China In Pieces

Table of contents:

Video: China In Pieces

Video: China In Pieces
Video: Smashing China to Pieces, the Background | Between 2 Wars | 1925 Part 1 of 2 2023, June
China In Pieces
China In Pieces

“China in Pieces” is a book by the professional sinologist Yuri Ilyakhtin, which was included in the long list of the 2017 Enlightener Prize for Popular Science Literature. It introduces readers to China at the beginning of the third millennium - as well as Chinese cuisine, medicine, history and culture, Chinese customs and business practices. We bring to your attention an excerpt from this book on the difficulties of learning Chinese.


Can a foreigner learn Chinese?

Some foreigner tried to do it. And, tormented, he called the phrase "teaching Chinese" a scientific word - an oxymoron. Well, this is when two words that are in principle incompatible with the opposite meaning are combined: "living corpse", "hot ice". That is, from the point of view of that pessimist foreigner, you cannot learn Chinese!

- He will learn to learn, but who will understand him ?! - Senya exclaimed with long-won bitterness. Old Sun nodded. - A friend told me. He was in his first year. From morning to evening, hieroglyphs. The more you learn them, he says, the more you have to learn. As in a nightmare. You cut off one head, two grow. He was jealous of the course neighbors, with other languages. He was just learning how to draw dashes, sweating locked up in the language laboratory in headphones, repeating "ma", "ma", "ma", "ma" in different ways, and the guys from the group with some kind of Malay language were already writing with their left foot essays "How I spent the summer." And so he says, once in the smoking room he asked a fifth-year student, and then they were almost heavenly for the younger ones (they seem to speak Chinese, they joke with the teachers, some were even on an internship in mythical Singapore), in general, he asked when they say, it will be easier. And then such melancholy!.. This senior looked with understanding through the smoke, put out the plane tree in a jar of Longjin tea and replied: "You see, experienced people say that it is difficult for the first fifteen years …" - "And then?" - "And then it's even more difficult …"

It is curious that some reputable scholars of linguistics are of the same opinion: it is impossible to learn Chinese. It is too complex, varied and immense. You can master basic knowledge, but only extremely talented people who are capable of learning languages and perceiving a very special culture can achieve perfect mastery of Chinese.

A small example of enormous difficulties. Did you know that in China every relative has its own name? Not name and surname, but designation. In Russian, there are few such words that define family relations. Uncle, aunt, mother-in-law, mother-in-law, brother-in-law, daughter-in-law, son-in-law …

In Chinese, everyone, even the most distant relative, has its own name. The degree of kinship is formulated in detail. The Chinese will meticulously specify which side, for example, is your uncle, male or female, older brother or younger, and so on. Dozens, hundreds of special words. For those wishing to learn more, I advise you to refer to the works of the Russian sinologist MV Kryukov, known for his deep ethnographic research.

This is just one of the quiet shores, secluded bays of the ocean called Chinese. The overwhelming mass of those who study China and Chinese pass safely by them. And how many more such bays! Just take the number of characters you need to know! And dialects that differ from each other not just a little, but just one hundred percent? And four tones that drive crazy any beginner, then an advanced, and then a completely mature Sinologist …

Chinese grammar is not particularly difficult, it is very arbitrary. But therein lies the difficulty! If in English, for example, with an effort, you can master the rules for constructing a sentence and then follow them, easily recognizing where the subject is and where the predicate is, then in Chinese it is sometimes difficult to understand what is where. As if someone poured cubes on the table, and they settled down in a chaotic pattern - understand as you want. Look for yourself where the head is, where the tail is. Once I complained to a Chinese friend that it was difficult to disassemble ancient inscriptions, for example, on the temple gates. He said: "I first read from left to right, if it doesn’t work, I read from right to left!"

- There is also parsley, - said Senya. - Or rather, a trap. When you first start learning Chinese, everything goes well. Your Chinese friends are happy, you talk to them, you seem to understand everything. But as soon as you move to a higher level, live in China for a long time, speak better and more freely, then the trap closes. The Chinese interlocutor, thinking that now you have learned everything and understand everything, stops talking to you as with a small child, begins to fumble for real, in Chinese, with all the idiomatic expressions, quotes … Oops! Gotcha: you don't understand anything again !!! Again you will have to push the stone uphill, but it keeps rolling down and down …

- Do you speak Chinese well? Hermit Song asked. - Did you go to a high level?

