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Learn Chinese in China

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About this blog

This is a collection of the things I want to share about Chinese language, culture and other relevant stuff, probably updated concurrently with my personal Chinese-sharing blog. I will not only share learning tips because that's quite boring, but interesting stories behind the language and the culture also. If you're particularly interested in Chinese culture or want to go deep in studying the language, drop by and take a look!

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Daniel ZHPY

Why is 孝 particularly symbolic about Chinese culture?

If there's ever been a list of those things that sound especially Chinese, the character 孝(xiào) has to be one of them. Terms that go deep into Chinese culture often appear to be impossible to translate into western languages due to the huge difference between these languages and Chinese in nature. Western culture and Asian culture are completely different, especially for East and Southeast Asian nations. We have different value systems, social moral standards to judge a person and hold onto different philosophies and beliefs towards life. All these differences make 孝 so extremely important and special in Chinese culture, or more accurately, the culture in the whole East Asia. And this is why you can't perfectly translate this into English although you do have a phrase called "filial piety", which is not exactly the same as 孝 essentially.


As seen from the character itself, the bottom part is 子(zǐ), which means child, and the top represents the character 老(lǎo), which refers to elderly in the family. So the structure of the character vividly conveys the idea of 孝: the senior members of a family being supported and looked after by the younger generations.


Chinese culture is mainly influenced by two philosophies: Taoism and Confucianism. In Taoism, people are told to pursue a state called 无为(wú wéi) which literally means "doing nothing". But you may wonder how is it related to 孝? Well, to achieve 无为, Taoists believe that one must follow the rules of nature and accomplish oneself both physically and spiritually, in order to get rid of any "impurities" inside a person's body and mind. Taoism claims that a man can only live once, so one must be well educated, live healthily, enrich the mind regularly and substantially, follow moral values strictly and control human desires in order to sublime oneself. And here the idea of obeying moral values is introduced into the philosophy, and "filial piety" is undoubtedly one of the most essential human virtues.


When Confucianism came to the historical stage and gradually became the belief of the mainstream of the whole society, the concept of 君子(jūn zǐ) was regarded as a lifelong goal for a civil man. 君子 basically means an accomplished and well-educated man who is ideally thought to have no moral weakness. Based on that, in ancient times people tended to judge a person according to his moral values completely, and one's knowledge and talents were sometimes neglected. From then on, the Chinese culture had derived a series of virtues that determine a 君子. And 孝 was included as one of the main virtues. In Confucianism, there're five things regarded as the most worth worshipping, which are 天(tiān), 地(dì), 君(jūn), 亲(qīn), 师(shī), referring to the sky, the earth, the monarch, parents and teachers. You can see how much emphasis was being put onto 孝 just by the way Confucianism kind of equates the worship and respect of parents to that of the sky and the earth, given that the worship towards the nature was extremely strong in ancient times. There's also 百善孝为先(bǎi shàn xiào wéi xiān), "among all the virtues, 孝 comes first". During long history of China's ancient dynasties, 不孝 was continuously one of the most serious crime and  listed as one of the ten most evil sins.


In ancient China, behaviours considered as 不孝罪(bù xiào zuì, crime of 不孝) include:

-report or reveal your parents' crimes

-say vulgarities to your parents

-curse your parents

-save money for yourself or move out of the family while your parents are living

-fail to try your best to support and satisfy your parents in their lives

-get married during your parents' funeral period

-have entertainment activities during your parents' funeral period

-take off funeral clothing and wear colourful clothes during your parents' funeral period

-conceal your parents' death, don't tell others about their death or don't arrange a funeral

-lie that your parents have died


孝 helps construct a society in China in which people instinctively take up their duties to look after the parents, giving them full respect and supporting them both financially and mentally with the best efforts. And it's also seen as a person's very responsibility to obey the parents without any condition and a despicable behaviour to talk back to the parents to defy them in an aggressive manner. There's a saying, 小杖受大杖走(xiǎo zhàng shòu dà zhàng zǒu), meaning that when your parents punish you mildly, you have to be willing to receive it, but you should hide from those fierce punishments. Though here it mentions you needn't accept your parents' criticism all the time, the best you can do is only to run away rather than "fight back". Therefore according to 孝, you're not supposed to go against your parents under any situation even though they're unreasonable or wrong.


The concept of 孝 also strengthens an unshakeable respect and tolerance towards the elderly. In Tang Dynasty, an elderly person (maybe over 80 or so I'm not sure about the age) could practically shit on the floor of the emperor's palace without being punished at all because that was his right based on the age. One of the most well-known dictum of Confucius is 七十而从心所欲,不逾矩, meaning that after 70 years old, one can do whatever he wants and anything he does is seen as acceptable. This spirit in Chinese culture establishes great protection, respect, understanding and support for elderly population, making the society more harmonious and stable.


