Chinese (中文) is a family of dialects spoken in China and other parts of the world. The standard form of Chinese is known as "华语 (Huáyǔ)" or Mandarin. Despite having over 200 different forms of dialect, there is only 1 writing format used that is shared amongst all of them known as "汉字 (Hànzì)". It is also not uncommon to have an individual understanding and speaking several dialects. For example, I personally speak Hokkien and some Cantonese because of my heritage of having Hokkien and Cantonese speakers in my life. Almost all dialects are mutually unintelligible, meaning to say that you as someone who speaks one dialect is very rarely going to understand a different dialect because they are very distinct. Here is an example you can take a look - notice how it's like hearing 4 different languages.
Notice how they all speak different dialects but switch to the standard form of Chinese and are able to understand each other. This is because most people who speak dialects also speak Mandarin as they learn the standardized form in school. This is prevalent in China as globalization has made the country way more connected, requiring people from different parts of China to communicate with one another in a standardized language. This may not be true in Asian-Americans as they are second-third generational immigrants and lack the formal education required to speak Chinese, though it is NOT uncommon for Asian-Americans to speak both Cantonese and Mandarin.
Dialects are region-based. For example, people who come from Guangdong Province speak Guangdong Hua - Cantonese. People who come from Fujian Province speak Fujian Hua, Hokkien. Due to the immigration of the Chinese in the 20th century, the majority of dialects such as Hokkien and Cantonese can be found in every Chinese community around the world.
If you take a look at this chart, you'd see that the largest form of spoken dialect in the United States is actually Mandarin, rather than Cantonese. So keep in mind that when you're developing an Asian-American character, feel free to go against the grain and use a different form of dialect other than Cantonese. Most Asian-Americans only learn spoken dialect because of their parents and where they came from. If your parents immigrated from Fujian, it is very unrealistic for you to understand Cantonese as they most likely speak Hokkien instead.
If I were to ask you what's one Chinese greeting you know, there's a 100% chance that you'd say "你好吗 (Nǐ Hǎo Ma)". It is very uncommon for people of acquaintance to actually say that because it's quite odd to use such a formal greeting often. It is not that we don't say 你好吗, but most would say something else when meeting each other. So please don't overuse this as it's more of a stereotypical greeting rather than an actual one. In my 22 years of being alive, I'd not once said this to someone.
The most common greeting you would use is "吃饭了吗 (Chī Fàn Le Ma)" which translates to "Have you eaten?". It is used more commonly as the Chinese like to show care and concern to their friends and family. It is a more sincere way of asking how one is, whether they ate their meals and are doing well. Universally, you'd respond with a yes unless you're literally starving right now. This is often used by elders to gauge the well-being of their children or people they care about because if you're not doing well, you would not be able to have consistent meals.
Here is a list of common greetings we use:
- 好久不见 (Hǎo Jiǔ Bu Jiàn) - Long Time No See!
- 最近你怎么样 (Zuì Jìn Nǐ Zěn Me Yàng) - How Are Things?
- 干嘛呢 (Gàn Má Ne) - What? / What's Up?
I get it guys! Chinese idioms are very cool - they carry a lot of wisdom with them and you might think it's a good idea to use them by directly translating them into English. Well, don't. By doing a direct translation, a Chinese idiom loses all meaning. I don't mean to be gatekeeping or insulting anyone who uses them - if you like to use them, go ahead. Just understand that it is better said in Chinese than in English. Similar to English expressions, a direct translation would just not make sense.
I've seen people directly translating "人山人海 (rén shān rén hǎi)" to "(Cantonese) People mountain, people sea" which isn't wrong but highly unusual to read in English. It is better translated to a large crowd or a sea of people. Translating word for word is simply not effective in bringing across the idea of the idiomatic expression. If the English expression "raining cats and dogs" is also directly translated to Chinese and then back to English, it would mean "down cat and dog rain" which makes no sense either.
