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Collecting Chinese dialects: Phonemica 乡音苑

• Web Review

I came across this web run project this week and felt the need to spread the word and serve the people, the wonderful readers of ForChinaMag with a drop of native news.

Chinese: [ɕiɑŋ⁵⁵ jin⁵⁵ ɥɛn⁵¹]
English: [fə 'niː mɪ kə]

Phonemica (pho-ne-mi-ca) is an ambitious project run by two foreigners in China which through the awesome power of the internet has set out to record and document all dialects of Chinese. That’s thousands in case you didn’t know. The longer one stays in China and learns about the cultures here and for the brave ones who try to master it’s ‘common-speak’ (pǔtōnghuà), the more obstacles they will come across and questions thrown up about the topologically challenged nation that is China. And it is with incline of sensitivity that Phonemica wishes to create a database of traditional Chinese language and vocabulary.

For all you nerds out there this might be a good point to  research a new word in the English language; crowdsourcing.

From Cantonese to Min, Shanghainese to Gan, Beijing-speak, Wu, or Hakka, Phonemica aims to collect spoken word stories from it’s users, which are then transcribed and recorded into the platform. I’m pretty sure that even some of you could contribute through yourself or through your families. This one stretches far! It goes into the mountains, over the sea, to the desert and back to McDonalds. The interactive map on the Phonemica website is really interesting in terms of which dialects are spoken where and you can zoom in to your area. Check it out, I think you’ll really dig it. After living in three Provinces of China over four years and Ganzhou for two of those, getting to know the migratory history of the great Hakka minority group, this has got added personal significance. So I hope it does for you too.

Further still, as a language teacher it is great that this is kind of an Oral only project: a project that deals with sound. See: phonetics … … right?


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The name of Phonemica is Chinese is 乡音苑. Find their website at:

Can you tell us about any of the dialects that exist within your hometown or better still, your family or social network? Please leave ForChinaMagazine a comment using the reply box below …

1000 Chinese readers

As of May 2013 we have had over 1000 views in China! Tài bàngle!!  (We know that they are all from different computers in China and each a different user so it really is a momentous figure, not just your silly foreign teachers hopelessly clicking on the same link …)

Thankyou to everybody who uses the site and welcome back. Thankyou also to Violette, otherwise known as Miss V, for her outstanding levels of commitment and tireless hard work in setting up this platform and maintaining it  – keep visiting and let’s keep producing original material and interesting news and views for everybody out there. Your feedback, comments and input are always welcome!

Thought we should take a look at some of the other most popular sites around this year and what is currently trending in cyberspace:

… as of May 2013 the most popular websites in the world ARE:

1 – Facebook

2 – Google

3 – YouTube

4 – Yahoo!

5 – Baidu

6 – Wikipedia

7 – Windows Live

8 –

9 – Tencent QQ

10 – Twitter

11 – Taobao

12 – Blogspot

13 – Google India

14 – LinkedIn

15 – Yahoo! Japan

16 – Sina Corp

17 – MSN

18 – Yandex

19 – eBay

20 – Google Japan


Can you pronounce all of these companies? How many do you know?

Well I know them all  (but only as a result of living in China and travelling through Russia this summer!). These companies and abbreviations have slipped comfortably into the English vocabulary. Yes, EVEN Baidu and Sina are now well known to Western people as internet use in Asia expands and diversifies – note the growth and popularity of these companies. Baidu (the Chinese equivalent of Google) and Sina Corp, the Shanghai-founded news server company founded in 1999, which literally means “new wave”, ranking within the top twenty! Expect to see more Russian and Asian companies compete for the largest online traffic.

Yandex is a Russian search engine much like Google and look out for social netorking platform, VK, which currently at number 25 provides a range of uses to the world’s largest country and in particular boasts a great music player and personal library of MP3s!

Sina Weibo, a much criticised micro-blogging platform which works on the same basis as the Western Twitter (with a limited number of characters to write your updates)  comes in at number 30. (I’ll be joining as soon as my Chinese is good enough to keep in touch with all those that think QQ is naf!).

