Tag: grad school


Oct 2006

Homosexual Discourse for China

My critical discourse analysis class is getting interesting. The professor has assigned small group presentation topics. All five topics are related to homosexuality. Pepe and I have “homosexuality in the West.” Yeah, pretty huge topic. Other topics are pretty narrow, such as “lesbians in China.”

Just as a reminder about what we’re going to be analyzing:

> Discourse analysis challenges us to move from seeing language as abstract to seeing our words as having meaning in a particular historical, social, and political condition. Even more significant, our words (written or oral) are used to convey a broad sense of meanings and the meaning we convey with those words is identified by our immediate social, political, and historical conditions. Our words are never neutral (Fiske, 1994)! This is a powerful insight for home economists and family and consumer scientists (We could have a whole discussion about the meaning that these two labels convey!). We should never again speak, or read/hear others’ words, without being conscious of the underlying meaning of the words. Our words are politicized, even if we are not aware of it, because they carry the power that reflects the interests of those who speak. Opinion leaders, courts, government, editors, even family and consumer scientists, play a crucial role in shaping issues and in setting the boundaries of legitimate discourse (what is talked about and how) (Henry & Tator, 2002). The words of those in power are taken as “self-evident truths” and the words of those not in power are dismissed as irrelevant, inappropriate, or without substance (van Dijk, 2000). [source]

It’s also important to note that discourse includes not only traditional language, but all forms of symbols contained in advertising, media, fashion, etc.

So my idea was to examine what’s going on with the term “metrosexual.” Here are some questions I think are worth exploring:

– Does the “metrosexual” style, by making stereotypical visual clues of homosexuality ambiguous, serve to bring homosexuals closer into society? (Is it a sign of greater tolerance?)
– Are the “sterotypical visual clues” just ridiculous or are they significant?
– How do homosexuals feel about the metrosexual phenomenon? How does it impact the gay community?
– Why is “metrosexual” strictly a male phenomenon? What’s going on there with the gender dynamic?

I’d be interested in hearing my readers’ ideas on this. Helpful links are also welcome. I haven’t really been in the US for most of the metrosexual phenomenon, and I don’t know how widespread it is either.

The presentation will be a mere 10-15 minutes long, so we don’t need to go super in-depth. We also need to provide visuals with a PowerPoint presentation.

I was never particularly interested in homosexual studies, but somehow discussing it in grad school in China makes it way more interesting to me. (By the way, Pepe says “metrosexual” in Chinese is 都市玉男. I’m a little disappointed that the -sexual (-性恋) got nuked in the translation.)

Note: Hateful, ignorant, and useless comments will never see the light of day.


Sep 2006

Critical Discourse Analysis in China

I had my third Critical Discourse Analysis (批评性话语分析 or CDA) class today. I was really starting to wonder what was up with that class, but I finally got it straight. You see, having no prior significant exposure to the field, I had this simple understanding of “discourse analysis” as basically “analyzing discourse.” It goes a bit beyond that. But CDA is even further removed:

> Critical discourse analysis has made the study of language into an interdisciplinary tool and can be used by scholars with various backgrounds, including media criticism. Most significantly, it offers the opportunity to adopt a social perspective in the cross-cultural study of media texts. As Gunter Kress points out, CDA has an “overtly political agenda,” which “serves to set CDA off…from other kinds of discourse analysis” and text linguistics, “as well as pragmatics and sociolinguistics.” While most forms of discourse analysis “aim to provide a better understanding of socio-cultural aspects of texts,” CDA “aims to provide accounts of the production, internal structure, and overall organization of texts.” One crucial difference is that CDA “aims to provide a critical dimension in its theoretical and descriptive accounts of texts.” [source]

Hmmm, so that explains why the first two weeks we kept talking about ideology (意识形态) rather than discourse itself. The key theorists we have examined already are:

Karl Marx (马克思) – assumed background knowledge
Antonio Gramsci (葛兰西)
Louis Althusser (阿尔都塞)
Jürgen Habermas (哈贝马斯)
Michel Foucault (福柯)

Can you see why the Chinese might be into this stuff? They even have a great word for it: 西马. That means something like “modern Western Marxist theory.” I get a kick out of that term. It seems like such a simple word, made up of two very basic characters, but it represents such a complex body of theory.

