Are you interested in studying in China? Are you thinking about where to go? If you are, please check the guest post from our friend LTL Mandarin School!
Congratulations, you’ve just decided to go to study Mandarin in China, so you are about to start one of the most important experiences in your life, the kind of adventure that would broaden your mind and perhaps change the way you face new challenges.
Now the point is: Which city would you prefer to call home in the following months?
For a foreigner the decision is usually made between Beijing and Shanghai, but this time, in order to have a more complete idea of the options that China can offer, I will include a third city in my description; Chengde.
Set in the rolling hills in the north eastern side of the country, the Capital of China has an urban population of over 19 million inhabitants, which is still growing at breakneck speed. The city is not only the major hub for the country’s politics and culture, but also China’s art, media and technology.
Situated on the eastern Chinese coastal plain, Shanghai is the largest and most populated city of China with 23 million inhabitants. Thanks to it’s connection to the ocean, it turned into a major commerce city and has developed as the trade and financial center of mainland China.
Located in the Hebei province at the northeast of Beijing, Chengde is renowned for its rich culture and history: Its Mountain Resort (a vast imperial garden and palace formerly used by the Qing emperors as a summer residence) and the Eight Outer Palaces have been UNESCO World Heritage sites since 1994. With its fast growing economy, the city has a urban population of just over half a million inhabitants.
The city is in perpetual motion between modernization and tradition: the older generations are firmly clinging onto their frugal lifestyle, remnant of the Communist era, while the younger generations are paying their bills with their smart-phones and travel around the city with their futuristic Self-Balancing scooters. The contrast is further reflected in the structure of the city itself where new meets old especially in the traditional alleyways and hutongs which evidently sit side by side with shiny, new office buildings and shopping malls.
The metropolis has a cosmopolitan soul and a hedonistic lifestyle. Shanghaiists are proud of their fast development: In less than a century the city has developed from a village of fisherman into an international modern city whose skyline is constantly changing and in which East and West curiously coexist. This makes Shanghai a financial hub, a hotbed of innovative ideas, business and fashion for China.
This relatively smaller city is not well known to many foreigners as many tend to make the mistake that it is the same city as Chengdu. However it is actually a destination where one could experience authentic Chinese culture and also enjoy the view of cultural sites while taking part on outdoor activities. Without a large degree of western influence , Chengde is a place of tranquility and relaxation. There are no lively bar streets compacted into one single area, but there are local bars and clubs that may turn out to be hidden gems for a foreigner who might be looking for a fun night out in town.
The official national language of China is Mandarin which is considered among mainland China and Taiwan as the official language of administration. People from Beijing are considered to speak a more standardized version of the language (as in the textbooks) while throughout much of the capital, citizens speak their own local dialect for everyday communication: this dialect is close to standard Mandarin – people that carry this accent often reside in the part of the city where universities, educational institutions, and government bodies are located. People who live in traditional living quarters called hutongs, usually have a stronger Beijing accent that could sound abrasive and hard to understand to many. The most defining peculiarity of the Beijing accent is the use of “er” or ‘r’ added at the end of some words (儿话 Erhua).
While Standard Mandarin Chinese is generally spoken by younger generations and business people (in the Pudong area) with significant levels of English and French (due to France’s long relation with Shanghai); the traditional language of Shanghai is Shanghainese, which is a dialect of Wu Chinese. The Shanghainese vocabulary is rich, its pronunciation is mainly gutturals and it is largely incomprehensible to speakers of other Chinese dialects. Although since the 1950’s the Central Government has launched a campaign to unify the country with standardized Mandarin, this dialect has become a code locals use to denote their social identity and a resource which ensure them the best deals in local shops.
Chengde’s Mandarin is considered to be the purest dialect among all of China because of the direct link to the imperial family. As the summer capital of the last Chinese dynasty, many inhabitants are descendants of the formerly ruling court. This means that a very standard Mandarin is spoken throughout the city and is also often thought to have the clearest pronunciation.
Setting your goals and priorities is a really great way to give yourself direction and motivation, but also helps you to decide a location for your learning journey in China.
Focus on your goals and priorities when learning Chinese because you will constantly be exposed to a different culture, a different language, and especially a different standard of living. Regardless of which city you decide to choose, remember to keep an open mind and to make full use of these opportunities to gain a once in a life-time experience.
Mariantonietta Fornabaio (LTL Mandarin School)