As we all know, language is a bridge to help us to communicate and understand other cultures. One of the most interesting things when studying a language is to learn about different mindsets which help us to change the ways in which we see the world.
Positions in Chinese
« 上 » 和 « 下 »
Up and Down
时间 - Time
In Chinese time runs down like a waterfall, rushing down and submerging us in the world.
从上午11:00到下午1:00之间的时间段就像半腰上一块巨石，我们称之为 « 午 » 。
The period from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. is like a boulder at the halfway point, which is called 午.
河流从高的地方流到低的地方，所以有了 « 上游 » 和 « 下游 »。这跟英语一样。
A river runs from above to below, so we call the former upstream, and the latter downstream. This is the same as in English.
上车 / 下车 – Getting In and Out of Vehicles
Although in English you say you “get in” or “get out” of a car, in Chinese, the words are 上 shàng (on) and 下 xià (off) respectively.
- 上 – get on/in
- 下 – get off/out
- 车 – car
- 公交车 – bus
- 地铁 – subway
- 请在第一站 (上车) , 在第七站 (下车)。Please get on at the first stop, and get off at the seventh stop.
Getting on/off a Boat, Ship, or Vessel
- 船 – boat, ship, or vessel
- 上船 – to go on board, embark
- 下船 – disembark
- 上船的时间到了。It's time to go on board.
Going to Class, Work, and Other Daily Routines
- 课 – a class or lesson
- 上课 – to begin or to have class
- 下课 – to finish or get out of class
- 上学 – to go to school
- 放学 – to get out of school; school is out
- 上班 – to go on duty or get to work
- 下班 – to get off duty or get off work
- 我们下午6:00下班。We get off work at 6:00 p.m.
- 我儿子每周三晚上8:00到9:00上钢琴课。My son has piano class from 8:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. every Wednesday.
- 我下课后去图书馆。I will go to the library after class.
- 早上7:00, 儿子上学,我太太上班。At 7:00 a.m., my son goes to school and my wife goes to work.
Surfing the Internet
- 上网 – to go online
- 下网 – to go offline
- 你可以在机场用wifi上网。You can use wifi to surf the internet at the airport.
- 上菜 – to serve the food (dish up)
- 撤下(不常用) – to clear the table (not often used)
- 客人都到了, 该上菜了。All the guests have arrived, so it's time to serve dinner.
汉语并非你以为那样难，对吧? 只要掌握了汉语的思维方式, 学习会变得简单而有趣!
Now Mandarin Chinese is not as difficult as you assumed, is it? Once you have mastered the Mandarin Chinese mindset, learning will become more simple and fun!
« 前 » 和 « 后 »
Front and Back
If we consider time as a river, the Chinese stand facing the direction of the river's flow; in other words, they stand facing the direction of history with the intention of respecting traditions. In the eyes of the Chinese, it seems that the days stand in line, with the earliest days at the front and later days toward the back of the line, passing one by one.
- 前天 – the day before yesterday
- 后天 – the day after tomorrow
- 前年 – the year before last year
- 后年 – the year after next year
- 前人 – predecessors
- 后人 – descendants, offspring
- 昨天的昨天是前天, 明天的明天是后天。Yesterday's yesterday is the day before yesterday, and tomorrow's tomorrow is the day after tomorrow.
- 我和男朋友前年去加拿大旅游，准备后年去非洲。My girlfriend and I traveled to Canada the year before last, and plan to go to Africa the year after next year.
Predecessors sow the seed [of trees], and the descendants receive the shade. In English, a similar saying is “Walnuts and pears, you plant for your heirs.”
Chinese people are the offspring of the Dragon.
« 左 » 和 « 右 »
Left and Right
According to the traditional rules of Chinese writing, writing should proceed from up to down and from right to left.
The Position Mindset
According to a traditional Chinese geographical mindset, east is left and west is right. So, Chinese people always consider themselves to be facing south when they talk about geography.
- 江左 = 江东
- Left of the river = East of the river
The Power Position Mindset
在传统中国文化中，« 左 » 指违反标准，因此 « 右 » 往往比 « 左 » 更尊贵。« 右丞相 » 比 « 左丞相 » 地位要高， 所以 « 右迁 » 为提升。不过，在现代社会这种差异越来越被淡化。
In traditional Chinese culture, left means breaking the rule or being different with the standard, so right is always more respected than left. The Right Prime Minister's position is higher than the Left Prime Minister's, so “going right” 右迁 means promotion. However, this difference is becoming less important in modern times.
从方位到区间 – From Position to Range
当 « 上 » 和 « 下 » / « 前 » 和 « 后 » / « 左 » 和 « 右 » 合在一起，用在数字后表示数字不确切。
When you combine 上 and 下, 前 and 后, or 左 and 右 together, used behind a number, this shows that the number is not exact.
上下 – About
上下 is often used after stating an age to show this age is not exact.
- 他女儿10岁上下。Her daughter is about 10 years old.
前后 – Around/about
前后 is often used after a period in time to show this time is not exact.
- 春节前后，我们喜欢吃汤圆。We like to eat rice dumplings around the time of the Spring Festival.
Remark: 春节, the Spring Festival, is the most important traditional festival in Chinese culture.
他是2012年前后结婚的。He got married around 2012.
左右 – Around/about
This is often be used behind any number to show this number is not exact.
- 吃饭时间是12点左右。Lunch time is around 12:00.
- 那人40岁左右。That man is about 40 years old.
- 我是2011年左右来上海的。I moved to the city of Shanghai around 2011.
- 我弟弟高一米六五左右。My brother is about 1.65m tall.
All images by author.