Chinese vocabulary notes (January 2023)

In this edition: the Chinese documentary 书记 (2010), Mandarin-teaching TikToks, taking the HSK 9 exam, 2023 life goals and ChatGPT.

Documentary: 书记 – The Transition Period (2010)

This is a great documentary about a Chinese official in the Henan countryside (the man on the right). It’s from the same director who filmed “Datong” or “Chinese mayor”. Both are personal biographies of Chinese officials. “书记” introduces Guo Yongchang, secretary of the Gushi County Party Committee, who “rules” over 1.6 million people. This film covers the three months before secretary Guo leaves his post.

Like in “Datong” you get a sense that you’re invisibly in the room while the protagonist goes about his daily business, talking to investors, making phone calls, passing on instructions and most importantly drinking. You’re never quite sure what to make of secretary Guo. He’s definitely working hard and pushing things forward, but is everything what it seems?

At the end of the film (spoiler alert), we’re informed that Guo has been under investigation for corruption and accepting bribes, before being sentenced to seven years in prison.

Level indication: HSK 5, Chinese and English subtitles (the difficulty is not the vocabulary, but the Henan dialect and the sloppy way people express themselves. One of the key sentences seems to fit in very well here: 昨天我喝醉了,我说的能算吗?)

县委书记xiànwěi shūjìcounty Party Secretary
离任lí rènresign
总负责人zǒng fùzé rénchief
向他汇报xiàng tā huìbàoreport to him
三三大厦Sānsān dàshàThe name of the 33 floor building project that Guo wants to realize
官场上的真实生态guānchǎng shàng de zhēnshí shēngtàiThe real ecology in the officialdom (that the director is interested in)
昨天我喝醉了,我说的能算吗zuótiān wǒ hē zuìle, wǒ shuō de néng suàn maI was drunk yesterday, does what I said count?
双规shuāngguīan extralegal system within the CCP for detaining and interrogating cadres who fall from grace. It can function as a verb too with 被.

Chinese professors react to Mandarin-teaching TikToks

Is there something worse than Chinese learning content that starts of with the sentence “Chinese is easy”? In this video, Chinese teachers Rita and Ma Yinqiu take apart this kind of “Chinese is easy” videos from the social media platform that shall not be named.

This is two teachers discussing Chinese language teaching. Without subtitles it’s actually not that easy to understand, unless you’re familiar with the vocab used to describe grammar and phonetics. The more you watch Rita’s videos, the easier it gets though.

Level indication: HSK 5, pinyin, Chinese and English subtitles

在课堂里用英文zài kètáng lǐ yòng yīngwénto use English in class
依赖英文学习中文yīlài yīngwén xuéxí zhōngwénrely on English to learn Chinese
甩不掉这个拐棍shuǎi bù diào zhège guǎigùnthis crutch you can’t get rid of
变调规则biàndiào guīzétone-changing rules
洗脑式教学xǐnǎo shì jiàoxué“brainwash-style teaching”
容易混róngyì hùneasily mixed up

Taking the HARDEST Chinese Exam: NEW HSK 9

Remember all the fuzz about the new HSK exam 3.0 in 2020? Much has been written about the new system which has 9 levels instead of 6, meaning that HSK 6 is not as advanced as it used to be (the HSK 6 exam hasn’t changed, but they put three new levels on top). But how hard is the new HSK 7 – 9 advanced exam? Chris took the test and recounts how he experienced the listening, reading, writing, translation and speaking part.

Level indication: HSK 5, pinyin, Chinese and English subtitles

听力tīnglìlistening comprehension
裸考luǒkǎo“naked test”, take a test unprepared
生词表shēngcí biǎovocabulary list
文言文wényánwénclassical Chinese
模拟考mónǐ kǎomock exam
练习题liànxí típractice questions
有难度的yǒu nándù dechallenging
语速yǔ sùspeech rate
阅读速度yuèdú sùdùreading speed
词汇量cíhuì liàngvocabulary (amount)
朗读lǎngdúread aloud
默读mòdúsilent read
选择题xuǎnzé tímultiple choice
填空tiánkòngfill in the blank
要特别训练yào tèbié xùnliànneed special training
在中文和英文之间切换zài zhōngwén hé yīngwén zhī jiān qiēhuànswitch between Chinese and English


How do you become a documentary maker? Chinese documentary maker 周浩 Zhou Hao tells his story and explains what drives him. Some of the films he mentions you can find in this overview or watch on YouTube.

Level indication: HSK 5, Chinese and English subtitles

吸引注意xīyǐn zhùyìattract attention
我对中国的了解比他们深入得多wǒ duì zhōngguó de liǎojiě bǐ tāmen shēnrù dé duōI know much more about China than they do
这个问题我没想通zhège wèntí wǒ méi xiǎng tōngI can’t figure this out
剪辑jiǎnjíto edit
你是怎么拍到的nǐ shì zěnme pāi dào dehow did you film this?
不看镜头bú kàn jìngtóudon’t look at the camera
观看guānkànto observe


I haven’t seen much of Thomas阿福 recently, but his wife, who joined him in Germany, posts occasional video updates too. In this one, she looks back on her 2022 year goals and previews her ambitions for 2023 which is a good thing to do.

Level indication: HSK 4 / 5, Chinese and English subtitles

恐高症kǒng gāo zhèngacrophobia
外向的性格wàixiàng dì xìnggéoutgoing personality
脸皮厚liǎnpí hòuthick-skinned (to not feel awkward lightly in social situations)
背单词书bèi dāncí shūto memorize a vocabulary book
完全没有效率wánquán méiyǒu xiàolǜtotally inefficient
不是借口búshì jièkǒunot an excuse
考出德国驾驶kǎo chū déguó jiàshǐGet a German driver’s license (by passing the exam)


Since OpenAI ChatGPT has been trending in the past weeks, I’ve been searching for a video introducing this tool to newcomers. TechFang gives a quick walk-through, showing how to sign up, start chatting, writing a thesis outline and even doing some basic programming. There’s lot of potential for Chinese learning as well. You can practice reading and writing by asking simple questions. ChatGPT can answer all kinds of questions and write dialogues and essays. It can provide examples for how to use certain vocabulary, although you cannot blindly trust every given answer to be entirely correct or accurate as one of my first experiments shows.

Level indication: HSK 5 / 6, Chinese and English subtitles (techy vocabulary warning)

人工智能réngōng zhìnéngartificial intelligence
研究实验室yánjiū shíyàn shìresearch laboratory
火爆huǒbàohot topic
写代码xiě dàimǎwrite the code
母公司mǔ gōngsīparent company
盈利目的yínglì mùdìprofit purpose
非盈利的组织 fēi yínglì de zǔzhīnon-profit organization

That’s it for January. As always thanks for dropping by and hope to see you back next month with more Chinese content!

Affiliate links

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Graded Chinese Reader 1000 Words: Selected Abridged Chinese Contemporary Short Stories
Chinese Flash Cards Kit Volume 1: HSK Levels 1 & 2 Elementary Level: Characters 1-349

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