News / Asia

Q&A with Shaolan Hsueh: Learning 'Chineasy'

FILE - A visitor looks at a part of a Chinese calligraphy of Buddhist scriptures done by artist He Guojian on display at a stadium in Shenzhen, Guangdong province.
FILE - A visitor looks at a part of a Chinese calligraphy of Buddhist scriptures done by artist He Guojian on display at a stadium in Shenzhen, Guangdong province.
Frances Alonzo
Chinese is considered one of the oldest written languages and, by many outside of China, very difficult to learn. But Chinese-American writer and entrepreneur Shaolan Hsueh has found a unique way to use illustrations to easily learn the language. She developed Chineasy to help Western language learners decode and master Chinese. 
 
During her research to break down the language, she found some interesting facts about the historical origins of the early relationships between men and women. She told Voice of America's Frances Alonzo about how she is using pictographs to positively reinterpret the meaning of the language. 
 
HSUEH: I spent a couple of years breaking down thousands of Chinese characters on my computer. And then I analyzed and prioritized the most important building blocks. Once people are able to recognize those building blocks, they will be able to construct many more and I use illustrations and very simple animation so they can recognize some very basic building block very quickly. Once they know one or two, then they can develop many more from a few very simple characters. And the learning process is really fast and is a lot of fun. 
 
ALONZO: What about your background that led you to this kind of way for people to learn Chinese?
 
HSUEH: My parents are both artists. My mother is a calligrapher and my father a ceramic artist. So I grew up in this environment looking at Chinese characters with a very different approach and different type of appreciation from most people.
 
ALONZO: Tell me about some particular words that using your approach was so much easier.
 
HSUEH:  For example, the character for woman, the shape of [the word] “woman” is originally from the shape of a woman kneeling on the floor behind her man. And so if you have this perception, you will be able to understand it’s not only the illustrations, there’s a lot of culture and historical indication, and [that] when we put two women together it means argument. This is not a made-up joke. This is actually again a deeper layer of the true cultural understanding given the gender inequality in ancient world, not only in China, but in [the] ancient world in many places. Two women together, especially in China, ended up with argument. That actually reflects the fact that many Chinese families have three generations or four generations underneath the same roof. And many ancient Chinese men - middle class, upper class men - had multiple wives, therefore their children were from multiple wives. They had to live underneath the same roof. So there’s a domestic conflict to reflect the fact that two women together means argument. 
 
So Chineasy not only is a method, not only [uses] illustrations, we [also] do a lot of historical or storytelling to tell people what happened in ancient China and how each character evolved over the years. And as a woman, I find it a little bit fascinating and sometimes a little bit frustrating to know, “oh gosh, all the female, most [of] the female characters are really negative.” Even, for example, the character for “good,” is the combination between a woman and a son. The origin was actually because the woman would only be good when she had a son. And if you look at it that way it sounds very negative. But because Chineasy is a happy learning method, we try to interpret that a woman would be really happy and everything would be good with a son. So, we try to reinterpret the meaning, for example, when a woman is underneath the roof, that means peace. And it’s from men’s perspective because a man wanted a woman to provide domestic service and provide the children for him. And you can use that negative approach but at the same time, we should say “no, when a guy has a woman underneath a roof he will be a happy man, he will be peaceful.” So in that case, everything will turn into something positive and happy. 
 
ALONZO: I would have never thought that a lot of the Chinese language was based on the relationship between men and women.
 
HSUEH: Yes, there was quite a lot and as we said, yes, originally it was because of the gender inequality which happened across the world. I think, not only in ancient China but nowadays, Chinese women, we recognize that we are independent and elegant. So, yes, we do understand the historical origin, but at the same time, I would love to give the Chineasy characters some new modern interpretation.

You May Like

Cambodia Seeks Official UN Maps for Vietnam Border

Notice of request comes as 2 countries open border talks Tuesday after a clash last month More

From South Africa to Vietnam, Cyclists Deliver Message Against Rhino Horns

Appalled by poaching they saw firsthand, sisters embark on tour to raise awareness in countries where rhino horn products are in demand More

Uber Wants Johannesburg Police Protection

Request follows recent protests outside ride-hailing service's Johannesburg office More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
New Implant Could Help Restore Movement to Paralyzed Limbsi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
Maia Pujara
July 07, 2015 10:01 PM
A half-million people suffer spinal cord injuries each year because of car accidents, serious falls and diseases, according to the World Health Organization. Researchers are now working on a soft but strong spinal cord implant that could one day restore movement in paralyzed individuals. VOA’s Maia Pujara reports.
Video

Video New Implant Could Help Restore Movement to Paralyzed Limbs

A half-million people suffer spinal cord injuries each year because of car accidents, serious falls and diseases, according to the World Health Organization. Researchers are now working on a soft but strong spinal cord implant that could one day restore movement in paralyzed individuals. VOA’s Maia Pujara reports.
Video

Video Getting it Done Beyond a Nuclear Deal

If a nuclear deal is reached between Iran and world powers in Vienna, it will be a highly technical road map to be used to monitor nuclear activity in Iran for years to come to ensure Tehran does not make nuclear weapons. Equally as complicated will be dismantling international sanctions that were originally intended to be ironclad. VOA’s Heather Murdock talks to experts about the key challenges any deal will present.
Video

Video Rice Farmers Frustrated As Drought Grips Thailand

A severe drought in Thailand is limiting the growing season of the country’s important rice crop. Farmers are blaming the government for not doing more to protect a key export. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Video

Video Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugees

In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video 'From This Day Forward' Reveals Difficult Journey of Transgender Parent

In her documentary, "From This Day Forward", filmmaker Sharon Shattuck reveals the personal journey of her transgender father, as he told his family that he always felt he was a woman inside and decided to live as one. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Floodwaters Threaten Iconic American Home

The Farnsworth House in the Midwest State of Illinois is one of the most iconic homes in America. Thousands of tourists visit the site every year. Its location near a river inspired the design of the house, but, as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, that very location is now threatening the existence of this National Historic Landmark.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.

VOA Blogs