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I created a searchable database for English-language chengyu/idiom stories (free, no ads, mobile-friendly)


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With so many chengyus, how do you determine which chengyus to include on your website?

Are you manually creating these entries?

 

Yes, I'm creating the entries myself! This website is a way for me to keep up my Chinese skills, as my current job only requires me to speak English.

 

And yeah, there are a TON of chengyu, and it's hard to pick which ones to do sometimes. I generally do the following to narrow down the selection:

  • Flip through my old textbooks and see which chengyu were used
  • Watch/read Chinese news articles, books, and TV shows and write down the chengyu that pop up
  • Go through language learning forums and see which chengyu people are talking about (I also promoted my site on Reddit over the weekend)
  • Google/Baidu "chengyu with the most interesting stories"
  • Google/Baidu "most common chengyu"
  • Flip through my physical chengyu dictionary and randomly pick an entry
  • Take requests

My goal is to focus primarily on chengyu with stories, so for all of the situations above, if I look at a chengyu and think that it doesn't have a story behind it, I'll generally ignore it unless it's commonly used/useful in conversation.

 

Happy to answer any other questions!

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Very interesting.  One suggestion I have is add some ways that organize your list.  Right now you just have search, and the raw list. 

 

I can think of 3 types of sorts that would pique my curiosity:

 

1. Ranking them by how common they are.  You can pull from a frequency list like junda, or another source, like search engine count.  Or if ranking is too granular, just tags for Very Common, Common, Rare & Very Rare.

 

2. For those that have stories, I'd be curious to see the stories sorted chronogically.  Which chengyu can from Warring States, Qin period, Han, Three Kingdoms, etc.

 

3. It might be interesting to have some kind of tags too that group chengyu into Historical,  Animal, Numbers etc.

 

This might be too much work though.  I throw it out there for your consideration.

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All in all, I see how this idea for chengyu website can be useful for all Chinese language learners.

If you have more resources, both time and money, to invest in this, I'd say it can also add features like real human voice pronunciation and what not.

But, if I were to offer one useful suggestion that I think can be implemented at this stage, I'd say consider opening up the website for entries from other people as well. And then you could be the one to control and make the decision whether or not these submissions will be reflected on the final website. Similar to Reddit, maybe upvote/downvote system will also be useful for determining how other people using the website find those entries useful. 

 

You probably have a ton of ideas for your own creation. Take what I said with a grain of salt. And I do wish you a good luck and I'd love to see this website keep going.

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On 9/15/2021 at 11:36 AM, phills said:

2. For those that have stories, I'd be curious to see the stories sorted chronogically.  Which chengyu can from Warring States, Qin period, Han, Three Kingdoms, etc.

Funny that you mention this -- I was actually thinking of doing exactly this. What's given me pause is that some 成语 are based on the events of other 成语, so if I wanted my tagging to be properly chronological, I'd have to get so granular as to research the actual date/year in which the 成语 took place. (For example, to understand why the general 廉颇 is angry in the 负荆请罪 story, you have to have read 完璧归赵 first.) This is problematic because some 成语 don't even have dates, and because research for those that do will take quite a bit of time. Granted, I could be a bit less fastidious about it and just group everything by dynasty, but I didn't know whether people would get frustrated when they realized 成语 on the list weren't as chronological as advertised. What do you think? I can definitely do option two — just group by dynasty — if you're still interested, but unfortunately I don't think I'm ready to take on option one right now. 

 

On 9/15/2021 at 11:36 AM, phills said:

3. It might be interesting to have some kind of tags too that group chengyu into Historical,  Animal, Numbers etc.

I also wanted to do this! I'll give it a shot this weekend.

 

On 9/15/2021 at 11:36 AM, phills said:

1. Ranking them by how common they are.  You can pull from a frequency list like junda, or another source, like search engine count.  Or if ranking is too granular, just tags for Very Common, Common, Rare & Very Rare.

