Cross-cultural Communication through Movement

Dancer on the Shore

Yiyun performing one of her own Asian contemporary dance pieces

Hello everyone!

My name is Yiyun Li, a dance teacher at Goldsmiths Confucius Institute. I am mainly involved in teaching and research relating to Asian contemporary dance and Chinese folk dance here in the department.

I would like to introduce you to a special way of cross-cultural communication, Asian Contemporary Dance (ACD).

“Contemporary dance is a genre of dance performance that developed during the mid-twentieth century and has since grown to become one of the dominant genres for formally trained dancers throughout the world, with particularly strong popularity in the U.S. and Europe. Although originally informed by and borrowing from classical, modern, and jazz styles, it has since come to incorporate elements from many styles of dance. Due to its technical similarities, it is often perceived to be closely related to modern dance, ballet, and other classical concert dance styles.” – Concordia University Contemporary Dance Program

Asian contemporary dance not only developed from fundamental Western contemporary dance but also combined lots of elements of movement from traditional Asian performance, such as Chinese classical dance, Chinese folk dance, Asian minority and ethnic dance and other forms of movement and performance art in Asia.

Asian contemporary dance aims to improve understanding of Asian philosophies, histories, aesthetics and national characters through body movement. This newborn subject is a bridge linking ancient and contemporary times, Eastern and Western cultures, as well as dancer’s inner minds and physical movement.

The teaching methods of ACD are highly creative and unique compared to traditional movement courses in which students learn movement by only imitating and repeating. The following are the three major differences.

The first one is in the warm-up part. We warm-up by improvisational dance (free movement), in which students can be both physically and mentally awaken by naturally scanning their body. Then the sense of body-mind connection would come up, that is able to provoke dance’s imagination and creativity, in order to break the existing physical movement restrictions which might be formed by dancer’s previous training, and lead us to explore more movement possibilities.

“I learned about the body as an object of scientific study and then trained in a movement form that privileged listening to and moving from inner impulse.”

The second unique aspect is the stretching and basic muscular training, which would take place after a warm-up to prevent injury and improve our body quality.

The training model of ACD is a combination of several movements training systems, such as basic training in Ballet (芭蕾基训 Bālěi jī xùn), breathing and basic elements of Chinese Classical Dance (身韵古典舞呼吸与基本元素 Shēn yùn gǔdiǎn wǔ hūxī yǔ jīběn yuánsù), modern dance floor techniques (现代舞地面技巧 Xiàndài wǔ dìmiàn jìqiǎo), some typical motions of Chinese Folk Dance (中国民间舞代表性动作 Zhōngguó mínjiān wǔ dàibiǎo xìng dòngzuò) etc. By the diversity of training system in the course, a student would learn many kinds of stylized movements and understand cultural inclusion through dance practice.

The third difference is the final choreography, which is created by both student and teacher and means there will be more than one style in the final piece of choreography.

This practice is challenging for many students, but it can develop their artistic expression skills dramatically and allows them to appreciate dance composition and other forms of contemporary arts. More importantly, students gain an insight into Asian cultures through embodied body movement.

I have found that this mixed movement training system of ACD is such a special embodied way to achieve communication in a cross-cultural context.

Dance Teacher Profile

Author: Goldsmiths Confucius Institute Dance Teacher, Yiyun Li

Yiyun Li is a professional dancer, experienced dance teacher and creative choreographer who has worked in Chongqing No.47 College as a specialised dance teacher and for 5 years at Chongqing Broadcasting and Television Station as a choreographer.

Yiyun obtained the Gold Award of a performer in a professional group and Silver Award in performance for her self-choreographed dance piece Taste of Sichuan in the Third Shaanxi Province Lotus Dance Contest. She was also awarded the honour of Excellent Choreographer in 2012. Yiyun teaches on our Outreach for Schools programme as well as our Asian Contemporary Dance and Chinese Folk Dance short courses here at Goldsmiths Confucius Institute.

Top Tips for Learning Chinese in Lockdown!

Image of woman and books

Photo Credit: Lacie Slezack

Quarantine and isolation at home can be boring. However, it can also be a great chance to brush up on your Chinese language skills. You may find you now have the time to attempt new ways of learning the language that you never had before.

We all know that watching movies and listening to music are highly recommended activities for learning a language as they can help improve listening and sometimes even speaking skills. But do you find yourself sometimes struggling to keep up with what is being said or sung?