My current teacher has a philosophical crush on Foucault just like my first semester teacher had a philosophical crush on Wittgenstein. (In my personal experience, all female Chinese professors have a thing for brilliant gay philosophers.)

Before today’s class I had to read Althusser’s Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses (意识形态与意识形态国家机器). These days I’m kinda short on time, though, so I had a little help. I don’t feel guilty… I think by “cheating” I understood the content better than my classmates, whose comments on the text mostly amounted to, “it was confusing.”

I’m not the kind of person that gets off on this kind of philosophical stuff. Sometimes I feel like an anti-intellectual (or maybe I’m just simple-minded?). To tell the truth, I’m rather disappointed with this semester’s classes. My major is “applied linguistics,” and I really am looking for material with application. I’m no longer a wide-eyed student eager to soak up any and all knowledge; I readily discard the information I feel I have no use for, and I don’t have a high tolerance for material I find overly theoretical with little practical value.

Today, though, CDA got a little more interesting. We starting actually applying the ideological framework we’d been discussing. It looks like we’re going to be looking at a lot of advertisements and analyzing them in the contexts of gender roles, social values, consumerism, etc. I was a little disappointed that our scope was going to be so focused, but I’ll certainly take analysis of ads over analysis of things like “the reproduction of the conditions of production” (Althusser) any day.

I suggested that we analyze TV commercials from past American presidential campaigns, and my teacher liked the idea, but she asked me to find them. Does anyone know where I can get that kind of video? I need the actual files, not just YouTube links (and the classroom computer is not going to support weird .flv files). Thanks!


Sep 2006

Papers, New Classes, and Friends

Recent events:

– Saturday, Sept. 2, I stayed home and wrote a 4,000 character paper for a class.
– Sunday, Sept. 3, I stayed home and wrote a 4,000 character paper for another class.
– Monday and Tuesday nights, Sept. 4-5, I worked on a 3,000 character paper for still another class.
– Wednesday night, Sept. 6, Pepe helped me clean up my papers. Alf showed up.
– Thursday, Sept. 7, I turned in my three papers and attended my two new classes for the semester: Semantics and Pragmatics and Critical Discourse Analysis.
– Friday, Sept. 8, I went to meet Greg at the airport with Alf and John B.
– Saturday, Sept. 9, I went to meet my friend Nobuhiko at the airport.


– Procrastination is bad. I know this. Sort of.
– Not much beats seeing good friends again. Especially over hot pot and beer.
– A new semester is here already, and I still have a list of linguistic topics I meant to blog about over the summer. (Does anyone enjoy the linguisticky posts?)


Aug 2006

What is Liangfen?

Liangfen (凉粉) is a kind of Chinese food which Wenlin translates as “bean jelly.” This is a pretty good translation; liangfen is made from beans and is about the consistency of jelly (although often a bit stiffer). In restaurants, liangfen can be served up like noodles and often looks something like this:




Doing a search for these liangfen images, I was reminded of a very different liangfen which became extremely popular last year:


(That would be 张靓颖 of “Super Voice Girls” fame. Her nickname is 凉粉. She also has a Chinese blog. [Correction: the fans of 张靓颖 are called liangfen, not 张靓颖 herself.])

Tonight I paid a visit to my advisor to discuss the coming semester’s classes and my master’s thesis. His wife brought out a big platter of watermelon slices. He insisted on making me a cup of iced coffee (which was quite good). His son gave me a Glico green tea-flavored snack to munch on. And then the special surprise came: 广东凉粉 (Guangdong liangfen). According to them it’s a traditional Guangdong summer snack, served chilled. You can’t find it in Shanghai, they said. It looked like this:

black liangfen

My only question before digging in was, “does it have animal blood in it?” (I would have eaten some anyway, but I just wanted to know.) They said no.

How did it taste? Well… it was basically “Chinese medicine flavored Jello-o.” Yum yum. Fortunately the flavor wasn’t too strong.