So do everyone a favour and understand what an idiomatic expression actually translates to and use that instead of using a total direct translation. It'd be much more understandable and impressive.
So another important aspect of Chinese culture is the food. There's a lot of different types of cuisine that originates from different regions of China. The kind of food you'd eat is also generally similar to your dialect - people from Fujian eats Fujian food, people from Guangdong eats Guangdong food. Here's a list of Wikipedia articles that is very informative of the different type of cuisine.
There's also a lot of symbolism that Chinese cuisine has. Weddings, birthday celebrations, special occasions have food that is often served to symbolize the event itself. Dating back at least 2,000 years, the symbolism of foods in China comes from superstitions or traditional beliefs in eating to invoke/celebrate blessing. A meaning or "power" is associated with foods through food name pronunciation, food shape, colours, food history/legends, and so on.
A prominent aspect of Chinese dining is also known as "饮茶 (Yum Cha)". It is the tradition of going for brunch involving tea and dim sum. I think this is a very important aspect of life for most triad members to portray as it provides a great opportunity for meetups and talks amongst the members of a triad. Though Yum Cha is generally a Cantonese tradition, it is followed by many other Chinese people as well. It is also like a social experience where everyone just comes together to have a great time with some good food and tea. Yum Cha originates from tea houses which are often visited by groups of friends to talk, gossip and just hang out.
Due to the rapidly changing world, most of the Chinese do not participate in traditional leisure activities as much as they used to. Older generations, however, still partake in many of these. It's still an important aspect of our culture that should be represented if possible.
- Chinese Chess
I urge everyone who wants to take roleplaying Chinese seriously to learn the basics about mahjong. All triad members and gangsters from Hong Kong play mahjong and actually own gambling dens or "mahjong houses" where players often meet. Feel free to read more about Mahjong here: ACCESS
Chinese tea culture refers to how tea is prepared as well as the occasions when people consume tea in China. Tea culture in China differs from that in European countries like Britain and other East and Southeast Asian countries like Japan, Korea, Vietnam in preparation, taste, and occasion when it is consumed. Tea is still consumed regularly, both on casual and formal occasions. In addition to being a popular beverage, it is used in traditional Chinese medicine as well as in Chinese cuisine.
These are some of the special occasions in which tea is served to symbolize things:
- A sign of respect
According to Chinese tradition, members of the younger generation should show their respect to members of the older generation by offering a cup of tea. Inviting their elders to restaurants for tea is a traditional holiday activity. In the past, people of a lower social class served tea to the upper class in society. Today, with the increasing liberalization of Chinese society, this rule and its connotations have become blurred.
- To apologize
In Chinese culture, tea may be offered as part of a formal apology. For example, children who have misbehaved may serve tea to their parents as a sign of regret and submission.
- To show gratitude and celebrate weddings
In the traditional Chinese marriage ceremony, the bride and groom kneel in front of their respective parents and serve them tea and then thank them, together which represents an expression of their gratitude and respect. According to the tradition, the bride serves the groom's family, and the groom serves the bride's family. This process symbolizes the joining together of the two families.
Chinese New Year is the most significant Chinese holiday there is. It's a time where people from all over the country go back to their hometown and visit their families and friends. Chinese New Year is known for its reunion dinner, which is the most important meal of the year.
The festival was traditionally a time to honour deities as well as ancestors. It is also traditional for every family to thoroughly clean their house, in order to sweep away any ill-fortune and to make way for incoming good luck. Another custom is the decoration of windows and doors with red paper-cuts and couplets. Other activities include lighting firecrackers and giving money in red paper envelopes, known as 红包 (hóngbāo).
Thank you for reading my guide. I've seen a growing amount of people intending to roleplay Chinese and I like for this to be a general guide for them to learn about Chinese culture. This is not what you should portray as an Asian-American, because this is the culture of the Chinese around Asia. I don't generally have much of an idea of how Chinese people are in the United States, but I assure you that they are similar to most if not all of the things I've listed.