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Race, Sex, and Gender in the Chinese Language Classroom

December 12, 2019

Takeaways from a Presentation at the 2019 National Chinese Language Conference

Editors Note: At the National Chinese Language Conference in San Diego, CA, five Chinese language instructors boldly presented their findings and recommendations on race, sex, and gender in the American Chinese language classroom. Following is a summary of the author’s takeaways.

By Eleise Jones

Every language has potential for funny or uncomforable moments when taken out of context. Natually, these are perfect moments for learning! Much of language is shaped and enforced by cultural values, and many teachers admirably want to be aware of potential pitfalls and equipped to address sensitive issues when their students have questions.

Addressing Discriminations and Stereotypes in the Chinese Language
Like most Chinese language teachers, Ruan Ye of York Prep in New York, NY teaches Chinese characters through radicals. For instance, there is the radical 女, meaning female. We find this radical in the compound characters 她 (she/her), 妈妈 (mother), 姐姐 (younger sister), and 妹妹 (older sister). These all make immediate sense as they refer to the female sex.

But when we teach 嫉妒 (jealousy) and 姦 (evil), students may ask: Why do these two characters both contain female radicals? Why do three females together connote evil? Furthermore, why does the 男 (male) always appear before 女 in compound characters?

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