Category: Learning Chinese Online

May 13 2011

Hidden Ancient Mysteries Inside Chinese Characters ?

What happened in mans history 1000s of years ago for all intense purposes is a complete mystery.  Sure, we have some ideas and theories about what happened back then based on archaeological findings but can one really be sure that those documents/carvings are telling the truth ?  Of course not, therefore our knowledge of history is based on faith.  Faith that what those people wrote was the truth.  However, history has also taught us that people tend to lie or at least exaggerate the truth.  Therefore in order to get as close to the truth as possible we need to look to many sources to find where these different sources agree.  If we find that many different sources agree, then we feel confident that these consistent points contain truth and the rest are possibly truth or possibly spurious.  With ancient history one can never really know, we just accept what is most likely based on the evidence we have at hand.

Modern history of course is a different kettle of fish.  Modern technology allows us to see videos of things that happened and therefore creates a more reliable and accurate record of history.  The information age too has made it easy for many different people to record their version of history giving us more records to compare in our search for the “truth”.

Regardless, one has to admit that what we learn today as “truth” is only what we think or believe is truth.  Actual “truth”, as in absolute truth, may or may not be known.

What is particularly interesting is the long lost history of the most ancient of humans long ago.  We have few sources of information for that history outside of the Bible and various legends.  These stories, or legends (however you choose to view them) from the Bible are regarding by some as actual history, and by others as fairy tales.  Regardless of whether the stories are true or not they must be taken into account when trying to discover the actual ancient history of mankind.

As a westerner growing up with these stories I never imagined that I would find further cooberative evidence to these stories locked away in the characters of one of the most ancient civilizations on earth – China.

Most, if not all, Chinese regard the Bible as a western book.  The reality is the Bible is not a western but a middle eastern book.  It just so happens that it has become widely accepted by the west and therefore has become regarded as a western book.  However, if we were to consider the possibility that the history in the Bible were true, then that would mean that ancient (the most ancient) of Chinese history would take us to the time in the Bible book of Genesis.   China boasts a history of about 5000 years.  This again is of course impossible to prove, we just have to trust the researchers and the people who wrote those ancient documents to have not made any mistakes when calculating dates.  Regardless, we can be sure that the beginning of Chinese culture and civilization was founded not long after the flood of Noah in the Bible (if we take the history of the Bible as a true reliable reference point).  If the above can be considered true, then we can also expect that the history that was orally passed down to Moses (the writer of Genesis) was also in the minds of the founders of the Chinese civilization.  Now the question that we would naturally ask is why didn’t those Chinese founding fathers write about Adam and Eve and the flood like Moses did ?  Fact of the matter is, they very well may have possibly done so.  There is no proof that they didn’t record that history which ended up getting lost after thousands of years.  It’s interesting to note however that there are strange correlations in Ancient Chinese legends with the bible.  For example Chinese legend has it that the first humans were formed from clay (or earth) which is how Genesis says the first man Adam was created.  China also has an ancient flood legend where people were destroyed except those who were preserved in a vessel.  Not only China, but all over the world exist flood legends that in some way or another agree with each other.  Although it may be hard to believe that such an event actually occurred, according to our method of figuring out what happened in the ancient past we must accept that there was a global flood in mans history.  Otherwise how could we account for the widespread flood legends existing in many different cultures which had no way to communicate with one an other ?

Most interesting of all however has been the hidden stories that I have come to know about in Chinese characters.  Although there is no actual written history by the ancient Chinese confirming the accounts in Genesis, it is extremely interesting to find that Chinese characters may hold the secrets to the past.  Chinese characters in themselves are like little miniature history books.  By analyzing these characters we can almost have a conversation with the very first Chinese people ie the ones who invented the characters themselves.  Therefore, Chinese characters can give us a glimpse into the most ancient of Chinese history, older than any Chinese book out there because Chinese books were obviously written with Chinese characters and logically the characters are older than any book written using them.

