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Here are some cool and useful words that are being used everyday
in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. Some of them have been coined only recently.
These and many more words of similar nature will be incorporated into the
upcoming CD-ROM version of HyperChina.
Click on each word to hear the pronunciation.
The Diaoyu Islands. DIAO:
to fish; to angle. YU: fish. TAI: terrace; platform. DAO: island.
"Defend the Diaoyutai
Islands", a politcal movement that began in the early 1970s. BAO: short
for BAOWEI, to defend. DIAO: short for DIAOYUTAI, the Diaoyu Islands.
mainland, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. LIANG: two. AN: shore. SAN: three. DI:
place. LIANG'AN refers to mainland China and Taiwan, which are separated
by the Taiwan Strait. SANDI refers to all three regions.
Minivan taxi. [Used in Mainland
China only.] Mian4bao1: loaf of bread. Di1shi4: Hong Kong people's transliteration
of "taxi." This term (and the next one below) illustrates the
love for abbreviations in present-day China.
Minivan. [Used in Mainland
China only.] Wei1xing2: miniature style. Mian4: short for mian4bao1che1
("bread automobile", Beijing natives' term for "van".)
Transliteration of the colloquialism
"cool." [Used in Taiwan only, as of this moment.]
To become prosperous and successful;
to get rich (Ta1 fa1 le: He has become rich/famous now.)
Hui: return. Gui: return (archaic).
Used for Hong Kong's return to the fatherland in 1997.
Unification; to unify. Used
for the reunification between mainland China and Taiwan.
property rights. Zhi4hui4: intelligence; wisdom. Cai2chan3: property. Quan2:
Acupuncture. Zhen1: needle.
Jiu1 (or jiu3): moxibustion.
To talk nonsense; wild talk; to brag.
[Used mostly by Beijing natives.]
To talk nonsense. Xia1: randomly;
recklessly. Bai1: to break apart with one's fingers. [Beijing colloquialism.]
Terrible; That's tough!
Gou4: enough to be...; really. Qiang4: to choke; to irritate respiratory
organs. Beijing colloquialism. This is a pet phrase for many northern Chinese.
Quite; pretty. This important adverb
is used a lot in everyday speech. Note that its literal meaning ("barbaric;
tough") is irrelevant in this particular usage. MAN2 HAO3: pretty good.
MAN2 HAO3 CHI1: quite delicious. MAN2 HAO3 WAN2R: pretty interesting.
Lively; bustling with excitement and
activity. Wai4mian4 hen3 re4nao4: it's very lively outside.
What can I say? What
can I do? Beijing colloquialism. [Compare Mei2ban4fa3 in the HyperChina
See you later! See you
around! Note that Beijing natives often shorten it to hui2jian4.
A LOOK AT THE SOCIETY FROM A DICTIONARY
We all know that changes in lexicon reflect changes in a society. Now, let's
take a look at some additions and omissions in the latest, 1996 edition
of Modern Hanyu Dictionary (Xiandai Hanyu Cidian) - the foremost
and definitive dictionary on Chinese language from China.
Ge xing (singing/pop music star); yingshi (short for dianying
dianshi, film and television); lianxuju (soap opera); chuanmei
(short for chuanbo meiti, mass communications media); kala OK
(karaoke); kuaican (fast food)
jingpin (high-quality product); caidian (short for caise
dianshi, color TV); jiadian (short for jiating dianqi,
household appliances); jianmei yundong (body-tuning exercises), and
the concept that is under jianmei yundong--jianfei (weight-loss;
literally, "reducing obesity").
These terms delineate a much more diversified leisure society for the mainland
Chinese. Around the mid-1980s, the monochromatic view of life gradually
gave away to a multi-colored one, both literally and figuratively. Now,
a decade later, major symbols of Western consumerism, such as high fashion
boutique, MacDonald's, KFC, Hard Rock Cafe, have taken hold in Chinese metropolises.
