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




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.

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!

Where to get Christmas decorations in Beijing


If you’re still looking for Christmas decorations 装饰品 (zhuāng shì pǐn), you can find almost anything you need at Golden Five Stars 金五星 (jīn wǔ xīng). It’s a huge indoor market that has everything and anything from plastic forks to pingpong balls to fabric by the meter to office supplies to bedding to long cow-shaped gel-filled wrist rests. The one I went to is the one closer to 3rd Ring Road. Take bus 319 or 86 from 五道口 (wǔ dào kǒu) and get off at 青云路 (qīng yún lù). Walk in the direction that the bus is going for about 5 minutes and the market will be on your right. Alternatively, take bus 101 or 425 from Dazhongsi subway station 大钟寺城铁 (dà zhōng sì chéng tiě) and get off at 大钟寺 (dà zhōng sì). It’s only one stop.

I got tinsel 圣诞彩条 (shèng dàn cǎi tiáo) of different colors at less than 3rmb for each strand, plastic trees 圣诞树 (shèng dàn shù), all kinds of lights 圣诞彩灯 (shèng dàn cǎi dēng) in the shapes of reindeer 圣诞驯鹿 (xùnlù), tiny plastic Santas 圣诞老人 (shèng dàn lǎo rén) in different colors, drums, presents, antlers 鹿角, multi-colored lights in the shapes of Chinese bottle gourds?!?!!?? 葫芦 (hú lú) in different colors. I paid 5 rmb for a 3 meter strand. You can also get snowflakes 雪花 (xuě huā), banners, and almost anything you can think of.

Of course, bargaining, 讨价还价or 讲价钱 (tǎo jià hái jià  or jiǎng jià qián) is a prerequisite. Try, “Can’t you go a little lower?” 能不能便宜点儿? (néng bú néng biàn yí diǎn ér?) It’s a great place to practice your Chinese/learn more Chinese. You can go around the various stalls and ask the shop owners, 这个叫什么? (zhè gè jiào shěn me?)

If you have some time, some of the other stalls have Christmas cards 圣诞贺卡 (shèng dàn hè kǎ) and other odd knickknacks that might be good presents. It’s a great place to pick up gifts for white elephant gift exchanges and a fun place to browse if you have a few hours. It’s best to go on the weekdays to avoid the crowds.

If you’d rather go after Christmas to get decorations for next year you might get a steeper discount on the after-season stock. No guarantees, though.

Although Christmas isn’t about presents at all, it’s encouraging to get a thoughtful gift from someone who cares about you. I hope that you’ll be able to say, “Thanks for your present!” 谢谢你的礼物 (xiè xiè nǐ de lǐ wù!) many times this season.

(zhù dà jiā shèng dàn kuài lè!)
Merry Christmas, everyone!

The Mid-Autumn Festival

mid-autumn-festival The Mid-Autumn Festival(中秋节)zhōnɡ qiū jié, also known as the Moon Festival, , is a popular harvest festival celebrated by Chinese people. It is held on the 15th day of the eighth month ((八月十五) in the Chinese calendar. The eighth month is also called zhònɡ qiū (仲秋), so 中秋节 also called 仲秋节.

The Mid-Autumn Festival is the second most important holiday in China, as the  Spring Festival is the most important. Traditionally, on this day, Chinese family members and friends will gather to admire the bright mid-autumn harvest moon, , and eat moon cakes, dates, pomegranate and other fruits.

Stories of the Mid-Autumn Festival:

—-Houyi and Chang’e (后羿- hòu yì和嫦娥- chánɡ é)

There are so many variations and adaptations of the Chang’e legend; here we share one of the more widely-known and accepted versions:

Once upon a time, the earth had ten suns. They burned the crops and people suffered from famine. Houyi, a lesser god and a highly-skilled archer, felt sorry for mankind, so he decided to shoot down nine of the suns. After he shot down the suns, he became a hero. He had a beautiful wife name Chang’e (also a lesser god) and they lived happily together. Houyi gathered many followers and one day they all went hunting together regularly. One day, on Houyi’s way back home the Jade Emperor (the highest god) gave Houyi a pill which granted eternal life as a reward for shooting down the suns. He warned Houyi, “Make no haste to swallow the pill.” Houyi loved Chang’e very much and did not want to leave her, so he gave the pill to Chang’e and let her store the pill in a safe place. Chang’e put the pill in her jewelry box. But one of Houyi’s apprentices, Peng, discovered this secret. He decided to steal the pill.

