Peaceful Christmas and Happy New Year in Chinese

One of my favorite Christmas carols is “Away in a Manger”. In Chinese it is usually referred to as 马槽歌 (Mǎ Cáo Gē) or 圣婴孩主耶稣 (Shèng Yīnghái Zhǔ Yēsū).

马槽 (mǎ cáo) is a trough for feeding horses. (gē) is a song.

Baby Jesus is usually referred to as 圣婴 (Shèng Yīng), or the Holy Baby. The song uses 圣婴孩 (Shèng Yīnghái) because there is an extra beat in the music that needs to be filled. 耶稣 (Yēsū) is Jesus. 主耶稣 (Zhǔ Yēsū) is Lord Jesus.

The peaceful nativity scene is captured in the beautiful tune composed by James R. Murray in 1887. At this link is John Denver’s rendition of the song.

If you are into improvising in playing the piano by ear, here are a couple helpful instruction videos by Yoke Wong and Rosa Suen.

To be able to improvise and re-harmonize a song on the piano, one will need to have some knowledge of the “rules” based on which many songs are composed. The better your understanding of the structure of a song, the better you will be able to apply the commonly used scale note intervals, chords and variations thereof to play the song your own way. This is not unlike learning a foreign language. You are better equipped to express yourself in the language when you know the underlying grammar and sentence patterns. This is why I put quite a bit of emphasis on grammar and sentence structure in my book “Learn Chinese through Songs and Rhymes“.

Another popular musical setting for “Away in a Manger” is the one by William J. Kirkpatrick (1895). In Book 5 of the Pianoforall piano course, Robin Hall shows you how to play a simple ballad style that you can apply to this version of the song.

To hear it in Chinese, please click on this link: 圣婴孩主耶稣 (Shèng Yīnghái Zhǔ Yēsū)

To see the lyrics in simplified Chinese characters, please click on the link then scroll down to item 15.

天堂 (tiāntáng) is heaven or paradise.

马棚 (mǎ péng) is a horse stall.

(zhěn) or 枕头 (zhěntou) is a pillow, and (chuáng) is a bed.

(wú) means without or nothing.

护卫 (hùwèi) is to protect or to guard. As a noun, this word refers to a bodyguard.

安睡 (ān shuì) is to sleep peacefully.

听见 (tīngjiàn) is to hear. (líng) is a bell.

梦醒 (mèng xǐng) means to wake up from a dream. 啼哭 (tíkū) is to cry or wail. 笑容 (xiàoróng) is a smiling face.

(cǎo) is grass. Here, it refers to the hay, or 干草 (gāncǎo).

(yuàn) is to hope for, wish for or be willing. As a noun, it means a wish. (qiú) is to beg, to beseech or to seek.

靠近 (kàojìn) is to be near or close-by or to get near. 身旁 (páng) means one’s side.

照顾 (zhàogu) is to look after or to give favorable consideration to.

(xì) as a verb means to tie or fasten.

身心 (shēnxīn) means body and mind. 受伤 (shòushāng) means to be hurt or harmed.

(cì) is to give, to grant or to favor someone with something as a superior. 恩惠 (ēnhuì) is a benefaction.

(zhòng) means the many or the multitude. 孩童 (hái tóng) are children.

世上 (shìshang) or 世界上 (shìjièshàng) means “in the world”.

相会 (xiàng huì) is to meet each other or to get together.

It’s been a very pleasant four years since I started blogging at this site to share my knowledge of Chinese and exchange ideas with you. As I’m having to deal with a health issue, I will not be posting any more lessons here in the foreseeable future. I may work on some other projects that are less demanding and do not have a time constraint. There are 210 lessons at this site that you are welcome to revisit anytime. Feel free to post your questions as a comment, and I will try to answer them as best I can. I thank you for your readership and wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

恭祝圣诞平安, 新年快乐!
Gōng zhù shèngdàn píngān, xīnnián kuàilè!
Respectfully wishing you a Peaceful Christmas and a Happy New Year!

P.S. I’ve added a few of my paintings and calligraphy to the “About” page of this blog site. You are welcome to take a look there as well.

11/1/15 I just posted a fun song “Down by the Bay in Chinese” at youtube. Please check it out and see if you can make other funny rhyming verses that the mother in the video might say.

Sing “I Was Born About Ten Thousand Years Ago” in Chinese



There are usually a few different ways to translate an English name to Chinese. Over the years standardized translations have evolved for many well-known names. For example, when I see 林肯 (Línkěn), I know right a way that it most likely refers to President Abraham Lincoln. (It would be interesting, though, for a Chinese guy with the last name Lin to give his son this famous name.)

