The New Shanghai Theatre
China, one of the world’s oldest civilizations, has a written history which goes back 3,500 years. China, which lies in eastern Asia, is the world’s largest nation in population, and is the third largest in area. Only Russia and Canada have more territory.
What do spaghetti, a wheelbarrow, the compass, paper, gunpowder, silk cloth, porcelain and acrobatics have in common? They were all invented in China.
The first recorded use of gunpowder by the military was during a period of Chinese history known as the Five Dynasties. They simply put the gun powder in clay posts, set them on fire and threw them. The fiery explosion was enough to send their enemies running in the other direction.
Several hundred years before the invention of gun powder, in a period known as the Qin Dynasty, something we use everyday without even thinking much about it was invented: paper!
The Chinese take great pride in what is known as "the four inventions," the compass, gunpowder, paper and printing. They should be proud! These inventions transformed sea transport, warfare and literacy not just in China but all over the world.
What about spaghetti? If you think spaghetti is Italian, think again. Spaghetti originated in China. And the next time you are in a hardware store and pass a wheelbarrow, remind yourself that it was invented in China also.
Although we have put to use many of the things the Chinese people have invented, there are some practices in China which are much different from those we are used to. For example, the Chinese calendar is much different from ours. When our calendar came to the year 2000, the Chinese calendar shows the year 4698! Obviously, their calendar is several thousand years older.
The Chinese do not use an alphabet to make up words. They use characters. Each character Wrepresents a thought, a concept or an idea, which has a meaning of its own. These characters are combined in group of one, two, three or four together to form what we think of as words.
Acrobatics is another example of Chinese inventiveness. Ancient stone carvings, earthen pottery and early written works trace the ancestry of today’s spectacular acts to an era long since vanished. Even Confucius’s father was an acrobat and a strongman of unrivaled strength who, it is claimed, lifted 1,000 pound city gates to let an army storm through.
It was during the Han Dynasty, more than two thousand years ago, that the Chinese saw the first acrobats, magicians, and jugglers. Acrobatics, with amazing skill of strength and impossible balance, developed out of the annual village harvest celebrations. Chinese farmers and village craftsmen, with relatively little to do over the long winter decided to spend their time improving their societal positions by becoming acrobats. They practiced the art form with just about anything they could find around the house and farm. . . cups, saucers, tables, chairs, plates . . . Even their own bodies, with which they formed human walls and pyramids. Every year in the fall the village’s peasants would join in the village to share in a celebration of a bountiful harvest . . .a sort of Chinese Thanksgiving. It was at this time that the common people would show off their skills by performing fun and exciting feats of daring and strength using household tools and common items found around the farm and workshop. Building on the traditional performances, today’s artists have added new techniques and spectacular stunts thrilling audiences around the globe. Highly skilled, rigorously trained, and superbly talented, these performers follow an unbroken tradition since 700 BC.