Shaolan started with the fact the Chinese symbol for ‘man’ is ‘人’, which she likened to a crude cartoon image of human legs walking, and it’s this image that appears, anthropomorphised, on the front of her new book Chineasy For Children. It’s a follow-up to Chineasy: The New Way to Read Chinese, which appeared in 2014, and comes on the back of her hugely successful YouTube tutorials.
Shaolan has said, in the past, that Chinese scholars may know as many as 20,000 symbols but that you only need 1000 for basic literacy and 200 should be enough to get you by with road signs, restaurant menus, picking up the gist of web-pages, etc. Chineasy For Children offers the opportunity to learn 100 Chinese words, along with their pronunciation. As such, it’s as much a useful tool for parents as their progeny. It is full of clear simple cartoon images base around Chinese words, in the manner the imagery of constellations is based around the patterns of the stars.
Working on clearly defined visual mnemonics, Chineasy For Children, perhaps even more than its predecessor, offers access to the beginnings of an ability to communicate with a whole continent. Lack of confidence and human hesitancy have previously cut many off from a willingness to engage but, as the next generation realises the true value of interchanging ideas with China, Shaolan’s system may become regarded as a small but important step towards building vital bridges of understanding. No mean feat.
Thomas H. Green @ theartsdesk.com