Well, we are still a few million hits off these figures at For China Magazine but keep coming back!

What Chinese internet companies do you think will see continued growth in the next twelve months?

Here are some of the most popular news websites which might help you in the quest for knowledge:



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Got any comments about this article or the future of the internet in China? Which are the applications, companies and countries to look out for? Please leave us your thoughts and opinions below…

Chinese corner: Beijing Opera face painting

This Spring a group of students from the Prince of Songkla University in Thailand visited Ganzhou city and lived on campus at JUST on a Chinese language programme.

As part of an initiative to promote Chinese culture, the Faculty of Foreign Studies held a special Chinese Corner* based on the masks of the Beijing Opera. More accurately translated as “types of facial makeup”, the different markings of a face, or ‘mask’, indicate the character, their role in their play and are of vital importance to Beijing Opera along with costume and gestures.

If you are interested in this article then read the review of ‘King of Masks’, a fantastic film on face-changing; a special kind of skill within Chinese theatre, unique to Sichuan.

The university invited the foreign teachers to come and learn a bit more about the different masks and facial painting. I was unsure about having the face paint applied to my own face but jumped at the chance to try it out on a student

Here’s some of the results!

What do you know about any of these masks? Can you add some information and insight? Please use the comments box below!

* English corner is a popular extra curricular activity across schools, college and universities in China. Students are encouraged to form English-speaking environments and will talk on a subject over the duration, usually in an outdoor area or place which breaks down student teacher, or eastern/western boundries.

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A Visit To The Ganzhou Shahe Wulonggou, Hakka Park/ 赣州市沙河五龙客家风情园


My spoken English is errr …… poor (but at least I tried!)

On Sunday March 17th I attended the first year’s party on West Campus of JUST. Students were holding a party in honour of the soldier Lei Feng. Lei Feng was a soldier in the PLA (People’s Liberation Army). He has gone down in history as a selfless and modest character and was endorsed by Chairman Mao. In 1963 he became the subject of a nationwide propaganda campaign “Learn from Comrade Lei Feng” ( 向雷锋同志学习) and remains a cultural icon to this day, inspiring a host of events throughout the month of March which celebrate his legacy.


Learn from Comrade Lei Feng party, March 2013


It is quite apt that recently in my classes we have been speaking about and nominating people that we think are heroic and have (or will) go down in history.  Were you in one of these discussions? How do you feel about it now? I learnt a lot about your views and contemporary Chinese society in the process. Some of the nominations included Lei Feng himself and amongst others the bus driver Wu Bin, Abraham Lincoln, Emperor Taizong of the Tang Dynasty, government official Bao Zheng from the Northern Song Dynasty, journalist Chai Jing, Kuomintang soldier Dong Chunrui, scientist Yuan Longping, Hua Mulan and who could forget Kobe Bryant.



I was invited to “perform” – never quite sure what this means as I can’t sing, I definitely can’t dance and anyone who knows me knows that I’m more of a ‘behind the scenes’ sort of person. I thought I would do a reading (surely I couldn’t mess that up?) I looked hard through my collection of books and articles for something to read, a passage that would sum up the meaning of this guy. I didn’t really have anything that I deemed suitable so went back to square one. One night whilst listening to some lectures about China online there was a discussion about the novelist Mo Yan who shot to international fame recently. If you have been living under a rock for the last six months then you mightn’t have heard that Mo Yan won the 2012 Nobel Prize for Literature. I read several extracts from his work, much of it auto-biographical; many jokes, idioms, often self-mocking or metaphorical. I felt that this would be hard to communicate on stage so continued reading. Eventually I found an extract from ‘Change’, from 2010. The passage was about how Mo Yan, a once cocky and mischievous student became alienated for his outgoing character at school. He was thrown out of his school repeatedly but would break back in every day by climbing the wall into the playground where he would hide from teachers, hoping to benefit from the knowledge of his peers. The sentiment of the extract is that despite these shortcomings, nobody loved school more than he. His bad behaviour and outgoing nature were misunderstood and that he did in fact care for and respect his teachers dearly. I felt the spirit and determination demonstrated by his persistence and self improvement summed up what the Lei Feng campaign was all about.

