Chinese characters, known as Hanzi, are visual representations of words or phrases. They’re not based on an alphabet but rather on strokes and radicals. Some characters are simple, while others can be incredibly intricate, composed of multiple strokes. There are approximately 50,000 characters in the Chinese language, though most people only need to know around 3,000 to 4,000 for daily use.
Radicals and Components:
Characters are built using radicals, which are smaller components that contribute to the meaning or pronunciation. Understanding radicals helps in deciphering new characters and their meanings. For example, the character for “peace” (安) is composed of the radicals for “woman” and “roof,” suggesting a woman inside her house symbolizes peace. Chinese characters can be pictographic, ideographic, or phonetic, making them a visual representation of ideas and sounds.
Mandarin Chinese, the most spoken dialect, is tonal, meaning the pitch or intonation used when pronouncing a word can change its meaning entirely. This tonal aspect is a significant challenge for many learners but is also a defining and fascinating feature. There are 4 tones in Chinese.
To aid in pronunciation and learning, the Pinyin system uses Roman letters to represent Chinese sounds. It’s widely used in textbooks and language learning resources for beginners.
While spoken Mandarin (Putonghua) is the official language, China has numerous dialects like Cantonese, Shanghainese, and more. The diversity of Chinese dialects often leads to situations where people may not fully understand each other when communicating verbally, prompting the use of written notes to convey their intended meaning.
Classical Chinese and Proverbs:
Sentences from classical Chinese convey the wisdom and knowledge of the time, and are often still quoted and referred to in today’s Chinese society. Classical Chinese, used in ancient texts, differs significantly from modern Chinese in grammar and vocabulary, making it challenging for modern Chinese speakers to understand without specific training.
Here are a few classical Chinese proverbs:
🐉 知之为知之，不知为不知，是知也。(Zhī zhī wéi zhī zhī, bù zhī wéi bù zhī, shì zhī yě.) – “To know what you know and what you do not know, that is true knowledge.”
🐉 己所不欲，勿施于人。(Jǐ suǒ bù yù, wù shī yú rén.) – “Do not do to others what you would not want done to yourself.”
🐉 学而不思则罔，思而不学则殆。(Xué ér bù sī zé wǎng, sī ér bù xué zé dài.) – “Learning without thought is labor lost; thought without learning is perilous.”
🐉 知人者智，自知者明。(Zhī rén zhě zhì, zì zhī zhě míng.) – “He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened.”