Chinese Music 101: Bayin(八音) – Silk Musical Instruments 2 – The Plucked String Family

By Sari Xu

Silk musical instruments form the biggest category among the Bayin (8 tones), including – silk, bamboo, wood, stone, metal, clay, gourd, andskin. In our previous blogs, we’ve discussed one thirds of the silk tone – The bowed string family. Now let’s have a look at another well-known silk category – the plucked string family!

(A Uygur Bowed Instrument vs. A Uygur Plucked Instrument)

Other than the Xinjiang Uyghur musical instruments that we’ve introduced long time ago, some widely-used plucked string instruments include: Guzheng, Pipa, and Sanxian. Others like Guqin(古琴), Se(瑟), Konghou(箜篌,harps), and Ruan(阮) are less popular nowadays but very typical in traditional music performance especially for solo.

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A Guzheng (古筝)

The Zheng, or Guzheng (古筝), is known as a Chinese zither with a history of more than 2,500 years. The oldest specimen yet discovered held 13 strings and was dated to around 500 B.C, possibly during the Warring States period (475 – 221 B.C). Guzheng became prominent during the Qin dynasty (221 – 206 B.C). By the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907) the guzheng may have been the most commonly played instrument in China.

During its long history, Guzheng has gone through many changes. The modern guzheng commonly has 21 strings, is 64 inches (1.6 m) long, and is tuned in a major pentatonic scale. It has a large, resonant soundboard made from Paulownia. Other components are often made from other woods for structural or decorative reasons. Guzheng players often wear fingerpicks made from materials such as plastic, resin, tortoiseshell, or ivory on one or both hands.

XieZiqiao_guzheng

Playing styles and Schools of Guzheng vary a lot and were first divided between Northern and Southern before being further subdivided into specific regional schools. Regional schools that are part of the Northern style include Henan, Shaanxi, Shandong, and Zhejiang. Regional schools included in the Southern style include Chaozhou, Hakka, and Fujian.

Examples of Northern pieces include High Mountain and Running River(高山流水) and Autumn Moon over the Han Palace(汉宫秋月) from the Shandong school. Southern style can be represented by Jackdaw Plays with Water (寒鸦戏水) from the Chaozhou school and Lotus Emerging from Water (出水莲) from the Hakka school.

Check out the famous Guzheng solo piece High Mountain and Running Riverby artist Xiang Si-Hua here!

The Pipa(琵琶), sometimes referred as the Chinese Lute, is another widely played 4-stringed Chinese plucked instrument. Ithas a pear-shaped wooden body with a varying number of frets ranging from 12 to 26. It also has a smaller version called Liuqin (柳琴). Similar as Guzheng, Pipa also has a long history of around 2,000 years and existed in China as early as the Han dynasty (206 B.C – 220 A.D). Although historically the term “Pipa” was once used to refer to a variety of plucked chordophones, its usage since the Song dynasty (960 – 1279) refers exclusively to the pear-shaped instrument.

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Pipa (琵琶)

Several related instruments in East and Southeast Asia are derived from the pipa, which include the Japanese biwa, the Vietnamese đàn tỳ bà, and the Korean bipa. Interestingly, based on the Chinese, as well as records of these countries, we can easily deduce the evolution of Pipa during its long history! For example, the Tang-style Pipa (from Tang Dynasty 618 – 907) has a comparatively shorter neck, while the Ming-Style (1368 – 1644) has a longer neck and more frets. It also omitted the plectrum and could be played directly with fingers.

 

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The Ming Style Pipa on Record

 

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The Tang Style Pipa on Record

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nowadays, thanks to the efforts of contemporary musicians and performers worldwide, Chinese and Western composers are both creating new works using Pipa and Guzheng.Undeniably, these two are always the best companion of each other, and I personally still love the traditional piece the most!

Check out this duo performance of Pipa and Guzheng! And this opus was originally created by Yi ethnic group called Dance of the Yi People!

 

About Interact China


“A Social Enterprise in E-commerce Promoting Oriental Aesthetic Worldwide!”

Aileen & Norman co-founded Interact China in 2004 with specialization in fine Oriental Aesthetic products handmade by ethnic minorities & Han Chinese. Having direct partnerships with artisans, designers, craft masters and tailors, along with 15 years of solid experience in e-commerce via InteractChina.com, we are well positioned to bridge talented artisans in the East with the rest of the world, and directly bring you finely selected products that are of good quality and aesthetic taste.

So far we carry 3000+ goods covering Ladies Fashion via ChineseFashionStyle.com, Kungfu Fashion, Home Furnishings, Babies & Kids, Painting Arts, Textile Arts, Carving Arts, Tribal Jewelry Art, Wall Masks and Musical Instruments. Our team speak English, French, German, Spanish and Italian, and serve customers worldwide with passion and hearts.


P.S. We Need People with Similar Passion to Join Our Blogging Team!
If you have passion to write about Oriental Aesthetic in Fashion, Home Decor, Art & Crafts, Culture, Music, Books, and Charity, please contact us at bloggers@interactchina.com, we would love to hear from you!

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Chinese Music 101: Bayin(八音) – Silk Musical Instruments – The Bowed String Family

By Sari Xu

Silk musical instruments form the biggest category among the Bayin (8 tones), including – silk, bamboo, wood, stone, metal, clay, gourd, andskin. In our previous blogs, we’ve discussed a lot about the percussion instruments fall into the stone and skin categories. Today, we will look into the most common and well-known silk category and have a deeper understanding of the bowed string family!

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The Huqin Family

The bowed string family, nowadays, is more often referred as “Huqin” (胡琴) family, could be simply described as spike fiddles (vertical). The instruments consist of a round, hexagonal, or octagonal sound box at the bottom with a neck attached that protrudes upwards. They usually have two strings, and their sound boxes are typically covered with either snakeskin (most often the skin of python) or thin wood. Huqin instruments generally have two tuning pegs, one peg for each string. The pegs are attached horizontally through holes drilled in the instrument’s neck. Most huqin have the bow hair pass in between the strings. Exceptions having two strings and pegs include variations of huqin with three, four, and sometimes even more than five. These include the Zhuihu, a three stringed Huqin, the Sihu, a Huqin of Mongolian origin, and the Sanhu, a lesser-known three-stringed variation.

