Jump to content
Learn Chinese in China

Reading Milestones


Recommended Posts

Site Sponsors:
Pleco for iPhone / Android iPhone & Android Chinese dictionary: camera & hand- writing input, flashcards, audio.
Study Chinese in Kunming 1-1 classes, qualified teachers and unique teaching methods in the Spring City.
Learn Chinese Characters Learn 2289 Chinese Characters in 90 Days with a Unique Flash Card System.
Hacking Chinese Tips and strategies for how to learn Chinese more efficiently
Popup Chinese Translator Understand Chinese inside any Windows application, website or PDF.
Chinese Grammar Wiki All Chinese grammar, organised by level, all in one place.

  • New Members

Definitely with you on that one. I tried to do the whole "read everything multiple times" though and I just can't. It bores me 😂


I am enjoying reading The Giver (it's one of my favorite books of all time), but I'm *really* looking forward to the next few books on my reading list. All five upcoming books are books that I've never read before in any language, and two of them are native Chinese literature -- my first ones ever.


(The next books in my list are:

6. The Secret Garden

7.  这世界却你不可

8.  猫城记

9.  Howl's Moving Castle

10. The End of Eternity)


  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • New Members

Nice! 狼图腾 is also on my list!  I shan't be reading it for QUITE a while though...CTA informs me that it has a rather ridiculous amount of unknown vocab. Almost as much as my entire vocabulary, currently 😂


My list definitely leans hard into Scifi and Fantasy. Have you ever read any 九州? The scope of those books sounds really interesting to me -- 30 books by seven authors covering 10000 years.

No. 18 -- hmmm this name rings a bell. I think I recognize it from somewhere!


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Yeah, 狼图腾 seems to have a lot of vocabulary in it. I put it at the bottom of my list! Though it's surprising how much the difficulty diminishes if you read a few books first. If it had been my fourth or fifth book, I would have been looking up 10-12 words a page. As my twelfth book, it would be about 2-3 words a page. But if things go according to plan, it will be my 22nd book. :)

As far as the #18 guy is concerned, I'm not sure! He seems somewhat important, and has his face on all his books and billboards.


I haven't read 九州! My sci-fi/fantasy experience has been entirely limited to the three books in the 三体 series. Far too many books in my library thus far have been about the Cultural Revolution and the rigors of rural village life, so I always welcome more fantasy stuff. Sometime, I might tackle some 武侠 books.


Unfortunately, it seems like a lot of my reading is just a means to an end, so I can say, "I finished it! My skills have improved!" But as my reading skills mature, I'm slowly getting interested in other stuff that might serve as a good thread in this forum: Who are the "great" authors? How does one find literary gems? How does one discern great Chinese literature? What are the elements of style and literary conventions used by each author? Who would I regard as my favorite author, and why? Etc. But I guess that would be another milestone in reading skill to look forward to!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • New Members

I guess I will have to report back to you on 九州 then!  


I think I am taking the opposite approach. Cultural Revolution/rigors-of-rural-life books would be a total bore for me as "study" books, because I'd be mired in fairly academic shit for at least a month (per book) as I studied all the vocabulary. So that's why fantasy and scifi figure so heavily in my list -- those are the genres that bring me the most joy.


Do you mainly find the Cultural Revolution stuff intellectually stimulating? Or do you genuinely get lost in them as page-turners? Curious to hear your personal opinion

Link to comment
Share on other sites

To be honest, I didn't go looking for the cultural revolution books, but they came looking for me. My first book, "To Live" by Yu Hua, takes place with the revolution as the backdrop. "We Three," by Yang Jiang (my second book) mentions some of the things she suffered as an intellectual during the revolution. "Three Body Problem" by Liu Cixin (my third book) has an entire chapter devoted to the revolution. "Life" by Lu Yao (my fourth book) is similar to Yu Hua's book, and focuses on the daily life of a people's commune. It was totally unintentional on my part! I didn't escape that topic until my fifth book, which was the Japanese one by Keigo Higashino. I was really starting to wonder if every book in the modern Chinese literary canon is fixated on that topic. Of course, that's not true. But simply from the fact that I chose four random books as my first books and they were all about that topic in some way...well, you can see where my impression came from! And I get it. It was a very traumatic time and left a big impression on many Chinese people, many of whom are still processing the memories of it.


And, wouldn't you know it, several of the books I want to read in the future, like the Mo Yan book and the Chen Zhongshi book, have the Revolution as the central plot. So I suppose I'm not finished yet!