The folk song “I Was Born Ten Thousand Years Ago” names a number of prominent figures from the Bible, or 圣经 (shèngjīng). I first came across this song in Jerry Silverman’s “Beginning Folk Guitar”. At this link is Elvis Presley’s spirited version of this song.

Now, Elvis Presley’s Chinese name is a mouthful that I don’t care to mention here. In Taiwan, he is simply known as 猫王 (Máo Wáng King of Cats). By the way, Ann-Margret was dubbed 女猫王 (Nǚ Máo Wáng Queen of Cats).

Anyway, one of the verses of “I Was Born About Ten Thousand Years Ago” goes as follows:

Yeah, I was born about ten thousand years ago.
Ain’t nothing in this world that I don’t know.
Saw Peter, Paul and Moses playing ring around the roses.
I’ll lick the guy that says it isn’t so.

Perhaps you will be inspired to sing my translation in Chinese:

Wǒ chūshēng zài yī wànnián qián de shíhòu.
I was born around ten thousand years ago.

Tiānxià méiyǒu yī jiàn shì wǒ bù chītòu.
There isn’t a single thing under the sky that I don’t know.

Jiàn guò Bǐdé, Bbǎoluó, Móxī;
I met Peter, Paul and Moses,

Tāmen yītóng wán zhe yóuxì.
Who were playing games together.

谁敢說不信? 莫非他想挨揍?
Shéi gǎn shuō bù xìn? Mòfēi tā xiǎng áizòu?
Who dares to say he doesn’t believe so,
unless he is asking for a spanking?

出生 (chūshēng) as a verb means to be born. As a noun it refers to the status of the family into which one was born.

Tā chūshēng bēiwēi.
He was born petty and low.

吃透 (chītòu)means to have a thorough grasp of something.

The Pharaoh is called 法老 (fǎlǎo). King David is 大卫王 (Dàwèi wáng). Jonah is 约纳 (Yuēnà). And Noah’s Ark is called 诺亚方舟 (Nuòyà fāngzhōu).

莫非 (mòfēi) means the same as 除非 (chúfēi unless).

(ái), when pronounced in the second tone, means to suffer or endure. For example, 挨打 (áidǎ) and 挨揍 (áizòu) refer to taking a beating, 挨骂 (áimà) means to be chided, and 挨饿 (áiè) is to starve.

Chinese word for hypocrisy

We know that being polite helps us get along with strangers as well as acquaintances. In particular, when we have a visiting guest, or 客人 (kèrén), we would be extra courteous and try to make them feel comfortable.

客气 (kèqi) means being polite, courteous or modest. On the other hand, depending on the situation, 不客气 (bùkèqi) could mean impolite, rude, or “Don’t mention it.”

好客 (hàokè) describes one who is gregarious and loves to entertain guests. Notice that, in this word, (hào) is pronounced in the fourth tone and means “to love to”. 做客 (zuòkè) means to be a guest.

王先生好客. 他时常在家里请客.
Wáng xiānsheng hàokè. Tā shícháng zài jiā liqǐngkè.

客房 (kèfáng) is a guest room, whereas 客厅 (kètīng) is a living room or parlor.

The passengers on a bus, a train or an airplane are also referred to as (kè). So,
客车 (kèchē) is a bus or a passenger train, 客机 (kèjī) is an airliner, and 乘客 (chéngkè) are the passengers.

顾客 (gùkè) are customers or shoppers. 政客 (zhèngkè) are politicians.

Understandably 客观 (kèguān) means looking at things in an objective way.

客套 (kètào) are civilities. 客套话 (kètào huà) is the polite platitude exchanged among guests. This often includes some compliments or flattery called 恭维 (gōngwéi a compliment; to flatter).

Sometimes the compliments we give or receive may be insincere. 虚伪 (xūwěi) and 虚假 (xūjiǎ) both mean being false or hypocritical. This word can also be used as a noun that means pretense or hypocrisy.

Wǒ bù xǐhuān tā de xūwěi zuòzuò.
I don’t like her insincere and affected ways.

Wǒ kànchuān le tā de xūqíngjiǎyì.
I have seen through his false display of affection.

(xū) means empty, false, nominal or physically weak. 虚无 (xūwú) is nothingness.

空虚 (kōngxū) means hollow or empty. 心里的空虚 (xīn li de kōngxū) means the emptiness in one’s heart.

心虚 (xīnxū) means lacking self confidence or having a guilty conscience and afraid of being found out. A commonly used Chinese idiom describing the latter condition is 做贼心虚 (zuòzéixīnxū). A thief is apt to have an uneasy feeling and fears being found out.