First one must understand how Chinese characters were invented.  They obviously don’t use letters like Latin based languages.  There are 10,000s of different characters in Chinese.  They are made up of various “radicals” or components.  Many of these are very basic like man, water, fire etc.  These different components are then combined in order to convey abstract ideas.  ie it’s very easy to invent a character for “man” or “tree” because you can just draw something that looks like a man or tree and that’s exactly what the ancient Chinese did.  However things got a little tricky when you wanted to create a character to describe a concept or verb ie something non material or abstract for example “rest”.  In order to solve this problem the ancient Chinese just used logic or common knowledge to create characters.  A prime example is the character for “rest” it is simply a man beside a tree.   We can see the logic here that when one was tired he would likely find a tree to rest by as it would give him shade from the sun.  Similarly the character for “good” is a boy and a girl.  We can therefore deduce that the ancient Chinese thought it was “good” to have a son and a daughter.  Further the character for “home” is a pig under a roof, allowing us to know that it was common for ancient Chinese people to have pigs in their houses.   To the chagrin of feminists, the character for “wife” is a woman under a broom.  So obviously the ancient Chinese viewed a wife’s primary duty to be cleaning.

The list of characters and their meanings could go on for hours.  There are many books about this topic which make for a very interesting read.  But what is most intriguing is the characters that seems to support the history recorded in the Bible book of Genesis.  If those stories are true then it is perfectly logical that the ancient Chinese had such stories fresh in their minds, since the Chinese characters would have been invented before Moses actually wrote the book of genesis.  Which means it’s actually possible the Chinese were the first to create a basic written account of mankind’s earliest history.

Take for example the ancient Chinese character for “garden” (we are only referring to traditional characters here of course, simplified characters are a modern alteration and are of no use when trying to understand the minds of the most ancient Chinese people).  The character for “garden” is a square which could be understood as a location and inside that square we see some dust, a mouth and 2 people, the 2nd person appears to be coming from the first person.  This may be the ancient Chinese’s way of telling the story of the “garden” of Eden and the creation of Adam and Eve.  Adam was formed from the “dust” and God used his “mouth” to blow life into the first man.  The second person, Eve, was created from Adam (using his rib) so it could be said that Eve came from Adam.  This story appears to be told in a pictoral way in the ancient Chinese character for “garden”.  Further, the Chinese refer to their wives as their “inner/inside” person, i.e “nei4 ren2”, but the husband is never referred to in this way.  So again we see this concept of the wife coming from “inside” the husband.  So one has to ask himself why did the ancient Chinese choose to create the character for “garden” in this way ?  What was common knowledge back then 1000s of years ago that would strike a chord with other Chinese who would see this character and try to deduce it’s meaning by seeing the components “dust” “mouth” and 2 people ?

Of course such reasoning can never be proven, as the inventors of the Chinese characters and their counterparts are long gone.  However, it also must be admitted that such reasoning and theorizing cannot be dis-proven either and is worth considering based on its logic, just as all ancient history is based on logic and cannot be absolutely proven without a shadow of a doubt.

Some more characters that have strange common characteristics with the Genesis account are as follows.  First of all we have the character for “forbid/ban” it consists of 2 trees and the radical for “show/indicate”.  According to Genesis the first time humans were ever forbidden from doing something is when they were forbidden from eating from one of the two special trees in the garden ie the tree of knowledge.   This “2 trees” theme is found in other characters.  For example the character for “devil” consists of the radical meaning location or place, and in the location or place there are the 2 trees and the radical for “ghost”.  So we ask ourselves why did the first Chinese person think that a ghost in a certain location where there were 2 trees have anything to do with a “devil” ?  The next character is “greed” which consists of 2 trees and something else, can you guess it ?  Who was the first greedy person in human history according to Genesis ?  It was Eve and she was a woman, hence the character for “greed” is a woman underneath 2 trees.

Next we have the character for “naked” which is actually written in a few different ways however they all have 1 common radical in all of them which is “fruit”.  So what does fruit have to do with nudity ?  In the Genesis account it wasn’t until after they had eaten the forbidden fruit that they realized they were naked.   In the Genesis account nakedness and fruit are closely linked, the same as they are in the Chinese character for nudity, why ?  Perhaps we will never know.

Next we have the character for “righteousness”.  It consists of the character of “me” below a “sheep”.  It paints the mental picture of someone holding a sheep above their head.   In the Genesis account the very first righteous man was Abel and he was famous for sacrificing a sheep to God.  The sheep held above the head could easily be understood as giving the sheep to the sky or sacrificing it to above.  So why did the early chinese think it was righteous to hold a sheep up to the sky ?

Now we come to the flood.  The Genesis account says that 8 people survived the flood.  The Chinese character for flood has the radical for “water” (of course) and the number 8 in the bottom right corner.  Further, the character for “boat” has the radical for “ship” and “8” and “mouth” ie 8 mouths or 8 people.  Striking resemblance to the Genesis account.  What is more is the Chinese have a famous proverb about “8 immortals crossing the sea each displaying their unique talents”.  The modern meaning and usage of this proverb is that people today have their own unique abilities and can work together to achieve a common goal.  No need to compare our abilities.  Naturally one wonders if this proverb has ancient roots in the flood story.

