Chinese Traditional Shadow Plays

Have you heard of Chinese shadow plays, an art considered by many to be the world’s first ever form of puppetry? Traditionally constructed out of natural materials like animal skins and mineral pigments, these marionette-like figurines are painted in order to symbolize archetypal characters from Chinese legends. Placed against translucent cloth screens, puppets are then manipulated by skilled masters to create the illusion of movement which is usually accompanied by song and dance. Through their performances, shadow plays work to pass on historical stories, social morals and cultural myths from generation to generation.

The roots of shadow puppetry in China can be traced back to the early Han Dynasty, where the practice served as a form of entertainment reserved only for nobility. During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, shadow puppetry began spreading to the working class where it was embraced as a people’s folk art. In the dynasties that followed, shadow puppetry became a celebratory custom for farming and laboring families, with thousands of specialized troupes traveling and performing across the nation.

During the communist revolution in the mid-twentieth century, shadow puppetry was temporarily banned in provinces where officials viewed it as a negative reminder of feudal tradition. Despite suffering a decline in popularity into the present, shadow puppetry nonetheless remains a significant and fascinating symbol of Chinese cultural history.

Study the following vocabulary words and show off your knowledge of traditional shadow plays to the next Chinese speaker you come across!

Vocabulary List:

Hànzì Pīnyīn Definition
1. 皮影戏 pí yǐng xì shadow play
2. 传说 chuán shuō legend
3. lóng dragon
4. 木偶 mù ǒu puppet
5. 影子 yǐng zi shadow
6. 画师 huà shī artist
7. 脚本 jiǎo běn script
8. 歌曲 gē qū songs
9. 音乐 yīn yuè music
10. 文化 wén huà culture
11. 服装 fú zhuāng costume
12. 表演 biǎo yǎn performance

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Why study abroad in Guilin?

As if spending a semester abroad in China wasn’t reason enough, we felt compelled to list 12 reasons (out of countless) why you should study abroad in Guilin. We’ve also included some photos from our Instagram account and we suggest you watch a video called Guilin is Beautiful (between 10 and 11) before returning here to apply to study abroad. 😉

View from a Guilin Mountaintop, Image by @muradosmann

Guilin offers a unique combination of urban and rural lifestyle Since the economic reform of the 1980’s, towns and cities across China have experienced rapid urbanization, leading to the erasure of traditional farming communities in many areas. As a small city situated within a protected environmental zone, Guilin has been fortunate to maintain it’s countryside charm, untouched scenery and laidback pace of life. At the same time, the city’s status an international tourist destination means that Guilin is home to a cosmopolitan city center packed with hip cafes, international restaurants, and other modern comforts. This unique combination of urban and rural communities means that on any given day it’s possible to travel from the city’s bustling downtown district to serene natural landscapes within fifteen minutes.

Guilin is an ideal language-learning environment As is the case in many rural areas of China, Guilin’s education system has improved tremendously over the past several decades, leading to a dramatic rise in English proficiency among younger generations. Nonetheless, the fact remains that most people in Guilin only speak their native tongue. For foreign students, this means that the opportunities to practice Chinese in real-life situations are boundless. Furthermore, while Guilin is home to its own local speech called 桂林话(guìlín huà),the differences between this dialect and standard Mandarin, or 普通话(pǔtōng huà), are minimal compared to dialects spoken in other areas.

On the Li River, Image by @muradosmann

Guilin is home to a remarkably diverse community The fourth largest city in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Guilin is a heartland for exploring ethnic minority, or 少数民族 (shǎoshù mínzú), culture in China. While most of the population belongs to the Han majority, 90% of the Zhuang Minority, 70% of the Yao Minority, plus large groups of Dong and Miao, also reside in Guangxi. The unique customs of these groups have been preserved into the present and are accessible to travelers interested in exploring the Middle Kingdom’s multifarious traditions.

Guilin’s location is ideal for international travel Guilin is perfectly situated in sunny south-central China, making for swift and affordable international travel options. Budget flights to Bangkok, Thailand or Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, as well as over-night trains to Hanoi, Vietnam are available directly from Guilin city. Additionally, travelers can hop aboard the fast train to Shenzhen, walk across the border to Hongkong, and find themselves in one of the most unique cultural melting pots on the planet for only 30 USD. While in Hongkong, Shenzhen or the neighboring megacity of Guangzhou, it’s easy to catch a flight to anywhere in the world.

