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    Capturing Chinese — learn Chinese

    Learn Chinese Through Chinese Stories - An Introduction to Lu Xun The Father of Modern Chinese Literature

    As part of our Learn Chinese Through Chinese Stories campaign, we would like to introduce one of the most pivotal writers in modern Chinese history.  His name is Lu Xun and his stories have been included in four of our Capturing Chinese series books.  We begin by introducing Lu Xun and next week we will move into some of his short stories. Introduction to Lǔ Xùn Lǔ Xùn (鲁迅) was born in Shàoxīng (绍兴城) in 1881. Shàoxīng is a part of Jiāngsū (江苏省) province and has been home to many of China's literary giants throughout history.  During Lǔ Xùn's time it was also a hotbed for anti-Qing revolutionaries who frequently appear in his stories.  Lǔ Xùn was born with the name Zhōu Zhāngshòu (周樟寿).  He later changed his name to Zhōu Yùshān (周豫山) and took the courtesy name of Zhōu Shùrén (周树人).  Men primarily used a courtesy name after reaching 20 years of age as a symbol of adulthood and respect.  He chose the pen name Lǔ Xùn when writing his first short story, A Madman's Diary, in May of 1918.  He chose Lǔ (鲁) in commemoration of his mother, whose maiden surname was also Lǔ (鲁). Chinese Literature, read Chinese, Lu Xun, learn chinese, chinese fiction, write chinese Lǔ Xùn had two younger brothers: Zhōu Zuòrén (周做人) who was four years younger and Zhōu Jiànrén (周建人) who was five years younger.  While Lǔ Xùn did have a third younger brother, this brother died very young. The Zhou family was well-educated and Lǔ Xùn's paternal grandfather, Zhōu Fúqīng (周福清), had held a post at the prestigious Hanlin Academy (翰林院 Hànlín Yuàn).  However, after his grandfather tried to procure an official post for Lǔ Xùn's father, the family's fortunes began to decline.  His grandfather was arrested for bribery and almost beheaded.  Such crimes in ancient China threatened all the family members since the authorities would commonly punish the whole family for one member's transgressions.  Lǔ Xùn's father had his xiucai (秀才) degree stripped and was banned from taking further exams. Lǔ Xùn was brought up by a servant called Ā Cháng (阿长) whom Lǔ Xùn called Cháng Mā (长妈). Ā Cháng was a very superstitious woman and shared many stories with Lǔ Xùn including those about the Long Hairs (长毛 Cháng Máo).  The Long Hairs were also known as the Taipings and were the rebels of the Taiping Rebellion (1850-1864).  She also gave him a copy of the Classics of Mountains and Seas (山海经 Shān Hǎi Jīng), which included many mythical tales about the world and became his favorite book during childhood. After Zhōu Fúqīng's imprisonment, Lǔ Xùn's father began drinking and became addicted to opium.  He contracted a chronic illness and had traditional Chinese doctors care for him for the last four years of his life.  One of these doctors was called Dr. He Jianchen whose surname appears in two short stories from Nahan (呐喊): The Madman's Diary (狂人日记) and Tomorrow (明天).  From this experience, Lǔ Xùn learned to distrust and even despise traditional Chinese medicine and other superstitions.  In the preface to Nàhǎn he recalls having to pawn the family's valuables in order to buy esoteric medicine prescribed by his father's doctors.  His father eventually died from tuberculosis during Lǔ Xùn's adolescence.  The poor standard of care for his father's chronic illness inspired Lǔ Xùn to study western medicine and eventually led him to Sendai in Japan. Before heading to Japan, Lǔ Xùn studied at Jiangnan Naval Academy (江南水师学堂 Jiāngnán Shuǐshī Xuétáng).  He left after his first year and continued his studies at Jiangnan Army Academy's School of Mining and Railroads (江南陆师学堂附设的矿务铁路学堂 Jiāngnán Lùshī Xuétáng Fùshè de Kuàng Wù Tiělù Xuétáng) for the next three.  He graduated in 1902. After the first opium wars in 1839, China was forcefully opened up to the outside world and the Chinese began to grasp their dire need to modernize.  