Chinese New Year is widely considered to be the most important holiday in China. Known in Mandarin as Chūnjié｜春节 or Guònián｜过年, it is a period symbolized by family reunion (tuánjù|团聚), and represented by various customs that Chinese people across the world take part in over a span of several weeks leading up to and following the start of the new year. This month, as we get ready to say goodbye to the Monkey and welcome in the Fire Rooster, remember, just as so many people around the world celebrate Christmas regardless of culture and ethnicity, you don’t have to be Chinese or living in China to celebrate Chinese New Year. This special holiday is really about family, a fresh start, and good wishes for you and your loved ones. True to the essence of Chinese New Year, here are 6 simple things you can do this year to join in on the festivities and bring happiness to those around you, wherever you may be in the world.
Chinese New Year is here! Also known as the Spring Festival | 春节 ｜Chūnjié), it is the New Year celebrated by a huge portion of the Eastern part of the world. Lets look at the top ten traditions that are honored every year.
Learning Chinese characters may seem intimidating, but I have a secret technique! The key is to learn the WAY to learn Chinese Characters. I know that may sound complicated…but it’s really not! Consider this…
There are two main components to learning any language: Figuring out what to do, and then doing it! Doing it takes discipline, but it truly can be done by just about anyone. Most people that quit learning a language do so because they can’t figure out what to do. The two main difficulties people encounter when learning the Chinese language are mastering the tones and the characters. This is why the dropout rate in colleges for Mandarin as a foreign language is 4x higher than that of Spanish or French.
So let’s break it down…
For tones, start by listening and mimicking audio recordings of native speakers. This will put you way ahead of the game. Trying to go from pinyin and tone charts to correct pronunciation is a surefire way to fail.
You can’t just look at a tone chart and think you can now pronounce tones correctly.
People often think in terms of these lines and try to produce sound, rather than listening and repeating the tones. That creates a big disconnect between what they think they are saying and what they are actually saying. If you’re thinking of these “tone lines” instead of listening to actual native speaker tones, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Instead, you have to listen! Master the sounds first, then learn how to write those sounds. That applies to pinyin, bopomofo AND characters!
The fact that you are here on ChinesePod is fabulous. The authentic, conversational audio is great, but, you still have to make use of it! Owning spinach won’t bring you any health benefits; eating it will. You can make use of ChinesePod’s pronunciation tools and be sure to check out the Say it Right series!
That brings us to what I really want to talk about: Characters. Characters are complex enough that if you don’t understand how they work, you will probably fail. But, if you do understand how they work, you can master them. According to memory experts, like Dr. Kenneth L. Higbee, the number one rule for effective memorization is that you understand. Understand what? Understand the thing you are trying to learn. When I write, I hate repetition. But, notice that a certain word has popped up several times in this paragraph? Understand. Understand how characters actually work. That is the key.
You can’t just break them down into whatever parts you want. Well, you can, but you’re creating more pain and suffering for yourself. If you break 愿 yuàn “to be willing” into 厂 factory + 白 white + 小 small + 心 heart, you’ll miss the fact that it’s really 原 yuán + 心 heart/feeling! Trying to remember parts as unrelated as “factory,” “white,” “small” and “heart” while trying to tie them to the meaning “to be willing” and the sound yuàn is just a lot of extra work! As this example shows, characters are made up of parts that express sound and meaning.
It is understanding how they express sound and meaning that allows for learning with less mental effort. Understanding how characters express sound and meaning gives us clues. Clues that allow us to use sound and meaning to pluck our memory strings and remember how to write. It also allows us to make intelligent guesses about characters we haven’t even learned yet.
So…do you want to know how characters really work?
Most characters are made up of components. These components can have different functions, so we call them “functional components.” The three main types of functional components are form components, meaning components, and sound components. Want to know more? There’s plenty more here.
If you learn using functional components, you can reap benefits such as clearing up confusion caused by similar-looking components, such as 艮 vs. 良, being able to make intelligent predictions about the sounds and meanings of characters you haven’t even learned yet or improve your ability to recall a character’s form similar to a computer input method. Read on!
The problem is, you can’t tell with any certainty how a modern character works just by looking at it. That’s why we made the Outlier Dictionary of Chinese Characters, which is an add-on for Pleco. Our dictionary solves the “understanding” problem. Now you just have to put in the time to learn.