Guilin is a very affordable city The cost of living in Guilin is quite low compared to that of many western countries and larger cities within China. At the time of publishing this article, 1 US Dollar is equal to 6.64 Chinese Yuan. Take a taxi-ride across town for 2 to 3 USD, fill up on a hearty bowl of specialty rice noodles for less than a buck, or treat yourself to a professional massage for only 50 RMB. Such affordable prices at establishments across the board in Guilin will ensure that you’re able to save money and enjoy a comfortable lifestyle during your adventure abroad.

Sun and Moon Pagodas, Image by Peter Stewart

Guilin’s cuisine is fresh & local As mentioned in reason #1 on our list, Guilin’s close proximity to so many farming communities has major advantages for urban residents, one of which is access to delicious, fresh food. Every morning starting around dawn, merchants from the surrounding countryside travel into the city to peddle produce, herbs and poultry at local wet markets. These ingredients are then purchased by chefs and served up in restaurant kitchens that very same day, creating a sustainable farm-to-table system. Traditional villages located around Guilin are also home to a multitude of organic farms open for guests to pick their own fruits and vegetables.

Guilin Rice Noodles, Image by @studycli

Exchange students enjoy free entry to scenic spots One of China’s most coveted tourist destinations since the 1960’s, Guilin has an array of sprawling urban parks, impressive landmarks and scenic spots tucked around every bend. As an international student here, your ID card will grant you free access to almost every ticketed destination within the city limits. Spend your afternoon relaxing amidst the Osmanthus trees and wild (but friendly) monkeys of Seven Star Park, hike Tunnel Hill Mountain for an impeccable sunset view, and much, much more.

Take incredible weekend trips Only have a few days between Chinese classes to go exploring? Luckily, Guilin is located within a mecca of fantastic getaway spots. Take an express bus to the Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces for a weekend of hiking between ancient villages and brilliant terraced mountains, or float down the Li River and arrive in the trendy back-packer haven of Yangshuo. Alternatively, a few hours on the fast train will deliver you directly to Hongkong, Shenzhen, Guangzhou or any one of the modern metropolitan cities located near Guilin. No matter what you decide to do this weekend, be inspired knowing that there are endless options for where to go next.

“I often sent pictures of the hills of Guilin which I painted to friends back home, but few believed what they saw.”

– Fan Chengda (Chinese Song Dynasty scholar)

Guilin is an excellent place to develop your career In recent years, many international companies have opened branches in Guilin, now revered as one of Asia’s most renowned tourist destinations. While the city continues to develop in harmony with the rest of the nation’s rapid globalization, more and more business opportunities are becoming available here, particularly for those individuals with both English and Mandarin proficiency.

Guilin’s scenery is the best under heaven 桂林山水甲天下 Perhaps the most essential reason why our co-founders chose Guilin as CLI’s home-base is the area’s distinctive natural environment. The result of centuries submerged underwater when skeletons of marine animals that gradually formed jagged limestone rocks, striking karst peaks can now be found sprouting up throughout the entire city. Between mountain skylines and tropical rivers, Guilin’s scenery is truly dream-like. See more of Guilin’s environment in this video made by CLI.

十一 Guilin is home to a diverse international community Guilin’s dazzling nature and relaxed pace of life attract foreign ex-pats, friendly exchange students and interesting families from around the world who come searching for a new home in the land of passion fruits and fragrant Osmanthus trees. Become part of a dynamic international community and meet interesting, like-minded individuals from around the world when you study abroad here.

十二 Guilin lends itself to a healthy lifestyle Guilin is a haven for athletes, outdoorsy folks, and anyone else interested in cultivating a healthy lifestyle. Students can take advantage of shared public bicycles or the walkable distance between most neighborhoods in the city. Rock climbing is another celebrated pastime on the Li River, all thanks to the abundance of limestone karst peaks and bouldering spots that stretch throughout the region.

Now that you’ve read through our top reasons to study abroad in Guilin, visit our website to start your journey. See you in Guilin!

