Is the rush to study Chinese a time-wasting fad?

The great Ken (chinesepod.com) Carroll takes on the mighty Economist in an outspoken and entertaining post on his brand new blog. He actually makes the poor reporter look pretty ridiculous.

I love the Economist, but it ran an incredibly weak article today – False Eastern promise whose sub-heading tells us that the ‘craze for teaching Chinese may be a misguided fad’. The craze for teaching Chinese may just be a fad? May be a fad?

Of course it’s possible that this is a fad, but what precisely is that saying? There’s a lot of things that may or may not happen out there, that may or may not be fads, no end of things we could speculate wildly upon without providing data. Why this particular issue? The premise is so vague, speculative, unsubstantiated, and out of the blue, that you have to wonder where the author suddenly got the idea from. It’s bizarre.

That said, I think for many people caught up in the “we must learn Chinese” mass movement it really is a time-wasting fad, because there is no love for the language and no deep-hearted commitment to it: Based on wildly exaggerated articles they’ve read about China being on the verge of becoming the next superpower, they think it’s a necessary business decision, that by the time their kids grow up all business will be conducted in Mandarin and those who can’t read a Chinese newspaper with perfect tones will be left in the cold. Which is a complete snow job.

Learning Chinese is great. It is hard for most people, but not at all impossible. Everyone who is interested in China and who wants to live here or who loves languages and wants to expand their horizons should give it a try. But if you’re jumping onto the bandwagon because you think Chinese is the way of the future, you’re in for a double surprise. 1. Chinese is not going to become the international business language anytime while we’re still alive (if ever); 2. If your heart isn’t really in it, little of the language will stick and you will give up frustrated and annoyed at yourself for wasting so much time you could have spent learning macrame or other more practical things.

I only have time nowadays for about two hours of Chinese lessons a week. At this rate, I’ll probably never be above an elementary level. But every day I spend at least an hour studying, and I have Chinese Pod and other lessons playing in my apartment rather constantly. Over the past year I learned a few hundred characters and doubled my vocabulary on my own. Because I love the language and feel that with each phrase I learn the more rich my experience here can be. I have no illusions that I will ever conduct business in Chinese or write proposals in hanzi. But I am still completely committed to it, and I spend the majority of my time when I’m not working studying Chinese.

So yes, there is a fad element to the learn-Chinese stampede. But it’s also a great undertaking and everyone who really wants to learn it should go for it. If, however, you think it’s going to make you rich, or if you think it’s a magic bullet for survival in the age of “China rising,” you’re going at it for the wrong reason and will most likely give it up and feeling kind of bitter about it.

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 56 Comments

Ken is right to rip the article to shreds, even though it is based on a worthwhile premise. The Economist excels in these patronising dismissals of ideas it doesn’t like. It falls into the unsurprising trap of seeing everything in economic terms. “Is learning Chinese worth the opportunity cost?” As if learning Chinese was an alternative to doing an MBA or investing in a fast food franchise.

The Economist likes to throw in lots of impressive sounding figures – even if, as Ken points out, these are junk.

I never found Chinese characters to be ‘horribly complicated’ – they are simple and fascinating to learn. Would the Economist advise against careers in finance because accounting and tax regulations are horribly complicated (not to mention tedious in the extreme)?

The only point I would agree on is that you would be a fool to start learning Chinese in the belief this will be the key to lucrative career opportunities.

How many of us have spent years studying Chinese only to find that it’s a skill that doesn’t pay the bills?

November 26, 2007 @ 8:21 pm | Comment

Mike, we are in agreement. I think the article’s take on learning Chinese is way off-base. I do agree, however, that there is a current faddish stampede to learn Chinese for all the wrong reasons.

November 26, 2007 @ 8:23 pm | Comment

eh, I think the Chinese language is currently enjoying the same attention the Japanese started enjoying when Japan started exporting it’s culture in the late 70′s and early 80′s. It’s still much easier to find a 4 year university program for studying Japanese than it is Chinese (at least in the United States).

November 26, 2007 @ 8:24 pm | Comment

You generally need other skills to make the most out of second or third language skills. There are alot of english teachers with good Chinese who won’t be able to break out of that routine.

November 26, 2007 @ 11:49 pm | Comment

The new fad actually is not to study Chinese yourself, but to employ Chinese nannies or au-pairs for your kids, so they learn the language as early as possible. I wonder what those children will say, if, in twenty years, the new Eldorado won’t be China, but India or Brazil or some other country which nobody thinks of right now.
By the way, THM is right: it’s still much easier to find Japanese language programs, not only in the USA.

November 27, 2007 @ 12:34 am | Comment

“By the way, THM is right: it’s still much easier to find Japanese language programs, not only in the USA.”

Japan has managed to market itself as the source of all that is cool in Asia and being THE consumer electronics nation helps push the “cool” image.

Ask yourselves, why is it that westerners will pile into expensive Japanese restaurants and only hit up Chinese restaurants for the occasional cheap take out or dollar scoop?