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The 3 Most Common Huqins

 

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The Typical Huqin Family

These may sound very new to you, no worries, let’s name some names of spike fiddles that you may be familiar with: 1. Erhu (二胡)– tuned to a middle range; 2. Zhonghu (中胡/中音二胡) –  tuned to a lower register; 3. Gaohu (高胡) – tuned to a higher pitch. 4. Dahu, Gehu – tuned to the lowest pitch; 5. Jinghu – tuned to the highest pitch for use in the Beijing Opera. To rank this typical spike fiddles by their pitches from low to high, the order should be Dahu, Gehu, Zhonghu, Erhu, Gaohu, Jinghu.

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The Beijing Opera Instruments Family

Though spike fiddles are dominating the main stream of Chinese traditional musical instruments (along with Guzheng, Dizi and Pipa) and modern Chinese orchestras nowadays, it actually has an ethnic minority background! Huqins are believed to have come from the nomadic Hu people, who lived on the extremities of ancient Chinese kingdoms, possibly descending from an instrument called the Xiqin (奚琴), originally played by the Mongolic Xi tribe. Nowadays, the Mongolian people also have a very similar version of modern Xiqin called Khuuchir, and so do other neighboring countries such as Thailand, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, etc.

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The Original Xiqin Painted by Artist Chen Yang back in Song Dynasty

Coming back to our most familiar Erhu, it also has several variations such as Jing Erhu (京二胡) and Erquanhu(二泉胡). Erhu, sometimes also called Urheen, Nanhu (Southern Fiddle, 南胡), is the most common form of a “Chinese violin” and two-stringed fiddle. It could be used either for a solo or in a concert (both small ensembles and large orchestras).

To be more specific, The Erhu consists of a long vertical stick-like neck, at the top of which are two big tuning pegs, and at the bottom is a small resonator body (sound box) which is covered with python skin (or other snake skin) on the front (playing) end. Two strings are attached from the pegs to the base, and a small loop of string (Qian Jin前襟) placed around the neck and strings acting as a nut pulls the strings towards the skin, holding a minute wooden bridge in place. Some fun facts about Erhu’s features including 1. its characteristic sound is produced through the vibration of the python skin by bowing; 2. there is no fingerboard; the player stops the strings by pressing their fingertips onto the strings without the strings touching the neck; 3. the horse hair bow is never separated from the strings (which were formerly of twisted silk but which today are usually made of metal)!

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The Construction of an Erhu

Jing Erhu, as you may tell, is the version of Erhu that designed for Beijing Opera (Jing Xi). It is lower in pitch than Jinghu (京胡), which is the leading melodic instrument in the Beijing opera orchestra, and is considered a supporting instrument to Jinghu. Erquanhu, is a slightly larger version of Erhu, and is used to specifically to play the most famous Erhu opus by Chinese folk blind artist A-bing called Erquan Yingyue (Moon Reflected on Second Spring).

Check out this Erhu performance of Erquan Yingyue below and try to feel the hopelessness and depression written in the melody:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FDSXrP-WVlM

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The Typical Image of A-bing, the Blind Erhu Artist Who Composed Erquan Yinyue

In general, the Huqin family, especially Erhu, is a group of versatile instruments. Erhu is commonly used in both traditional and contemporary music arrangements, for example, in pop, jazz, and even rock music.

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About Interact China


“A Social Enterprise in E-commerce Promoting Oriental Aesthetic Worldwide!”

Aileen & Norman co-founded Interact China in 2004 with specialization in fine Oriental Aesthetic products handmade by ethnic minorities & Han Chinese. Having direct partnerships with artisans, designers, craft masters and tailors, along with 15 years of solid experience in e-commerce via InteractChina.com, we are well positioned to bridge talented artisans in the East with the rest of the world, and directly bring you finely selected products that are of good quality and aesthetic taste.

So far we carry 3000+ goods covering Ladies Fashion via ChineseFashionStyle.com, Kungfu Fashion, Home Furnishings, Babies & Kids, Painting Arts, Textile Arts, Carving Arts, Tribal Jewelry Art, Wall Masks and Musical Instruments. Our team speak English, French, German, Spanish and Italian, and serve customers worldwide with passion and hearts.


P.S. We Need People with Similar Passion to Join Our Blogging Team!
If you have passion to write about Oriental Aesthetic in Fashion, Home Decor, Art & Crafts, Culture, Music, Books, and Charity, please contact us at bloggers@interactchina.com, we would love to hear from you!

Chinese Gardens: Meeting Point Between Beauty and Philosophy

Written by: Stefania Miletti

The traditional Chinese garden, known as Zhōngguó yuánlín (中國園林,中国园林), is characterized by the search for balance and harmony between human and nature, often with the recreation of a miniature landscape. These gardens try to recreate natural visual balances, for example by sculpting rocks as if they were eroded by atmospheric agents. 

Different types of gardens were built to adhere to the function they served: for example, the emperor’s gardens were vast and immense and therefore built to pleasure or to impress. More modest functionaries, scholars and poets preferred more intimate gardens with the scope to relax and escape from the real world.

A little bit of history

China has a long history related to building traditional Chinese garden that dates to 3,000 years ago. Many important figures, ranging from emperors and government officials to scholars and poets built their own. In the Yellow River Valley, the first Chinese gardens were created. Monarchs and members of the nobility harvested and planted fruits and vegetables in their gardens since the Shang Dynasty (1600–1046 BC).

Chinese gardens deeply relate to both philosophy and to Feng Shui, with meticulous assortment of natural elements in relation to their historical-mythological, literary or symbolic meaning. In fact, it is curios that both landscape painting and Chinese gardens develop side by side in ancient china.

This link between gardens and philosophy leads, almost unsurprisingly, to the meticulous study of every element added to the garden, nothing is by chance, resulting in a combination between the landscape painter and the garden artist’s different points of view. 

Sacred Gardens and their Philosophy

A perfect example of Chinese Gardens and in particular the influence of philosophy in their design are the sacred gardens, which were built by scholars, drawing inspirations by three main philosophical streams of thought: Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism.

