Friday, April 22, 2011


Perhaps, I will continue writing this blog…but at the same time perhaps this will be my last post. As one final look at Chinese cultural for a while, I have to discuss one of the most important aspect – Language. When you define a cultural, you usually define it through the language the people speak. Since I was only one when I came to the United States, my Chinese speaking and reading ability is very low. My parents, trying to learn English themselves, enforced English in the household. Looking back on it now, I wish I was more fluent than I am. My mom has been trying to teach my little cousin Chinese by having her watching shows like Mickey Mouse in Chinese. But within China, there are many types of dialects. The dialect my parents speak is Mandarin, which is sometimes coined as the “standard dialect”

History of Mandarin
Mandarin is actually a collected group of related – dialect. While there are other dialects such as Shanghainese, Cantonese, etc… Mandarin refers to Standard Chinese and is the official spoken language for the PRC (China). Unless they speak standard Chinese, most will refer to their dialect by name. My father referred to his dialect of Mandarin as Hubeinese.

Mandarin and the other Chinese dialects derived from the dialects of Old Chinese and Middle Chinese. Old Mandarin developed after the fall of the Northern Song dynasty in the 12th century. It was based on the dialects of Northern China. There are evidence from the 14th century that show distinct Mandarin vocabulary and syntax, though there are still vocabulary that derives from further back (9th century).

While Mandarin was historically spoken in just the northern and southwestern China, but this would spread to other areas in the mid-20th century. Beijing Mandarin (Standard Chinese) became the basis to be used in education, media, etc, it is now spoken as a “second language” by most younger people.

There are quite a few different dialects:
Northeastern à spoken in northeast China, closely related to Standard Chinese
Beijing à basis of Standard Chinese
Ji Lu à spoken in Hebei and Shandong province, different tonations, but similarly vocabulary to Beijing Mandarin
Jiao Liao à spoken in Shandong and Liaodong province, very visible tonal changes compared to Beijing Mandarin
Zhongyuan à spoken in the Henan province, significance phonological differences
Lan Yin à spoken in Gansu province
Jiang hua à spoken in Jiangsu and Anhui province, intelligibility is limited with Beijing dialect
Southwestern à spoken in Hubei, Sichaun, Guizhou, and Yunnan province. Sharp phological, lexical, and tonal changes

Mandarin Dialects in China

The dialects that I just listed are only Mandarin dialects...there are many more other types of dialects, as well as more than 50 ethnic groups identified in China.

Monday, April 11, 2011


One of the things that I think define Chinese culture is the food. But the ‘Chinese’ food cooked in my house differs greatly from what I eat when I’m at school. I’m not sure why, but I am a huge fan of what I usually term fake Chinese food. I think I order Dragon gate or eat at Panda Express at least once a week. And from these two places, I usually end up getting the same thing again and again – fried rice and orange chicken, sesame chicken and white rice, beef lo mein, or chicken and broccoli. When I am at home, while my mom will sometimes cook fried rice, my diet usually consists of dumplings, fried dumplings, and various adjustments to the dumplings. Also we do eat a lot of chicken, but nothing that I would find in a Chinese restaurant. While we often do eat other types of food at home (a.k.a having my mom cook us some macaroni and cheese for example), we usually just stick with eating dumplings for most of our meals

An example of my typical fare when at school

History and Facts about Chinese Dumplings

Dumplings in China can take on a variety of names depending on how they are made and what they are made out of. In my home, we call them jiaozi (). Jiaozi are made by wrapping minced meat and vegetables in an elastic doughy skin. My mom makes use of the blender quite often when making dumplings, and depending on how tired she is, sometimes she will make the doughy skin and sometimes she will just buy it from the store. An interesting fact about dumplings is their use in the Chinese New Year festival. They are eaten on Chinese New Year’s Eve and on the 5th day of the New Year. The jiaozi are supposed to resemble the gold yuan used during the Ming dynasty and is symbolizes wealth and prosperity for the New Year. According to Chinese stories, a doctor named Zhang Zhongjing invented the dumpling as a way to help the poor against chilblains.
Jiaozi. This image is similar to the jiaozi my mother makes
Jiaozi are actually more commonly eaten in Northern China, while another type of dumpling called wonton are more popular in Southern China. This makes sense to me, as my mom was born and raised in Qingdao, which is a northern port city, and she had learned how to make and cook dumplings from her Grandmother. There are quite a number of different types of dumplings and different ways of eating them. We dip our jiaozi in soy sauce and other spices, but there are many other types and names for dumplings just in China alone. I’ve listed some examples below.

Shuijiao à literally means water dumpling; boiled dumplings
Zhengjiao à steamed dumplings
Guotie à Shallow fried dumplings
Danjiao à dumplings that instead of dough, uses an egg skin

Jiaozi also differ in the way they are made and what types of meat they contain. Some like using pork, others beef, and others chicken. My mom usually makes chicken or beef dumplings, and she mixes what she thinks is the best vegetables with them. Personally my favorite is beef dumplings that contains carrots and celery. I am hoping to learn from my mom how to make dumplings, since I still have no clue except the cooking process (but not the preparation process).