On the other hand, 虚心 (xūxīn) means being open-minded or modest.

Wǒ huì xūxīn di xiàng tā xuéxí.
I will learn from him with humility.

谦虚 (qiānxū) also means being modest. 谦虚的话 (qiānxū de huà) are self-effacing remarks.

虚荣 (xūróng) is vanity.

虚弱 (xūruò) means weak and feeble because of poor health.

(xūjiǎ) and (wěi) mean false or fake.

伪造 (wěizào) means to forge or fabricate.

伪君子 (wěijūnzǐ) is a hypocrite.

How to 辨别真伪 (biànbié zhēn wěi), i.e. tell the true from the false? It definitely requires a keen mind’s eye.

Chinese word for praising someone

Everybody likes to receive a pat on the back from time to time for a job well done.

Yīnyuè lǎoshī kuājiǎng Lìlì de gēhóugē hǎo.
The music teacher praises Lily’s nice singing voice.

Rénrén chēngzàn tā shì gè hǎo zhàngfū.
Everyone commends him as a good husband.

夸奖 (kuājiǎng) and 称赞 (chēngzàn) both mean to praise or to commend someone.

Today we will take a look at the two characters that make up the word 称赞 (chēngzàn).

(chēng) has multiple meanings. In 称赞 (chēngzàn), it serves as the verb “to call” or “to state”. (zàn) is the approval that is issued.

称呼 (chēnghu) and 称谓 (chēngwèi) are forms of address. 称呼 (chēnghu) can also be used as a verb.

Shūshu de qīzi yīngdāng zěnme chēnghu?
How should one address the wife of an uncle?

名称 (míngchēng) is the name of an item or an organization, and 别称 (biéchēng) is an alternative name or an alias.

称病 (chēngbìng) is to claim to be ill. 称霸 (chēngbà) is to claim control or hegemony.

(chèng) is a balance or a steelyard. As a verb, it means to weigh something. This word is pronounced in the fourth tone. 对称 (duìchèng) means balanced and symmetrical.

When pronounced as (chèn), this word means to befit or to suit. Therefore, 称职 (chènzhí) means to have abilities that match a job post. 称心 (chènxīn) describes something that is satisfactory and pleases one’s mind.

(zàn) means to agree with, to favor, to support or to commend.

赞成 (zànchéng) and 赞同 (zàntóng) mean to approve of, to agree with or to endorse.

Tā bùzànchéng jīntiān qù diàoyú.
She disapproves of going fishing today.

赞许 (zànxǔ) and 赞扬 (zànyáng) both mean to commend or speak favorably of someone.

赞佩 (zànpèi) and 赞赏 (zànshǎng) mean to admire and appreciate someone.

赞美 (zànměi) and 赞颂 (zànsòng) mean to praise or to eulogize. Hymns are called 赞美诗 (zànměishī) or 赞美歌 (zànměigē).

赞不绝口 (zànbùjuěkǒu) is a Chinese idiom that means to be full of praise.

Lǎobǎn duìyú zhèi wèi xīn zhíyuán zànbùjuěkǒu.
The boss has nothing but praises for this new employee.

By the way, the sound of (zàn) in the Taiwanese dialect means “Great!” or “Wonderful!”.

Things to be thankful for in Chinese

Pumpkin and Acorn Squash

Pumpkin and Acorn Squash


As I bring in an acorn squash from my garden as the last of the harvest of the year, my heart is filled with gratitude. Indeed I’m thankful for many other things. Here is a partial list. I am sure you can add many more to your own list (in Chinese, please).


Gǎnxiè fùmǔ de yǎngyù.
Thanks to my parents for bringing me up.

Gǎnxiè jiārén de àihù.
Thanks to my family members for loving me.

Gǎnxiè lǎoshī de jiàodǎo.
Thanks to my teachers for educating me.

Gǎnxiè péngyǒu fēnxiǎng huānlè jí fēndān yōulǜ.
Thanks to my friends for sharing my joys and worries.

Gǎnxiè línjū de yǒuqíng hé bāngzhù.
Thanks to my neighbors for their friendship and help.

Gǎnxiè tóngshì de hézuò.
Thanks to my colleagues for their collaboration.

Gǎnxiè nóngrén shēngchǎn liángshi.
Thanks to the farmers who produce food for us.

Gǎnxiè yī hù rényuán de yīliáo
Thanks to the health care professionals for their treatments

Gǎnxiè yóuchāi dìsòng xìnjiàn jí bāoguǒ.
Thanks to the mailman for delivering the mail and packages.

Gǎnxiè nénggòu jūzhù zài wěndìng de shèhuì.
Thanks for being able to live in a stable society.