Starting with the Taoism philosophy, which relies on the concept of Tao, which represents the path every being takes, the “becoming of everything”, which becomes reality with the two extremes. Every time one of the extremes is reached, a force pushes in the adverse direction and vice versa. Natural examples of this theory can be seen with the passing of seasons, or with the movements of the Sun and Moon. The decent person has been seen as one whose existence has been based on naturalness, not fortune or status. This philosophy is reflected in the gardens’ layout, with a more natural approach in the design, that allows humans to better connect with their surroundings.

On the other hand, Confucianism philosophy is more concentrated toward geometry, leading to the Chinese domestic and urban geometric order. The main theory behind Confucius ideas was that knowledge was the most important tool available to humanity in order to exceed, leading to the “good man” mentality. This was clearly reflected in the gardens’ design, that encompassed the most traditional virtues of sensibility and harmony between humanity and the Cosmo. 

Example of Confucianism influenced gardens, The Forbidden city

When Buddhism arrived in China, it developed into a monastic tradition strongly based on meditation. 

The importance of spirituality transposed into the design of the monastic gardens, elevating them from a mere functional meditation aid to a rich example of the spiritual values of Buddhism.

The tradition of meditation gardens is also a product of the melting pot of different philosophies, such as Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism. In particular, the cult of the beauty of natural gardens from Taoism and Buddhism mixed with the Confucian appreciation for geometry. This shaped the gardens into idyllic landscapes, perfectly bonding inanimate rocks with live plants and water.

Example of Buddhism influenced park








About Interact China


“A Social Enterprise in E-commerce Promoting Oriental Aesthetic Worldwide!” 

Aileen & Norman co-founded Interact Chinain 2004 with specialization in fine Oriental Aesthetic products handmade by ethnic minorities & Han Chinese. Having direct partnerships with artisans, designers, craft masters and tailors, along with 13 years of solid experience in e-commerce via InteractChina.com, we are well positioned to bridge talented artisans in the East with the rest of the world, and directly bring you finely selected products that are of good quality and aesthetic taste.

So far we carry 3000+ goods covering Ladies Fashionvia ChineseFashionStyle.com, Kungfu Fashion, Home Furnishings, Babies & Kids, Painting Arts, Textile Arts, Carving Arts, Tribal Jewelry Art, Wall Masks and Musical Instruments. Our team speak English, French, German, Spanish and Italian, and serve customers worldwide with passion and hearts.


P.S. We Need People with Similar Passion to Join Our Blogging Team! 
If you have passion to write about Oriental Aesthetic in Fashion, Home Decor, Art & Crafts, Culture, Music, Books, and Charity, please contact us at bloggers@interactchina.com, we would love to hear from you!

Medicating by Meditating: healing spirit and body with TCM

Written by Maria

If you live in a concrete jungle like London, New York or Hong Kong, you are certainly very familiar with stress, anxiety, and pollution that negatively impact the quality of your life. Your tight schedule makes you feel like everyday is the same as the day before. All this planning in advance causes an amount of stress that it gets harder and harder to bear. You feel like you’re about to crush and then it is Friday again. A pub crawl on Friday, some laundry on Saturday, and a lazy Sunday. Of course it will happen that some weekends are more exciting than others, but some are just extra hours of work. If you are lucky you will spend them on a Ryanair cheap flight towards an unknown small town where they barely understand you and you barely understand them. And it is Monday again. How to get out from this ordinary nightmare?

As I see it, we are all left with 2 options. We move to a desert island and leave it all behind. But what about your friends, your family, and all your fancy clothes? Also, human are after all social animals, we really need people to get by. And some pets too. And a sofa. Fortunately, there is another option. It only takes 5 to 20 minutes a day and, once again, it comes from the Far, far East. Just Meditate. Mind I said “Meditate”, not “Think”. Think involves our brain to function in a certain way: to formulate hypothesis, to plan, to take decisions, to supress our emotions. It involves stress. We have just agreed that we want to get away from that. So, what is meditation?

Origins

Meditation is a practice which involves full concentration, awareness of oneself and one’s surrounding, and the aim is to reach stillness of the mind and a deep status of mind-body relaxation to prepare it. In a way, meditation is the opposite of thinking, because we want to observe our thoughts, physical and emotional senses, as they were pictures in our minds.

Rooted in Hinduist tradition and dating back as far as 4,000 years ago, meditation arrived in China with the diffusion of Buddhism, although meditative practices are also very common in the Taoist tradition. 

In Chinese Traditional Medicine, Meditation has developed as a crucial as Acupuncture and a balanced diet, to favours the correct flow of Qi within and without body and mind.

Be Still: Meditation and Movement

In terms of techniques, stillness can mean many things. Stillness is about the mind, and it doesn’t necessarily imply that you only meditate in static positions, like laying down on the floor or sitting in a lotus pose with your legs crossed.

Yoga is a very popular choice. In Chinese tradition, Tai Chi and Qigong are the most common meditative movement practices. Apt for all ages and bodies, they engage in a sequence of slow, mindful bodily movements, to enhance balance, bodily control and breath. Such practices are great for your health, particularly for your muscular tone and your back.

To some meditation sceptics…

Now I can hear some of you saying ‘Do you seriously want to make me believe that if I lay down and tell myself not to think I will not think anymore? And isn’t it thinking about not thinking a thought anyway?’

See, that is the problem. A good meditator is one that focuses only on his breath. He does not impose himself what to think, he is not judgmental of losing his focus from time to time. When it happens, it only accepts it and comes back to his breath. It takes some time practice and time to appreciate the positive results of meditation. Some of us just call it patience. I prefer to call it commitment.

About patience…

‘What if I fall asleep while I am meditating?’, or ‘How can I not think not to fall, if I am standing upside down in a very odd Yoga position?’ are other kind of concerns. Well, if you fall asleep, you reached your purpose: certainly you have gotten relaxed, although you should maybe work on your awareness, trying to counting your breath to keep your mind active, though even and stable. Same when your practicing Tai Chi or Yoga. Just focus on your breath and keep tracking of your movement through inhalation and exhalation: it will naturally relaxing your muscles, thus encouraging a better withstanding of the pose; also, it will keep you distracted from feeling challenged, unbalanced, by the position, pain, stretch etc.

