Chinese Corner

One Language, Two Systems

Traditional vs. simplified characters – Ash Henson

As if learning to write Chinese characters isn’t enough of a headache already, there are two character systems in common use in the Sinosphere. “Traditional” characters, also known as “complex” characters, have been in continuous use for 1,500 years, and are the standard in Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and many diaspora communities. “Simplified” characters are the result of script reforms made in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) primarily in the 1950s and 1960s, and are also used in Singapore. It's an emotional topic for a lot of native speakers, not to mention a source of great strife for students of Mandarin. There’s something offensive for everyone.

Chinese Corner

Sober, My Favorite Kind of Beer

Mandarin malapropisms across the Taiwan Strait – Ash Henson

Words mean what they mean. Or, do they? Say you're an American on vacation in England. You go to a restaurant and ask the nice waiter for a “napkin.” You might get a look of horror instead of a cloth or paper to dab your lips with. That’s what a napkin is in American English, but in British English, it can also mean a sanitary pad. We may both be native English speakers, but your “napkin” isn’t my “napkin.”

Now imagine going to a pub in Taipei with your friend. We'll call him Harvond. When the waitress asks him what he wants to drink, he says, in perfect Mandarin, “Nothing for the moment.” Thirty seconds later, she puts a bottle of Carlsberg in front of him. He and you look at each other with that, “Wait. What?!” look on your faces. Are we speaking the same language?

Chinese Corner

All Stick and No Carrot

How the ancients wrote (and enforced) “learning” – by Ash Henson

In the late 90s, there was a band out of Beijing called Cold-Blooded Animals that played a type of grunge music with Chinese characteristics. One of my favorite lyrics of theirs was, “No matter where you go, you can’t escape your own mind.” How true. In the same way, Chinese characters are also a product of a given cultural environment and a given mindset – an ancient Chinese hive-mind, if you will. As such, we can expect to see this reflected in the products of this culture. To put it more plainly, we can learn something about how the early Chinese viewed their world by studying the characters that they created.


Chinese Corner

A Horse Is a Horse… of Course?

Chinese characters aren’t pictographs (anymore) – by Ash Henson

From my earliest memories, I’ve always been fascinated by things foreign, and upon first glance, Chinese writing looked really, really foreign. Chinese characters have always held a certain mystique. They are the subject of mountains of misinformation, originating both from the Chinese themselves and from everyone else. Starting with this post, I will be guiding you through the entrancing and enraging word of Chinese characters.