However it also led to problems. The most infamous one is the excessively extreme emphasis on 孝. To promote the virtue of 孝, some scholars in ancient times invented a series of stories called 二十四孝(èr shí sì xiào), The 24 Stories of 孝, some of which are ridiculous and against human nature in a modern view. One of the stories describes a man killed his own son who was only a baby just to ensure his mother could eat enough food during the famine, which is totally inhuman. In history till now, Chinese people have been continuously making efforts to cut off these negative aspects in 孝. Traditionally, we have a Chengyu, 大义灭亲(dà yì miè qīn), which means to sacrifice the relationship between families for the sake of justice, usually involving reporting your relatives' crimes. In modern times, while the government is still trying hard to protect the traditional 孝 spirit, they also encourage people to objectively and properly view it. There're official legislation and law made to regulate inappropriate behaviour and crimes related to 孝 which are much more reasonable than the ancient ones. Also, the government collaborated with several organisations to come out The New 24 Stories of 孝 and they're closer to our real life and more relevant to the present era.


The world is changing, so is the concept of 孝. However, no matter how it adapts to the current society, one thing will remain unchanged and that's the care, support and respect towards the parents and 孝 will definitely be kept as one of the core ideologies of Chinese culture forever.


Daniel ZHPY

Why is it 吃醋 but not anything else?

吃醋(chī cù), literally meaning "drinking vinegar", is commonly used as an idiomatic phrase to say a person being jealous because someone close (usually a lover or sometimes a family member) to him/her is having pleasant interactions with a third party. In today's society in China, 吃醋 within an appropriate range is often considered as a sign of affection and love. If a girl "drinks vinegar" when spotting her boyfriend interact pleasantly with another girl, the general opinion will point out that the girl is taking the relationship seriously with quite some care and values the accompany of the boy. However, have you ever wondered, why is jealousy related to vinegar but not other things? Well, there're several stories and each of them is quite interesting. Now let's take a look at those "vinegar stories"!


  • Story of the Lion's Roar: 

There was an emperor of the Ming Dynasty who kept two lions in his palace. And according to some historical recordings, he fed the lions with two bottles of vinegar per day. But how's a lion fed with vinegar related to jealousy? There's another story called "the lion's roar from the east of the river". Su Shi (苏轼), one of the greatest poets in China's history, who lived in the Song Dynasty, had a friend called Chen Jichang (陈季常) who had married a very jealous wife. When Chen Jichang treated his guests to a meal with geisha girls accompanying, the wife would tap the wall with a wooden stick and insult the guests to force them leave. Since Chen Jichang was a Buddhist, Su Shi used "lion's roar" which was a terminology in Buddhism for the solemn voice of the Buddha to teasingly  describe the wife's angry voice while insulting the guests. He wrote in one poem that 忽闻河东狮子吼,拄仗落手心茫然, which means "suddenly hearing the lion's roar from the east of the river, his stick fell off his hand with his heart in chaos." From then on, "lion's roar" was used to refer to a jealous wife, and hence "drinking vinegar", which is related to a lion, became a phrase for jealousy.


  • Story of the Vinegar That Has Gone Bad:

This one needs a bit of background information to understand. In ancient China, it was legal for a man to have several wives. Back to the main topic, in some southern areas in China, people thought it was unsuitable for a family to make two jars of vinegar at the same time as one of them must go bad over time without being consumed. This was then used to connote the belief that a man shouldn't marry more than one wife or disharmony would be created among family members. Therefore, some people in Qing Dynasty thought that this could be the origin of 吃醋.


  • Sour Taste Theory

In ancient China, vinegar was the main ingredient to add sour taste to the food. Hence the meaning of vinegar was extended to "sour", which could refer to a painful emotion sometimes. So people related 吃醋 to jealousy to express a feeling of bitterness.


  • Story of Fang Xuanling's Wife

So far, this is the story acknowledged and believed by most of people for the origin of 吃醋. Fang Xuanling (房玄龄) was one of the Prime Ministers in the Tang Dynasty during the reign of Li Shimin (李世民), who was probably the most highly esteemed and the greatest (well at least in my personal opinion) emperor in China's history. To award Fang's great contribution in helping him win the throne, the emperor wanted to send a beauty to him but declined for several times. The emperor then heard that Fang's wife was very jealous, so he told his queen to negotiate with the wife. However, all the attempts had failed. So the emperor went angry, and acclaimed that if she didn't give in, the only solution was to have herself executed. The wife insisted and claimed she would be willing to die. The emperor commanded his servant to get a goblet of poisonous wine and told the wife, "if you mean it, drink up this goblet of poisonous wine." The wife, without hesitation, took the goblet of wine and drained it with one gulp. In fact, however, the wine was not actually poisoned. After that, the emperor gave up awarding Fang with the beauty and remarked, "even I am afraid to see her, no wonder Fang Xuanling would be so!"