November 27, 2007 @ 2:00 am | Comment

Nahe, we disagree about a lot of things, but your statement about Japanese and Chinese restaurants is just ridiculous. I don’t know where you live, but where I live, Chinese restaurants come in all varieties (cheap to expensive) and are wayyy more popular than “the occasional cheap take-out.” I’d say most Americans are more familiar with “Chinese” food (what they think is Chinese food, I mean) than they are with Japanese. It’s a little different on the west coast of the US, but if you ask a lot of midwesterners if they like sushi, they are going to look at you funny and go, “Eyew!! Raw fish?!” But just about any good sized town in the US has some version of a Chinese restaurant.

November 27, 2007 @ 2:58 am | Comment

About Westerner not liking raw fish. The idea of cooking food down to kill bateria after the scare in 19XX. People who live away from commercialism will have diffrent insights then people who do. This is a proven fact that meat might be contaminated so it needs to cooked correctly along with digestion.

About Eastern Asian resteraunts appreciation. They consider everything Chinese even if it says Japanese and there might be Koreans running it. Also most of the

However what I consider sad is how some good resteraunts open in the middle of a bumish areas and get low customers. I mean young adults have no money in those areas and parents drive all the way to the big city or ocean areas to eat out. Why put a resteraunt up where there is barely any productivity is like putting up one where there is a desert and no commercial traffic is allowed.

The many Japanese programs and such is only there now thanks to the popularity of Videogames and Anime. You Also have to consider Amerikans involvement from post apocolyptic stationed troops. Especially the Navy and the business ventures of 1980 and previous invovlements.

Learning any language is not a fad. Personally I myself have been doing the same thing but as a intrest.

About learning Chinese most people in the western world thinks the entire Asia is China and that they are all the same and Chinese is the dominate power there like US this is why there is many people in the US might learn Chinese first as with any other reason to go anywhere.

Also it is not hard.. I remember training myself at one point until I can actually start thinking in that language. Rather then speaking or writing it.

Business is universal and revolves around math. You don’t need language skills to do business besides body montions and tone of vioce.

If you was sappose to meet with somebody who came from infinitive miles do you think they want to hear you attempt speaking there langauge when they know who you are and where you are from.

Speaking somebodies langauge is a polite jester but it has nothing to do with the business at hand.

I could perfectly understand that in doing business you want to hear what they are aloud to there company in case they might curse you out or even joke about you in front of you.

Like yesterday a couple of people was saying ” do you think they could understand chinese ” and the other person was like ” No nobody here read chinese ” going back and forth in Cantonese and english continuesly no diffrent then a couple of people down the row talking in Spanish to english.

November 27, 2007 @ 3:55 am | Comment

As someone who has constantly struggled to get my head round the Chinese language, the economist article actually ran true in many ways.

Of the 20 or so people I studied Chinese with from the UK, half have given up, 25% have kicked on and are using it fully, and 25% of us are still in limbo, not giving up but not really using it or learning more.

The piece doesn’t say ‘don’t learn Chinese’ – it says ‘don’t think Chinese and Chinese alone will set you on a path to wealth and success.’

The Chinese-speaking foreigners who have success/wealth – bar the odd entrepreneur who demands a lot of respect – are those with another solid skill (PR, law, economics, finance, media) that combines with the language. A degree in Chinese studies and a dream just isn’t getting it done for the majority of people.

It’s a misleading sub-head as it suggests people are going to stop learning Chinese as it’ll stop being important. What it really means to say is that people will stop learning it when they realise there isn’t the huge need for speakers they thought when they started.

November 27, 2007 @ 2:19 pm | Comment

Actually, learning chinese when you dont live in china is pretty difficult. I know about 50 words, and thats after a year of having a chinese girlfriend and practing. iN my experience the most off-putting part is the fact that most chinese people invariably laugh/scowl at you if try to practice with them.

I think at the end of the day I cant really be bothered to learn chinese, Id rather learn german.

November 27, 2007 @ 2:59 pm | Comment

i agree with neil. the major obstacle to foreigners learning chinese is the insufferable arrogance and attitude of the chinese themselves. there is nothing more disheartening than learning 2000-3000 characters, finally being able to read chinese and finding it is all sh@t for brains stuff.

November 27, 2007 @ 4:27 pm | Comment

Si, thank God we Americans are never arrogant and insufferable.

Most of the Chinese people I deal with are splendid people, along with the occasional asshole you’ll find in any and every ethnicity.

Neill, I speak German and it’s a damned hard language. Not Chinese hard – but structurally it is a much more demanding, rigorous language, what with fixed clauses where the verb must go at the end, cases (nominative, genitive, dative, accusative), gender pronouns, and more irritating rules than I want to even think about. But still, phonetically and structurally it’s a lot like English, just more sadistic. Chinese is a much simpler language but it requires not just learning the language but thinking in a whole different way. You aren’t just memorizing vocabulary lists, you are retooling the part of the brain that processes language. And that is very, very hard for most of us.

November 27, 2007 @ 4:53 pm | Comment

Interesting. My experiences in learning/speaking Chinese have been totally different than what Si says. Chinese people have generally been positive, supportive and pleased that I’ve made the effort.

That’s the whole reason for learning Chinese for me – being able to communicate (somewhat) with people on their own terms, gaining some additional insight into another culture and frankly, making my brain happy by learning something new.

November 27, 2007 @ 5:03 pm | Comment

Crazy English
“If pro and con are opposites, is congress the opposite of progress?”

English is the most widely used language in the history of our planet. One in every seven human beings can speak it. More than half of the world’s books and three-quarters of international mail are in English. Of all languages, English has the largest vocabulary–perhaps as many as two million words–and one of the noblest bodies of literature.

