China’s Yangtze River (sometimes called Changjiang, “the long river”) is the 3rd longest in the world at 3,988 miles. The Yangtze is home to many endangered species, like the Chinese Alligator and Yangtze sturgeon, as well as the extinct river dolphin. It begins near the border of Tibet and ends in the East China Sea, spanning almost the entire width of the country.
The Yangtze is like America’s Mississippi River (the 4th longest in the world at 2,530 miles) in many ways. Both of these long and winding rivers divide each country in half, marking important cultural differences from one side to the next. Both end in large delta systems that are centers for trade. Some of the most important cities in both China and America developed on the shores of these rivers. People have tried to control these rivers with damns and huge levee systems in order to prevent flooding and harness the power of the river for human use. Both rivers have been sites of international interest, with people from many countries around the world seeking to use and control the river for their own gain.
The Chinese Zodiac is an astrological system that relates each calendar year to an animal. There are twelve animal signs altogether, one for each year of the zodiac. The animal signs repeat every 12 years, which is the length of the zodiac cycle. The first sign of the cycle is the rat, who is fast and sneaky, and the last is the pig, who is slow but smart. Each animal is associated with different traits, which a person born in that year is also thought to possess. Someone born in the year of the dog would seem honest, loyal and friendly, while a person born in the year of the dragon would be strong, proud and fiery. Each sign is also enhanced by the qualities of an element, either earth, water, metal, wood, or fire.
The Chinese name for the Sichuan Opera, Bian Lian, literally means “Face-Changing” because of the elaborate use of masks. Performers wear brightly colored costumes and move to quick, dramatic music. They wear vividly colored masks, which they change within a fraction of a second. Only the sons of performers are allowed to learn the secrets of the Sichuan Opera; no women, and no outsiders, are permitted to perform this masked dance.
In China, Buddhism is the most popular religion. It is based on the teachings of the Supreme Buddha, which means “the enlightened one.” Like Christianity, Buddhism is based on an actual man, named Siddhārtha Gautama, who lived in India around 480 BCE. Buddha taught his people that through meditation and moderate living one can achieve Nirvana, or perfect peace of mind. Today the Buddha is depicted in paintings and statues all over the world. He is usually seated cross legged while he meditates, wearing robes over his round belly, a happy expression on his face.
In China, it was customary for men to wear their hair in Queues, or brained ponytails, until the early 20th century. The hairstyle consisted of the hair on the front of the head being shaved off above the temples every ten days and the rest of the hair braided into a long ponytail, which would grow long enough to reach the man’s waist. For hundreds of years every man in China was forced to wear this hairstyle; if a man refused to wear his hair in a queue, he would be executed for treason. For this reason, it became very important to Chinese men to keep their queues, even after they immigrated to America, because it was a part of their identities. Many Americans did not like or understand the queues, and sometimes even tried to force Chinese men to shave them off.
Br’er Rabbit is a central figure in the Uncle Remus stories of the Southern United States. He is a trickster character who succeeds by his wits rather than by brawn. The story of Br’er Rabbit, a contraction of “Brother Rabbit”, has been linked to trickster figures in both African and Cherokee cultures. Many people believe that in the American stories Br’er Rabbit represents the enslaved African who uses his wits to overcome circumstances and to exact revenge on his adversaries, representing the white slave-owners. Though not always successful, his efforts made him a folk hero. Disney later adapted the character for their movie Song of the South, and today Disneyland’s ride “Splash Mountain” is based on his stories.