Going by the deep history of China, from its humble start to its empirehood and its present statehood, the Chinese culture is unarguably one of the oldest cultures in the World. A culture that has breezed through many thousands of years but remains pristine and common in homes and streets of China.

Remove culture and China will lose its character. Whether in the business world or social climes, the Asian giant is known for its projection of its cultural values and traditional identities. This has helped spread the Chinese civilisation across the world and endeared the Chinese way to many people.

There are many interesting facts about China that have positioned it as the desired destination for diverse people. Beyond the suitability of China for business and university study, the cultural richness of China and its historical beauties are a lure that many people cannot resist.

Historical tent-like buildings called pagodas, the Great Wall of China, beautiful hills and lakes, terrific mountains and cliffs, and rich cultural museums are great features that have called many people to China. It is not, therefore, not surprising to learn that China is one of the most-watched inbound and outbound tourist markets in the world.

These have also increased the number of Mandarin speakers and lovers across the world. Tours and visits become more fun when you can communicate with the native people. More and more people learn Mandarin, even if for just basic fluency, ahead of their visits to China. For these set of people, learning Chinese need not necessarily be through signing up for a University course in Mandarin or by taking structured lessons in Chinese. They, often, start with a peek into the Chinese culture by reading some interesting facts about China, then, pick up some common phrases from Chinese movies and anime series or start building basic vocabulary by learning some Chinese words from taking Chinese martial art lessons.

It becomes pretty easy to eventually learn the Chinese language after you study the Chinese cultural elements and understand some common traditional arts. The learning of a language, they say, accompanies the acquiring of its culture. That is why Chinese-government-sponsored Chinese language institutes like the Confucius Institutes will offer lessons in tai-chi martial art or Chinese calligraphy or Chinese knotting along with their language courses to students.

Learning Mandarin by exploring Chinese traditions and cultural arts allows students to immerse themselves into the Chinese way and understand the life of a native Chinese. You won’t only know words not to say but gestures not to do, tones not make, and learn other Chinese idiosyncrasies that will make your Mandarin sound, intelligible, and almost native-like.

The Chinese culture has a lot of virtues that are tremendously valuable to not only us as Asian-Americans, but also the world in general. – Martin Yan

The Chinese culture is steeped in wisdom and strategy. That is why you will find Chinese witty words in many great works of literature. From books on war to business, creativity, and innovation, Chinese wise words have travelled across different lands and different disciplines.

Hop in as we row the boat gently down the Chinese lakes learning about Mandarin through different Chinese cultural components and traditional arts.

The Age-long Traditional Chinese Martial Arts

Many young Nigerians received their first self-defence lessons from watching Chinese movies. In many places in Nigeria, you will still find many kids mimicking some Jackie Chan moves or Jet Li’s kicks while forming their own Chinese conversations as a medium of play with their friends.

A Chinese man practising Kung Fu
Martial arts developed in China due to the need for self-defence, hunting purposes, and military training. Source: Unsplash

Even for adults, Chinese martial arts performances make a great spectacle. Chinese movies like the Legend of Drunken Master, House of Flying Daggers, Hung Fu Hustle, the Hero, the 36th Chamber of Shaolin, and the Ip Man series, are favourites for many people.

Truly, though, no amount of Chinese movies will turn you into good martial artist like you watch on movies. Even after you watch all the Ip Man series, you will still not be able to dribble your way out of many opponents like Ip Man would do.

Knowing is not enough, we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do. – Bruce Lee

To be able to apply Chinese martial arts effectively, it is important to understand its history in Chinese culture. While some styles focus on the manipulation of Qi (Energy Flow), others concentrate on cardiovascular fitness. Knowing which is which takes more than binge-watching Chinese movies.

The best way to learn Chinese martial arts is to move to China and join a Kung Fu school. But, of course, learning at the Confucius Institutes can also be very effective since you will, most likely, be taught by native trainers. Also, there are different martial arts schools in Nigeria that provide self-defence lessons. However, students can hardly learn the Chinese culture from these schools.

Whether you learn in China or through affiliated Chinese centres in Nigeria, you should be able to identify some Chinese characters, pick simple words, or even start writing basic Chinese phrases. You will also get a good grasp of some Chinese tones and — perhaps — learn tricks to recognise differences between the tones. Remember that Chinese is a tonal language and using the wrong tone can change a character from meaning delicious to meaning salty. It can be even worse!

