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Barbarians at the Gate

By Barbarians at the Gate

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A semi-serious deep dive into Chinese history and culture broadcast from Beijing and hosted by rogue historian Jeremiah Jenne and writer James Palmer. We’ll pick a topic and then explore that subject over four episodes released every other Tuesday.

Customer Reviews

Characters talking about characters

I, personally, think it’s much ado about nothing. Of course, as a 58yr old former medical professional, now severely disabled and house-bound for the most part; I may not be your average non-native student. My Son is currently finishing his MBA and preparing to move to China. Although he began learning Chinese about 11 years ago, he feels that new learners today are “spoiled” with the wide, free and inexpensive, resources for both learning and actually using characters.
About 13 years ago, I spent 3 years studying Sanskrit-still an alphabetical system, setting the Devanagari apart from Simplified or Traditional Chinese characters. However, by integrating calligraphy and art into my studies, I found it much easier to remember the characters. I’m doing the same thing with Chinese characters. My Son is much too busy and the distance between us makes it impossible for him to help me much. Instead, he connected me with some of his Chinese friends in Shenzhen and Guangzhou, who run companies and distribution centers that deal directly with American and European, English-speaking consumers. Over the past 6 months, I’ve put together my own self-study program with their assistance. My kids now joke that “Moms kids in China”, have “reverse-adopted” me, sending me books, calligraphy supplies and many little Knick-knacks, scrolls and even free products. I’ve helped them out by writing and re-writing their sales copy to make it more legible and attractive to English speakers. Eventually, I am going to start translating instruction booklets for some new products as well as re-write instructions for current products with those “impossible to follow” google-translated instructions people often complain about.
The best part about this new journey I find myself on, is realizing how and why my Son fell in love with China, its people and culture. I’ve not only gotten to know these incredible kids; but I have also gotten to know some of their families. Last month, some of the kids took me along, by live video, to their Spring Festival and New Years celebrations. I was able to virtually experience everything from the State’s official concert and fireworks in Beijing, to a traditional Opera in Shanghai, to family feasts and small village celebrations. I’ve become friends with Grandma Lili, who recently retired from teaching English at a major university, and who has made my education in Chinese and calligraphy her personal project.
My personal physician and long-time friend says he hasn’t seen me this excited about anything since medical school. Unfortunately, I may never make it over to China physically; but I can honestly say this was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
As an aside; I tried out several online platforms and well-known instructors before I got to know the kids. Almost every one of them strongly advised that I completely ignore the characters for at least a year. They insisted that with today’s technology, even doing direct translations doesn’t require you to be able to read the characters. I have grown to strongly disagree. I’ve even convinced some of the kids to do calligraphy with me, as, like you all mentioned, they have forgotten many of the characters from disuse.
I guess my son is right, we ARE “spoiled” with the resources available today! 谢谢!

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  • Category: History
  • Language: English

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