Cheat list of prominent Chinese ("hua-ren") figures

Hi all,
In the process of applying for a teaching license in the US, I now have to take a test of my knowledge of Chinese, which includes a “cultural knowledge and understanding” section. I doubt very much this will include actual useful cultural understanding like “renao good, quiet bad” and “hiking is only fun if you do it with 49 friends” and “I don’t care what the contract says, this is how we do it” – since it’s a “standardized” test more or less, it’ll have to be fairly homogenized. The reading and listening passages on the sample are pretty much geared toward the Mainland, so I’m wondering if I’m going to come up short on this one.

Since I spend most of my time thinking about obscure technical terms in Chinese rather than the 5,000 glorious years of Chinese history, I wonder if any kind souls could propose a cheat-sheet type “Top 10” (or whatever number you think is good) list of people you just have to know about related to (greater) Chinese culture. Since Sun Yat-sen is in their sample test, I figure we can leave him out. They threaten having us identify “major events or figures” and talking about their significance, so which do you think are most likely to come out? (A beer on my next visit to Taiwan to anyone who guesses the actual question!)
:smiley: :smiley:

Incidentally, at the airport in Taipei, I noticed some ad on a wall bragging about 7000 years of Chinese history…

So that makes it 5000BC. Putting Shang at around 3000BCish, I guess they mean the Xia (or erligang/erlitou neolithic sites).

Maybe those guys in Olduvai Gorge should claim Lucy as Tanzanian culture (or wherever that place is).

Anyways, here’s my list (political, cultural, etc.)

In no order:

  1. Shi Huang Di, the first Unifier, standardizer, hated and loved. (although I would go for the more obscure Lady Fu Hao of Shang, but that’s a long shot)

  2. Hanwudi, Han emperor (longest dynasty)(Chinese like stability)

  3. Confucius, the crazy guy telling people what to do (or possibly Shang Yang, his non-contemporary opposite)

  4. Zhuangzi, Laozi, those other crazy guys who told other people what to do by not telling them

  5. Yue Fei, the guy who died for his country with a tattoo on his back

  6. Empress whatshername, of the Tang

  7. Kangxi or Yongzheng, as one of the strongest Manchu guys, star of many a television soap operas

  8. Mao zedong (unless you’re KMT) or Cash-my-chek (if you’re KMT) or Koxinga

  9. Zheng he, the sea voyager guy

  10. and for obscurity and legend and entertainment: choose one-

Bruce Lee, more responsible than everyone on this list combined for letting the world know what a Chinaman looks like, sorta since he’s 1/4 german (minus the body, cuz hell, nobody comes close) - OK for letting everyone know about the “beauty of Chinese culture aka kung fu”.

the archer guy who shot down the other Suns (not much to talk about)

the flood guy who made it ok to live in China without drowning (obscure, not much to talk about)

the monkey king who helped a historical monk get some stuff from India (again, star of many a show and movie)

Don’t forget Qianlong.

One advantage of mainland-geared tests is that you always know how to spell people’s names!

To JB’s list I’d add:

  • 慈禧太后 (Empress Dowager), a rare female ruler that greatly attributed to the end of the imperial era,
  • 李世民 (Li Shiming), a popular emperor that presided over one of the most prosperous and enlightened periods in Chinese history, and
  • 林則徐 (Commissioner Lin), drug czar, war on drugs dude, oversaw the first Opium War and was governor of the two Guangs (Guangdong, Guangxi) during that period, regarded today as a national hero for standing up to whitey imperialism.

If it’s major events they’re after, don’t forget Oct 1, 1949 and the Boxer Rebellion.

[quote=“sjcma”]To JB’s list I’d add:

  • 慈禧太后 (Empress Dowager), a rare female ruler that greatly attributed to the end of the imperial era[/quote]

But she was instrumental in saving San Francisco’s Chinatown! Her appeals convinced San Francisco’s city council to rebuild Chinatown after the 1906 earthquake. They had been planning to completely raze what remained of it.

To the list I would add the author Lu Xun.

Ang Lee?

Well your Taiwan focus possibly left you rusty on Lei Feng.

Of course, you could always discuss his errant but little mentioned fascination with big babs, just for that little bit more kudos.

For some reason my mind keeps yelling Shen Nong (神農). I got no idea why . . . cos despite the claim of 5,000 years of glorious history, the reality was 95% of the population were illiterate semi-naked pig shit rakers right into the current century? Maybe.


Knowing a bit about the Long March and Mao’s good buddy Zhou Enlai wouldn’t hurt either.

Don’t forget 胡適 (Hu Shi).

[quote]Unlike other figures of the Warlord Era in the Republic of China, Hu was a staunch supporter of just one main current of thought: pragmatism. Many of his writings used these ideas to advocate for changes in China.

