As most books will tell you, China is a very diverse country. There is the myth of the unified Chinese state, which was behind the events narrated in The Three Kingdoms; but in reality, the north and south are different, and the centre is different again. Even today, the country is not quite as unified as most people would like to think. The central government has become progressively weaker since 1976, while provincial governments are more likely to ignore Beijing’s diktats and do what they like.
There’s a lot of civil unrest, but that’s local dissatisfaction. Probably everyone digs out quotes from Outlaws of the Marsh (aka The Water Margin), declares themselves loyal to the emperor, and gets medieval on corrupt officials. I’ve seen quite a few protests, but these are of the authorised kind. Everyone sits or stands around, and nothing much happens.
It’s all part of the massive changes in this country. The government likes to remind everyone that the country is developing rapidly and getting richer. But there are still a lot of places in China where things haven’t improved, and China is still a Third World country in terms of average incomes. There is a massive disparity between the people with the money, who are typically (vulgar) conspicuous consumers, and people on more modest incomes who are more mean and miserable than they need to be.
Socialism with Chinese characteristics is really just unbridled capitalism. The corruption, which is often at the root of people’s disaffection with local officials, is endemic. In Outlaws of the Marsh, the outlaws have all crossed swords with corrupt officials, yet they are corrupters themselves. When any of the characters are imprisoned, they lavishly distribute bribes to the guards and prison officials. The heroes who are meant to be fighting corruption are corrupters themselves. But it’s all part of the culture.
Down the centuries, students of logic must’ve asked their teachers, “Is this for real?” until one day someone made the observation that if the Chinese had invented logic, it’d be just like Western logic. Wrong. If the Chinese had invented logic, it’d be arse-backwards.
There are no specialist tradesmen in China. If something needs to be fixed, and you have the tools, you’d probably be as the skilled professional who’d come to look at it. The repair was often temporary at best, and it wasn’t unusual for it to make things worse.
The old 938s from Tongzhou to Beijing may have rattled along, but at least they had plenty of seats. The new 938s wouldn’t even have had half the seating capacity of the older buses, which would’ve forced even more people to stand. I wonder whether there’s a logical reason for this such as an old bus designer saying to a younger one, “Very nice, but where’s the room for the stretchers?” because some official had had the bright idea of using buses as ambulances in case of war.
Basically, nothing here quite works properly. Buildings rise at a phenomenal rate, but the quality of work and materials would probably shorten a Western buildings inspector’s life expectancy by twenty years. The blocks of flats go up, but there never seems to be anyone to fill in them. What is new looks five years old within a year.
But that’s the dao of China.
18.06.13. Edited the formatting and made some minor additions to the text.
Looking at the paragraph about wealth in China, nothing has really changed in nearly eight years. I’ve seen more luxury cars in Wuxi than I’ve ever seen in my life – Porsches, Aston Martins, Audis, Ferraris, and Lamborghinis. And alongside them go the people who are too cheap to replace the brakes on their electric scooters.
The Western press often talks about the Chinese middle class, but they seem to be referring to the people who can afford Audi A4s, A6s or better, and series 5 and 7 BMWs, which are way outside my price range and yet I am middle class. This group would appear to be closer to middle management. They have a bit more money and a limited amount of power, but they’re not the elite.
I’m not sure whether China has a Chinese middle class (how would they be identified?) or the bulk of the population mostly inhabits the ends of the financial spectrum. There is also the little matter of middle-class culture which I have yet to see here. Among its characteristics would be courtesy (my car does not make me blind to other road users) and consideration for others (I know to keep my voice down, wait patiently in a queue for my turn, not have a lit cigarette in a lift, encourage my children not to say “老外”, and not spit).
Twenty-five Years On
Although the circumstances of my life might change, I still remain interested in languages and linguistics. I have a greater aptitude for languages than most of the foreigners I’ve met here in China. I don’t kid myself that I’ll ever be fluent in Chinese. A lot of people come here thinking they’ll learn the language, but clearly have no idea what it takes to learn one.
I tend to learn bits of Chinese when I need to be able to communicate some specific piece of information. Of course, I promptly forget the word the moment I no longer have any use for it. I like to know what the characters say because so much written information goes begging in this country because the writing system is unfamiliar.