Jul 2006

Chinese Exams Are Not Fun

I haven’t updated for the past few days because over the weekend I was feverishly preparing for my one exam this semester. It was the Modern Chinese (现代汉语) exam. I’ve actually already taken another version of this exam before in order to get into grad school, but my advisor thought it might be beneficial for me to study it again more in-depth in order to make up some credits.

Preparing for this exam was not fun. I have already learned the material once, and it’s all fairly easy to understand, but I had to memorize so much material this time. The focus of the exam was grammar, so it was mainly focused on categorizing. That means memorizing tons of lists: the 14 Chinese parts of speech, the 12 types of phrases, the 10 types of complex sentences, etc. There were many such lists. I found the actual analysis (such as by 层次分析法) to be OK, but the memorization was killing me.

I think the experience of taking an exam with Chinese undergrad students really gave me a good look into what it’s like to be a Chinese college student. It also reminded me that I’m not a college kid anymore, and that my memory is much less accepting than it once was. More than anything, I just don’t have the patience for that kind of learning anymore; we live in a world of limitless resources at our fingertips. Memorization of this kind of thing is for chumps!

I noticed that the one essay question on my exam was the same as one of the ones on the first Modern Chinese exam I took: what are the main distinguishing grammatical features of Modern Chinese? On the one hand, this is a very important question directly relevant to anyone who wants to teach Chinese. But on the other hand, it kind of strikes me as tied to the Chinese pride issue.

The exam wasn’t too bad, but I really hope it’s the last exam of this type that I have to take.


Jun 2006

End of Semester Vacuum

It’s the end of the semester. You might expect me to be busy with schoolwork, but I’m really not especially busy because all three of my graduate-level courses are based on essays which don’t need to be turned in until the beginning of next semester. So I have all summer to work on those. The one undergrad class I’m taking to make up credit, Modern Chinese (现代汉语), does have an exam. So that’s probably the only traditional exam I’ll have to take at ECNU.

Despite the lack of exams, I find myself very busy. I’m busy with ChinesePod as well as with a variety of other things. Most of all, my mind has been extremely busy lately, mulling over all kinds of developments. Maybe at a later date I’ll write about some of those things, but for now the time spent on personal reflection is usurping the time I might spend on quality blog writing.

I must say, though, that Joel Martinsen at Danwei.org has been writing some really great stuff lately. It’s great to have him combing the Chinese web for us. His latest gem is the translation of a story he calls Disability Certificate (scroll down to the story, at least, if you’re not interested in the analysis). Whether or not the story is true, I think it really captures some truths about China.


Jun 2006


For the two years of classes I must take for my masters program at ECNU, I have the same 11 classmates for almost every class. All of them are Chinese, and only one of them is male. My one male classmate distinguishes himself by far more than his gender, however, so I’d like to introduce him here. I’ll call him Pepe.

Like most of my classmates, Pepe is not from Shanghai. After finishing his undergraduate studies, he came directly to Shanghai to study applied linguistics. Faced with a difficult job market, more and more Chinese college grads are electing to go to graduate school before joining the rat race. In that respect he is not very special.

I first observed something about Pepe in our initial semester, when I had only one specialized linguistics class. I noticed that in a room full of students furiously scribbling the teacher’s every word–and I doing my darnedest to keep up–Pepe never wrote more than a few lines of notes down. And yet no one was more engaged than he, no one impressed the professor more with insightful comments than he, and no one got away with more good-natured irreverent remarks than he. There were times when the professor would make a statement in all seriousness, and Pepe would laugh at it out loud, all alone, earning him a dirty look from the professor. He obviously understood a lot that the other students didn’t.

I would later learn that one of Pepe’s favorite pastimes was combing through Hong Kong and Taiwanese news. He loves the idea of a government under the scrutiny of a Chinese free press. He’s a realist, so he dares not dream of the impossible, but he devours the outsiders’ analysis of the CCP’s power struggles, past and present. What interests Pepe most of all, however, is Taiwanese politics. It’s like politics in bizarro China, and it fascinates him.