Finally we have the tower of Babel.  Famous for when God confused the languages of the people.  If this story is true then it would be at this time that the Chinese language (or it’s ancient counterpart) was born.  This is when people apparently started spreading around the earth, of which China wasn’t too far away.  Interestingly the character for “tower” includes the radicals “person”, “one” and “mouth”.  This could easily be understood to mean people having 1 language or “mouth”.  The first tower to built in history was the last time that humans spoke 1 language.  This concept appears to be conveyed in the Chinese character for tower.

Naturally after this point in history the Genesis account and Chinese history part ways as the Chinese leave Babylon with their new language but with the same memories and history that everyone else has.  It looks possible that this history, which would have been common knowledge to the very first Chinese, may have played an influence on some of their character creations as those concepts would have made logical sense to those ancient Chinese.  Today, we can only speculate as to whether this is true or not.  Either way, it’s a very interesting, mysterious coincidence.

Jan 25 2011

没吃葡萄说葡萄酸 – meichiputaoshuoputaosuan

没吃葡萄说葡萄酸 – mei2 chi1 pu2tao shuo1 pu2tao suan1

Literal translation – haven’t eaten grapes say grapes sour

Believe that grapes are sour even though you have never eaten a grape.

This is a fairly easy proverb to understand and use.  It’s means you have an opinion or judgement about something you have never investigated or know very little about i.e. your opinion has no foundation and you have no right to be passing a judgement on a certain topic or thing.  Just like someone who says grapes are sour even though they have never eaten one.

I find this a very useful proverb in China as I often encounter people who’s opinions are just heresay.  For example, when people find out that I come from Canada the usual conversation that follows is something along the line of how rich and wonderful Canada is.  I like to make sure that Chinese people know that Canada has poor people too, the streets AREN’T paved with gold despite what they may think or hear.  One time I told someone that Canada had homeless people and the local refused to believe me.  He went on to tell ME what Canada was like even though he had never been there.  So the proverb above would have been useful had I known it at that time.

There is another proverb almost the same as the proverb above but with a slightly different meaning :

吃不到葡萄说葡萄酸 – chi1 bu2dao4 pu2tao shuo1 pu2tao suan1

Literal translation – eat not arrive grape say grape sour

Say/believe grapes are sour if you are unable to eat them (in order to falsely comfort oneself)

This proverb or saying is almost the same as the first but the meaning is quite different.  It’s common for us as humans to envy what we don’t have or can’t afford.  So we often pretend we don’t want the thing we can’t have or afford in an effort to comfort ourselves, but we know what mind games we are trying to play on ourselves and so do the people who hear us try to do so.  That’s basically what this expression is meaning.  A nice new BMW car drives by and someone says “Wow what a nice car” and you say “Ah BMWs aren’t that great anyway”.  You don’t actually believe what you are saying but you say it anyways.

Jan 24 2011

萝卜白菜各有所爱 – luobobaicaigeyousuoai

萝卜白菜各有所爱 – luo2bo bai2cai4ge4you3suo3ai4

Literal translation – Turnip Chinese Cabbage each has actual love

OR

Turnip, Cabbage everyone has their own preference

It basically means It means “Everybody has their own personal taste” or “Each persons likes and dislikes are different”

This is one of my MOST used expresssions.  If you live in China then this is a MUST learn.  Reason being I was sick and tired of going into restaurants and asking for dishes to be modified to the way I like them (i.e. don’t put any hot peppers in, as I don’t like spicey food).  Too many times the waitress told me it was “impossible”.  When I asked why was it “impossible” the answer was always “because it won’t taste good that way”.  I have no idea where this logic possibly comes from and how it can be so common nationwide, but it is.  So I was SO happy to stumble upon this idiom/phrase which basically throws a spanner in their logic using their own language.  Now I don’t need to argue with the waitresses or explain to them that I have the right to decide what does and doesn’t taste good.  Once I get any resistance from the staff regarding my desires to change the dishes to my liking I simply utter the proverb/saying above and they normally smile (surprised a foreigner knows how to use such an expression) and they get the point.  Strange that such an expression exists in their language but yet they insists on telling others what does and doesn’t taste good.

