Five thousand years of Chinese history has created a wealth of diversified national cultures. These dynamic cultural elements are not only reflected in the Mandarin language or Chinese characters, but they continousely impact people's daily lives and the ways of communication in mordern China, and that's probably why this ancient langauge has interested so many people around the world. There are so many interesting traditional Chinese customs, that we won't be finished for a few days if we talk about them all. So, In this blog, we will only take a look at several very interesting aspects of the Chinese culture including:
• The culture of greeting
• Chinese homophones
• Food culture and Chinese language
in order to understand the cultural stories and hidden meanings of the language.
The Chinese culture of greeting
Chinese people often have a unique way of greeting when they meet each other, instead of saying "hello" or "how are you?" people will say "你吃了吗 ?" (nǐ chīle ma) or "have you eaten?" This unique way of greeting is related to China's past history. For a period of time in China, many people lived in poverty and having enough food and proper clothing was the most concerning issue at that time. A simple sentence "have you eaten?" really gives a sense of warmth when greeting people. Similarily, when Chinese people say goodbye to guests, they often say "慢走" (man zǒu) or "walk slowly" instead of "safe trip". Foreigners might get confused the first time hearing that as they might think why should they walk slower when leaving, but in fact it is a kind of expression of concern from the host to the guests, hoping that the guests will pay attention to safety and be careful all the way. The two simple greeting examples fully demonstrate how Chinese people pay attention to each other's feelings in communication, and create empathy between them.
Homophones or words with similar tones and pronounciation are fairly common in Chinese language. The word "发" (fā) in the commonly used blessing phrase "恭喜发财" (GōngXǐ FāCái) is a typical example. Chinese people often like to say "888, 发发发" (bābābā, fāfāfā), which are homophonic in the sentence. Thus, for Chinese people the number 8 has become a lucky number, which is extensively used in creating the phone numbers, or car plate numbers, and choosing the wedding dates, etc. On the contrary, the number 4 (sì) has been an unlucky number since it is pronounced very similarly to the word "死" (sǐ), meaning "death". Speaking of marriage, Chinese people have a habit of putting some jujube, peanuts, longans, and lotus seeds on the bed of the newlyweds, which implies the couple "will have their children early", because 'zǎo shēng guì zǐ' is Chinese for these objects but also sounds like early birth of children. Furthermore, the date 20th of May becomes a new Valentine's Day in China, just because of the numbers "520" (wǔ'èrlíng) and the pronunciation of "我爱你" (wǒ ài nǐ) or "I love you" is very similar. Now, it can be seen that the recognising homophones is deeply embedded in the Chinese culture and has become a very important part of the Chinese language and culture.
Chinese food culture and the Chinese language
When talking about Chinese culture, "eating" culture is always a big part of everything. Chinese cuisine is well-known all over the world, not only because of the rich variety of Chinese cuisine, but also because of the vastness of China that has created many different special flavours all around China. In Chinese, food and ingredients are often used to express metaphors and extended meanings. For example, the words "吃醋" (chīcù) or "tasting vinegar" often refers to jealousy in the romantic relationship. Another well-known metaphoric phrase is "打酱油" (dǎ jiàngyóu), meaning that someone is just passing by and not being helpful at all in a given situation. For smooth people or those who are good at social interaction, we would call them "老油条" (lǎo yóutiáo) or "old fritters". In addition, many idioms are also associated with foods, such as describing a very chaotic situation, we would say "乱成一锅粥" (luàn chéng yìguō zhōu) or "it's a pot of porridge", and so on. These linguistic patterns are derived and preserved from that unique food culture, creating a lot of interesting Chinese vocabulary and conventional idioms.
To learn a country’s language, you should first try to understand a country’s culture, since culture and language are closely connected and inseparable as a whole. This is particularly true when learning Mandarin Chinese. Therefore, when foreigners learn Chinese, they should not only learn the language itself, but also have a deep understanding of the culture behind the Chinese language. Culture makes the language feel more true to life and interesting. We hope that through these everyday Chinese words and sentences shown and explained in this blog you will find out more about the Chinese language, and will start to have more fun and learn more easily. Most importantly, we hope you will develop a great passion with the language and culture of China so that you are more motivated and consistent with your learning.