Today, pop singers and soap operas from Hong Kong and Taiwan enjoy equal
popularity on the mainland as in their places of origin. It seems that for
the mainland Chinese there is no longer a time-lag for popular culture and
taste of the outside world. And what is more, nowadays, as the production
quality of mainland TV drama has improved drastically, some serial dramas,
especially historical dramas, have become instant hits on Hong Kong and
Taiwan TV networks. This kind of cultural interchange among the "two
coasts and three areas" (liang'an sandi) has been going on for
years; however, in the future, as with the case of soap opera, mainland
China is definitely going to take a more active role as an exporter of pop
Omissions and Changes:
Besides taking out obsolete phrases, out-of-date explanations on certain
entries have been modified in this new edition. In previous editions, terms
associated with capitalist economy, such as "bankruptcy", "auction",
"pawn shop", "stock", "exchange", and so on,
were described as matters from the "old times", "old society",
or "capitalist society." But now, as stock markets are back in
Guangzhou and Shanghai, and as more and more people get involved in businesses
big and small, and as auctions of vintage cars and manuscripts are frequently
been organized, accusations of "old time" and "old society"
have disappeared in this new edition of the Modern Hanyu Dictionary.
Not so long ago, when the revolutionary spirit still permeated the country,
tongzhi (comrade) was the best and the only way to address a person
- man or woman, old or young. At that time, couples were not husband and
wife, but airen, that is, "lovers". Xiaojie (Miss),
and xiansheng (Mr.) and nüshi (lady) were considered
feudal usage and therefore banned. However, as the society gradually de-politicizes,
these once-tabooed terms have replaced "comrade" and have once
again become the polite form of address. In the new edition, these changes
are explained by the editors in the respective entries.
Final note of interest:
The term "comrade" (tongzhi: tong: the same; zhi:
will; tongzhi: people of the same will,) has taken on a new level
of meaning recently in Taiwan and Hong Kong - it now refers to homosexuals.
Gay is nan tongzhi and lesbian is nü tongzhi. And, homosexual
love is, well, tongzhi ai.
We hope that most of you have studied the lyrics in the "Music"
section in HyperChina. Now here's more! The
following are excerpts from the best two albums to have come out of China
in recent years. For more information on these two artists, please go to
the Music section of CLAS.
1. From Cui Jian's "Eggs of the Red Flag"
(or "Balls under the Red Flag" - Hongqi Xia De Dan) -1994
The Shore on the Other Side
Lyrics by Cui Jian
Today is X year, X month, X day
We face the same reality together
This is the world right here, an X place in China
We are spiritedly singing a song together
* This CD should be available in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Also try your local
Chinatown record stores.
Title: BI: the other. AN: shore; bank. BI'AN: the shore on the other side
of the water.
Line 1: MOU: a certain... MOU REN: someone
Line 2: GONGTONG: together; jointly; common. MIANDUI: to face. TONGYANG:
the same. XIANSHI: reality.
Line 3: SHIJIE: world. MOU DI: a certain place or location.
Line 4: GAO: high (here it means in high spirit, or loudly). ZHE: a particle
for describing an ongoing action or situation. SHOU: the measure word for
songs. GEQU: the literary term for GE (song).
2. From Dadawa - Sister Drum (Ajie Gu) - 1995/96
Lyrics by He Xunyou, He Xuntian
My sister has been mute since she was little
She left home the year I first had memory
Ever since then I've been missing her, day after day, day afer day
It was only until when I was as old as she was then
That I suddenly understood her
Ever since then I've been looking for her, day after day, day after day
From the horizon there comes bursts of drumming
That's my sister talking to me
Ooo... om mani padme hum
Ooo... om mani padme hum
* This album (on Sire/Elektra) should be widely available in the stores
right now. See below.
Line 1: AJIE: the word for JIEJIE (elder sister) in several Southern dialects.
CONG: from; since. XIAO: young; little.
Line 2: JISHI: to remember things. LIKAI: to depart; to get away from.
Line 3: CONG: since. CI; this. CONGCI: from this moment on. TIANTIAN: everyday.
DE: this DE turns an adjective into an adverb (here to modify the verb XIANG
- to think, to miss)
Line 5: YIZHI: all the way until... DAO: till. NAYANG: like that. DA: "big"
- here refers to age, "as old as."
Line 6: TURAN: suddenly. JIAN: within a definite time (here it is optional).
DONGDE: to understand.
Line 7: ZHAO: to search, to look for.
Line 9: TIAN: sky. BIAN: edge. TIANBIAN: horizon. CHUAN: to spread, to transmit.
