Y, 24, Guangzhou 广州 – on Gap Years in China

By Olivia Halsall (郝文婕), 66hands Last year, Y contributed to “You […]

By Olivia Halsall (郝文婕), 66hands

Last year, Y contributed to “You Have More Freedom Than You Think” (你比你想象的更自由), a book documenting the experiences of 30 young Chinese who took a “gap year” 间隔年 to do something unconventional. Y is often asked how to overcome parental conflict as China’s only children deviate from their parents’ “fixed plan for their kids — primary school, middle school, college, job, marriage, and having children”.

Chinese education expert, Xiong Bingqi, explains that Chinese parents cannot fathom a year out of education because most Chinese universities only permit deferring in exceptional circumstances, such as illness; a “gap year” would hinder one’s chances of university admission when competition is already fierce. Another factor is one’s personal citizenship file: an unexplained year could disadvantage those applying at government or state owned companies. Despite this, Chinese youth are beginning to challenge traditional expectations of education, employment, and more importantly, social status. Sun Dongchun is confident that “society is progressing and more young people will be able to have their own gap year experience.”

On his own gap year experience, Y primarily freelanced whilst building his company’s website as he likes to be able to anywhere. For the first 6 months, he travelled between Guangzhou 广州 and Beijing 北京 (roughly 2,140 km), choosing to leave Beijing and its cold, smog-filled winter for New Zealand 新西兰.

Interested to know what Y thought of the British, having just completed his Master’s in London, he told me before arriving in the UK he thought the British might be高冷. The characters literally translate as “tall, cold”, the closest translation I could find being “haughty”. Another word used to depict the UK, (owing to Chinese social media) was 腐国 which is Chinese slang referring to, “the perception of the UK as decadent for its attitudes towards sexuality”. The former image of haughty Brits formed a stark contrast with the flamboyant, modern and seemingly “decadent” supporters of homosexuals. 腐国in fact originated from Chinese social media trends and memes of various British TV series characters, that whilst we may appear cold and indifferent on the surface, we are humorous and light-hearted on the inside.

I asked Y if there is a particularly desired characteristic amongst the Chinese youth, to which he replied the spirit of being able to 折腾 which translates as “to toss from side to side”, or “to be weird and wonderful (crazy)”. If an individual is daring to persist, fight and dream for something they are passionate about all whilst having a positive impact on others as a role model, then, in the eyes of the upcoming Chinese generation, they have achieved 折腾. Y told me, “If you purposely pursue success, then you are just like everyone else in China. Pursuing success isn’t necessarily a desired characteristic because it’s too common, 折腾 is what the Chinese youth are now striving for”.

J, 20, Jinan 济南 – On love, sex and relationships in China.

Curious about the ways in which love, sex and relationships manifest themselves in contemporary Chinese society, I met with friend, J, to discuss boys, relationships and sex; more specifically J’s reasons for hiding her 3 year relationship with her boyfriend from her parents and gender roles in modern Chinese relationships.

J told me that people would not normally say 性 sex, but instead subtly clap three times, refer to it as  啪啪啪 (pronounced papapa) or say to do the 滚床单 (to roll around in bed sheets). J started dating one of her close friends in secret aged 18. 3 years on and whilst the relationship is no longer secret among friends, J is yet to tell her parents. One of the necessities in keeping the relationship undisclosed is because dating in Chinese secondary schools is often frowned upon and in some cases forbidden. In 2011, a school in 四川 Sichuan imposed a rule stating that students found “20 inches of each other would be told off by teachers in the first instance and then given a formal punishment”.  Whilst many parents express concern for their child’s love life, they also believe that relationships would interfere with one’s studies, so only after graduation should one find a partner, get married and have children.

A Chinese saying goes 宁坐宝马车里哭,不坐自行车上笑 I’d rather cry in a BMW, than laugh on a bicycle; coined in 2010, when 20-year old Ma Nuo, a contestant on TV dating show 非诚勿扰 If you are the one, rejected a potential suitor after he suggested they go on a romantic bike ride to which she replied she would prefer someone with a BMW. Despite social media criticism of modern Chinese dating values, this phrase represents the motivation and mentality of some Chinese seeking a partner. Without previous experience, based on parental advice and societal pressure, some Chinese are selecting life partners based on their material wealth as this guarantees financial security and a certain lifestyle.

J explained that in China, a marriage between two people is more like a marriage between two families, with less emphasis on individual happiness and satisfaction, and more emphasis on the needs and requirements of the family as a whole. However, more and more Chinese youth are shunning conventional expectations and choosing happiness over materialistic wealth. For example, a group of  剩女 (a term for leftover women i.e. those that have reached late 20s without having married) fought against parental and societal expectations in their “Marriage Market Takeover” video and couples are now embracing 裸婚 naked marriages which excludes the emphasis on materialistic wealth (house and car ownership) in a marriage.

