Happy First Dawn!

Happy First Dawn!

by Min Xiong

It’s hard to believe the year is almost over! This is the perfect opportunity to show you how to say New Year’s Day in Chinese. Here it is:

元旦 (yuán dàn).元旦

元旦 means the first day of the new year in the western calendar. It is used to refer to January 1, as opposed to the first day of the Chinese New Year, 新年 (xīn nián).

元旦 is an official holiday in China—holiday is 节 (jié)—and the whole day is called 元旦节 (yuán dàn jié).

To explain the makeup of this word, let’s start with the second character 旦 (dàn). 旦means the start of a day, or dawn. It is an ancient character, first appearing in the Shi Jing (Classic of Poetry), dating back to the 11th century B.C., around the same time as the Homeric Hymns.

Since many Chinese characters are image-based, let’s look for the hidden picture inside the character 旦. Can you see it? The upper part, 日(rì), means the sun. The lower part, 一 (yī), represents the horizon. Combined, they form a sun coming up from the horizon.

Now let’s look at the first character, 元 (yuán), which means “first,” “primary,” and also, interestingly, “dollar.” When 元 is put in front of 旦, you get the first dawn, hence, the first day of the year.

Now for your Chinese challenge. Remember the concept of compound words from “How Do You Build Your Chinese Vocabulary?” Both 元 and 旦 can be used to create compound words. Can you find the Chinese words incorporating 元 and 旦to mean “but,” “far,” and “garden?” Don’t stop there! Find some more compound words using 元 and 旦 and post them in the comments below. We can’t wait to see what you find. 再见!

 

Study Mandarin with Min Xiong—journalist, Chinese teacher, and cultural ambassador in Washington DC. Get more of her insights at Yangguang Consulting, including why China’s capital city is called Beijing and not Peking.

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How Do You Build Your Chinese Vocabulary?

How Do You Build Your Chinese Vocabulary? Block by Block!

by Min Xiong

从So far, I’ve shown you three Chinese characters. Do you remember them?

  • (hǎo) good,
  • (rén) people, and
  • (kǒu) mouth.

Today, I want to show you four new characters you can build from these three.

All Chinese characters are logograms, meaning they represent whole words or concepts (as opposed to letters in an alphabet which represent sounds). Watch how new concepts are formed by combining two or three existing Chinese characters.

  • 人 + 人 = 从 (cóng) to follow
  • 人+ 人 + 人 = 众 (zhōng) a group
  • 口 + 口 = 回 (huí) to return
  • 口+口+口 = 品 (pǐn) to taste/savor

Can you make the connection between these compound characters and their respective components? Let’s follow the logic together.

  • 从 (cóng) is a person walking behind another, hence, to follow.
  • 众 (zhōng) is three people together, hence, a group.
  • 回 (huí) is a small mouth entering a big mouth—think of a child returning home—hence, return.
  • 品 (pǐn) is three mouths—it generally takes no more than three bites to decide the taste of something, doesn’t it?

Now that we’ve formed these compound characters, let’s use them to build some compound words you will see in everyday life:

  • 军 (cóng jūn) to join the army
  • (dà zhòng) the masses
  • (lái huí) round trip (come and return)
  • 茶 (pǐn chá) to enjoy tea

Now for your Chinese challenge. Can you make up other words using these four compound characters: 从, 众, 回, and 品? Post your answers in the comments below. We can’t wait to see what you find. 再见!

 

Study Mandarin with Min Xiong—journalist, Chinese teacher, and cultural ambassador in Washington DC. Get more of her insights at Yangguang Consulting, including why China’s capital city is called Beijing and not Peking.

Is it a Square, a Box, or a Wide-Open Mouth?

Is it a Square, a Box, or a Wide-Open Mouth? It’s Kǒu!

by Min Xiong

This article is inspired by one of the comments to my last article about the Chinese character for people: 人 (rén). One compound word using 人 is population: 人口 (rénkǒu).

口The character 口 (kǒu) means mouth. The combination of 人 and 口 refers to the number of mouths a country, state, or kingdom has to feed, therefore, population!

So today, I want to tell you more about the character 口 (kǒu).

Chinese characters originated from pictures. The history of their formation dates back to remote antiquity. Present-day Chinese characters, which evolved from ancient Chinese characters, are sized to fit into squares.