One day Houyi and some other disciples went to the mountain. Peng pretended he was sick so that he could stay at home. Everyone went to the mountain except Chang’e, who stayed at home. Peng burst into Chang’e’s room and forced her to give him the pill. Chang’e knew she was no match for Peng so she took flight and flew far away. She did not want to leave her husband, so she stopped at the moon which is close to Earth. After Houyi discovered what had happened, he was very angry and heartbroken. He looked up into the night and called Chang’e’s name. He saw that on the moon there was a shadow that looked like Chang’e, so he ran and ran and tried to get to the moon. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t reach the moon.

As for Houyi, he built himself a palace inside the sun as “Yang”-阳 (the male principle), with Chang’e as “Yin”-阴(the female principle). Once a year, on the 15th day of the full moon, Houyi visits his wife. That is why the moon is full that night.

The moon cake (月饼- yuè bǐnɡ):

The moon cake is a traditional symbol of the Mid-Autumn Festival. There are  many legends surrounding the moon cake. In one tale, moon cakes originated in ancient times to pay homage to the moon. According to other sources, the moon cake was invented as a way to honor the Moon Goddess Chang’e. In what is perhaps the most famous tale, it is said that during the end of the Mongolian- ruled Yuan era Han Chinese rebel Zhū Yuán Zhānɡ distributed a secret message baked in moon cakes giving the instructions “revolt on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month”.  On the night of the brightest moon these revolutionary fighters successfully attacked and overthrew the Mongolian army.

Traditional moon cake fillings:

The most common fillings are Lotus seed paste, (莲蓉- lián rónɡ)Sweet bean paste,(豆沙- dòu shā)Jujube paste(枣泥- zǎo ní)and five-kernel (五仁- wǔ rén including rice, two kinds of millet, wheat grain and beans). I personally like Jujube paste filling the most even though I usually don’t eat it that much.

Here is a video that gives you an overview of the Mid-Autumn Festival and the moon cake:

Hope you have a great Mid-Autumn Festival! Let us know what fillings you had and what your favorites were in the comments.

Qi Xi Jie-Chinese Valentine’s Day

qi-xi-jie Qixi Festival-七夕节( qī xī jié) literally “The Night of Sevens“), also known as Magpie Festival, falls on the seventh   day of the seventh lunar month on the Chinese calendar.  In 2009, it’s on August 26th.

A love story for this day is about the 7th daughter of Emperor of Heaven and an orphaned cowherd. The Emperor separated them. The 7th daughter was forced to move to the star Vega and the cowherd moved to the star Altair. They are allowed to meet only once a year on the day of 7th day of 7th lunar month.

Watch this video below,  it provides one common version of this Chinese traditional love story.

References and other resourses:

1. To read Qi Xi Jie story in Chinese-from Baidu

2. The story of Chinese Valentine’s day

3. Qixi Festival-from Wikipedia

If you are in China or have some friends, most likely, you would hear people talking about this festival.

Watch this video and read some referenced artiles,  you would know more about this festival than average Chinese do.

Making 粽子zòngzi (Glutinous Rice Dumplings)


There are many different ways that people make zòngzi, with fillings that are either sweet or savory.  I found this recipe from a website called, Eating China (http://www.eatingchina.com/recipes/zongzi.htm).  If you are a fan of sticky rice, this is one recipe you need to tackle, especially in light of the Dragon Boat Festival coming up.  Send any comments our way after you’ve tried the recipe, and let us know what you thought about the whole “making zòngzi experience”.