Gǎnxiè nénggòu hūxī xīnxiān de kōngqì jí hē qīngjié de shuǐ.
Thanks for having clean air to breathe and clean water to drink.

Gǎnxiè yǒu měihǎo de dàzìrán kěyǐ xīnshǎng.
Thanks for the beauty in nature for everyone to appreciate.

Gǎnxiè yǒu yuè’ěr de yīnyuè fǔwèi wǒmén de xīnlíng.
Thanks for the beautiful music that comforts the soul.

Gǎnxiè nénggòu tōngguò wǎnglù huòqǔ fēngfù de zhīshí
Thanks for the Internet that connects me with a wealth of knowledge.

Gǎnxiè dúzhě ài yuè wǒde shū jí wǎngyē.
Thanks to my readers for reading my books and web page.

Granted that not all days are rosy, and each one of us has some problems to deal with, let’s remember, though, that it could be much worse. As we’ve mentioned before,

比上不足, 比下有餘.
Bǐshàngbùzú, bǐxiàyǒuyú.
Things may fall short of the best but still be better than the worst.

Gǎnēn jié kuàilè!
Happy Thanksgiving!


Chinese checkers, anyone?

Chinese checkerboard modified for marble solitaire

Chinese checkerboard modified for marble solitaire

In Chapters 11 through 14 of the book “Learn Chinese Songs and Rhymes” we studied a number of action words (verbs), one of which is (tiào jump). This same word also means to leap, to hop or to skip.

Fleas are called 跳蚤 (tiàozǎo) because they jump around.

跳动 (tiàodòng) is to move up and down or to pulsate.

Nǐ de màibó měi fēnzhōng tiàodòng jǐ cì?
What’s your pulse rate?
(How many times does your pulse beat in a minute?)

跳班 (tiàobān) or 跳级 (tiàojí) means to skip a grade.

跳槽 (tiàocáo) means to change job. This usually refers to the situation in which one goes to work for another company to the current employer’s disadvantage.

跳行 (tiàoháng) means to skip a line while reading. It can also mean to change one’s 行业 (hángyè trade or profession). In this case, it is synonymous with 改行 (gǎiháng).

心跳 (xīntiào) means heartbeat or palpitation.

我害怕极了, 心跳不停.
Wǒ hàipà jíle, xīntiào bùtíng.
I was extremely scared, and my heart thumped without stopping.

眼跳 (yǎntiào), or 眼皮跳 (yǎnpí tiào), refers to the involuntary twitching of the eyelid. Some people believe that twitching of the lower eyelids predicts a happy event, while twitching of the upper eyelids foretells bad news.

心惊肉跳 (xīnjīngròutiào) describes a state of apprehension, in which the heart beats fast and the flesh shakes.

下棋 (xiàqí) means to play a strategic board game involving small pieces. The game of go is called 围棋 (wéiqí). 西洋棋 (xīyáng qí) is the chess game. Chinese chess is called 象棋 (xiàngqí). The checkers game is 西洋跳棋 (xīyáng), and Chinese checkers is 跳棋 (tiàoqí).

The checkers game is comparatively simple. You can move only diagonally, one space at a time. When an opponent’s piece is in your way, you can jump over it and capture the piece. Whoever captures all of the opponent’s pieces first wins. In Chinese, capturing an opponent’s piece is called (chī eat). This word is also used in the game of mahjong when you are able to form a meld by taking the piece that the previous player has just discarded.

With the game of Chinese checkers, you can move a piece only when there is a neighboring piece that can be jumped over. You don’t “eat” an opponent’s piece. Rather, your goal is to get all of your pieces across the board to the triangular area on the opposite side. Whoever accomplishes this first wins. You can have up to six players in a game, but usually it is played with two or three players.

竞争 (jìngzhēng) means to compete, and 竞赛 (jìngsài) is a competition. If you would like to find out more about the personality of your friends or colleagues, invite them to a friendly game of Chinese checkers.

赖皮 (làipí)

Are the players 冷静 (lěngjìng sober and clam) or 急躁 (jízào impatient)? Do they adhere to the rules or do they try to cheat?

下棋要遵守规则, 不可以赖皮.
Xiàqí yào zūnshǒu guīzé, bù kěyǐ làipí.
When playing the board game, we must follow the rules and not cheat.

Yíng jiā bù yào deyìyángyáng.
The winner should not act too cocky.

Shū jiā yào bǎochí liánghǎo fēngdù.
The loser should maintain good demeanor.

