MONTVILLE, NJ – Four youths from the Montville Chinese Community Youth Club presented a Chinese history lecture at the Montville Township Public Library earlier this month.
Chinese philanthropist Margaret Lam introduced the group, saying that she had arrived in Montville 45 years ago and has been trying to promote Chinese culture ever since, because so many people didn’t understand it. She said she was very happy with the strong turnout for the lecture, because it meant people were interested in learning more.
“The Chinese traditional way of life is quite unique,” she said. “It’s very different from western culture. These four children have prepared a presentation on Chinese transportation, furniture, containers and clothing, to show you how artful and beautiful our traditions were.”
Nine-year-old Scipio Han, a student at Valley View Elementary, spoke about the history of Chinese containers. He said these containers, usually painted pottery, represented the Chinese culture.
Han explained about “dings,” which are ancient Chinese cauldrons used in worship and ritual ceremonies. The inscriptions on the side of dings are used to study early Chinese calligraphy, he said.
Han also discussed lacquerware, which is the art of applying lacquer to boxes and other containers, which began in China as early as 1600 B.C.E.
“Later, in the Ming and Qing dynasties, which started in the 1300s, the techniques achieved high standards, and might be inlaid with mother of pearl or gold,” Han said.
Sixth-grader Cindy Chen discussed the history of Chinese transportation. She described the rickshaws used in ancient China, and the “tower boats” used by the military.
“Tower boats were enormous boats with multiple tiers used for long- and short-distance combat,” she said.
Gianna Zou, also a Lazar sixth-grader, discussed the history of Chinese furniture.
“In traditional times, the Chinese believed that people, as living creatures, could only use materials that have life, such as wood and bamboo, to build their homes,” she said. “On the other hand, marble and limestone were valued because they were scarce, so they were used for ‘crafts,’ such as furniture, which they put more time and energy into.”
Zou described how early beds had multiple uses, as day seating units and sometimes tables. She said as Buddhism migrated into China, people stopped sitting on the floor and began to sit on stools as a way of raising an honored person to a higher level. This began around 960 A.D. in the Song Dynasty, she said.
Eight-year-old Amy Zhang, who is a third grader at Hilldale Elementary School, discussed the history of Chinese clothing.
“The basic style of clothing is a cross-collar shirt, wrapping the right lapel over the left,” she said. “Crossing the left over right was considered barbaric!”
“The shirt is then tied with a sash, and paired with a form of blouse and skirt or long gown,” she said. “This has been the basic style for thousands of years.”
The long gown appeared during the Zhou Dynasty, she said, which began in 1046 B.C.E. The importance of colors varied across dynasties, she said, and also showed one’s occupation, social status and political position.