Qualities of a Great Father in Chinese

爸爸 (bàba) or 爹 (diē) is to 父亲 (fùqin) as papa or dad is to father. 父 (fù) is one of the radicals of Chinese characters, but there aren’t many characters in this group.

It used to be that being a good father meant being a good provider for the family. Nowadays that has become the minimum requirement. A great deal more is expected of a father in modern days. Let’s see how we can phrase it in Chinese. Please pay special attention to the four-character idioms that I’ve highlighted below.

Tā nǔlì gōngzuò yǐ quèbǎo yījiā de wēnbǎo.
He works hard to ensure the food and clothing of the family.

Tā ài tā de qīzi hé háizi men.
He loves his wife and children.

Tā bù chóng nán qīng nǚ.
He does not favor his sons over his daughters.

Tā de sīxiǎng kāimíng, yǒu tóng lǐ xīn.
He is open-minded and shows empathy.

Tā shì háizimen de liángshīyìyǒu.
He is a good teacher and a helpful friend to his children.

他乐意花时间教导儿女, 同他们游戏与沟通.
Tā lèyì huā shíjiān jiàodǎo érnǚ, tóng tāmen yóuxì yǔ gōutōng.
He is willing to spend time teaching his children, playing and communicating with them.

以身作则, 并且耐心矫正儿女的过错.
Tā yǐshēnzuòzé, bìngqiě nàixīn jiǎozhèng er nǚ de guòcuò.
He leads by example, and patiently corrects the faults of his children.

他注重健康, 奉公守法, 热心助人.
Tā zhùzhòng jiànkāng, fènggōngshǒufǎ, rèxīn zhùrén.
He pays attention to health, obeys the law, and is enthusiastic about helping others.

他诚恳, 正直, 值得信赖.
Tā chéngkěn, zhengzhi, zhide xinlai.
HHe is sincere, upright and trustworthy.

他尊重儿女对于宗教, 职业以及配偶的选择.
Tā zūnzhòng érnǚ duìyú zōngjiào,zhíyè yǐjí pèi’ǒu de xuǎnzé.
He respects his children’s choice of religion, career and spouse.

Thinking back, I feel truly grateful to have been blessed with a wonderful father. How I miss him!

Zhù fùqīn jié kuàilè!
Have a Happy Father’s Day!

As it happens to be Dragon Boat Festival 端午节 (duānwǔjié) today, you might be interested in watching how the special glutinous rice dumpling is prepared in this video. You can read the associated blog post here.

Read a novel in Chinese and English

Chinese edition of The Little Monk

The Little Monk in Chinese

The Little Monk

The Little Monk in English

Earlier this year I mentioned that I planned to publish a middle-grade novel in both English and Chinese. I am pleased to announce that the English and Chinese editions of “The Little Monk are now available as Kindle eBooks at amazon.com.

It’s been quite a few years since I started this blog site, and I hope that some of you have advanced to the intermediate level in your study of the Chinese language. Are you ready to take on the challenge of reading a complete novel in Chinese? To date there is still a shortage of bilingual English-Chinese reading material for intermediate level language students.

The fact is that reading the same material side by side in Chinese and English can greatly benefit both the Chinese and English language learners.

If you don’t have a Kindle reading device, you can still read Kindle eBooks─on your PC, Mac, iPhone, Blackberry, or Android-based phone or tablet. Please see the information provided at this link.

To give you an idea of what the story is about, here is a brief description.

十七世纪中, 台湾被称作福摩萨,  
Shíqīshìjì zhōng, Táiwān bèi chēng zuò Fú Mó Sà,
In the 17th century, Taiwan was called the Island of Formosa,

yì wéi měilì de xiǎodǎo.
meaning “Beautiful Island”.

岛上有宜人的气候, 令人瞩目的风景, 
Dǎo shàng yǒu yírén de qìhòu, lìngrén zhǔmù de fēngjǐng,
The island featured pleasant climate, eye-catching scenery,

yǐjí fēngfù de zìran zīyuán.
and rich natural resources.

各国强权纷纷来到, 建立了殖民地.
Gèguó qiángquán fēnfēn láidào, jiànlì le zhímíndì.
Foreign powers flocked to the place to colonize it.

Zhègè gùshi fāshēng zài yīgè bèi Xībānyá tǒngzhì de dìqū.
This story took place during the brief Spanish rule of part of the island.

