Author: Laura Matheson (page 1 of 5)

An Introduction to Wishing Trees

For our latest blog post, work placement student Xiaochun Shen writes about the origin of wishing trees, a traditional custom during Chinese New Year celebrations.

There is a beautiful tale about the origins of the Wishing Tree.

At the end of the Qing Dynasty, in a small village, there lived a young man, named A Jun and a young woman, named Feng Er. They loved each other. When A Jun was 18, he wanted to participate in a naval battle. The two were reluctant to be separated and spent their last moments together under a tree in the village, before A Jun left. Alone, Feng Er went to the tree every day and wrapped a strip of yellow cloth on a branch, wishing that A Jun would return soon.

However, five years passed and A Jun did not come back to the village. The girl still waited for him. Finally, her parents forced her to marry another man. Feng Er tried to refuse the marriage but failed. The night before the wedding, Feng Er put on her wedding dress and went to the tree alone. On the day of the wedding, the whole village gathered to celebrate. However, they found Feng Er dressed in a bright wedding dress, lying quietly under the tree, with her eyes closed gently and a smile on her face. She slept forever.

While people witnessed this scene in surprise, the yellow cloth strips on the tree suddenly flew into the sky. At this time, the villagers watched as the yellow strips flying in the wind turned into an image of Feng Er and A Jun. They held hands and flew into the sky. From that day on, the legend states that if people hang a yellow cloth with their wishes on the tree and pray religiously, their wishes will come true. Over time, this has become a custom.

Lam Tsuen Wishing Tree in Hong Kong, 2019

This year, we’re inviting our community to make your wishes online on our virtual wishing tree. What are your dreams for the Year of the Ox? Submit your wishes here.

Make a Wish on our Virtual Wishing Tree

Submit your wishes using our short form. The final day for submitting wishes will be Friday 26th February at 11pm GMT. Click here:

This year, the first day of Lunar New Year, and the beginning of the Year of the Ox, falls on Friday 12th February. In China, this special date marks the start of Spring Festival – two weeks of celebrations with family, food, fireworks and gifting hongbao (red envelopes).

During the Spring Festival, a popular tradition is to make a wish for the year ahead and hang it from a wishing tree. The most famous wishing trees are in Lam Tsuen, Hong Kong. There are four in total at the shrine, one for career, academic and wealth wishes; one for marriage and pregnancy wishes; one for all wishes. The fourth tree is considered the most special – here worshippers tie their wishes to an orange, making a bao die. This is thrown up into the tree – if it hangs, your wishes will come true. Traditionally these wishes were written on joss paper, after burning joss sticks.

You can read more about the history and importance of wishing trees in this short blog by Ricefield placement student Xiaochun Shen.

A highlight of Ricefield Arts’ Chinese New Year celebrations each year is displaying our own wishing tree in Kelvin Hall, Glasgow. Visitors to our annual activity day write their wishes and tie them to the tree, before enjoying an afternoon of fun games, sports and crafts.

With many restrictions in place over the Spring Festival period, this year we would like to invite our community to make their wishes for the Year of the Ox online. At the end of February we’ll feature these wishes on our website along with our tree – it will be our collective vision for the year ahead.

This year it may feel difficult to look to the future. Try to visualise your dreams, hopes and ambitions – small or big, for yourself or for your loved ones. What are you wishing for in 2021?



Make Your Own: Firecracker Knot

In this video workshop leader Xiaochun Shen guides us to make a quick and colourful firecracker knot, using Chinese knotting cord. These make great decorations for Chinese New Year!

You’ll need:

  • 2x 50cm strands of knotting cord (two different colours preferred)

Make Your Own: Paper Lantern

Make your own paper lantern at home – a perfect craft for Chinese New Year!

Based on her popular origami lantern workshop, Yuen has created a short video for you to follow along with at home.

You’ll need:

  • 1 sheet of A4 (21 x 29.7 cm) paper (colour of your choice)
  • 1m piece of thread (colour of your choice)
  • Pen
  • Ruler
  • Scissors
  • Stapler
  • Hole puncher
  • LED tealight candle/other small LED light (optional)

Get started:

  1. Place your A4 paper horizontally and measure 11.7cm from the bottom.
  2. Mark this point and fold the top of the paper down along the full length of the paper.
  3. Unfold and cut along the crease to remove the top rectangle.
  4. You will be left with a rectangle for use with the below folding template (punch small holes where indicated)

Watch the full video below:

Express Yourself Art Competition Winners

In December 2020, we hosted our very first Express Yourself Art Competition. Open to all participants of our Art for Wellbeing workshops, we wanted to see how you had been inspired to get creative during lockdown (and beyond!).

We were truly delighted by the high quality, colourful entries we received. Our judging panel carefully reviewed each artwork, and scored them on creativity, skill and theme. Thank you to our special guest judges Lin Chau, Pui Lee and Fiona Tong for their support.

