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© 1997 – 2005 Patrick Hassel Zein

This page was last updated 09.08.2005


Illustration © Microsoft Clipart

On this page you can find the answers to the most common questions that I get on the Net. If you send me e-mail containing questions that are answered on this page, I will simply send you back to this page. New questions, on the other hand, will be considered.

Click on a question to read my answer!

About Chinese characters
Question 1a: Have you got any nice tips on Chinese characters suitable for a tattoo?
Question 1b: Where can I find the Chinese alphabet?
Question 1c: How is the word/sentence XXX written in Chinese?
Question 1d: How can my name be written in Chinese?
Question 1e: Is it true that there is a Chinese character meaning both "crisis" and "possibility"?
Question 1f: In what direction do you write Chinese characters?
Question 1g: How are the words sorted in Chinese dictionaries?
Question 1h: How many Chinese characters do you have to know, to be able to read Chinese newspapers and books?

About the Chinese calendar
Question 2a: How is the zodiacal-sign for XXX written in Chinese?
Question 2b: What animal is associated with the year YYYY according to Chinese astrology?

Other questions
Question 3: How are Chinese names built up?
Question 4: Where can I buy the CD:s listed on the Taijiquan-page?


Question 1a: Have you got any nice tips on Chinese characters suitable for a tattoo?

Answer: Please note that I can not take any responsibility if you get a tattoo with characters found anywhere on my site, among the site's links or in an e-mail from me. One single Chinese character can have many different meanings, it can belong to more than one class of words and it may have culturally "transmitted" undertones that not even the highest educated student of Chinese know about. If you want to get a tattoo, then only you yourself may be held responsible for what you decide. I do not want to give any recommendations in question like this. As a matter of facts, I really want to suggest you not to tattoo Chinese characters without consulting someone that knows the Chinese language really well!

Chinese lucky characters But, if don't find any suitable hints among my other answers, then you may want to check out the tattoo-tips at http://zhongwen.com/wwwboard/tattoo.html, the tattoo-page http://www.chinapage.org/tattoo.html or my own page about Chinese lucky characters.

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Question 1b: Where can I find the Chinese alphabet?

Answer: There is not quite such a thing as a proper Chinese alphabet. The Chinese language is written with characters symbolizing syllables. There are at least 10.000 Chinese characters, but if you listen to the pronunciation of the characters, you will find that there are only around 400 different syllables. There is a Chinese system for transliteration (and I am not referring to transliteration with European letters, but with a special phonetic alphabet), but itís rarely used (I've only seen it in a few dictionaries), and it looks rather more like Japanese than Chinese. You may find an overview here, but please bear in mind that several of these "letters" are pronounced in other ways than corresponding European letters!

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Question 1c: How is the word/sentence XXX written in Chinese?
Kinesiska lyckosymboler
Faith - Hope - Love

Answer: If you are asking about astrological characters, you will find answers under question 2. In other cases you should visit the dictionary located at http://zhongwen.com. If you still can't find an answer, continue to read the other questions on this page!

If you want the translation of an entire sentence, then AltaVista's quick translator can be of help.

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Question 1d: How can my name be written in Chinese?

Answer: Visit the page http://www.mandarintools.com/chinesename.html. If you have a common English name, you may also find the following page with "standard translation" interesting: http://zhongwen.com/x/qian.htm. There are also a number of suggested translations on my page with diagrams to knit nordic names with Chinese characters. If this doesn't answer your question, then you may ask someone (e.g. me) to help you with a translation, but you should know that this may call for some work, and work may cost both time and money!

Also look at question 3: How are Chinese names built up?!

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Question 1e: Is it true that there is a Chinese character meaning both "crisis" and "possibility"?

Answer: "Crisis" is in Chinese written with the characters [wei] + [ji], meaning "danger" and "machine/possibility/chance/risk". Both "possibility" and "chance" can be interpreted as positive words, but they can just as well be negative. Personally I interpret the Chinese word for "crisis" as "dangerous risk", while some interpret it as "dangerous, with a possibility of a positive development". The actual origin of this word may also lie somewhere completely else. Further more one should NEVER take all possible and incredible meanings of each character into the interpretation of the entire word – that'd be somewhat like interpreting "painted" as "Pain-Ted". In other words: "crisis" means "crisis"!