Daniel ZHPY

Why are there two sets of characters for numerals in Chinese?

If you have studied Chinese for a long time, one thing you might have noticed and felt strange about the language is that we have two sets of characters for numerals. In most of the languages, this is not gonna make any sense simply because — why on earth do you need other characters for numerals which can already be written with such simple strokes? Actually, I myself, like many other native Chinese, also got puzzled by the fact there's another set of way more complex characters for numerals in my childhood time. But after I found out the reason later, this fact suddenly became rather rational and necessary to me. For those who are also confused by it, I'm going to reveal the real reason of having two sets of numeral characters.


Firstly, I'll briefly list those two sets of characters with the corresponding Arabic Numerals here.


















The more complex set of characters is called 大写数字(Capital Numerals) and the simpler one, 小写数字(Lower-case Numerals). The only difference between them is that Capital Numerals are used specifically in writing the amount of a cheque, a remittance note or any formal bank statement together with the Arabic Numerals. The reason in doing so is to make it much harder, in fact almost impossible, to change the number in those statement by altering strokes. Since both Lower-case Numerals and Arabic Numerals are structurally simple and easy to be changed by adding a few strokes, these complex characters are introduced to prevent cheating and fraud. You now may be thinking that people had invented those characters, but they've been existing for thousands of years already only with different meanings in ancient times. Here're the original meanings of these characters:

壹——专一的 single-minded; totally concentrated and focused

贰——变节,叛变 to betray; to start a rebellion

叁——“参”的另一种写法,加入,接见 an alternative way to write 参(cān) meaning "to join; to receive somebody"

肆——任意妄为 to be rebellious and do whatever one is desiring irresponsibly without discernment

伍——军队中的单位,五人为一伍 a unit in military that consists of five soldiers is called a 伍(wǔ)

陆——高出水面而平坦的陆地 a flat land above the water

柒——漆树,漆料 lacquer; trees from which lacquer is made

捌——一种用于聚拢谷物的工具 a tool used for gathering and piling grains

玖——黑色的美石 a black and exquisite stone

拾——捡 to pick up

念——惦记 to think of something continuously

佰——统率一百人的军官 a military officer who is the leader of a troop of a hundred soldiers

仟——统率一千人的军官 a military officer who is the leader of a troop of a thousand soldiers


Then here comes another interesting question for us to think about: it seems that most of these characters are completely irrelevant to numbers, so how was the idea of using them to record money invented? Here's the story:


The idea of using these characters for numbers was first raised up approximately 1300 years ago during the Tang Dynasty (唐朝) when Emperor Wu Zetian (武则天) reigned the country. 武则天(wǔ zé tiān) was one of the most famous, powerful and wisest emperors in China's history and also the only female emperor ever (notice I deliberately avoid using "empress"). She was one of the most creative and innovative people in ancient times who dared to create new characters for her own. Among those characters created by her, two of those preserved became the most well-known. One is 曌(zhào), referring to the moon shining brightly on the sky, and it was used as Wu Zetian's official name to show off her majesty and wisdom. The other one is exactly the alternative way to write the capital zero, 〇(líng). Something amazing and fascinating about this character is that it's the only one that ever existed in China's history written with a non-standard circular stroke. And for some reasons that still remain unknown, she first came up with the idea of replacing numerals with Capital Numerals. 


Although Wu Zetian was regarded a rather controversial historical figure even during the time in Tang Dynasty, her idea about Capital Numerals was well preserved somehow. By the time Song Dynasty (宋朝) took the place to rule the country, all arithmetical numbers in official document of the government had to be written with Capital Numerals. And the government adopted this measure intentionally for the purpose of preventing embezzlement. A scholar of Song Dynasty, Cheng Dachang (程大昌), wrote in his book 《演繁露·十数改用画字》that 今官府文书凡计其数,皆取声同而画多者改用之。于是壹、贰、叁、肆之类,本皆非数,直是取同声之字,借以为用,贵点画多不可改换为奸耳。(Currently, all official document and statements have adopted homonyms with complex strokes to replace simple numeral characters as long as they are to record numbers for arithmetical or accounting purposes. Here the characters used, such as 壹, 贰, 叁, 肆, were all not referring to numerals originally. The government just selected homonyms for numeral characters and adopted them into use, valuing the fact that they cannot be tampered with for evildoing due to the complexity of the strokes.) This shows that the Song government had already realised and valued the advantages of using Capital Numerals as in prevention of cheating in economic activities.