- I'm not about myself, - replied Senya. - People told.

Can you personally learn Chinese

Yeah, tense up ?! Do not be afraid! There are comparatively few of those who cannot. These are those unfortunate people whom the bear stepped on the ear and deprived of the sweet opportunity to communicate with people who make up a quarter of the world's population.

You cannot speak Chinese without hearing, at least some. We remember with what regret (well, not all, of course, some with relief) our fellow Sinologists were transferred to other faculties of Moscow State University after the first year, when it turned out that they did not understand what they were being told and could not speak themselves. Although hieroglyphs (words) have learned and can read and write. But they don't. Why?

Chinese is a tonal language. The same combination of sounds, pronounced in a different tone, has a different meaning. Chinese has four tones. A textbook example from a textbook is about the morpheme "ma". (An excellent occasion to thank our first teachers, the creative female team T. P. Zadoenko and Huang Shu-in, the authors of the first textbook of the Chinese language for first-year students of ISAA at Moscow State University.)

So here's an example. "Ma" in the first, even tone means, of course, "mama", "ma" in the second, ascending tone, it means, of course, hemp (or flax, as it is), "ma" by the third, descending-ascending (!) tone means a horse, and "ma" in the fourth, descending, falling tone means, of course, to swear (and even obscenely).

It's funny, especially for beginners, that these tones change in different combinations. I just learned to pronounce something in one tone, lo and behold, the same hieroglyph, paired with another, is pronounced in a different tone. So funny, even cry! By the way, Sinologists are not alone in their troubles. There are six tones in Vietnamese …

The four best ways to learn Chinese

Method number 1. The best way, of course, is to be born Chinese or Chinese. The method is tested and actually does not fail. How many times have I myself, in person, desperately envied the pronunciation and conversational fluency of some young three-five-year-old person!..

Method number 2. If for some ridiculous reason you did not succeed in mastering the language in the first way, then you should ask your parents to take you to China immediately after your birth. The way is great. One evening I was walking along a Beijing street and heard a child's voice behind me. The girl briskly babbled about something of her own, and then asked, also in Chinese: "Is this uncle Russian?" I turned around and saw a girl of about four, snub-nosed, blond and … I wanted to write another - "blue-eyed", but that would be too much … She walked, holding the hand of her Chinese nanny. The picture is familiar, in general. The Yabaolu area in Beijing is considered "Russian". Children also meet with Chinese nannies. But to speak Chinese so well! I talked with the nanny, she explained that she had been working for several years, communicating with the girl all day. Hence the result.

Method number 3. It is suitable for those who (a) who managed to be born not in China, and b) who, in infancy, did not manage to persuade their parents to move to China.

This method is one of the most popular, but with encumbrances. Namely: you need to get married or get married in China. I am clarifying, and this is important, do not forget - in a Chinese woman or for a Chinese! Well, as a last resort, and just exactly as a last resort: choose those who have mastered the language using method number 2, unless, of course, they have not forgotten Chinese by the time you meet, which happens surprisingly easily and often, since it does not require effort …

The third method produces amazing results. You speak Chinese day and night whenever you want, but most importantly, when you don't want to, but you need to. Constantly in shape, constantly alert and in good shape. The only challenge is your willingness to learn Chinese, no matter what. That is, you need to consider whether it is worth getting married for the sake of learning a language. Isn't there a less burdensome way?

Method number 4. The most trivial, but nevertheless reliable: start learning the language at home, and then continue your studies in China. Or go straight to study in China. If here, in the process of life, you get a nice friend or girlfriend, then in terms of efficiency, method number four may even surpass method number 3.

Why do two Chinese need a piece of paper?

A common scene: somewhere on the street, or in a store, or somewhere else (you yourself can think of where), one Chinese man writes on a piece of paper, a napkin, an iPhone or something else (you can think of it yourself) and gives another Chinese to read … He reads, nods, or maybe shakes his head negatively or writes an answer.

What's the matter? What a hasty written agreement? The fact is that often this is the only way the Chinese can understand each other. And the question of a Chinese from the south, for example: "How to get to the library?" - the Chinese from the north will not understand.