Learn the Science of Chinese Medicine

Have you watched the karate kid? Remember that scene where the karate kid had an injury and his teacher only poured a fine, green powder into a bowl of water and dipped the kid’s leg into the mixture, and by morning, the pain was gone.

Haha! Maybe not so fast but Chinese herbal remedies and traditional medical practices like acupuncture and cupping are considered potent and very effective, and traces of them can even be found in new, modern medicine.

From the Shang to the Han Dynasty down till this time, the traditional Chinese medicine has been passed down across generations and it stands tall as one of the Chinese cultural components and a part of the Chinese civilisation.

Even with the proliferation of Western medicine and constant criticisms from detractors, traditional Chinese medicine persists in China and can be found in even top countries in English countries like the United Kingdom, Italy, France, and the Netherlands.

A mixture of honey, turmeric, and garlic.
Chinese herbal remedies and therapeutical practices have served the Chinese locals and neighbouring countries for many years. Source: Unsplash

Learning the ancient Chinese medicine can make learning Mandarin easier. You will come to terms with the grammar, tones, and vocabulary of the Chinese language and understand them alongside your medicine lessons. You can learn Chinese medicine by visiting rural areas in China or enrol for a study at the university. Within and outside China, many universities offer courses on Chinese medicine even up to Doctoral level.

Most of these courses even come with the first year of learning Chinese grammar and writing. You may be using a stone to kill two birds by starting a course in Chinese medicine. You can add this to the reasons you should learn Mandarin today.

Consider Unwinding with Chinese Yoga

With just a mat, you can enjoy this Chinese therapy for calm and tranquillity. Yoga, as many people know, is a combo of physical and mental exercises used to declutter the mind to experience a new level of peace. Traditionally known as qigong which means ‘cultivating energy’, this healing technique has been in use in China for more than 4,000 years.

In many aspects of Chinese life, yoga finds its use. It could be just a few minutes of meditation to free the mind or doing some few poses to stretch the muscles and strengthen the body. Yoga can be used by anyone and everyone.

The Chinese culture is premised on a theory of balance. It establishes that humans and other elements of life must ascertain balance lest things go wrong. Hence, if you’re stressed or sick and indisposed, you have to recalibrate your body to allow for a balanced energy flow within your body and between your body and other elements of life. Yoga is used to regenerate vitality by striking an accord between the body and mind to dispel negative energies which could cause different negative emotions and even sicknesses.

Mandarin lesson can help you enjoy Yoga better, and yoga can help you enjoy life better. Learning new yoga terms in Mandarin will complement your Mandarin lesson and provide you with the real Chinese feeling. You only need to start learning how to use the chopstick and how to enjoy some Chinese meals and, hey, you are ready for a long stay in China. And, surely, you might get rich-paying jobs that require the knowledge of the Chinese language.

Origami: Enjoy Mandarin Through Artful Paper Folding

Although popularised by a Japanese paper artist by the name Akira Yoshizawa, the art of paper folding is not new to China. In fact, paper, itself, was invented by a Chinese named Cai Lun and not taken to Japan until the 6th-century. Zhézhǐ, as it is called in China, can help improve your social skills and amp your cognitive level.

Colourful papers folded into elephants.
The beautiful Chinese Zhézhǐ can help improve spatial visualisation skills and excite creativity. Source: Unsplash

Paper folding in the Chinese culture serves more than aesthetic. Every design has its meaning and representation. It is an aspect of Chinese iconography which can be used to convey deep meanings. Being proficient in Mandarin should not end with memorising characters, building vocabulary, and knowing common phrases. It is beautiful to know how to fold papers to convey messages and emotions.

Your immersion into the Chinese way of life is not complete until you involve the 3 H's of learning, namely; the Head, the Heart, and the Hands. 

When you memorise Chinese characters and phrases, add new words to your Chinese vocabulary, and practise reading Chinese writing, you make use of the head.

When you explore traditional Chinese medicine or pull some yoga poses, your clear your mind and cleanse your heart.

And finally, when you learn Chinese writing and the beautiful art of paper folding, you commit your hands.

Congratulations on your Chinese status!

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A Nigerian freelance SEO Writer-cum-Editor and 2019 Writing Fellow of ALWF who blends creativity with rich content to produce sterling copy — persuasive, informative, or expository. He loves nature and trains in Karate, and he loves to help others grow — individuals and brands.