However, the use of Capital Numerals wasn't written into the law by strict legislation and widespread until the Ming Dynasty about 700 years ago. During the first emperor of the dynasty, Zhu Yuanzhang (朱元璋)'s reign, a huge and extremely serious corruption case was reported, which had astonished the whole country afterwards. Guo Huan (郭桓), the contemporary 户部侍郎 (Vice Minister of Finance), conspired with a number of officials from 刑部 (Ministry of Police Force), 工部 (Ministry of Land and Construction), 兵部 (Ministry of National Defence), 礼部 (Ministry of Education and Diplomacy) and governors and lairds from many provinces to embezzle grains, salts and other agricultural products which were supposed to be collected as taxation during that time. The amount of the embezzlement, converted to rice grains (which were the standard way to calculate tax), was about 120 million kilograms, which was almost equal to the amount of grains actually received by the government as taxation for a whole autumn. The emperor was extremely infuriated by the corruption case and executed thousands of officials involved, with a countless number of officials imprisoned, exiled and convicted. Ever since then, it was strictly legislated that all characters used for arithmetical recordings in accounting documents must be changed to Capital Numerals, which has been preserved till today.


Daniel ZHPY

Unexpected loanwords in Chinese which came from English!

Just like the enormously large portion of English vocabulary that was from other languages, in Chinese there're also quite a number of vocabulary with foreign origins. Over centuries, people adopted vocabulary from other languages to express concepts that were not common in local context. And when this vocabulary became a habit in conversations, those words adapted themselves into the Chinese language, just like how English has borrowed vocabulary from French, Latin, Greek, etc.. However, within the loanwords in Chinese, some may sound particularly Chinese despite they originated outside of China. Here I've selected some of those unexpected Chinese loanwords:



  1. 酷(kù): 酷 is a transcription of the English word "cool", which serves as an exclamatory particle to describe someone is awesome in their appearances or actions. Originally, 酷 means a serious or severe situation, as in the words "酷热"(kù rè, scorching) "酷刑"(kù xíng, savage tortures). However, with the concept borrowed along with the loanword, new words and phrases also have been invented using 酷 such as "酷炫"(kù xuàn, awesome and dazzling) "酷毙了"(kù bì le, dead awesome).
  2. 引擎(yǐn qíng): in Chinese, 引 can mean "to trigger off" and 擎 means "to lift and hold". Combined together, the word can actually be interpreted literally as "to trigger of a power that sustain a movement", which somehow fits well with the meaning of the original word from the English "engine". 
  3. 卡通(kǎ tōng): this word comes from "cartoon". Similarly, the Chinese transliteration is also close to the original meaning by literal interpretation. 卡 means a card, and 通 can mean "easily understood". Hence 卡通 can be interpreted as "things drawn on a piece of paper that can be easily understood", which is one characteristic of cartoon.
  4. 幽默(yōu mò): if you want to praise someone by saying he's witty, 幽默 might probably be the most frequently used word. If somebody is 幽默, they are adept in inventing quality jokes and playing with words to create a comical and relaxing atmosphere for a conversation. But actually this word comes from "humour", and was added the meaning as an adjective in Chinese.
  5. 逻辑(luó jí): another splendid transliteration from English to Chinese. 逻 in Chinese means "to observe the surroundings vigilantly" and 辑 means "to compile information together after rearrangement and analysis". Thus, the word "logic" was introduced into Chinese with the meaning of "the process of gathering, contemplating, analysing, rearranging and interpreting information to draw a conclusion."
  6. 苦力(kǔ lì): differently, the word 苦力 looks exactly like a word with Chinese origin. Even the formation of this word follows the patterns of Chinese strictly. 苦 means "bitter", often representing sufferings and tough times in life. 力 means "force" or "labour". So 苦力 is a perfect combination of characters with the meaning of "hard labour(er)". However, shockingly, it actually came from the taboo "coolie".
  7. 台风(tái fēng): the story of this word would be the most intriguing one. In Mandarin Chinese, 台风 is a transliteration of "typhoon". Interestingly, however, the word "typhoon" came from the word 大风 in Cantonese. Therefore, in fact, 台风 is a loanword of a loanword in English that came from Cantonese, a dialect of Chinese.
Daniel ZHPY

The loanword which is seemingly a Chengyu — 歇斯底里

Here's an amazing fact about a loanword in Chinese which is casually thought by many people to be a Chengyu. The word is 歇斯底里(xiē sī dǐ lǐ). Even by appearance, we would recognise it as a Chengyu, not to mention that it looks seemingly like a concise idiom just like all other Chengyu.


However, the word actually came from "hysteria", which is a specialised medical term for a mental disease that makes the patients experience extreme and uncontrollable emotions. It's hard to tell whether the word is first translated as a technical term or not, but the corresponding Chinese transcription, 歇斯底里, did have been used for the same disease before.


What is the most amazing about this word is, despite it IS a medical term used in specialised context, it seems to appear in casual usage much more frequently. People use it just like some casual or informal Chengyu and idioms, which has somehow turned 歇斯底里 into a daily idiom as well. Usually, 歇斯底里 is used to describe a mental condition of a person which makes the person have an extreme feeling that stirs him unnaturally, often with extremely uncontrollable emotions or behaviours.