If you have some time to spare, you could try blocking off an area on the Chinese checkerboard as shown in the above photo and play a variation of the marble solitaire. You may move a piece only by jumping over another piece. Remove the piece that was jumped over to uncover a new empty space. The only spaces available are the ones originally occupied by the pieces plus the one empty space at the apex of the triangular area. The goal is to have at the end a single piece remaining at the apex of the triangular area where the empty space is now showing in the photo. A word of caution:

Zhègè mí tí bù róngyì jiě.
This puzzle is not easy to solve.

Chinese word for beans

Shrimp with Young Soy Beans

Shrimp with Young Soy Beans

The Chinese words (dòu) and 豆子 (dòuzi) can refer to beans or peas. Therefore, you’ll need to add another character to the word to clarify what you are talking about.

豌豆 (wāndòu) are peas.

绿豆 (lǜdòu) are mung beans.

红小豆 (hóngxiǎodòu) are the little red beans used for making sweet red bean paste. They are often referred to simply as 红豆 (hóngdòu), although this term can be applied to any bean that has a reddish color. In fact, the Chinese call the red seeds of the Abrus precatorius (crab’s eye) 红豆 (hóngdòu) or 相思豆 (xiāngsī dòu love bean). 相思 (xiāngsī) is the longing between lovers or close friends. This word can be used as a noun or a verb. Before I looked up information about these seeds at this link, I did not know that they are poisonous. Young people give these to friends as a token of their affection, and I did receive a few of these seeds on a couple occasions before.

There is a well-known poem written by the famous poet 王维 (Wáng Wéi)
during the Tang Dynasty, or 唐朝 (Tángcháo).

Hóngdòu shēn nánguó,
Red beans grow in the country to the south,

chūn lái fā jǐ zhī.
and in spring they issue a few new shoots.

Yyuàn jūn duō cǎixié,
I hope you will pick a bunch of them

cǐ wù zuì xiāngsī.
as this thing evokes the most intense longing for a dear  friend afar.

Soybeans are called 大豆 (dàdòu) or 黄豆 (huángdòu). As they say, “If you plant melon seeds, you will get melons; if you plant beans, then you will get beans.”

种瓜得瓜, 种豆得豆.
Zhòngguādéguā, zhòngdòudédòu.
You will reap what you sow.

That is true if the conditions are favorable and the seeds germinate and grow, and the seedlings are not devoured by critters. Young bean shoots and the tender new growth at the tip of the vines are called 豆苗 (dòumiáo). They are delicious stir-fried or added to soups.

When the 豆荚 (dòujiá bean pods or pea pods) have swollen but still green, the seeds that you find in them are young and tender. At this stage, they are referred to as 毛豆 (máodòu fuzzy soybean) because of the fuzz covering the pods. In Japanese they are called edamame. The tender green seeds look somewhat like lima beans but have a smoother texture and a more subtle taste. They are excellent as a snack or in stir-fried dishes.

When fully ripened, the seeds are hard and take on a light yellowish color. Those are the 黄豆 (huángdòu soybeans) used for making soy milk, bean curds, bean pastes and sou nuts.

豆腐 (dòufu bean curd, tofu) is an important source of protein for many Asian vegetarians. Many Chinese drink 豆浆 (dòujiāng soybean milk) as part of their breakfast. 豆腐皮 (dòufupí) is the protein-rich film that floats to the top when you cook soy milk. This term also refers to very thin sheets of bean curd or the outer layer of deep-fried bean curd.

Tofu products are often flavored with 酱油 (jiàngyóu soy sauce), yet another food product made from the amazing soy beans.

Sweet bean pastes are called 豆沙 (dòushā). These are used as fillings for moon cakes, sweet rice dumplings, buns and many other snacks.

If you have a handful of soy beans, you could put them in a jar of water and grow your own bean sprouts, or 豆芽儿 (dòuyár). The soy bean sprouts are larger than the mung bean sprouts that are sold in the supermarkets.

Following are a few words that make use of the “bean” radical.

(duǎn) means short, brief, lacking or a weak point.

(gǔ) is a percussion instrument like a rattle or a drum. As a verb, this word means to strike (a musical instrument), to agitate or to swell.

厨房 (chúfáng) is the kitchen.

逗留 (dòuliú) is to stay or stop at a place.

(dēng) is to ascend or scale a height, as in 登山 (dēngshān mountain-climbing). To put an article in a magazine or newspaper is called 刊登 (kāndēng).

You already know how to draw a horizontal stroke to write the numeral 1 in Chinese. There is a set of more complicated characters used for writing the numerals on checks, banknotes and currencies to help prevent alterations. For the numeral 1, the “official” character is (yī). I’ll let you do some research and find out what the characters are that represent the other nine numerals.

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