Nonetheless, let’s face it: English is a crazy language. There is no egg in eggplant, neither pine nor apple in pineapple and no ham in a hamburger. English muffins weren’t invented in England or french fries in France. Sweetmeats are candy, while sweetbreads, which aren’t sweet, are meat.

We take English for granted. But when we explore its paradoxes, we find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square, public bathrooms have no baths and a guinea pig is neither a pig nor from Guinea.

And why is it that a writer writes, but fingers don’t fing, grocers don’t groce, humdingers don’t hum and hammers don’t ham? If the plural of tooth is teeth, shouldn’t the plural of booth be beeth? One goose, two geese–so one moose, two meese? One index, two indices–one Kleenex, two Kleenices?

Doesn’t it seem loopy that you can make amends but not just one amend, that you comb through the annals of history but not just one annal? If you have a bunch of odds and ends and you get rid of all but one, what do you call it?

If the teacher taught, why isn’t it true that the preacher praught? If a horsehair mat is made from the hair of horses and a camel’s-hair coat from the hair of camels, from what is a mohair coat made? If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat? If you wrote a letter, perhaps you also bote your tongue?

Sometimes I wonder if all English speakers should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane. In what other language do people drive on a parkway and park in a driveway? Recite at a play and play at a recital? Ship by truck and send cargo by ship? Have noses that run and feet that smell?

How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites? How can overlook and oversee be opposites, while quite a lot and quite a few are alike? How can the weather be hot as hell one day and cold as hell the next?

Did you ever notice that we talk about certain things only when they are absent? Have you ever seen a horseful carriage or a strapful gown, met a sung hero or experienced requited love? Have you ever run into someone who was combobulated, gruntled, ruly or peccable?

And where are the people who are spring chickens or who actually would hurt a fly? I meet individuals who can cut the mustard and whom I would touch with a ten-foot pole, but I cannot talk about them in English.

You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which your house can burn up as it burns down, in which you fill in a form by filling it out and in which your alarm clock goes off by going on.

English was invented by people, not computers, and it reflects the creativity of the human race (which, of course, isn’t really a race at all). That is why, when stars are out they are visible, but when the lights are out they are invisible. And why, when I wind up my watch I start it, but when I wind up this essay I end it.

November 27, 2007 @ 5:24 pm | Comment

The above was “Crazy English/Our crazy Language” by Richard Lederer. I also happen to think that Chinese is comparatively, like learning to play the guitar compared to say piano, is easier than English. But to be good at either takes dedication.

November 27, 2007 @ 5:38 pm | Comment

HKer, next time give a link when you quote somebody else. Anyway, that’s a great passage. English is a maddening language, especially it’s spelling and pronunciation (what other language would have words so similar in spelling and so different in pronunciation, such as “rough” and “dough”?). That said, it will be the international language for a very, very, very long time to come. I daresay there will probably never be a time when the number of non-Chinese businesspeople who can read hanzi outnumbers the non-American businesspeople who can read English

Dittos to every word in Lisa’s comment above. Just about every taxi driver tries to speak with me in Chinese. Waitresses watching me write characters have come over and helped. The Chinese are incredibly kind and tolerant in this regard – no, not 100 percent, but then, Americans are far less tolerant of those who don’t speak English (though not quite as bad as Parisians, who are downright sadistic about people who don’t speak French).

November 27, 2007 @ 5:49 pm | Comment

Ah, glad you came back with attribution, HKer.

November 27, 2007 @ 5:50 pm | Comment

While I agree with the Economist (and Richard) that speaking Mandarin Chinese is certainly no cash cow, I nonetheless feel that it would be a mistake for anyone to promote the idea, whether through suggestion or otherwise, that we westerners continue to NOT learn other languages simply because it’s not lucrative. So what if it doesn’t pad your resume, if it doesn’t make you rich?!? Can we please look beyond our immediate cost-benefit memos for a moment and contemplate a future where international exchange is squelched by cultural empiricism, the hegemony of a one-language system, and all for the monetary benefit of a few fat cats in the corner office?

I mean, that’s what we’re really talking about here, isn’t it? We’re talking about learning as a hindrance to the bottom line, to corporate profits. Is the Economist really so brazen as to imply, every so subtly, that bettering yourself, that learning might be a waste of time? Really?

You see, it’s these neo-liberal economic tropes, so common in the Economist, that really chap my hide. This is my real meat-n-bones issue with the article in question: must we always force things through the filter of economic necessity?

As an educator and new media professional, I am deeply ensconced in what has been called the “creative industry,” a catch-phrase label that broadly refers to those workers, in a variety of professional positions, that are daily required to use their intellectual skills and insights to complete a job. I don’t have time, of course, to deconstruct this highly successful phenomena further, but I will say that it could not exist without a concerted effort on the part of a much larger community to develop creativity in general.

Substantive work futures demand a people of substance, by which I mean to say that we must try to encourage an informed and worldly global workforce. This means learning languages. This means venturing beyond the yard, and engaging with other people, cultures, ideas, etc. Who knows where, and from whom, the next revolutionary concept will come into existence?

