Important Chinese terms in economics and finance: Part 1

Today, we will introduce some basic Chinese terminology in economics and finance, which is an important tool for you to have nuanced intellectual discussions in Chinese and is consequently beneficial for your AP Chinese exams. Of course, to use these words accurately, you not only need to know their corresponding English terms, but should also have some understanding of their underlying economic concepts.

The gross domestic product (GDP) and gross national product (GNP) are such common terms that many Chinese articles simply use the English abbreviations of them. But in many formal occasions, especially in Chinese language exams, using Chinese terms is more preferable.

GDP is translated as 国内生产总值 (guó nèi shēng chǎn zǒng zhí), meaning the total value of products that were produced within the national border in a given time period.

GNP is translated as 国民生产总值 (guó mín shēng chǎn zǒng zhí), meaning the total value of products that were produced by a country’s citizens and firms (regardless of locations) in a given time period. 

Whether a country is considered under growth or recession is normally measured by its GDP. The term for growth is 增长 (zēng zhǎng), and for recession is 衰退 (shuāi tuì).

Knowing the four components of GDP is quite useful in understanding a country’s economic structure, or just for showing off.

  1. Consumption (消费, xiāo fèi): the products that are consumed by private entities.
  2. Government expenditure (政府支出, zhèng fǔ zhī chū): the products that are consumed in government activities.
  3. Investment (投资, tóu zī): the products that turn into capital for future production.
  4. Trade balance (贸易平衡,mào yì píng héng): total export minus total import (of course, it can be negative if a country imports more than it exports). 

A country’s domestic products have to fall into one of these four exclusive categories. They are either consumed privately, consumed by the government, saved for future, or sent abroad. The latter two categories are normally beneficial for future growth while the former two categories are good for present enjoyment. Both are essential for the wellbeing of a society and the policy-makers always struggle to find a good balance. It is widely believed that the Chinese economy grows fast because of the high investment and high export. But the downside is that very often the citizens, especially the poorer part of the population, often fail to enjoy the benefits from growth. So, is China’s investment and export-driven growth model on the right track? Or did it sacrifice too much in terms of social welfare, labor rights, and leisure? You can see numerous scholars and pundits discussing the issue and develop your own opinion. 

As you probably heard from the news, China and the US are having a trade war (贸易战, mào yì zhàn) right at this moment by raising tariffs (关税, guān shuì) on each other’s products. So when you visit Chinese websites you can frequently see many terms related to trade. For example, trade surplus (贸易顺差, mào yì shùn chā) means a country’s export in excess of import while trade deficit (贸易逆差, mào yì nì chā) means the opposite. It is not accurate to say that a trade surplus is necessarily better than a trade deficit. But maintaining a trade surplus does make it easier for a country to stimulate growth and employment. One of the key reasons of the trade war is that China has maintained a constant trade surplus against the US. Whether the trade war will be effective is an extremely complicated policy question that few have an answer. 

China’s constant trade surplus against the US

Many terms that are related to trade may also benefit Chinese learners who want to express more sophisticated ideas, such as trade barrier (贸易壁垒, mào yì bì lěi), import quota (进口配额, jìn kǒu pèi é), export subsidy (出口补贴, chū kǒu bǔ tiē), and exchange rate (汇率, huì lǜ). Of course, the trade vocabulary is far from these. But starting from these basic ones can help you understand others more easily or, if you don’t plan to go for more advanced terms, at least use them to show off your academic training.

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Using Chinese social networks WeChat and Weibo

In the last few blogs, we briefly discussed how to use social networks to read Chinese materials on contemporary topics. We know you were probably told by numerous people that social networks are not the best way for learning and that you should spending more time reading actual books. It maybe true in an English environment, but when it comes to learning Chinese, not necessarily. 

First, for most of the Chinese learners, reading full-fledged novels or academic books in Chinese is simply unrealistic. As all Chinese learners must have noticed, even after mastering spoken Chinese, there is still a long way to go until reading with speed. In fact, even native Chinese children normally start reading chapter books at a slightly older age than native English speakers do because of the difficulty in remembering the thousands of characters. 

Second, if you are interested social science topics, which is a focus in AP Chinese exams as discussed in our previous posts, former Chinese publications are often outdated because social sciences tend to be under-funded in Chinese universities and is subject to many restrictions. More vigorous discussions often happen outside the official social science arenas. 

