Without cultural understanding, your Chinese could be useless.

Many students of Chinese recognise that learning Chinese is hard, but they are willing to put in the effort to conquer the mountain that is becoming proficient in Chinese. However, if your aim for learning Chinese is to become accepted as part of the community, your study needs to go beyond just learning how to communicate, instead extending into understanding Chinese culture, why people say what they say, do what they do, and think what they think.

Danger of ignoring culture

If you only focus on the practical side of communication, and don’t take the time to learn the culture, then the communication you do have may end up being laden with frustration, and misunderstandings. You only have to spend a little time reading the blogs of expats to get a feel for how common these misunderstandings are.

Here at our Chinese language school in Wudaokou, it is one of our goals to support all our students as they not only learn the language, and become proficient in it, but also gradually develop a fuller understanding and love of Chinese culture.

Cultural understanding includes the basics of knowing when the festivals are, and what they celebrate, but it goes far beyond that and at its greatest extent includes how 5000 years of history influences their understanding of themselves, and in turn their opinions and behaviour.

So how to learn culture?

So how to learn culture? The best way is to live here, learn the language, make friends, and interact with your Chinese friends as much as you can. Over time you will build up your understanding. But we can also be deliberate about acquiring an understanding of the culture. We can learn culture through seeking to make observations about the society around, and backing this up by discussing our observations about the differences and similarities with Chinese people.

For those who are not fortunate to live in China then reading books and watching films is obviously a good first step.

Our blog: making studying Chinese just that bit easier

Taking all this into account, our aim for this blog is to make your life as a student of Chinese just that bit easier. We continuously check the latest blogs, read the latest books, test out the newest apps and attend the conferences on language learning so that you don’t have to. Anything that we find that will help you in your understanding of Chinese language, Chinese cultural we will share. On top of this we will seek to provide anything else that helps our language students as they live in China and study the language, whether that is advice on balancing your time for most effective study, or sharing about the practicalities of renting a flat in China.

Thanks for reading, look out for new articles on a weekly basis, and let us know what you think.

Study Chinese at our school in Wudaokou www.1on1mandarin.com




Learning from Chinese history

In the west have the phrase: those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. A near Chinese equivalent is 温故而知新 (wēn gù ér zhī xīn) which approximately means that by Reviewing the old we can understand the new.

As mentioned in a previous post, then becoming an effective communicator in Chinese requires developing an understanding of Chinese culture. Our present day communication is always understood within the framework of our past experience. Developing a clear understanding of Chinese history, particularly the history that every Chinese is taught at school is a key step in developing the understanding of what makes up the Chinese sense of self, their values and priorities.

Since attending Chinese school from age 5 is not an option for us, then Laszlo Montgomery’s Chinese history podcasts are a good resource for getting us up to speed. He has already recorded over 100+ podcasts on the history of china, so this is not the resource to go if you are wanting a real quick overview. But for those students who have already done a bit of reading on china, these podcasts add the detail that you might have glossed over, and are able to include the really interesting snippets of history.


Intro to Chinese Music (from Timeout Beijing)

Photo Credit: Timeout Beijing

Check out Timeout Beijing’s informative post on some of the musical genres of China. This is a pretty comprehensive post describing each style and its roots, and has  youku videos of a song from each genre. The genres include 摇滚 yáo gŭn (rock and roll), 校园民谣 xiào yuán mín yáo (campus folk music), 老上海 lăo shàng hăi (old Shanghai music) and 民族歌 mín zú gē (minority folk music) from 蒙古 méng gŭ (Mongolia), 傣族 dăi zú (the Dai minority), and other ethnic minorities.

“Music is a big part of life in China. Curious about the various types of music you hear on TV, in stores, and at concerts? Learn more about Chinese culture through music through Timeout Beijing’s A bluffer’s guide to China’s musical styles. 

China’s musical genres have never solely been based on style. They usually describe geographical differences but can also extend to lifestyles, access to technology and the needs of state propaganda.

Chinese musicians have often been accused of a lack of originality or even outright plagiarism. Many of the early Cantopop and Mandopop songs simply ripped off melodies from Western and Japanese pop/rock songs and filled them with Cantonese or Mandarin lyrics. Gao Xiaosong, a leading figure of the 1990s campus folk movement, argues that Han Chinese (comprising 98 per cent of China’s population) are better with words than melodies because, unlike poetry and literature, music has never played a part in documenting the nation’s history.

Whether his theory holds water is debatable, but the fact that music in China serves as a lifestyle component rather than a driving social context seems to be a consensus. The following are musical genres that are characteristic of China and popular in Beijing.”


