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ZGBriefs The Weeks Top Picks, June 26 Issue


Meet the man behind Pleco, the revolutionary Chinese language learning app that's older than the iPhone (June 25, 2014, Tech in Asia)

Tech in Asia did a fascinating piece on the man behind the popular Chinese language app Pleco. We're guessing that many of our readers use this app, so will appreciate the story behind it.

Learning Chinese is not for the faint of heart. Not only does the non-native Mandarin speaker have to master the language's infamous tones, he or she must memorize hundreds of thousands of (practically speaking) non-phonetic characters, get acquainted with a wide range of accents, and grapple with a deceptively simple grammar system.

At the same time, even the most gifted linguist will admit that one of the biggest challenges posed by Mandarin isn't the mechanics of the actual language, but the grunt work required to learn it well. Looking up characters in a paper-bound Chinese dictionary is a multi-step process that can take tens of minutes if you're not careful. Also, relying on a single Chinese-English dictionary for reference is a surefire way to commit language suicide. For such a long-lasting, quickly-evolving language, you'll need at least three dictionaries handy in order to get a rough idea of what a specific character, word, or phrase meansand even then you'll usually have to apply some brainpower to figure out how it's used properly.

Enter Plecothe best Chinese dictionary app on the planet. To some of our readers, a dictionary app might not seem like the most exciting of subjects, but those who know and use Pleco understand how crucial it is to one's language learning regimen. It's one of those rare brand names (if you can call it a brand) that will elicit sheer glee from its users upon the very mention of its name. A Swiss Army knife app featuring 25 dictionaries, almost anyone that's used it can recall a moment when Pleco "saved their life."

He originally developed it for Palm. Think about that for a moment!

The Secret Messages Inside Chinese URLs (May 1, 2014, New Republic)

Another interesting language-related story was in the New Republic. It's about the Chinese propensity to use digits in url addresses, something that many westerners in China find mildly confusing.

An American friend living in Beijing once said she refused to communicate with anyone whose email address consisted of a string of numbers, such as 62718298454@ 163.com. This made sense to me at the timewhy make email addresses as difficult to remember as phone numbers? But I soon realized that issuing a blanket ban on number-based communications would mean cutting off just about every single Chinese person I knew.

In the U.S., you really only have to remember two long numbers, ever: Your phone number and your Social Security number. In China, you're constantly barraged by digits: QQ numbers (QQ is China's most popular chat service), email addresses, and even URLs. For example, the massive online retailer Jingdong Mall is at jd.com or, if that takes too long to type, 3.cn. Check out 4399.com to see one of China's first and largest online gaming websites. Buy and sell used cars at 92.com. Want to purchase train tickets? It's as easy as 12306.cn.

Why the preference for digits over letters? It mostly has to do with ease of memorization. To a native English-speaker, remembering a long string of digits might seem harder than memorizing a word. But that's if you understand the word. For many Chinese, numbers are easier to remember than Latin characters. Sure, Chinese children learn the pinyin system that uses the Roman alphabet to spell out Mandarin words (for example, the word for "Internet," , is spelled wangluo in pinyin). And yes, Arabic numerals (1-2-3) are technically just as much a foreign import as the Roman alphabet (A-B-C). But most Chinese are more familiar with numbers than letters, especially those who didn't go to college. To many, "Hotmail.com" might as well be Cyrillic.

But what do the chosen numbers mean? That's where it really gets interesting.

A New (and Old) Worldview Divides China's Christians As Communism Fades (June 20, 2014, Christianity Today)

Christianity Today has an article about the growing influence of Confucianism in China and its interaction with Christianity.

The hometown of ancient philosopher Confucius was a surprising place to build a multimillion-dollar megachurch. Yet local leaders hoped Qufu's first official church would integrate Christianity into Chinese culture.

Instead, Confucian scholars condemned the 136-foot-tall project, planned two miles from the long-standing Confucius Temple. They saw it as a concrete symbol of a foreign faith's threatening rise.

The church project was halted in 2011. But as Christianity and Confucianism continue as two of China's fastest-growing belief systems, thinkers on both sides continue to debate their proper relationship.

ChinaSource appreciates the reference (and link) to our ChinaSource Quarterly on Confucianism and Christianity.

The Debate Over Confucius Institutes (June 23, 2014, China File)

The good folks at China File hosted a debate on the nature of Confucian Institutes that are proliferating on university campuses all over the world.

Last week, the American Association of University Professors joined a growing chorus of voices calling on North American universities to rethink their relationship with Confucius Institutes, the state-sponsored Chinese-language programs whose policies critics say are anathema to academic freedom. We asked contributors to discuss the debate. Specifically: the costs and benefits of having a Confucius Institute on a university campus; the economic forces at play; and the role of China in university life more broadly.

Fascinating reading!

Dr. Ryken Learns Chinese (Wheaton College Vimeo Channel)

And just for fun, here's a video clip of Wheaton President Dr. Ryken attempting to give a greeting in Chinese. Anyone who speaks Chinese will remember those difficult first days. Kudos to him for trying and for being such a great sport!

Dr. Ryken Learns Chinese from Wheaton College on Vimeo.

ChinaSource Team

Written by members of the ChinaSource staff.  View Full Bio