March 14, 2006

The Chinese are patriotists, but that's fine!

Writing about web page,,1710989,00.html

Jonathan Watts gave the best account of China I've ever seen in the Guardian, and that comfort me a lot as being a Chinese. Below is some quotes I want to share:


"In Britain, you have to learn 2,000 years of history; we have 5,000. In Britain, you have to know the geography and famous figures in a country with 60 million people. Well, we are 1.3 billion, and half a continent. And you have a mere 26 characters; we have 7,000."
Given that studying the basics of Chinese identity is likely to take up so much of the curriculum, it is easier to understand why so many people here are so nationalistic: they simply do not have much time to study the outside world.

China vs. Japan

This is an illustration of my prejudices about the two languages, indeed about the two countries, which have become polarised in my mind: Japanese is classical, exquisitely refined and painfully polite; Chinese is romantic but rough edged and distinctly down to earth.

lol! May all the Chinese be as cuddly and fluffy as the panda bears!

- 4 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. That is indeed a really funny article, even though it may not be appreciated as much by the English-speaking readers. My dad said the other day that if he was given another chance, he’d choose to study Chinese ancient literature and history, because, as he said, ‘everything has long been thought, said and written by the Chinese; their only fault may be that they’ve written too much and we don’t have the lifetime to read’.

    15 Mar 2006, 19:56

  2. PenguinA

    Luke said this article is orientalism….

    I can't make myself see it that way… I think it's quite ok. It is indeed more romantic to live in China (maybe not in Beijing) than in Britain…....

    15 Mar 2006, 23:53

  3. Hamid

    Interestingly enough (and I don't think that he picked up on this) towards the end Niubi might also mean a "Cow Tail" so a sexual pun on something not quite so offensive :P.

    I'm not really sure that it's Orientalist in the Saidian sense of the word… In fact I think this article represents a gallant (yet always just-failing attempt) at understanding and breaking into a culture. If anyone's ever read Brian Friel's Translations then you'll know what I mean when I quote my favourite line from the play:

    I may learn the password, but the language of the tribe will always elude me.

    He does, however, quote something rather Occidentalist:

    In Britain, you have to learn 2,000 years of history; we have 5,000. In Britain, you have to know the geography and famous figures in a country with 60 million people. Well, we are 1.3 billion, and half a continent. And you have a mere 26 characters; we have 7,000.

    Yes Chinese has a more difficult writing system. However, it's not quite as simple as that. To be more or less fluent, you need the command of about 5000 characters. And the characters themselves are often composites, which makes memorising a lot of characters substantially easily. Let's not get into "difficulties" here – relative, relative, relative – but learning how to write a Chinese character in a logical way is not so different from learning how to write a lot of English combinations.

    With regards to the phonetic language: it's not quite so simple. Many Chinese themselves can't get the tones right and their pronunciation will invariably be affected by regional influences. So with Chinese speech in general there is a certain amount of understanding by tone and added understanding through context of the sentences.


    On a different point, I regret not focusing on languages when I was a child. Having later established a love of languages when I was older and much less able to absorb languages, I now regret my lack of childhood foresight and I'm going to make sure that my kids have a variety of lingual influences. I think that the beautiful variety of languages we have fosters the growth of the mind and perhaps different languages foster different modes of thought. I think that Chinese script helps the memory. Arabic, both spoken and written, helps logical capability and English helps with creativity. I'll be making sure that my children have early access to all three.

    16 Mar 2006, 09:54

  4. PenguinA

    I totally agree that Chinese characters are as memorable as English¬¬¬¬¬ Not as difficult as people says…. I do think English people get the panic at learning Chinese because of the idioms and myths perpetuate the difficulty in people's minds!

    16 Mar 2006, 13:02

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