 A bluffer’s guide to China’s musical style (Timeout Beijing)

Learning by language bloopers

  Today I was learning some useful cultural differences between China and the west.

  We were discussing that in China it is not the done thing to lick your fingers (and I understand that you don’t usually eat with your fingers either – so beware if you are planning a buffet for your Chinese friends!). In the West while it is maybe not very polite to lick your fingers, at least where I come from people don’t really have a problem with it. In order to explore cultural differences a bit further, and to get some more spoken Chinese practice, we then talked about other things that you are allowed or not allowed to lick. I suggested that:


In England you are allowed to lick post offices!

邮 yóu – is the word for post, and 局 jú is the word for office

I eventually got it right



Where again 邮 yóu means post, and 票 piào literally means ticket, so together, 邮票 means a stamp.

  Hopefully I haven’t left my teacher with visions of Westerners licking buildings! But this lesson will stick in my head partly because of the language mistake I made along the way…

Chinese New Year 2011 – Year of the Rabbit

the year of the rabbitIn 2011, the traditional Chinese New Year starts on Feb 3rd and it will be the year of the Rabbit (兔年 tù nián). And the evening of Feb 2nd is the most important night, Chinese New Year’s Eve – (除夕 chúxī), and then next day Feb 3rd is the first day of Spring Festival. On Chinese New Year’s Eve, as tradition, Chinese families come together for a celebration dinner – (年夜饭 niányèfàn), some traditional dishes include dumplings – (水饺/饺子 shuǐjiǎo/jiǎozi ), fish(鱼 yú) and Nian Gao (年糕 niángāo). What’s else is obvious, you can see and hear everywhere, yes, it’s firewords/fire crackers -(烟花/鞭炮 yānhuā/biānpào), so loud and noisy, you may not like it, but it’s so much fun to watch, if you ever get a chance to play firecrackers, you would love it.

How people would greet each other during Spring Festival? Some the most common greetings probably are:

兔年快乐 – tù nián kuài lè

新春快乐 – xīn chūn kuài lè

过年好/新年好 – guò nián hǎo

恭喜发财 – gōng xǐ  fā cái

Lastly, we’d like to share a funny video made by some foreigners in Beijing, To say “Happy New Year” by singing several popular Chinese songs, creative and fun, pay attention to last part. LOL.


New Year in Haerbin-Ice and Snow Festival

New Years in Haerbin

-This is a guest post written by Joel and his wife Chris who are currently studying Chinese in Beijing at 1on1 Mandarin. In this post, they shared their experience and some pictures from Ice and Snow Festival in Haerbin.

To celebrate New Years in China, that is Jan. 1st New Years, my wife and I decided to go to Haerbin and see the famous Ice Festival. Truth be known, it was early December when suddenly one evening while on-line she told me what it cost to stay there at a hotel she found in her whole-hearted effort to get both of us out of Beijing for New Years.

She succeeded.

So we took the fast train to Haerbin and while waiting in the train station, this young Thai couple approached us and speaking fair English, they told us they were on vacation and didn’t speak any Chinese. Our encounter with them is a story in itself as I served as there translator to help deal with a group of young men who were staying together in several sleeper units and who had strategically placed there 88 year old grandfather in the Tai couple’s cabin.

Let’s just say it worked out.

We arrived to the expected freezing weather and a light snow, checked into our hotel by 8:30AM and went out exploring for breakfast. After breakfast and a long nap, we went to the famous Zhong Yang Da Jie, shopping street. It was beautiful for the ice sculptures and Russian architecture. It was a fun relaxing afternoon with two stops for coffee and hot chocolate, and the discovery that all Russian stores in Haerbin basically sell the same six things. When you’ve seen one…

We found our hotel staff really helpful. The first morning we asked about how to get to the Bing Deng (ice festival) by bus. They explained well and after a great Russian dinner at the shopping street we found our way to the bus stop, boarded and were on our way.

The Bing Deng (Ice-Lantern show) was expensive but worth the 300RMB admission. The horse carriages inside however, are not worth the 100RMB for the approximate 10 minutes it takes for them to circle around. The ticket seller explained the driver only gets paid by the customers, so every time you stop and get off, these guys beg for money, when you pick up another one to travel a little further you face another driver begging for a tip. O well.

Afterward, we, along with about 20 other Chinese tourists, discovered that the return bus that was suppose to run until late was already finished at 7:30. We all walked together for about 1km to the main bus stop. We had no clue what bus to take back, so I asked the driver where it would drop us. A wonderful Chinese woman and her daughter told us to get on the bus, so we did, and in the end, they had the bus stop at their apartment, hailed a taxi, took us back to our hotel, and then for a walk to St. Sophia’s Church and then back to our room where we exchanged personal info.