Daniel ZHPY

Start from the native level!

Just like any other languages in the world, before you start to learn Chinese, there're some necessary preparation work that needs to be done. This includes reference books (e.g. dictionaries), assistant apps and general knowledge about the Chinese language. I know there're plenty of recommendations online nowadays, so I won't talk about those popular learning apps or Oxford Chinese Dictionary that sort of things. Instead, I'm trying to suggest learning materials from the perspective of a native speaker and reveal what native students are using to study Chinese. Although this can be disadvantageous for beginners as they're mainly for native speakers' use, it's great pro is you've got the chance to get the most authentic and precise learning reference. (At least when I throw my English-Chinese dictionary away and pick up an English-English dictionary my English did improve drastically after some initial struggles.😉)


  • Reference books

To learn Chinese efficiently, these reference books would be important as they serve as tools to look up information of the language to help explain your questions. I've listed several useful reference books below from which you can choose according to your needs.



  • Xinhua Dictionary, 11th edition(《新华字典》第十一版)

Xinhua Dictionary was the very first modern Chinese dictionary published in 1953 and has been edited for 11 times until now. It is the most famous and authoritative dictionary in China. Basically the dictionary includes pronunciation, stroke orders, definitions, example sentences, idioms & slang and commonly-used words for basic characters. One disadvantage is that it is of course all in Chinese, which means it is difficult for a beginner to use. For intermediate and advanced level (or those who can read Chinese without much difficulty), however, it's definitely the best Chinese dictionary for learners.1.jpg

  • Modern Chinese Dictionary, 7th edition (《现代汉语词典》第七版)

Modern Chinese Dictionary is the standard dictionary for junior high school students designated by the education departments and it's the first standard dictionary that includes every single words in Chinese. Compared to Xinhua Dictionary, it mainly focuses on the definition of a character and words including this character. Just like the Oxford Dictionary, you can practically find every word in it, even slang and some common words in dialects! It's also suggested that this dictionary is more suitable for those who have a foundation of Chinese and can read it relatively easily since it's also all in Chinese.



  • Chinese-English Dictionary, 3rd edition (《汉英词典》第三版)

Chinese-English Dictionary was compiled under the order of Chairman Mao Zedong in 1971. Its aim is specifically for foreign Chinese learners (especially English speakers) to have an authoritative dictionary. The entries are in English and sometimes with illustration figures to help explain some unique Chinese concepts. Also there's a substantial amount of examples and explanations to help learners understand the words better. Some entries also include a "antonyms" session. And beside common words, frequently-seen specialised words or technical terms are included as well. This dictionary is very beginner-friendly for those who have just started Chinese learning.


  • Chengyu Dictionary (《成语大词典》)*Publisher: 商务印书馆

One amazing thing you can learn in Chinese is Chengyu, which is usually four-character idioms that are highly concise in the meaning to express a sometimes rather complex idea. But this is also many learners feel especially difficult for Chinese because they're often closely related to traditional Chinese culture or historical stories, and appear in the form of classical Chinese which is structurally different from modern Chinese. This dictionary is a specific Chengyu dictionary with thousands of entries including definitions, origins, example sentences of Chengyus. And it's also the designated dictionary for junior high school Chinese subject.


  • Apps and websites that help

Nowadays there're plenty of apps available for language learning. Here I'd like to recommend some that have a better support for Chinese.


  • Baidu Translate (百度翻译)

Baidu Translate is a local Chinese app which is similar to Google Translate but I found that Baidu provides more accurate translations for Chinese. One fantastic feature about it is that it can recognise scripts in pictures, which is useful when you come across a road sign or that sort of things.

  • Youtube

There's no need to explain for this. Basically you can find loads of Chinese-tutorial videos on Youtube and some of them are really excellent.

  • Iqiyi (爱奇艺)

If you want to watch Chinese TV shows or movies but can't find them, try this Chinese local video website! There're a number of TV programmes in Chinese with subtitles. Similar websites include Tencent (腾讯), Youku (优酷)and Sohu (搜狐). One problem though: some of the videos might not be able to open in some countries due to technical issues (sometimes they say there's no copyright but I don't understand why).

Daniel ZHPY

Occupation affix particles in Chinese

In most of the world's languages, you can turn a word into its respective occupation by adding affixes to it. However, as Chinese doesn't conjugate, we attach an additional character to a word instead to form that corresponding job. One aspect in which Chinese differs from English when forming occupation words is that in English, what suffix is used depends mainly on the origins of words, but in Chinese people choose occupation particles based on the properties and characteristics of that job. Here're some practically and frequently used occupation particles in Chinese.