J told me her boyfriend and her are equals in their relationship, but he displays  大男人主义 (chauvinistic) behaviour, considering his role as a boyfriend to protect and support her. Traditional expectations of Chinese women include “passive and inactive” behaviour, “maintaining one’s virginity” and “not to ask too much for sex and consider men’s satisfaction as one’s own”.  J said that men who hold onto these expectations are said to have 直男癌 (straight man cancer) and are fiercely criticised by many Chinese youths who strive for gender equality in relationships.

However, despite their shyness in talking about sex, Chinese youths are having sex at an earlier age than before. A study by Peking University showed “the average age for first time sex in China was 22.2 years for those born after 1980, dropping to 17.7 years for those born after 1995”  Furthermore, TV shows such as 女人帮·妞儿 China’s own “Sex and the City” are tackling expectations of virginity and sexism head on. Like many countries both developed and developing around the world, China has a long way to go before longstanding Confucian values (where women are inferior to men) are squashed and gender equality can be achieved.   Perhaps what we are beginning to see is the start of a  “Chinese sexual revolution”; China is slowly starting to lay the groundwork in becoming a society that feels comfortable in talking about love, sex and relationships.


Olivia is the founder of 66hands.com, featuring very interesting and insightful stories from Olivia’s China experience, reflecting on China’s past and present. 

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Understanding the structure of Chinese words as the key to intuitive learning

Are you learning or planning to learn Chinese? Did you [...]

Are you learning or planning to learn Chinese? Did you know that by understanding how a Chinese word is constructed and what parts (called “morphemes” in linguistics) it is made up of, you’ll find it much easier to memorise new characters and to remember the meaning of the ones that you’ve seen before?

The most basic part from which we can start analysing the structure of Chinese words is the morpheme. A morpheme is the smallest significant unit in a language and the science that studies the functioning of morphemes is called morphology. In Classic Chinese, most morphemes were found on their own, isolated from each other, called “monosyllabic words” in linguistics – that is short words that cannot be broken down in smaller parts. On the contrary, in Modern Chinese different parts of words combine with one another to create longer words, which linguists call “bi-“ or “polysyllabic” words. Let’s look at the comparison below:

In Chinese, small parts of words combine together to form longer words. Like logo blocks, each word has a ‘root’ meaning, and when words are put together, they form new words! Take the example of the word ‘apple pie’ in English, Apple is a word, Pie is a word, and when you put them together, they form a new word. This is how most words are structured in Chinese: they are logical, meaningful and descriptive. To illustrate this, let’s see how the word classmate (tongxue) is formed. Part #1 Tong, means the same, together, part #2 Xue, means to study. Therefore a classmate is someone who studies with you. What this means is that learning new Chinese words will become easier as you progress, as you learn more and more of the basic ‘lego blocks’.

These small units can be classified into two types. Lexical units are the nucleus of the word, they’re the lexical basis and they convey the meaning of the word. Grammar units define the grammar category that a word belongs to (for example, whether it is a noun, and adjective, and adverb or a verb), the gender (masculine or feminine) and the number (singular or plural).

Chinese words are created through a linguistic process that is called derivation, meaning the addition of a unit (called “affix” in linguistics) to a root (the main part of a word, its core), which triggers a change in the grammar category and/or in the meaning of the derived word. Derivation can happen either by adding a unit before the root, at the beginning of the root (prefix) or by adding a unit after the root, at the end of the root (suffix). To understand the concept of derivation at work, let’s check out the examples below. Note that some of these additional units have fixed meanings so by learning them you’ll find it easier to guess the meaning of a word, even though you have never seen it before!

A word which is made up of two or more units is called compound word. The criteria according to which two units can be combined together to create a compound word are plenty.

Stay tuned to learn more about compounds!

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Vocab Builder – Phone Call Survival Phrases

Making Calls 1. Hello, is Tom there? 喂,Tom 在吗? Wei2, [...]
Making Calls
1. Hello, is Tom there? 喂,Tom 在吗?
Wei2, Tom zai4 ma?
2. It’s Anna calling from Apple. 我是 Apple 公司的 Anna。
Wo3 shi4 Apple gong1 si1 de Anna
3. Can you transfer me to Tom. 请转 Tom。
Qing3 zhuan3 Tom.
4. When is he coming back? 他什么时候回来?
Ta1 shen2 me shi2 hou4 hui2 lai2?
5. Please tell him to call me back。 请叫她回我电话。
Qing3 jiao4 ta1 hui2 wo3 dian4 hua4.
6. Can you ask him to call me back when he’s free? 请叫他有空回我电话
Qing3 jiao4 ta you3 kong4 hui2 wo3 dian4 hua4.
Can you ask him to call me back by 11am tomorrow? / ASAP? (Jin4 kuai4 尽快)
Qing3 jiao4 ta 11dian3 qian2 hui2 wo3 dian4 hua4. 请叫他 11 点前回我电话