Obviously, this was totally unexpected.

This turned out to be a great new relationship. The next day we met the daughter, a wonderful seventeen-year old aspiring nurse with a loving and gracious spirit. We spent the day together at the Haerbin aquarium and met her Mom again for a classic dongbei meal with tons of meat and potatoes. The next day, our last, we spent shopping, visiting the cathedral, buying traditional dongbei snacks to take back to our friends in Beijing, and enjoying the crisp cold air of Haerbin. We met our new friends at the hotel and they took us out to dinner at the exact same restaurant.

Then sadly we had to part and make ready to catch the train back.

It was truly a special experience. Neither one of us would trade it.

My dear wife was right in her ambitions. I love her for that.

Here are some pictures taken from Ice and Snow Festival.

The Digital Story of The Nativity

I’d like to share this creative, funny and cute story of the Nativity to say Merry Christmas-圣诞快乐!

How social media, web and mobile tell the story of the Nativity.
Christmas story told through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google, Wikipedia, Google Maps, GMail, Foursquare, Amazon…

Times change, the feeling remains the same

If unfortunately you are in mainland China, here is the video on Tudou

Tomb Sweeping Day – 清明节 (Qīng Míng Jiē)

China Daily Tomb Sweeping Day’s Chinese name, 清明节 (Qīng Míng Jiē), literally means “clear bright festival”. Clear and bright refer to the arrival of spring. However, Tomb Sweeping Day is also known as Cold Food Day 寒食节 (hán shí jiē). Why? Read on to find out.

traditions.cultural-china.com清明节 (Qīng Míng Jiē) is celebrated on April 5th, 2010 . It is a time to honor ancestors who’ve passed on by visiting their graves, clearing off debris or weeds, and offering flowers, food and incense at the grave site and the ancestral altar at home. 清明节 (Qīng Míng Jiē) is also a time for flying kites of all sizes, shapes, and colors. Many Chinese also burn paper money 烧纸钱 (shāo zhǐ qián) in order to send money that the deceased can use in the underworld. Some also burn cars, houses, and other useful objects to send them to the other side. (By the way, note that 烧纸钱 (shāo zhǐ qián) is not the same thing as 烧钱 (shāo qián), which means to spend money rashly. Don’t get it mixed up!)paper house

But what’s the deal with the cold food?

According to English Bus Club’s blog post on 清明节,

“Qing Ming is popularly associated with Jie Zi Zhui, who lived in Shanxi province in 600 B.C. Legend has it that Jie saved his starving lord’s life by serving a piece of his own leg. When the lord succeeded in becoming the ruler of a small principality, he invited his faithful follower to join him. However, Jie declined his invitation, preferring to lead a hermit’s life with his mother in the mountains.

Believing that he could force Jie out by burning the mountain, the lord ordered his men to set the forest on fire. To his consternation, Jie chose to remain where he was and was burnt to death. To commemorate Jie, the lord ordered all fires in every home to be put out on the anniversary of Jie’s death. Thus began the “cold food feast”, a day when no food could be cooked since no fire could be lit. cold food traditions.cultural-china.com

The “cold food” festival occurs on the eve of Qing Ming and is often considered as part of the Qing Ming festival. As time passes, the Qing Ming festival replaced the “cold food” festival.”

Information for this post was compiled from whatsonxiamen.com, traditions.cultural-china.com and the English Bus Club.

Traditional Chinese New Year Foods

Traditional Chinese New Year Foods

Besides a time for vacation, sales, and a much less populated/much more comfortable Beijing, Chinese New Year 春节 is also a time for FOOD! If you have (good) local friends, look forward to feasts with their families that may include
Chicken, duck, fish – traditionally eaten at celebrations because in the old days, meat was very expensive and only eat on special occasions. Northerners like to stew the meat, while southerners like to
In the Chinese lunar calendar, during the first day of the new year, called 初一,(beginning-one, i.e. the first day of the first month of the lunar year) (around February 14 this year) dumplings are eaten. By contrast, during February , 初二, noodles are eaten (at least in Beijing). The good news is on 初五 dumplings are eaten again. Personally, I have a tradition where I eat dumplings on the days that end with “y”. I think it’s a good tradition. 正月十五 on the 15th day of the first month of the year, Chinese eat元宵yuanxiao round glutinous rice dumplings. The sweet variety is more common and have hawberries, black sesame, red bean, peanut, dried fruit, sugar as filling. Some also eat salty yuanxiao, filled with meat.
If remembering what to eat on what days is too confusing, just eat whatever your local friend’s family gives you on that day. Alternatively, you can click here http://www.webexhibits.org/calendars/calendar-chinese.html to get a basic understanding of the Chinese lunar calendar. Click here http://www.mandarintools.com/calendar.html for a Western calendar to Chinese calendar converter.
年年高升 年糕 Northerners eat steamed or fried (golden brown, like gold, so you can get rich or die trying. Many people like it better fried because it gets chewier) glutinous rice cakes shaped like fish. 超市发 Some are made with corn flour with dates.