I have also learned about Pepe’s struggles within the academic machine. He wants to do real scientific research, to make a creative contribution to the field of linguistics. But his advisor repeatedly swats down his aspirations because “that’s not the kind of thesis that gets approved in this department” or because of the limitations of his advisor’s expertise.

Pepe is the sort of student I always hoped for more of when I taught English to Chinese students, and he’s the sort of student China would benefit greatly from if it could only recognize the importance. I’m fortunate to have at least one classmate who thinks critically and shares my grievances with the system, discontent with the role of academic atomaton (although to be sure, this burden weighs far heavier on him than on me).

You will hear more about Pepe from me in the future.


May 2006

History as the Final Judge

This is part three of my professor’s lecture on speech acts. This part is even more of a digression than the thoughts on race and “the weak,” but it’s related to the Confucian quote, and, more specifically, ideas about history.

My professor was saying that he thought that social order required there to be a “final judge” (最后审判者). For the West, that “final judge” has been the Judeo-Christian God and the accompanying system of morality. However, China’s “final judge,” my professor argued, was certainly not religious in nature. So what was it?

According to him, through the ages the Chinese have feared not the judgment of some god or moral system, but rather history. He felt that for China, history is the final judge.

What did China’s emperors have to fear? Certainly not the wrath of anything divine. The only thing they feared was how historians recorded them.

Similarly, parents toil their entire lifetimes because their vision is firmly locked on the future. Their children will have better lives, and they are willing to accept a role in the history of that better future.

I’m not going to write too much about this… This is the kind of thing that doesn’t get written down in my notebook (since it’s almost completely irrelevant to speech acts), but it certainly captures my attention and imagination a bit more.


Apr 2006

Speech Act Rules and the Weak

In the same lecture on the rules of speech acts in which my professor quoted Confucius, he talked quite a bit about race. His point was that the rules of speech acts govern what we can and can’t say about race in society.

According to him, the rules depended on who “the weak” (弱者) were. The weak could be spoken of positively by the rest of society, but if they were spoken negatively of, there would be strong resentment. Furthermore, the priveleged in society could not be spoken of too positively, as that would incur the wrath of the weak.

As an example, he gave holidays. Why are there Teacher’s Day but not Student’s Day, Secretary’s Day but not Boss’s Day*, Nurse’s Day but not Doctor’s Day, Labor Day but not Rich Man’s Day? To this a student asked, “well what about Mother’s Day and Father’s Day?” My professor laughed. “Parents are the most downtrodden of all!” he replied. The class, chuckling, agreed.

He went on to talk about a Chinese song which had been popular in the 70’s. The song glorified the Chinese people, along with their “yellow skin,” “black hair,” and “black eyes.” At that time, everyone thought it was a great song. And yet, such a racially-fixated song would be out of place in Chinese society today. Why?

Back then China was really struggling. It had not yet experienced the economic growth that it would under Deng Xiaoping’s reforms. China was undeniably a member of “the weak” on the world stage. As such, it could glorify its racial features, and no one would have a problem. As China’s economy grew over the years and the nation prospered, it became less “weak,” and the situation changed.

As a similar example, my professor pointed out the situation in the United States. Black Americans could have black pride, but white pride was frowned upon (particularly by “the weak” in society). Similarly, Americans–including black Americans–would not really care about Chinese racial pride, because to Americans both black and white, the Chinese are still “the weak.” He predicted that a Chinese show of racial pride would, however, be offensive to many Africans.

It was an interesting lecture.

* Apparently in China there is no Boss’s Day.


Apr 2006

Confucius and Speech Acts

In a lecture on the rules of speech acts, one of my professors recently quoted Confucius. Believe it or not, I have seldom run into this kind of thing. The only other time I can recall Confucius coming up was in a discussion on sex back in Hangzhou. (The quote then was “食色性也.”) Anyway, this time it was:

> 质胜文则野文胜质则史

Now I’m no scholar of ancient Chinese, but seeking to better understand the teacher’s point after class, I asked the teacher himself as well as a few scholarly friends about it. The explanations I got were varied because four of the characters are open to a lot of interpretation: 质, 文, 野, 史. The characters with relatively fixed meanings are 胜, meaning “exceeds,” and 则, which indicates a result, and means something like “will be.”