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10 Reasons to Learn Chinese

Did you know that approximately 1.2 billion people speak Chinese worldwide? That’s more than any other language on Earth. In fact, Chinese is now the third most commonly spoken language in the United States, with wide populations of native speakers also living in Europe, Africa, and Oceania. You may have noticed that Mandarin courses are popping up at your high school or university, and that more and more friends have skipped out on traditional study abroad destinations in favor of the Middle Kingdom.

Perhaps you’ve been curious about this enigmatic language yourself and wondered, “Should I learn Chinese?” On behalf of all of us at CLI, we are here to guide you towards an answer — yes! Now that we have that settled, read on for our top 10 reasons to learn Mandarin Chinese.

“Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.”

– Chinese proverb

Catch On Quickly With Simplified Grammar Mandarin is a much more logical language than you might initially think. There are no tricky verb conjugations or noun declensions whatsoever. Overall, the basic grammar structure is relatively uncomplicated compared to that of many romance languages. That’s not to say that grasping the entirety of Chinese grammar is effortless, per se, but once you master just a few key points you’ll have the fundamental patterns down in no time.

Improve Yourself Professionally Because China is currently home to the world’s fastest growing economy, Mandarin is becoming the language of international business and communication. As a result, the demand for Mandarin speakers to fill a wide array of positions is increasing year by year. Being proficient in Mandarin will boost your resume and make you stand out among pools of less qualified applicants.

Gain Insight into Chinese Culture Those with experience studying Mandarin will have learned that the language itself is an intricate mosaic of history and cultural values. From everyday “chengyu” phrases — Chinese proverbs that reference stories of dynasties past — to the written character system depicting coexistence between humans and nature, the Chinese language is deeply intertwined with the civilization from which it originated. You’ll dive even deeper into the culture when you study Mandarin.

Study and Travel Abroad in China There are endless opportunities to study abroad and teach English or other subjects in almost every province of China, from the Muslim-majority Xinjiang tucked away in the West to the affluent Jiangsu of the far East. For those looking to explore new parts of the world, learning Chinese can be a wonderful catalyst to begin your journey. Learn more about CLI’s Immersion Program and Teach in China Program in Guilin, and the unique possibilities that await.

Strengthen Your Community Almost every major Western city has a rapidly growing population of Chinese residents. Being able to communicate with the newly-settled immigrants in your neighborhood and exchange students at your university will help to build bridges in your community, as well as foster lifelong friendships.

Keep Up With Chinese Pop Culture Open up a new world of music, movies, and television shows when you become familiar with Chinese language and society. With a growing international fanbase, popular culture from the Middle Kingdom is filled with fresh and innovative perspectives on contemporary lifestyles and social issues happening in China and across the globe.

Speak Mandarin Across Asia Not only is Mandarin the official language of China, but it is also commonly taught and spoken in other countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia. Let your newfound language skills grant you access to enchanting places that you may have never dreamed of exploring as your horizons expand infinitely.

Utilize Tons of Great Study Resources That Already Exist Learning Chinese is more accessible than ever before with thousands of study tools being developed every year. Find a growing database of online flashcards, free iPhone apps, YouTube channels, HSK-based newspapers, and more to help you study anywhere at anytime. With this many resources available, learning Mandarin is virtually right at your fingertips.

Have Fun! Being able to communicate spontaneously and effectively with people from different backgrounds than your own will greatly enrich your life. Meeting new friends and traveling to exotic destinations are just a few of the highly gratifying effects that learning Chinese can have on your life.

Challenge Yourself Despite reason #1 on our list, Mandarin still holds a reputation as one of the most difficult languages for Westerners to grasp. In fact, many Chinese are quick to agree that their mother tongue isn’t an easy one to master. Join the thousands of learners that have broken stereotypes by accomplishing what many consider close to impossible.

“He who conquers himself is the mightiest warrior.”

― Confucius, founder of Chinese philosophy

Of course, there are plenty more reasons to learn Mandarin Chinese — this list touches on some of our favorites. Have more ideas? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below! Remember, an immersive environment and strong support system are key elements of learning any new language. Check out our website to find out why CLI offers a one-of-a-kind experience when it comes to learning Chinese in China. 加油!

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