It’s now time to announce our three lucky winners! Congratulations (in no particular order) to Sintija Plāce, Samantha Ann Robson and Maria Frank. Take a look at their artworks below, and read more about their inspiration.

Sintija Plāce – Self Portrait

‘The submitted work is one of the many that were created during the Blind Drawing/Connecting with Yourself workshop … As I was not glimpsing, nor trying to make my drawing visually direct or pleasant on purpose, I felt as if I did let go of my ‘persona creating self’. … Last portrait was accompanied by colours and shades which represented my mood of that night. … This exercise perfectly shows that the best unintentional results come when we allow our senses and emotions to flow without strain in our minds and no eraser by our side.’

Samantha Ann Robson – Beach Treasures

‘I found both … classes helped me build my confidence in drawing and expressing myself through art, as well as giving me some really helpful tips for improving my drawing. I also found them really calming during this very frightening time, and gave me a sense of being in contact with others. … I chose the beach treasures, including shells and a wooden ice cream spoon for my still life subject, as it expresses how everything really is in the eye of the beholder. … A little wooden ice cream spoon may look like rubbish to or act as a reminder of a blissful day at the beach… It’s all in the perception. ‘

Maria Frank

‘The drawing I submitted includes my real furry family of two cats and one dog enjoying a moonrise. … My subjects include nature, animals, and everyday things in life. … I found these workshops inspiring and they re-energised my desire to create art and to learn more about technique, perspective, materials, etc. … I’ve been yearning to draw and learn how to paint, and the pandemic provided time and opportunity (via online workshops) to do so. … The instructor’s very positive approach to drawing helped me work through self-criticism and encouraged me to stick with my work (i.e. work through seeming “mistakes”) until satisfied with the result. … They have made a huge difference in my life during this difficult time for the world.’

An Introduction to Dongzhi Festival

This year Dongzhi Festival will be celebrated around the world on 21 December 2020. This very important festival marks Winter Solstice, and is inspired by the yin and yang philosophy of balance and harmony – the longer days following the solstice mean an increase in positive energy flowing in.

We’re happy to welcome back Ricefield volunteer Xiaochun who has written us a short blog introducing the history and customs of winter solstice in China.

Origins of Dongzhi Festival

This year in the Northern Hemisphere, winter solstice will occur on Monday 21 December. The winter solstice is the shortest day and the longest night in all parts of the northern hemisphere; the further north, the shorter the day. Dongzhi Festival is one of the eight key festivals of the year. The ancient people of China developed a tradition of worshipping their ancestors on the winter solstice to show their filial piety and to remember their roots. However, due to regional differences in rituals and customs, the forms of ancestor worship are also different in different areas. Alongside the worshipping of ancestors, in some places people also worshipped the gods of heaven and earth.

The winter solstice is regarded as an important winter festival. In ancient times, people who drifted out of the country were expected to go home for the winter festival. There is a saying that ‘the winter solstice is as important as (Chinese) New Year’, which is widely circulated in some parts of southern China. As soon as the winter solstice arrives, the Chinese New Year is just around the corner, and so the ancients believed that Dongzhi Festival is no less important than the New Year. Nowadays, many places still maintain the traditional custom of offering sacrifices to heaven and ancestors during the winter solstice.

Customs in South China

Many places in southern China will celebrate the winter solstice, and many areas along the southern coast uphold the traditional custom of worshipping ancestors. Each family will have ancestor statues in the upper hall of their homes, set up offering tables, arrange incense burners, make offerings and so on. Alongside worshiping the ancestors, some places also worship the gods of the heavens and the land to pray for good weather and prosperity in the coming year.

Cantonese people eat roast meat and ginger rice during the winter solstice. The Hakka people believe that during the winter solstice the taste of water is the most mellow, so it has become a custom for the Hakka people to make wine in this period. From the late Ming and early Qing period until now, Hangzhou people will eat niangao (Chinese: 年糕) during the winter solstice; they will make three meals of niangao with different flavours. In Sichuan, it is the custom to eat mutton soup, as mutton offers the best nourishment in winter. In Hubei, Hunan, you must eat red bean glutinous rice during Dongzhi Festival.

In some parts of the south, it is more popular to eat rice balls, known as tangyuan (Chinese: 汤圆) which means reunion. Eating tangyuan on the winter solstice is a traditional custom, and it is most common in the Jiangnan region.

Bowl of tangyuan

Customs in North China

In northern China, there is a long-held custom of eating dumplings every winter solstice. According to the legend, the medical sage Zhang Zhongjing saw the people who were suffering from frozen weather and he used lamb, some cold-fighting medicinal materials and dough to make dumplings. These dumplings resembled ears, in honour of the frostbitten patients he treated. This medicine was called qu han jiao er tang (Chinese: 驱寒娇耳汤) and he gave it to the people to eat. Later, every winter solstice, people imitated this treatment and cooked their own dumpling soup. Most parts of the north eat dumplings on this day because the word for dumplings has its origins in “eliminating the cold”.

