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Six Arts of Ancient China

August 8th, 2010 Comments off

In ancient Chinese culture, to promote all-around development, students were required to master six practical disciplines called the Six Arts (liù yì in Chinese): rites, music, archery, chariot racing, calligraphy and mathematics.

The study of rites and music instills in people a sense of dignity and harmony. The rites include those practiced at sacrificial ceremonies, funerals and military activities.

A famous saying of Confucius on music education is: “To educate somebody, you should start from poems, emphasize ceremonies and finish with music.” In other words, one cannot expect to become educated without learning music.

During the Shang Dynasty (circa 16th century – 11 century BC) and Zhou Dynasty (circa11th century – 256 BC), archery was a required skill for all aristocratic men. By practicing archery and related etiquettes, nobles not only gained the proficiency at war skills; more importantly, they also cultivated their minds and learned how to behave as nobles.

To become a charioteer is also an excellent form of training that requires the combined use of intellect and physical strength.

Writing, or calligraphy, tempers a student’s aggressiveness and arrogance, while arithmetic strengthens one’s mental agility.

Men who excelled in these six arts were thought to have reached the state of perfection.

The Six Arts have their roots in Confucian philosophy. The requirement of students to master the Six Arts is the equivalent of the Western concept of the arts and skills of the Renaissance Man.

The elements of moral education, academic study, physical education and social training are present in the Six Arts – all attributes dating back to ancient times that are considered just as valuable in the modern world.

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Archery in Ancient China

November 29th, 2009 5 comments

Archaeological discoveries proved that archery in China dates back 20,000 years. Practical archery takes three conditions: a bow strong enough to propel arrows, arrows that are sharp enough to kill, and a technique to ensure the stability of arrows in flight. The bow and arrow in ancient China fully met the three conditions. Archaeologists have unearthed finely made arrowheads in a site of the Paleolithic Age in Shanxi Province. Made of stone, the arrowheads were sharp and pointed, and could be mounted on a shaft. No bow was found at the site, since bows were usually made of wood,  bamboo and perhaps tendon of animals and could not remain intact for so many years. But the arrowheads were enough to prove the existence of bows.

As for how to keep the arros stable in flight, Kao-Gong-Ji, the earliest work on science and technology in China, writes under the item of THE ARCHER: “Decide the proportions of the shaft to install the feathers.  The feathers at the end of the shaft are installed in three directions, and then the arrowhead is mounted. An arrow thus made will not lose its balance even in strong winds.” It also says, “When the feathers are too many, the arrows will slow down; when the feathers are too few, the arrow will become unstable.” Later on, ancient Chinese developed bronze arrowheads and the crossbow, upgreading archery to a new height.

Picture of using archery with feet in ancient China:

a pic of using archery with feet in ancient China

Military Sports in Ancient Times

August 15th, 2009 Comments off

In ancient China there was a fairy tale called “Kuafu Running After the Sun (In pinyin: Kua-Fu-Zhui-Ri).” Untrue as it is, the story does reflect people’s admiration for great runners. Walking and running are the most fundamental abilities of man in daily life as well as in fighting. In ancient times when the means of transport were extremely simple and crude, people attached great importance to improving their walking and running abilities.

“The quality of troops lies in speed” was one of the most important maxims in ancient Chinese art of war. Eminent strategists of all times, from Wu Qi of the Warring States Period (475-221 BC) to the Ming Dynasty patriotic general Qi Jiguang (1528-1587), required their men to “run light-footedly” while carrying their weapons and with their coats of mail on. In ancient times, when dukes and princes traveled around in carts, their bodyguards had to run behind them. These bodyguards, called “brave warriors,” were selected through stringent tests” and enjoyed high esteem.

By the Yuan Dynasty (1271- J 1368), a long distance running race was held every year by the ruler inspecting his guards. According to a Yuan Dynasty history book titled Chuo Geng Lu, the race covered at distance of about 180 Ii (90km) and the winner was awarded a silver disc while the others were given satin of different lengths. This was actually a kind of cross-country race that was held at regular intervals.

Hunting was one of the productive activities carried out by the primitive man as a means of survival. In the latter stage of the primitive society it began to be incorporated into the military training programmes of the ruling class. By the Spring and Autumn and the Warring States periods (770-221 BC) it assumed enormous dimensions as the rulers “taught the civilians ways to fight” by training them in such combat skills as marching, archery on horseback, and hand-to-hand fighting.

In the early Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 24), hunting gradually became a kind of recreation for the emperors and the nobility. Emperor Liu Che (140 BC- AD 88) had a hunting ground opened up in a forest west of the city of Xi’an. Named Shang Lin Yuan Park, it covers a large area with a circumference of hundreds of kilometers. Li Yuanji, son of the Tang emperor Li Yuan, is said to “prefer going without food for three days to going without hunting for one day.” This shows what a great favor hunting was among the nobility.

Rulers of the Oing Dynasty (1644-1911) hailed from northeast China where people depended on hunting for their livelihood. Following an old tradition, they practised marching and fighting through hunting. Emperor Kangxi (1662-1723) had a hunting ground named Mulan Ranch opened up in Rehe (a region comprising parts of today’ s Hebei, Liaoning and Inner Mongolia), where large-scale hunting was carried out in the seventh and eighth months of the lunar year for six decades on end. Oianlong (1736-1796), another Oing emperor, issued a decree to make his officials understand the importance of hunting to both military exercise and physical training.

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