LEARN NC

black and white photo of a long row of bicycles in Beijing

Mandarin Chinese AP | 中文课AP

In this lesson, you’ll learn about Chinese culture and language by studying early Chinese cinema. It is the opinion of many that the best Chinese film ever made was 小城之春 (Spring in a Small Town) in 1948. It is about the turmoil and devastation caused by the simultaneous civil war going on in China and the invasion of the Japanese. You can download the entire movie at The Internet Movie Database.

Another old movie that is popular from the 1940s is called 一江春水向东流 (Spring River Flows East). You may want to watch this movie as well.

Learning objectives

学习宗旨
學習宗旨
Xué​xí​ zōng​zhǐ​

  • Demonstrate correct use of language concepts by using complete sentences to describe the role of movies in Chinese society and culture.
  • Demonstrate comprehension and the ability to express thoughts.
  • Demonstrate correct use of grammar and sentence structure.

Video activity

In this video, we will also take a lighter look at Chinese writing. China has a long history of comedy and satire in addition to more serious works of philosophy and history. In this conversation, one character is teasing the other and joking around. It isn’t really clear whether or not one of the participants is amused. You can be the judge of that.

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Transcript, vocabulary, and notes

Text 课文 (Kèwén)

Pinyin Simplified Traditional English Listen Notes
Tīng​shuō nín hěn cōng​ming, shì ma?
听说您很聪明, 是吗?
聽說您很聰明, 是嗎?
One hears that you are very smart, is this so?

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Duì le! Rén​jia dōu shuō wǒ cōng​ming. Wǒ zì​jǐ yě jué​de hái bù bèn.
对了! 人家都说我聪明。 我自己也觉得还不笨。
對了! 人家都說我聰明。 我自己也覺得還不笨。
Oh, yes! Everyone says I’m smart. Personally, I don’t consider myself too ignorant.

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Nà wǒ shuō gè mí​yǔ nǐ cāicāi, zěn​me​
yàng?
那我说个谜语你猜猜, 怎么样?
那我說個謎語你猜猜, 怎麼樣?
How about I tell you a riddle and you make a guess then?

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Nǐ shuō ba. Cāi mí​yǔ wǒ kě yī cāi yī gè zhǔnr.
你说吧。 猜谜语我可一猜一个准儿。
你說吧。 猜謎語我可一猜一個準兒。
You tell me the riddle and I’ll guess the answer in one attempt.

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“Tián​dì” de “tián” ​zì chūtóur, niàn shén​me?
“田地” 的 “田” 字出头儿, 念什么?
“田地” 的 “田” 字出頭兒, 念什麼?
The character “tian” in “tiandi” with a protrusion would become what character?

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Niàn “zì​yóu” de “yóu” á!
念 “自由” 的 “由” 啊!
念 “自由” 的 “由” 啊!
It would be the character “you” in “ziyou.”

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Cuò le.
错了。
錯了。
Wrong.

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Zěn​me cuò le?
怎么错了?
怎麼錯了?
How is that wrong?

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Wǒ zhè​ge “tián” zì cóng xià​mian chūtóur.
我这个 “田” 字从下面出头儿。
我這個 “田” 字從下面出頭兒。
This character is “tian” with a protrusion underneath.

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Ō! Cóng xià​mian chūtóur a! Nà niàn “jiǎ.”
噢! 从下面出头儿啊! 那念 “甲” 。
噢! 從下面出頭兒啊! 那念 “甲” 。
Oh! It sticks out from the bottom. Then it’s “jia.”

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Wǒ zài​shuō gè mí​yǔ nǐ cāicāi.
我再说个谜语你猜猜。
我再說個謎語你猜猜。
I’ll tell you another riddle and you guess the answer.

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Hǎo, nǐ zài​shuō yī gè.
好, 你再说一个。
好, 你再說一個。
Okay. Tell another one.

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“Tián​dì” de “tián” ​zì chūtóur, niàn shén​me?
“田地” 的 “田” 字出头儿, 念什么?
“田地” 的 “田” 字出頭兒, 念什麼?
The character “tian” in “tiandi” with a protrusion would become what character?

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Zěn​me yòu shì “tián” ​zì chūtóur a? Zhè wǒ cāizhe le. Shàng​bian chūtóur, niàn “yóu” xià​bian chūtóur, niàn “jiǎ.”
怎么又是 “田” 字出头儿啊? 这我猜着了。 上边出头儿,念 “由” 下边出头儿, 念 “甲”。
怎麼又是 “田” 字出頭兒啊? 這我猜著了。 上邊出頭兒, 念 “由” 下邊出頭兒, 念“甲”。
Why the character “tian” with a protrusion again? I’ve already guessed this. With a protrusion above, it’s “you.” With a protrusion below, it’s “jia.”