One common interpretation of the quotation refers to writing. In this case it means something like:

> When content exceeds rhetoric, [writing] will be rough. When rhetoric exceeds content, [it] will be pretentious.

The quote can also be applied to people, in which case you also get a translation rather similar to the above.

My professor used the quote in a less orthodox way. He was talking about history, which could be divided into the emperor’s “official history” (史) as well as the people’s oral tradition (野), which was a less stable method of recording actual events, but which didn’t overlook certain unpleasant events that the emperor didn’t want to record. I find this idea much harder to translate, because it’s harder to assign specific meanings to 质 and 文, but I guess it goes something like this:

> When events outweigh revision, legend results. When revision outweighs events, an unbalanced history results.

My, that’s a very clumsy translation. (Hey, I’m on vacation!)

The essence of the quote lies in the part my professor didn’t quote:

> 文质彬彬,然后君子。

That is, when 文 and 质 are in balance, the results are ideal.

See chinakongzi.com for an interpretation of the quote in Chinese. Ancient Chinese is one of those gaping voids in my Chinese education, so any corrections or revisions are welcome.

In the next couple days I will elaborate on the point my professor was making when he spouted this Confucian wisdom.


Apr 2006

Visual Learners in China

I am a visual learner. I want to see new words written down. I like to see concepts diagrammed. I understand more easily and remember much better that which I see.

So far, this seems like a handicap for me at ECNU. With only one exception, none of my classes this academic year have made much use of visual aids. (And when I say “visual aid,” I use such a loose definition as to include just writing anything on the board.) This semester has been especially bad in this respect, with three classes where the professor typically just sits there and talks the entire time, never going near the board. This wouldn’t be so bad if the professor were lecturing on some sort of material we had already read about beforehand, but for those classes the material all comes straight from the professor (although there are some recommended texts). So most of the time, class content is 100% aural.

The one class where the teacher consistently uses the blackboard is an undergrad class on Modern Chinese I am auditing to get extra credits. That class is so hugely different from my graduate courses it’s almost laughable, but it should be easier–it’s a core undergrad course. We have one set text, and the teacher goes straight through it. Much of what the teacher writes on the board is in the book anyway. When the teacher writes on the board, he writes in extremely neat, clear handwriting. (One of my professors has handwriting so bad it gives me nightmares.) Is this undergraduate class representative?

It’s my first time in graduate school anywhere, so in all honesty I’m not sure exactly what to expect. As a graduate student, I don’t expect content to be spoon-fed to me as if I were still an undergrad. It just seems like there should be some visual content in my graduate classes. I’ve heard rumors of PowerPoint, but have never seen it in any of my classes.

So all this leads me to wonder… are visual aids just for babies undergrads (in China)? Does China’s system of higher education possibly favor those who are not visual learners?

Never having been a graduate student anywhere else or an undergraduate student in China, these are questions I cannot answer on my own.


Apr 2006

Like Syntax from Takeshi

Kitano, Takeshi

Kitano Takeshi

This is a picture of Kitano Takeshi (北野武), AKA “Beat Takeshi.” (I always find his Chinese name, Běiyě Wǔ, surreally different from his Japanese name.) My syntax teacher looks a lot like this guy, except for having smile lines around his eyes instead of Takeshi’s perpetual mask of indifference. They seem to share a love of the cigarette.

So sometimes when I’m listening to a lecture on Chinese syntax, my teacher’s visage sends my mind back to a scene in Hanabi, or images of a gangster hanging out with a little boy in Kikujiro. Except instead of spitting out tough guy talk, he’s outlining how the latest cognitive linguistics research affects our understanding of phrase structure. Then he cracks one of his bizarre jokes, and those smile lines seize his face once again, shattering the illusion completely.

I like my teacher, but I’m really not so into Chinese syntax theory. Somehow, though, Takeshi’s Chinese doppelganger helps get me through those classes.


Mar 2006

Chinese Parts of Speech

OK, this is an entry that’s likely to bore many readers to tears. You have been warned.

