November 11, 2016

Seven Years in China-A New York Times Co-ed piece (2008)


After attending the spectacular closing ceremony at the Beijing Olympics and feeling the vibrations from hundreds of Chinese drummers pulsating in my own chest, I was tempted to conclude two things: “Holy mackerel, the energy coming out of this country is unrivaled.” And, two: “We are so cooked. Start teaching your kids Mandarin.”

However, I’ve learned over the years not to over-interpret any two-week event. Olympics don’t change history. They are mere snapshots — a country posing in its Sunday bests for all the world too see. But, as snapshots go, the one China presented through the Olympics was enormously powerful — and it’s one that Americans need to reflect upon this election season.

China did not build the magnificent $43 billion infrastructure for these games, or put on the unparalleled opening and closing ceremonies, simply by the dumb luck of discovering oil. No, it was the culmination of seven years of national investment, planning, concentrated state power, national mobilization and hard work.

Seven years … Seven years … Oh, that’s right. China was awarded these Olympic Games on July 13, 2001 — just two months before 9/11.

As I sat in my seat at the Bird’s Nest, watching thousands of Chinese dancers, drummers, singers and acrobats on stilts perform their magic at the closing ceremony, I couldn’t help but reflect on how China and America have spent the last seven years: China has been preparing for the Olympics; we’ve been preparing for Al Qaeda. They’ve been building better stadiums, subways, airports, roads and parks. And we’ve been building better metal detectors, armored Humvees and pilotless drones.

The difference is starting to show. Just compare arriving at La Guardia’s dumpy terminal in New York City and driving through the crumbling infrastructure into Manhattan with arriving at Shanghai’s sleek airport and taking the 220-mile-per-hour magnetic levitation train, which uses electromagnetic propulsion instead of steel wheels and tracks, to get to town in a blink.

Then ask yourself: Who is living in the third world country?

Yes, if you drive an hour out of Beijing, you meet the vast dirt-poor third world of China. But here’s what’s new: The rich parts of China, the modern parts of Beijing or Shanghai or Dalian, are now more state of the art than rich America. The buildings are architecturally more interesting, the wireless networks more sophisticated, the roads and trains more efficient and nicer. And, I repeat, they did not get all this by discovering oil. They got it by digging inside themselves.

I realize the differences: We were attacked on 9/11; they were not. We have real enemies; theirs are small and mostly domestic. We had to respond to 9/11 at least by eliminating the Al Qaeda base in Afghanistan and investing in tighter homeland security. They could avoid foreign entanglements. Trying to build democracy in Iraq, though, which I supported, was a war of choice and is unlikely to ever produce anything equal to its huge price tag.

But the first rule of holes is that when you’re in one, stop digging. When you see how much modern infrastructure has been built in China since 2001, under the banner of the Olympics, and you see how much infrastructure has been postponed in America since 2001, under the banner of the war on terrorism, it’s clear that the next seven years need to be devoted to nation-building in America.

We need to finish our business in Iraq and Afghanistan as quickly as possible, which is why it is a travesty that the Iraqi Parliament has gone on vacation while 130,000 U.S. troops are standing guard. We can no longer afford to postpone our nation-building while Iraqis squabble over whether to do theirs.

A lot of people are now advising Barack Obama to get dirty with John McCain. Sure, fight fire with fire. That’s necessary, but it is not sufficient.

Obama got this far because many voters projected onto him that he could be the leader of an American renewal. They know we need nation-building at home now — not in Iraq, not in Afghanistan, not in Georgia, but in America. Obama cannot lose that theme.

He cannot let Republicans make this election about who is tough enough to stand up to Russia or bin Laden. It has to be about who is strong enough, focused enough, creative enough and unifying enough to get Americans to rebuild America. The next president can have all the foreign affairs experience in the world, but it will be useless, utterly useless, if we, as a country, are weak.

Obama is more right than he knows when he proclaims that this is “our” moment, this is “our” time. But it is our time to get back to work on the only home we have, our time for nation-building in America. I never want to tell my girls — and I’m sure Obama feels the same about his — that they have to go to China to see the future.