Meditation as Medication in Chinese and Worldwide Culture

Meditation practices spread throughout all the East because of their link to the Buddhist tradition, and were used as a form of healing alternative to religious rituals and conventional medicaments. Still today, especially in ethnic populations there is a diffuse belief that bodily illness is only a physical manifestation of spiritual illness, caused by a bad thought, evil demons, etc.

But apart from the mystic side of meditation, its benefits are undeniable. As I mentioned already, meditation is an engaging practice, which trains our minds to control emotions and impulses in a healthy way, without ignoring or supressing them. It helps keeping an even attitude through stressful times, or to certain emotionally-charging events in our lives. And it is commonly known that a calmer temper is good to keep our blood pressure steady, our heart rate at ease, and our anxiety and sleepless nights only a bad memory.

Not convinced yet? Based on Eastern practice of Meditation, the ‘Iceman’ Wim Hof (among his Guinness World Record gestures: a barefoot half-marathon on ice and snow, a swimming several times half-naked under the ice for more than 110 minutes) developed a method to defeat our human frailty and enhance our resilience through the power of our minds and breath.

Personally, I am a big fan of Wim and can’t wait to join one of his crazy expeditions. But many of you may disagree. Believe it or not, scientists and doctors still pop their eyes in front of his extraordinary, super-manly health conditions. It’s not about magic, it’s just about commitment. Meditation is a way of life. To keep a steady mind clears the view from dusty confusion, facilitates decision, increases our self-esteem. It is not a surprise that there is a corporate trend to integrate yoga and similar practices in their employee schemes.

So what are you waiting for? Close your eyes and just breathe.

About Interact China


“A Social Enterprise in E-commerce Promoting Oriental Aesthetic Worldwide!”

Aileen & Norman co-founded Interact China in 2004 with specialization in fine Oriental Aesthetic products handmade by ethnic minorities & Han Chinese. Having direct partnerships with artisans, designers, craft masters and tailors, along with 13 years of solid experience in e-commerce via InteractChina.com, we are well positioned to bridge talented artisans in the East with the rest of the world, and directly bring you finely selected products that are of good quality and aesthetic taste.

So far we carry 3000+ goods covering Ladies Fashion via ChineseFashionStyle.com, Kungfu Fashion, Home Furnishings, Babies & Kids, Painting Arts, Textile Arts, Carving Arts, Tribal Jewelry Art, Wall Masks and Musical Instruments. Our team speak English, French, German, Spanish and Italian, and serve customers worldwide with passion and hearts.


P.S. We Need People with Similar Passion to Join Our Blogging Team!
If you have passion to write about Oriental Aesthetic in Fashion, Home Decor, Art & Crafts, Culture, Music, Books, and Charity, please contact us at bloggers@interactchina.com, we would love to hear from you!

Ikat, the ancient art of cloud weaving

Written by Maria

Feeling blue today? If you know what Ikat is, you may agree that it is not necessarily a bad thing. Coming from the Malay-Indonesian word mengikat (to tie), Ikat is an ancient textile art particularly diffused in Southeast Asia, particularly in China, Indonesia and Thailand.

The technique is complex and time-consuming, mainly consisting in dyeing the cotton yarns before weaving.

Named after such technique, the Ikat fabric can come in a variety of colours and patterns, although one of the most popular variations is the blue-patterned one. Ikat weavers use pigments of indigo, the local plant which famously gives the characteristic colour to denim, to obtain the particularly dense, sky-like blue. This is probably why in Persia Ikat technique is known as abr brandi, which literally means tying the clouds.

Origins

Although its origins are highly debated, Ikat is probably one of the most ancient and unique textile techniques of Asia. The earliest historical record was found in China and dates back to the 6th Century, though there is track that the technique has been used in India at least since the 7th century and developed in other Asian Countries such as Thailand and Indonesia.

Surprisingly, Ikat has also widely flourished in Latin American countries such as Peru and Guatemala since ancient times, where it developed independently of the Eastern world.

Ikat was brought to Europe by Dutch and Spanish explorers from Asia and Latin America during Colonialism, started in the 7th Century.

The traditional patterns of Ikat used to be entrenched of spiritual meaning. In particular, Ikat used to be a symbol of wealth. Until recent times, in Southeast Asia only aristocrats were allowed to wear Ikat fabric. The rule, also sanctioned with death punishment, slowly disappeared because of the colonialist pressures to trade and diffuse the product abroad, which led to its largest diffusion in the 20th Century.

Process

Just like batik and tie-dye, Ikat is obtained with a resist-dyeing method, mainly by controlling the colour spread so that it does not reach all the fabric. The purpose is to create the patterns out of the contrast between coloured and uncoloured areas.

The difference between Ikat and other famous resist-dyeing techniques like Batik or Tie-dye, is that dyeing is applied before and not after weaving. First, the design is marked onto the yarns. Then, the unmarked areas are then tied with rubber, wax or other materials, to avoid that the colour penetrates them.

The yarns are then dyed with the use of a straw. Finally, the yarns are untied and woven in the loom. Dyeing is fundamental to the creation of the patterns. A variation of Ikat is double Ikat, where both the warp and the weft are dyed.

If you want to know more about Ikat, watch the following video to see how ikat is made! https://youtu.be/3OAnnvPEOl8

If you have fallen in love with Ikat, please have a look on our new sleek line of blue scarves on InteractChina.com. Enjoy!

About Interact China


“A Social Enterprise in E-commerce Promoting Oriental Aesthetic Worldwide!”

Aileen & Norman co-founded Interact China in 2004 with specialization in fine Oriental Aesthetic products handmade by ethnic minorities & Han Chinese. Having direct partnerships with artisans, designers, craft masters and tailors, along with 13 years of solid experience in e-commerce via InteractChina.com, we are well positioned to bridge talented artisans in the East with the rest of the world, and directly bring you finely selected products that are of good quality and aesthetic taste.

So far we carry 3000+ goods covering Ladies Fashion via ChineseFashionStyle.com, Kungfu Fashion, Home Furnishings, Babies & Kids, Painting Arts, Textile Arts, Carving Arts, Tribal Jewelry Art, Wall Masks and Musical Instruments. Our team speak English, French, German, Spanish and Italian, and serve customers worldwide with passion and hearts.