While I don’t find the study of Chinese grammar remarkably stimulating, there are some aspects of it that catch my interest. It’s kind of cool how Chinese parts of speech don’t fit so neatly into our Western designations. When China first starting applying Western linguistics to Chinese, Chinese syntax was forced into the Western mold. Over the years Chinese scholars have decided that this just doesn’t work.

So what’s different about Chinese grammar?



Mar 2006

My Professors' Impossible Lists

This semester all my classes are in classrooms with facilities that could be aptly described as “lacking.” Although there is no dearth of multimedia classrooms and many teachers regularly conduct class through PowerPoint presentations, some of my professors’ classrooms don’t even have blackboards. To make matters worse, the two most poorly equipped classrooms are the two with the professors that like to ramble.

Now, I don’t mean to say that these professors don’t come to class prepared. They both come well prepared with pages of material beautifully organized in outline form. I’ve even caught glimpses of those sheets, so I can confirm that the profs do really teach from their notes. The problem is that in the transition from the well-structured written outline to the teacher’s mouth, that precious order goes out the window.

My professors are forever making lists, but I can’t for the life of me figure out how to gather that information and properly organize it in my notes. I know for a fact that my classmates, while definitely faring better than I, struggle with this somewhat as well.

If I took my organizational cues solely from what my professors say (and especially what they don’t say), I would frequently end up with notes looking something like this:

  1. blah blah
    1. stuff
    2. stuff
      1. blah blah
    3. info
      1. stuff
      2. stuff
        1. blah blah
          1. info
          2. more info
            1. blah blah
          3. stuff
            1. stuff
            2. stuff
              1. stuff
                1. info
                  1. blah blah
                    1. stuff
                      1. more stuff

It’s pretty maddening. It makes me wonder if I need to get a wider notebook. My classmates seem to be used to this. They frequently compare notes in the course of a lecture, and their combined brainpower is usually sufficient to reorganize the flow-of-consciousness delivery into something a little more disciplined.

I know for a fact that it’s not totally a listening comprehension issue on my part; in one lecture my classmates and I actually counted, and at various points throughout the lecture the professor said “第三个大问题” (“the third major issue”)–which should have corresponded to big Roman numeral three on the overall outline–three times!

The lesson here is that there are ways in which the Chinese educational system encourages critical thinking and independent analysis. I have seen it, and it’s not pretty.


Mar 2006

Vocabulary Lists Are Back!

A long time ago I made a page for names of different types of alchohol in Chinese. At the time, I had grand visions of lots of atypical and interesting vocabulary lists (i.e. no list of “countries” or “animals” or “fruits” in Chinese). That project stalled. For a long time.

Well, it’s back: Sinosplice Vocabulary Lists. Right now there are only three, but that number will expand. I’ve already started working on some new ones. (I also gladly accept additions to existing lists or new list ideas.)

One of the new ones is Chinese Onomatopeia. I compiled this list myself, and I haven’t found a similar list anywhere else on the internet. So get it here first, until other people copy it! (Better yet, link to it and give me some Google rank love.)

Onomatopeia are fun. My dad taught me a love for animal noises in foreign languages, but there are more than just animal noises in the list. Here are some wacky questions you can answer by browsing the list:

1. What noise in Chinese sounds like the name of a cheese in English?
2. How many of the 52 Chinese onomatopeia in the list are identical to the corresponding English onomatopeia? (Hint: not many!)
3. What bird makes the same noise as a frog?
4. What Chinese onomatopeia are missing? (Hint: this is a trick question to which I do not know the answer!)

The other new list is Cartoon Character Names. Kastner helped me out by compiling this one. I still owe him for that. (Thanks, man!)

Your conversational Chinese may be pretty decent, but you can likely stand to take it up a notch or two by adding the Chinese names of the Transformers, He-Man, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to your vocabulary. Yes, you need this. (Did I mention it impresses the ladies?)

With the exception of the original alcohol list, I have been using AdsoVocab to generate the lists. The auto pinyin completion saved me a lot of time. I recommend you check it out if you have not seen it already.