That being said, I think it is terribly short-sighted for the Economist to require a financial incentive for learning Mandarin. This idea mirrors the ill-fated policy implemented by the Chinese government over twenty years ago to force it’s people to learn English. Sure, factories abound, multinational are raking in the cash, and little Zhang now has an MP3 player, but Chinese language and culture has been irrevocably diminished. One could argue (and they are) that Mandarin studies, among other Chinese dialects, are at an all-time low in the middle kingdom. Self-imposed it may be, but it’s still the same old, white man’s burden, western empiricism you’ve read about in history class. What once was opium is now an English text book.

November 27, 2007 @ 7:18 pm | Comment

i am glad that richard and otherlisa have had such positive experiences in learning mandarin. unfortunately i did not. when i first arrived to teach in beijing 5 plus years ago several of my colleagues were openly hostile, and would mock my attempts at learning chinese by saying “give up” and “no-one will ever understand what you are saying”. getting on a bus was a chore as i was simply often pushed off by the ticket woman, due to my inability to explain where i wanted to go quickly enough. although you are right, service people are generally better (for obvious reasons) than most.

once i got to the intermediate stage (i was determined to prove my colleagues wrong) people were a bit more pleasant, though then i went through the disillusioning process of reading chinese newspapers and those godawful textbooks. the only good thing i can say about it is that it is now helping me study japanese.

dare i say that the difference in attitude would be to do with cultivating contacts with a western businessman, because you can, after all, sneer at a recently graduated english teacher who isn’t really going to be able to help you at all?

@rynsa

i am not sure what you mean by westerners not learning other languages, this assertion would no doubt come as a surprise to europeans, who all have to study at least one foreign language.

i think the diminishing nature of chinese culture has more to do with rampant capitalism and the cultural revolution rather than the study of english. knowledge of two cultures should enrich. it does not need to be one or the other. i am not sure what white “empiricism” has to do with it!

on a lighter note….

http://www.pinyin.info/readings/texts/moser.html

November 27, 2007 @ 8:45 pm | Comment

Si, your comment got me thinking…. It was much harder for me when I first came to Beijing in 2002, and I could barely speak a single full sentence. It was after I mastererd the basics in Taiwan and came back last year that I found people so eager to engage with me in Chinese – having that fundamental knowledge and confidence made all the difference.

November 27, 2007 @ 10:31 pm | Comment

“I don’t know where you live, but where I live, Chinese restaurants come in all varieties (cheap to expensive) and are wayyy more popular than “the occasional cheap take-out.” I’d say most Americans are more familiar with “Chinese” food (what they think is Chinese food, I mean) than they are with Japanese.”

Well, there is more to the US than S. Cal, SF, Seattle and NYC, where most Chinese people live and there are actually good restaurants. The restaurants in most of the US are cheap and questionable in quality, while people do pour into sushi restaurants in comparison.

November 27, 2007 @ 11:33 pm | Comment

I think its too early to rushed into the lerning-chinese-hype. I guess in 20 or 30 years, when china has proven that its ecomomy is not just a myth hyped by western investements, and has become a somewhat solid & steady growing ecomomy, THAN its useful to learn chinese. Why learn chinese when chinese business ppl can speak english, plus the chinese market is not even as profitable as many claimed it to be?
Better learn spanish or german first.

November 28, 2007 @ 12:07 am | Comment

Si, I agree with Richard that it helps having a little background first. My Chinese is not great (I can’t read for sh**) but apparently it’s understandable (mostly). Chinese people tend to like my accent. It sounds silly but I would really try and get that part down. A lot of foreign learners don’t spend enough time on pronunciation and I think that is key, moreso than vocabulary or grammar or being able to read/write.

As a p.s., I am not a businessperson and some of my most rewarding encounters have been with people I’ve met on trains and the like.

November 28, 2007 @ 1:54 am | Comment

I always encourage people to study Chinese, but I usually forget to add the caveat about how if you’re the kind of person who gets good at Chinese, then you’re probably not the kind of person who will ever make any money. Or the one about how there hasn’t been really anything all that great written in the language since ºìÂ¥ÃÎ.

I’m late on a deadline, so I won’t write much more, except to say that I think that rynsa’s point about mandatory English studies having damanged Chinese language and culture, while well-intended, is dead wrong. I just want to be the first person to say that — will come back and back that up later, if I find the time.

November 28, 2007 @ 4:48 am | Comment

Fads may come and go, but Chinese will endure forever. The best part is that one can never learn it all. Here I am, after forty five years of studying and working with the language, and I am still deriving great pleasure and satisfaction from it. It’s a lifetime thing. Patience and persistence are the keys.

November 28, 2007 @ 7:34 am | Comment

Lots of folks seem to be overlooking the other perks of learning Chinese:

-The massive body of Chinese literature(Classical grammar and traditional characters, and not necessarily fun to read, but still)
-As several people have mentioned, the challenge of retraining the language-processing part of your brain
-Exposure to the art of calligraphy, which isn’t nearly as appreciated in most Western cultures
-Karaoke! I know we have karaoke in the US, but how many of you really went there back home?

November 28, 2007 @ 8:19 am | Comment

(Sigh*)
This is sadly THE MOST common type of modern day slave mentality & exactly the utilitarian profit-over-people, money-is-god utilitarian value system the ECONOMIST article is promoting.