我被邀请去表演 – 我不知道这意味着什么,因为我不能唱歌,我也绝对不能跳舞,认识我的人都知道,我更倾向于做一个幕后的人。我想我可以阅读一些东西(当然我不能搞砸了)我艰难的通过我收集的书籍和文章中找一些东西来阅读,找一段可以总结雷锋的句子。我真的找不到什么我认为合适的,所以又回到了原点。一天晚上,在网上听一些关于中国在线讲座时,有一个关于小说家莫言引起的,最近谁对国际声誉开枪了的讨论。如果你一直在岩石下生活了6个月,那么你可能没有听说过莫言荣获2012年诺贝尔文学奖的事。我看了一部分他的作品,其中大部分是自动履历;有许多笑话,成语,常常自嘲或隐喻。我觉得,这个很难拿出来讨论,所以我继续阅读。最终我发现了一段摘抄叫做“更改”,从2010年中找出来的。段落是说莫言,一个骄傲和调皮的,被学校的学生孤立的学生,如何变得外向。他反复的被学校赶出去,但都每天爬墙进入操场,在那里他会躲着教师,希望从他的同龄人中获益知识。得到的总结是,尽管有这些缺点,没有人喜欢学校比他多。他不好的行为以及外向的性格被误解了,事实上,他很关心和尊重他的老师。我感受到他坚持中变现出来的精神和决心以及自我提升,总结了一下就是雷锋活动上要说的了。

Change by Mo Yan, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature 2012.
 First published in 2010 by Seagull Books as part of its ‘What was Communism’ series and translated by Howard Goldblatt.


I wanted to write this because I was so nervous about speaking in front of that many people. For the first few minutes, my voice ebbed and flowed. I scratched and squeaked a bit, I felt my face go redder, redder still, hands shaking … but eventually I found my rhythm and began to enjoy it.


I don’t think most of the audience were very fluent in English and there were less language students than I had expected – but this was not the point. The point, as always, was to be understood, so I dug deep and tried to give it all a bit more stage presence by moving about a little, adding gesture wherever I could and involving the audience directly by looking up from the printed notes as I became more confident and tried to make them feel the story, make them laugh and think. It worked and I could see the crowd begin to understand the context of the piece.

我不认为大多数观众英语都非常流利,而且这里学语言的学生比我想象中的少, 但是,这不是重点。跟以前一样,这是可以理解的,所以我决定往深层次挖掘,试图在舞台上变现更多,我小小的移动了下,在任何我能添加手势的地方添加手势,直接和观众互动,仰视印刷好的笔记,我变得更加自信了,我试图让他们体会到这个故事,让他们开怀大笑,让他们思考。它起作用了,我可以看到人群开始理解上下文了。


Speaking of Lei Feng and his legacy, this made me smile … a selection of photographs by artist Dai Xiang (戴翔) recently featured on the Beijing Today website, entitled ‘What if Lei Feng served today?’ See also Dai Xiang’s blog.





Competition: Famous Landmark

Each class was asked to pick a famous international tourist destination and to design, plan, build a miniature model of the landmark. The materials used for the actual model had to be recycled and the landmark recognisable. Bellow are pictures of the participants and event which was held at Jiangxi University of Science and Technology Located in Ganzhou City.



Wednesday Class 1:

First Place: The Brandenburg Gate in Germany

Second Place: Eiffel Tower in France


Wednesday Class 2:

First Place: The Parthenon in Greece

Second Place: Mount Fuji in Japan

Wednesday Class 3:

First Place: The Taj Mahal in India

Second Place: Tower Bridge


Thursday Class 4:


First Place: The Leaning Tower of Pisa

Second Place: Saint Basil's Cathedral


Friday Class 1:



Bellow are the pictures from all the classes that took part in this Competition.


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