Standing alone, 口 means mouth. It is also used as a measure word for family members. For example, a family of five people would be: wǔ kǒu rén or, five mouths of people. (Measure words may sound strange to you, but we have them in English too: two pairs of pants, six sheets of paper.)

Not only can 口 be used as a measure word, it can also be used as a radical, which is a special character that functions like a cornerstone in the building of more complex characters.  Since a mouth is a very useful body part, many other characters incorporate 口 as a radical. For example:

  • 吃 (chī) eat
  • 喝 (hē) drink
  • 唱 (chàng) sing
  • 喊 (hǎn) shout
  • 吞 (tūn) swallow
  • 吹 (chuī) blow
  • ???
  • ???

See the little 口’s in all of those words? When you see that, you know the word has something to do with a mouth. Can you find two more Chinese characters with the radical 口? This online dictionary might help you: www.dict.naver.com. Put your answers in the comments. We look forward to seeing what you find. 再见!

 

Study Mandarin with Min Xiong—journalist, Chinese teacher, and cultural ambassador in Washington DC. Get more of her insights at Yangguang Consulting, including why China’s capital city is called Beijing and not Peking.

 

What Stands Upright and Walks on Two Legs?

What Stands Upright and Walks on Two Legs? The Chinese Character Rén!

by Min Xiong

In my last Get Mandarin! article, I introduced you the Chinese character for good. I hope you found it interesting! Today, I’d like to introduce you to another Chinese character. It’s one of the top one hundred most used Chinese characters, and it means people.

人Chinese characters originated from pictures.  Present-day characters are sized to fit into squares.  Each character is made up of strokes, from a single stroke to twenty strokes or more.

Take a look at 人 (rén), meaning people or person. It is made up of two strokes representing two walking legs. Can you think of a creature that stands upright and walks on two legs? A long time ago, our Chinese ancestors figured it out—a human being!

Although 人 can stand alone, it can also combine with other characters to make useful Chinese words. Like compound words in English, Chinese words can be made up of two, three, or even four characters put together.  Let’s see what words we can form when we combine 人 with other Chinese characters:

  • 爱人 (ài rén) lover
  • 大人 (dàrén) adult
  • 工人 (gōngrén) worker
  • 后人 (hòurén) descendant
  • 新人 (xīnrén) new person
  • 主人 (zhǔrén) master/owner
  • 外人 (wàirén) outsider
  • 能人 (néngrén) capable person
  • 人民 (rénmín) people
  • 人品 (rénpǐn) personal quality
  • 人???
  • ???人

Now for your Chinese challenge! Can you use an online dictionary to fill in the final bullet points? Create two more words using 人 and post them in the comments below. We can’t wait to see what you find. 再见!

 

Study Mandarin with Min Xiong—journalist, Chinese teacher, and cultural ambassador in Washington DC. Get more of her insights at Yangguang Consulting, including why China’s capital city is called Beijing and not Peking.

What’s “Good” In Chinese?

What’s “Good” in Chinese? A Daughter Plus a Son. 

by Min Xiong

Mandarin Chinese is made up of characters instead of an alphabet. It is estimated that there are more than 50,000 characters. However, only about 500 to 3,000 of them are regularly used, according to several linguistic studies.

好Unlike in English or other alphabetic languages, Chinese grammar is very simple. It does not have verb tenses, plural nouns, singular forms, or masculine and feminine elements.

Therefore, learning Chinese may be a unique experience for speakers of Western languages, but it is possible.

Today I want to introduce you to the Chinese character 好 (pinyin: hǎo), meaning good.

This character’s most well-known use is perhaps in 你好 (nǐ hǎo), a greeting equivalent to hello in English. Literally, nǐ hǎo means you good.

好 is written in six strokes and has two parts, left and right. It is a combined character, meaning it is made up of other existing characters.

The left part, 女 (nǚ), means woman or daughter. The right part, 子 (zǐ), means, among other things, man or son.

Therefore, the Chinese word for good is the combination of woman plus man or daughter plus son, whichever suits you.

Because of the way the character 好 is formed, Chinese people like to say that families with a son and a daughter are blessed, because a son and a daughter are (quite literally) good!

Now for your Chinese challenge. Use an online Chinese dictionary to find more expressions using the character 好 and post them in the comments below. We can’t wait to see what you find! 再见.

 

Study Mandarin with Min Xiong—journalist, Chinese teacher, and cultural ambassador in Washington DC. Get more of her insights at Yangguang Consulting, including why China’s capital city is called Beijing and not Peking.