Chinese Ghost Stories: October 2020

On 29 October 2020 we had a lot of fun hosting Chinese Ghost Stories, an evening of storytelling and music. Over Zoom, our talented performers shared spooky tales from both China and Scotland, and we learned more about Chinese traditions and festivals.

The programme included a performance of Pu Songling’s The Painted Skin, alongside The Legend of the White Snake, A Ghost’s Promise, Solomon Ghost of the Panopticon and a very special guqin musical interlude.

Check out the video below for some of our highlights:

We would like to thank our performers: Yan Shi, Annie Au, Pui Lee, Judith Bowers, Andrew Glass, Xiaochun Shen, Menghan Sun, Mike Nelson and Lawrence Dunn.

The event was delivered in partnership with Britannia Panopticon, the world’s oldest surviving music hall. It was part of our Community Wellbeing and Recovery project, supported by Foundation Scotland and the Glasgow Communities Fund.


An Introduction to Mid-Autumn Festival 中秋节

This year Mid-Autumn Festival takes place on Thursday 1st October 2020. It celebrates what is said to be the fullest moon of the year – families typically come together to share the autumn harvest, eat mooncakes and light lanterns. The festival has a long history, with its origins in the Shang Dynasty (1600–1046 BCE).

Below is a short introduction to the history and customs of the festival, written by Ricefield volunteer Xiaochun Shen.


The Mid-Autumn Festival has a long lineage back to ancient celestial phenomenon worship, the custom of respecting the moon. In the autumn equinox (秋分) season of the 24 solar terms, it is the ancient Moon Festival, and the Mid-Autumn Festival comes from the traditional Moon Festival. The festival is held on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar with a full moon at night, corresponding to mid-September to early October in the Gregorian calendar.

The Mid-Autumn Festival became an officially recognised national holiday, probably in the Tang Dynasty. During the Tang Dynasty, the customs of the Mid-Autumn Festival became popular, and the custom of admiring the moon was combined with myths and stories such as Chang’e Flying to the Moon and Yang Guifei Turning into the Moon God.

The Mid-Autumn Festival brings together families for a yearly reunion. On the night of the Mid-Autumn Festival, all families will appreciate the moon and eat moon cakes.


Worshipping the moon

Worshipping the moon is an old Chinese custom, which can be traced to the ancients worshipping the the Moon God. Since ancient times, in some areas of Guangdong, people have worshipped the moon god on the night of Mid-Autumn Festival. The whole family will worship the moon in turn, praying for blessings.


On the night of the Mid-Autumn Festival, there is a custom of lighting up lanterns to complement the moonlit scene. Every family uses bamboo sticks to make lanterns more than ten days before the festival. Various lanterns are made to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival.

Moon cakes

Moon cakes were offered in ancient times as part of the Mid-Autumn Festival worship. Moon cakes symbolise family reunion and in present day have become a festive food of Mid-Autumn Festival.

Dragon Boat Festival Music Concert: June 2020

Ricefield Arts was delighted to host a very special Dragon Boat Festival celebration on 25th June 2020. We brought together talented performers from across Scotland for an evening of traditional Chinese music on Zoom.  This video is a selection of highlights, including performances of guzheng, guqin, pipa, bamboo flute, erhu and Peking Opera.

Watch our performers Dr Quan Gu, Yinuo Liu, Jingliang Chen, Xuanming Liang, Lawrence Dunn, Yan Shi and Haoyan Zhang.

Would you like to find out more about these unique instruments? Find out more on this blog post by Ricefield Arts volunteer Menghan.

This event was part of our wellbeing project, which aimed to inspire, entertain and bring together our community during lockdown. It was a joint celebration with our event partners Confucius Institute for Scotland and Scotland-China Association, and was supported by Scottish Government Wellbeing Fund, Corra Foundation and SCVO.

An Introduction to Traditional Chinese Instruments

We’re looking forward to our Dragon Boat Festival music concert, to be held on Thursday 25th June. To help you prepare, Ricefield Arts volunteer Menghan has written an excellent blog highlighting the long history of some of the instruments you’ll hear at the concert.

Guzheng | 古筝

The guzheng, also known as a Chinese zither, is a Chinese plucked string instrument with a more than 2,500-year history. It was the most popular instrument in China. The modern guzheng commonly has 21, 25 or 26 strings, is 64 inches (1.6 m) long, while the oldest specimen yet discovered held 13 strings and was dated to around 500 BC, possibly during the Warring States period (475–221 BC).