One day I almost choked when I saw how a Swedish city council was obviously trying to show their good will by doing a cute, pseudo-philosophical and striking PR-campaign with the message that they wanted to describe their situation with the character [ji], that was said to symbolize "crisis" and "development". The problem is that this character, when written alone, according to dictionaries can be interpreted as (1) machine (anything from looms to engines), (2) aeroplane, (3) crucial point, (4) possibility/opportunity, (5) organic or (6) flexible – but the two words "crisis" and "development" seem, no matter how hard I tried to find them, to be missing completely. The most natural interpretation of this single character is primarily "machine", "engine" or "aeroplane". The persons in charge of the PR for the city council in question may excuse my bluntness, but they are obviously not aware of how deep waters they put themselves in by making their statements.

See question 1a for more words on why those that don't understand Chinese should AVOID using Chinese characters!

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Question 1f: In what direction do you write Chinese characters?

Answer: In classical Chinese, the characters are written in columns from right to left, with the special case that small groups of characters (e.g. on plaques declaring names of palaces) may be written in one line from right to left. Modern Chinese is on the other hand usually written in the same direction as European languages, i.e. in lines from left to right.

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Question 1g: How are the words sorted in Chinese dictionaries?

Answer: In modern Chinese dictionaries, the characters are sorted on pronunciation according to alphabetic transliteration (which is usually clearly specified). To find out the pronunciation of previously unknown characters, there is also at least one extra index in each dictionary, where any character and its pronunciations can be found by logical search on the number of strokes in and the appearance of the character. Older dictionaries were only sorted on the characters' appearances.

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Question 1h: How many Chinese characters do you have to know, to be able to read Chinese newspapers and books?

Answer: It's a bit tricky to answer this question. Generally speaking, one might say that most of the common words in daily speech can be written with 2000 – 2500 characters, but if you want to be really sure of understanding discussions in more specific subjects or the finer details in novels, then you should probably get a knowledge of at least 3500 – 4000 characters. These numbers can also, in a way, be read between the lines in a law accepted by the government of the Peoples Republic of China in 1988; that the 3500 most common characters shall be taught before studies at university – 2500 of these during the first six school years.

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Question 2a: How is the zodiacal-sign for XXX written in Chinese?
Question 2b: What animal is associated with the year YYYY according to Chinese astrology?

Answer: The European zodiac is practically not used in China. Many written sources that describe the Chinese astrology are erroneous. You may visist my own page on Chinese astrology and http://users.deltanet.com/~wcassidy/astro/html/zodiac.html to find out the correct Chinese animal representing you birth date, and thereafter look up that animal in the dictionary located at http://zhongwen.com.

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Question 3: How are Chinese names built up?

Answer: Most Chinese persons have names consisting of three syllables/characters – The first being the family name and the two following being the personal name. The family name is inherited from father to child. There are a few hundred family names – a rare few of them actually consisting of two characters. Some people have personal names consisting of only one syllable/character, but since it's rather difficult to find a nice name consisting of only the one character of the family name plus one character for the personal name, such names are often considered to be especially fine and a sign of educated parents. Some Chinese people may change their name during their life, but women usually don't change their family names when they marry (a new family name might not fit to well with her personal name!).

My name (''Patrick Zein'') in Chinese

When writing a Western name in Chinese, the Chinese will try to find characters that sound as similar to the name as possible. Such transliterated names may consist of any number of characters, and the meaning of the name may be total nonsense. Western students of Chinese often try to find themselves Chinese names that seem more Chinese than mere transliterations. My own Chinese name is an example of a translation made rather to look Chinese than to sound like my Swedish name. My Chinese family name "Cai" corresponds nicely to my regular family name "Zein", but my personal name in Chinese was given to me on the basis of the origin and meaning of the name "Patrick" (in the time of the late Roman Empire, the term "patrician" was a specific title given to a high court official, hence my translation of this name is "loyal official"). The resulting name consists of three syllables, which is very common in China, and has a very nice and Chinese ring to it. This name can also be abbreviated to two syllables, thus making it sound even better.

Whatever you do, never select a Chinese name without "professional" help (i.e. a Chinese person)! The characters may seem to fit together, and the meaning may seem nice, but many characters sound like other characters, and it's quite possible that the name you make up can be misunderstood as something unsuitable (I've seen this happen more than once!).

Also look at question 1d: How can my name be written in Chinese?!

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Question 4: Where can I buy the CD:s listed on the Taijiquan-page?

Answer: On the taijiquan-page I have clearly specified the registration numbers of each CD. Please visit a local music store and order the CD:s from them using the full names of the CD:s and the registration numbers.

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