家, with its original meaning of a family or a clan, can be extended to refer to a particular philosophy, theory or ideology. Hence, when it's used to form an occupation word, that occupation would be usually related to a professional skill, interest or talent. For example:

-文学家: a person who has been educated on literature — a litterateur.

-画家: a person who is professional in drawing — a painter.

-科学家: a person who has professional knowledge about science — a scientist.

-音乐家: a person who is well-educated and professional in music — a musician.

-美食家: a person who is passionate and authoritative in appraising foods — a gourmet.

It's good to note that when two different occupation words are derived from the same origin, the one with 家 added often has a higher level of profession, authority or recognisation. For instance, 歌手 and 歌唱家 are both people who take singing as their jobs, but 歌唱家 is definitely regarded as an artist while 歌手 is probably just a public performer or a pop song singer.

Another interesting fact is that when we come to players for specific musical instruments, the only two that are conventionally named with 家 are 钢琴家, a pianist and 小提琴家, a violinist.



师 originally means a teacher or an adviser. When a job is named with 师 attached, it refers to people who are well-trained or experienced in a particular area. The difference between it and 家 is that a 师 may not necessarily have the profession or talent. Here're some examples:

-教师: a person who is trained to teach others — a teacher.

-厨师: a person who is trained to work in a kitchen — a cook.

-理发师: a person who is trained to manage people's hair — a barber.

-会计师: a person who is trained to account money — an accountant.



手 means hands, thus referring to people who have high skills or talents, but only in a small area. Unlike 家, a XX手 usually doesn't have an overall profession in a general field, but in a much more specific section. It is very often seen in players of a particular instrument. For example:

-鼓手: a person whose task is to play the drums — a drummer.
-吉他手: a person who plays the guitar — a guitarist.

-小号手: a person who plays the trumpet — a trumpeter.

-舵手: a person who is responsible for managing and controlling the helm — a helmsman.



工 means originally work or labour. Hence it is usually used to name those jobs that need hard labour or manual processes. For example:

-技工: a person hired to manage technical issues — a technician.

-水管工: a person paid to repair waterpipes — plumber.

-电工: a person paid to check and fix electrical devices — an electrician.

-油漆工: a person who paints buildings — a painter.



匠 basically means a craftsman, so it is used for any job related to crafting and designing. Though it also involves laborious processes often, it's different from 工 as the labour is done in order to craft or make a certain object or artefact. For example:

-木匠: a person who uses woods to do handicrafts — a carpenter.

-铁匠: a person who crafts metal objects — a blacksmith.


Daniel ZHPY

A systematic way to analyse and study Chinese expressions of numbers

  • Basic numbers in Chinese

In Chinese, there are only TEN characters you need to learn before you can express basically every number including the extremely huge ones. These ten characters are:


零(líng) ----- zero ----- 0

一(yī) ----- one ----- 1

二(èr) ----- two ----- 2

三(sān) ----- three ----- 3

四(sì) ----- four ----- 4

五(wǔ) ----- five -----5

六(liù) ----- six ----- 6

七(qī) ----- seven ----- 7

八(bā) ----- eight ----- 8

九(jiǔ) ----- nine ----- 9

十(shí) ----- ten ----- 10

百(bǎi) ----- hundred ----- 100

千(qiān) ----- thousand ----- 1000

万(wàn) ----- ten thousand ----- 10000

亿(yì) ----- hundred million ----- 100000000


So you might be wondering: how do we Chinese express numbers between 10 and 100, 100 and 1000 and so on since the words don't conjugate? The answer is simple: by arithmetic rules, we just tie two characters together to form a compound word for those numbers. Number words in Chinese functions similarly as Roman numerals: given two consecutively placed characters for numbers, when a smaller number is tied after a bigger one, we add them together; when a smaller number is put before a bigger one, we multiply them together. By this rule, we can express any numbers using only nine characters through calculations!


Let's look at some examples:

-十七: literally translated as "ten seven", you could see the smaller number "seven" is placed after the bigger one "ten", so we add seven to ten and get — you're right, seventeen!

-三十: now this one is "three ten", or "three tens" in a sense. Three, the smaller one, is before the bigger one, ten, so we take three times ten and this word means thirty!

-六十一: this starts to be a little bit more complex. We firstly notice "six" is before "ten", so we multiply them to get a sixty. Then there's another "one" after it, so we add one to sixty. Thus this word represents sixty-one.

(Tip: you may have already noticed by now that the order of operations to get a compound Chinese number word is exactly the same as the four arithmetic rule: multiply first before addition.)

-二百五十三: this is getting even more complex. Adhering to the rule mentioned in the last example, we firstly multiply a hundred by two and ten by five, then add everything together. In short, this word can be figured out by 2×100+5×10+3=253, two hundred and fifty-three.