I have heard lots of students say that the fast-moving images and plots of TV series and films can very often distract them from focusing on listening. Music is often also not such a great Chinese language teacher as the Chinese language has tones, which may not be decipherable from listening to the lyrics.

That’s why I find this little thing—喜马拉雅 (Xī Mǎ Lā yǎ)— quite a useful tool for learning Chinese at home.

Himalaya Language App

Himalaya Audio Book App

喜马拉雅, meaning Himalaya, is an app. that has a huge variety of audio content, including classic literature, modern novels, news and even various podcasts and content recorded by strangers from all over the world.

If your Chinese level is elementary or intermediate, you can choose something easy to understand. It is also possible to slow down the play speed to make sure you can carefully tune-in and understand what is being said more easily.

Listening to Music App

Listening to Chinese Audio

If you are an advanced Chinese learner and like a challenge, you can choose to listen to works with vocabulary from certain dialects, such as Beijing dialect, Northeast dialect, Sichuan dialect, etc. to further enrich your knowledge of the Chinese language in its cultural context.

Chinese Grammar Points

Chinese grammar: Why do we use ‘上’ for going to the bathroom, but ‘下’ for going to the kitchen?

In addition, you can also record your own work and save it on 喜马拉雅, and compare it with other people’s work in order to gain feedback on how you can improve all whilst practising your speaking at the same time.

Uploading Works

Users can upload their own recordings to the site.

Even as a native speaker, I myself enjoy playing and listening to news or novels on this app. when cooking in order to relax and help further improve my own language level!

Learning can be without limits in any form, I’m sure you can also find many more innovative and intriguing ways to learn Chinese either online or offline, and when you do, don’t forget to share them with us!

Image of the author

Image of the author, Mandarin Lecturer, Hao Lan, during his time teaching Mandarin Chinese in Thailand.

After graduating from Yunnan Minzu University with an MA, Hao Lan worked as a lecturer in Chinese at Zhejiang University of Finance & Economics for several years where he gained a wealth of teaching experience. He has overseen a range of courses, including elementary, intermediate, advanced and HSK training courses. Lan Hao specialises in second language acquisition and teaching Chinese as a foreign language and oversees Mandarin language teaching on our BA Chinese language programmes as well as Credit Courses and Short Courses in Mandarin Chinese here in the department.

Taoism: A Hermit Philosophy?

Image of a Hermit Crab on the shore

Image of a hermit crab. Photo credit: Ahmed Sobah

Many people think that Taoism is a hermit philosophy. Its focus is on the criticism and transcendence of reality, not the construction of reality. So in terms of governing a country, it cannot be compared with other Chinese philosophies.

Among all these misconceptions on Taoism, one is the core value of it—Wuwei. Wuwei is the basic idea of Taoism and the basic method of its practice. The idea has been translated into many words like:


“ruling by doing nothing”


“governance without actions”

These are all good terms, however, they are also liable to cause misunderstandings. While Wuwei might seem a rather distant and intangible philosophical concept for many, this popular cartoon image might help you to understand the concept more clearly.

Image of an inner peace turtle

Still from the film, Kung Fu Panda Legends guise: Turtle Master Soul.

Turtle in Chinese is Wugui, a homophone of Wuwei. In this movie, the turtle demonstrates rather an authentic form of Taoism thinking—inaction.

Wuwei was first proposed by the ancient Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu who believed that all things in the world are produced by Tao and running with Tao.

The movements of all things in the world follow the law of Tao. So what is the law of Taoism?

Lao Tzu said:

“Humanity, earth, earth, heaven, heaven, law, and Taoism are natural.”

(Daode Jing · Chapter 25)

Thus, we can deduce that the most fundamental law of Tao is nature or the primitive cosmology. Since Tao is based on nature, then things should develop naturally and take their natural course, so that they can be in a natural state consistent with the Tao. Without interfering with Tao, and without affecting things with human’s selfish intention, can things exist normally and develop healthily, so that the ruler can govern a country effortlessly and peacefully. Therefore, in the view of Taoism, dealing with people and cultivating one’s mind should be based on natural inaction, and avoid delusions.

Lao Tzu said:

“Teach the saint to do Wuwei, do the teaching without saying a word.”

(Tao Te Ching · Chapter 2)

“In moral virtue, there is nothing to do; under moral virtue, there is thought.”