I would love to add stuff like this to my site all the time, but the sad, ironic truth is that I very rarely have time for this kind of thing anymore because I’m going to grad school so that maybe I can get paid to do something like this down the road. Anyway, enjoy! I’ll be out of grad school in 2007.


Feb 2006

Spring 2006 Class Schedule

People keep telling me they want to hear more about what it’s like to be a grad student in China. I promise I’ll say more in the future, but for now here’s my class schedule for this semester. At this point I haven’t even been to the first class yet for most of these classes, though, so I can’t comment on the content yet.








Modern Chinese



Studies in Pragmatics

Modern Chinese





Chinese Syntax




Oh wait… I can comment on one thing. You’ll notice that one of my classes is “Modern Chinese,” which you might remember is what I was tested on to get into grad school in the first place. I got a B on that test. So why am I taking it again?

Well, because I don’t have to take the English or Chinese political theory classes, I have to make up the credits somehow. My advisor suggested I take the second semester of Modern Chinese in order to strengthen my understanding and get 4 credits pretty easily. I’m taking the “Studies in Pragmatics” course for the same reason. Both are in the college of Chinese as a Second Language (对外汉语), and since my advisor is a head honcho in that department, it’s easiest to arrange classes there. That’s OK, since my interests in applied linguistics lean heavily toward Chinese as a Second Language anyway.

The one downside is that the Modern Chinese class is an undergraduate course. I don’t mind taking class with the kiddies, but undergrad courses mean undergrad testing style: lots of memorization and written tests. All my other classes only require attendance and a final paper. Oh well. That I’ve learned that Modern Chinese stuff once before should make it easier. (And fortunately the prof said they’re not going to be covering much of the dreaded 修辞!)


Sep 2005

Classes in Brief

I’ve been getting a lot of “how are your classes going?”-type questions lately. I’ve been delaying answering the questions because I wanted to be able to give a more comprehensive answer, but I just found out today that at least one of my classes for this semester won’t begin until October 26th, so I guess I might as well talk about my impressions thus far.

I’ve only had three different classes to date. I will eventually have at least four, and likely five, but the details are still being worked out. The classes I’ve already started are:

  • Survey of China (中国概况). This one is just for foreign grad students, it seems. The funny thing is they also make Taiwanese grad students take it. At first I thought it was a little bit silly to force foreigners to take a class like this (after all, any foreigner whose Chinese is good enough to handle grad school in Chinese likely has a pretty decent understanding of China), but later I realized it was a kindness. First, it’s easy. Really easy. It would be stupid to want my first semester in Chinese grad school to be full of difficult classes. All you have to do for this class is attend the three hours a week and write one 1.5-page paper for the entire semester. No exams. Second, it is offered to partially compensate for the credits that foreigners lose out on by not having to take classes in English or Chinese political theory. So far this class is not too exciting, but there’s a different teacher with a different topic every week. In the first two weeks of classes we’ve covered “painting and calligraphy” and “Chinese minorities.”
  • Lectures for Grad Students (not sure about the Chinese name). It’s a lot like the Survey of China class, only the topics are a little more advanced and there are a lot more students (most of whom are Chinese). The grading policy and excitement level are pretty much the same as Survey of China too.
  • Selected Readings by Western Linguists (西方语言学家原著选读). This class is pretty cool, but difficult for me. Although I really like the teacher, she seems to have extremely low expectations of me. I think that will serve to motivate me to do especially well in class even more than if she were especially demanding of me. Anyway, I like the content, but it’s pretty rough reading it in Chinese. I’d like to be able to read English translations (or English originals) to complement the Chinese ones, but it’s proving harder than I expected to track down those papers. It’s really hard to read this abstract theoretical mumbo jumbo in Chinese — I suspect it would be hard for me in English. The linguists (or in some cases, “language theorists/philosophers”) we’re covering are Humboldt, Saussure, Bloomfield, Wittgenstein, Chomsky, and Gumperz.

