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Zither playing and tofu making: the Shandong experience

Press release

Zither playing and tofu making: the Shandong experience

It was back to the classroom for Iona College’s Caitlin Thomas yesterday (Sept 19), albeit in Jinan, China.

The winner of this year’s Amazing China Face Race is in Shandong Province, starting her winner’s trip in the province’s capital city Jinan; population seven million.

The first three days of the trip were a whirlwind of cultural experiences, with visits to the Shandong Art Institute, the Shandong Museum, Shandong Art Museum, and the Nishan Academy at Shandong Library.

The academy is one of 150 across Shandong where university students go to study Confucianism, the principles and etiquette for life set down by renowned philosopher and first scholar Confucius more than 2000 years ago. The philosophy is rooted in benevolence, humanity and moral principles. As well moral training, traditional arts are also taught at the academy and library, including archery, zither playing, and wood block printing.

Fifteen-year-old Caitlin tried playing the zither and took a close-up look at the ancient printing style. On what was a very rainy day, it was too wet to try out archery.

“The zither was the most fun but the most impressive was the wood carving, the intricacy of it and that they are working so hard to keep up the tradition of it,” Caitlin said.
“The zither seems to have similarities to the guitar and the piano. The notes were quite similar and frets were well marked. I think with a bit more practice I could work the frets out and play something simple.”

Also focused on the preservation of traditional art is ‘The Village of 100 Flowers’, a replica village depicting life as it would have been for locals some 200-300 years ago.
Built by Jinan’s tourism development committee, the traditional two-storey homes are set by a spring-fed waterway, shaded by a large willow tree. It reflects that there would have been “a spring stream by every home, and a willow tree by every door”.

Making the best use of the indoor space today, each set of rooms is devoted to a slice of local history or a craft: making tofu by hand, books and calligraphy, the politics of the day, music, household appliances and horticultural implements.

In both the academy and the village, free community classes are run in all the disciplines, to encourage residents to learn them.

At the village, Caitlin tried her hand with the grinder used in tofu-making and calligraphy, and left her impressions of her visit so far in a visitors’ book in exchange for a postcard depicting Jinan under a winter covering of snow.

“The buildings were beautiful; they seemed old even though they are replicas. It gives you a window into how China was, and maybe is a bit like I thought China might be.”

Her visit to Jinan also included visits to parks and springs, many set in large tracts of green spaces in the heart of the city. “I really liked the Daming Lake. It’s in an 84 hectare park in the heart of the city, which has the library and academy in it. There are so many of the rounded style beautifully decorated bridges you think of when you think of Chinese bridges. I also liked the willows and greenery, and how well-used it is with people doing Tai Chi or just sitting; it’s really the general atmosphere of the park.”

The prize for winning the 2018 Amazing China Face Race is an all-expenses paid guided trip through Shandong, focused on learning about the culture and history of the region. Her next stop is a coastal city, Yantai, where she will spend time on Yantai Mountain. She will then go onto Qingdao, where she will visit May Fourth Square and spend a day exploring Mt Lao.

The trip has been funded by the Chinese Cultural Centre in New Zealand and hosted by the Foreign Affairs Division of the Shandon Provincial Department of Culture.


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