Besides a time for vacations, big sales and a much less populated/much more comfortable Beijing, Chinese New Year 春节 (chūn jié) is also a time for FOOD! Chinese New Year food is referred to as 过年饭菜 (guònián fàncài). If you have (good) local friends, look forward to feasts with their families that may include:

Fish & Chicken


Chicken, duck, and fish – traditionally eaten at celebrations because in the old days, meat was very expensive and only eat on special occasions. Expect a lot of delicious stewed meat if you’re in the north.

Life-stages of a dumpling

The first day of the new lunar year is called 初一 (chūyī, lit. beginning-one, i.e. the first day of the first month of the lunar year. This year, it’s  February 14) and it is traditionally a day for eating dumplings 餃子 (jiǎo zi).

On 初二 (chū èr), noodles are eaten (at least in Beijing). The good news is on 初五 (chū wǔ), 餃子 (jiǎo zi) are eaten again. Personally, I have a tradition where I eat 餃子 (jiǎo zi) on the days in the week that end with “y”. It is, without a doubt, a fantastic tradition. 餃子 (jiǎo zi) are filled with combinations of different types of ground meat, vegetables, tofu, egg, and even bean thread noodles. You can dip them in vinegar, soy sauce, or both, and each family prepares the dipping sauce differently. 餃子 (jiǎo zi) can be boiled, steamed, or fried.

yuan xiao

正月十五 (zhēng yuè shíwǔ) on the 15th day of the first month of the lunar year, Chinese eat glutinous rice dumplings 元宵 (yuánxiāo). They are made with rice flour and are usually white and round. Sweet 元宵 (yuánxiāo) is more common and have hawberry, black sesame, red bean, peanut, dried fruit, or sugar as filling. Some also eat salty 元宵 (yuánxiāo) which are filled with meat. If remembering what to eat on what days is too confusing, just make friends with a local and eat whatever your local friend’s family gives you on that day. Alternatively, you can click here to get a basic understanding of the Chinese lunar calendar. Or check out mandarintools.com for a Western-to-Chinese calendar converter.

(zhùnǐmen chūnjié kuàilè, niánnián gāo shēng)
We wish you a happy Spring Festival, and may each and every year get better and better!

Spring Festival (春节chūnjié) Travel Tips

Photo ID Required for Train Ticket Purchases

ID card

This Spring Festival, you will need photo ID when buying train tickets.

According to China Radio International and Sina.com news, travelers in Guangdong and Sichuan province must provide photo ID when buying tickets. As of right now, this rule does not apply to Beijing. It’s also a good idea to get to the ticket seller early. Arriving 2 hours before opening will increase your chances of buying tickets.

Note that you can only buy advance tickets for D, Z, T, and K trains 10 days in advance. Ticket sellers open at 9am.

Also, arriving at the train station early will give you enough time to check your luggage through security check and find your way to your boarding gate. Stations are often large, noisy, crowded, and confusing.

The Different Classes of Trains

Chinese-trainD (动车 dòngchē) Electric trains. Typically has higher speed than T trains or K trains, with a top speed of 250 km/h. Provides fast, frequent service between cities like Beijing/Taiyuan and Shenzhen/Guangzhou.

Z (直达 zhídá) Direct express trains. Although they are called “direct” trains, they may stop at stations along the way. Top speed 140 km/h.

T (特快 tèkuài) Express trains. They have a limited number of stops. Top speed 120 km/h.

K (kuài) Fast trains. Stops at more stations than T trains.

Trains without letters in front of them are the slowest of all. They stop at many more stations than the faster trains listed above, but ticket prices are also cheaper. Top speed 100 to 120 km/h.

More information on tickets, routes and pictures of train interiors at seat61.com


Be wary of long lines and pickpockets. Pay attention to your surroundings and the people around you. The Spring Festival is a high season for thieves and tricksters. Travel with a friend if possible, don’t fall asleep where it’s not safe, put wallets and valuables in inside pockets, and lock stowed luggage. Even pockets with zippers are vulnerable.Don’t keep your cash all in one place; if possible, divide it among places on your person.