As far as the quality of the books, I actually enjoyed "To Live" and "Life." "We Three" is quite popular in the Chinese book market, but it was a poor choice as a second book on my part. Extremely difficult. Yang Jiang is the wife of the famous author Qian Zhongshu (whose book is #15 on my list above), and they're both hyper-educated literary geniuses who know a ton of different languages. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 8/14/2021 at 11:47 PM, Woodford said:

狼图腾 by Jiang Rong. This book gets a lot of attention (and even has a film adaptation), so why not? 

This book starts really well, but tapers off around the middle and I ended up with a poor overall impression of it.


I'd highly recommend something like 平凡的世界 if you're looking for cultural insights.  It firmly belongs in the "rigors of rural life" category, but as I mentioned in that link:



I think anyone seriously interested in learning about China and modern-day mainland Chinese culture should read this book, if for no other reason than it will give you greater insight into the lives of ordinary Chinese people ranging from common farmers all the way up to provincial leaders, at a time when China was undergoing dramatic change that eventually shaped the country as it exists today. Not only do you get to see the thought processes and beliefs that shape and form the actions and lives of the protaganists, but through them we can see also what the larger social and political changes meant for people at all levels of society


  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

17 minutes ago, imron said:

I'd highly recommend something like 平凡的世界 if you're looking for cultural insights.


I own the whole 3-volume set! I liked 人生 a lot, but I learned that his most famous work is 平凡的世界。 So I purchased the most widely available edition of it, which seems to be this odd, watered-down "popular" version that's a single volume, with a lot of plot subtracted from it (and an odd error in which a large chunk of later pages are duplicated and inserted earlier in the book, which amounts to about 90 extra pages--maybe it was a pirated copy). Out of determination to actually get the book and read it, I made sure to buy the legitimate, unabridged version. I definitely plan to read it!

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

17 hours ago, Woodford said:

I was really starting to wonder if every book in the modern Chinese literary canon is fixated on that topic.

It was a ten-year period that traumatised an entire country. You can see the current cohortof writers dealing with the second- and third generation trauma of it. So yeah, it's pretty important. Not sure where you are from and if your country had a similarly traumatic national experience, but in the Netherlands, a sizeable part of Dutch literature was basically dealing with the trauma of WW2 for some fifty years, and even nowadays new books are written about it.


That said, these days there is a lot of non-CR Chinese literature. Xu Zechen, Zhang Yueran's short stories, Lu Min, Cao Wenxuan, Han Han, etc etc. Or if you read traditional, you could try Taiwanese literature, they never had that issue in the first place.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites


It was a ten-year period that traumatised an entire country. You can see the current cohortof writers dealing with the second- and third generation trauma of it.


I know that's the general view, and the experience of most, but aren't there some Chinese literary works that present at least parts of that time without portraying them as trauma?


My (China-born) husband was 16 when the Cultural Revolution broke out, and he was sent to the countryside in Heilongjiang with thousands of other kids his age.  He looks back on that period as one of the most fun times of his life.  They trained him to be a truck driver and mechanic and he drove logging and supply trucks over frozen lakes and such for more than 8 years.  He loved that job, although he lobbied very hard to be chosen for university studies when the schools opened back up.  He's told me so many stories of his escapades up north during that period.  I got the impression that these kids were removed from the whole political struggle atmosphere.  His older sister was a Red Guard, I believe, but he wasn't.  His younger sister was sent to live with relatives in the countryside, and she too talks nostalgically about being in charge of all the family's chickens during that time.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • New Members
On 8/14/2021 at 6:47 PM, Woodford said:

我没有自己的名字. Basically the collection of short stories by Yu Hua, whose work I really like.

我沒有自己的名字 was my first (and as of right now, only) real piece of Chinese literature that I've read. Because you have much more experience reading than I do, I imagine that it wouldn't take you more than 30 minutes to finish it. For me, it was great for passing a two hour plane ride I had, although it was a very sad story. If you are looking for a variety of short stories, I read 我沒有自己的名字 as part of an anthology entitled "Advanced Reader of Contemporary Chinese Short Stories: Reflections on Humanity" that conveniently has all of the more difficult vocabulary defined at the end of the story. The ISBN is 978-0295983653