(Tao Te Ching · Chapters 38 )

“ For learning day by day, for the loss of the Tao, and the loss is so bad that resulted in inaction. Action by inaction.”

( Tao Te Ching ·Chapters 48)

In short, according to the Taoist view, under the state of natural inaction, things can develop smoothly according to their own laws, as well as the body and society. If humans interfere with the development process of things or change the natural state of things in accordance with a certain subjective desire, the result will only be like this Chinese idiom:

“ Help the shoots grow by pulling them upwards”.

Therefore, wise people should adopt inaction to maintain health and govern the world. Only in this way can the goals be achieved.

Of course, “governing inaction” is by no means doing nothing. “Doing nothing” means you just let it be and be lazy in ruling. But “governing inaction” means not doing things at your own selfish will and not acting against the rules.

On the contrary, for things that are in line with the Tao, you must do what you want. But what you do should be in agreement with nature, and follow nature’s law; do it by nature, not by man. So this kind of behaviour will not only avoid destroying the natural process and natural order but benefit the natural development and growth.

In modern society, with the development of science and technology, not only have people’s material lives been greatly improved but also people’s spiritual lives have become more and more abundant. However, in sharp contrast to this, people’s happiness in life has not improved with the improvement of living standards; on the contrary, in many cases, people feel more unhappy and unhappy than before.

The reason is that modern society is presented in front of people with many colourful forms. In the face of various material and spiritual temptations, people’s needs and desires have been unprecedentedly stimulated, but people’s ability to meet their needs and desires is limited, which leads to endless pain and annoyance in people’s hearts.

‘…people’s ability to meet their needs and desires is limited, which leads to endless pain and annoyance in people’s hearts.’

In fact, according to Taoism, all the pains and worries in life are derived from human beings going off-track from Tao. People are not satisfied with the existing natural state, but always try to transform life according to their own wishes and the requirements of others and imagine that this will make life better. As everyone knows, this destruction of natural life order seems to bring immediate happiness and joy to people, but it’s doomed to cause natural disasters and endless pains in this world.

“Whatever has happened before will happen again. Whatever has been done before will be done again. There is nothing new under the sun.”

Things may change as time flies but the Tao will be always the same.

It’s time for our modern people to abandon arrogance and search for the laws of harmony with nature through continuous reflection and self- examination.

Image of philosophy lecturer, Lingling Shan

Image of the author, Lingling Shan, during 2020 Chinese New Year celebrations at Goldsmiths

Lingling Shan graduated from Jilin University in 1999. Her special interests in cultural differences between the West and the East have nourished her teaching and research. She has spent time in the United States as a visiting scholar (2014-2015) and researched on Religious Differences in China and America.

Here in the department, Lingling currently lectures in Chinese on our Undergraduate Chinese studies programmes. She also lectures on our credit course modules in Chinese Philosophy and Chinese History open to all Goldsmiths students and oversees our HSK training short courses.

New Beginnings: From Mandarin Chinese to Online Qigong

Image of Open Lake

Photo Credit: Emile Guillemot

Why on earth would anyone want to do this?!

Hello, my name is Ian, a retired Senior International Business Executive and Consultant with a very fulfilled life as a drummer (rock & African), motorcyclist, would-be guitarist, cook, movie-goer, director and dad. So, when I decided to try my hand at Mandarin, this was the question I really had to ask myself.

I already had a good life. I was loving being retired, so why would I want to bring some whole new levels of stress into my life?

The answer was obvious really. Although I’ve lived in China, have a lovely Chinese wife, and had just bought a house in Sanming (Fujian Province), my Mandarin skills were almost non-existent. This was something I knew I’d been putting off but really had to fix.

I scoured the internet looking for an introductory Mandarin course as I knew I would need the encouragement and discipline that goes with some formal teaching, and finally found Goldsmiths Confucius Institute Mandarin short courses. Eventually, I signed up, rather nervously!

Why nervously, you might rightly ask? Surely Goldsmiths has a great reputation as a centre of learning? Surely the courses they offer will be well-structured and taught? Well yes, of course, that is true, but I am 63, have no great language skills, and learning Chinese is extremely hard!

How do I know all this? Well, I live with my Chinese wife and daughter and they have routinely encouraged me in my efforts by laughing out loud and passing helpful comments like:

“Nobody in China is ever going to understand you.”

Not to mention, there is also the necessary element of learning of pinyin, tones and committing to memory thousands of Chinese characters.

