Modern Thousand Character Classic ‘中华字经’不是‘千字文’

Chinese Character Canon

As wikipedia said (accessed: 12Oct2014)

The Thousand Character Classic is a Chinese poem used as a primer for teaching Chinese characters to children from the sixth century onward. It contains exactly one thousand characters, each used only once, arranged into 250 lines of four characters apiece and grouped into four line rhyming stanzas to make it easy to memorize. It is sung in a way similar to children learning the Latin alphabet singing an “alphabet song.”

But there’s an improved version called the Chinese Character Canon (中华字经). It has 4000 characters in thirteen chapters covering such things as astronomy, history, ethics and the natural world.

If you’re learning Mandarin or keen to have your pre-schooler learn the chant, it might be a good resource. I don’t know the science on how it stacks up against other learning methods, but I think it’s worth a go.

4,000 characters is only a good solid start. My personal list now exceeds 7,000 and like every human on the planet (with the possible exception of savants) I still need to do my revision regularly.

The makers of the Chinese Character Canon, Miktam Chinese, say it takes a couple of years to master the 4,000 characters. The course has a DVD and three books: Book 1: Chinese Character Canon (CCC), with 13 main lessons. Each lesson is a rhyming poem on a topic such as geography, ethics, Chinese history, animals, fruits and trees, etc. Books 2 and 3: supplements to reinforce the main lessons and demonstrate usage of characters in short stories, poems, songs, Chinese folktales and historical events.

If you’re using it with a child, it has to be part of a loving relationship where the teacher/parent/babysitter and child interact in a natural language environment. Check youtube for  ‘中华字经’ for lots of examples. This two year old was being hot-housed and at his limit, but dad was pretty patient and generally let him make his own mistakes. Speaking as a literacy teacher, this was good. I’m not sure the child understood the meaning of all the characters he “knew” but that will come. What is clear is that he had it by rote and in learning a tonal language – THERE IS NO OTHER WAY.

But don’t get hung up on the characters. First comes talking. Here’s a teacher in a Vancouver public school setting up a chant which happens at 8.45 minutes into the video.  Here’s a four year old with what looks like a wonderfully handmade scrap book of beautiful calligraphy. This teacher is trying but needs some more teacher education.

And my conclusion, as always, is that the Chinese writing system, though of beauty, is an absolute disaster that should have been binned years ago (as the Vietnamese did). It costs extra YEARS of a child’s life and leaves millions millions of Chinese people illiterate. Just watch this kid struggle, even with all the love and good will in the world when in English she’s at an age where she would be self reading and lapping up book after book all by herself, having more fun and learning heaps more. Disgraceful.

Anyway, we’re stuck with it for the time being, so here’s my non-rhyming translation of the first chapter:

第1课 天 象 Universe and Weather
乾坤有序  qián kūn yǒu xù,  There is order in the universe
宇宙无疆  yǔ zhòu wú jiāng,  the universe has no boundaries
星辰密布  xīng chén mì bù,  the stars are dense
斗柄指航  dǒu bǐng zhǐ háng,  the big dipper points direction
昼白夜黑  zhòu bái yè hēi, day is white and night is black
日明月亮  rì míng yuè liàng,  the sun brigthens and moon rises
风驰雪舞  fēng chi xue wu, wind gallops snow dances
电闪雷响  Diàn shǎn léi xiǎng, lightening flashes thunder crashes
云腾致雨    Yún téng zhì yǔ , clouds soar and become rain
露结晨霜    lù jié chen shuāng,  dew forms into morning frost
虹霓霞辉    hóng ní xiá huī,  brilliant rainbows in rosy clouds
雾沉雹降     wù chén báo jiàng,  fog descends and hail falls
春生夏长     Chūnshēng xià zhǎng,   [crops in] spring birth summer grow
秋收冬藏    qiūshōu dōng cáng,  autumn harvest for winter store
时令应候    shílìng yīng hou,  The seasons follow in order
寒来暑往     hán lái shǔ wǎng,  cold comes and heat departs

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