Brill’s Encyclopedia of China

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Brill’s Encyclopedia of China Online is based on the originally a thousand-page reference work on China with a clear focus on the modern period from the mid-nineteenth century to the 21st century. Written by the world’s top scholars, Brill’s Encyclopedia of China is the first place to look for reliable information on the history, geography, society, economy, politics, science, and culture of China.

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Folk Art

(1,274 words)

Author(s): Zorn, Bettina
In contrast to the folk art movement in Japan ( mingei) at the beginning of the 20th century, folk art in China ( minjian yishu or xiangtu yishu) did not receive special attention. However, especially during the time of the Great Leap Forward (1958-61) and also during the Cultural Revolution, peasant painting, which adopted different elements of folk art, played an important role. It was only during the 1980s/90s that traditional folk art began to attract interest in both the PRC and Taiwan. People on both sides were cons…

Folk Literature

(2,652 words)

Author(s): Riftin, Boris
The oral folk literature ( minjian wenxue) of the Han Chinese (hereafter simply: Chinese) can be subdivided into non-professional (following R. Jacobson's and P. Bogatyrev's terminology: active-collective) and professional (passive-collective) oral folk literary creations. Among the non-professional works are myths ( shenhua), folk songs ( min'ge), fairytales/folktales ( minjian gushi), sagas/legends ( chuanshuo), anecdotes/jokes ( xiaohua), proverbs ( yanyu), sayings with detachable ending ( xiehouyu), and riddles ( miyu). Among the professional creations are w…

Folklore and Ethnology

(1,501 words)

Author(s): Nentwig, Ingo
In the PRC, folklore studies ( minsuxue) and ethnology ( minzuxue) are the academic disciplines dedicated to the study of the traditions of the Han and the ethnic minorities and non-Chinese peoples in China, for which a rich body of especially written sources is available. As early as in the historical works of Chinese antiquity there are records about the "mores and customs" ( fengsu) of the Han, the traditions of the inhabitants of the "border regions," and about other peoples. However, the passages and chapters in official and unofficial history books, lo…

Food and Drinking Culture

(2,547 words)

Author(s): Anderson, Eugene N.
China's food is famous for its quality and variety, but even more impressive is China's success, over thousands of years, at feeding a large percentage of the human species (currently about 20%) from a small percentage of the world's farmland (7%), even though the country has suffered droughts, floods, and other disasters. Success in providing food has come not from natural bounty but from technological innovation, much of it actively supported by government policy. The pressure of a growing pop…

Food Production

(1,799 words)

Author(s): Ash, Robert F.
Until well after 1949, China remained a poor, low-income country. The economy was driven by agriculture, in which grain farming predominated, while household budgets were dominated by expenditure on food. Until well into the 1970s, rapid population growth was the principal source of increased demand for food, although modest rises in per capita income were also reflected in rising demand for grain (above all, "fine" grains: rice, wheat, and soybeans) for direct consumption. Only after 1978, unde…

Foreign Economic Policy

(1,859 words)

Author(s): Klenner, Wolfgang
China was probably only capable of developing its own foreign economic policy after the foundation of the People's Republic. Before that, i.e. since the beginning of the 19th century, China's foreign economic relations had been determined primarily by foreign merchants and governments (Opium Wars). If one accepts the conventional definition of foreign economic policy common in market economies - which is generally understood to signify purposeful measures that influence the conditions under whic…

Foreign Investment

(1,238 words)

Author(s): Xueming, Song
Foreign investment is a broad term. It includes foreign direct investment (FDI), portfolio investment, loans, and bilateral credit. The following examination focuses on FDI, because it has the greatest importance for China's economic development. For a land like China, whose modern economic development began quite late, a rapid economic overhaul was only possible with foreign assistance. Accordingly, since the beginning of the reform policy at the end of 1978, China has concentrated not only on …

Foreign Literature in China

(3,806 words)

Author(s): Gálik, Marián | Findeisen, Raoul David
1. First Half of the 20th Century The first influential novel in translation was La Dame aux Camélias ( The Lady of the Camellias) by Alexandre Dumas (the younger) which was published in 1899. Shortly before this, Liang Qichao had commenced publication of the Chinese version of Kajin no kigu ( Unexpected Encounters with Beauties). The most important and productive author in the translation of foreign literature was Lin Shu (1852-1924). He knew no foreign languages himself. By a method combining free appropriation with original creativity and paraph…

Foreign Policy

(4,122 words)

Author(s): Friedrich, Stefan
The foundation of the People's Republic of China on October 1, 1949, was in many respects a watershed in Chinese history. Foreign relations are no exception in this regard, but there are also important continuities. Two elements predominate in this: first, the sense shared by all Chinese governments both before and after 1949 that China occupied a central position in the world, and second, efforts by Chinese politicians and intellectuals to support this central role with fresh interpretations of…

Foreign Trade

(2,837 words)

