Chinese Culture

The Chinese Civilization according to mythology is in existence from the time when Universe came in existence. However the evidence of first dynasty of China that is the Neolithic Dynasty shows its existence from 4000 B.C.

The Chinese Culture has been influenced by mainly Buddism and Christianity. This is so because during Ancient and Imperial China the various Dynasties followed the principles of Buddhism though there were few momentary disagreements. In the Later Imperial China Western missionaries started coming to China for spreading Christanity. This was the period when the culture of China started getting westernised. There were several missionaries schools that taught English language and the time had come when traditional Chinese students started going abroad to study higher studies.

Chinese Calligraphy

The art of calligraphy originated in China and is locally called Shufa, which means, “the way/method/law of writing.” Chinese calligraphy is practiced as both an art form and as a means of learning self-discipline and control. Highly skilled individuals who focus on the aesthetic principals of the written form practice the art of Chinese calligraphy, or yishu. Students and the elderly practice more basic-level calligraphy. This form of calligraphy is part of learning to be literate and does not hold itself to the high aesthetic standards of the yishu.


Ancient Chinese texts have been found made of characters carved into either ox hide or tortoise shells. While there is evidence that paint and brush texts existed along with the carved texts, the painted texts have not survived. The common practice was to paint the script onto shell or bone and later transfer it to the more permanent, carved medium. Another complicating factor in the history of Chinese calligraphy and Chinese characters in general, is that most of the ancient Chinese kingdoms had their own set of characters, and it wasn’t until the Imperial era (200 BCE) when a more universal character system was put into place.

Emperor Qin Shi Huang began a writing reform in 220 BCE that helped create a list of 3,300 standard characters. By this time, the common writing instruments were brush and paper, therefore most of the documents from this time are lost and there are very few examples of the character’s style. It is known, though, that the Lishu style, which is a clerical script that similar to modern character style, began during Quin Shi Huang’s reforms.

In order to make copying of text easier and thus more available to the public, further standardization came under Emperor Mignzong (926 – 933). The Kaishu style, which is still practiced today, came from this era.

Cursive and Printed Styles

The fluid nature of the cursive style creates more opportunity for variation, which allows a large variety of cursive forms.  The Chinese cursive style came from the Lishu style, and was only used for personal uses, such as notes and memos, and never for public texts. With the advent of the printing press and, subsequently, the computer, the Chinese character became more and more standardized. In modern print, the font styles Song and sans serif are used, though they are not seen as traditional styles and are not used in written calligraphy.

Numbers in Chinese Culture

China is believed to have attached a special meaning to the arithmetic numbers. In fact, in Chinese culture, every number has its own connotation. While some of them are considered to be auspicious, the rest are considered to be inauspicious to be used anywhere, on the basis of the Chinese words that corresponds with the number name. Not every Chinese believes in this game of superstition. The rules of numbers in Chinese cultures cannot be applied in every case, as the pronunciation and vocabulary often varies in different Chinese dialects.

Chinese people who believe in the auspiciousness of certain numbers, often attempt to do things based on numbers considered favourable for them, such as paying large amount of money to arrive at an auspicious number for their phone numbers, home addresses, street addresses, floor of a multi-storeyed building, vehicle plate number, bank account number and so on.

Like said earlier, each number has its own perceived quality. Number one means unity, number two denotes easy and number three shows liveliness. However, number four is considered a bad omen, as it denotes the fourth stage of human existence according to the Chinese and Buddhist worldviews. In certain parts of China, number four is considered lucky though. Number five symbolizes the self, me and nothing. Number six stands for easy and smooth; often used in context of salary and wages. The Seven number represents togetherness, Eight represents sudden fortune and Nine denotes Long period.

In China, lucky numbers are based on Chinese words which sound analogous to other Chinese words. All number names sounding similar to words with positive connotations are considered auspicious, such as numbers 6, 8 and 9. Numbers like 4, 5, 6 and 7 are considered unlucky or inauspicious in Chinese numbers. Number Seven, for example, means spiritual or ghostly. Also, the seventh month of the Chinese calendar is called the Ghost month. In this month, all the gates of hell are opened for ghosts and spirits to visit the living realm.

Similarly, in case of Chinese number gestures, one hand is used to represent natural numbers from one to ten. This method was established in China to connect with different dialects in spoken Chinese. For instance, numbers 4 and 10 are difficult to differentiate in a few Chinese dialects. Many Chinese business people also used it during the bargaining process while seeking for privacy in a public place.

Chinese Names

Chinese culture differs from Western culture in a number of ways. Personal names, for instance, in China are based on different conventions as compared to the personal names kept in Western countries. The major point to be noted is that Chinese names are always written or used with the Family name prior to the first name of an individual. For example, Brian Fernandez to be interpreted as a Chinese name would be Fernandez Brian. Another popular instance can be of the basketball player, Yao Ming, who is addressed as Mr. Yao in Chinese dialect.

Sometimes, if a Chinese has to move to some other country for personal or business person, he or she may adopt a Westernised name by converting the existing Chinese dialect to the Western dialect. For example, in the above case, Yao Ming can be reversed to Ming Yao. Many a times, some Chinese people living in Hong Kong and Singapore take a combined name of Western first name, surname and Chinese first name (John Yao Ming), or in a reversal order of Western first name, Chinese first name and surname (John Ming Yao).

Traditional Chinese names had always followed a certain suit of using generation names as part of a two-character given name. This often created confusion while referring to someone by the first part of their given name only as it would be their generation name itself. This actually keeps occurring in Western societies, where the first part of the given name is often mistaken as the first name unless the given name is hyphenated. This convention is not in much use today except in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Malaysia; in Mainland China, given names usually have only one character. People belonging to the rural areas mostly have rural names given to them by their illiterate parents.

Many East Asian countries also follow the same pattern as of Chinese names, with more than 700 different Chinese family names used in these countries today. A majority of Chinese family names have only one character, while a few with two characters. Today, married Chinese women keep their maiden names as their family names instead of adopting their husband names in the Peoples Republic of China (PRC). However, children generally adopt their fathers family names only. Earlier, marrying someone with the same family name was prohibited or considered offensive regardless of the relationship between the parties concerned, but this does not exist anymore.

Other Resources

Other resources recommended by The Translation Company:

Chinese Culture according to Wikipedia

Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco

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