My fears were later confirmed when I bumped into a group of senior university staff outside our classroom. They jovially asked what I had been doing. I explained I was trying to learn Mandarin, with their retort being:

“Don’t envy you that, learning Chinese is so bloody difficult!”

Now I think you understand, I knew this was going to be tough.

And truly, it was difficult at the start. I was the oldest and possibly the least experienced in our smallish Mandarin group class and, despite being a highly paid and nimble-minded businessman, the pace was just too much for me! So I talked to Confucius’ admin staff and agreed that a 1-1 course was probably more suitable for me, and they set this up in a few days so I didn’t lose out. It was very helpful.

This is where I met my teacher (老师 lǎoshī), and now friend, Chengmei Liang. She was everything that I needed in a Mandarin teacher. Warm, friendly, flexible and endlessly encouraging and patient. We agreed on the course materials we would use, set a sensible pace, and made the lessons as much fun as we could. We even shared a little Chinese tea to keep us going. It was a very civilised and very rewarding experience.

Image of student and teacher

Ian and Mandarin lecturer and Martial Arts instructor, Chengmei Liang

I know what you are thinking, she simply introduced me to basic Chinese and took it easy with me. I suppose that’s a little true. But it also misses the fact that she is also a Chinese martial arts graduate and teacher, so trust me, she is definitely not someone to mess with!

After two terms, and taking on additional business responsibilities, I decided I should lighten my load and ease my mind. I decided to suspend my Mandarin classes in favour of joining Goldsmiths Qigong short course (traditional and gentle healthy and spiritual martial arts exercises). I am so happy that I did; it hass been fantastic to relax both my body and mind with such a varied and friendly group of people.

Qigong students in class

Ian and his fellow Qigong short course students pose for a photo after class.

We’ve all been gently stretched and challenged as tranquil Chinese traditional music plays in the background. One and a half hours just flies by, and my strength, flexibility and balance have all improved as a result. Our next challenge, sadly brought about by Covid19’s quarantine, is to try and continue our classes remotely using Microsoft Teams so that we do not lose our momentum.

So there you have it. It was definitely worth it, and my thanks to Chengmei and Goldsmiths for making this journey possible and enjoyable.

I hope that my new found skills will allow and help me socialise more easily with family and locals whenever we ‘holiday’ in our new Chinese home! So please wish me/us well!

Image of student drumming

Ian practising one of his favourite pastimes, drumming.

Ian is a keen student, eager to learn new skills and take on new challenges. He is currently enrolled in Goldsmiths Confucius Institute Qigong short course and has also participated in the department’s Mandarin for Beginners and 1-1 Mandarin short courses.

Practice Qigong to Improve Health and Wellbeing During Quarantine and Isolation

Image of qigong practice

Photo Credit: Jason Briscoe

Hello everyone! My name is Liang Chengmei. I am a Mandarin lecturer and martial arts instructor at Goldsmiths, University of London. I would like to introduce qigong for health and wellbeing to all of you.

Due to the situation of Covid-19, I imagine most of you are currently working or studying from home and I think this type of qigong is a good way to maintain physical and mental health and improve our immune systems during long periods of isolation at home.

Health Qigong epitomises the essence of Chinese culture and the tradition of self-cultivation. It has been in existence for at least 5,000 years in China and is considered to be a priceless spiritual and cultural practice that has been handed down through the generations. It aims at supporting good health, longevity, and self-cultivation.

Qigong is the integration of exercises, some types of breathing techniques and a mental focus. By regulating body postures, breathing and mental focus, we can adjust our inner body systems and achieve harmony and overall physical and mental wellbeing.

Due to its gentle and graceful movements, easy to learn techniques and need for self-practice, free from the limits of sites and facilities, Health Qigong is gaining popularity all over the world. Ba Duan Jin is one of the most widely spread, influential and popular forms of Health Qigong among the Chinese people.

As a traditional Chinese health and fitness Qigong exercise routine, Ba Duan Jin, or more literally translated as Eight-Section Exercises or Eight Pieces of Brocade, dates back to the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD). With easy movements and impressive effects on health, it is a gem in China’s health and fitness culture. It is considered to carry qi (meaning energy flow or life force) all through the movements and follows the intrinsic rules of TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) and traditional Chinese self-cultivation traditions.