Story-based series are my favorite feature on ChinesePod. Regardless of the topic, they sustain an element of curiosity from lesson to lesson. Watching my kids grow and learn, I’ve seen that one of the most important ways for them to absorb language is listening to stories. They love it. They soak up every word. Even if the lines aren’t exactly Shakespeare, they’re still curious to know what happens next. Drama and suspense make things memorable.
The first extended story I listened to was the 9-part Intermediate-level “Beauty Pageant for Bloggers” series. To say that this topic didn’t interest me would be a major understatement. However, the opportunity to participate in an unfolding plot line in Chinese for the first time was thrilling. I gained an appreciation for why kids want to watch the same simple shows over and over: Each time, they’re picking up something new.
The next series I heard was a real treat: The 17-episode Lili and Zhang Liang love story. When you put the dialogues into a playlist, they last for a whopping 26 minutes. And remember: This entire drama is appropriate for HSK 4 learners. I know of nothing else like it out there.
The Intermediate level gives us several more, including Lao Wang’s Office, a mixture of useful office language with the realistic and intense conflict between new and old management.
At the Upper Intermediate level, things get even better. The suspenseful Jizhou series is a strange story about a couple who travel to a remote mountain village. The man disappears after hearing a strange flute, and no one but the woman remembers that he existed. Creepy. I recently played the first dialogue for my 5-year-old, and he wouldn’t let me stop until he heard the whole story.
Perhaps the most popular story in ChinesePod history is the 11-part Detective Li crime series. Initially, it’s like a TV show where each installment stands alone, but the further it goes, the more entangled the episodes—and the mystery—become. The audio production values are on par with Hollywood, and the plot is so entertaining that I plan to re-study this whole series in the coming months. Warning: Some episodes are not for the squeamish!
In a similar genre, Funny Business is actually a continuation of Lao Wang’s Office, but now with a surprising turn to the underworld. Lao Wang’s failure in the office pushes him into new and “creative” ways of making money that cause his accountant to start asking potentially fatal questions.
On the Advanced level, we get a dramatic introduction to archaic language: 小太监进宫 tells us of a young eunuch dealing with catty intrigue in the Emperor’s palace, while 孙悟空三打白骨精 introduces us to a beloved character every Chinese child knows—the Monkey King.
While shorter than most others at only 3 lessons, 扎着麻花辫的女孩 provides gripping audio and big twists with each episode.
If these are all out of your reach, don’t despair! There’s the hilarious junior high Yang Jie’s Diary for Elementary learners, detailing “the simpler days of ugly boys, teenage angst and unrequited crushes.”
Most of the above links will only take you to the first lesson. I’ve created a more complete list of links to these and other ChinesePod stories on my personal blog.
Even if you’re not interested in a particular topic, the opportunity to hear a developing story in level-appropriate Chinese is priceless. I’d recommend resisting the urge to listen ahead. Don’t spoil the story! Instead, study each lesson thoroughly before moving forward.
Sichuan cuisine, is also known or spelled as Szechwan cuisine, or Szechuan cuisine (/ˈsɛʃwɒn/ or /ˈsɛtʃwɒn/) and it is a style of Chinese cuisine originating from Sichuan Province. We will use the contemporary spelling: Sichuan
If Cantonese style cooking is the most popular in the United States, Sichuan is the most popular in China. As noted it originated from the Southwestern region of China and is known for deep and rich flavors, especially the taste of Sichuan pepper. In other words: Spicy which is rare in China’s other regional cuisines.
But Sichuan cuisine is not only spicy, it tends to be hot.
Perhaps one of the most remarkable things about the Sichuan philosophy in food is its wide diversity. If you named any number of traditional Sichuan dishes, most of them would be completely different from each other, both in taste and cooking method. There is a saying (whose cleverness unfortunately doesn’t translate all that well to English, although its meaning is felt) ‘One dish with one flavor, with one hundred dishes come hundred flavors.‘
As noted, Sichuan food is most well-known for its hot and spicy flavors, though it may sport sweet and sour flavors too.
And the Sichuan palate recognizes several important flavors which are referred to as “The Five Fragrances”
These five are:
Cinnamon and clove
Chili and Sichuan pepper. Read here why Sichuan Peppers make your lips go numb.
Seasonings of Sichuan Cuisine
Separately from the Five Fragrances, Sichuan cuisine simply cannot do without Sichuan pepper, black pepper, chili, broad bean chili paste, shallots, ginger, and garlic.
These are must-have seasonings that bring out the intense flavors the dishes are renowned for. Without them you simply have spicy food. They are like the Trinity in cajun cooking.