“That is why they have all the television programs and films with captions,” said Senya. Together with Sage Sun, they watched another episode of their beloved "Journey to the West," a new series about a Buddhist monk and his assistants on a quest for holy books in India; They especially enjoyed watching the Monkey King deftly deal with evil witches who were trying to seduce an innocent cult minister - usually attractive and lightly dressed young women, diligently making evil faces. - No one will understand without credits. By the way, this is how you can learn Chinese, watch yourself a movie, listen and read the credits, no textbooks are needed!

“I’m looking, you don’t sleep at night, you watch movies,” said Sage Song. - But some strange ones, I guess. There is no progress. No new words are added. And if they are added, then it is better not to say them in front of children.

- So this is … Everything is in progress, - replied Senya. “The leap will soon take place.

- Something can and will happen, but in which direction? the Hermit asked. - Maybe you shouldn't jump there?

A Chinese will understand a Chinese only in one case: if one can ask and the other can answer putonghua - exemplary Chinese, which began to be introduced into use in 1956 and on which state and local television and radio channels broadcast, is taught at school. It is also called by the Western calque "mandarin" (mandarin).

Although it is exemplary and compulsory for studying at school, for many Chinese, especially the elderly and middle-aged, and for the vast majority of rural youth, communication in it is sheer torment. After all, it's like learning another language that is fundamentally different from your native one. For example, in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, only one-fifth of the population can speak a common language! For comparison, there is about the same ratio of those who know and do not know English. Almost everyone speaks only Guangdong (Cantonese), which is also spoken in Hong Kong and Macau. By the way, it has 6 tones.

Throughout China, slightly more than half of the population communicates in Mandarin. The rest use dialects, of which there are more than 80. How do hieroglyphs sound, or rather, words of the same meaning in different dialects?

For clarity, I will give a unique comparative table of numbers from 1 (one) to 10 (ten) in the common language and in the Shanghai dialect, never published before in the open press, secret to an overwhelming degree:

Numeral (Arabic) Putonghua Shanghai dialect
1 - And / Yi - E / Ye
2 - Er / Er - Liang / Liang
3 - San / San - Sai / Sai
4 - Sy / Si - Sy / Si
5 - U / Wu - En / En
6 - Liu / Liu - Luo / Luo
7 - Qi / Qi - Tse / Qie
8 - Ba / Ba - Ba / Ba
9 - Tszyu / Jiu - Tszyu / Jiu
10 - Shi / Shi - Se / Se

As dear colleagues can see, the pronunciation of more than half of the numbers does not match. And these are numbers! What can we say about other words.

Once I took part in a revel of graduates of the Luoyang Institute of Foreign Languages (Luoyang is one of the ancient capitals of the Celestial Empire). They met in Beijing twenty years later. And you know what they teased the most: their Mandarin Chinese. They remembered with laughter how difficult it was for them and how young Zhang from the port city of Ningbo wanted to tell the lovely Wang from Hebei about his feelings, but failed and had to say simple English words “I love you”.

The author suspects, however, that Wang just wanted to play a trick, and besides, in the opinion of authoritative experts, philologists and lovers, psychologists and other scientists, whose names you may know, it is somehow easier to declare love in a foreign language., but nevertheless … In the capital, from time to time, competitions are held in the knowledge of the common dialect, it is very difficult to win in them even for Beijing, most often the participants make mistakes in pronunciation. As they say, they take the wrong tone …

I crossed the mountain - and I don't understand anything

You already know that there are many nationalities and languages in China. But how different - you can't even imagine!

- I grew up in Hunan province. In addition to spicy food, it is famous for its inaccessible mountains, all crossed by long and high ridges, says Owen, a furniture manufacturer for export, a philosopher by life, with excellent English, who, among other things, became interested in Kabbalah and even became the pioneer of books about it in China. … - There, with us, you will cross the mountain and in the village beyond it you can no longer understand anything: people speak an unfamiliar language. Why? For centuries they do not leave their village, do not communicate with the outside world, do not mix with anyone. Behind another mountain, behind another ridge, there are new people with their own language. I crossed a mountain - and I don't understand anything! When I went to Beijing to study, the train barely dragged along, stopped for a long time at each station. I was amazed that at all these stations people spoke their own way!

How many characters are there in Chinese?

There are 87 thousand of them in Chinese. Already scared? But in vain. This is if you count all the ancient words, including obsolete ones, or highly specialized terms, like the names of chemical elements, or geographical names, various professional words. Nobody knows all of them, and there is no need for that.

But in order to speak, read a book or a newspaper, you only need to know three or four thousand.

