Reading in Chinese

One of my recent projects is to learn Chinese, or to be more precise, to read novels in Chinese. I have studied Chinese in the past, but never got to the point where I could read books, and then I completely stopped learning the language.

Recently, however, my interest in the Chinese language has been rekindled, mostly thanks to Genshin Impact. I have been playing more or less consistently for a year now. I am playing the game in English with Chinese voiceover, but I sometimes switch to Chinese to talk to NPCs or do daily commissions.

Screenshot of a video game showing two characters talking in a city with Chinese-looking buildings and mountains visible in the distance. A little girl is talking and the dialogue is displayed in Chinese on the screen.

So obviously, I tried to read books in Chinese as well. My level is much too low to be able to read books, but at the same time, I believe that reading is like listening: you will only progress if you practise. If I wanted to improve my listening, I would listen to Chinese as much as possible and continue listening even if I don’t understand everything. I did the same with reading.

I chose to focus on Traditional Chinese simply because I have this project to learn Korean hanja, so I thought it wouldn’t hurt to get used to traditional characters (and it is also closer to Japanese).

Cover of !3.67. Cover illustration: the background is a cloudy sky with a city skyline in the middle the numbers of the title printed in a big blue font on the background.

My first attempt was 13.67 by Chan Ho-kei (陳浩基). It is a collection of linked short stories featuring the same character, Inspector Kwan, occurring at different moments in time in reverse order. The first short story was surprisingly readable at my level, so I managed to finish it and understand most of it. Unfortunately, the second story was very challenging, and it demotivated me.

I should have bought the translation (The Borrowed, by Jeremy Tiang) and used it to help me navigate the difficult passages, but I hadn’t thought about it at the time. Instead, I decided to set this book aside and start another one.

Cover of 請把門鎖好. The cover illustration shows an abstract painting. The silhouette of a man is recognisable in the middle.

I bought 請把門鎖好 by Ji Qing (既晴), and decided that I would read this novel over the course of 2023, starting on January 1st and reading a little bit every month. I am still doing this challenge right now, I am 80% into the book and we are in October, so I am keeping up with my challenge.

On one hand, this book does not have a lot of characters, and the story is not too complex, so it is possible to only read small chunks at a time and to leave the book untouched for several days. But aside from that, this is probably one of the worst books I could have chosen for this challenge. It deals with mediumship and contains a lot of passages about spirituality, the history of mediumship, spirits of the dead, séances, etc. that I found difficult to read. I didn’t really try to understand them, just skimming through some of them. I was tempted to give up and try another book, but because I had started this one-year challenge, I managed to keep going.

To find some extra motivation, I recently purchased three books in Chinese: the 推理之王 series by Zijin Chen (紫金陈). I would have preferred to buy the series in Traditional Chinese, but from what I could tell, only the second book was available. Similarly, I could not find the complete series in e-books, so I had to opt for physical books this time. I was extremely lucky to find them in a small Chinese bookstore where I live.

Picture of three books lying on the ground, with their cover facing the camera. One book is on top of the other two, but the title of each book is visible: 长夜难明, 坏小孩, and the book on top is 无证之罪.

The books have also been translated into English:

  1. 无证之罪 (The Untouched Crime, by Michelle Deeter)
  2. 坏小孩 (Bad Kids, by Michelle Deeter)
  3. 长夜难明 (The Long Night, apparently not translated yet)

I can’t wait to start this series, so I will probably try to finish 請把門鎖好 sooner.

This year’s challenge is paying off, as it becomes easier and easier to read in Chinese, and seeing that I can navigate my way through 請把門鎖好 despite all the difficult passages, I am confident that I will be able to read Zijin Chen’s series without struggling too much.