John Biesnecker of WooChinese graciously penned this guest post for all you Chinese content-wanting sons of mothers! John has lived in China since 2003, and has been cramming Mandarin (and, more recently, Cantonese and Japanese) into his brain since around the same time (and he’s not done yet). WooChinese, his upstart blog, aims to be the resource for Chinese learners he wishes he had when he first started learning Chinese. You can also find him on Facebook and Twitter (don’t be shy!).
Despite feeling a little bit like Jar Jar Binks addressing the Galactic Senate — mesa day startin pretty okee-day with a brisky morning munchy, then BOOM! Writin on AJATT! Mesa gettin’ very very scared! — I’m thrilled to have this opportunity to lay out some fundamentally good resources for all of the All Chinese All The Time folks in the audience.
Please don’t take this as an exhaustive list. It’s not. It’s just some stuff I’ve collected over the years. For one, it is very mainland China / simplified Chinese specific, because that’s where I’ve lived for the better part of the last decade. It’s also very biased toward the sort of lame stuff that I enjoy. That’s OK, though, because it’s only a spawn point. Show your stuff in the comments and help us fill this bugger out, why dontcha?
Streaming media and downloads
Most if not all of these should work worldwide, though obviously they will stream faster in China. Some of the bigger video sites have region locks for some of their content, but those locks tend to affect pirated Western media (to reduce complaints from overseas copyright holders, apparently) rather than Chinese media.
- Tudou and Youku are the two biggest Youtube clones in China. Thanks to liberal copyright law enforcement, they’re chock full of Chinese movies and TV shows.
- Ku6 and 56.com are also streaming video sites, and they sometimes have things that you can’t find on Youku and Tudou.
- Let’s not forget Youtube, the granddaddy of them all. Because Chinese copyright holders tend not to have as many bees up their bonnet as their Western counterparts, there is plenty of good Chinese language material there as well.
- Baidu Video Search is great for finding things that aren’t on any of the above sites. There are a ton of small-time video sharing sites out there, and Baidu Video gives you a search interface into all of them.
- Mogo is a Chinese music video portal, and is filled with music videos and musician interviews. They cover a lot of underground music (especially hip hop) and constantly have new material, making Mogo a great way to find new music and artists.
- Google.cn Music is an awesome resource for Chinese music, full of free (and legal) MP3 downloads. However, all of the good stuff is only available to people in mainland China (or who can finagle a mainland Chinese IP address). If you’re suffering behind the GFW, though, it is a shining mountain of goodness.
- I don’t listen to many podcasts, but I listen to the radio all day. Seriously, from 8:30am to 6:30pm, at least. Baidu Radio has streaming radio from all over the country, and for more Shanghai-specific fare there’s SMG’s 上海網絡廣播電臺. There are a lot of music stations, but for Chinese learners I’d recommend listening to the various 交通廣播 stations — they’re primarily meant for taxi drivers and anyone else stuck in traffic, and are invariably entertaining (and full of good ol’ fashioned 口語).
- I do, however, listen to the BBC’s Mandarin podcasts, which are fantastic, as should be expected from the BBC.
- SMG also has a streaming TV site that airs their entire lineup of channels. I’ll be honest in saying I don’t have a lot of experience with online Chinese TV (I just have Chinese TV, on a real TV, in my living room, all the time), and I’m not sure how well this streams outside of China, but it’s an option.
- VeryCD is a directory of eMule links for media and software of all kinds, including pretty much all popular Chinese movies and music. It’s not quite as convenient as BitTorrent, but its pretty comprehensive, and has avoided recent crackdowns on BT download sites on the mainland.
- HipHop.cn is a portal site for Chinese hiphop and rap (which you won’t hear on the radio, or find on many mainstream entertainment portals). They have a lot of tracks available for play on their website, and with a little ingenuity you can download full MP3s, too.
As fun as getting stuff for free can be, sometimes you have to fork over some hard-earned RMB. You should be able to buy things from all of these with a Visa or Mastercard (or Chinese bank card, obviously), and they should be able to ship overseas.
- Amazon.cn… it’s Amazon… in Chinese…. Books, DVDs, CDs. They have pretty much everything, and will most certainly ship overseas (buy a bunch at once and send it all together to save on shipping costs, though).
- Dangdang is a more general-purpose online shopping site, but it also has a wide selection of books and other media. I personally find Dangdang to ship faster than Amazon.cn within China, but I don’t have experience ordering from it outside of China.
