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Novels: Start reading Chinese gangster novel 《一半是火焰,一半是海水》by Wang Shuo

In my most challenging post yet, you’ll read the first chapter of controversial literary bad boy Wang Shuo’s dark plunge into the criminal underbelly of Beijing. HSK 6+, not suitable for children.

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Beginner

Short story: 《卜妻为裤》Buzi’s wife makes a pair of pants

A gentleman named Buzi (卜子) asks his wife (卜妻) to make him a new pair of pants (裤子), but he doesn’t give her very clear instructions. HSK 3-4.

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Intermediate

Communist folk tales: 《水缸的秘密》- The secret of the water jug

Our last Communist-themed post for the week: a classic revolutionary-era story about the man himself, Chairman Mao. HSK 4-5.

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Beginner

Communist folk tales: 《朱德的扁担》- Zhu De’s Carrying Pole

Zhu De (朱德) is an early Communist folk hero, and the founder of the People’s Liberation Army (解放军), also called the Red Army (红军). This popular revolutionary story highlights his willingness to toil alongside the rank and file soldiers. HSK 3-4.

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Political speech: Deng Xiaoping addresses the Hong Kong handover in 1984

In June, 1984, thirteen years before the Hong Kong handover, he gave this speech, addressing critics of the “One Country, Two Systems” (一个国家,两种制度)policy, which determined China’s approach to the handover. The policy maintained that different political systems would concurrently be implemented under one government. In other words, that mainland China would remain socialist, and that Hong Kong would remain capitalist (until 2047, anyway), but both would be ultimately overseen by the CCP. It was a radical notion at the time, and it still is in many ways. His words here are a fascinating look into the past.

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Beginner

Communist songs: 《东方红》- The East is Red

This song is a relic of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). The melody was adapted from an old farmer’s folk song back in 1942, and became popular when Mao Zedong’s (毛泽东) cult of personality was in full swing.

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Intermediate

Communist folk tales: The good deeds of Lei Feng

It’s Communism Week at CRP! I’m kicking off with some classic stories about the good deeds of Communist folk hero Lei Feng, the ultimate socialist Boy Scout. HSK 4-5.

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Beginner

Children’s Story: 最可口的食物 – The most appetizing meal

One picky little horse doesn’t appreciate the food he is served, until he sees what everyone else is eating. Upper-beginner, bordering on intermediate, HSK 4.

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Mythology: 女娲补天 – Nvwa Mends the Heavens

Doesn’t it seem like humankind has a collective memory of some prehistoric natural disaster built into our DNA? So many cultures have ancient myths about close calls with total destruction, be it Noah’s Ark, or the story of Atlantis, or in China’s case, “Nvwa Mends the Heavens” (女娲补天).

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Beginner

Children’s Story: 有学问的儿子 – The Learned Son

In this short story, a garden rake (草耙 – cǎo pá) teaches one stuck-up kid a lesson in humility. HSK 3-4.

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Intermediate

Essay: 《感谢困难》Thanking Life’s Challenges by Lin Qingxuan

You can skip your Instagram yoga gratitude break today, here’s another one from Taiwanese Buddhist essayist Lin Qingxuan (林清玄). HSK 4-5.

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Beginner

Fable: 天堂里的自由 – Freedom in Heaven

A little thrush (画眉 huà méi) trades one cage (笼子 lóng zi) for a bigger one, and doesn’t much like the upgrade. Suitable around HSK 3.

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Advanced

Novels: Start reading Chinese sci-fi novella 《赡养人类》by Liu Cixin

Assassins and spaceships and evil doings! Start reading Chapter One of the novel Support Human Beings by Liu Cixin, author of China’s most famous sci-fi Three Body Problem.

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Beginner

Story Behind the Idiom: 画蛇添足 – The dangers of showing off

This is the first 成语 backstory I recall reading in class. It’s about a guy who can’t help but flaunt his superior skill in front of others, and the nasty surprise he gets as a result. This is upper-beginner, HSK 4.

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Intermediate

Story behind the idiom: 画龙点睛 – Perfect words at a critical moment

This is the legend that underpins the idiom “画龙点睛”, which typically describes the use of a couple of perfectly-chosen words or sentences, added a critical moment in written works or spoken arguments, which illuminate a deeper meaning and give the content more power. The story itself, though, it about dragons, and is only tied to that concept in the loosest way.

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Beginner

Story Behind the Idiom: 盲人摸象 – To only partially understand something

This story is believed to have originated from a Buddhist sutra, the Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutra 《大般涅槃经》, donated to us by the content team over at Du Chinese. A challenge for HSK 2, should be smoother for HSK 3.

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Advanced

Folk tales of real people: 《岳飞纹字》Yue Fei’s Tattoo

Song dynasty warrior-poet and folk hero Yuefei (岳飞) gets a tattoo to remind himself of his duty to his country. This is an “advanced” post for three reasons: one, there are some words in here that can’t be found in the dictionary, two, there are quite a few proper names, and three, to understand this, you need to know a little bit about Song history.

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Beginner

Children’s Stories: 《胆小先生》Mr. Coward

Mr. Coward’s home is invaded by mice, but he doesn’t have the gumption to do anything about it. Or does he? This little story will be comfortable at HSK 3-4.

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Intermediate

Essay: 《蝴蝶的种子》Seed of a Butterfly by Lin Qingxuan

Taiwanese Buddhist essayist Lin Qingxuan marvels at the wonders of nature, time, space, and reincarnation. This piece is all about awe of the natural world, and you’ll learn some Discovery Channel vocab, like “pupa”, “mate”, “breed”, “spawn”, and lots of animal names.

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Beginner

Famous poetry: 《咏鹅》Ode to Geese by Luo Binwang

This well-known nursery jingle that Chinese kids learn in kindergarten was written 1400 years ago, by Tang Dynasty poet Luo Binwang, who, in the tradition of great artists everywhere, did some jail time for dissing the reigning empress. You don’t get much sense of Luo’s rebellious side in this short poem, though – it’s about geese, and that’s about it.