LAI: a "directional complement" specifying "coming towards
the speaker." ZHENZHEN: in bursts; intermittently. GU: drum. SHENG:
Line 10: DUI: to, toward.
Line 11: AN MA NI BA MI HONG: Chinese transliteration of "Om mani padme
hum" - the six-word mantra in Esoteric Buddhism.
HONG KONG LEARNING MANDARIN
In less than a year, Hong Kong will rejoin its fatherland. In anticipation
of this great change, the Cantonese-speaking Hong Kong people are now learning
to speak Mandarin Chinese. This can be very hard, as many Hong Kong pop
stars can testify. To expand their appeal beyond Hong Kong, pop stars there
have been hiring tutors to help them with their Mandarin. The Chinese version
of "Entertainment Tonight" is full of these stars chuckling over
their own broken Mandarin pronunciation, something that has become part
of the entertainment.
Speak Mandarin is only practical, especially economic-wise, for Hong Kong
people. Nowadays on the streets of Hong Kong, it is not uncommon to find
shop clerks communicating in Mandarin with tourists from Taiwan, and presumably
with visitors from the Mainland in the near future.
For high officials in the Hong Kong government, how to better their communication
with the Chinese is also an important issue. For the past century, the Hong
Kong elite often went to Britain for higher education - their British-accented
English is flawless, and their knowledge of Shakespeare commendable. However,
as the colonial era is drawing a close, brushing up their Chinese is becoming
a must - not only in terms of language, but also of cultural references.
In the past year, an interest in the Chinese fiction classic - SANGUO
YANYI, or "The Romance of the Three Kingdoms" (The
Three Kingdoms is a historical period: 220 A.D.-265 A.D.) - was rekindled
in Hong Kong. First, the Mainland's superb dramatization of the classic
fascinated the viewers, and then Hong Kong TV stations produced their own
versions. Asked to explain the heat over this novel, a Hong Kong scholar
attributed part of the reason to the approaching 1997 deadline. "The
Romance of the Three Kingdoms" is the Chinese Shakespeare, the scholar
suggested. For example, it is well-known that Chairman Mao, in his combat
with the Nationalist government, drew a lot of strategic inspirations from
these classical novels. As a result, the Hong Kong bureaucrats, who now
need to have a good relationship with their mainland counterparts, would
have to put away their Shakespeare and pick up the Chinese literary classics
again. It seems that what is saying good-bye to Hong Kong is not just the
British government alone, Shakespeare would also have to bid farewell.
Note: "The Romance of the Three Kingdoms" by Luo Guanzhong is
based on the history of the Three Kingdoms period (short form in Chinese
is SANGUO). Probably as early as the 12th century, dramatization
of stories from the Three Kingdoms had become popular. Even to this day,
the most famous episodes from traditional operas are Sanguo stories. In
daily conversations, references to Sanguo are also prevalent. So check out
a translation of "The Romance of the Three Kingdoms," which will
greatly expand your understanding of the mind's eye of the Chinese.
HOT TIP: TV IS GOOD FOR YOU !?!
If you live in the S.F. Bay Area and are interested in Chinese affairs,
why not take a look at the TV program Liuxing Dushi (Fashion
Cities) every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 to 9:30 p.m., on KCNS channel
38. Modeled after the "Rough Guide," the program is produced by
Chinese Television Network
(Chuanxun Dianshi), a satellite television network based in Hong Kong and
Taipei. On Monday the program features Hong Kong, Wednesday is about Shanghai,
and Friday Taipei. Even though the program is in Chinese with no English
subtitles, viewers can still have a glimpse of what is hip in those cities
at this very moment and enjoy scenes that only the locals know well.
But there's more Chinese TV in the Bay Area: check out all types of Chinese
programming on Channels 26, 38, and 66 (and 64 in the South Bay). You'll
hear Mandarin with a wide range of local accents (Cantonese, Shanghai, Fukien/Taiwan,
Beijing, etc.), as well as straight Cantonese.
For those of you located elsewhere in North America, you can still get
24-hour Chinese Television Network programming by cable or satellite dish.
Those of you in Canada should definitely check out the programming
offered by Fairchild Television.
Note: LIU2XING2 means "fashionable, popular, trendy."
