How to write Mandarin

If you want to write chinese characters, simply dip a spider in alcoholic ink and place it on a page. Then wait for an earthquake. I'm not saying that mandarin characters are unnecessarily complicated, but people have been known to die of starvation while attempting to read a menu. And there is the story of the man writing a birthday card who found it was out of date when he finished.

My Chinese girlfriend tells me that their language isn't actually an IQ-burning trap devised against the white-devils. This is the same person who as a child was punished by being made to write out her own name a hundred times, based on the fact that Chinese names can be complicated enough to make this a frustrating and boring torture. For a country that views education and medical care for the population as optional extras that's some pretty impressively advanced psychological control. Communism may be impractical but conditioning children to hate their own names is a pretty good stab at making it work. "To hell with my hateful individual name!" cries the child, casting aside the pen and taking up the Glorious Peoples hammer and sickle, "I will become a faceless soul among many - all hail the glorious hive mind!"


Think I'm kidding? In English the letter 'I' is the absolute simplest letter you can conceive of, a single stroke - the mandarin equivalent is . Try writing that - it's only marginally quicker than sketching a quick self portrait. Even better, spot the difference between and - one means "me", the other means "workman" and "spear"; of course, the fact that the language of a large population views the concept of self and armed warrior as synonymous shouldn't be of any concern. Especially to Russia, their immediate neighbours with rich mineral resources.

A pictographic language reveals a lot more about a culture's history and development than a character-based one. Many chinese characters developed from simple pictorial representations, and evolved over time as they were needed - which makes the following set quite interesting:



That's right; the language was at the point of differentiating between different types of stabbing weapon long before the concept of "love" needed to be written down. Distinguishing between different bladed implements designed for killing takes only two strokes, while the concept of love takes ten - so you have to choose between liking someone or knifing them five times. This is a language developed by people who didn't mess about, and by "mess about" I mean "not stab people".

There are insights into the sexual politics of Chinese history too. The character means female, and is child, or in some cases teenage. Put them together, and you get , meaning good. You know, "good like a young girl" being a universal constant; to say China was patriarchal would be like claiming that Hitler had some effect on local politics. Another window into the equal opportunity heaven that is the Mandarin language is means "too much, excessively" while means "wife". Clearly this is a culture where women hold an important position, and have to keep holding it until the man is finished and falls asleep.

Getting off the subject of how the language speaks of a time about as interested in equal opportunity as a drunk rugby team, and back into how it's just spitefully difficult, observe counting down from five to zero.



Note how it fakes you out with some apparent reason and simple order on the way down to one, before breaking out the zero. You might recognise it as the Mind-Smashing ImpossiPuzzle that Captain Genius had to solve to save the universe from the Sanity Breakers. It's possible to write the Theory of Relativity in less strokes than that.

So ends my first foray into the world of the Mandarin language. Since I'm not quite fluent yet, you can expect to see more.

1 comment:

Li Qing Bei said...

Hi Luke,

On the concept of hao, made up of the female and child radicals, I was told a while back by a Chinese friend that in this context the 'Ze' actually means 'son', so 'good' becomes a woman who has had a son.

It is a shame that Chinese never really developed a single character for 'bad' (other than simply 'bu hao') as it would almost certainly be a woman with a daughter or something similar.

Goes a long way toward explaining the penchant for female infanticide I guess.