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?

Chinese Corner


Expressing misfortune, and resistance, in Mandarin – Anne Henochowicz

Strunk and White’s classic textbook Elements of Style taught us to avoid the passive voice in our writing. Our verbs should take action, not a back seat, whenever possible. (This advice is not universally accepted.) In Mandarin, however, the passive voice packs a real punch. When something is done to you, the passive evokes your great misfortune.

Chinese Corner

Triad and Tested

Start talking like a Hong Kong gangster – RS

It’s an open secret in Hong Kong that both triads (haak1 se5 wui5 黑社會) and local police worship the same deity, Guan Gong, for upholding brotherhood, loyalty and righteousness. It may be odd for organizations that represent opposite ends of the morality scale to both honor righteousness, but it’s this blurred space between right and wrong that is so fascinating about the triads of Hong Kong.