Guzheng players often wear fingerpicks made from materials such as plastic, resin, tortoiseshell, or ivory on one or both hands. Many people are confused with the guzheng and guqin which is actually a Chinese zither with 7 strings played without moveable bridges.


Pipa | 琵琶

The pipa is a four-stringed Chinese musical instrument, belonging to the plucked category of instruments. Sometimes called the Chinese lute, the instrument has a unique pear-shaped wooden body with a varying number of frets ranging from 12 to 26. The pipa is one of the most popular Chinese instruments and has been played for almost two thousand years in China.

In China, many music and stories are related to this instrument. The most prevalent one is about a beauty called Wang Zhaojun (王昭君). It is said that Wang Zhaojun began a journey northward to marry a nomad ruler. She left her hometown on horseback on a bright autumn morning and along the way, the horse neighed, making Zhaojun extremely sad and unable to control her emotions. As she sat on the saddle, she began to play sorrowful melodies on a stringed instrument. A flock of geese flying southward heard the music, saw the beautiful young woman riding the horse, immediately forgot to flap their wings, and fell to the ground. From then on, Zhaojun acquired the nickname “fells geese” or “drops birds.” Later, the melody she played on the saddle was regarded as Zhaojun’s Lament (昭君怨) and the stringed instrument was commonly depicted as a pipa.

A poem called Pipa xing (琵琶行) is also well known in China. It was written by a famous poet called Bai Juyi and it depicted a pipa performance during a chance encounter with a female pipa player on the Yangtze River. The most widely known sentences of this poem are describing the sound of pipa – the bold strings rattled like splatters of sudden rain, the fine strings hummed like lovers’ whispers, chattering and pattering, pattering and chattering, as pearls, large and small, on a jade plate fall (大弦嘈嘈如急雨,小弦切切如私语,嘈嘈切切错杂弹,大珠小珠落玉盘).


Erhu | 二胡

The erhu is a two-stringed bowed musical instrument, more specifically a spike fiddle, which may also be called a Southern Fiddle. It is sometimes known in the Western world as the Chinese violin or a Chinese two-stringed fiddle.

The most widely known piece of erhu music in China is Two Springs Reflect the Moon (二泉映月), composed by the Wuxi folk artist Ah Bing (阿炳), whose original name was Hua Yanjun, a blind street musician. Two Springs Reflect the Moon expresses the composer’s suppressed grief at having tasted to the full the bitterness of life in the old society and it has become an exquisite example of Chinese instrumental folk music stemming from the heart of a small-town folk artist.


Guqin | 古琴

The guqin is a plucked seven-string Chinese musical instrument of the zither family. It can also be called qixian-qin or seven-stringed zither (七弦琴). Similar to the guzheng above, it also has been played since ancient times, and has traditionally been favoured by scholars and literati as an instrument of great subtlety and refinement, as well as being associated with the ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius. It is sometimes referred to by the Chinese as “the father of Chinese music” or ‘the instrument of the sages’.

Guqin is commonly associated with a Chinese musician Bo Ya (伯牙) and his story of  ideal Chinese friendship. It is said that Bo Ya was good at playing the qin and Zhong Ziqi was good at listening to the qin. When Bo Ya played the guqin pieces Gao Shan 《高山》(meaning ‘high mountains’) and Liu Shui 《流水》(meaning ‘flowing  water’), Zhong Ziqi could see the real mountains and feel the rivers and oceans. When Ziqi died, Bo Ya broke the strings of his qin and vowed never to play the qin again. Thus, the term Zhiyin (知音, literally ‘to know the tone’) has come to describe a close and sympathetic friend and the melody of High Mountains Flowing Water has also come to be well-known.


Dizi  | 笛子

The dizi is a Chinese transverse flute. It is also sometimes known as the di (笛) or héngdi (横笛), and has varieties including the qǔdi (曲笛) and bāngdi (梆笛). It is a major Chinese musical instrument that is widely used in many genres of Chinese folk music, Chinese opera, as well as the modern Chinese orchestra. The dizi is also a popular instrument among the Chinese people as it is simple to make and easy to carry.

Most dizi are made of bamboo, while it is also possible to find dizi made from other kinds of wood, or even from stone, for example, Jade dizi (or 玉笛; yùdi) are popular among both collectors interested in their beauty, and among professional players who seek an instrument with looks to match the quality of their renditions.

Dizi (Bamboo Flute)

Hulusi | 葫芦丝

The hulusi is a Chinese free reed wind instrument. Unlike the bamboo instrument above, it is held vertically and has three bamboo pipes that pass through a gourd wind chest; the centre pipe has finger holes and the outer two are typically drone pipes.

The hulusi has a very pure, very mellow clarinet-like sound. It was originally used primarily in Yunnan province by a number of ethnic minority groups, and has gained nationwide popularity throughout China.


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