-十二万六千: here may cause you some confusion as you'll find that with the rule above, you're gonna get 10+2×10000+6×1000=26010 which is incorrect. Now, in Chinese, 万 is like "thousand" in English, before which you can put a number more than nine. (What I mean by this is that it makes sense to say "eleven thousand" while not if you say "eleven hundred".) Therefore, any number before 万 that is within the range 1 to 9999 is considered as a entirety. So you need to multiply 万 with the whole number before it. In this case, it's 12×10000+6×1000=126000. The same rule goes for 亿.


Notice: another difference in Chinese number words is we divide big numbers in 4-digit groups. This is why Chinese has a character for ten thousand (万) and a hundred million (亿). In contrary, we use compound words instead to express "million" "billion" etc.. (million is 百万, billion is 十亿)


Now let's move to a slightly more advanced level.



  • The use of "0" in Chinese

Zero is an extremely important number, especially in Chinese, because there would be so many ambiguities in modern Chinese expressions of numbers if zero was not introduced. For instance, let's look at these three numbers:

-一百五(yī bǎi wǔ)

-一百五十(yī bǎi wǔ shí)

-一百零五(yī bǎi líng wǔ)

Applying the rules you've just learned in the previous session, you may get confused and wonder: aren't the first and last numbers the same? You take 100+5=105 and 100+0+5=105 but only find out later that in fact the first and second numbers are the same. Then you get even more confused because 100+5 obviously can't be equal to 100+5×10!

However, here is the thing: when 十, 百, 千 are not included in the first 4-digit group in a number and the digits after them are only occupied by zero, we often omit them in spoken language. So numbers like 130, 1300, 13000 are also spoken as 一百三(十), 一千三(百) and 一万三(千). Hence in this example, 一百五 actually means 150!

By this, we clearly see the fact that how huge a confusion will occur if zero is not used in modern Chinese. A zero helps indicate the "empty" digits in a number to avoid ambiguity. Here are rules of the use of zero:

1. if after a digit of a number, all the rest of the digits are zero, those zeros are not spoken.

2. if there's a zero in between two digits when the number is written in Arabic Numerals, the zero is spoken to indicate the "empty" digit. The pronunciation is "líng"(零).

3. Only one zero is pronounced no matter how many are there as long as they are in consecutive digits.


Here are some examples:

-10000: although there are 4 zeros in the number, since they are all at the end of the number, they're not pronounced. So this is 一万 instead of 一万零, just like in English we say "ten thousand" instead of "ten thousand zero" or that sort of weird things.

-101: in this 3-digit number, the 1st and 3rd digits are occupied by 1 and a zero is in between. Since after zero there's still an occupied digit, it should be pronounced. So this is 一百一.

-10001: so here is what I mean by "zeros in consecutive digits". Firstly we can tell that zero should be pronounced as a 1 is after all the zeros. But despite there're three zeros next to each other, we don't say it thrice. Instead, we only pronounce one zero. So this is 一万零一.

-10050: now try to combine those rules together. The two zeros between 1 and 5 are consecutive, so only one zero is pronounced. And the zero at the end is not pronounced as there's no more digit. In conclusion, this is supposed to be 一万零五十.

-1010: the reason why I show a seemingly identical example as the last one is that there is a small little detail that needs to be noticed. Though we know that 10 is pronounced as 十, we don't say 一千十 here as it sounds rather awkward. To obtain a smoother flow and rhythm of the voice, this is pronounced as 一千零一十.


  • Decimals in Chinese (decimals ----- 小数(xiǎo shù) ----- "tiny numbers")

In English, there're several ways to pronounce a decimal. For example, for 3.15 we can say "three point one five" or "three fifteen"; for 0.08 we can say "zero point zero eight" or less formally "zero point O eight". However, in Chinese there is only one way to say a decimal. The decimal point is read as 点(diǎn) (but its name itself is 小数点 xiǎo shù diǎn). And everything after the decimal point you just read them one by one. As simple as that, right? Let's look at some examples:

-1.15: 一点一五(yī diǎn yī wǔ). So although after the decimal point the thing seems to be fifteen you pronounce them individually. This is the same as the ordinary way to do it in English.

-1.10030: 一点一零零三零(yī diǎn yī líng líng sān líng). One thing you should have noticed here is that the rules of zero's not applicable for decimal places. After the decimal point, no matter where the zero is and how many zeros there are, every individual numeral is required to be read out.


  • Fractions in Chinese (fractions ----- 分数 ----- "divided numbers")

Fractions might not be heard as frequently as decimals but are still quite commonly used. Same as decimals, whilst you may have two ways to say the fraction 2/3 in English as "two thirds" and "two over three", generally there's only one way to say it in Chinese for daily conversations.(if you want to discuss about mathematics we do have other ways but who will be so mathematical in casual conversations?) In Chinese, the numerator and the denominator are pronounced as integers as usual, the fraction line is read as 分之(fēn zhī) (again its name itself is 分数线 fēn shù xiàn). So, take 2/3 as an example. In Chinese you say it as 三分之二, which is a more logical way to express it as it literally means "take two in three parts". One difference between Chinese and English here is that in English you say the numerator first while in Chinese it's denominator first. The rationale behind is you must decide the total portions into which you divide something before you can ascertain how many portions you've taken.



