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the books you listed in your ‘Required reading for sinophiles' are attractive and interesting, among which i think 'Chinese Lessons: Five Classmates and the Story of the New China might be most perspective of modern china and chinese people of the beginning 21 century.
yes, i couldn't agree more with you on that the better you learn about china the better you learn chinese language.
btw, how would you translate ’sinophile' into chinese？中国迷? or some other terms. maybe 华粉 is word worth considering, as 粉 which means enthusiast is a hot chinese zi these years~
anyway, ch-e-e-e-e-e-er for you glen, just go go go！！！( 3 is also a lucky number in chinese culture )~
one of popular games in chinese history---围棋 weiqi
Not just for Mandarin, it goes the same for any other languages.
let me quote one paragraph from john Pomfret's wonderful book ‘Five Classmates and the Story of the New China': 'This woman would hound me for the next year, her disembodied voice blasting out of a tinny speaker dangling by a wire just far enough from the bottom bunk that I could not disable it with a broom, yet close enough to wreck my mornings.’
yet the google's chinese translation is as: ‘ 猎犬为明年我将这个女人，她的无形的声音爆破出一个自带的扬声器电线晃来晃去，只是远远不够的，我不能用扫帚禁用，但足够接近破坏我早上从下铺。’
will you laugh till you cry or 笑破肚皮~
yes.cultiure and language are friends.
when you are familiar with one,then you are familiar with another.
many americans are interesting. on the one hand they're shouting out how much they love chinese culture, and on the other，they'd rather kill time by flirting with chinese girls than studying chinese culture seriously. of course hereinbefore i'm not speaking of Henry Alfred Kissinger or Pearl Sydenstricker Buck, yet i doubt both are/were genuine americans~
I think it's the other way around, learning Chinese language can give you better insight into Chinese culture. Certainly, you can learn a lot from reading books about China and Chinese history, they are absolutely necessary if you want to seriously learn about Chinese culture, but knowing the language gives you a deeper understanding of their mentality.