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The Chinese language, spoken by 900 million speakers around the world, is one of the world’s most influential languages. This is the language of the greatest Chinese philosopher and teacher, Confucius, whose teachings helped shaped Chinese culture over the last two thousand years. Chinese is also the language of the general par excellence Sun Tzu, whose teaching on military strategy have been applied for centuries on the battlefields. Not to mention, Sun Tzu continues to influence business board rooms across the world.
In addition, the engineers of the Great Wall of China and the sculptors of the terracotta army have called China home. Furthermore, the inventors of gunpowder and paper, as well as the creators of Kung Fu and their famous practitioners like Bruce Lee and Jet Li, have come from these shores. Great businessmen brought the Silk Road to life, and culinary experts created some of the world’s tastiest dishes. However, over the last 70 years since its Cultural Revolution, China has been known for its insistence on conformity. Despite this focus, the Mandarin language has been that of many brave souls who have spoken against corruption and in favor of the right of conscience.
Modern Chinese (Mandarin)
Mandarin or “Modern Chinese” serves as one of the U.N.’s official languages. This position comes as no surprise, as the Chinese language has 900 million speakers worldwide. This amazing number of speakers coupled with the second largest world economy has made the Chinese language a staple of geopolitics. In fact, over the past decade, China has become one of the most influential countries in the world. What many people may not realize, though, is that China is a country of 56 ethnicities and 297 living languages. China itself is a vast country roughly the size of the United States. As a result, the people who live in China speak many varied dialects and have done so for centuries.
Over the past decade, China has become one of the most influential countries in the world. What many people may not realize, though, is that China is a country of 56 ethnicities and 297 living languages.
However, the northern dialects surrounding Beijing served as the origin of the contemporary Chinese language. In the 20th century, the communist government simplified the characters that expressed this dialect. When they did so, the government made Modern Standard Chinese, also called, ‘putounghua’ the national language. This language has four tones that ascend and descend to indicate pronunciation, especially on words that have the same letters. Thousands of characters combined with the four tones. This is why Mandarin can be a challenge for non-native speakers to learn. But if you can master the language, you will find thousands of years of history, culture and experiences unlocked to you.
Origins of the Script
Many people admire the beauty of the Chinese characters, but few know where they come from. A popular Chinese legend credits the beginnings of modern Mandarin script to a man named Cangjie who lived about 4,500 years ago. As the story goes, the emperor tasked him with creating a different system of preserving imperial records. This was due to the heretofore rope knot system, which was in dire need of an upgrade.
A popular Chinese legend credits the beginnings of modern Mandarin script to a man named Cangjie who lived about 4,500 years ago. As the story goes, the emperor tasked him with creating a different system of preserving imperial records.
After sitting for a while and thinking about his problem, Cangjie saw a beautiful phoenix flew across the sky. The majestic creature dropped something from its beak to the ground. When the object landed, it left an imprint in the ground that resembled a horse hoof. That experience inspired Cangjie to create a system of writing in which every character stood for something. The idea caught on and now there are more than 50,000 Mandarin characters. However, after several revisions aimed at simplification, now only about 2-3,000 characters are needed to read a newspaper.
Chinese History and People
Spanning several thousand years, China’s history and people cannot be summarized in only a few sentences. Recently, basketball players like Yao Ming, architects like I.M. Pei, and martial artists like Jackie Chan have been some of China’s most well-known citizens. Many people also know of Mao Zedong, or chairman Mao (1949-1976), who ushered in a communist regime. Mao’s reign of power helped China grow into an economic juggernaut while also killing an estimated 45 million of its own people.
However, notable figures in China have also stood for peace. For example, both the Dalai Lama and Liu Xiaobo have pursued peace tirelessly. The Dalai Lama was born a Chinese citizen but exiled in his teens when China invaded Tibet. He has worked tirelessly for over 50 years for an independent and free Tibet. As a result, he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 for his efforts.
Notable figures in China have sought to bring about peace. Both the Dalai Lama and Liu Xiaobo have pursued peace tirelessly, and both received the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts.
Similarly, Liu Xiaobo is Chinese citizen who has stood up against one party rule and communist abuses of power in China. Due to his efforts, he has been jailed several times over many years. He supported the student protest at Tiananmen Square and in 2010 was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for “for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China.”
Enduring Influence of the Chinese Language
China, like its language and land, is large and often contradictory, but nevertheless enduring. As a country, it has over a billion people spread out across thousands of square miles and millennia of history. China has thoughtful religious leaders and philosophers, as well as warring despots and dictators. The country’s vast land encompasses incredible mountains, rivers, vast plains, fertile river deltas and arid deserts. China has risen as the world’s manufacturing hub, but it also imprisons Christians for their faith and has jailed over 2 million Muslims for their beliefs. Throughout its complicated past and uncertain future, the Chinese language and its distinctive script have survived. Mandarin, like the Chinese people and the country itself, is vast, complex and beautiful.
Throughout the centuries, the Chinese language and its distinctive script have survived. Mandarin, like the Chinese people and the country itself, is vast, complex and beautiful.
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