lunar calendar. Chinese years are grouped in sets of 12 with each year being represented by an animal (zodiac sign). Legend has it that in ancient times, Buddha asked all the animals to meet him on Chinese New Year. Twelve came, and Buddha named a year after each one. He announced that the people born in each animal's year would have some of that animal's personality. For example, those born in horse years are cheerful, skilful with money, perceptive, witty, talented and good with their hands.
During the Chinese New Year's celebration, people participate in many traditional activities. The Chinese believe that as they enter a new year, they should put behind them all things of the past. They clean their houses, pay off debts, purchase new clothes, paint their doors and window panes, and even get new haircuts. These activities symbolise new life and new beginnings.
Homes are decorated with flowers and paper decorations stating wishes of prosperity, good luck, happiness, good fortune, wealth, and longevity for the coming year. Decorations of the incoming zodiac animal are also displayed. Red and gold are very popular colours to decorate with. Red represents power happiness, vitality (and scares away beasts). Gold represents wealth and good fortune.
One very important tradition of the Chinese New Year is exchanging gifts. A traditional gift that is given is small red envelopes filled with "lucky money". These envelopes are given to children by their family and friends. The red colour is used to bring good fortune, and the money inside is used by the children to buy holiday treats. These envelopes symbolise the giving of good fortune.
Food is also very important to New Year's celebrations. Families and friends get together for large feasts. Before they eat, they place their food on alters and make offerings to the gods. The foods served at these feasts vary, but what is served is always a tradition for that family. According to the Chinese New Year facts, each of the food items represents a symbol of luck:
- Bamboo shoots, egg rolls, oranges or seaweed: wealth
- Chicken: happiness and marriage
- Dried bean curd: happiness
- Eggs: fertility
- Fish served whole: prosperity
- Chinese garlic chives: everlasting, a long life
- Lychee nuts: close family ties
- Noodles or peanuts: a long life
- Seeds: having a large number of children
- Tangerines: luck
Words to know:
Festival - a day or period of celebration, often one of religious significance
Festivities - the enjoyment or merrymaking typical of a celebration
Lunar - relating to a moon or its movement around a planet, especially the Moon in relation to Earth
Origin - the thing from which something develops, or the place where it comes from
Participate - to take part in an event or activity