P.S. We Need People with Similar Passion to Join Our Blogging Team!
If you have passion to write about Oriental Aesthetic in Fashion, Home Decor, Art & Crafts, Culture, Music, Books, and Charity, please contact us at bloggers@interactchina.com, we would love to hear from you!

Chinese Music 101 – Skin Musical Instruments – The Drum Family

By Sari Xu

A quick review! As we discussed before, Chinese traditional musical instruments are divided into 8 categories, including – silk, bamboo, wood, stone, metal, clay, gourd, and skin instruments. Skin instruments – mostly percussion instruments, actually formed a big Chinese drum family for us to explore further.

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Chinese drums, or we called Gu (鼓), was first invented and used to send signals and accompany with dancing back in the primitive times. They were first made of stones, then clays, and finally wood covered with skin leather or paper on both sides. The sounding principle is very similar to foreign percussion instruments such as Western timpani and African drums. Just like African drums, Chinese drums are often used when dancing during celebration and events. The combination of powerful dancing and drumbeat is always inspiring and the best choice for showing the team spirit especially during the agrarian age. Therefore, different regions have different kind of drums which people use the most, and these gradually formed the huge drum family under the percussion instrument category in China.

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Da Gu, The Big Drum (大鼓)

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Flowerpot Drum, Hua Peng Gu (花盆鼓)

Generally speaking, people in Northern China prefer larger drums in terms of the size, while Southern China residents innovated various types of small drums and relative dancing.

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Book Drum, Shu Gu (书鼓), mostly used in Southern China

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Ban Gu, 板鼓, mostly used in Southern China

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Playing the drum is more like an integrated performance rather than simply sitting still and playing a piano solo opus. Depending on the size of the drum, it could be hold in hands, tied on the waist or in front of the chest, even put on the head, shoulder, or under the arms. Of course, it needs to be settled on the ground if it’s a large one. It could be either beaten by hands or drumsticks, and one performer could play with 1 or several (10 at most) drums simultaneously. Regarding the appearance, Chinese drums are usually painted in the most representative Chinese red with the leather in its natural color. Check out this video for a Chinese drum group performance!

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Some typical dancing formats accompanied with drum performance include An Sai Yao Gu (An Sai Waist Drum), Wei Feng Luo Gu (Gong and Drum), Tai Ping Gu Wu (Tai Ping Drum Dancing), Hua Bo Da Gu (Huge drums with tiny symbals) and several forms of bronze drum dancing performed by the ethnic minority groups. Check out this performance of An Sai Waist Drum!

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Waist Drum, Yao Gu (腰鼓)

An Sai Yao Gu (An Sai Waist Drum安塞腰鼓) is one of the most amazing performances among the all and was also recognized as Chinese intangible cultural asset in 2006. It’s originated from Shaanxi Province and was used for communication and sending signals during wars back at Qin (B.C 221 – 207) and Han Dynasty (B.C 202 – 220). An Sai is a city in Shaanxi, which is a military stronghold located in the Loess Plateau. Besides delivering information, soldiers at ancient times also play the drums to cheer for the battle and celebrate the triumph afterwards. Later, this became a kind of folk dance in this region. Everyone likes this way of celebration during holidays or worships (praying for grain harvest in most cases) because the waist drums could make very loud sounds when a large group of folks playing together. The strong drumbeat, together with the red drums and red ribbon tied on the drums and sticks, inspire people to work harder, and staying united in Chinese culture. Though nowadays, people don’t support their lives mainly through farming anymore, this kind of art performance is preserved as a culture to be played during holiday celebration.

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Though it’s hard to count how many kinds of drums now exit in China, let’s have a glance at some of the representative drums in this big family!

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Row of Drums, Pai Gu (排鼓)

 

 

About Interact China


“A Social Enterprise in E-commerce Promoting Oriental Aesthetic Worldwide!”

Aileen & Norman co-founded Interact China in 2004 with specialization in fine Oriental Aesthetic products handmade by ethnic minorities & Han Chinese. Having direct partnerships with artisans, designers, craft masters and tailors, along with 15 years of solid experience in e-commerce via InteractChina.com, we are well positioned to bridge talented artisans in the East with the rest of the world, and directly bring you finely selected products that are of good quality and aesthetic taste.

So far we carry 3000+ goods covering Ladies Fashion via ChineseFashionStyle.com, Kungfu Fashion, Home Furnishings, Babies & Kids, Painting Arts, Textile Arts, Carving Arts, Tribal Jewelry Art, Wall Masks and Musical Instruments. Our team speak English, French, German, Spanish and Italian, and serve customers worldwide with passion and hearts.


P.S. We Need People with Similar Passion to Join Our Blogging Team!
If you have passion to write about Oriental Aesthetic in Fashion, Home Decor, Art & Crafts, Culture, Music, Books, and Charity, please contact us at bloggers@interactchina.com, we would love to hear from you!

The Amazing Journey Of Kites

Written by Maria Giglio

When you fly a kite you stare at it floating in the air and ask yourself where it will go. But have you ever wondered where does a kite come from? Surprise, surprise… China, naturally! The Chinese kite is called Fēngzhēng (風箏), which literally means ‘air (fēng) zither (zhēng)’. I’ll get to that later but first, a little bit of history that you’ll love. Ready? Then fasten your seatbelt and let’s fly away!

The rise (and fall) of a wooden bird

Would you believe me if I told you that the first kite prototype was invented by a philosopher? You better do! According to some ancient texts, more than 2000 years ago, Mozi (470-391 B.C.), the founder of Mohist philosophy designed a bird-shaped tool made of wood, the mu yuan (‘wooden bird’). According to the story, it took Mozi three years to complete the mu yuan and… only one day to wreck it after a short flight! No wonder that as soon as paper was invented, kites started to be made with it and to be named zhi yuan (‘paper bird’).

War Games

Fun fact: originally the kite hasn’t always been a toy, but employed as a war tool. Actually, the military use of kites was still widespread even in modern times.