We already mentioned Weibo, which has a format that was obviously inspired by Twitter. Users can repost and comment a message or use hashtags for discussing popular topics. It is arguable that Weibo thrived partly because Twitter is blogged in China. But to be fair, there are some merits to Weibo that Twitter should learn from. For example, when two people are engaged in a debate regarding a certain original post, that original post is always visible in a smaller font under the debate, which makes it easy for readers to understand what they are debating about. On Twitter, however, it can take quite a few clicks to figure out what’s going on. And because the high visibility of original Weibo posts, those who initiate debatable topics by posting high-quality original content will be quickly rewarded with increased reposts and followers. In other words, it’s hard for good content to not be noticed (well, unless it’s removed by the censors, which also happens quite a lot). Better still, although Weibo only displays 140 characters each post, there is no limit on how long a post can be. Readers can simply click “more” to see what’s beyond the 140 characters. All these smart designs make Weibo into one of the most important arenas for Chinese content producers to compete against each other. 

WeChat is a completely different species. It probably modeled Facebook to some extent, mainly serving as connecting people who already know each other. But it has some very unique features that are worth mentioning. Most importantly, Facebook allows users to set their posts as Public, friends only, or some other options. WeChat, however, does not provide such a choice and every timeline post is always friends only (there is simply no share/repost button). That means you can only see the timeline of your friends. And you cannot see the comments to a friend’s post except those posted by your shared friends. Such a highly private feature certainly is not good for content competition or social debate. But it is extremely appealing for many people because you don’t feel the pressure of making people react to your posts. No one knows how many comments you received or how many friends you have. For people who are not active content producers, such privacy may actually serve as a relief. This is probably why the number of WeChat users quickly surpassed Weibo only a few years after it was launched. 

In general, when you make a Chinese-speaking friend, you ask for their WeChat if you want private conversations with them, or ask for their Weibo if you want to follow their thoughts and ideas. 

The Chinese Vocabulary in Feminist Topics (Part 2): Domestic Violence and Sexual Harassment

Before continuing the topic from last week about the feminist vocabulary, we want to offer some side notes about using Weibo to observe online discussions. When using Weibo, try to avoid the extremely popular influencers that have millions of followers (粉丝 fěn sī,a loanword from “fans”). Those are often what we call “marketing accounts” (营销号 yíng xiāo hào). They tend to be run by a team with a clear commercial objective. And they tend to avoid contentious topics that may cause trouble with content regulators. The most nutritious accounts are often those that have a moderate amount of followers but a large number of comments. When you find an influencer that you are interested in, you can go through their following list and search for more similar-minded people.

The key group that leads the debate on gender topics is what we call 女权主义者 (nǚ quán zhǔ yì zhě, feminists). Here is a very useful trick of translating different ideological groups: -ism should be translated as 主义 (zhǔ yì) while -ist should be translated as 主义者 (zhǔ yì zhě) as 者 is really a formal way of saying “person”. Other such examples include conservatism (保守主义 bǎo shǒu zhǔ yì) and conservatives (保守主义者 bǎo shǒu zhǔ yì zhě), idealism (理想主义 lǐ xiǎng zhǔ yì) and idealists (理想主义者 lǐ xiǎng zhǔ yì zhě). Any social science topics, whether it’s environment, economic growth, or healthcare, involves a lot of “主义” and their respective “主义者”.

Two other most discussed gender topics we did not introduce last time are domestic violence and sexual harassment. Even with subtle differences, these topics mirror many debates you can see in Western countries.

The debate on domestic violence 家庭暴力 (jiā tíng bào lì) is still at an earlier stage, as law enforcement (执法机关,zhí fǎ jī guān) in China still rarely intervenes in family issues. So how much the police should be involved and how to penalize the perpetrator are subject to intense debate. One of the biggest difficulties in solving domestic violence in developing countries is the lack of enough shelters to temporarily shield the victims from perpetrators. The government normally lacks the financial resources or political wills to invest in such shelters. Long-term solutions such as divorce are also easier said than done because it takes an efficient and impartial judicial system to ensure the fair division of property and child custody. 

It’d be helpful to remember the Chinese expression of two important legal concepts, 民事案件(mín shì àn jiàn, civil case)and 刑事案件 (shì àn jiàn, criminal case) . As you probably know that civil cases normally do not involve police actions unless one side of the litigation fails to follow the court order after litigation.  One thing people have been constantly debating is whether domestic violence should be more frequently prosecuted as criminal offense. 

