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Contradiction - Maodun
read in Chinese by Shao Danni

The story of Maodun is the story of an idiom. The full idiom is 自相矛盾 zìxiāng máodùn. Literally, 自相 zìxiāng means the two objects belong to the same person, 矛 máo is a spear or lance, and 盾 dùn is a shield. As an idiom it means to contradict oneself, contradictory, paradoxical, inconsistent. It was shortened over time to 矛盾 máodùn and became a word that means contradiction or conflicting views. It can also be used as an adjective - contradictory. Chinese has thousands of idioms, as does English. One type of Chinese idiom takes the form of 3 or 4 character combinations and is called 成语 chéngyǔ. Some idioms are self-explanatory, but most require some background to understand the meaning. Just as the English "pig in a poke" has to be understood by knowing what a "poke" is, and why you would ever want to put a pig in one, and what would be wrong with doing so! However, many native English speakers use the idiom properly without ever reflecting on any of those questions. Here's another English example: fit to be tied. It means the person is angry or upset, but originally meant that they were in an uncontrollable mental state and needed a straitjacket. You can use an idiom properly without knowing its origin.

Don't worry too much about idioms, especially formal idioms. As a student of a new language focus on the acquisition of an expanded vocabulary that will let you express yourself without idioms. Add idioms to your vocabulary as you encounter them. That said, there are many books and Internet sites that collect idioms and tell the stories behind them. The Chinese 成语 chéngyǔ are particularly entertaining because they often give insight into history and poetry. Chinese school children study 成语 extensively. There are Internet sites to help kids learn to use them properly in sentences. Since the context can shade the meaning of an idiom, that is quite a challenge. Many 成语 are only found in literature and formal writing, using them in colloquial speech would only cause confusion and get you a blank stare.

So, why should you read the story? Good question. I wrote the story of Maodun for beginning-intermediate (second semester) students of Chinese. I wanted some traditional Chinese tales to use and this is one that a friend told me. I wrote it in English and then Feng Xie translated it into Chinese. The sentence structure and vocabulary are suited to the student who has had a semester or two of Chinese. You won't know all of the vocabulary, but there is a dictionary included. The story can be used in several ways: 1) As a reading exercise to increase your vocabulary; 2) As a listening exercise, to speed your comprehension; and 3) As a speaking exercise to quicken your tongue. Reading needs no explanation. As a listening exercise, you should make sure that you can hear and understand the individual phrases of the story. Associate the meaning with the characters. The P and E buttons to the right will let you quickly check your comprehension. Your goal is to be able to understand the story as spoken. You can play the whole story by clicking on 14. Finally, speaking Chinese with expression, with the proper pauses between phrases, and the emphasis on the correct words takes lots of practice. Your tongue needs to twist and flip at just the right moment to wend its way from zhè gè to dōngxi. 这个东西 is said in a breath. Just as What is the matter? becomes Wa s maer? in English, common phrases in Chinese get slurred and softened. In this story, most of the words are enunciated because we targeted it for intermediate students. The companion story, A Magical Painting, is suitable for advanced students. If you listen to it you won't be able to hear some of the words, although a native speaker, or rather listener, hears them clearly. To give your mouth a calisthenics workout, learn to say the story of maodun with expression. Listen to where Shao Danni pauses, raises her voice, and softens the tone. Try to imitate it, but slow it down. Most important, understand it as you speak it. Picture what the words mean, not the English translation. When you say 矛 máo, see a spear. I put a spear point there for your convenience!

Shao Danni has been on the faculty of Beijing University of Technology, and has served as Dean at the English school of the Capital Normal University. She authored and coauthored several books on English language learning, and has been co-author on Chinese-English dictionaries. She has taught Chinese to people just like you in both the United States and in Australia. Her passion is travel both in China and around the world.

To get around, just click the numbers on the control bar. Click the Chinese characters in the text to hear short phrases and sentences. The P and E on the right will show you pinyin and English - you can either move your mouse or click to see the Chinese characters to make comparisons. The dictionary begins at 7. Once you have mastered the vocabulary, you can listen to the complete story by clicking section 14.

Ting - Chinese English Study Center >> Games and Stories >> Contradiction: Maodun.


Last update: July 2012

(c) Marilyn Shea, 2012