Anyways, be sure to learn this as you will use it almost daily (or at least almost everytime you go to a restaurant).

Jan 22 2011

关公面前耍大刀 – guangongmianqianshuadadao

关公面前耍大刀 – guan1gong1 mian4qian2 shua1 da4dao1

Literal translation – Guangong (name of famous warlord) in front of play sword

OR

Play with a sword in the presence of Guangong

This basically means to attempt to show ones limited skills in the presence of someone who is highly skilled.

Guangong (also known as Guanyu) was a noted excellent swordsman.  No one dared challenge him to a sword fight, sort of like a Billy the Kid of Chinese history.  So of course if someone was attempting to show their swordsmanship in front of Guanyu it would be embarassing, really, as he would be no match for Guanyu.

I especially like the idioms that encompass a little bit of Chinese culture or history like this one.  Any idiom involving Guanyu, Zhugeliang and such figures are all the much more intriguing and interesting in my opinion.

The modern day usage of this proverb I think is pretty obvious.  If anyone is trying to flaunt their skills in the presence of someone who’s skills surpass the “flaunter” then this proverb applies.

There are 2 sides to its usage I think. One usage is if perhaps you want to express your humility.  If someone is more skilled than you in something but you still carry out the task for whatever reason you can say that you are 关公面前耍大刀 – guan1gong1 mian4qian2 shua1 da4dao1.  If you say this in this situation you are guaranteed to get a smile or laugh from your chinese friend.  Because you are essentially admitting that they are much better than you at this skill (whatever it may be).  So it’s a way to give them a compliment or give them some “face”.  Further, a foreigner using an expression like this which is close to their hearts is guaranteed to have an excellent reception.

In a negative way this could also be used to sort of put someone in their place i.e. someone who thinks a little bit too much of themselves because they are limitedly skilled in some area.  If someone is in their presence whom is much better then this proverb could be used to humble them or to let them realise they should step aside and let the pro take over.

Another idiom that basically carries the same meaning is 班门弄斧 – ban1men2nong4fu3.  The meaning is basically the same, but I much prefer using 关公面前耍大刀 – guan1gong1 mian4qian2 shua1 da4dao1 because of the visual image and the cultural content.

Dec 14 2010

Learn Chinese The Easy Way With Me 1 on 1

Hopefully you have read my approach to the Chinese language and see how easy it can be.  If you are interested in learning 1 on 1 I would be happy to teach you.  My time is limited of course, so I can’t guarantee everyone a place but feel free to contact me via the contact form to see if there are any open places.

Unfortunately, in my experience, native Chinese people don’t make very good Chinese teachers.  They don’t understand how our minds work and think, and therefore it makes the Chinese learning experience much harder then it should be.  I make Chinese look easy because it is (compared to other languages of course).  Further, I can explain how this language works in a way that is easy to understand, because we think alike.

My specialty is pronunciation.  So if you are just starting this language or would like to help with your pronunciation then I can definitely help you.

Regardless, I hope you benefit from my site.

May 14 2010

小和尚念经,有口无心 – xiaoheshangnianjing,youkouwuxin

小和尚念经,有口无心 – xiao3he2shang4nian4jing1,you3kou3wu2xin1

Literal meaning = small/little monk reads scriptures, have mouth not heart.

This is a proverb about a monk who reads the scriptures, claims to be a monk etc but in his heart doesn’t really believe or practice i.e. a hypocrite.

This proverb can be used to describe someone who is forced to study for example.  Many children go to University or college because their parents force them but they don’t want to be there.  Or it could be used to describe people who claim to be Christians (or any faith for that matter) but get drunk, lie, commit fornication etc.

Pretty much any situation where what comes out of peoples mouth isn’t really what they feel think or believe.  Perhaps it also carries the connotation of someone who feels a little bit of pressure from parents, society or whatever to conform or say what they say but inside they don’t agree or believe.

May 14 2010

拔苗助长- bamiaozhuzhang

拔苗助长-ba2miao2zhu4zhang3

Literal meaning of each character = uproot,pull/draw out – young plant/seedling – help – grow

The image portrayed  by this useful idiom is of someone pulling at a seedling or small plant thinking it will help it grow faster.  This of course is ridiculous as it’s only water, sunshine and time that causes a plant to grow.  We cannot make a plant grow faster by pulling at it.