Makes 20 dumplings

40 large bamboo leaves (2 for each zongzi)
20 long strings (for binding leaves)
1 kg (2.2 Ib) uncooked glutinous rice
2 kg (4.4 Ib) fatty pork, sliced into 3 cm (1″) cubes
10 salted duck’s egg yolk, shelled, cut into halves
40 small dried shittake (black) mushrooms
20 dried chestnuts
10 stalks of scallions, cut up into 1 cm (1/2″) lengths
500 g (18 oz) dried radish diced very finely
100 g (3.5 oz) very small dried shrimp
200 g (7 oz) raw peanuts (shelled, with skins)
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup rice wine
Vegetable oil
5 cloves of garlic, roughly crushed
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
2 pieces star anise


Preparing ingredients

  1. Soak rice in water for three hours, drain.
  2. Stew pork and chestnuts for 1 hour in soy sauce, rice wine, ground pepper, 1 teaspoon of sugar. and star anise. Set aside pork and chestnuts in bowl.
  3. Boil peanuts until tender (30 minutes to 1 hour).
  4. Soak mushrooms until soft. Clean and cut off stalks. Stir-fry with a little liquid from stew. Set aside in bowl.
  5. Shell and halve duck eggs. Set aside in bowl.
  6. Chop up dried radish finely and stir-fry with some 1/2 teaspoon sugar and garlic.
  7. Stir-fry spring onions until fragrant.
  8. Stir-fry shrimp very quickly.
  9. In a large wok or bowl, add rice, then add spring onions, radish, shrimp, peanuts. Mix together well.

Wrapping zongzi

  1. Rinse bamboo leaves in hot water to tenderise, before washing thoroughly in cold water.
  2. Wet strings to make them more pliable.
  3. Take 2 leaves and overlap them. About 2/3rds of way along the length of the leaves, place one hand underneath, make a cup shape with the leaves.
  4. Add a small amount of rice mixture, then add 1 piece of pork to the centre of the rice. Add more rice on top, compressing slightly.
  5. Now repeat this process, in turn adding 1 each: chestnut, mushroom, half a duck egg, followed by a layer of rice until you have a full rice ball in your hand.
  6. Wrap leaves tightly around the ball of rice.
  7. Dumplings should be pyramid shaped with sharp edges and pointed ends. It takes some practice to make nice looking ones.
  8. Zongzi are tied up just like shoes laces with a double knot which makes them easy to open.
  9. *Steam for 1 hour, unwrap and serve.

Eat zongzi plain or with a sauce of your choice. Wrapped tightly in plastic, zongzi freeze well. To reheat, thaw, and without removing the bamboo leaves, steam (best option), or microwave. Before micro-waving, poke a very small hole in the wrapping and pour in 1/4 of a teaspoon of water to help prevent the zongzi drying out. To test for doneness, plunge a sharp fork into the centre of the zongzi. If the pointy end of the fork is hot, so is your snack.

For a video you could also check out this video from youtube:

Dragon Boat Festival

端午节duān wǔ jié), or the Dragon Boat Festival, is one of the most popular traditional Chinese festivals. It occurs on the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese calendar.


Two of the most widespread activities for the Dragonboat Festival are preparing and eating 粽子 (zònɡ zi), or glutinous rice dumplings.


Another one is dragonboat racing.

dragon boats racing


These activities are related to the origin of the Dragonboat Festival.


The best and most widely known legend relates to Qu Yuan (c. 340 BC – 278 BC) of the ancient state of Chu, in the Warring States Period of the Zhou Dynasty. Qu Yuan served in high offices. However, when the king decided to ally with the increasingly powerful state of Qin, Qu Yuan was banished for opposing the alliance. Qu Yuan was accused of treason during his exile. During this time, he wrote a great deal of poetry, for which he is now remembered. Twenty-eight years later, Qin conquered the Chu capital. In despair, Qu Yuan committed suicide by drowning himself in the Miluo River on the fifth day of the fifth month.

It is said that the local people who admired him threw rice into the river to feed the fish so that the fish would not eat Qu Yuan’s body. This is said to be the origin of zònɡ zi . The local people were also said to have paddled out on boats to retrieve his body. This is said to be the origin of dragon boat racing.

Watch this 3-minute video about 端午节,challenge yourself and see how much you can understand.


1.《Chinese Traditions and Festivals》textbook taught at 1on1 Mandarin

2. Duanwu Festival article from Wikipedia

3. Dragonboat Festival  from Baidu-百科