-5/8: 八分之五(bā fēn zhī wǔ)

-1111/3333: 三千三百三十三分之一千一百一十一(no Pinyin for this one because it's gonna be crazily long). This example is to highlight that there's only one way to say a fraction even though it's such a long one.

-8/5: 五分之八(wǔ fēn zhī bā). Even improper fractions also follow the same rule strictly.


  • Percentages in Chinese (percentages ----- 百分数 ----- "numbers divided by 100")

Percentage has the same difference in ways to pronounce between English and Chinese as fractions. In English we read a percentage by normal reading order, while in Chinese we read the percentage sign first followed by the figure. The percentage sign is read as 百分之(bǎi fēn zhī) (the name of the sign itself is called a 百分号 bǎi fēn hào). So following the rule mentioned, 10% is read as 百分之十(bǎi fēn zhī shí). Make sure you read the sign before the figure.



-0.050%: 百分之零点零五零(bǎi fēn zhī líng diǎn líng wǔ líng). Those rules for decimals are applicable in percentages.

-100%: 百分之一百(bǎi fēn zhī yī bǎi). This is something worth taking down a note. Actually in real life people rarely say 百分之一百. In fact, "一" is often omitted and sometimes even "之" as well. So you would frequently hear 百分之百 or 百分百.


Notice: usually in a news report when percentage is used in a trend to express a rate of increase or decrease, despite saying "上升(下降)百分之三", a more formal and professional way is to say "上升(下降)三个百分点". If you ever watch Chinese news please don't get confused.


  • The use of 几(jǐ)

This is one of the simplest characters you can find in Chinese so there seems to be no reason to not remember it if you want to study Chinese... Now going back to the main topic, 几 basically means "several" or "a few". It's used to replace any integer between 1 and 10. When it comes to speaking, just add this character in at the digit that needs to be approximated. You can also use 几 alone (with a measure word if required) to express a single-digit number. Let's use some examples to make it clearer.

-十几(shí jǐ): literally means "ten and a few". By saying so, you assume the number is an integer between 10 and 20.

-几十(jǐ shí): when you swap the two characters in the last example, you amazingly get "several tens", which implies the number might be 10, 20, 30, 40, etc. till 90. The same usage is applicable before 百, 千, 万, 亿.

-零点几(líng diǎn jǐ): when used for decimals, since everything after the decimal point is read as single-digit numbers individually, you can use 几 repeatedly to express "zero point something". An approximate number with two decimal places would be, for instance, 零点几几, and with three decimal places, 零点几几几 and so on. See the pattern?

-有几个(yǒu jǐ gè): this literally means "have how many" and you can use it to construct a question to ask for quantities of something which are between 1 and 10.


  • The use of 多(duō)

After learning 几, you may have a question: now I know how to say an approximate figure between 1 and 10, but how about things like "dozens"? No worries, compared to 几, there's another word which can more generally replace any numbers. And that word is 多, which means "many". It functions like the English word "some", by which you'll never know what exactly is the number being referred to. The way to use it is to place it after a confirmed digit. And unlike 几, it cannot be used alone to represent a single-digit number, neither can it go in front the confirmed part of the number. It is used in decimals but much less commonly. Here're some examples:

-一百多(yī bǎi duō): "a hundred and many". By this phrase you're referring to an uncertain quantity within the range 100-200. One thing to take note is that we never say 一百几 in this case, neither do we say 一万几, 一千几 in normal conversations.

-二十多(èr shí duō): it is the same as saying 二十几. The only difference is the latter could be used for a question to ask for further confirmation of the number.

-十多(shí duō): please take note that usually nobody will use this to represent a number itself alone. For a number from 10 to 20 itself, 十几 is the correct way to say it. But when combined with a measure word, such as 个(gè), both 十多个 and 十几个 are correct, only witn the former more frequently seen in formal and literary writing.

-多少(duō shǎo): when you tie the antonym of 多, 少, with it, they form a pronoun used in a question to ask for any quantities. For instance, 多少人(duō shǎo rén) means "how many people" and 多少钱(duō shǎo qián) means "how much (is it)".


  • 左右(zuǒ yòu)

If there's a top 100 words list in Chinese, this will probably be included. 左 is left and 右 is right. So this word is literally telling you " left or right", which equals to "around/about" in English. Thus "around 500" in English would appear as "500左右" in Chinese. It's used to say a guessed number with slight difference expected from the actual one. To insert it in your sentence is easy: simply guess a random number, and add 左右 after it!


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