The earliest written evidence of flying war kites in fact dates to general Han Xin, who served under the reign of Han Emperor Gao Zu (202-195 BC). According to the record, general Han Xin used a kite to estimate the distance from an enemy town, so to build a tunnel of the same length to breach the city.

Another case of military use of flying kites is that of Emperor Wu of Liang (464-549 BC). In 549, dissident general Hou Jing surrounded the city of Tai, where the Emperor and his family resided. Since there was no possibility to launch the alarm outside the wall without risking being breached, the Emperor sent out a kite as a carrier pigeon to request extra troops. Unfortunately, while flying the kite was spotted by the enemies who shot it down believing it was a demon. After that episode, the city was taken.

Finally, kites had also been used as bombs for a while. During Song Dynasty (960-1279 A.D.) they were in fact filled with gunpowder and firecrackers – which, by the way, were both also invented by Ancient Chinese – to fly over the enemy campsites and explode. The kites, which were usually crow-shaped, were also known as God Fire Crows and said to be able to carry up to 500 grams of incendiary powder.

The Kite’s redemption song

Let me guess. You are confused. How on earth – or in sky? – such an infernal object became an innocent toy for children, praised and raised all around the world? How did it turn from a symbol of war to one of peace and freedom?

Well, the kites as we know them started to arise during Tang dynasty (around 600 A.D.). Since then, they have been diffused among people of all age and social class in China.

Originally, a kite was equipped with a small bamboo bow and a silk string, so to make it sound like an harp while flying in the air, due to the vibration of the string. This finally explains why the Chinese word for kite is Fēngzhēng (風箏), air zither. The zither is in fact a particular kind of string instrument – from Ancient Greek kithara (κιθάρα) to which also guitar owes its name.

A kite of magic

Over time, the kite has gained a mystical reputation in China. In the past, people lifted musical kites to avert evil spirits with their vibrato. Letting a kite go was instead a sign of bad luck, as it meant to send away protection.

Kites were also considered to have divinatory powers. In his memoirs, Marco Polo reported that before sailing, the crew built a huge kite and tied it to a man – usually a drunk person or a fool – in high wind: only if the kite rose vertically they would sail.

By the 7th century, kites had conquered the Japanese sky, where they were brought by Buddhist monks and kept their mystical fame. In Japanese culture the use of kites was in fact associated with good luck and especially with rich crops.  

From East to West: from kite to airplanes

Already in 1500, flying kites had become very popular around all Asia. From China, to Japan and India, , they have become the favourite pastime for all generations and social classes. The time had come to let kites known by the rest of the world.


The diffusion of kites in Europe is due to explorers such as Marco Polo. However, it wasn’t love at first kite. At first, European only regarded them as exotic souvenirs and started to take them seriously only in 18th century. Brightest inventors of the Western world started to use their knowledge of the kite for scientific purposes.

In 1752, Benjamin Franklin, with the assistance of his son, flew a kite towards a thunder cloud to collect electricity through its conductive wire, thus discovering that lightning and electricity were produced by the same phenomenon. The Wrights brothers used kites for their flight experiments. Slowly all this took to the invention of the airplane at the beginning of the 20th Century.


Today, we ask ourselves if a man can fly: we have built kites, and airplanes, but the answer is still no. But maybe, if it wasn’t for Mozi and his wooden bird, we wouldn’t dare even asking.


About Interact China

“A Social Enterprise in E-commerce Promoting Oriental Aesthetic Worldwide!”

Aileen & Norman co-founded Interact China in 2004 with specialization in fine Oriental Aesthetic products handmade by ethnic minorities & Han Chinese. Having direct partnerships with artisans, designers, craft masters and tailors, along with 13 years of solid experience in e-commerce via InteractChina.com, we are well positioned to bridge talented artisans in the East with the rest of the world, and directly bring you finely selected products that are of good quality and aesthetic taste.

So far we carry 3000+ goods covering Ladies Fashion via ChineseFashionStyle.com, Kungfu Fashion, Home Furnishings, Babies & Kids, Painting Arts, Textile Arts, Carving Arts, Tribal Jewelry Art, Wall Masks and Musical Instruments. Our team speak English, French, German, Spanish and Italian, and serve customers worldwide with passion and hearts.


P.S. We Need People with Similar Passion to Join Our Blogging Team!
If you have passion to write about Oriental Aesthetic in Fashion, Home Decor, Art & Crafts, Culture, Music, Books, and Charity, please contact us at bloggers@interactchina.com, we would love to hear from you!

Chinese Music 101 – Stone Musical Instruments in Ancient China

By Sari Xu

As we discussed last time, Chinese traditional musical instruments are divided into 8 categories, including – silk, bamboo, wood, stone, metal, clay, gourd, and skin instrumentsI guess stone must be the most questionable category among all, so here are some examples of traditional stone musical instruments:

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A Set of Japanese Style Bianqing

Bianqing (编磬) – It is an ancient percussion instrument consisting of a set of L-shaped flat stone chimes known as Qing(磬), played melodically. The chimes were hung in a wooden frame and struck with a mallet. Along with the bronze bells called Bianzhong(编钟), they were an important instrument in China’s ritual and court music going back to ancient times. It was imported to Vietnam as well as Korea back at the ancient time, and nowadays, people could seldomly see this set of instruments and get the chance to play with it. Instead, it mostly appeared in historical and art museums and temples worldwide, and in some film and television works as well. The melody Bianqing usually plays is comparatively slow-paced and provides a calming and majestic feeling.

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The Famous Zeng Hou Yi Bianqing (曾侯乙编磬)

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A Bianqing with 24 Chimes

 

Qing (Sounding Stone, ) – Not necessarily a set, a single L-shaped flat stone could also make great sound as a chime itself. The shape of such stones was often quoted as description for the reverent ritual pose. Important information on Qing nomenclature is contained in the Erya dictionary (尔雅, the oldest surviving Chinese encyclopedia known): the large sounding stone was called xiāo(毊), and a solo performance on Qing, jiǎn(寋). However, the mentioned names do not have much currency in the classical literature. But what we are sure about, is that this kind of instruments, along with the traditional melodies, are widely favored by Chinese ancient scholars and literati. Qing is even mentioned in the Analects as one of the instruments played by Confucius. In the Han dynasty treatises on music, its sound is referred to as “reminding to the monarch about his officers who died while protecting the borders”.

