Chinese vocabulary notes (January 2023)

In this edition: the Chinese documentary 书记 (2010), Mandarin-teaching TikToks, taking the HSK 9 exam, 2023 life goals and ChatGPT.

Documentary: 书记 – The Transition Period (2010)

This is a great documentary about a Chinese official in the Henan countryside (the man on the right). It’s from the same director who filmed “Datong” or “Chinese mayor”. Both are personal biographies of Chinese officials. “书记” introduces Guo Yongchang, secretary of the Gushi County Party Committee, who “rules” over 1.6 million people. This film covers the three months before secretary Guo leaves his post.

Like in “Datong” you get a sense that you’re invisibly in the room while the protagonist goes about his daily business, talking to investors, making phone calls, passing on instructions and most importantly drinking. You’re never quite sure what to make of secretary Guo. He’s definitely working hard and pushing things forward, but is everything what it seems?

At the end of the film (spoiler alert), we’re informed that Guo has been under investigation for corruption and accepting bribes, before being sentenced to seven years in prison.

Level indication: HSK 5, Chinese and English subtitles (the difficulty is not the vocabulary, but the Henan dialect and the sloppy way people express themselves. One of the key sentences seems to fit in very well here: 昨天我喝醉了,我说的能算吗?)

县委书记 xiànwěi shūjì county Party Secretary
离任 lí rèn resign
总负责人 zǒng fùzé rén chief
向他汇报 xiàng tā huìbào report to him
级别 jíbié rank
三三大厦 Sānsān dàshà The name of the 33 floor building project that Guo wants to realize
官场上的真实生态 guānchǎng shàng de zhēnshí shēngtài The real ecology in the officialdom (that the director is interested in)
昨天我喝醉了,我说的能算吗 zuótiān wǒ hē zuìle, wǒ shuō de néng suàn ma I was drunk yesterday, does what I said count?
双规 shuāngguī an extralegal system within the CCP for detaining and interrogating cadres who fall from grace. It can function as a verb too with 被.

Chinese professors react to Mandarin-teaching TikToks

Is there something worse than Chinese learning content that starts of with the sentence “Chinese is easy”? In this video, Chinese teachers Rita and Ma Yinqiu take apart this kind of “Chinese is easy” videos from the social media platform that shall not be named.

This is two teachers discussing Chinese language teaching. Without subtitles it’s actually not that easy to understand, unless you’re familiar with the vocab used to describe grammar and phonetics. The more you watch Rita’s videos, the easier it gets though.

Level indication: HSK 5, pinyin, Chinese and English subtitles

在课堂里用英文 zài kètáng lǐ yòng yīngwén to use English in class
依赖英文学习中文 yīlài yīngwén xuéxí zhōngwén rely on English to learn Chinese
甩不掉这个拐棍 shuǎi bù diào zhège guǎigùn this crutch you can’t get rid of
适得其反 shìdéqífǎn counterproductive
声调 shēngdiào tone
音节 yīnjié syllable
辅音 fǔyīn consonant
元音 yuányīn vowel
够呛 gòuqiàng unlikely
变调规则 biàndiào guīzé tone-changing rules
洗脑式教学 xǐnǎo shì jiàoxué “brainwash-style teaching”
容易混 róngyì hùn easily mixed up

Taking the HARDEST Chinese Exam: NEW HSK 9

Remember all the fuzz about the new HSK exam 3.0 in 2020? Much has been written about the new system which has 9 levels instead of 6, meaning that HSK 6 is not as advanced as it used to be (the HSK 6 exam hasn’t changed, but they put three new levels on top). But how hard is the new HSK 7 – 9 advanced exam? Chris took the test and recounts how he experienced the listening, reading, writing, translation and speaking part.

Level indication: HSK 5, pinyin, Chinese and English subtitles

听力 tīnglì listening comprehension
阅读 yuèdú reading
写作 xiězuò writing
笔译 bǐyì translation
裸考 luǒkǎo “naked test”, take a test unprepared
生词表 shēngcí biǎo vocabulary list
文言文 wényánwén classical Chinese
模拟考 mónǐ kǎo mock exam
练习题 liànxí tí practice questions
有难度的 yǒu nándù de challenging
语速 yǔ sù speech rate
阅读速度 yuèdú sùdù reading speed
词汇量 cíhuì liàng vocabulary (amount)
朗读 lǎngdú read aloud
默读 mòdú silent read
选择题 xuǎnzé tí multiple choice
填空 tiánkòng fill in the blank
要特别训练 yào tèbié xùnliàn need special training
在中文和英文之间切换 zài zhōngwén hé yīngwén zhī jiān qiēhuàn switch between Chinese and English


How do you become a documentary maker? Chinese documentary maker 周浩 Zhou Hao tells his story and explains what drives him. Some of the films he mentions you can find in this overview or watch on YouTube.

Level indication: HSK 5, Chinese and English subtitles

摄影师 shèyǐngshī photographer
吸引注意 xīyǐn zhùyì attract attention
我对中国的了解比他们深入得多 wǒ duì zhōngguó de liǎojiě bǐ tāmen shēnrù dé duō I know much more about China than they do
这个问题我没想通 zhège wèntí wǒ méi xiǎng tōng I can’t figure this out
纪录片 jìlùpiàn documentary
剪辑 jiǎnjí to edit
导演 dǎoyǎn director
你是怎么拍到的 nǐ shì zěnme pāi dào de how did you film this?
片子 piànzi film
不看镜头 bú kàn jìngtóu don’t look at the camera
观看 guānkàn to observe
混沌 hùndùn chaos


I haven’t seen much of Thomas阿福 recently, but his wife, who joined him in Germany, posts occasional video updates too. In this one, she looks back on her 2022 year goals and previews her ambitions for 2023 which is a good thing to do.

Level indication: HSK 4 / 5, Chinese and English subtitles

跳伞 tiàosǎn parachute
恐高症 kǒng gāo zhèng acrophobia
演讲 yǎnjiǎng speech
外向的性格 wàixiàng dì xìnggé outgoing personality
脸皮厚 liǎnpí hòu thick-skinned (to not feel awkward lightly in social situations)
背单词书 bèi dāncí shū to memorize a vocabulary book
完全没有效率 wánquán méiyǒu xiàolǜ totally inefficient
不是借口 búshì jièkǒu not an excuse
考出德国驾驶 kǎo chū déguó jiàshǐ Get a German driver’s license (by passing the exam)


Since OpenAI ChatGPT has been trending in the past weeks, I’ve been searching for a video introducing this tool to newcomers. TechFang gives a quick walk-through, showing how to sign up, start chatting, writing a thesis outline and even doing some basic programming. There’s lot of potential for Chinese learning as well. You can practice reading and writing by asking simple questions. ChatGPT can answer all kinds of questions and write dialogues and essays. It can provide examples for how to use certain vocabulary, although you cannot blindly trust every given answer to be entirely correct or accurate as one of my first experiments shows.

Level indication: HSK 5 / 6, Chinese and English subtitles (techy vocabulary warning)

人工智能 réngōng zhìnéng artificial intelligence
研究实验室 yánjiū shíyàn shì research laboratory
火爆 huǒbào hot topic
写代码 xiě dàimǎ write the code
母公司 mǔ gōngsī parent company
盈利目的 yínglì mùdì profit purpose
非盈利的组织 fēi yínglì de zǔzhī non-profit organization

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