Not only were the Western powers infringing on Chinese sovereignty, but their neighbor, Japan, also came to exploit China.  As a response, China sent large numbers of students abroad to learn the West's "secrets."  Due to their similar language structure, Japan was an easier place than either America or Europe to study.  In 1902, having successfully obtained a government scholarship, Lǔ Xùn went to Japan to study medicine as a part of a government effort to modernize China.  Lǔ Xùn saw modern medicine as an essential key to modernization. In order to get away from his fellow Chinese students, Lǔ Xùn went to Sendai in the northern part of the main island of Japan where he was the first and only Chinese student.  He enrolled at the Sendai Specialized School of Medical Studies (仙台的医学专门学校 Xiāntái de Yīxué Zhuānmén Xuéxiào).  He stayed there and struggled with his studies for one and a half years before suddenly and angrily walking out of the lecture room, quitting his studies in medicine, and devoting himself to literature instead.  After seeing a public execution of a Chinese spy, he realized from the looks of the surrounding spectators that the Chinese soul needed more healing than their physical body.  He wrote literature to heal the spirit of the Chinese people.  (See 呐喊-自序 for the complete story on why he quit his medical studies.) Lǔ Xùn stayed in Tokyo for three more years while pursuing his interests in literature. In 1909 he returned home to Shàoxīng and found a job teaching.  He stayed in southern China doing various jobs until 1912 when he moved to Běijīng, having found a job with the newly formed government in the Ministry of Education.  The Republic of China had just replaced the Qing Dynasty late in the prior year.  From 1912-1917, Lǔ Xùn found himself quite disillusioned with the Revolution.  While Sun Yat-sen (孙中山 Sūn Zhōngshān) had founded the Republic of China, the military man Yuán Shìkǎi (袁世凯) shortly thereafter usurped power and continued the corrupt ways of the Qing Dynasty before him.  He even declared himself emperor of a new dynasty in 1916 before dying later that same year. Slightly before and then after the death of Yuán Shìkǎi, political activities and movements began to flourish.  These movements are commonly known as The New Culture Movement or The May Fourth Movement.  In August 1917, Qián Xuántóng (钱玄同), a close friend of Lǔ Xùn, urged Lǔ Xùn to write and contribute to their newly formed magazine, The New Youth (新青年 Xīn Qīngnián).  For this magazine Lǔ Xùn wrote some of his most famous short stories such as A Madman's Diary (狂人日记), Kong Yiji (孔已己) , and Medicine ().  In 1922 he collected his short stories into a collection called Nàhǎn (呐喊), known in English by various names.  A Call to Arms, Cheering From the Sidelines, Outcry are a few examples. In 1925, he published his second collection of short stories called Pánghuáng (彷徨), known in English as Wondering or Wondering Where to Turn.  Between 1924 and 1926, Lǔ Xùn published a series of prose poems that were later collected into Wild GrassWild Grass was published in 1927. During the writing of Wondering and Wild Grass, Lǔ Xùn was especially troubled by the current political situation in China.  In addition, he was finding himself increasingly estranged from his younger brother Zhou Zuoren.  While Lǔ Xùn was already married, he had only married out of traditional obligation.  However, during this time he found love in his student, Xu Guangping.  Xu Guangping and Lǔ Xùn met for the first time in 1925 and started living together in 1927. Lǔ Xùn spent most of the rest of his life in the liberal city of Shanghai.  During this time he wrote essays and his famous A Concise History of Chinese Fiction (中國小說史略). Lǔ Xùn died on October 18th, 1936 due to tuberculosis. His remains are interred in Lǔ Xùn Park (鲁迅公园) in Shanghai. Lǔ Xùn and Xu Guangping had one son. Lǔ Xùn gives a great introduction to his stories in his own words in his preface to Nahan, which we provide and introduce below:




    自序 means a preface to one's book.  Here Lǔ Xùn gives us a look into his past and how events in his life have influenced these short stories. For instance, he mentions having to pawn the family's goods in order to buy esoteric prescriptions for his sick father.  Watching his father's illness progressively get worse until his death, led Lǔ Xùn to question Chinese folk medicine throughout his life.  He went to Japan to study Western medicine in order to help change China's reliance on superstition for medicinal cures before ultimately turning to literature instead.  His feelings towards Chinese medicine find their way into two of his stories, Medicine (药) and Tomorrow (明天). He also discusses his inspiration for giving up medicine for literature. Watching a slide show of a captured Chinese man about to be executed for spying incensed him.  It wasn't that Japanese troops were about to execute one of his countrymen, but rather the Chinese surrounding the spy all had blank, wooden looks on their faces.  He felt the dire need to reinvigorate the Chinese population. Lǔ Xùn saw writing as the best means for helping to change the thinking of the Chinese people.  Given China's literary past in which Confucian scholars influenced Chinese thinking immensely, one can understand his motivation for becoming an author. He also discusses why he decided to help China through a new cultural movement.  He asks himself, if a bunch of people were locked in a sealed metal room, in which people were sleeping, had no means of escape, and were doomed to suffocate, would it make any sense to try to wake them.  He could arouse the light sleepers and tell them of their impending doom hoping that they might find a way to save themselves, but this would only cause them to consciously meet their death.  Lǔ Xùn says it is hope, the possibility that someone might find a way out of the sealed room,  that has led him to write these short stories.  While he might think doom is inevitable, he can't say others shouldn't have hope. Nahan - Zixu - Preface 呐 喊-自序
    Would you like to read this Chinese short story with pinyin, footnotes with definitions, historical summaries, and cultural references, as well as Chinese audio files of two native speakers, one male and one female,  reading the story? Get your copy of Capturing Chinese today!   Visit the Capturing Chinese Catalog

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    Learning Chinese to Advance Your Career - A Personal Story