Hu was well known as the primary advocate for the literary revolution of the era, a movement with the aim of the replacement of scholarly classical Chinese in writing with the vernacular spoken language, as well as the cultivation and stimulation of new forms of literature. In an article originally published in New Youth in January 1917 titled “A Preliminary Discussion of Literature Reform”, He originally emphasized eight guidelines that all Chinese writers should take to heart in writing:

  1. Write with substance. By this, Hu meant that literature should contain real feeling and human thought. This was intended to be a contrast to the recent poetry with rhymes and phrases that Hu saw as being empty.

  2. Do not imitate the ancients. Literature should not be written in the styles of long ago, but rather in the modern style of the present era.

  3. Emphasize grammar. Hu did not elaborate at length on this point, merely stating that some recent forms of poetry had neglected proper grammar.

  4. Reject melancholy. Recent young authors often chose grave pen names, and wrote on such topics as death. Hu rejected this way of thinking as being unproductive in solving modern problems.

  5. Eliminate old clichés. The Chinese language has always had numerous four character sayings and phrases used to describe events. Hu implored writers to use their own words in descriptions, and deplored those who did not.

  6. Do not use allusions. By this, Hu was referring to the practice of comparing present events to events in the past, even when such events are not entirely applicable.

  7. Do not use couplets or parallelism. Though these forms had been pursued by earlier writers, Hu believed that modern writers first needed to learn the basics of substance and quality, before returning to these matters of subtlety and delicacy.

  8. Do not avoid popular expressions or popular forms of characters. This rule, perhaps the most well known, ties in directly with Hu’s believe that modern literature should be written in the vernacular, rather than in Classical Chinese. He believed that this practice had historical precedence, and led to greater understanding of important texts.

In April of 1918, Hu published a second article in New Youth, this one titled “Constructive Literary Revolution - A Literature of National Speech”. In it, he simplified the original eight points into only four:

  1. Speak only when you have something to say. This is analogous to the first point above.

  2. Speak what you want to say and say it in the way you want to say it. This combines points two through six above.

  3. Speak what is your own and not that of someone else. This is a rewording of point seven.

  4. Speak in the language of the time in which you live. This refers again to the replacement of Classical Chinese with the vernacular language.[/quote]


Hu Shi is regarded much more favourably in Taiwan than on the mainland. This is not surprising given he was a high ranking official in the Nanking Government as well as the founder of Free China Journal, which started its life as an anti-communist mouthpiece. A test geared towards the mainland will probably not regard him as a major figure despite his being quite a remarkable person. As for language reform, Lu Xun is a more prominent figure than Hu Shi, especially on the mainland.

I’m a big fan of Hu Shi & Lu Xun. thanks for the link.

Mr. Cha bu Duo is like the Candide of China.

And his brother Ma Fan’s a prick!


What about their sister Mei Ban Fa?

Thanks, guys. Most helpful.
Now all I have to do is remember how to write 3,000 characters by hand. Sheesh, I never write Chinese if it’s not on a computer. :unamused:
Of course, one only needs something like a 65% score to pass (and I wouldn’t be surprised if the passing mark was set even lower…they can’t get teachers in the US these days.)

Weird, isn’t it, that although no one will ever know the results of this kind of test, except to know whether you eventually passed or failed (they wouldn’t even know if you had to take it twice or three times), it’s so habitual to care about doing well? Must be the continued effect of the brainwashing by my first-year Chinese professor, who was from Taizhong. “You write characters, huh! You listen to tapes, huh!”

I know what you mean about not being able to write Chinese after using a computer. I no longer bother to werite my Chinese name even when I have to, as it just looks so damned ugly. Fortunately my thumbprint still looks okay.


Er, the Yellow Emperor?
Kang Yu-wei?
Ge Hong / Baopuzi?
Lin Biao?
Li Bai?
Amy Tan?
Xuanzang, the monk with the monk-ey?
I suppose Pearl Buck would be disqualified by ethnicity…
How about that astronaut guy? Excuse me (cough cough), “taikonaut.”

The celestial archer, Yi something, is hardly obscure now. He (or a copycat) is a member of DC Comics China-based superhero team, the Great Ten.

Amy Tan!! :laughing: That’s too funny.

How about Cao Yu, then? (20th c. dramatist) Or the old standby, Cao Xueqin…

I like Amy Tan, though, and think she’s under-rated. (I know–that’s what fanboys say about Stephen King, and every comic book that ever existed.) All but one of her novels have been pretty damn good, IMHO. (My favorite is “The Hundred Secret Senses.”) Plus she married a white guy, thereby setting a good example for so many since then. (*)

Speaking of under-rated, the novel version of “The Flower Drum Song” is actually kind of good. At least, historically important. I don’t suppose people like these, or Maxine Hong Kingston, are likely to appear on the exam…?

(*) So did Kingston, hence the name. And Han Suyin too, for that matter.

PS. I just thought of another semi-likely name: Zuo Zongtang, the 19th-century general who vigorously suppressed the Taiping and Northwest Muslim rebellions, in order that no one might have occasion to say, “General Tso’s chicken.”

We’re all wrong. Try “Discuss the importance of the Yellow River” on for size. :loco:


Who was that dude that wrote the Yellow River piano piece . . . that would have been handy.