Therefore this idiom is useful when describing someone who tries to force something to go faster than it’s natural process.  Something take time no matter what you do, there are no short cuts and patience is needed.  If you think someone is pushing you too hard you could use this to tell that person to lay off, but only of course if there pressure or encouragement genuinely has no effect on the result.  If a teacher is telling you to do your homework or review class material etc then the idiom doesn’t apply because this idiom is only really applicable to situations where the efforts of another genuinely have no effect on the end result, and perhaps can do harm and even hamper the result.

This idiom can also be rendered as 揠苗助长 – ya4miao2zhu4zhang3 – where the only difference is the first character “ya4” which also means “pull”.  However I am told that the above version with “ba2” is more common.

Mar 04 2010

小题大做 – xiaotidazuo

小题大做 – xiao3ti2da4zuo4

Literal meaning of each character = small – problem – big – do/produce

Actually, this is basically the same as the English idiom “make a mountain out of a molehill”.  The Chinese version doesn’t use the graphic comparison like we do.  They simply say the problem is small but the doing or action is big.

Just in case you don’t know what “make a mountain out of a molehill” means (perhaps you aren’t a native English speaker) this idiom is used to describe when someone is over reacting to a problem.  The problem is very small but the person is reacting as if the problem were very big.

Jan 22 2010

塞翁失马焉知非福 – saiwengshimayanzhifeifu

塞翁失马焉知非福 – sai4 weng1 shi1 ma3 yan1 zhi1 fei1 fu2

Literal translation – saiweng (persons name) – lose – horse – how – know – not – blessing

This basically can be translated as “a blessing in disguise” or even “a curse in disguise” ie the opposite.

It comes from a story about an old man named “Saiweng”.  He lost his horse and his friends came to comfort him but he was optimistic saying that it could be a good thing.  He turned out to be correct when sometime later the horse returned bringing with it another better horse.  His friends again came to him this time joyful but Saiweng wasn’t so sure this was a good thing.  Turned out his son broke his leg while riding this new horse.  Once again his friends came to comfort him over his son’s injury but Saiweng once again didn’t necessarily view it as a bad thing right away.  Rightly so as the broken leg prevented his son from being conscripted into the army and therefore saved his life.

This proverb is generally used to comfort someone if they have fallen sick or had some sort of catastrophe.  It could also theoretically be used in the opposite way for someone who has had something very good happen to them but I highly doubt it is ever used in this sense, as who ever wants to rain on someone’s parade and spoil the moment ?

So although it can be used to warn people that the apparent good fortune may be bad luck waiting to happen, it is more commonly used to try to cheer up someone who is troubled over some misfortune that has befallen them.

Jan 06 2010

Practice Mandarin Chinese Online

If you happen to be somewhere where there are no Mandarin Chinese speakers (if such a place exists I would love to know where it is out of pure curiousity) then how can you practice your Chinese ?

One place is online.  Chinese LOVE to chat on the internet.  If you plan to practice Chinese online you will probably need to install their popular chat program “QQ”.  It’s something similar to MSN messenger except everyone has numbers instead of usernames.  I think it’s a little insight into the culture too.  Our chat programs use names which are more personal and individual.  However in China inviduality doesn’t exist.  Their culture is very different from ours in that way, being a “socialist” society and all.  People here are “numbered” in many situations, so QQ using numbers instead of names doesn’t surprise me.

I don’t use it myself so I can’t say if it has any spyware or whatever, so I recommend caution in that respect.  We know how the Chinese like to monitor what is going on so I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s something in there in that respect.

Anyways, that’s your sure bet way of connecting with a HUGE pool of Chinese speakers.  Only thing is since QQ is a chat program you will need to understand Chinese characters.  There is of course the possibility of being able to use voice chat via QQ, so if that was your plan then don’t be dissappointed.  It’s very possible to practice spoken mandarin online via QQ and other mediums that I am sure you could find via a google search.

One thing to be mindful of though is that most Chinese will want to do a “language exchange”.  So if you speak English or any other language of interest be prepared to divide the time into practicing mandarin and allowing them to practice their foreign tongue (whatever that may be).

You may also want to get your hands on some Chinese movies.  Many of them are not interesting at all but I did see “Hero” with Jet Li (very hollywood and quite good) which you can get in original Mandarin with English subtitles.  This can be useful for your listening skills, however when watching the movie I noticed a lot of dodgy translations in the sub titles.  The meaning was basically translated correctly I guess, but in my opinion the translation could have been better.  So be sure to use a dictionary to find the true meaning of the words and don’t rely on the subtitles alone.

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