October 29, 2016

Add Pinyin on Top of Characters

As teachers, when we use authentic input, we want to put Pinyin on top of characters for students to read the text easily and practice their pronunciation.

As students, when you type up your speech script, you may want to put Pinyin to help you practice.

Putting Pinyin on top of characters is easily done in Microsoft Word. See this tutorial (5min) and all is clearly explained.

August 11, 2016

Olympics, China, Nike commercial, Chinese Culture, Vintage

This ad has potential for 1) warm-up before class starts; 2) activating vocabulary about sports. This is Nike ad for China made in the 1980s.

May 18, 2016

Tool to see words in context

When you are learning new vocabulary, you want to see a lot of sentence examples that show you the form and meaning of the vocabulary and see how people use them.

This website,, is very useful because you can enter a Chinese word and it will give you a list of English-Chinese sentence examples based on natural language corpus.

Give it a try. 🙂 Happy learning~~~~


May 3, 2016

Speaking Mandarin Online

Note: this is not an endorsement. Just share information about possible services if your school has no Chinese programs, but students want to take Mandarin as their language option.

April 14, 2016

Chinese Lunar New Year Greeting

Suggestions for classroom:

1) activate schema: show Chinese New Year iconic images such as the couplets, the upside-down “福”, family dinner tables, etc. Ask students to complete the sentence, “在中国新年,人们____________________。” This practices simple sentence structures and verb phrases.”

2) Group-work: Present a transcript of Mark Zuckerberg’s Chinese wishes (with characters and Pinyin) and have students work in groups to try to sound out the words.

3) Bring class together to cover any new vocabulary and sentence patterns in the transcript they are not familiar with.

4) Show the video clip and watch together. Discuss the video, such as “do you think Mark Zuckerberg’s tone affects his comprehensibility?” ”

5) Practice: have students imagine they will pose as family and greet their friends or family in China and make a video greeting. Have them choose their addressee, write up the script, and act out either in class or video-taking themselves.

Tip: if your classroom has no Internet connection to show youtube videos in class, you can download youtube clips with a youtube video downloader app for firefox.  Search in google and you will find the app. Download the clip as MP4 which can be played by most video players.

September 25, 2015

Reading New York Times in Chinese

Reading extensively is the best way to build your literary skills in Chinese. If you like to read the NYTimes, try out its Chinese version:

September 25, 2015

Mike Zuckerberg spoke Mandarin throughout his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping

September 24, Facebook founder, Mike Zuckerberg met with China’s President Xi Jinping and hold the conversation in Mandarin Chinese during the entire meeting.

News in English:

News in Chinese Link:


September 25, 2015

Can 1 Million American Students Learn Mandarin? Obama just announced a new initiative promising just that — and all by 2020.

See in today’s news: LINK 

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 25:  U.S. President Barack Obama (R) and Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) attend a joint press conference in the Rose Garden at The White House on September 25, 2015 in Washington, DC.  Jinping is in the U.S. on an official state visit to meet with President Obama to discuss a range of issues.  (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, DC – SEPTEMBER 25: U.S. President Barack Obama (R) and Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) attend a joint press conference in the Rose Garden at The White House on September 25, 2015 in Washington, DC. Jinping is in the U.S. on an official state visit to meet with President Obama to discuss a range of issues. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

When U.S. President Barack Obama announced the 100,000 Strong Initiative in November 2009, setting the goal of sending 100,000 American students to study in China by 2014, it seemed like a lofty aspiration. In the 2008-2009 academic year, only 13,674 American students studied abroad in China. But that number rose steadily over the next five years, with help from private donations and Chinese governmentscholarships, and in July 2014 Secretary of State John Kerry announced that the goal had been met.

Now the American president’s back with an even bigger goal and one closer to home. On Sept. 25, in a joint press conference with Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is wrapping up an official state visit, Obama announced the launch of “1 Million Strong,” an initiative that aims to bring the total number of stateside learners of Mandarin Chinese to 1 million by the year 2020. “If our countries are going to do more together around the world,” said Obama, “then speaking each other’s language, truly understanding each other, is a good place to start.”

