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Beating Heart of Culture: A Dongguan Photo Story

Anyone living or traveling through China will know that it is a culturally rich nation. With its long history, there are many special and enduring customs, philosophies and values that have shaped this country and its people. On a pleasant weekend afternoon, you hear the laughter of parents as their kids frolic about on the grass. On a busy street, food vendors and stalls call out to get the attention of a passerby. All of this mundane beauty that most people wouldn’t give a second glance at are what makes up China’s culture. But culture doesn’t just materialize out of nothing. Culture is a byproduct of humans and their amazing traditions and values that they hold dear to their hearts. Firecrackers don’t pop on their own every New Year’s Eve, and Chinese culinary practices don’t cook themselves. What keeps culture alive is the people.

PHOTOGRAPHER: 黄子豪

As one of the oldest cultural activities in China, Chinese chess or Xiangqi is a great way to immerse yourself in the local community. The game is a military strategy pastime created to model the critical battle between two ethnicities in China. Every public chess game welcomes guests to watch and comment, and that is why you would usually find a large crowd hovering over the chessboard and players.

PHOTOGRAPHER: Yuko Photography
INSTAGRAM: @yukophotographylife

As the original home of lychee, China was the first country to cultivate the fruit. In fact, the recorded history of lychee cultivation in the country is more than 2,100 years. Used as an aphrodisiac, the fruit is a symbol of love and romance, so it maintains a role in marriage celebrations. The Guangdong province is one of the leading lands for lychee farms and depends economically on the crop

PHOTOGRAPHER: Ren Cheng
INSTAGRAM: @chanmanx_x

The role that street stalls, vendors and markets play in the Chinese culture is no secret to most. For the locals, these street stalls are a substantial economic source for rural migrants in cities. However, to keep urban cities cleans, many stalls were moved out. It was not until recently did local policies support the reopening of street-stall and small-store economy in order to revive the post-COVID economy.

PHOTOGRAPHER: Byron Chan 陈文龙
INSTAGRAM: @byron_chan

Compared to the west, it is harder to recognize or name Chinese celebrity chefs. Part of the reason is cultural: Chinese society has long cultivated the virtues of modesty and humility. Chefs are traditionally viewed as skilled but seldom as artists who work with foods. However, this all is changing with cooking shows becoming more popular in China, shedding light on the art of culinary professions.

PHOTOGRAPHER: Yuko Photography
INSTAGRAM: @yukophotographylife

On weekends and national holidays, parks and public spaces are packed with families bunched in groups. With their tents, foods and games, family day trips are treasured. While modern Chinese families have abandoned many old practices, the importance and values attributed to family remain strong. In Confucian thinking, family provides a sense of identity and a strong network of support.

PHOTOGRAPHER: 曾朝民
INSTAGRAM: @chaominzeng

In recent years, China’s streetwear has caught global attention. With many videos appearing on social media apps like Little Red Book and Douyin, the youth are captivated with Chinese street style, which does not adhere to one specific style. Instead, it is a mixture of Japanese Lolita, punk, and even New York street style. People are getting bold with colors and designs, experimenting with different patterns and allowing creativity to run wild.

PHOTOGRAPHER: Gosia Labuda
INSTAGRAM: @gosia.labuda

Wood carving has been a long-standing art in China’s history that holds ornamental value. This art form began to develop in the second millennium BC, but it was not until the 14th century during the reign of the Ming Dynasty when this art form courted popularity. Combining wood carving and calligraphy is no easy task. Still, this woodcarver remains dedicated to his passion by creating wood tablets used in prayer boxes of Chinese homes and businesses.

PHOTOGRAPHER: Gosia Labuda
INSTAGRAM: @gosia.labuda

A sweet toddler celebrates the festivity during this year’s Chinese New Year. The lighting of firecrackers is an important custom in popular Chinese celebrations. In traditional Chinese culture, firecrackers were used to scare away evil spirits. As the legend goes, a monster called Nian would come out to eat villagers and destroy their houses on each New Year’s Eve. The villagers discovered that burning dry bamboo to produce an explosive sound scared away the monster. Since then, it has become a tradition during Chinese New Year.

PHOTOGRAPHER: Janek Kopal
INSTAGRAM: @janek_jedi