From tones, to grammar, to characters, to that pesky儿 in Beijing slang, it is understandable why many new learners become frustrated talking the hua (话). The closest Mandarin has to an alphabet is the pinyin system, thanks to Zhou Youguang and his friends less than 60 years ago. But have no fear, language learners! There is now a new book that teaches you the basics of China’s ABC’s… sort-of.
In An ABC of Chinese Culture, Robert DiYanni and Theresa Jen explain the Middle Kingdom from Acupuncture to the Zhou Dynasty. They bring 5,000 years of Chinese history to light within the span of 180-pages. The entries list the text in English side-by-side with its Chinese translation to make language-learning even easier. There are also a ton of awesome pictures, bringing ancient artifacts, paintings of phoenixes and the Huangshan Mountains (黄山) to life.
Although there are only 26 letters in the English alphabet, this dictionary boasts an index of more than 60 exciting topics. Some gems hidden in this book include:
- Acupuncture – Inserting needles into the body at designated “acupuncture points” may seem like a crazy fad, but the Chinese have been practicing this health trick for over two thousand years. It’s just one type of TCM. DiYanni and Jen explain the flow of qi energy through the three Yin and three Yang channels. Diagram included.
- Du Fu – unlike the similar-sounding martial arts, Du Fu is one of China’s greatest poets from the 8th century. “Moonlit Night” follows the lü shi (律诗) form, or “regulated eight-line verse.” Here are the first and last two lines of the poem: “In Fuzhou tonight, my wife watches / The moon, alone, and my thoughts… When will we lean together in the moonlight / And dry the tears we have shed so long”.
- Hanban – Possibly a plug from its College Board-affiliated authors, China’s “Office of Chinese Language Council International” (OCLCI) works through its Confucius institutes throughout the world to promote language. It partners with the College Board in the United States to bring U.S. teachers of Chinese to China for a lesson on how best to teach the language.
- Monkey King – What could be cooler than a ruler, sage, warrior, priest and magician, all-rolled into a monkey to boot? The Monkey King, or Sun Wukong, is the protagonist in the classic Chinese literary work, Journey to the West. He acquires immortality and uses his cunning to help the monk Xuan Zang reach his western destination. There have been many odes to the Monkey King in recent years. He is even a Microsoft XP Office Assistant.
- Umbrellas – The Chinese love to make use of their umbrellas; they block snow, cover you from the rain and shield you from the sun. The first ones date back four thousand years ago and were constructed from paper and tung oil. If you want to pick up one of the best Chinese umbrellas, head on over to Fujian Province where the umbrella ribs are made from five-year-old bamboo.
This book is a great resource for the beginning language learner, traveler or everyday Sino-phile. While some topics may surprise even the beginner (pandas, anyone?), interesting facts provide a new spin on cultural icons.
This resource is also small and light enough to fit inside a backpack or medium-sized purse, so you can read up on the Great Wall and Yangtze en route to getting there. It’s time to go back to basics with An ABC of Chinese Culture.
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