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Introduction to China


Lesson Overview
In this lesson, you will learn a little bit about China to help you begin to understand both the language and the people better. China is the geographically the third largest country in the world and the most populated. About one out of every five people in the world is Chinese. That and the economic significance of China makes it very important for us to understand the Chinese language and China. It is also important if you plan to visit China some day.

Lesson Objectives
Given the information provided in this lesson, become familiar with the history and facts about China and the Chinese language through reading the introduction to China.

Lesson Content
For years China has intrigued the world bringing in foreign visitors year after year to stand in awe of this beautiful and ancient land. With a total area of over 9.5 million sq. km, China is the third largest country. Russia is the largest and Canada the second largest. China's has a diversity of terrain including mountains, plateaus, deserts and hills. The climate also varies widely from tropical in the far south and sub arctic in the far north. The rich resources, minerals, plants, and animals have allowed China to host centuries of generations of Chinese people.

Though diverse in climate, terrain and natural resources, China's greatest treasure might be her long and rich history. China was first unified in 221 BCE under the Qin (or Ch'in) Dynasty. For centuries an emperor who was given (or who had taken) the privilege to reign under the
mandate of heaven led Imperial China. On January 1, 1912 a republic replaced the Manchu Dynasty (or Qing Dynasty), ending countless years of dynastic rule. China's republic was not to last on the mainland and after a civil war immediately following World War II the republic was replaced with the People's Republic of China with Mao Zedong as leader on October 1, 1949.

In addition to China's long history and distinctive culture, there have been many gifts she has bestowed upon the rest of the world. Among these are the
four great inventions which include paper, gunpowder, printing and the compass. These inventions have truly shaped the world we live in, yet Chinese painting, calligraphy and martial arts cannot be overlooked.


Basic Information
Country Name:
People's Republic of China (PRC, China)
Total Area
9,596,960 sq km
Capital City
Beijing
Population:
1,321,851,888 (July 2007 est.)
Location
Easter (East) Asia, bordering East China Sea, Korean Bay, Yellow Sea and South China Sea

Border Countries

Afghanistan, Bhutan, Burma, India, Kazakhstan, North Korea, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia (northeast and northwest), Tajikistan, Vietnam; Hong Kong & Macao (regional borders)
People (ethnic groups)
Han Chinese 91.9%, other nationalities (including Korean, Mongol and Tibetan, to name a few) 8.1%
Language
Chinese or Mandarin (Putonghua, based on Beijing dialect), Cantonese, Shanghaiese, other local and minority dialects
Standard
Religion

Officially atheist; Daoist, Buddhist & Christian 3-4%, Muslim 1%
Currency
Renminbi/Yuan
Government
Executive (chief of state), legislative (National People's Congress) and judicial (Supreme, local and special People's Courts)
Chief of State
President Hu Jintao, elected by the 10th National People's Congress

Introduction to Chinese
One of the most unique features of the Chinese writing system is how it has unified the people of China. Due to the many dialects, the written language is the common method of communication. Someone from Shanghai might have difficulty speaking or understanding another from Chongqing, however the commonality of the written word
allows for easy understanding. Simplified Chinese is one of the two main writing styles of Chinese language. Leaders and prominent figures in China began to promote character simplification as early as China's first dynasty, the Qin, but in an attempt to promote literacy by the government of the People's Republic of China in the 1950s and 1960s, simplified Chinese became the prominent writing system and continues to be so in Mainland China, Singapore and Malaysia. These writing forms are created from their traditional counterparts by decreasing the number of strokes. Characters were simplified through various means such as the replacement of complicated with simpler shapes, omitting certain components entirely and adopting ancient shapes that are less complicated. There are some characters, however that have not been touched and therefore remain identical between simplified and traditional forms.

Written Language
China's written language boasts nearly six thousand years of history. Turtle shells, dating as far back as the Shang Dynasty (1766-1123 BCE) place written Chinese as the oldest written language in the world. Unlike other languages of the world, Chinese has no alphabet so communication is achieved through symbols called characters, each that represent a word of the vocabulary. There are over 40,000 Chinese characters, however recognizing 3,000 to 4,000 characters is enough to read a newspaper. Throughout Chinese history, the written language has been altered but the basic principles, symbols and characters have remained basically the same.

Simplified Chinese
Simplified Chinese China began to promote character simplification as early as China's first dynasty, the Qin, but in an attempt to promote literacy by the government of the People's Republic of China in the 1950s and 1960s, simplified Chinese became the prominent writing system and continues to be so in Mainland China, Singapore and Malaysia. These writing forms are created from their traditional counterparts by decreasing the number of strokes. Characters were simplified through various means such as the replacement of complicated with simpler shapes, omitting certain components entirely and adopting ancient shapes that are less complicated. There are some characters, however that have not been touched and therefore remain identical between simplified and traditional forms.

Traditional or Classical Characters
The other writing system of the Chinese written language is commonly known as Traditional Chinese. The Traditional Chinese character system first appeared in the Han Dynasty (206-220 BCE) and is today the main writing style in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macao and other Chinese communities.

Pinyin
Pinyin is the common name for the system that is used primarily to teach Chinese pronunciation. Since Chinese has no alphabet, the pinyin system was set up using Roman letters to represent the phonetics of the Chinese language. The Chinese government in the 1970s formally adopted Hanyu pinyin.

Example: liĆ¹ is pinyin for the number six

Lesson Activity


For a brief history of China, go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_culture. Go to Language. I think you will find this section interesting.
Go to the My Chinese web site http://www.mychineseclass.com/ and click on Lesson 1: Greetings. This lesson will introduce you to eight common Chinese words and a few basic language rules. You will have an opportunity to listen and practice these words and to test your understanding.

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