ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Chinese history for dilettantes

Updated on March 27, 2011

a book of stories about the origins of Chinese idioms

The title of the book could be translated as "idioms explained".  The caption to the left of the title, "can influence children for life".
The title of the book could be translated as "idioms explained". The caption to the left of the title, "can influence children for life".

Chinese history in a nutshell

Every culture has its popular history. America has its cowboys and Indians, George Washington chopping his cherry tree. Brittian has its round heads and calviliers. Growing up, I did not learn much of China's popular history, because we focus on our own traditions. I have since gleaned some knowledge from short stories that explain idiomatic phrases (成语故事),language lessons discussing historical topics, and movies.

Back when Britons were still painting themselves blue and hanging people in baskets, China was composed of many small states that were almost constantly at war. The first emperor stabalized this situation in 221BC by conquering the five other kingdoms that made up China, at that time. He is the guy who built the Great Wall and populated his tomb with terracotta warriors. In the movie "Hero", Jet Li decides not to assassinate him after going to a lot of trouble to setup the opportunity to do so. I think that movie makes a very strong nationalistic statement, but subtly enough that I doubt most westerners notice.

The passing of the first emperor (秦始皇) lead to another period of chaos as two rivals struggled to be his successor. The guy who won was sly and the one who lost heroic. Their struggle is a frequent topic for Chinese opera. In the movie "Farewell my Concubine" , the two male leads play the guy who lost and his mistress. (guys play women in Chinese opera) The play is about the hero's demise. His mistress cuts her own throat with a sword to relieve him of worry in his final battle, but there is a lot of singing before this happens.

Not too long after, China entered the three kingdoms period; another period of division in China, but one that was very productive in terms of heroic deeds and historical personalities. The movie "Red Cliff" is about one of the important battles that took place in this period.

In more than a thousand years since the three kingdoms, Chinese dynastys have come and gone. Many lasted a couple hundred years, but the transitions were often tumultuous. In periods of stability the common people prospered. In periods of transition there was much suffering. In the last hundred years there was such a period of transition. During this time foreign armies took advantage of China's weakened state to molest and plunder China.

Chinese civilization is, to date, mankind's most enduring civilization. Some western civilizations have earlier inceptions, but they collapsed and were replaced by other civilizations, later. Throughout much of the last two thousand years China has had the most advanced culture in the world and the largest economy. Perhaps, it is now on a trajectory to regain its preeminence.

The Ching and Ming dynasties are the most recent. The Tang is not far removed from the Ming dynasty. The others, I have yet to develop much sense for what order they occurred in, but the beginning of the Ming dynasty will take you back to Chaucer's time; as long as English has existed as a language you and I could understand, sort of.

The transition of power between the Ming and Ching dynastys still has a legacy in popular culture. Power moved from the South to the North, and many Kung Fu movies have a theme of a martial arts association is secretly loyal to the Ming dynasty and is beset by Qing dynasty oppressors. Movies about Hong Kong triads often include scenes where the triad members swear alliagence to eachother and the Ming dynasty.

My impression is that the Qing dynasty was more conservative and inward looking than the Ming dynasty was. Afterall they made the great Chinese navigator, Zheng He (郑和), destroy his fleet.

The Tang dynasty is known for its poets and appreciation of rotund women, also the only female emperor in Chinese history, Wu Zetian (武则天)。

I did not grow up Chinese. So, I can't be sure that the historical narrative I have gleaned is one that most Chinese people would agree with. However, it is the impression I have formed, based on stories I have read and movies I have seen.

a music video glamorizing Wu Zetian China's only female emporer


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)