It is generally accepted that the practice of Ba Duan Jin can improve breathing techniques, limb strength, and flexibility of the joints, as well as enhancing general balance. It is said to strengthen one’s immune system to a degree, and delay the ageing process, so as to increase the life span. It also improves one’s mental health.

A survey showed that most Ba Duan Jin practitioners are satisfied with the practice duration, intensity and routine format outlined below, and testify to Ba Duan Jin’s effects on health improvement.

As an example, posing as an archer shooting both left-and right-handed (左右开弓似射雕 Zuǒyòukāigōng shì shè diāo) is one of the essential movements of Ba Duan Jin Health Qigong.

Qigong Archer Pose

The qigong archer shooting position

Spreading the shoulders and chest when imitating the posture of an archer (as per the above image) can stimulate such meridians as Dumai (the governor vessel) and a series of points known as acupoints (腧穴 shùxué) along the spine while regulating inner energy along such channels as the Taiyin lung meridian (手太阴肺经 Shǒu tàiyīn fèi jīng).

This routine also helps to develop the muscles of the lower limbs, and enhance the balance and coordination. With the improvement of muscle strength in the forearms and hands, the flexibility of the wrist and finger joints is enhanced as well.

This movement helps to correct unhealthy postures, such as a bent back or hunched shoulders, thus helping to improve certain shoulder and neck conditions.

That’s all. Thank you! I hope all of you stay healthy during this kind of special time. Let’s practice Health Qigong at home!

Image of Qigong Teacher

Author: Chengmei Liang is a Mandarin lecturer and Chinese martial arts teacher

Chengmei teaches on Goldsmiths Confucius Institute Tai Chi and Qigong short courses. She also oversees 1-1 Mandarin short courses in the department and works as part of our Outreach for Schools programme.

*Please note all Goldsmiths Confucius Institute Short Courses will be online in the Summer Term 2020.

From Italy to England – My Goldsmiths Story!

Student standing by Chinese Character

Hi everyone, I’m Francesco, well, that’s how my friends call me! 

I am a Short Course student at the Confucius Institute of Goldsmiths. I am currently studying for my PhD in History of Art and Territory at UNED University in Madrid, with a great passion for China and its culture.  

I’m going to tell you about my London experience. Why did I decide to study Chinese in London? Why at Goldsmiths Confucius Institute? 

Because I was sure to meet excellence, in people, in study, and I was sure to meet a stimulating environment, where the most different cultures meet and enrich themselves. A place where you feel the creativity and the passion for the arts.

In the last few years, Chinese language and culture have gone beyond borders, winning over many foreign students like me, attracted by the culture and the new economic dynamics of the country.

China and Chinese culture live in every capital, in every city and it is up to us to find it. London is a global city; the Confucius Institute is a Chinese department with a global dimension. English and Chinese language are the key to the future. That’s why I chose the Confucius Institute at Goldsmiths; to have the keys to tomorrow’s world.

I was fascinated by the quality of the teaching and facilities, and also by the philosophy of the college, which has counted many famous people among its students. What I found here is an inclusive and sociable environment, a true paradise for every student! Thanks to the HSK training course, I have been able to improve my Chinese level and I feel confident in signing up to the level 5 exam soon.

At Goldsmiths I also found a some other very interesting short courses, some of them focused on business, which I hope to combine in the future with work experience in this beautiful city, full of opportunities and quality of life.

Student in front of blossom tree

Francesco outside the Ben Pimlott building on Goldsmiths Campus

Francesco is from Bologna in Italy; he is currently a student of Goldsmiths HSK 5 Mandarin Training Short Course. He has a veritable thirst for knowledge; he gained a BA in History of Art from Bologna University, an MA in Chinese Studies from Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona and an MA in Contemporary History from Complutense University of Madrid.

Where Are You From? I Point at the Direction of the Sea.

Photo of Ocean Images

Photo Credit: Jeremy Bishop

Identity has become a complex issue for me as a Chinese national living in cosmopolitan London. My students learning Mandarin here at Goldsmiths also come from many different places.

As a Mandarin lecturer, asking about cultural identity is a common topic that is often featured in many language learning textbooks and I have found can lead to several fascinating questions about personal identity.

This semester I taught a student who told me that she is Hakka; I thought that must mean 客家人 (Kèjiā rén)and a quick flick through the dictionary confirmed I was correct. During the next lesson when we were doing vocabulary drills, she told me that she was from Mauritius, explaining that Mauritius was her birthplace, British was her nationality, and the homeland of Hakka (the Hakka-speaking provincial areas of China) was her ancestral home.