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Yòu cuò le.
又错了。
又錯了。
Wrong again.

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Zěn​me yòu cuò le?
怎么又错了?
怎麼又錯了?
How can I be wrong again?

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Zhè huí wǒ shì shàng​xià dōu chūtóur.
这回我是上下都出头儿。
這回我是上下都出頭兒。
This time there’s a protrusion from both the top and bottom of the character.

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“Tián” ​zì shàng​xià dōu chūtóur… ō, nà niàn “shēn​qǐng” de “shēn​.”
“田” 字上下都出头儿.….. 噢, 那念 “申请” 的“申”。
“田” 字上下都出頭兒.….. 噢, 那念 “申請” 的“申”。
The character “tian” with a protrusion at both the top and bottom… Oh, it’s the “shen” in “shenqing.”

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Duì​ le. Wǒ chū yī​ dào shù​xué tí, nǐ suànsuàn, zěn​me​ yàng?
对了。 我出一道数学题, 你算算, 怎么样?
對了。 我出一道數學題, 你算算, 怎麼樣?
Right. How about I give you a math problem and you solve it?

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Xíng a! Wǒ shù​xué yě bù​cuò.
行啊! 我数学也不错。
行啊! 我數學也不錯。
Okay! My math is pretty good.

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Yī jiā yī děng​yú jǐ?
一加一等于几?
一加一等於幾?
How much is one plus one?

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Zhè lián yī nián​jí xiǎo​xué​shēng dōu huì suàn, děng​yú èr á.
这连一年级小学生都会算, 等于二啊。
這連一年級小學生都會算, 等於二啊。
Any first-grader could solve this one. It equals two.

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Cuò le.
错了。
錯了。
Wrong.

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Yòu cuò le?
又错了?
又錯了?
Wrong again?

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Děng​yú líng.
等于零。
等於零。
It equals zero.

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Zěn​me děng​yú líng?
怎么等于零?
怎麼等於零?
How can it equal zero?

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Wǒ chī​fàn de shí​hou, pán​zi lǐ yǒu yī gè wán​zi. Wǒ yòng kuài​zi bǎ tā qi​lai chī le, pán​zi lǐ hái​yǒu wán​zi ma?
我吃饭的时候, 盘子里有一个丸子。 我用筷子把它夹起来 吃了, 盘子里还有丸子吗?
我吃飯的時候, 盤子裡有一個丸子。 我用筷子把它夾起來吃了, 盤子裡還有丸子嗎?
When I eat, there is one meatball on the plate. I use chopsticks to pick it up and eat it. Now how many meatballs are there?

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Méi​yǒu le.
没有了。
沒有了。
None.

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Zhè bù​ shì yī jiā yī děng​yú líng ma?
这不是一加一等于零吗?
這不是一加一等於零嗎?
Isn’t this one plus one equals zero?

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Cultural notes

“Wo de Zuguo”

You have watched the movie Spring in a Small City linked at the beginning of this lesson. During this time of turmoil, the Chinese government worked to popularize the war, being a soldier, fighting for the motherland, protecting the country, and being proud of the country’s accomplishments. Popular culture at the time, movies and other media, reinforced these values. “Wo de Zuguo” is a well-known patriotic song that celebrates these virtues and has been popular since the revolutionary era.

Go to the A Chinese Text Sampler: An Annotated Collection of Digitized Chinese Texts for Students of Chinese Language and Culture website to see the text of this Chinese patriotic song. You will see many scripts of movies and songs on this site. Scroll down until you find “Wo de Zuguo” and click on View Text.

Think about how American patriotic songs are similar to this song and how. How are they different? How are the themes and messages similar or different?

Pre-1950s film in China and America

Watch the movie Spring in a Small City again. See how much of it you can understand in Chinese. There is a translation of the script at the MCLC Resource Center that you can use to get through the difficult parts. Answer the questions below about the movie in Chinese.

  • How many Chinese people were killed in the Sino-Japanese War?
  • What was the origin of the Sino-Japanese War?
  • What do you think the author is trying to say about China at this time of chaos?
  • What similar national devastations has the United States experienced on its own soil?
  • What are your thoughts and feelings about China at this time and place? Is your attitude hopeful or hopeless?

Now that you have had an opportunity to look at an old Chinese movie, take look at an old American movie clip and make some comparisons between Chinese and American media around the time of World War II.

Go to a clip of an old American movie called the Adventures of Tarzan from the Movies Found Online website or find a different movie that was created before 1950.

  • What do you know about Chinese and American movies from the 1940s?
  • How do these movies reflect the culture at the time in both countries?
  • How are Chinese and American movies the same and/or different?
  • What are the different themes and messages?