What does Ching Chong mean in Chinese

Shaoshi in Shanghai

Do you learn chinese? Then you get from your fellow men of admiration to condescension (»Chinese? Why should one the because learn voluntarily ?! «) to hear pretty much everything. And then there are classic prejudices like the one that Chinese is an unlearnable language. But what is it about these Prejudice? I took a closer look at 6 typical statements.

偏见 (piānjiàn) - prejudiced + seeing = prejudice

There was a time when I was looking for Hong Kong and China films excessively, also in the original with subtitles. Nevertheless, I couldn't speak a word of Chinese and I would never have dreamed of learning the language. Much too difficult, almost impossible! At least that was the general tone. I conformed to that, although I didn't know any better than the others - who also just unreflectively chewed on what they heard, read, and dreamed of elsewhere. Bad actually.

Fortunately, as a Christmas present there was a VHS course at some point, during which I was finally able to form my own picture of the language. The rest is history.

Chinese - 6 prejudices

Today the situation is different. China is now fully in focus and the range of options for learning Chinese is becoming more and more varied. Now I hear from all sides from people who have at least sniffed into a Chinese course. The following prejudices against Chinese (as well as against the country and its people) seem to persist nonetheless.

1. Chinese = Ching-Chang-Chong

If you have a conversation in Chinese, you quickly hear the following from people who think they are particularly funny: "Ching-Chang-Chong." These syllables occur in Chinese, but of course the language has so many more sounds Offer. Here you will find a pinyin table for all possible tone syllables in Chinese (also to listen to, because such a "chong" sounds more like "tschung" and varies depending on the pitch).

2. You cannot learn Chinese

It was said for a long time and I found this prejudice funny back in the 90s, when I wasn't thinking about learning Chinese for a long time. After all, a billion people speak the language, so can it really be unlearnable? Of course not. You can even learn it quite well.

At its core, Chinese isn't as difficult or complicated as you might think. It even goes astonishingly fast until you get to an acceptable level for everyday life. Even the characters are often structured very logically and also help as donkey bridges for their meaning and sometimes even give advice on pronunciation. The latter bother me the most with its unfamiliar sounds and is one of the reasons why I will probably never really master this great language ... (see also point 4).

To speak and understand Chinese at a native level (lol), of course, it takes a lot of hard work. In fact, I would go almost as far as to say that this is a life's work. When it comes to English, practically everyone who skipped an English course at the village school writes “English (fluent / business fluent)” in their curriculum vitae, even if that is not the case on closer inspection (or we all know right away what arch support or the written form requirement in English or how “epitome” is actually pronounced correctly?). When can you trust yourself to be so confident in Chinese?

3. Chinese has no grammar

One likes to hear that from those who want to defend Chinese. But that's not entirely true either. Chinese does have grammar, but not as complicated as German. It is neither declined (“of the house”) nor conjugated (“du go”), there are neither articles (“der, die, das”) nor as many exceptions as in German.

Many grammatical structures may not be perceived as such because you tend to learn Chinese differently. When students in English etc. have to form sentences very quickly, it always seemed to me as if a lot of the stupid rumination of the same sentence structures was going on in Chinese lessons without being allowed to know the grammatical background. Is / did you do that too?

4. Everything sounds the same in Chinese

This comes from ignorant people and learners alike. And somehow they are right too. Each syllable can be pronounced in four different tones or unstressed. And every time the meaning changes. mā (long A, 妈) is the mother, but mǎ (deep A, 马) denotes a horse, mà ("ma!", 骂) means "to scold" and má ("ma?") means "deaf". That has the potential to foolish. Even today I still try to deduce most of it from the context, because I cannot easily distinguish between syllables like jing, jin, qing, qin, or zhang, zhan, chang, zeng or ceng, let alone speak correctly ...

Fun fact: Homophones of course open up an infinite number of word games for which I love the Chinese language so much. However, the whole thing can get so out of hand that entire texts only consist of a single sound. In the short story Lion Eating Poets in the Stone Cave, every single character is pronounced “shi”.

5. The characters are painted

Even if Chinese characters may seem very decorative to us Europeans, they are still writing and not images. However, many characters are actually derived from pictograms, others represent symbols or ideograms or phonograms or uh ... Look it up for yourself: The six categories of Chinese characters on Wikipedia. There you can also see a few examples of how the characters have developed over the millennia.

6. You can read a newspaper with 2000 characters

Some sources speak of 2000, others of 3000-5000 characters. I think, however, that it depends a lot on the characters you have learned. If I learn very rare characters, they will also rarely appear in the newspaper. If I learn the common ones, I may not be able to read the unusual ones that appear in proper names. In addition, it is of course not enough just to recognize the individual characters. If I know the character and its pronunciation, I can read the text aloud, but I need more to understand it. The meaning of the individual sign is seldom enough. In modern Chinese, most words are made up of at least two characters.马 (mǎ) is the horse, 桶 (tǒng) is the bucket. But what use is this knowledge to me if the newspaper says 马桶 (mǎtǒng)? Horse bucket? No, the toilet bowl. It makes more sense to start from words / concepts. That's why I find it pretty pointless to think in terms of numbers when thinking of characters.


Chinese is tough, but it is not impossible to learn. With a little diligence, you can even get to a level suitable for everyday use pretty quickly. If you want to convince yourself of this, why not enroll in a VHS course for a semester. Prejudices can usually best be broken down if you convince yourself of the opposite.

What prejudices against the Chinese language do you still know? And are they correct?

(I originally wrote this text for Oli's blog parade on the Sinograph. It expired in 2015, but I don't want to leave it unmentioned.)

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Posted in ChineseAsiaBlog ParadeChinaChineseForeign LanguageBiases