Now I understood. Nationality, native place, place of residence, place of birth are often different yet interconnecting, and this rather confused me when I first begun conducting language practice and role play with my students as one of the rather simple role play questions students need to ask each other is:

你是哪国人?(Nǐ shì nǎ guórén)

“Which country do you come from?”.

Whilst previously teaching a student on another Mandarin course, the same topic had also come up and the student mentioned that he was from India, but he then went onto elaborate that he was born in Dubai, which was the place where he grew up and London is his current home and the place where his university is located.

A student from another of my courses here at Goldsmiths was a very diligent Mandarin learner and quickly progressed to a stage where he was able to take the HSK (Chinese Proficiency Test) examination, which is hosted by our department. I had always assumed that he was a local Londoner, until one day when he registered for the examination and the country printed on his admission ticket was actually Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

All these experiences have really broadened my perspective as I come to realise that people from all nationalities and places in the world can take root in London, a place of so many differing cultures and restaurants where any country’s flavour can be found.

Compared with my own hometown, Beijing, which has a population of 21.5 million, London with its population of 8.9 million is much smaller both in population and geographical size, but its cultural diversity is incomparable to any other city I have ever visited.

Therefore, when the textbooks ask the question:

你是哪国人?(Nǐ shì nǎ guórén)

“Which country do you come from?”

Students’ answers can prove to be really much more complex than you might first think.

If you want to ask a Mandarin learner in London where they come from, you might have to ask again and again before you can really understand their complex cultural identity and how they came to London.

Among my students there are actuaries, bankers, computer engineers, designers and HR managers. They come from many different places and have many different reasons for learning Mandarin. Some have a partner who is Chinese, others need to learn Mandarin to aid communication with colleagues in the workplace. What I have found though, is that no matter where students come from, their Chinese language learning is ultimately motivated by a bond of emotion to Chinese culture.

Where do you come from?

There will be many answers. Where the sea is, drift is there. It is a not an easy question. Where do you come from?Where are you going? It is a philosophical issue and can be talked about for eternity.

Photo of Shu Gao

Author: Mandarin Lecturer, Shu Gao

Shu Gao studied at Nanjing Institute of International Studies before graduating from Nanjing Normal University with an MA in Linguistics (Translation Studies). She has translated abridged versions of Jane Austin, Marilyn Monroe, When Summer Comes and a number of other books. She currently lectures in Chinese on our Undergraduate Chinese studies programmes in the department and oversees our Mandarin for Beginner’s short course.

How I Learnt About Classical Economics through Chinese Philosophy

Image of Confucius Statue

Photo Credit: Rob Web (Flickr)

My name is Wasima and I am a student at Goldsmiths, University of London.

I took the Chinese Philosophy course in my second year of university; the module focused on Confucianism and Taoism.

As my undergraduate degree is in Economics I decided to venture out and try out a module in a different department in order to broaden my academic knowledge and uncover the links between Chinese philosophy and Economics. I found Confucianism – the way of life instilled in Chinese culture from the earliest centuries – to show a real connection to the principles of Economics.

Mencius, who was one of the Confucian disciples, was a major contributor to Confucian thought. He advocated for the division of labour; a process later coined by Adam Smith and stated that a skill set an individual possesses is that which they should practice.

Adam Smith is one of the forefathers of Classical Economics and it was valuable to understand that his school of thought actually appeared much earlier, during the era of Confucianism.

It was also interesting to understand how the Confucian culture is still important in modern society today – the topic of the assessment piece of this module. Writing this piece really helped me grasp the importance of Chinese Philosophy, as there is still so much relevance to it today.

Advocating for those who possess a certain skill to trade in that skill is still relevant today as qualifications obtained by individuals determine where they are employed within the labour market, as different qualifications and skills are suitable to specific sectors. Hence, this principle that allowed for success in the organisation of the Confucian state, has continued to be successful in society today.

Overall, it was a great module and helped me explore a different dimension during my degree.

Image of Goldsmiths Student Wasima

Goldsmiths student, Wasima

Wasima is currently studying her final year of her BA Economics degree with the Institute of Management Studies here at Goldsmiths. She took the optional contextual credit course module, Chinese Philosophy – Confucianism and Taoism, with Goldsmiths Confucius Institute in her second year.

Lost in Translation: Is it a Goat, a Sheep or a Ram?