“I guess in 20 or 30 years, when china has proven … THAN its useful to learn chinese. ….plus the chinese market is not even as profitable…? ”

What’s more profitable and valuable than to be able to understand, appreciate and truly enjoy the many wonderful rich cultural artistic expressions the world has to offer in the form of lyrics, songs, literature, the performing arts etc and the priceless enrichment of ones social experiences thru knowing different languages?

November 28, 2007 @ 8:26 am | Comment

One word for learning Chinese – Pleco. If you have 30+ minutes cab commute every day you can easily learn 1000+ vocab words a year..

November 28, 2007 @ 9:30 am | Comment

Oooh, oooh! A hearty second on Pleco – http://www.pleco.com

It is really helpful.

November 28, 2007 @ 9:32 am | Comment

Linguist Steve Kaufmann – Interviewed both Mandarin/ English

PART 1
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hmXVN2t2seE

PART 2
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7HPjijVoPXM

PART 3
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=woqM_sNcm9k

November 28, 2007 @ 11:01 am | Comment

“What’s more profitable and valuable than to be able to understand, appreciate and truly enjoy the many wonderful rich cultural artistic expressions the world has to offer in the form of lyrics, songs, literature, the performing arts etc and the priceless enrichment of ones social experiences thru knowing different languages?”

For once, and probably the last time, I’m in complete agreement with Hkonger.

And all of the world’s languages, dead, minority and major, have long histories and tell the tale of unified human evolution.

Esperanzo on the other hand is some artificial junk, like so many sugar substitutes.

November 28, 2007 @ 12:23 pm | Comment

I agree with those who say that equating learning with the bottom line is wrong. Honestly, has ANYONE learned Chinese from scratch JUST to make money? I’m sure for many people, money is an incentive, but really, there are better (and much easier) ways to make money than to go through learning Chinese. If you don’t like it, you’ll never truly master it and that’s just the fact jack. For me it’s always been two issues to learning Chinese – work and time. If I had less of the former and more of the latter I’d be writing books in Mandarin. As is, all I can do is talk and write to people I want to make money off…oh wait…I mean as is all I can do is appreciate the language through the joy Chinese people have in their language – yeah, that’s why I do it.

November 28, 2007 @ 2:17 pm | Comment

@richard

i also found a year in taiwan helped my chinese a lot. and when i come to think about it, i know a guy who studied in chengdu and was helped from the get go. maybe it is a beiijing thing?

i stick by my comments regarding reading chinese though. i really enjoy reading and my textbooks and newspapers just make me want to weep. however, an ability to read has given me the joy of discovering tang dynasty poetry for which there are no really good translations. it has to be read in the original.

this may sound hard to believe but i wouldn’t and haven’t tried to dissuade people from studying Chinese. i usually tell them about the effort involved and also the negative reactions i have had, but there are certainly rewards there. you just have to make a very strong long term commitment if you want to get them. chinese is not something you can really dabble in.

@hkonger -

“What’s more profitable and valuable than to be able to understand, appreciate and truly enjoy the many wonderful rich cultural artistic expressions the world has to offer in the form of lyrics, songs, literature, the performing arts etc and the priceless enrichment of ones social experiences thru knowing different languages?”

absolutely.

November 28, 2007 @ 4:33 pm | Comment

I studied Chinese because I had to…because I’d had this weird experience in China when I was young and since it was unexpected I didn’t know Chinese at the time…and I always felt a sense of incompletion because of that.

I add my voice to the chorus agreeing with HKonger…there is really nothing like learning another language to get plugged into a different culture and to help one appreciate the diversity of the human experience. I know some German and some Spanish in addition to my smattering of Mandarin. If I had more spare time I would devote it to improving my Mandarin and learning other languages.

November 28, 2007 @ 4:49 pm | Comment

To HKonger:
Chinese culture? Hk is an armani-addicted, shopping crazy, commercialized work-or-shop city. Its just a pretty show case for sucessful unlimited capitalism.
In China, the chinese culture died after the commies came to power. There is no chinese culture in china, only fake CP-adoring, backward thinking, fake walmart-dollar cult.
Chinese culture is a dead thing, not worth to explore any longer. Time has proven that the western style culture/philosophy like individualism, freedom of speech, trias politica, capitalism are more sucessful than the socalled 5000 years of what so ever.
I think its time the chinese stop their ridiculous narcissistic ‘China is great’ fiction.
Any west student studying chinese will be disappointed to find out china is not ‘the great culture nation’, just a nation of ignorant, impolite, nationalistic & selfish ppl who spit everywhere. Yuk! they even let their kids shit/piss everywhere they can.
I am chinese myself, and i have to admit: Chinese are really unpleasant folks. One is Ok, a bunch of them=nightmare.

November 28, 2007 @ 10:37 pm | Comment

“Honestly, has ANYONE learned Chinese from scratch JUST to make money?”

Oh, yes! Lots of people do that then try to set up an import/export biz after two semesters.

