While China is roughly the same size as the United States in land mass, it is home to nearly 1.5 billion people with a unique and intricate culture that dates back centuries. As our world becomes smaller, how others live — how they are like us and how they are different — becomes increasingly relevant information for our children.
Food plays an important role for Chinese families. Different foods have special meanings, and it's important who does the serving. The most obvious difference, though, is that people eat their meals with chopsticks. China's size means that traditional food varies depending on its origin. Sichuan comes from west China, while Cantonese comes from the south. Hunan food is from central China, Beijing from the northeast and Fujiang from the southeast.
Chinese New Year
The Chinese calendar is based on the cycles of the moon — it's called a lunar calendar — and is not the same as the one used in the United States. New Year's is in late winter, and it involves an elaborate celebration of ushering out the old and bringing in the new, complete with special foods, symbols and traditions. For instance, sweeping the floor before New Year's Day sweeps away all the old year's bad luck.
Just as the Chinese calendar is different, so is the way they name and track years. The Chinese zodiac follows a 12-year cycle, with each year named for a specific animal. For instance, the year that began in 2010 was the year of the Tiger. Like the symbols of the Roman and Greek zodiacs, the animals in the Chinese zodiac are thought to bestow certain characteristics to people born during specific years.
Chinese Language and Writing
Chinese is a complex language of nuance, with the precise pronunciation of a word or phrase key to its meaning. In addition to Standard, or Mandarin, Chinese, natives speak six other forms of the language, and there are myriad dialects. Written Chinese is a centuries-old form of calligraphy. Unlike languages that use an alphabet to form words out of single letters, written Chinese uses single symbols to mean whole words.
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