Another person made this request elsewhere! I don't personally find value in it -- I've figured that people would be using my website to look up chengyu that they've stumbled across elsewhere, so knowing the frequency wouldn't be particularly relevant -- so maybe there's something I'm missing. Can you explain how this would be used?

 

On 9/16/2021 at 2:49 PM, pon00050 said:

If you have more resources, both time and money, to invest in this, I'd say it can also add features like real human voice pronunciation and what not.

But, if I were to offer one useful suggestion that I think can be implemented at this stage, I'd say consider opening up the website for entries from other people as well. And then you could be the one to control and make the decision whether or not these submissions will be reflected on the final website

 

Licenses for audio recordings aren't cheap, and unfortunately, I have approximately two dollars to my name (and I'd like my site to be accessible to everyone, so I don't want to charge users/have ads).  Fortunately, you can listen to some great audio recordings on Pleco until I get to a point where I can add my own :)

 

I thought about allowing submissions -- it's going to take me forever to make substantial progress -- but it actually takes longer to assure the quality of someone else's translations than it does for me to do my own, and my time is super limited. I hope you can understand!

 

 

 

Thanks so much for the feedback, suggestions, and support! I really appreciate it!

 

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On 9/17/2021 at 10:47 AM, laowai-guide said:

This is problematic because some 成语 don't even have dates, and because research for those that do will take quite a bit of time.

 

Until I saw your stories with the dates in it, it never even occurred to me before to associate the chengyu with a historical period.  So I think sorting them by dynasty would already be great.  Even if a lot of them are "unknown". 

 

Personally, I'm curious to compare the sayings from the Warring States / Qin dynasty periods (what I think as ancient history) vs the ones from the Han dynasty and later (history). 

 

I imagine the equivalent for English expressions would be comparing the Bible sayings v the Greco-Roman sayings v. Medieval / Shakespeare sayings v. the Victorian England / 1800s sayings.  People in different times focused on different stuff, said things in different ways.

 

On 9/17/2021 at 10:47 AM, laowai-guide said:

I don't personally find value in [frequency].... Can you explain how this would be used?

 

I often wonder when I see cutesy idioms whether people actually would use that in conversation or writing.  Is it only a saying people teach to kids, or is it something that adults would use?  Frequency would help there, though not a perfect guide.

 

Plus if you're just browsing, then something like a Popularity List is always interesting.  Frequency is a sort of popularity list.

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On 9/17/2021 at 12:36 PM, phills said:

Until I saw your stories with the dates in it, it never even occurred to me before to associate the chengyu with a historical period.  So I think sorting them by dynasty would already be great.  Even if a lot of them are "unknown". 

 

Okay, I started with this! This is what I've got: https://laowaichengyuguide.com/allbytimeperiod.php (I added the link to the main page as well).

 

This actually turned out to be a lot more difficult than I anticipated, so please let me know what you think/if you have suggestions! Basically, I discovered that some chengyu were created long after the events that chengyu are based upon actually happened. For example, the chengyu 乱七八糟 (luàn qī bā zāo) is from about a century ago, but it's based on events from almost a thousand years ago. So, I had to decide whether I wanted to sort based on when the events actually took place or based on when the chengyu itself was written, and I ended up choosing the former.

 

In hindsight, looking back at your post, you seem to be more interested in the era in which the chengyu actually came from. I'll do that too (and do the animal/historical/etc tagging), but I'm going to take a detour first and see if I can figure out how to allow people to filter by a drop-down tab on the All Entries page. Having to create separate pages for each query is rather tedious and inefficient. Not sure how long that'll take -- I'll update here when I finally tackle it.

 

Quote

Plus if you're just browsing, then something like a Popularity List is always interesting.  Frequency is a sort of popularity list.

 

Okay, I'll put this on my to-do list

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Sounds interesting!  Just a small tip.  I got a security warning when I clicked on your link.  I think your site certificate is out of date.

 

"Warning: Potential Security Risk Ahead

Firefox detected an issue and did not continue to laowaichengyuguide.com. The website is either misconfigured or your computer clock is set to the wrong time.