My biggest gripe with the story is with how many onomatopoeias Yu Hua shoves into it. I have trouble memorizing the difference between words like 吧嗒  and  喀嗒 and it seemed like every other new word was an onomatopoeia. I'm not sure if this is Yu Hua's general writing style to use lots of onomatopoeias, but I am almost at the end of the first chapter of 許三觀賣血記 and thankfully it seems to not have so many. It would seem I am also on the cultural revolution path, as the next book on my list is 活著 (or perhaps 草鞋灣)


Side note, I'm really impressed that 三體 was just your third book, as I had heard that it is packed full of Sci-Fi vocab that makes it quite a pain for learners to get through. I am curious what your thoughts are on this and if you would do it again given the chance. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

On 8/21/2021 at 11:10 PM, 雷锋 said:

我沒有自己的名字 was my first (and as of right now, only) real piece of Chinese literature that I've read. Because you have much more experience reading than I do, I imagine that it wouldn't take you more than 30 minutes to finish it.


Now that you mention it, I suddenly realize--this book that I have is a 300+ page collector's edition of 21 short stories, and because 我没有自己的名字 is included in the collection and has the best-sounding name, it was probably chosen as the title of the whole book. 


On 8/21/2021 at 11:10 PM, 雷锋 said:

Side note, I'm really impressed that 三體 was just your third book, as I had heard that it is packed full of Sci-Fi vocab that makes it quite a pain for learners to get through. I am curious what your thoughts are on this and if you would do it again given the chance. 


If I were to do the whole thing again, I maybe would have waited until I read 2/3/4 more books, but it wasn't too bad. By the time I began reading it, I knew the basic definitions of the 5000 HSK1-6 words, the 750 words I had to learn from 活着, and the 1200 words I had to learn from 我们仨. That latter book was an absolute nightmare for me, because while 1000 unknown words in a book is pretty average in the beginning of one's reading journey, this book was maybe around 140 pages long (8+ unknown words a page). To make matters worse, the style was very literary and obscure, and sometimes I had no idea what was going on.


So by the time I read 三体, it felt like a breath of fresh air. I had to learn 2000 more words, but at least Liu's style is clear enough to follow, and I was heavily relying on Pleco's SRS flashcards and clipboard reader tool. Liu is one of the least "literary" authors I've read. He just states everything clearly. The only issue is his relentless use of STEM concepts, which really gets intense in a certain section where people are building a computer. I was a computer engineering major when I attended university (not everyone has that advantage! :)). I was so surprised that in this popular work of fiction, I was encountering terms and concepts that I hadn't seen since those university lectures. I'd say that a STEM background isn't absolutely necessary, but if you get curious about some strange concept in the book, you can probably just Google it, or even just ignore it and keep reading.

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • New Members
32 minutes ago, Woodford said:

1000 unknown words in a book is pretty average in the beginning of one's reading journey,

Oof, you must have waited a bit longer than I did 😅. My first couple of books had ~2000 unknown words -- and that was for children's chapter books.


I wonder how large your vocabulary was?


Side note, I am finishing my fifth book ever tomorrow and my vocabulary just crossed 12.000 words! So I am pretty pleased with myself 😋

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 3 weeks later...

My first approach to learning to read Chinese was through subtitles, so I have some Reading Milestones from the TV world.  In increasing order of difficulty, milestones:


1. Picking out isolated words in Chinese subtitles on English shows  (<500 chars known)


Ha!  Finally quizzing yourself on characters has paid off.  You think you "know" Chinese now because you can recognize the noun or verb in a subtitle line.  Obviously learning Chinese cannot be that hard...


2. Picking out words in Chinese subtitles on Chinese shows (~1000 chars known)


Paying off! * 2  More difficult than stage 1 for me because the spoken chinese is often too fast to understand, and so your character recognition has to be better to do this. 


You still can't really watch Chinese shows yet, because you can only read a few words from each line.  You love short sentences.


You "pretend" you can now watch Chinese shows, because at least you sometimes know the gist of what they're angry / happy about, but you can't answer any questions about the plot.  What?!  He was a traitor all along?


3. Reading entire lines of Chinese subtitles on English shows, but you get the pause button and you skip chars you don't know (~1500 chars known). 


Since you know what the sentence is supposed to say, if you pause, you can understand what's written below.  Wonderful!  Clearly Chinese language mastery is only a few shows away! 


You learn some sentence structures and occassionally marvel / laugh at how they translate certain lines into Chinese.