November 28, 2007 @ 11:47 pm | Comment

I can relate to Si’s experience. There are a few really patronizing bastards among Chinese people (pretty much the way many French people are, and we don’t want to forget certain native English speakers), but at the end of the day, I have to agree with Richard, otherlisa and all the others who made positive experiences. During my few years in China I met lots of people who not only appreciated my pathetic attempt at learning proper Mandarin, but also wholeheartedly helped me in every way to improve.
By the way, it’s not true that Chinese culture is dead, although Mao, the great pig, almost achieved his goal during the Cultural Revolution and the Great Modernization Leap in recent years tried to complete the task. You just have to look for it, everywhere in China, no matter if in big cities like Beijing and Shanghai or in little villages in the countryside, there are places where you can find it. Speaking Chinese at least a little bit helps a lot.
To those who learn Chinese only for economic reasons, just forget it.
To all the others, learning Chinese is hard work, a lifetime job as somebody already said, but it can be very rewarding to learn a language (and in that way to get to know a culture) that is so different from your own.

November 29, 2007 @ 1:19 am | Comment

Time has proven that the western style culture/philosophy like individualism, freedom of speech, trias politica, capitalism are more sucessful than the socalled 5000 years of what so ever.

No, modern, “Westernized” China has proven that “western ideas” like Communism, hedonism at the expense of the world and nation, and mercantilism are are not what China needs.

What you have in “your China” is a Westernized shithole with no soul and no culture. Communism is a “Western ideology”, don’t forget to talk about that when you open your mouth to praise them.

But go ahead and say the culture that first made bank notes and stocks, the richest nation in the world for at least 2000 years, was not capitalist.

What China needs is to become Chinese again, with rational liberalization. Not some America 2.0. Can you imagine all those SUVS, McMansions, racial interest groups and 4 Iraq wars?

But then again you’re still some naive Chinese prince or princess that dreams about being whisked away to America by your white savior, what a joke.

November 29, 2007 @ 9:22 am | Comment

Oy vey.

Sure, Marxism was a “western” ideology, but Mao certainly created a “Chinese” version of it.

I agree that nations need to find their own paths. But I’m sort of a post-nationalist by temperament.

Anyway, I hope this thread doesn’t deteriorate into another bash-fest.

November 29, 2007 @ 9:45 am | Comment

there’s simply very little of anything “Chinese” about China nowadays. there might be bits and pieces of it that has survived or is growing but still.

and regardless of what Mao did, it’s still a foreign ideology, unlike “capitalism” outside of the strictest sense.

but i’ve heard that crap from more than one “chinese” person before. usually some twit loving their name brands and fat life too much to even know what real chinese culture is.

November 29, 2007 @ 10:20 am | Comment

horrible grammar, insert excuse, half-asleep, whatever

November 29, 2007 @ 10:20 am | Comment

Can’t help but to make a side comment:

to the guy who “Just walked again” – if the “Chinese are really unpleasant folks”, you sure have contributed a lot to that end…

November 29, 2007 @ 11:40 am | Comment

To me:

-Wow. So my appreciation for human rights & freedom of speech makes me a “twit loving name brands and fat life chinese”. Yup. chinese logic at its best.

“But then again you’re still some naive Chinese prince or princess that dreams about being whisked away to America by your white savior, what a joke.”

-This shows your typical chinese inferiority complex. I dont regard whites as the better ones. We r equal. I dont see them as savior, and I dont have any dreams to move to US.

“What China needs is to become Chinese again, with rational liberalization. Not some America 2.0. Can you imagine all those SUVS, McMansions, racial interest groups and 4 Iraq wars?”

-Let me guess what Chinese will have if China becomes America 2.0.:
Chinese will have basic human rights, social insurance, functioning health system, freedom of speech, free press, the right to vote, transparent justice system, unlimited information/internet access, a gov. obeying its own law, education for the poor, creativity & innovation friendly environment�
Yup. That sounds bad. I cant imagine any chinese wanna have that.

“What China needs is to become Chinese� ”

-U mean the chinese should prefer the chinese culture in ancient China� where ordinary chinese had no rights, the bureaucrats decided who dies/live, ppl were being killed en mass depending on the likes of the emperor, where ppl couldnt have justice, where gov. took everything away from u anytime they wanted, where u got killed for criticising the gov., where gov=god, ppl = dogs, where suspects were tortured, where chinese were teached to obey authorities, be a good citizen=shut up.
Is that the chinese culture u r referring to? Have u ever read old chinese literature? They r packed with injustice, despotism, killing of innocents.

Nothing u said proved me wrong. The west is indeed more successful, the chinese system has proven not to be helpful in the development of China to become a more humanistic society.
Where is the chinese version of renaissance, age of enlightenment, french revolution, industrial revolution? Chinese progress in the last 300 years = 0.0000000

To jc:

I didnt know that using my own brain instead of repeating CCP- ideology, saying things as they are and not what ppl wish them to be makes me an unpleasant guy. I will try to be more pleasant. I will return to spitting, pushing, starring, hating japanese/koreans/americans, thinking china is the greatest civilisation ever, adoring the CCP and repeating their ideology again.

Last comment on this topic.

November 30, 2007 @ 3:53 am | Comment

Where is the chinese version of renaissance, age of enlightenment, french revolution, industrial revolution? Chinese progress in the last 300 years = 0.0000000

Do you realize, you naive sycophant, that during these times “the great west” committed thousands of atrocities, wiped out entire races of humanity, colonized vast swathes of land at the expense of the natives, enslaved black people for 400 years, and spread deadly diseases?

