Chinese Corner

Happy New Year to Zhu

Pig out on these Lunar New Year puns – Anne Henochowicz

Lunar New Year, a.k.a. Spring Festival, a.k.a. Chinese New Year, begins today. This is an auspicious time of year for punsters – if, for instance, someone wishes you “year upon year of fish” (niánnián yǒu yú 年年有餘), that’s because “fish” ( 魚) sounds just like “abundance” (餘). Mandarin has very few phonemes (the sounds that make up words), so opportunities for punning abound. (I speak here for Mandarin only, but other varieties of Chinese have their own new year puns, and some of the Mandarin ones work in other varieties, too.)

As this year is the Year of the Pig, I’ve been signing off my emails with “I pig you a happy new year” (zhū nǐ xīnnián kuàilè 猪你新年快樂), as “pig” (zhū 猪) and the verb “to wish” (zhù 祝) are near-homophones, separated only by a tone.

Chinese Corner


Chinese Corner exam results are in

Editor’s note: Welcome back, Sinophone enthusiasts! Good work to all of the readers who took the final exam in December. This was not an easy test – and it had a few trick questions. But the median and average scores were both 6 out of 10. Well done, everyone!

We have not one but two students who scored 100%. They will each receive a free book of Chinese short stories in the original and English translation: both will receive copies of Short Stories in Chinese, a bilingual text edited by John Balcom (Penguin 2013). Check out the results for each question below and read the Chinese Corner posts that inspired each question. We’ll have more linguistic adventures in the new year, on a roughly monthly basis.

Chinese Corner

Chinese Corner Final Exam

Take the test, win a prize

Editor’s note: When we made the incision point into linguistics exploration back in October 2017, we promised you no tests. What we really should have promised you are no grades. Take this “final exam” at your leisure – this is untimed, “open-site,” and really just for fun. That said, answers are due by December 31. In the new year we’ll check the submissions and award a free book of bilingual Chinese stories to the reader with the highest score. Best of luck, language nerds!

Chinese Corner

Two Shades of Pleasure

How ancient Chinese thought influenced pleasure and delight – Michael Nylan

“Pleasure,” wrote Oscar Wilde, the 19th-century English aesthete, “is the only thing worth having a theory about.” More recently, Andre Malraux asked in The Temptation of the West, “Of all his ideas, is there any one more revealing of a man’s sensibilities than his concept of pleasure?” Both formulations could be plausibly ascribed to some of the most important classical philosophers in China, who deemed pleasure to be one of the most effective tools to motivate right action, as each defined it, as well as to discern a person’s character.

To signify acts of pleasure-seeking, pleasure-taking, and imparting pleasure, a wide range of thinkers from the fourth century BCE to the eleventh century CE deployed the single graph, .

Chinese Corner

Not Mandarin

An invitation to speak other Chineses – Will Sack

Imagine if all of Germany spoke Shanghainese. Or if a population bigger than Britain spoke Cantonese. Wouldn’t we treat them as more than just sideshows? With 80 and 70 million native speakers respectively, Shanghainese and Cantonese are massive in both use and importance. So why do we so seldom teach them or other non-Mandarin Chineses? Why aren’t we curious what one third of China – a politically and culturally marginalized, but not always economically marginalized, third – has to say and think on their own terms?