- Just! Just something … You say it too. It's whole! Four! Thousands! - Senya was indignant, who, in his efforts to master Chinese, who had seizures, dulled his eagle's eyesight, acquired light hemorrhoids and thoroughly shook his once unshakable faith in his abilities. - It’s not a cat who cares for you, four thousand! During this time, you can learn French or English with Swahili at the same time.

An ordinary graduate of a Chinese university recognizes 5,000 hieroglyphs. Do you know what is the hardest part here? The hieroglyph cannot be read. This is not a word, it is impossible to reproduce it letter by letter. This is a picture. It can only be remembered.

You received a letter from your wife in China …

Imagine this: you received one letter from a spouse from China, and immediately they bring you a letter from your spouse, for example, from England. The content of the letters is the same. Let's say your spouse asks to bring her something. (Two spouses work out? It doesn't matter, anything can happen. Where are you yourself? Anything can happen too …) In a word, the spouses ask to bring something unfamiliar to you.

At the same time, my wife from Buckingham Palace writes: "Dear, bring me Chinese tea …" You understand all the words in the letter, except for the word "tea". Are you looking at these three English letters and what are you doing? You call your wife right there and say: "Honey, what does the word tea mean?" And, proud of your knowledge of the rules learned in the elementary grades of high school, elegantly swinging a leg, smoking a cigar, pronounce the word like a stretch, with an elegant Oxford pronoun, "tee-and-and …".

But then bam - almost at the same moment they bring you an envelope from a Chinese wife, from the Chinese palace Gugong, who also craved Chinese tea. By the line of hieroglyphs you get to the sign "tea", rest your gaze on it, think and start calling your wife. Instead of pronouncing THIS easily and naturally, you begin to describe, pouring cold sweat from tension and calling for help from all the many years of experience of a professional Sinologist:

- Honey, this is what you ask to bring, it is written … uh-uh, God forbid the memory, at the top, that means the grass, this is the key, below, immediately below it, uh-uh, well, such a simple hieroglyph, connected with this, like his … there is still a tree below, and between them … uh-uh, like an eight, only it's not an eight, but like a roof, wings like that, or not, it's "zhu", to enter … well, Lord, how is it? But where is the dictionary, after all!..

Feel the difference? We are not talking about the difference in the length of the conversation and the size of the phone bills … The only way to learn hieroglyphs, no matter how you twist, no matter how you twist, is just to memorize them. Which is not easy at all. No wonder it is said that the Sinologist needs a cast-iron ass.

Why do Chinese people need hieroglyphs

Do you think that the Chinese themselves do not suffer from such an abundance of hieroglyphs? No matter how it is. They, too, feel sorry for their kids, who spend the lion's share of time in elementary school to defeat hordes of simple and complex signs. They could use this time to study other subjects. And take the problem of entering hieroglyphs for computer programs. Unlike letters, a hieroglyph in a computer language occupies not one, but two bits, and try to solve this problem when translating or combining programs, although the wise Chinese do not cope with such tasks.

Why, you ask, have they still, with all their practicality, not abandoned the "Chinese literacy", have not switched to a lighter and more rational writing system? The fact of the matter is that they tried.

Both in our time and in previous decades, language reformers in China have repeatedly wanted to replace hieroglyphs with, say, Latin letters and the alphabet. Unsuccessfully! For one reason: hieroglyphs unite China, all of its many peoples and nationalities. Take away the picture signs and great chaos will begin.

Why, for example, the attempt to switch to the phonetic alphabet pinyin / pinyin in the Latin alphabet, created by a group of Chinese scientists in the 1920s, failed? First, there are too many homonyms in the Chinese language, or rather, homophones, the same sounding word-syllables. Chinese is made up of short syllables that make up blocks. Depending on the meaning, homophones are written in different hieroglyphs. In the transmission in the Latin alphabet, according to the ping-yin alphabet, it is impossible to make out what this or that word means, it is easy to get confused. The sign is individual, but the homophone is not. Secondly, hieroglyphs are pronounced differently in different parts of the country. That is, they all say differently, although they mean the same thing.

Another thing is a sign! It is understandable to a southerner from Guangdong province, a native of northern Heilongjiang, and a Tibetan monk talking to Buddha. And, in principle, even to a foreign student who boasts that he is learning Chinese and almost learned it.

I almost learned it - this is, in principle, the fate of a Sinologist.

Popular by topic