Balancing the Five Fragrances with the traditional seasonings (especially the lip numbing Sichuan Pepper) is pretty much the heart and soul of Sichuan Cuisine, and as noted helps produce a prodigious variety of flavors and dishes.
Sichuan cuisine favors a fast and furious approach to the actual cooking. It is not a tradition that features much fermentation, chemical methods of cooking like Ceviche, or multistep processes like cheese making or the like. Instead, Sichuan chef’s prefer fast cooking methods like stir-frying, steaming, braising, baking.
The most common is fast-frying.
Finally, the Sichuan chef is often measured against their preparations of the most famous traditional Sichuan dishes.
Here is a great list of some of the fiery traditional fare.
- ‘Pockmarked Granny’ Bean Curd (Mapo Tofu)
Mapo (/maa-por/) tofu is bean curd served in a chili-and-bean-based sauce — usually a thin, oily, and bright red suspension — and often topped with minced meat; It is often seasoned with water chestnuts, onions, other vegetables, or wood ear fungus.
The taste of mapo tofu is charitably described as ‘numbing,’ Its super hot by tradition, fresh, tender and soft, aromatic and flaky.
Mapo tofu is not exclusive to Sichuan but this dish is. It is also one of the most exported dishes of the Chinese diaspora.
- Spicy Diced Chicken (Kung Pao Chicken)
Kung Pao Chicken is actually its Cantonese name, and read as Gongbao Jiding (宫保鸡丁 /gong-baow jee-ding/ ‘Palace-Protected Chicken Cubes’) in Mandarin. But it is Sichuan in origin.
The dish is prepared by frying diced chicken and dry red pepper with golden peanuts. Spicy diced chicken is more popular among Westerners than its counterpart mapo tofu.
Like Cajun or Thai spice afficianados, the Sichuan chefs brag that it is the more popular of the two because it is usually less spicy, or not at all, when served abroad and outside Sichuan province—because Fiery, lip numbing spice and all.
- Fuqi Fei Pian (‘Husband and Wife Lung Slices’)
Fuqi Fei Pian, the brainchild of Guo Zhaohua, is made of thinly sliced beef (or bovine lung or tongue) seasoned with chili oil.
Like the name suggests, there is a story behind this famous Sichuan dish—one far less grisly than it would suggest.
Zhaohua and his wife sold their vinegar-ized beef slices for a living from a street cart. As their beef slices were aromatic and delicious, They became one of the most popular food items in the city. In honor of the couple, patrons coined the name — Husband and Wife Lung Slices.
- Sichuan Hot Pot
Sichuan hotpot, like most of the cuisine in this humid and populous province, is numbingly spicy. The broth is flavored with chili peppers and other strong-tasting herbs and spices.
The main ingredients include hot pepper, Chinese crystal sugar, and wine. Slices of kidney, chicken breast, beef tripe, goose intestines, spring onion, soy bean sprouts, mushrooms, duck, and sea cucumber are the usual meats used in the dish.
- Dandan Mian (Dandan Noodles)
Dandan noodles is yet another quintessential Sichuan dish that has received international attention and hence may come in different versions.
Unlike the usually watered down ones outside Sichuan, dandan noodles in Sichuan province embody a combustion of flavors — savoury, nutty, spicy, and smoky. The noodles are drenched in chili oil with vegetables, Sichuan pepper, and minced pork served on top.
- Ganbian Sijidou (Dry Stir Fried Green Beans)
There has been a misconception about this dish being oily and heavy. However, when done right in Sichuan province, the stir-fried green beans are supposed to be light and crunchy. Also known as snap beans or string beans, the beans are prepared with the cooking technique “dry-frying” where lesser oil is needed and a longer frying time required. This dehydrates the beans, creating a crispy outer layer.
The beans are subsequently tossed sufficiently in chili-flavored oil, Sichuan pepper, scallions, garlic, and ginger.
Sichuan Cuisine is fairly easy to understand and recognize. Strong flavors, generally very fiery. Part of the dining experience is the aromas (or the five fragrances) and the use of a pepper that literally makes your lips and mouth go numb.
In our next installment we will be discussing what is seen as the most refined and artistic of the Great Cuisines of China. Jiangsu Cuisine
Chinese: 苏菜 Sūcài
- Fresh, moderately salty and sweet, precise cooking techniques, favoring seafood, soups and artistic, colorful presentation
Jiangsu Province and China’s biggest city, Shanghai, have a very refined gourmet cuisine that is often served at government banquets.