 

It’s likely the website’s certificate is expired, which prevents Firefox from connecting securely. If you visit this site, attackers could try to steal information like your passwords, emails, or credit card details.

 

What can you do about it?

 

The issue is most likely with the website, and there is nothing you can do to resolve it. You can notify the website’s administrator about the problem."

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It looks great!  I imagine it's a lot of work to fill in, but once you have a tagging system, the display can be mostly automated.  I'm going to refrain from UI suggestions for now, since those are too easy to throw out, but might not be any good.

 

From my browsing, I've already noticed some interesting historical topic / themes.  Whether these are real or just my imagination or from selection effects, who knows.

 

The ancient chengyu have sayings about Harmatia (greek tragedy / irony, where people marvel at twists of fate)

Spring-Autumn & Warring states: sayings about Great Strivers, then later failed great strivers

Han: what I imagine are sayings about life in a "model" Confucian society, the good & bad

Tang: social relations are now trickier / more subtle?

Song: more economic & industry mindsets (kind of like Bible book of Proverbs, or a self-help book)

 

I do kind of see the shape of history through the sayings.  For example, I never imagined the Tang dynasty as so tricky, but maybe they were :), compared with periods past.  Something to look for, next time I read Tang dynasty history or watch shows.

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I don't think you probably want to clutter the list, but the English equivalents might be good on there. 

I found myself looking at one, then when saw the English equiv. I already have seen it used and noted it as the English version, so I would know how to use it. (e.g. 6 of 1, half doz other)

 

 

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On 9/20/2021 at 4:36 AM, phills said:

Sounds interesting!  Just a small tip.  I got a security warning when I clicked on your link.  I think your site certificate is out of date.

 

Yes, it was —  thank you for flagging! The issue has been resolved.

 

On 9/20/2021 at 5:33 AM, phills said:

From my browsing, I've already noticed some interesting historical topic / themes

Glad to see you liked it! Those are some pretty interesting themes you analyzed. And yeah, I think you're right about the Tang Dynasty -- for a period that was supposed to be a golden age, some seriously intense chengyu came out of it! I'll have to brush up on my history.

 

I wonder if these themes will change as I do more entries (and yes, things will definitely move along more quickly once I get the tagging system in place).

 

On 9/20/2021 at 6:28 PM, TaxiAsh said:

I don't think you probably want to clutter the list, but the English equivalents might be good on there. 

So glad you like the site! As far as including the English equivalents, do you mean on the search result page/the pages where you can see the list of all the chengyu? I can make that kind of change pretty quickly, so I'll add it to my to-do list

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On 9/22/2021 at 2:34 AM, laowai-guide said:

the pages where you can see the list of all the chengyu?

Yeah here. The only problem with that is it might be too much text. 

 

Or perhaps a separate list of the English equivalents with links to the chengyu. It doesn't so much matter now with 100+ entries, but when you have potentially thousands, then it will be easier to see what viewers might be looking for. 

 

e.g. Let's say I am practising conversation online as I do now... I might think now would be a good time to use say 'Every cloud has a silver lining', and viewers can look directly for that, and try the chinese version.

 

 

 

 

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  • 2 weeks later...
On 9/23/2021 at 3:40 PM, TaxiAsh said:

Yeah here. The only problem with that is it might be too much text. 

 

I'll take a stab at it in the next few weeks or so! You're definitely right in that it will be easier to see the English equivalent.

 

I'll update here when I've finally made the changes

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On 10/9/2021 at 6:39 PM, laowai-guide said:

this is my first website and I didn't realize I'd have to get after the host for this kind of thing

 

In that case, here's a tip for you. :)
You may want to set up monitoring for for your site and get automated notifications if the certificate expires or the site goes offline for some other reason.
Check out https://uptimerobot.com/

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On 10/9/2021 at 1:24 PM, alantin said:

You may want to set up monitoring for for your site and get automated notifications if the certificate expires or the site goes offline for some other reason.

Glad to hear this is a thing. Thanks so much for the tip - much appreciated! :)

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