Receiving Calls

7. Hello, Joanne speaking. 喂, 我是 Joanne.
 Wei2, wo3 shi4 Joanne.
 8. Who’s calling please? 请问您是哪位?
 qing3 wen4 nin2 shi4 na3 wei4?
 9. Please speak slower / louder. 请说慢点/大声点。
 qing3 shuo1 man4 dian3 / da4 sheng1 dian3.
 10. 10. How can I help you? 有什么能帮你?
 you3 shen2 me neng2 bang1 ni3?
 11. Would you like to leave a message? 要留言吗?
 Yao4 liu2 yan2 ma?
 12.  I’ll check if he’s available. 在不在 ——————————————

Let’s Practice!

Making phone calls

Please translate the following:

A: Hello, this is…… Can I speak to Mr Li please?
B: Sure, one moment please.
A: Thank you.

Making phone calls

Please translate the following:

A: Hello, this is…… Can I speak to Mr Li please?
B: Sure, one moment please.
Hi ….., I’m sorry Mr Li is in a meeting now.
A: Are you her secretary? When is he free?
B: After 11am is the best. Would you like to leave a message?
A: Yes, please tell him to call me back by 12 noon/ASAP.
B: No problem.

Receiving phone calls

Please translate the following:

A: Hello, Tom speaking.
B: Hi, This is Mr Li, I’m calling from ABC company.
A: Hello, can you speak slower please?
B: Yes, This is Mr Li, I’m calling from ABC company.
A: Hi, Mr Li. How may I help you?
B: I’d like to come in to meet Mr Chen. Is tomorrow 4pm OK?
A: I’ll check if he’s available…yes, he is available.
B: Great! I’ll see you tomorrow.
A: Thank you. See you tomorrow!

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Vocab Builder – Days, Time, Arranging Plans

Vocab Builder Numbers in Use (1) – Dates KEY PHRASES [...]
Vocab Builder Numbers in Use (1) – Dates
KEY PHRASES
DAY OF WEEK
What day is it today? (today/what day)
Jin1tian1 xing1 qi1 ji3?
Today is Monday. (today/Monday)
Jin1tian1 xing1 qi1 yi1.
Week Xing1 qi1 星期
Monday Xing1 qi1 yi1 星期一
Tuesday Xing1 qi1 er4 星期二
Wednesday Xing1 qi1 san1 星期三
Thursday Xing1 qi1 si4 星期四
Friday Xing1 qi1 wu3 星期五
Saturday Xing1 qi1 liu4 星期六
Sunday Xing1 qi1 ri4 / tian1 星期日/天
KEY PHRASES
DATE
What date is it today? (today/what date)
Jin1tian1 ji3 hao4?
Today is Nov 15 th , 2017 (today/is/2016 year/Nov/15 th)
Jin1 tian1 shi4 2017 nian2, 11 yue4, 15 hao4.
Month Yue4
Jan Yi1 yue4 一月
Feb (to Dec) Er4 yue4 二月
Year Nian2
Year 2017 Er4 ling2 yi1 qi1 nian2 2017 年
Vocab Builder Numbers in Use (2)– Time
KEY PHRASES
TIME
What time is it now? (now/what/time)
Xian4 zai4 ji2 dian3 le?It’s 3 pm now. (now/3 o’clock)
Xian4 zai4 xia4 wu3 san1 dian3 le.
O’clock Dian3
Minutes Fen1
Half (30 mins) past Ban4
A quarter Yi1 ke4 一刻
10 o’clock Shi2 dian3 十点
10:05 Shi2 dian3 ling2 wu3 fen1 十点零五分
Quarter past 10 Shi2 dian3 yi1 ke4 十点一刻
7:50 Cha4 shi2 fen1 ba1 dian3
(lack 10 minutes to 8)
差十分八点
TIME OF DAY Morning zao3 shang4 早上
Afternoon xia4 wu3 下午
Evening wan3 shang4 晚上
TODAY/TOMORROW Today Jin1 tian1 今天
Tomorrow Ming2 tian1 明天
Yesterday Zuo2 tian1 昨天
KEY PHRASES
MAKING PLANS
Numbers in Use (3) – Making Plans
What time do you go to work? (you/what time/go to work)
Ni3 ji2 dian3 shang4ban1?
I go to work at 9.00. (I/9.00 o’clock/meeting)
Wo3 jiu3 dian3 shang4ban1
Are you free tomorrow at 2? (you/tomorrow/2 o’clock/free?)
Ni3 ming2 tian1 liang2 dian3 you3 kong4 ma?
Let’s go have coffee tomorrow. (we/together/drink coffee/suggestion)
Wo3 men2 yi1qi3 he1 ka1fei1 ba.
ACTIVITIES Go to work Shang4 ban1 上班
Finish work Xia4 ban1 下班
Get up Qi3 chuang2 起床
Have Chinese lessons Shang4 zhong1 wen2 ke4 上中文课
Watch movie Kan4 dian4 ying3 看电影
Sleep Shui4 jiao4 睡觉
Have a coffee He1 ka1fei1 喝咖啡
Have a meeting
(work meeting only)
Kai1 hui1 开会
MORE TIME PHRASES This week Zhe4 ge4 xing1 qi1 这个星期
THIS WEEK MONDAY This Monday Zhe4 ge4 xing1 qi1 yi1 这个星期一
Next week Xia4 ge4 xing1 qi1 下个星期
Next Monday Xia4 ge4 xing1 qi1 yi1 下个星期一
Last week Shang4 ge4 xing1 qi1 上个星期
Last Monday Shang4 ge4 xing1 qi1 yi1 上个星期一
THIS MONTH 2ND This month Zhe4 ge4 yue4 这个月
2nd this month Zhe4 ge4 yue4 er4 hao4 这个月二号
Next month Xia4 ge4 yue4 下个月
Last month Shang4 ge4 yue4 上个月
THIS YEAR MARCH This year Jin1 nian2 今年
This year March Jin1 nian2 san1 yue4 今年三月
Next year Ming2 nian2 明年
Last year Qu4 nian2
(or shang4 nian2)
去年
DURATION One day Yi1 tian1 一天
One week Yi1 ge4 xing1qi1 一个星期
Two months Liang3 ge4 yue4 两个月
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Vocab Builder – Physical Traits