As one of the most debated issues in years, sexual harassment (性骚扰 xìng sāo rǎo, or 性侵犯 xìng qīn fàn) is another topic you want to be able to discuss not only in English, but also in Chinese. There is no directly translation for the word “consent”, but there is an adverb “自愿 (zì yuàn)” that means “with consent” or “voluntarily”. Consequently, “非自愿” means “without consent” or “against one’s will”. What constitutes consent has always been subject to controversy. Even in America, we can hear debate about whether suggestive clothes and behavior should be blamed as they can be misunderstood as sexual consent. In China, the similar kind of victim (受害者 shòu hài zhě) blaming is more common due to a long cultural habit that is unfriendly to women’s sexual expression. Feminists, therefore, often task themselves with promoting free expression of women’s sexual need, which is condition for clearly defining consent. 

"Stop Victim Blaming"
Unknown protestors denouncing victim blaming

Again, it is very hard to learn using Chinese on these more subtle topics just by reading language text books, as those books normally stay on the most casual and common vocabularies. Expanding your reading materials is essential to learning, let alone taking the AP Chinese exam.

The Chinese Vocabulary in Feminist Topics (Part 1): Marriage and Reproduction

As mentioned in the last post, the AP Chinese exam will put much emphasis on humanity and social science vocabularies. We will discuss these vocabularies frequently in this blog. Today let us start with feminism and marriage.

The gender topics have been subject to intense debate for centuries, but the recent Me Too Movement originated in the United States, partly a side effect of the 2016 election, has made these topics more salient than ever. In a globalized world, China is no exception in terms of rising gender activism. We think it will be helpful to introduce a few gender topics that are most discussed in the Chinese social networks. especially on Weibo (微博 wēi bó), the most active Chinese platform for debating social issues. We often remind our students that the conventional Chinese language text books may not be sufficient to learn social science vocabularies, as they overly focus on everyday life and reflect a different mindset from educators in the Western countries, such as those who design the AP Chinese exams. Therefore, we believe it’s helpful for Chinese learners to register a Weibo account and follow a number of active scholars/pundits. Social network is also more useful than formal publications in China because the contents in the former are less regulated. 

Some of the debates in China overlap with what you hear on Facebook and Twitter, but others can be quite different. As in many other parts of the world, Chinese online activists are debating the benefits and costs of marriage for women. Many feminists are concerned with the forgone career opportunities of married women and consequently their economic dependence on men, and discuss what alternatives to marriage women have and how to protect their careers. You can also see interesting policy questions such as whether maternity leaves help women or actually exacerbate gender discrimination in the job market. Here are some interesting terms and phrases you may want to search up.

依赖 (yī lài):(verb) depend; (noun) dependence; (adjective) dependent

独立 (dú lì):(verb) be independent; (noun) independence; (adjective) independent

产假 (chǎn jià):maternity leave

歧视 (qí shì):(verb) discriminate; (noun) discrimination

Frequently, you can bump into this interesting term without proper English translation, which is called “逼婚 (bī hūn)”. It is a verb that means “forcing (one’s child) to get married”. This phenomenon is certainly different from the arranged marriages in the traditional sense because modern Chinese parents no longer have the legal authority to impose marriages on their sons and daughters. But many young people still feel an overwhelming parental pressure, partly as a result of a cultural environment that worships parental authority. The word 孝 (xiào), a Confucian value of filial obedience, still plays an important role in China’s social life. Some parents are so involved in their children’s love life to the extent of posting and reading matching profiles, either online or physically in the designated areas of certain parks. “相亲 (xiāng qīn)” is a term that refers to going on a blind date arranged by family and friends, but mostly by parents, and with an explicit objective of screening for marriage partners. On one hand, such a phenomenon is subject to intense online ridicule as most of the people are aware of its pre-modern nature, but on other other hand, it’s also a part of life that many young Chinese can’t avoid.

Chinese parents starting matching profiles in a park

There are also intense debates regarding reproduction rights, but with a very different nature from those in the US. Up until very recently, there is little disagreement in China whether abortion should be allowed because there is no religious background in China that is against such practice. What people have been more concerned is whether the government should be involved in making abortion decisions. The literal meaning of 计划生育 (jì huà shēng yù), a trademark policy in the past few decades in China, is “planned reproduction”, but it has very different meaning from the English term “planned parenthood”. They both involve plan, but in the former context, it is the government that is supposed to make the plan. Those who are against the policy are normally not against abortion itself, but the government involvement. You can find feminists on both sides of the debate. Those against the policy argues that parents, especially mothers, should have the right to have as many children as they want while those for the policy argues that government involvement prevents husbands from making their wives into reproduction machines. This is still a very sensitive topic that is not suitable for elaboration in this casual blog, but you will find it useful and eye-opening to search for the related debate. 

