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Pieces of China: Derek Sandhaus on Baijiu (白酒), China’s Fiery Alcohol

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For thousands of years, Chinese emperors, literati scholars, and great men of letters have waxed poetic about the pleasures of getting drunk.  The distilled spirit known as “Baijiu,” 白酒,was developed by the Ming dynasty, but it was during the Communist era that this “working man’s drink” was elevated to the national sensation that we see in China today. Any […]

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Pieces of China: Ben Wang on Qi Baishi’s Chicks

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Qi Baishi, who lived from 1864-1959, is one of the most revered Chinese painters of all time. One of his paintings sold for $144 million in 2017, breaking world records. Join us as Ben Wang, China Institute’s beloved professor of Chinese culture, shares one of his favorite Qi Baishi works—two chicks tugging on a worm—and […]

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Pieces of China: Julia Lovell on the Monkey King

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A shape-shifting trickster on a kung-fu quest for eternal life, Monkey King is the unforgettable protagonist of Journey to the West, one of China's four great classic novels. Join us as China historian Julia Lovell, who recently translated the text for Penguin Classics, talks about her experience bringing the story to life for modern readers, […]

Pieces of China: Wendy Paulson on the Spoon-billed Sandpiper

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Less than two months after hatching, the tiny Spoon-billed Sandpiper begins the long journey from Russia’s arctic tundra to the coast of China. No guide, no map, no GPS. But the baby birds instinctively know exactly where to go: to the mudflats of Jiangsu province. Unfortunately, industry and reclamation threaten the birds’ habitats. Spoon-billed Sandpipers […]

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Pieces of China: Aurelia Campbell on What the Yongle Emperor Built

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One of the most famous rulers in Chinese history, the Yongle emperor (r. 1402–24) gained renown for constructing Beijing's Forbidden City, directing ambitious naval expeditions, and creating the world's largest encyclopedia. On May 6, art historian Aurelia Campbell will take us from the heart of Beijing, to a Daoist architectural complex on Mount Wudang, to […]

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Pieces of China: Janet Yang on the Sculpture that Symbolizes a Long Love Story with Chinese Artists

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How does a small wooden sculpture—a gift from Wang Keping, one of China’s most celebrated artists—capture a lifetime of China memories and the origins of one of America’s leading filmmakers? Janet Yang was in Beijing in 1980, and the world of artists and intellectuals was a raucous scene—dance parties at the Summer Palace, artistic experimentation, […]

Pieces of China: Carolyn Phillips on the Wok

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What’s in a wok? Stir frying, steaming, pan frying, deep frying, poaching, boiling, braising, searing, smoking, and stewing! And none of this would be possible without the brilliant design of this utensil which can evenly distribute such high heat. Celebrated cookbook writer Carolyn Phillips talks about the wok and what she learned about China when […]

Pieces of China: Clarissa Wei on the Pickle Jar

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Who knew that all across China, people are obsessed with pickles? As it turns out, pickles are a Chinese staple. And the Chinese pickle jar is a simple, yet ingenious tool used to make these naturally fermented vegetables. Food expert Clarissa Wei stumbled upon many versions of these jars in her treks across 21 provinces […]

Pieces of China: Rose Niu on Naxi Culture—and China’s Growing Passion for Nature

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The Naxi people of Yunnan province’s Lijiang, at the foot of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, were close to nature long before “eco-civilization” became part of China’s national policy. To this day, they pick medicinal herbs on the hillsides, and an annual Naxi SanDuo Festival pays homage to nature. Their Dongba religion emphasizes the connection between […]

Pieces of China: Melinda Liu on the Imperial Kilns

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The Daolingjian Imperial Tile kilns outside of Beijing once produced the green and yellow tiles that adorn the rooftops of the Forbidden City, the Ming Tombs and other ancient sites. Demand remains strong, especially when imperial-era temples are renovated. But due to anti-pollution restrictions, the wood-burning kilns are silent; today production takes place in far-off […]