    This is Kevin, founder of Capturing Chinese and editor of the books that you see on this website.  Today, I would like to share a short history of my career and how having learned Chinese shapes the opportunities that I have today. Capturing Chinese is not my full time job.  I enjoy reading Chinese fiction as I enjoy it and I think it is the best way to teach oneself reading, writing, and improving your Chinese vocabulary.  I also derive a great deal of personal satisfaction in helping others achieve their reading goals.  Capturing Chinese is a supplement to my full time job as a structural engineer in Tokyo. At Cornell University, I minored in Chinese/East Asian Studies and majored in structural engineering.  After graduation, I spent one year at Beijing Language and Culture University where I sharpened my Chinese and reached a level where I could start teaching myself.  I went back to the US, got my masters in Structural Engineering, and started a job with a famous structural engineering company in New York City where I used absolutely zero Chinese.  Having spent so much time learning Chinese, you can imagine the frustration that I had when I found a great job, but did not use my Chinese skills that I spent so much time learning. I recently got married to my former classmate in Beijing and have moved to Tokyo to be with her.  She is Japanese and speaks amazing Chinese. I now work for Nikken Sekkei, a large architecture and engineering design firm.  While the company originally was mostly focused on the local Japanese market, we are now expanding abroad to China, India, Vietnam, and the middle east. I was able to land the job at Nikken because of two reasons.  One that I know American structural engineering design.  The second was because I know Chinese and would be able to participate in Chinese as well as Middle Eastern (English) projects.  At the time of my job interview I knew very little Japanese so I had to convince them that I had the skills to learn it in the future.  Having mastered a difficult language such as Chinese shows I have the patience to learn new languages.  I think learning foreign languages is basically perseverance for a very long time.  Learning languages is more like a marathon than a sprint.  Set a good pace and keep it up for five years and you will master a new language.  Learning Chinese showed that I could also learn Japanese.  So thank you Chinese, number one! What I really want to communicate in this blog post is that learning Chinese by itself is not what I have found to be so special.  How do you diversify yourself from the entire population of China?  Engineering is a frustrating field to enter because you need to study the field for literally ten years or more before you can start designing on your own.  However, during these tens years I have also spent the time to master Chinese and learn intermediate/advanced Japanese.  These two skills in addition to knowing structural engineering is starting to become very powerful. For the first time in my career, I had the chance to work on my own design and then to present it to the client directly in Shanghai.  The presentation was in Chinese, the report was in Chinese, and I presented.  My coworkers usually have a translator, but during my part I presented myself. China is a huge market for architects and structural engineers.  The Chinese enjoy building remarkable, iconic buildings and are just the type of work that I really enjoy.  However, during my trip I sensed a desire by the Chinese to design these projects themselves.  They don't want to hire foreign companies, but do so because they want the world's best design. During the meeting, they were discussing why can't Chinese firms match the world's best design firms.  Of course, this part was in Chinese and my coworkers could not pick up on this conversation.  I am getting the impression that being able to present in Chinese myself shows a great respect for the Chinese culture.  Speaking Chinese is showing respect for their culture and will ultimately help your business opportunities.  So this business trip can be summed up as follows: they hired us for our architectural and structural abilities, but presenting in Chinese shows respect to them and diversifies yourself from your competitors. We have some big and iconic projects coming up in China.  I am finding that I might be thrown some very interesting and challenging work quite soon.  Knowing Chinese allows me to handle working in China better than those who don't. Famous Chinese hands (that I can think of) use their knowledge of Chinese to supplement their main skill.  For example, Peter Hesseler (author of many books on China: The River Town, Oracle Bones, Country Driving, etc.) is an excellent writer, journalist, and works very diligently.  He now speaks Chinese, but his first and main skill is being a writer.  Jon Huntsman, a Republican candidate for president, is a politician first and can speak Chinese second.  I am interested to see how his candidacy performs in relation to his ability to speak Chinese. Everyone knows that Chinese is hard.  Being able to speak, read, and write this very difficult language reflects on your character to pursue a difficult task for a very long time.  Learning languages don't require you to be particularly smart, or a genius.  Learning languages requires devotion.  Companies like people who can devote themselves to mastering a skill.  That I can promise without a doubt is true in Japan where people take pride in mastering their craft over their lifetime. So learn Chinese.  The language and culture are amazing.  Their country is growing quickly and will have opportunities for everyone to help in their development.  However, I urge everyone to learn Chinese as a secondary skill.  Learn accounting, engineering, finance, business, law, writing, politics, etc. and then use your ability to speak Chinese to diversify yourself from your peers. How has learning Chinese affected your career?  My experience is only my experience.  Please share your thoughts below.


    Now that I live in Japan and am surrounded by technology, I have decided to upgrade my phone and start using this G3 technology everyone is talking about.  I just got the new android google phone.  That alone is pretty cool, but what I am loving about it is that I just installed Anki.  Anki is an application for language learners like ourselves and is basically a fancy flashcard application.  The application will remember which vocabulary you are having trouble memorizing and continue to ask you at certain intervals.  From their website:

    Anki is a spaced repetition system (SRS). It helps you remember things by intelligently scheduling flashcards, so that you can learn a lot of information with a minimum amount of effort.
    Check them out here. Anki is from Japanese 暗記する(Anki suru) which means to memorize.  Anki is perfect for learning all those hanzi without the need for thousands of flashcards.  Those flashcards get dirty and take a ton of space.

