Don’t you feel that, as westerners, you don’t know many Chinese celebrities? We had a conversation with Possopo. He’s been a learner for a good time on Ninchanese now and has an intermediate Chinese level. He came across Chinese names he did not know before on Ninchanese. We started to have a conversation about this topic and so Possopo decided to explore more that cultural aspect. He made a great list of Chinese persons to know with very clever and funny explanations about them. I’ll let you read his blog article and discover his Chinese celebrities list at the end of the article.
I was only at the beginning of my journey into the world of Chinese language and Ninchanese. I was discovering new words and characters every day, I was trying to memorize them. Water, happy, big… get ready, topic, fruit juice… go to work… Zhou Jie Lun. What? Zhou Jie Lun showed up on my screen. I think it was right after “加油” jiā yóu. I was happy with 加油, I needed 加油. I needed to be 加油’d because Chinese is challenging, and learning words is demanding, you need the motivation, you need the 加油. And all the words I met before made sense.
I already got a little nervous with 雪碧 Xuě bì before, but I accepted it as a companion to 可口可乐 kě kǒu kě lè which, in my opinion, was just as important to learn as 果汁 guǒ zhī or even 水 shuǐ. But I immediately felt there was something wrong going on with this 周杰伦 Zhōu Jié lún thing. So I clicked, looked at the translation, and… Jay Chou?
Who is Jay Chou?
What the hell was that? It must be a bug. I was working on the beta version of Ninchanese, so these things happen. So I decided to forget about it. But this spaced repetition system thing can be annoying at times and Jay Jie Lun Chou something watzefuk kept coming back. Google them. Oh my god. Who is this weird guy with the hairdo of a Chinese Beatles? I was not happy. I wanted to learn Chinese, not random names of random singers.
So I googled again, and I found out that this Zhōu Jié lún was famous, if not the most famous pop singer in Taiwan and China! So he was indeed a Beatles. And yes, I know who Paul McCartney is. Or John Lennon. So I understood what it was about.
The idea was to introduce me to some famous names in China. Or Taiwan… well, it is complicated. Anyway… My mood changed immediately, and I was happy. I am one of these persons who never really got interested in Chinese culture before I started learning Chinese (for personal reasons). It took me some time to watch my first movies in Chinese, to read my first book of Chinese History.
And then, my appetite started to grow, and meeting this new character was actually a good thing. OK, so I clicked on Youtube, and my enthusiasm vanished, but there is no accounting for tastes (although I must say that if you like what he sings, you should cut off your ears, OK ?). I was happy again because I was going to learn new names, new things.
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Chinese Culture to westerners
There was still one problem, though. Even before I started to learn English as a second language in school, I knew who Tom Cruise was or Ronald Reagan (god, I am old). Or Martin Scorsese, or Abraham Lincoln (no, I am not that old, please). It was a little more complicated with Spanish, German or Russian (I am French by the way) but not that much. Almodovar, Kant, Pushkin, the list goes on. However, besides Mao, my knowledge of Chinese celebrities was thin. Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan… And these names don’t even sound Chinese! I was curious to understand why I did not know more Chinese names.
As a westerner, I was not automatically connected to things Chinese. Spain, Germany or the UK are neighbors, the US conquered the world of culture, Russia and the Soviet Union have had strong relationships with Western Europe and the world for centuries (about five centuries) so we know about them. Even some Japanese names sound familiar to western ears thanks to the economic power that the country was up until twenty years ago. The deep relationship Japan had with the US after the Second World War when the US military decided to put thousands of GI’s to preserve Japan from a communist invasion made us closer to Japan.
But China is different. Chinese culture seemed incomprehensible to most foreigners for ages, the country was closed to our world for most of its History, we can even say it was culturally self-sufficient, and it was only very recently that China decided to battle with the US to conquer the world in the field of popular culture.
Should we learn about Taiwanese celebrities as well?
But back to Zhou Jie Lun. The guy is not Chinese but Taiwanese. So does it really make sense to memorize his name on Ninchanese? It does. To keep things simple, the History and mindset of Chinese people are different from ours, as Westerners. The Rise of Nationalism during the 19th century was something very European, certainly not Chinese. So yes, we can say that Zhou Jie Lun is Chinese. He is a Han, and that makes him culturally Chinese (I won’t go into politics here, especially not into the extremely complicated relationship between China and Taiwan). Just like Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee are culturally Chinese. The former was born in Hong-Kong, which was part of the UK at the time, the latter was born in San Francisco from Hong-Kongese parents. But what about the language?
In my opinion, it doesn’t matter. Han is Han, and Cantonese is no less Han than Mandarin. But it does make things more complicated when you want to learn names. Cantonese is a very different language from Mandarin so the name of Hong-Kong celebrities sound totally different in Mandarin and Cantonese (although the writing is the same). Hong-Kong natives also have an English name (sometimes totally unrelated, phonetically speaking, to their Chinese name) and celebrities have various pseudonyms and nicknames. Not to mention various pseudonyms and nicknames. Sometimes we have the same problem with American Born Chineses’ names.
Should we learn Chinese culture when learning Chinese?