Vocab Builder Physical Traits KEY PHRASES She is tall. Ta [...]
Vocab Builder Physical Traits
KEY PHRASES She is tall.
Ta gao1 gao1 de. (她高高的.)
She is tall and skinny.
Ta1 you4 gao1 you4 shou4. 他又高又瘦.
Tall Gao1 gao1 de 高高的
Short Ai3 ai3 de 矮矮的
Fat Pang4 pang4 de 胖胖的
Skinny Shou4 shou4 de 瘦瘦的
KEY PHRASES Her hair is long.
Ta1 de tou2 fa3 chang2 chang2 de. (她的头发长长的.)
She has long hair.
Ta1 you3 chang2 chang2 de tou2 fa3. (她有长长的头发.)
She has big eyes.
Ta1 you3 da4 da4 de yan3jing1. (她有大大的眼睛)
Her eyes are big and blue.
Ta1 de yan3jing1 you4 da4 you4 lan2. (她的眼睛又大又蓝)
Long Chang2 chang2 de 长长的
Short Duan3 duan3 de 短短的
Curly Juan4 juan4 de 卷卷的
Straight Zhi2 zhi2 de 直直的
Blond Jin1 se4 de 金色的
Black Hei1 se4 de 黑色的
Big Da4 da4 de 大大的
Small Xiao3 xiao3 de 小小的
Blue Lan2 se4 de 蓝色的
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Vocab Builder – Action Verbs

Vocab Builder ACTION VERBS KEY PHRASES I want to go. [...]
Vocab Builder ACTION VERBS
KEY PHRASES I want to go.
Wo3 xiang3 qu4. (我想去)
Don’t go.
Bu4yao4 qu4. (不要去)
I need to go.
Wo3 yao4 qu4. (我要去)
Didn’t go.
Mei2you3 qu4. (没有去)
I can go.
Wo3 ke3yi3 qu4 . (我可以去)
Have been (as in gone, Present Perfect Tense of go).
Qu4 guo4. 去过
I can’t go.
Wo3 bu4 ke3yi3 qu4
(我不可以去)
Haven’t been (as in gone)
Mei2 (you3) qu4 guo4.
没(有)去过
VOCAB Go Qu4
Return Hui2 (Qu4) 回(去)
Say shuo1
Write Xie3
Listen Ting1
Read (book, newspaper) Du2
Look Kan4
Sit Zuo4
Laugh Xiao4
Cry Ku1
Play Wan2
Do Zuo4
Buy Mai3
Sell Mai4
Help Bang1
Give Gei3
Wait Deng3
Try Shi4
Remember Ji4de2 记得
Forgot Wang4 ji4 忘记
Cook Zuo4 fan4 做饭
Watch movie Kan4 dian4 ying3 看电影
Sing Chang4 ge1 唱歌
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