- You can find everything on Taobao, China’s eBay. Seriously, everything. Probably even child brides, if you search hard enough. 淘寶 has even become a verb (meaning, natch, to buy stuff on Taobao). However, because its a collection of thousands upon thousands of individual retailers, you need to be a bit more cautious about what you buy, and make sure to ask the vendor beforehand if they ship internationally, and if so what the shipping costs are.
Online book sites
Another great part about learning Chinese is that loads of books are available in electronic form online. Some of the sites are legitimate and some are totally breaking the law, but in either case the learner of Chinese wins.
- Sina, (one of?) China’s largest portals, has a massive book portal filled with content. A lot of it is free, though there is some content only available to VIP members (I don’t remember how much VIP membership costs, but it isn’t much).
- Dangdang, mentioned above, also maintains a book portal, read.dangdang.com. Again, tons of content, mostly free.
- Readnovel.com is another option, though it tends to be filled with the Chinese equivalent of teenybopper lit. Not my cup of tea, but if it’s yours, then there’s plenty available.
- If you can’t find what you’re looking for (and what you’re looking for is relatively popular), go to Google (or Baidu) and search for “在線 閱讀 (the book title)” and you’re likely to find a … less than totally legal … copy of it available somewhere. Help comes to those who help themselves.
Newspapers and magazines
There are countless thousands of newspapers and magazines in China. A lot of them (like a lot of newspapers and magazines everywhere) are utter crap, but there are a few gems.
- Southern Daily is known for being one of the ballsier newspapers in China, writing about stories that push the edge of the censorship regime (and occasionally getting smacked around for it). Based in Shenzhen.
- Metro Express is a free paper handed out every morning on the Shanghai subway system, and is a pretty lightweight overview of mostly national news and local Shanghai issues.
- Xinmin Evening News is also a Shanghai-based newspaper, and is my favorite evening commute read. Often full of wacky stories about local issues, it tends to be a pretty fun read, while also having decent reporting on larger stories.
- While not a Chinese newspaper itself, Danwei.org‘s Front Page of the Day gives brief translations (in English) of the front page of a random newspaper bought each morning near Danwei’s Beijing office, and is a good place to find new sources of reading material.
- Sanlian Life (三聯生活) is like China’s Newsweek, and covers a wide variety of topics (with major stories following a weekly theme). I purchase a hardcopy every week, and read through it religiously
- 第一財經周刊 is BusinessWeek to 三聯’s Newsweek. Business-oriented, but relatively readable. For more hardcore business and financial reporting, 財經網 is where it’s at.
- BBC Chinese is also an excellent source of Chinese news, and is a good choice for non-local views on Chinese and Asian news, not to mention coverage of the rest of the world.
- Both Google News and Baidu News aggregate Chinese news stories. They also happen to be terrific sources of formal usage examples — just search for the vocabulary word you’re interested in.
There are only two major players in the space, so no bulleted lists. Wikipedia and Baidu Encyclopedia are both fantastic resources (the former being available in traditional as well as simplified Chinese). For very Chinese-specific things Baidu Encyclopedia tends to be a little more complete, I’ve found, but both let you while away hours upon hours once you start following links. Baidu also runs a question-answer service, Baidu Zhidao that is full of interesting material.
It seems that most of the Chinese dictionary sites are Chinese-English dictionaries (which makes sense seeing as Chinese kids are forced to learn English in school), but there are a few monodics worth noting.
- ZDic is my favorite. It has a proper character dictionary, word dictionary, and chengyu dictionary.
- httpcn.com has both a Kangxi Dictionary and a 說文解字 search interface, as well as a really cool 書法 search that lets you see characters written by various masters of Chinese calligraphy.
- If you own an Apple iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad, then do yourself a favor and download the Pleco Chinese Dictionary. The app is free and comes bundled with an OKish Chinese-English dictionary, but serious learners should purchase the 現代漢語規范詞典 (it’s around $35, if memory serves) monodic for it. The dictionary itself is fantastic, and the Pleco app is the best dictionary app I’ve ever used. You can also buy Pleco for Palm and Windows Mobile devices direct from their website.
I feel like I’m forgetting a million things, but this list should help get you started. Please, please add your favorite Chinese sites in the comments. I’d love to get more material for the Chinese-munching machine that sits in my brain.
There ya go. That’s all for now, kids. May you be sinodeficient no more. Remember to say “thank you” to Uncle John!
PS: To get the most value out of all the links John has provided, I would recommend using a service like the Surusu URL Shuffler (free!) to keep the links flowing through your life. Because you and I both know that “bookmark” is just the English word for “a place to keep links to websites you should visit but never will”.