All of these are just catchphrases for juveniles like yourself to use in praise of something they don’t understand. Yes, sure, they did a lot for themselves but it came at a price for everyone else. These things didn’t magically erase corruption, nepotism, brutality, authoritarianism. They simply exported it. Look at Bush and Iraq. No matter how many demonstrations there were, or how much dissent, this time democratic means have failed to stop a psychopath from instigating a disastrous war.

Like I said, liberalized concepts like a culture of merit should be restored for everyone’s sake. Confucianism has brought China up in recent times. Self-hating imbeciles like the CCP and other monkeys imitating foreigners are the source of everything bad about modern China.

There is a natural progression, among all societies, to reject authoritarianism. China did so during the Republican Era, and yes Sun Yixian was indeed influenced by “the West”. Separation of powers, some amount of democracy, rule of law, etc are all good things. So is judging authority figures by an objective measure of merit and moderate Confucianism. Then there’s fiscal responsibility, austerity, honor, humanitarianism, but I won’t mention that since your type of Chinese apparently doesn’t grow up with Chinese people.

However, none of those ideas are strictly “western” ideas, unless you think being a puppeteer for third world dictators, denying other countries their sovreignty, assertations of racial superiority, and apartheid are democratic and humanitarian. All peoples around the world have struggled for self-rule; some had a longer road to take though, they had to get through “democratic” “Western” colonizers and invaders first.

Thus, an imaginged need for Ho Chi Minh and Mao Zedong was instilled in the minds of the masses.. and here you have today.

November 30, 2007 @ 7:35 am | Comment

assertion*

November 30, 2007 @ 7:38 am | Comment

YES! “me”, you’re my hero/heroine(?)

November 30, 2007 @ 11:40 am | Comment

I actually found that my Chinese language skills came on much better when I had a tutor in the UK, than with the lessons I have taken since living in China.

Since coming to China I have found it hard to improve my Chinese, what with having to work at the same time as well as the fact that many of the Chinese where I am working prefer to practice their English.

Speaking a few words can still make all the difference in casual conversations with Chinese wherever one goes in the country though. Still it does become quite disheartening at times. At least if I am not fluent by the time I leave I will have learnt some other skills instead, so my time here is not wasted. Even if that is just a better understanding of the people itself. Knowledge is never wasted.

November 30, 2007 @ 1:52 pm | Comment

I would tend to disagree with rynsa when they stated that learning mandatory English at school has diminished the Chinese language and culture. As a European we all tend to learn at least one extra language at school, in my case German, with some countries like Belgium and the Netherlands having to learn French, German and English in addition to their own languages. I don’t think that this has diminished their culture or language at all. The English language when it encounters words that it does not have tends to adopt them into itself, whereas in France they would make a French version of the word. Every country and culture will approach it in a different way.

I would tend to think that most of the culture within China was destroyed by Mao and the Cultural Revolution, however, much as I dislike Mao and everything he did in China, one of the things that did happen under him, that one could say did benefit the people was the simplification of the language. More Chinese now are able to converse and learn the language than happened in the past. Considering the fact that everyone has to learn English at school I can’t think that they are doing a very good job of it, as many of the Chinese one meets outside on the street have little or no spoken English ability.

To Me at November

What entire races of humanity were wiped out by westerners? Sure Genocide has taken place but I don’t believe entire races were completely eliminated, although there was some serious effort taking place to achieve this. Was it just westerners that enslaved people? I believe slavery has existed in every country at some point of its history, one of the biggest slaving groups being the Africans themselves. That western nations did support slavery for a period of time is in no doubt but I do know that it was western nations that helped to abolish slavery. Regarding the diseases that have been spread, the impact of western civilization into some 3rd world countries did cause such problems, but then many of the viruses around the world today have come from Guandong province in China. How many people were killed by the black plague in the 14th Century. How many were killed by the Spanish Influenza outbreak in the 20th century. Both of which are believed to have come from Asia

What western countries have done in the past has not always been good that is for sure, but at least, in many cases, most of those countries are admitting where they have made mistakes. Just remember though China is no innocent, they have invaded other countries, such as Korea, Vietnam, as well as other areas internally within China which we won’t name here and caused untold harm and suffering as well, not to mention all the people that have been killed in Chinas internal policies. So try not to blame purely western countries for such human failings. It is an eastern failing as well as a western one. Don’t forget Western society has also contributed to the benefit of all people through the development of internal medicine, human rights and such like.

November 30, 2007 @ 2:45 pm | Comment

” Yes, sure, they did a lot for themselves but it came at a price for everyone else. These things didn’t magically erase corruption, nepotism, brutality, authoritarianism. They simply exported it. Look at Bush and Iraq.” Posted by me at November 30,2007

Guy’s rebuttal’s good.
“It is an eastern failing as well as a western one. ”

Will “me” once again right the hamartia ?

I’m at the edge of my seat. Come on “me,” you can do it!