I didn’t turn up in China completely ignorant of Chinese. I knew the facts that everyone knows about Mandarin Chinese – it’s a Sino-Tibetan language; it has the largest number of speakers in the world; it’s a tone language; it’s allegedly monosyllabic; it’s written with characters; characters have radicals and stroke counts. And that was it.
What have I learnt about it since then? Well, it’s not really monosyllabic. Most words are disyllabic because the language has a very limited syllable structure – (C)V(N) – which means lots of potential ambiguity. The meanings of these disyllabic words can either be transparent, partly transparent, or utterly opaque. In the last instance, this means that Chinese words have spelling. weiji (危机) means “crisis”. The character wei means “danger”, but ji can mean “machine”, “aircraft”, “opportunity” etc. In other words, weiji happens to be spelt with these characters. Dongxi (东西) means “thing”, but is written with the characters for “east” and “west”. Zuoyou (左右) can mean both “vacillate” and ”control, influence”, and is written with the characters meaning “left” (zuo) and “right” (you).
The Chinese consonant system is heavy on affricates. (This is only true of standard Mandarin; most regional varieties have simplified the consonant inventory to such an extent that pinyin is wholly inaccurate.) Curiously enough, the basic set of stop consonants – labial, alveolar, and velar – are phonetically similar to English, although phonemically the languages are different. Mandarin Chinese opts for a contrast between plain and aspirated non-continuant obstruents.
Chinese has [l], but no [r], although it has a consonant that is acoustically similar, and rhotic vowels. (Japanese goes the other way with an r-like consonant, but no [l].)
The vowel system is a bit weird with centralised and back unrounded vowels, and a rhotic vowel. The realisation of the high front vowel is determined by the preceding consonant. It’s centralised after [s]; rhotacised after retroflex consonants; but otherwise [i].
Chinese does have inflectional and derivational morphology. The inflectional system is minimal, but it’s there. Nouns have a possessive form and verbs tend to take temporal and aspectual particles. In fact, it might even be possible that there are a few more nominal inflections, even if they aren’t analysed in that way. Adjectives are actually stative verbs. And prepositions are verbs of a sort as well. Chinese word classes tend to be a little nebulous.
Syntax is SVO with some SOV-like elements. Locative phrases come first in the clause. There is a ba-construction (把) which places the direct object at the start of the sentence. There’s not much co-ordination, or even subordination. The existential verb is you (有) “is/are; have”. Chinese uses measure words (a little like “piece” in “a piece of paper”), although their range of use is often restricted and there’s the all-purpose measure word ge (个). But just to be quirky, the Chinese word for “two” when you count two things is liang (e.g. liang ge piao “two tickets” 两个票), but er (二) “two” when counting.
18.06.13. Edited the HTML, added Chinese characters, and added tags. I also added some extra information and broke up one of the longer paragraphs.
Let’s try again.
That started well. I had been writing an entry to show that humans live rather dull lives. It was the story of my life today, viz.
- Got up.
- Did post-getting up stuff.
- Went online.
- Went into town.
- Bought ticket for trip to Suzhou this weekend.
- Went to Mian Ai Mian for lunch.
- Bought some more DVDs.
- Came home.
- Watched a couple of episodes of the third series of Scrubs.
- Went online and set this up.
- Wrote entry.
- Noted that you could change the theme.
- Decided to change theme.
- Original entry destroyed by changing theme.
Let’s get newsy. Normally I have a look at Google UK news and The Guardian. I see David Blunkett has had to resign again. “I may be blind, but I am stupid.” According to The Guardian
As MPs debated the terror bill, John Hutton, the cabinet’s Blairite new boy, was quickly promoted from the Cabinet Office to take forward Mr Blunkett’s daunting portfolio.
However, I wish to make it known that the PM and I are just good friends.
There were riots in Paris after a couple of African teenagers were electrocuted when they hid in a substation because they thought they were being chased by the police. Not hard to see how that could’ve triggered a riot.
That’s enough excitement for my first entry. Besides, I want to see what this actually looks like. I’m just so excited that I might wake up.
[06.04.13 Edited tagging and made minor alterations to the text. This was not an auspicious start to the blog.
16.08.14. Edited the tags some more and wondered whether I should rewrite this entry entirely. Might just leave it because I suspect replacing it would achieve very little.]