Author(s): Klenner, Wolfgang
1. Developments through 1949 Until the beginning of the 19th century, China's foreign trade was in the hands of Chinese merchants and officials and their trading partners from Asia, increasingly also from Europe. Data on the volume and structure of foreign trade from that era is sparse. It was certainly not free trade in the narrower sense of the term. Foreign trade was viewed much more as a form of the tribute trade (tributary system) and lay under government control. All the same, people appear to…

Foreign Trade: Hong Kong

(1,493 words)

Author(s): Taubmann, Wolfgang
The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) and the People's Republic of China are often each spoken of as the most important trade partner for the other, yet this assumption must be refined because included in the Hong Kong trade statistics is trade between China and other countries that flows through Hong Kong. Moreover, Hong Kong's foreign trade is difficult to measure because the relocation of a large number of Hong Kong industrial firms to mainland China, in particular the province of Guangdong, has significantly transformed the import/export structure. Prior to the open …

Foreign Trade: Taiwan

(1,768 words)

Author(s): Meyer, Michael
1. From Camphor to Computers: Foreign Trade as a Motor for Development Foreign trade has played an important role in the economy of Taiwan. This is reflected by an unusually high correlation between trade volume and overall economic performance. The ratio of imports to GDP is about 40%. In 1996 Taiwan ranked among the leading trade nations of the world: fifteenth for imports and fourteenth for exports. Historically, the quantitative significance of foreign trade has scarcely changed since the island was first tied to global trade about 400 years ago. An examina…


(952 words)

Author(s): Ash, Robert F.
China's forests provide the ecological conditions needed to support many forms of animal and plant life. In economic terms, they have also traditionally been a major source of fuel for peasants and of raw materials used in building construction and manufacturing industry. But perhaps most important of all is the environmental role played by forests in combating soil erosion, flooding, and drought. In this sense, forests can be regarded as an essential condition of the efficient functioning of China's intensive irrigated agriculture. Statistical and definitional problems make …

Four Modernizations

(1,416 words)

Author(s): Breslin, Shaun
The Four Modernizations (sige xiandaihua) refers to the goal of modernizing China's agriculture, industry, national defense, and science and technology by the end of the 20th century. This objective is commonly associated with the leadership of Deng Xiaoping. However the concept has a long genealogy that far predates Deng's de facto assumption of power in 1978. The concept was first developed in the mid-1960s, in the aftermath of the Great Leap Forward. While Mao Zedong was pressing for the retention of class conflict and an emphasis on continu…


(2,267 words)

Author(s): Cabestan, Jean-Pierre
While political relations between China and France have often been complicated or loaded with conflicts, the economic and cultural exchange between these two countries has been constant and fruitful, although not always intensive and balanced. The episodic contacts that China and France were able to establish during the reign of Louis XIV and after China's opening-up in the 19th century hardly compare to those developed by these two nations during the 20th century and particularly during the pas…


(2,437 words)

Author(s): Dabringhaus, Sabine
Reports regarding the frontiers appeared in Chinese chronicles as early as the Zuozhuan ( Commentary of Zuo). In the mid-4th century BCE, a cultural and political concept of the universe ( tianxia ) existed in which the world was divided into Chinese and barbarians. The territorial permeability of the early frontier concept was reflected in the idea that the barbarians would voluntarily come and transform themselves ( lai hua), i.e. adopt the Chinese culture. Geographically and climatologically, the land border in the north and west (called the "Inner Asian fron…


(1,364 words)

Author(s): Schulze, Walter
Min Fuzhou 85 counties, 23 cities 35.58 million inhabitants 121,400 km² 293 inhabitants per km2 The province of Fujian is situated in the southeast of China. It shares borders with the provinces of Zhejiang, Jiangxi, and Guangdong. Fujian's geographical position is characterized by the coast, abundant with bays and islands, its close proximity to Taiwan, and its relative isolation from the inner countryside. The reasons for this geographical detachment are a number of mountain ranges which run parallel to the …

Funeral Customs

(978 words)

Author(s): Kuhn, Dieter
In China ancestor worship as the ritual veneration of the dead is the most important religious ritual in which the deceased (as ancestor) stands in a mutual relationship with his descendent. Every person was believed to have a spiritual soul ( hun), which after death ascends to heaven, and a bodily soul ( bo), which remains inside the body. In order to prevent the bodily soul from causing misfortune, the descendents provided a grave for it. This residence for the dead was equipped according to the needs of the deceased during his lifetime. Graves document the social and intellectual sta…

Furniture and Interior Design

(910 words)

Author(s): Evarts, Curtis
The early history of Chinese furniture recorded in archaeological materials reveals a mat-level furniture culture. The ancient Chinese knelt or sat cross-legged upon woven mats surrounded by various furnishings including low tables, screens, and armrests. Some excavated lacquer furniture from the ancient kingdom of Chu (ca. 500 BCE) demonstrates an aesthetic of minimalism and simplicity while others are more ornately decorated with painted designs and with fine relief and/or openwork carving. Th…