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A Single Qin

Tezhong (特钟) –  It is a single large stone tablet hung by a rope in a wooden frame and struck using a mallet, works in a very similar way to a bell. Thedifference between a Tezhong and a Bianzhong is a Tezhong is usually hanging alone and larger in terms of size. It’s made of bronze and has a sonorous and loud sound. It was invented during Shang Dynasty (B.C 1600) and was mostly played with Ya Music (Ya Yue, 雅乐, similar to Japanese Gagaku). Nowadays, again, we can only find this kind of instruments in museums, and Chinese archeologists are gradually finding more and more instruments from the emperors’’ graves and archeological sites.

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A Tezhong Bell

One fun fact about these stone tones are, Bianqing are usually played along with Bianzhong (smaller than Tezhong), and the harmonic melody the two make together are called “The sound of golden stone”!

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A Whole Set of Zhong

Last but not least, check out this video clip for a short Bianzhong performance at the Blackhawk Museum with all the musicians in Traditional Chinese Han clothing!

 

 

 

About Interact China


“A Social Enterprise in E-commerce Promoting Oriental Aesthetic Worldwide!”

Aileen & Norman co-founded Interact China in 2004 with specialization in fine Oriental Aesthetic products handmade by ethnic minorities & Han Chinese. Having direct partnerships with artisans, designers, craft masters and tailors, along with 15 years of solid experience in e-commerce via InteractChina.com, we are well positioned to bridge talented artisans in the East with the rest of the world, and directly bring you finely selected products that are of good quality and aesthetic taste.

So far we carry 3000+ goods covering Ladies Fashion via ChineseFashionStyle.com, Kungfu Fashion, Home Furnishings, Babies & Kids, Painting Arts, Textile Arts, Carving Arts, Tribal Jewelry Art, Wall Masks and Musical Instruments. Our team speak English, French, German, Spanish and Italian, and serve customers worldwide with passion and hearts.


P.S. We Need People with Similar Passion to Join Our Blogging Team!
If you have passion to write about Oriental Aesthetic in Fashion, Home Decor, Art & Crafts, Culture, Music, Books, and Charity, please contact us at bloggers@interactchina.com, we would love to hear from you!

Chinese Music 101 – Bayin: 8 Tones of Chinese Traditional Music

By Sari Xu

Before the rising of electronic music, even before the discovery of electricity, nature was where all the greatest music stems from. Despite of the differences among each ethnic group, Chinese people, all together have devised tons of traditional musical instruments that could be grouped into 8 categories based on their materials – silk, bamboo, wood, stone, metal, clay, gourd, and skin. Under each category, there must be something you are familiar with and something surprising!

Silk Instruments: silk instruments are mostly stringed instruments nowadays. Back at the ancient times, before the use of metal or nylon, the Chinese have used twisted silk for strings. They could be grouped into 3 categories: plucked, bowed, and struck. Some popular plucked musical instruments include Guzheng, Pipa and Sanxian. Others like Guqin(古琴), Se(瑟), Konghou(箜篌,harps), and Ruan(阮) are less popular nowadays but very typical in traditional music performance especially for solo. Outside of the greatest Han ethnic group, ethnic minorities also have their own stringed music with talented players. For example, in Uyghur traditional music of Xinjiang, Tembur, Dutar and Rawap are widely played and are either fretted or fretless plucked lute. It’s very easy to recognize them with their long neck and representative Uyghur patterns.

Xinjiang people have also devised some fancy bowed instruments such as Ghaychak, Sataer, and Ghushtar. Other ethnic groups like Mongolians and Zhuang people also got the talents in design and devised the “horsehead” fiddle Matouqin(马头琴) and Zhengni(筝尼), respectively. The most common bowed instruments include Erhu, Zhonghu, Jinghu, Banhu, etc. They could be together described as Huqin(胡琴), which refers to the family of vertical fiddles. Though plucked and bowed instruments each has a large family, there are comparatively fewer instruments under the “struck” category. The most representative one is Yangqin(扬琴), which is a hammered dulcimer commonly used in traditional Chinese music orchestra till today.

Bamboo Instruments: bamboo instruments, apparently, are instruments made of bamboo and usually refer to woodwind instruments like vertical flutes. Dizi, Xiao, Paixiao and Chi are some commonly played Chinese flutes worldwide. Other woodwind pipes could be categorized into free reed, single reed and double reed pipes. The most representative instruments in these 3 categories are Bawu, Mabu, and Suona respectively.

Wood Instruments:Most wood instruments are of the ancient variety. For example, Muyu (木鱼) is a rounded woodblock carved in the shape of a fish, and could be struck with a wooden stick. It’s mostly used in Buddhist chanting. Another example would be Bangzi(棒子), which is also a woodblock, smaller than Muyu and has a higher pitch.

Stone Instruments:Yes! Stones could also produce beautiful musical rhymes. Back at the ancient times, there were a range of stone chimes like Bianqing(编磬), Tezhong(特钟) and Qin(磬).

Metal Instruments: Metal instruments are mostly percussions. The two greatest categories here are Luo (Gong) and Bo.

Clay Instruments: Believe it or not, both wind and percussion instruments could be made of the clay! Xun is a typical wind ocarina made of baked clay, and Fou is a percussion instruments that could be played just in the way of playing the drum.

Gourd Instruments: gourds could also be used in music and Sheng and Hulusi are two representative wind instruments made of this “plant”!

Skin Instruments: Don’t be scared! Animal’s skin was commonly used to make the surfaces of drums. These include Dagu (“Gu” in Chinese means the drum), Jian’gu, Bangu, Biangu, Paigu, Huagu, Yaogu, Diangu, Yanggegu, Gaogu… and so on! Haha, this is such a big family!

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The Chinese Drum Family

Other than the 8 categories, instruments made from other unique materials do exist as well, and I promise these treasures, at least one of them, would be a big surprise! Next time, we’ll have some more discussion regarding each category of the Bayin (8 tones), as well as other traditional Chinese musical instruments! Stay tuned!

 

 

About Interact China


“A Social Enterprise in E-commerce Promoting Oriental Aesthetic Worldwide!”

