The People’s Republic of China turned 70 and Xi Jinping held a major speech. If you’re studying Chinese, you might wonder what level of Chinese proficiency is needed to understand this address to the nation by China’s current chairman? And which words did Xi use most?
The East is Red
This blog normally doesn’t discuss politics and that’s not going to change, but on the first of October 2019 something strange happened on my WeChat feed. Without warning all the more or less harmless content turned red!
Instead of the usual bourgeois pictures of food, cats and traveling, an endless stream of Chinese national symbols and fervent “birthday wishes” dominated my WeChat moments: from kids dancing and waving the Chinese flag, to “Xi dada” inspecting the military parade and greeting the soldiers.
Not that it’s any of my business, but all of a sudden Xi Jinping and the party were allover the place! And people who normally don’t involve themselves in politics on any level, now wrote messages in the most patriotic tones, celebrating the 70th birthday of the PRC. I even saw people making selfies in front of their televisions, showing the world that they weren’t missing a single word of their benevolent leader’s speech.
学习强国: “Study Xi and strengthen the nation”
Which reminded me of this Chinese app “xuexi qiangguo” that a Chinese friend showed to me not so long ago. It’s an app designed to study Xi Jinping’s thoughts and ideas by watching video’s and reading texts. Of course, you can earn points and compete against other people. The higher your score, the higher your position in this online Xi JP study club (that also has access to your personal ID, health data, shopping history and location data according to one source).
Needless to say, all your activity on the app can be tracked and is linked to your ID, at least if you work for the Chinese government. It’s the updated version of Mao’s little red book which in the craziest days of the cultural revolution Chinese people had to carry around everywhere they went and cite from memory.
But here is the good news: resourceful people invented a cheat tool that does all this hard work for you. Simply install the app and the software will “read” and scroll through articles automatically which boosts your score and obviously saves a lot of time.
Running the speech through a text analyzer
But anyway, my main concern here is to answer the question which level of proficiency you need to reach to understand Xi Jinping’s PRC anniversary speech, held on Chinese National Day (01.10.2019), before he drove past the military in an open car, greeting and thanking the soldiers.
Listening to it myself, I understood more than I expected, not least because the Chinese president / chairman spoke slowly and clearly in Standard Mandarin.
Although I recognized many familiar words and phrases and could grasp the meaning of most that was said, when I ran Xi’s speech through a Chinese text analyzer, the statistics told a different story, even revealing an “advanced” difficulty rating. “Advanced” meaning that the text is way beyond intermediate level and not an easy read.
Taking a closer look at the vocabulary and the idioms used, the speech indeed is rather difficult and contains many subtleties of CPC political language that – I guess – only insiders and experts can fully apprehend. The main message though is clear: “China is back, we’re strong and we’re here to stay”.
Top ten of most used words
In the top 10 of most used words, we only find common characters. In his 8-minute speech Xi used the word 人民 (people) twenty times and 中国 (China) fourteen times. This is followed by the adjective 伟大 (great, magnificent) which Xi mainly combines with 祖国 (motherland), but also with the following words:
- 中华人民共和国 (People’s Republic of China)
- 中国共产党 (Chinese Communist party)
- 中国人民 (Chinese nation or Chinese people(s))
- 复兴 (Renaissance (of the Chinese nation))
The Chinese president used the word 世界 (world) to point out China’s growing strength and global meaning and urged the Chinese people to stay on the path of steady and peaceful 发展 (development), telling them to 坚持 (persevere) and keep pursuing socialism with Chinese characteristics.
Here is the top 10 of his most used words:
- 人民 rénmín (20X)
- 中国 zhōngguó (14X)
- 伟大 wěidà (10X)
- 中华 zhōnghuá (9X)
- 我们 wǒmen (8X)
- 全国 quánguó (6X)
- 世界 shìjiè (5X)
- 发展 fāzhǎn (5X)
- 共和国 gònghéguó (5X)
- 坚持 jiānchí (5X)
There is still much to be said, but then again, this is not a political blog. This blog post just goes to show that sometimes politics in China is hard to ignore, even if you are “just trying to learn the language”. In particular on Chinese National Day.
Back in the days of Mao Zedong, one could hardly open a Chinese textbook that wasn’t full of revolutionary slogans and communist role models who sacrificed themselves for the socialist cause.
I think we all agree that political ideology should never be the main focus or even a major part of a language study, unless your interest in politics and state affairs is the reason you study Chinese. Please feel free to comment your thoughts about this topic down below.