One million may seem like a lot, but it’s just under 2 percent of the total number of U.S. students; in fall 2015, there were about 55 million studentsenrolled in U.S. public and private primary and secondary schools. Still, there’s much catching up to do. “Estimates suggest that between 300 and 400 million Chinese students are learning English today, while only about 200,000 American students are studying Chinese,” Travis Tanner, senior vice president and chief operating officer at the 100,000 Strong Foundation, told Foreign Policy in an email. “We must bridge that gap.”

The new program, administered by the 100,000 Strong Foundation, a nonprofit that also oversees the 2009 initiative, recognizes the growing importance of the U.S.-China relationship and aims to prepare a new generation of U.S. leaders to engage effectively with China.

Increasing the number of American students who study Mandarinwill “create a pipeline of China-savvy employees in a range of fields”

Increasing the number of American students who study Mandarin will “create a pipeline of China-savvy employees in a range of fields” and, Tanner remarked, will “ensure our trade relationship with China continues to benefit the American economy and that the future generation of American entrepreneurs, business owners, journalists, engineers, scientists, doctors, as well as government officials at both the national and state levels, understand China.”

The new initiative also aims to create a standardized national Chinese curriculum, flexible enough to allow for adaptations at the local school board level but comprehensive enough to prepare students for the AP Chinese-language exam and later advanced study. One Million Strong will also promote advances in language-learning technology and online instruction, promote investment in teachers colleges, and establish a consortium of governors who support Mandarin learning in public schools.

Such a huge goal, of course, also comes with huge challenges, not the least of which is funding. Though both Presidents Obama and Xi have endorsed the initiative, it will rely primarily on private funding, according to Tanner, who hopes that the official state-level endorsement will “inspire” financial support from “individuals, organizations and corporations.”

Attempts to bring Mandarin into the classroom haven’t been free from controversy in the past. China’s own huge soft power initiative to increase Mandarin learning around the globe, the Confucius Institutes, also operates primary and secondary education initiatives called Confucius Classrooms, which receive Chinese government funding. There are 357 such classrooms stateside, according to Chinese government data. But according to a January 2011 CNN report, community members in school districts in Ohio and California objected to the use of Chinese government funds to provide instruction to American students, with one calling it “communist propaganda.” A domestic push to increase Chinese-language instruction and adopt a nationally accepted Mandarin curriculum may help depoliticize the issue.

The importance and practicality of mastering Chinese has lately become more apparent. When Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg met with Xi during the president’s recent visit to business and technology leaders in Seattle, the founder held a conversation with the Chinese president entirely in Mandarin. (Facebook is blocked in China and would benefit handsomely if allowed to operate there.)

“This is such an inspiring example of how important linguistic and cultural understanding is to enrich U.S.-China relationships in business and beyond,” said Jessica Beinecke, founder of Chinese-language learning platform Crazy Fresh Chinese. “Zuckerberg’s a busy guy. If he has time to learn Mandarin, so do American high school students.”

Photo credit: Getty Images

September 23, 2015

Happy Moon Festival! 中秋节快乐!


I made some mooncakes myself. 😉

The moon festival is a beautiful festival full of poetry and elegance. The traditions include eating the moon cakes and appreciating the moon with the family. The festival falls on August 15 on the Lunar Calendar, exactly the middle of the autumn, thus 中秋节 -mid-autumn festival. This year, it falls on Sunday Sept 27!

Key practices:

  1. What to eat: moon cakes: date paste filling, lotus seed paste filling; nuts filling; some regions (in southern China) also do meat fillings. / seasonal fruit such as watermelon, pears (but do not share a pear with your family because the word for “pear” in Chinese is “li”, which has the same sound as the word for 离separation!); salted peanuts, tea.
  2. What to do: family reunion; appreciating the moon, which is best done at a waterfront, so one can see the reflections of the moon.Better yet, have some flute or string music instruments play live~~~ 🙂
  3. fables behind the festival: this festival is said to be based on the ancient story of Hou Yi 后羿 and his beautiful wife, Chang-e 嫦娥 who flew to the moon.

Below are two good and fun clips in English telling the background of this festival and about the moon cakes. Good story re-telling. The third one is a description of the festival in Mandarin Chinese.

The following song, sung by the late Teresa Teng, is based on a classic Chinese poem of the Song Dynasty by Su Shi 苏轼。