A more recent interesting development is that the government started to be alert by the fast aging of the Chinese population that was partly caused by the formerly enforced one-child policy. Not only more children are allowed now, there is also rumor that new policy is in place to restrict abortion. So we may see some new debate coming up very soon.

Order food in China (Part 3): Steamed and Boiled Dishes


As mentioned in the last post, College Board will prioritize humanity and social sciences in the future AP Chinese exams. Accordingly, we will also talk more about these topics in the blog. But today, let’s first wrap up the food ordering topic before getting into those new areas. We don’t want to leave a subject unfinished like those money-thirsty TV series. And we also don’t want you to order stir fry dishes only, which is not the most healthy way to eat. 

If you want to take a rest from the oily taste of stir fry dishes, you can certainly try some water-cooked dishes. Water can help cook your food through either boiling or steaming. The Chinese term for steaming is 蒸 (or sometimes 清蒸,which means steaming with only mild flavors). Many things can be cooked by steaming: fish, pork, eggplant, dumplings, you name it. Simply add the food materials after 蒸, you’ll get the name of the steamed dish you have in mind. 

清蒸湖蟹
蒸螃蟹(zhēng páng xiè) : steamed crabs

When it comes to boiling food, two terms are most common: 清炖 and 红烧. The word 清 as explained in a previous blog, means clean and simple. 清炖, therefore, means boiling with clear water. There would still be spices such as ginger and salt, but the original taste of the food won’t be significantly altered. A good benefit of boiling food this way is that you can also drink the soup, or better still, add noodle to make a noodle soup, such as this one.

清燉牛肉麵, 劉山東牛肉麵, 劉山東小吃店, 台北
清炖牛肉面(qīng dùn níu ròu miàn): clear boiled beef noodle soup

The word 红, as most of the Chinese learners probably know, means red. 红烧, therefore, suggests that the boiled food be served in a somewhat red color. Of course, they are not red red like blood, but more like red-ish brown. That color comes partly from soy sauce, which is dark brown, and partly from oil-burned sugar, which is brick red. Almost all 红烧 dishes involve heating sugar at the beginning and adding soy sauce when boiling. Some less fancy restaurants may skip the sugar burning stage while still calling their dishes 红烧+something, but you should know that is not what those dishes are meant to be. 

红烧肉01
红烧肉(hóng shāo ròu): red-braised pork (normally pork belly)

There is also a cooking method similar to 红烧, but requires marinating prior to boiling, which we call 卤. Sometimes the marinating sauces can be stored for a long time and used repeatedly, which is good for taste but bad for health. Compared to 红烧, 卤 makes the taste penetrate deeper into the food, which makes the method good some tougher materials, such as beef tender, duck head, and pig ears.

卤猪耳(lǔ zhū ěr): Marinated and boiled pig ears

Food is an endless topic. But let’s take a rest for now. Next time we will discuss some humanity and social science vocabularies, which may not be as exciting and practical, but can definitely help you with your Chinese language exams.

College Board Updates AP Chinese course Requirements

We have been talking about food topics so far, which we are sure will be helpful for any Chinese learner. But before we continue on this endless topic, there is some more urgent information we want to share with you. 

We learned that College Board, the organization that coordinates college entry exams in the US, just announced some important update to AP Chinese Language and Culture for the 2019-2020 school year. The complete version of the new course and exam description won’t be published until May, but they previewed some important changes you may want to know. If you or you children are planning to apply for US colleges in the next few years, this information is crucial.

In the past, we only had a vague idea on what topics will appear in the exam based on existing exam questions. Therefore the teachers’ choices on which topics to cover may or may not mirror what the exam writers have in mind. Starting from this year, College Board will explicitly organize the course content into six themes and everything in the exam will be from one of these themes.

  1. Families in Different Societies
  2. The Influence of Language and Culture on Identity
  3. Influences of Beauty and Art
  4. How Science and Technology Affect Our Lives
  5. Factors that Impact Quality of Life
  6. Environmental, Political, and Social Challenges

The themes certainly make it easier for teachers and students because we don’t have to make wild guesses about the intentions of the exam writers. However, note that all these themes are still fairly broad categories and can be interpreted in different ways. For example, “How Science and Technology Affect Our Lives” can cover various topics as there are many different areas in science and technology. 

In other words, most of the common words in academic and casual vocabularies can be categorized into at least one of these themes. So the new guideline does not, and should not, tell you what vocabularies you can skip. You will still need a broad understanding of the Chinese language to succeed in the exam.