Aileen & Norman co-founded Interact China in 2004 with specialization in fine Oriental Aesthetic products handmade by ethnic minorities & Han Chinese. Having direct partnerships with artisans, designers, craft masters and tailors, along with 13 years of solid experience in e-commerce via InteractChina.com, we are well positioned to bridge talented artisans in the East with the rest of the world, and directly bring you finely selected products that are of good quality and aesthetic taste.

So far we carry 3000+ goods covering Ladies Fashion via ChineseFashionStyle.com, Kungfu Fashion, Home Furnishings, Babies & Kids, Painting Arts, Textile Arts, Carving Arts, Tribal Jewelry Art, Wall Masks and Musical Instruments. Our team speak English, French, German, Spanish and Italian, and serve customers worldwide with passion and hearts.


P.S. We Need People with Similar Passion to Join Our Blogging Team!
If you have passion to write about Oriental Aesthetic in Fashion, Home Decor, Art & Crafts, Culture, Music, Books, and Charity, please contact us at bloggers@interactchina.com, we would love to hear from you!

 

Chinese Folk Tale: The Butterfly Lovers

Written by Stefania Miletti

Here I am again with another love story, but what can you do when there are so many touching stories in Chinese culture! If I could I would share them all! But for today, I have “The Butterfly Lovers”, a tender young love in a time immersed in traditions.

The Butterfly Lovers

Once upon a time, during the Eastern Jin Dynasty, the costumes were different from what we know now. In fact, while the boys enjoyed their daytime at school, girls stayed at home to help with the household chores. However, Zhu Yingtai, ninth and only daughter to the Zhu family form Shangyu, Zhejiang, begged his father to let her go to school and learn. At first her father was against it but after Zhu continued unceasingly to ask him, he agreed to let her go at the condition that she’ll be accepted in one of the schools. Her father was quite sure that no school would have wanted a girl among their students. But, oh boy, was he wrong to underestimate the intelligence of her daughter. In fact, Zhu, knowing very well that it would have been impossible for her to get admission as a girl, disguised herself as a boy and successfully got admitted into a Hangzhou school, where also her aunt lived. 

Every day, she will dress up as a guy and attend the school. In her class, she became close friends with a boy named Liang and, with the passing of time, the two friends became inseparable. With time Zhu started to have stronger feelings for him, realizing she was in love. The problem was that Liang thought she was a boy, but she was not ready to give up. Zhu thought of a plan; she asked Liang to come to her hometown after graduation and to ask her father for her “sister’s hand”. Liang agreed without thinking twice, he did not want to lose Zhu, so he thought that by marring his sister, they will still be good friends and will see each other quite often.

With this promise in mind, soon after graduation, Liang found a job and worked extremely hard to save money for the marriage. Once he reached his goal, he lost no time and presented himself at Zhu house. When Zhu finally saw him, after one year of being apart, she felt as if all her hopes and dreams had come to life. She run into her loved one’s arms crying and shouting: “Liang! It’s me! I’m Zhu, your friend! As you can see that I’m a girl, now there’s nothing standing in our way, we can finally be happy together!”

Liang was initially shocked at this revelation, but soon everything made sense. Now he understood why he felt such strong connection with Zhu since the beginning. Gathering his courage, he confronted Zhu father, explaining his profound love for his daughter and asking for her hand in marriage. Unfortunately, the father did not agree, he explained that Zhu hand was already promised to a wealthy merchant and there was nothing the young man could do to change his mind. 

The lovers’ hearts were shattered. Liang left, empty handed, feeling more alone than ever. The mere thought of him not seeing Zhu again, filled him with despair and on his journey home, he collapsed and died. 

When Zhu heard of his lover’s death, she lost her all her will to live. She agreed to marry the merchant her father choose for her at the only condition that the wedding procession passed by Liang’s grave. 

The dreaded wedding day came, and Zhu collected herself, put up a façade and started the wedding procession. Wind began to howl stronger and stronger, and the shy darkened as the procession neared the cemetery. Suddenly Zhu jumped out of her palanquin and through herself on his lover’s grave, crying her heart out. As the weather conditions worsened, a lightning bolt broke the grave open and Zhu jumped into it. 

After that the storm subsided as fast as it had started. But when the people reached the grave, trying to find the bride to be, all they could see was an empty coffin. Then, out of the blue, two beautiful and radiant butterflies flew out the coffin, dancing and chasing each other like two young lovers. People all around were in disbelief and watched the scene as the two butterflies flew out of sight, beginning their lives together.

From Story to Music

In 1959 “The Butterfly Lovers’ Violin Concerto” was written by the skilled minds of two Chinese composers, Chen Gang and He Zhanhao. The work they presented is astonishing and is divided into seven section. Each of these sections depicts a clear image in the story’s timeline, from the joyful youth, to the unbearable sadness derived from a lost lover.

I assure you that listening to this concerto will make you feel every emotion that the butterfly lovers experienced in their story, especially thanks to the brilliant execution of the orchestra.

Hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did. 







About Interact China


“A Social Enterprise in E-commerce Promoting Oriental Aesthetic Worldwide!” 

Aileen & Norman co-founded Interact Chinain 2004 with specialization in fine Oriental Aesthetic products handmade by ethnic minorities & Han Chinese. Having direct partnerships with artisans, designers, craft masters and tailors, along with 13 years of solid experience in e-commerce via InteractChina.com, we are well positioned to bridge talented artisans in the East with the rest of the world, and directly bring you finely selected products that are of good quality and aesthetic taste.

So far we carry 3000+ goods covering Ladies Fashionvia ChineseFashionStyle.com, Kungfu Fashion, Home Furnishings, Babies & Kids, Painting Arts, Textile Arts, Carving Arts, Tribal Jewelry Art, Wall Masks and Musical Instruments. Our team speak English, French, German, Spanish and Italian, and serve customers worldwide with passion and hearts.


P.S. We Need People with Similar Passion to Join Our Blogging Team! 
If you have passion to write about Oriental Aesthetic in Fashion, Home Decor, Art & Crafts, Culture, Music, Books, and Charity, please contact us at bloggers@interactchina.com, we would love to hear from you!