4. Reading entire lines of subtitles on Chinese shows, but you get to pause (~2000 chars known). 


Ah! You finally can enjoy native media.  TV shows, movies, cartoons. You grade yourself on how often you have to pause.  Cartoons are great at this stage.  If kids can understand it, so should you, OR so you think... 


But you finally know people are traitors before they get stabbed. You'll know 90-ish% of the subtitle chars you see.  And if you don't know a char, you can learn it by listening and deciphering it from context. 


5a. Reading all of the Chinese subtitles on a Chinese show, without pausing most of the time (2500+ chars known).


You can finally watch a wide variety of non-cartoons, although not necessarily artistic / literary stuff.   Your listening by now has also gotten better, so your listening helps your reading helps your listening.


5b. Reading all of the Chinese subtitles on an English show, in real-time without pausing. 


Very similar to stage 5a, but I find 5b slightly harder than stage 5, because you don't get the assist of using listening to help your reading to help your listening. 


Speed is the major problem here, and having to mentally translate English sounds to Chinese at the same time as processing Chinese characters is taxing.  Also, sometimes weird translations will throw you off. 


By now, if you're going to read anyways, then you might as well listen to it in Chinese rather than English.  So you think, hmm my ability to inform myself in Chinese is finally catching up to my English.... but then you encounter stage 5c.


5c. Reading all of the Chinese subtitles on non-Chinese / non-English shows, with pausing.


Similar to stage 5a & 5b, but I find it quite a bit more difficult.  You don't get any assist from the audio, just the bare context from the action sequences & people's expressions & the music.


Humbling! You thought you were quite the master, being able to do 5a & 5b.  But watch a French / Japanese movie, and all of a sudden, what the heck is going on?!  Pause, pause...


Anime is a big category here, as there's tons of Japanese cartoons online that have Chinese subtitles, and cartoons tend to be easier to understand anyways.  Also you can often switch language for subtitles for foreign language shows/movies on Netflix.  Sadly, halfway thru, you switch back to English subtitles, cause it's too much work :)


This is basically like reading an animated book, about the same reading higher-end instructional material.  I find it as hard as reading "easy" native novels, like 活着, because even with pausing, you're forcing yourself to read faster than you're comfortable with.


6. Reading all the Chinese subtitles on a non-Chinese / non-English show, in real time.


I haven't gotten here yet.  I think you need 200-250 characters per minute to do this.  I can kind of do this on some cartoons, that I've watched as a kid before.


Once you're in stage 5 though, I've switched almost entirely to reading novels.  I still watch shows, but more for learning to listen than for learning to read.  I try to turn off subtitles on Chinese shows, but halfway through turn them back on cause it's too much work.

Anyone with similar experiences? 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Now that I've finished the Dark Forest, my next Chinese reading project is watching Lupin on Netflix (French show based on Arsin Lupin, the gentleman thief book character).  Just as a change up from reading novels.


I originally started watching it not for language purposes.  Overconfident I left it on French and turned on Chinese subtitles instead of English, thinking I got this!  Not quite. 


As of right now, I can pause regularly or I can watch it on 0.75 speed.  Maybe... maybe.... when I'm done with the series, I can watch it on 1.0 speed without pausing (although that's likely to be too optimistic).



Other novels in my pipeline:


圈子圈套 2 - I liked the first one and I like it's modern office vocab


秘书长 - @realmayo calls it the political equivalent of 圈子圈套.  I am curious to read how the Chinese themselves describe the machinations of their politics.

黄金时代 - I started this a while ago, but I thought it was too hard back then, so revisit. 


兄弟 2 - just to finish it; I liked the first.  How does a butt-watcher become a billionaire?


三体 3 - I liked the first 2, but heard the 3rd is more like short stories rather than a single plotline.  Curious if @Woodford would recommend moving this higher up my pipeline?


平凡的世界 - Very long (810k words), but @imron recommends it so I'll try it when I'm a faster reader.


A wuxia book, probably by 金庸, but haven't fixed on one yet.  I started reading a comic version of Legend of Condor Heroes, https://www.dm5.com/manhua-shediaoyingxiongzhuan/, but the comic is in traditional text so I put it aside for now.


My stretch goal is to:


Dual read 三国演义.  I found this site, https://ctext.org/sanguo-yanyi with Chinese & English side by side, for about 60 chapters. 


I read a chapter, and found it do-able, so I'll take little bites of it from time to time.  I've already read an abridged version of the whole book in English, so I know the general plot and all the main characters.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and select your username and password later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Click here to reply. Select text to quote.

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.


  • Create New...