    So far I’m really enjoying learning about Humboldt. The guy’s ideas were way ahead of his time. The basic ideas behind the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis and Chomsky’s universal grammar were discussed by Humboldt, and he didn’t take either to such an extreme. Too bad he was so obsessed with blabbing on and on about geist and other funny German words that are a bit of a translation pain.

    Humboldt was German, but Wittgenstein was Austrian (and Saussure was Swiss). Still, my teacher has promised us some interesting insights into the thinking processes of Germans versus Americans down the road. Knowing my teacher, I suspect America is going to take a bit of a beating, but I’m still looking forward to the discussion…

    This class also has no exams, but I’m required to make a class presentation on one of the linguists. I chose Chomsky. Syntactic Structures (in English!!!) has already been shipped.

The fourth class, which my advisor arranged for me, is in corpus linguistics (语料库语言学). I freaked out a little at first when he told me the Chinese name, because I had no idea what it was. Then I freaked out more because when I looked it up, I wasn’t familiar with it in English either! After a little research on corpus linguistics, however, I’m pretty sure that it will be quite interesting and well worth studying. That’s the class that starts October 26th.

I may take a fifth class with the Chinese as a Foreign/Second Language (对外汉语) department. I have no idea when that would be starting.

My Friday class has been canceled due to the upcoming holiday, which means today is my last day of class before vacation


Jul 2005

Grades, finally

I finally found out today what my scores were on my entrance exams to grad school at 华师大. They were what I predicted: two B’s. I got an 81 on the 汉语基础 exam and an 85 on the writing exam. (In China the scale is typically A: 90-100, B: 80-89, C: 70-79, D: 60-69, F: below 60.)

I’ll be paying my tuition soon, and the process for obtaining my student visa is already in motion. What was holding everything up was that 刘大为, the professor who was to be my advisor, has decided to leave Hua Shi Da for Fudan University. So they weren’t sure if I still wanted to do my Masters with them because he was leaving, and they weren’t able to get in touch with me because I was in the States. Kinda strange… is it normal to have one’s degree with a university in China dependent on having one particular professor as an advisor? 刘大为 is pretty famous, I hear, but still…

Anyway, everything is on track.


Jun 2005

DONE with exams!!!

My entrance exams for grad school at East China Normal University are finally over. It’s hard to believe that I’d been preparing for them for eight months. I’ve been studying quite a bit harder this past month, I’ll admit. But what a weight off my shoulders!

I probably won’t find out the results until next week some time, but I feel pretty good about how I did.

Part I: Modern Chinese (2 hours)

I think I did OK. There were 10 questions, all asking for some kind of explanation, analysis, or comparison, and always with examples. (No multiple choice, no fill in the blanks.) Of the ten, eight of the questions concerned content which I pretty much fully anticipated. They weren’t tricky. A lot of regurgitation was involved for some of them. One of the unanticipated ones called for a full analysis of synonym groups. I had studied that a little and then decided that it probably wouldn’t be tested on, so I disregarded it. I probably got some partial credit there anyway, though.

I guessed correctly that there would be exactly one 修辞 (“rhetoric,” involving fancy topics like literary devices) question on the exam. That’s 10% of the exam. And yet the 修辞 section took up 100 of the textbook’s 500 pages. So I pretty much skipped it entirely, aside from briefly looking at the main terms. So I just BSed that one question on the exam. I bet I got a few points.

Overall, I think I got a B.

Part II: Composition (1 hour)

The topic was really general, like “do some comparisons of American and Chinese language and/or culture, based on your experiences.” Wow. They were obviously being nice to me. And it only had to be 700-800 characters instead of the 1000 the teacher had told me before.

Based on educated guessing, I had prepared for the topic “based on your experiences, compare and contrast the Chinese and American university systems.” So I was able to adapt that, as well as use some of the particularly well-crafted sentences and phrases that I recalled. I wrote about my experience of learning Chinese as an American, compared to the typical Chinese student’s experience learning English in China.

I’m sure there were mistakes, but my structure was solid and the conclusion is one the Chinese will like (basically 各有所长: “both have their strong points”), so I probably got a B overall.

So now I’m just waiting to be notified that I’ve been admitted to grad school and they want my tuition money.

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