Wáwa chūshēng zhīhòu bùjiǔ jiù yǔ tā de fùmǔ fēnlí
Shortly after Wawa was born, he was separated from his parents

ér bèi yī wèi shào lín héshàng shōuróng le.
and taken in by a Chinese Shaolin monk.

他十二岁时已经熟读佛经, 并且练了一身好功夫.
Tā shí’èr suì shí yǐjīng shú dú Fójīng, bìngqiě liàn le yīshēn hǎo gōngfu.
At the age of 12, he was already trained in Buddhism and kung fu skills.

Wáwa xiǎng yào cóng lìngwài yī wèi shīfu nàr xuéxí shí hóu gōng.
Wawa wanted to learn the unique Rock Monkey Kung Fu from another master.

在前往那位师父的途中, 他遇到了他的父亲尤大, 
Zài qiánwǎng nèi wèi shīfu de túzhōng, tā bùyì yùdào le tā de fùqin Yóudà.
On the trip to seek the other master, Wawa encountered his father Yotas,

Dànshì liǎng rén dōu bù zhīdào tāmen zhījiān de fù zǐ guānxi.
but neither one was aware of their kinship.

Wáwa yě yùdào tā de duìshǒu Míngshàn.
Wawa also encountered his adversary, Mingshan.

Míngshàn zhèng yào bāngzhù Xībānyá jūnduì dàibǔ Yóudà.
Minshan was helping the conquistadors to capture Yotas.

The twists in the plot of this story will keep you wondering what eventually happened to each of the main characters. At the same time, you will have a glimpse of the local scenery and the multi-cultural history of the place. You will be entertained by the amazing kung fu fighting actions, and hopefully also give some thought to racial prejudice and religious tolerance.

To watch a video showing scenes similar to those used as the background of this story, please click on this link:

To watch a video about the aborigine tribes in Taiwan, please click on this link:

Man, a radical? (continued)

Here are a few more simple characters that take (rén person) as the root.

(nèi inside, internal)
(ròu meat)
(qiū imprison, prisoner)
(liǎng two)
(zuò sit)
(jiá sandwiched between )
(lái come)

It makes sense to call one’s own wife 內人 (nèirén my wife), which, word for word, translates to “inside person”. The general term for “wife” is 妻子 (qīzi). So, 內人 (nèirén), 我的妻子 (wǒ de qīzi), and 我太太 (wǒ tàitai), all mean “my wife”. Some people refer to their wives as 我老婆 (wǒ lǎopo my old woman), which may reflect the speaker’s modesty but does not sound that great when translated to English.

Strictly speaking, some of the above characters contain the character (rù enter) rather than (rén person). With (rù enter), the slanted stroke on the right side extends beyond the slanted stroke on the left side. The printed font exaggerates the difference between these two characters. In reality, (rù enter) is simply the mirror image of (rén person).

Add another (rù) to the character (nèi inside, internal), and you’ll get the word for “meat”, (ròu).

Put a person inside a box, and you’ll get the word for confinement or imprisonment, (qiū).

You know that (èr) means “two”. (liǎng two) is also used to indicate “two”. It appropriately contains a pair of the character (rù).

Similarly, (zuò sit) contains a pair of the character (rén person). It represents two people sitting on the ground. The character for the ground or soil is (tǔ).

(jiá sandwiched between ) contains a person sandwiched between two other persons. 夾子 (jiázi) is a small tweezer. When you use your chopsticks to pick up food, the action is represented by the word (jiá).

The traditional Chinese character for the word “come” contains a pair of (rén). In the corresponding simplified character, (lái come), the two (rén) characters are reduced to a pair of tick marks.

来了 (lái le) can mean “to be coming” or “to have come”. Now, you can add one of the nouns you have learned, and form a sentence. For example, 爸爸来了 (bàba lái le).

While serving a meal to a friend, you could say:
(Lái)! 夾一塊肉吃 (Jiá yī kuài ròu chī).
Come! Help yourself to a piece of meat.

The umbrella is called: (sǎn). Doesn’t this character resemble an umbrella? Please look in your dictionary or textbook for other characters that feature a (rén) at the top.

Many Chinese characters contain the the radical (rén) on the left side. As we mentioned before, in this case, the radical takes on a squished shape to make room for the other parts of the character. You have learned that (nĭ) means “you”. The word for “he” is (tā). This word stands for “she” as well, although nowadays people often use (tā she) instead to avoid the ambiguity.

When two people are together, kindness is called for; hence the word (rén), which means kindness or benevolence.

(shí) is the number ten. A popular hand gesture among the Chinese is to cross the index fingers to represent this character.