Another tricky part about these themes is that they are not mutually exclusive. For example, the “Influence of Beauty and Art” and the “Factors that Impact Quality of Life” must have a lot of overlaps, as beauty and love surely affect the quality of life. Therefore, it will take some subtle approach for teachers to incorporate the guideline into the classes, which is what our teachers are working on at SpeakMandarin.com. In our existing AP classes, we already divide our classes into themes in a way similar to the College Board guideline. And we are currently in the process of regrouping the courseware to better conform to the new requirements. 

One thing we can tell from these new themes, though, is that they give a heavy weight to humanity and social sciences. This is not to say that our food ordering blogs are useless (you still have to eat, right?), but food names are probably not the focus of the AP exams. You scores will likely benefit from your daily reading and thinking about social issues because that’s how you know which sub-areas are important for each theme and, therefore, more likely to appear in the exam. Of course, knowing these topics doesn’t mean you know how to apply them into a Chinese context. The Chinese reading materials in these topics are not as easy to find as those in English. Traditional Chinese textbooks are often not as social-science oriented as these AP Chinese themes suggest the students to learn. This is another reason our customized courseware may be helpful. Instead of relying on exiting textbooks, our teachers introduce up-to-date Chinese articles that debate contemporary and contentious topics. 

Feel free to leave your questions here or on our Facebook page regarding the new AP Chinese guideline. 

Order food in China (Part 2): Typical flavors in stir fry dishes

If you live in one of the largest Chinese cities, it may not be hard to find restaurants with English menus. But I can tell you that the restaurants for tourists are never the best ones. What’s the point of traveling all the way to China without satisfying your taste buds properly? 

In the last blog, we discussed how to order a stir-fried dish with two components. You can either find such an item from the menu or, if the menu is too overwhelming to read, you can simply imagine two things you want to be stir-fried into a dish, and spell out the two components to the waiter. Even if that dish is not on the menu, the waiter can easily recommend a substitute.

Some stir fry dishes have only one component. In that case, the first part of the dish name normally indicates the flavors while the second part normally indicates the main component. Let’s say you already have some main dish, but want to add a simple vegetable dish to complete your nutritional need. In that case, a stir fried veggie can be a good choice. Beware that leaf-based salad is not a very common dish in China, partly because the way vegetables are handled normally cannot guarantee cleanness. You can still find salad in fancier restaurants or certain supermarkets, but in cheaper restaurants leaves are normally cooked. Cooking will certainly destroy some vitamins, but can at least reduce the likelihood of food poisoning. 

There are two major ways to stir fry veggies: 清炒 and 炝炒. The major difference between the two is whether hot peppers are used. 清 means clean and simple while 炝 means spiced with hot peppers. For example, 清炒芥蓝 simply means stir fired Chinese broccoli with salt only (or maybe with some garlic depending on the cook). 炝炒土豆丝 means stir fired shredded potatoes with dry hot peppers.

清炒芥蓝(qīn chǎo jiè lán): stir fried Chinese broccoli
炝炒土豆丝(qiàng chǎo tǔ dòu sī) : spicy fried potato shreds

When it comes to meat dish, normally the flavors are more complicated, so we can’t use simple description like 清炒 or 炝炒. You will need to remember the names of the special tastes. The most famous example would be 宫保鸡丁 (Kong Pao Chicken). The origin of the term 宫保 was not from a flavor or an ingredient. It was actually the official title of the government chef who invented it. But even most of the Chinese don’t really know that origin. When they hear the word, they normally think of a combination of flavors found in Kong Pao Chicken. The same flavors can also be used to cook pork, known as 宫保肉丁. In both cases, the word 丁 means meat cut into small cubes, as opposed to 片 or 丝 we discussed last time. This is not a cooking blog, so I will not detail exactly what they put in their to make the Kao Pao dishes, but one of the major feature is the use of corn starch to add a sticky texture to the meat.

Another famous combination of flavors is called 鱼香. The direct translation should be “fish-tasted”, but there is no fish ingredients added. Similar to 宫保, it also features corn starch and a large combination of spices. The differences between the two combinations are subtle and it takes practice to make the two dishes taste differently. The most famous example of such dishes is 鱼香肉丝 (fish-tasted shredded pork). The same flavor combination can also used on eggplants (鱼香茄子).

鱼香茄子(yú xiāng qié zi): fish-tasted eggplants

Still confused? Sign up for a free trial at SpeakMandarin.com and your tutor will make sure you don’t starve in China.

Next time, we’ll talk about some dishes other than stir fries.