Dr. Lyu gives her intriguing insight into a recent linguistic discussion with her undergraduate Mandarin learners and her reflection on how culture can influence lexicon…

Sheep to reflect on the title of sheep, goat and ram

Having been a lecturer in Mandarin to learners from a vast array of backgrounds for more than 20 years, I have come to understand that fascination for cartoons and animation stretches across a number of cultures.

Recently, my undergraduate students had been persistent in their requests for me to introduce them to Chinese pop. culture and in particular, Chinese animation. Thus, during my seminar earlier today, I allowed them to watch a short extract of a Chinese children’s television series called Pleasant Goat and Big Wolf (喜羊羊与灰太狼 Xǐyángyáng yǔ huītàiláng)

As we begun to watch the video clip, a student soon asked me:

“What does yang (羊 yáng ) mean?”

I quickly replied that the word is used to signify sheep, but can be used to denote sheep, goats and rams to be exact.

The students were aghast and soon began to show their disapproval for such a broad sweeping categorization:

“Oh no, but they are all sooo different!” came their cries.

I went on to elucidate further:

“Well, they look alike, and although they are not exactly the same, they belong to the same larger category, which is why in Chinese they are all termed yang”

Another student tried to persuade me:

“But goats can climb trees!”

And then another student soon also begun to challenge me:

“So then you could say that tigers and lions are the same, they are both animals anyway!”

I decided to use another analogy to explain this lexicographical conundrum:

“Sorry, but Chinese people believe that they are all yang!And although some people can swim and others cannot, they are all human beings!”

This is just one example of how Chinese and English lexical systems differ when it comes to the naming and classification of animals. Take the Chinese Zodiac system as an example; every year when Chinese people celebrate the Lunar New Year, I find that English language media will struggle to find a precise word to give an exact translation of the Zodiac sign for the coming year. Is it the Year of Rat or the Year of Mouse? Is it the Year of the Chicken or Rooster?

I still vividly remember the year 2015 when I saw this issue debated for quite some time across English news articles. Should the fast approaching Lunar New Year be classed as the Year of the Sheep, Goat or Ram?

If you were to ask a native Chinese speaker, they most likely would not be able to give you an answer because in the Chinese language all these words belong to the same category. Well, if you have to choose only one word as the counterpart word, I suppose you could choose any that you like!

Mandarin Lecturer Dr. Lyu

Author: Mandarin Lecturer, Dr. Lyu

Dr. Yulan Lyu graduated with a B.A from Beijing Language and Culture University, furthering her education at Beijing Normal University, receiving a PH.D. degree in 2005. She currently lectures on our undergraduate Mandarin programme as well as our Advanced Chinese short course. Dr. Lyu is on secondment from our partner university in Beijing, Capital Normal University.

Chinese New Year Exhibition Party 2020


Goldsmiths CI started the Chinese New Year period off with a bang on Friday evening, inviting Goldsmiths staff, students, and members of the local community to the department’s exciting Chinese New Year Exhibition Party.

With Goldsmiths’ iconic Great Hall venue closed for refurbishment, this year’s event took on a different form than previous years, focusing on showcasing Chinese arts and culture through the form of an Exhibition Party. Integrating Chinese art and performance art, several dazzling performances took place within an exhibition space.

The party was themed around the Zodiac Rat, accepting exhibition entries in a variety of mediums from local artists. The theme also appeared in the range of interactive stalls, with rat origami, zodiac-themed Chinese calligraphy sessions, blow-painting, and more.

Some of the artists featured in the exhibition included Goldsmiths BA Fine Art and MFA Fine Art graduates as well as South London contemporary artist and painter, Marcus Aitkin, who was recently named Saatchi Arts top 20 emerging artists to watch in 2020.

Photo by Samer Moukarzel

Throughout the evening, the Goldsmiths CI performance team delivered a variety of cutting edge performances, showcasing the diverse range of art forms from China. Among these were traditional folk dance pieces, as well as a contemporary dance piece taking elements from various styles of Asian and International dance. As the event came to an end, the performers invited the audience to participate in an interactive Chinese folk dance, acting as the perfect way to close the evening.

The Exhibition Party was well-received by guests, and kicked off the Chinese New Year festivities at Goldsmiths. For those who missed the evening, Goldsmiths CI offers a range of workshops and events throughout the year, as well as the opportunity to learn some of the dance forms featured in the evening.