November 30, 2007 @ 3:30 pm | Comment

I disagree with the necessity of the simplification of the language. Traditional characters are not more difficult to learn than simplified, and often are easier to remember as the phonetic part of the character often survives. I think literacy rates in hong kong and taiwan bear this out. The simplification of the written language also has nothing to do with the ability of the chinese people to speak it. pronunication, grammar etc are identical whether or not you are learning traditional or simplified.

i think what all the raving han nationalists forget, or would rather not acknowledge, is that no culture stands still. all cultures adapt and change when dealing with the foreign. for example, tea was considered a barbarian drink until the spread of buddhism in the tang dynasty. apparently there are documents referring to it as horse piss. ditto sichuanese spices which did not originally come from sichuan but were brought in by foreign (i believe it might have been those dirty white men) traders.

ps i was hoping after my comments about chinese writing someone would come back and say “actually si you are wrong there is some excellent modern (ie post 1949, don’t say lu xun) chinese writing to be read. it is…..” anyone?

November 30, 2007 @ 4:33 pm | Comment

“It is an eastern failing as well as a western one. “

I didn’t deny this. However, if you look carefully and measure to your best ability the amount of human suffering caused by either side you’ll see the occurrences in the last 400 years were unprecendented in scale (though internal conflict elsewhere was devastating).

As for the black plague, it originated in Central Asia and was spread by the Mongols; who, as far as political/cultural elements are concerned, were directly opposite China and the rest of “Asia” (which is too large to be anything but a geographical term).

Likewise, I’d also say that “Western society” (I put it in quotes since “West” isn’t well-defined. Only to particular idiot fanboys in China who can’t tell the difference between one European country and another) has not contributed much at all to “the world”. Nearly all non-Europeans cannot afford modern medicine and technology. A good chunk, say, a billion people still live like they’re in 0 AD. Hell, even a large number of Americans can’t afford proper healthcare.

What the European ruling and upper classes did for themselves and themselves only though.. that is impressive.

December 1, 2007 @ 1:56 am | Comment

@me,
I don’t care if you’re from Washington DC or Beijing, Vancouver or London, Bombay, South Africa, Shanghai or Down under, you sure have a balanced view of human history. Bravo.

December 1, 2007 @ 9:02 am | Comment

Not having tried to learn the traditional characters I cannot say whether learning them is easier or not than the simplified ones brought in under Mao. I can only say that I have had enough trouble with the simplified ones… Maybe I should try learning the traditional ones instead. I think in the case of HK and Taiwan, it is not so comparable to the mainland itself as both countries were much smaller and easier to manage than the mainland, plus they had access to more modern teaching methods which would surely of helped. However not being a teacher myself I can’t be confident about that assumption. You could be correct though in that although literacy rates in the mainland have improved, it might not necessarily be because of the simplification of the language. Would be nice to get some other opinions on that.

Regarding the comments from ME. Sure the sufferings of humans of all races over the last 400 years has been terrible, but then that is always likely to occur when you get massive population growth, limited resources, massive developments in weapons and technology as well as greed and envy. Again I would say though that in that 400 year period how many conflicts were there in China, between Chinese forces of various warlords. How many people died in these conflicts, or during the aftermath of such conflicts? It would be interesting to do the comparison of how many people died by Chinese hands or western hands. I just don’t see how eastern nations are any more virtuous than western nations in such comparisons. War is terrible no matter where it takes place.

Central Asia typically encompassed part of western China… Or is Western China now not considered separate since it was independent of China at the time, being part of the Mongolian Empire… As for it being spread by the Mongolians, surely they are Chinese aren’t they. Isn’t that what Dr Sun stated, isn’t that why Inner Mongolia is in China? Still for sure they are not westerners though which was the main point that I was making. When you state that Westerners cause much suffering by spreading diseases you should remember that diseases can come from many racial groups and locations. Not just from Westerners, and a lot of those have historically come from China

If we look at western society we are looking at the capitalist US or Western European countries. As far as the US is concerned I am not quite sure how their health care system works, but from what I hear it is seriously screwed up, but for sure the advances in internal medicine have been truly amazing in the last century. Whether everyone has access to them in the US, I cannot comment on. Maybe someone else here can give some advice on that. As far as Western Europe is concerned you pay your taxes and you get treated. Sure the standard of treatment varies but even the unemployed can get treatment. Somewhat different in China though as it is not free here. You are correct in that maybe this technology does not benefit everyone around the world, but then surely it is upto the governments of each individual country to implement that. The development has been started and will continue to be improved. It then needs to be disseminated to wherever it can be. Medicine is only one advance though what about advances in radio, TV, or satellites or things like basic human rights.

All I am saying is you can’t put all the blame on one country or group of countries. Every country is guilty of something bad. The question is whether each individual country is willing to acknowledge that, or hide behind a wall and just ignore it.

December 3, 2007 @ 11:38 am | Comment

ps i was hoping after my comments about chinese writing someone would come back and say “actually si you are wrong there is some excellent modern (ie post 1949, don’t say lu xun) chinese writing to be read. It is…..”

Anyone?

Richard, You live in Taiwan. I suspect you may have some recommendations, yes?

December 3, 2007 @ 2:56 pm | Comment

“there hasn’t been really anything all that great written in the language since 红楼梦.”

Posted by: Brendan at November 28, 2007 04:48 AM

What?!

December 3, 2007 @ 3:11 pm | Comment

HKger this thread is pretty much dead, so don’t expect to get much response at this point. My reading level is not nearly high enough that for me to be ready to recommend Chinese writers. I have enough trouble getting through my early-intermediate (late elementary?) textbook…

I am living in Beijing now, by the way, not Taipei. If I could only change that artwork on my home page….

December 3, 2007 @ 3:27 pm | Comment

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