My point is that I think it is essential for any learner of Mandarin Chinese to know things about the Chinese culture. To know names, to know who they are, to know what they do. When most methods of Chinese language put a focus on food (food is essential in the Chinese culture) and names of dishes, I think it is equally necessary to get students to know the most famous individuals in the Chinese world (and yes, some of them can be chefs).
So with my limited knowledge, I drew a list, my Mandarin speaking girlfriend corrected it, and I sent it to Ninchanese’ boss, co-founder, now billionaire socialite [Nincha team note: we wish] (but not Han, so he is not on the list) Jean-Rémi. Jean-Rémi, myself and everyone at Ninchanese will be happy to have you add your two cents (or more) to the list.
We want to hear your voice![Jean-Rémi here] Thanks Possopo! Before we move on to his list: Yes, send us your suggestions for new names, tell us if you think someone on the list doesn’t deserve it, talk about the balance between categories (Cinema, History, Sports…), say whatever you want, we’d like to finalize this with you all.
If the list looks good, and you want it, it will make a new world on Ninchanese. So, now’s the moment to be part of this new world (maybe) and know more about the in – famous Chinese celebrities.
Okay, here is the list Possopo put together, and his funny comments. Possopo, the floor’s all yours:
No intro needed to this man who has his portrait hanging on 天安门 Tian An Men square in 北京 Beijing.
鄧小平) – Dèng Xiǎo píng – Former President of the People’s Republic of China(
One of Mao’s sidekicks who led China to economic reforms that consequently led to what China’s economy now is.
習近平) – Xí Jìn píng – Current President of the People’s Republic of China(
Chinese Donald Trump but more powerful.
孙中山 (孫中山) – Sūn Zhōng shān or (孫逸仙) Sūn Yì xiān (Sun Yat Sen) – Former President of the Republic of China
He had a key role in the overthrowing of the Qing Dynasty, is both revered in mainland China and Taiwan for reasons that would take hours to explain.
Once the nemesis of Mao, leader of the Republic of China, aka Taiwan and Director-General of the Kuomintang until his death.
孔子 – Kǒng zǐ (Confucius) – Chinese teacher, politician, philosopher of the Spring and Autumn period.
One of the most prominent philosophers in the History of the world.
老子 – Lǎo zǐ – Chinese philosopher
Founder of philosophical Taoism, semi-legendary figure. No one knows if he really existed.
Mèng zǐ (Mencius) – Chinese philosopher
Number two in the school of Confucianism, number two in Chinese philosophy. And completely cool with being second.
秦始皇 – Qín Shǐ huáng – First emperor of a unified China
Forever guarded by an army of terracotta warriors.
Who, legend has it, taught Chinese agriculture and the use of herbal drugs to everyone.
王建民 – Wáng Jiàn mín – Taiwanese baseball pitcher
who made it to the MLB.
姚明 – Yáo Míng – Basketball Player
Biggest (more like tallest) rival of Shaquille O’Neal in the NBA.
Láng Lǎng – Piano player
Human-robot programmed to play the piano with bravado and a total lack of feeling.
周杰倫) – Zhōu Jié lún – singer(
The J-Lo of Taiwan, except he is a man and I think he has a flat ass. (haha)
马友友 – Mǎ Yǒu yǒu – ABC world-famous cellist.
Listen to his version of Bach’s Cello Suites.
The godfather of modern Chinese cinema, known for movies like The Red Lantern.
Lǐ Ān (Ang Lee) – Taiwan-born Film Director
Known for Eat Drink Man Woman (if you’re into arthouse cinema) and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (if you’re into commendable entertaining movies).
侯孝賢) – Hóu Xiàoxián (Hou Hsiao-Hsien – Taiwanese transliteration) – Taiwanese Film Director(
A leading figure in world cinema who won prizes in Venice and Cannes.
王家衛) – Wáng Jiā wèi or Wong Kar-Wai – Hong Kong Director(
World Famous for In The Mood For Love, amongst others.
李小龍) – Lǐ Xiǎo lóng (Bruce Lee) – actor, martial art artist, and more(
Bim bam yaaaaaa! Nough’ said.
成龍) – Chéng Lóng (Jackie Chan) – actor(
Popularized the Zui Quan with the movie Drunken Master and then became the most famous Asian actor of all times.
Just like Bruce Lee but born a generation later and still alive today.
A major figure in action movies, and also a major figure in Hong Kong cinema.
李白 – Lǐ Bái – Poet
The Michael Jordan of classical Chinese poetry.
A key figure of modern Chinese literature.
Ài Wèi wèi – contemporary artist
Mainly a sculptor turned activist.
World-famous Chinese American architect who designed the pyramid at the Louvre museum in Paris and just died. RIP I.M. Pei.
郭台铭 – Guo Tai Ming – Tawainese tycoon
Founder and chairman of Foxconn.
马云 – Ma Yun (Jack Ma) – Businessman
He has a rather strange looking head. Oh, and a very big group called Ali Baba, where you’ll also find: Aliexpress, Taobao, Alipay… and more!
So, what do you think of the list? Agree, disagree with those who made the list and wish others were on it instead, or also? We should add more women!
Let us know in the comments! Do you want to learn these names in a special event world on Ninchanese? Yes? Then tell us in the comments so we know!