    How to Learn Chinese

    I heard from a couple of people this week that learning Chinese was just impossible without an obsession over the language.  While having an obsession over anything will probably help you in just about any endeavor I can assure you that learning Chinese can be done in your free time, on the side, and without obsession. Learning Chinese is no doubt difficult for westerners.  We are used to our alphabet, our Latin roots, etc.  When we take on a language such as Spanish, we think it's unbelievably hard and question how could two so very different languages exist.  Well that was my experience in high school Spanish class.  After starting my Chinese studies I realized actually how easy Spanish was.  English and Spanish carry so many of the same roots, so much so that you can guess many of the meanings of Spanish words without knowing them beforehand. With so many westerners learning Spanish, I don't believe that it will give you the edge that you need in today's marketplace.  Tackling a difficult language such as Chinese, Japanese, or Arabic will be a very unique skill.  Plus once you've learned Chinese, learning Japanese and Korean will be easier.  So how do you go about learning Chinese in the first place? I can tell you what I did and it worked for me. First I was lucky enough to go to a college that had a great Chinese program.  The program was quite intense on top of my already tough engineering curriculum. We took classes for 8 hours a week for our first year.  Each day I studied for about 30 minutes listening to dialogues and learning new sentence structures.  Each day was a small bite of Chinese. After one year I was speaking Chinese, but nothing too exciting.  In our second year of Chinese, we began to focus more on learning the characters and expanding our vocabulary.  This second year of Chinese was five hours a week. I went to China for my first visit after this and absolutely fell in love with the country.  The people are fascinating, the food is amazing, and the country is full of energy.  Maybe it's the Chinese spirit or maybe it's since their economy is growing at 10% a year. I recommend anybody learning Chinese to study the basics in your home country.  Learning Chinese in China as a beginner is basically useless unless you have a specialized program.  They teach Chinese to many Koreans and Japanese whose language share similar roots.  Westerners need to learn basic Chinese from a Western perspective.  So before heading to Beijing find a good program in your locale to start your studies.  I had too many friends who took beginning level Chinese in China for one year, only to speak horrible Chinese later.  They couldn't keep up with the Koreans and Japanese and they just spoke English and drank beer. I studied Chinese in Beijing at Beijing Language and Cultural University.  At first I thought the program was awful.  Their teaching style is so much different and I had to get used to that at first.  In the end, I came to value their teaching style and my Chinese dramatically improved as a result.  I think it might have improved more so then my friends studying at American run programs in Beijing at Tsinghua and Beijing University who had teaching styles I would have been more used to. If you go to China, I recommend you find as many Chinese, Japanese and Korean friends as possible.  Most likely you'll have to resort to speaking Chinese and you'll get better as a result. If all your friends are Americans and Europeans, then forcing yourselves to speak Chinese instead of English will be tough.  Just immerse yourself in Chinese. I hope people find this post useful.  Basically study hard little by little over a long period of time and you'll master Chinese soon enough.

    Why study Chinese?

    Learning a foreign language will be a significant skill to differentiate yourself in today's market place and learning and mastering Chinese will put you leaps and bounds ahead of others. First, let me tell you a little bit about myself. I am a structural engineer who has been studying Chinese on the side for the past eight years. A question I get a lot is "why did you first start to learn Chinese?" Especially recently with my new job search here in Japan, I hear this question quite frequently. I never had a great reason why I started. A lot of my friends spoke Chinese so I wanted to learn it as well. Only after I started studying Chinese for a couple years did I realize what a great decision I had made. For instance, take the job that I am starting tomorrow here in Tokyo Japan with a structural engineering company. Would I have gotten the job if I was just a structural engineer from America? Probably not. They only speak Japanese in the office and I don’t speak great Japanese. The deal maker was that I spoke Chinese. They see China as their most rapidly growing market and are keen to find talented engineers who speak Chinese (and English). The number of business opportunities for English speakers who also speak Mandarin Chinese is going to keep growing for years to come. Like it or not, China's economy will match and then overtake the US's economy in terms of sheer size. Smart individuals will place themselves ahead of the curve to take full advantage of this trend. Doing business in China is tough. Many US and European firms see themselves striking it rich in China, only to pull out of the country a few years later. If you want to maximize your odds of success, the first step is to have a minimal understanding of the language and culture. The next step is to be fluent in the language and understand its cultural history. Otherwise, I'm sure you'll find yourself hiring somebody who can.