Chris Alexander

On Engineering

Chinese culture sampler

8th October, 2011

The blog has been a bit quiet for the last month because I’ve been in China having a bit of a holiday. Look out for more pictures and posts coming as I get round to it!

I thought I’d share a few snippets of Chinese culture as I come across them from while I was away. Today I’ve got some modern Chinese pop music, wedding customs, and spicy food (not all in one pot, fortunately) for you to digest.

I think it is a fair statement to say that China is completely different in just about every possible way from the UK. Sure cars still have four wheels and a steering wheel, people still have two legs, arms and eyes, and the sun rises in the east (东) and sets in the west (西), but that’s pretty much where the similarities end. Food is served and eaten differently, the customs are completely different, and subway stops are so far apart you couldn’t walk it if you wanted to.

So, Chinese pop music. This is all taste-dependent, of course, because I happen to have a bit of a penchant for cheesy pop music of the Western variety, so the recent piece I’ve picked out to share with you is more of the same I’m afraid. However, please give it a go! If you’re not keen at least she blows up the Aston at the end. Even though I have literally no idea what exact words they’re singing, I still really like it (the album is on order from Amazon.cn) - it’s horrifically catchy.

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The artist here is 张靓颖 (her English name is Jane Zhang) and the song is 我的模样 (“Personal Look”) from her recent album “Reform”. Jane was born in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province in central China - Sichuan is famous for its spicy food and absolutely stunning scenery (more of that to come too).

She was discovered as a finalist of the oddly-named “Mengniu Yoghurt Super Girl Contest”, essentially an all-China female version of Pop Idol, which was insanely popular with everyone in China except the communists who called it “poison”.

Remember, this is China - everything is done at a vast scale; the most popular series had 400 million viewers, with 800 million text-message votes cast throughout the series, coincidentally also making it the largest democratic vote in modern times in China. Can you imagine the smile on Simon Cowell’s face if the next X-Factor series got anywhere that many viewers? It would be even more intolerable than his face the rest of the time. Zhang also won “Asia’s Sexiest Vegetarian Woman 2010″, organised by the helpful PETA in between complaining about Lady Gaga and performing dubious publicity stunts. There actually aren’t that many vegetarians in Asia so take that how you will.

Anyway, back to the music. The video was released a couple of weeks ago hot off the press.

Chinese weddings are quite different to those in the West. More specifically, there isn’t really a religious aspect (at least in a Christian sense of the term). The actual wedding day takes place in a hotel or restaurant, and can feature everything from stages, sets, spotlights, to high-end soundsystems and more. In Beijing, first-time weddings are in the morning, and if either partner is marrying for the second (or more) time, they are married after midday (this is inverted in some other regions). Wedding photographs are taken at a separate venue in advance of the day, and there is often a gigantic photo of the happy couple posted outside the venue on the day of the celebration. The actual legal marriage does not occur on the wedding celebration day either, instead it happens up to years in advance at a local government office. Hence the day when they “walk down the aisle”, have food with family and friends, and do a lot of drinking at posh hotels and restaurants is more of a wedding “celebration”, and a great excuse for everyone to have a good time!

Note: not all Chinese weddings involve kidnapping, provocative dancing in the desert, and the burning of expensive automobiles. Just this one.