Chinese Culture 101

This page was written during my days at the University of Chicago. I move it here to keep it alive because it means something to me. This page is intended to give you a glimpse of Chinese culture from my perspective (born and educated in China, but polished in USA).


The essence of Confucianism

Li (Courtesy and etiquette) Yi (Justice, righteousness, and loyalty) Lian (Honesty) Chi (Sense of shame)

These four words of Confucius are kinds of equivalent to the ten commandments in the bible.

The influence of Confucius () on the Chinese culture is equivalent to that of Plato on the Western culture.

Qi (Chi)

According to Chinese philosophy, the body is pervaded by subtle material and mobile influences that cause most physiological functions and maintain the health and vitality of the individual.

In my very own word, Qi is thought to be the materialized form of energy and spirit.



Yin and Yang are the basic concepts of Chinese philosophy. They express the idea of opposing, but complementary phenomena that exist in a state of dynamic equilibrium. Yin and Yang are always present simultaneously.

It was first said by Lao-tzu (c. 600BC):

The common symbol for yin-yang is


Acupuncture is an unique medical treatment practiced in Chinese medicine. It uses needles to stimulate certain points of human body to treat the patients. According to Chinese medicine theory, human body is a network of energy (the so-called meridian system). Acupuncture give appropriate stimulations at certain points of the energy network to keep it balanced. For example, in the case of epilepsy, certain region of brain is overexcited, acupuncture can "calm it down".

Chinese Martial Arts

Chinese martial arts emphasize the cultivation of mind, body and spirit. One of the goals of the Chinese martial arts is to achieve the harmony of one's mind and body and the nature.

There are numerous styles of Chinese martial arts. Two well-known styles are Shao-lin and Tai-chi.

Chinese Characters

The Chinese characters are basically derived from symbols that ancient people used to represent things they wanted to express. For examples, the character of mountain resembles the picture of mountains; the character of the sun is derived from a symbol of the sun; the character of the moon is derived from a symbol of the moon.

To express more complicated concepts, such as morning, the ancient Chinese use the symbol of sun-rise , and from which comes the character of morning .


Chinese Dialects

My experience tells me that Chinese dialects are often misunderstood by many Americans. The so-called Mandarin is the official spoken language of the mainland China, largely developed based on the dialect of the capital city, Beijing. Cantonese is a major dialect of the Chinese living in the USA mainly because of the early immigrants came from Canto area.

In my home town, people living at opposite side a river speak different dialects. My intuition is that geographic separation partially contributed to the evolution of many Chinese dialects. Today, there are probably hundreds of Chinese dialects. Although the written Chinese characters are used by every dialect, their pronunciations can differ to such extent that people from different dialects can hardly understand each other. In my opinion, the difference between Chinese dialects is very much equivalent to the difference between different European languages.

Chinese Cuisine

The Chinese cuisine is certainly as diverse as the Chinese dialects. The recipes of each style often reflect its local geography, climate, and resource. The Chinese cuisine best-known in the USA are Szechwan and Canton.



  Hong Qin, First written August, 1998. Revised May, 2004.

See also: Hong's Research page. Hong's home town.