For example: liuxing gequ (popular songs), liuxing fuzhuang (fashionable
clothing). More examples: xianzai liuxing chi shenme? (What's the popular
food now?) Beijing liuxing wanr shenme? (What's fashionable to do for fun
in Beijing?) Bali liuxing chuan shenme? (What's fashionable to wear in Paris?)
SPECIAL OBSERVATION: ENGLISH WORDS IN CHINESE
Unlike the Japanese, who simply import foreign words in Katakana form and
use them as if they are part of the new Japanese vocabulary, the Chinese
have always struggled to translate foreign words into Chinese (e.g., dian4nao3
[electronic brain] for "computer"), with relatively few instances
of transliteration (e.g., "kao3bei4" for "copy").
Well, things may be a little different now. A lot of Chinese are using straight
English words and phrases (not translated or transliterated) in their daily
speech. Most prominently, the words "Bye" and "Bye-bye"
have literally replaced the Chinese "zaijian" among more Westernized
Chinese people. What's really funny is that often you'll hear people say
"Zaijian" at the end of a telephone conversation, and then, as
if the Chinese word does not really convey the meaning, immediate add another
"Bye" before hanging up. Note that when used this way, "Bye"
is usually given a "first-tone" or "second tone" reading,
not the original English intonation.
Other popular English words include "okay", "free",
"enjoy", "care", "anyway", "work",
and so on. Here's how they are used in real life:
"WOMEN MINGTIAN ZAI SHUO, okay?" (Let's talk
about it tomorrow, okay?)
"WODE DAYINJI BU work LE." (My printer is not working.)
"WO GENBEN BU care." (I don't care at all.)
Now, here's an extreme example, but you do hear people say it sometimes:
"TA un- BU understand?" (Did
Yes, we know, that sounds really stupid - applying an English word to a
Chinese sentence pattern (the abbreviated form of the affirmative-negative
question), but what can we say?
Chinese students studying in the U.S. and recent immigrants from China and
Taiwan are particularly fond of using English words in Chinese sentences.
For many of them, "yeah" has "globally replaced"
the Chinese SHI (yes). Lots of graduate students studying in the U.S. (particularly
those from Beijing) take great pleasure in using words like "dollar"
and "wife" in their Chinese sentences (don't ask why):
"YAO JI GE dollar?" (How much [money] does it
"LIANG GE dollar." (Two bucks.)
"SHI TA DE wife GEI TA DE." (It was his wife
who gave it to him.)
Many advanced students of Mandarin are still making fundamental
mistakes after they have studied the language for many years and have pretty
much mastered the language otherwise.
First of all, every student learns in his/her first few lessons that in
Chinese, haishi (or) is usually used only in questions
where several alternatives are given, whereas huozhe (or)
is used in statements; and that the two of them are never
exchangeable. For example:
"Ni shi Beijing ren haishi Shanghai ren?" (Are
you from Beijing or Shanghai?)
"Wo xiang mingtian qu kan dianying, huozhe, xingqi
wu zai qu." (I want to see the movie tomorrow, or maybe wait until
We find lots of people, including American-born Chinese kids, still making
this mistake even after years of practice. One example is "Paul"
or Fang Baoluo, a popular American movie critic who hosts his movie review
segment on Chinese Television Network (a satellite TV station, see above).
Paul speaks amazingly fluent (albeit "wrong-toned") Chinese, but
on his show, he still uses haishi to join long clauses
Another confusing group of extremely common words is: hao de,
hao ba, hao le, which all have roughly
the same meaning - "okay", but with entirely different connotations.
You might have seen the Chinese use them all the time in real life, and
feel compelled to imitate the way they say them - it seems so cool, so easy!
Well, you might want to think twice before opening your mouth next time.
Here's a comparison of the three:
Hao de: okay (implying: No problem! Okidoki! It's a deal!
Hao ba: okay (implying: Well, alright. If that's what you
want. Note: the speaker is showing reluctance.)
Hao le: okay (implying: That's enough. Stop right there.
Note: so this can be rude if used improperly.)
So, get them straight. The next time your Chinese friend proposes, "Women
qu chifan, hao bu hao?" (Shall we go eat?), don't answer with "Hao
ba." (unless you're reluctant to go) or "Hao
le." (unless you want to say, "Shut up. Let's get going.").
HOT TIP: If in doubt, just say "hao",
which is neutral and will do for all situations.