Add (shí) to the radical (rén), and you’ll get (shí), which means “assorted” or “miscellaneous”. Understandably, if you get ten persons together, there would be an assortment of physical characteristics as well as personalities. 什么? (Shénme?) means “What?”. So, 什么人? (Shénme rén?) translates to “Who?”

Man, a radical?

Have you noticed that 爷爷 (yéye grandpa) and 爸爸 (bàba papa, dad) share the radical (fù father)?

Now, check the following list and see if you can point out the common root shared by these words.

(rén person, human being)
(dà big, large)
(tài too, excessively, top-most)
(rén dog, canine)
(tiān sky, heaven)
(fū husband, man)

That’s right. The root of the above characters is (rén human being). Whereas 女人 (nǚrén) is a female person, or a woman, 男人 (nánrén) is a male person, or a man. The top part of the character (nán male person) is (tián), which means fields or cropland; and the lower part is (lì), which represents physical strength. So, men are those human beings who work in the fields.

If you first make a horizontal stroke then add a (rén) to it, then you would get the character (dà), which stands for “big” or “large”. We know that 小孩 (xiǎohái) is a child. The word for an adult is 大人 (dàrén).

Add an extra tick below (dà big, large), and you’d get the word (tài), which means “excessively” or “supreme”. As a bonus for learning this character, 太太 (tàitai), is how one refers to one’s wife. It also represents the title “Mrs.”.

It matter where you place the tick mark in a character. If you place it in the upper-right quadrant of (dà), you’d turn it into the formal word for “dog”, . The everyday word for “dog” is (gǒu).

It also matters whether a vertical stroke pokes out of a horizontal stroke or not. For example, make a horizontal stroke then add the character (dà) beneath it. You’d get something that is bigger than “big”, namely, the sky, (tiān). If you let the first stroke of (rén) poke out of the character for sky, then you’d have written a totally different character, (fū), which means “husband”, and also stands for “man”. 夫人 (fūrén) is a respectful way of addressing a lady. So, for example, 王夫人 (Wáng fūrén) is a more respectful way of addressing Mrs. Wang than 王太太 (Wáng tàitai).

Father knows best?

So, we know that 妈妈 (māma) means “mama”. The word corresponding to “papa” is 爸爸 (bàba).
The formal words for mother and father are 母亲 (mǔqin) and 父亲 (fùqin), respectively, where (qīn) stands for kin, relative, being dear to someone, or intimacy. The word (mǔ) shows plainly the bosom of a nurturing parent. When you place this word in front of the name of any animal, it turns that animal into a female entity. So, (niú) is an ox, while 母牛 (mǔniú) is a cow.

Please remember that (mǔ) has a mammalian connotation. Never refer to a woman as a 母人 (mǔrén). The correct word is 女人 (nǚrén). By the same token, (ér) and 儿子 (érzi) refer to a son, while 女儿 (nǚér) is a daughter.

孩子 (háizi) means a child or children. (xiǎo) means little. The little children are often referred to as 小孩子 (xiǎoháizi) or 小孩儿 (xiǎoháir). Babies are 婴儿 (yīngér baby). These little bundles of joy are often called 宝宝 (bǎobǎo), which translates to “treasure”, or “sweetling”.

On the “Story Time” page of this blog, there is a link to the “My Little Sweetling” video on YouTube. How many words do you recognize in the subtitles of this video?

爷爷 (yéye grandpa) is the informal way of addressing one’s paternal grandfather. 奶奶 (nǎinai grandma) is the informal way of addressing one’s paternal grandmother. Notice the radical (nǚ) in the word for grandma? The word (nǎi) actually means breasts or milk.

As with many other cultures, the father is the figure of authority in a Chinese family. As recent as one complete Chinese zodiac cycle (60 years) ago, there was a clear division of labor in most Chinese families. The father was the breadwinner and deals with the outside world, while the mother handled “internal affairs” like cooking, cleaning and watching the children. As such, the common women had no social position to speak of. In the patriarchal society of China, the children take on the surname of the father. Therefore, the sons were regarded as truly belonging to the family, while the daughters were expected to leave and serve some other family when they grew up. This is why most expecting parents wished for sons rather than daughters.

If you get a chance to watch the Chinese movie “King of Masks”, a Shaw Brothers production, you will see the prejudice against girls clearly portrayed; and the word 爷爷 (yéye grandpa) will probably ring in your ears for quite a few days afterwards.

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