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Ni Hao, Zhnggu!

Will Chinese Language Become the Next Worlds Lingua Franca?

By Chester B Cabalza

The Chinese poet had written: All people have their day and the new
generation will invariably succeed the old.

Any Chinese would say, to really master Chinese language and culture, one

must also learn how to use Chinese sayings1. All Chinese adages have been passed

down from time to time. Some of which originated through oral traditions in the form of

legends and historical stories.

Chinese sayings make the Chinese language2 more vivid and poetic. They help

the speaker and writer express their feeling more clearly and conscientiously. So, all

those who are interested to master the Chinese language, must also study and

appreciate as well Chinese sayings.

China is the worlds oldest continuous civilization. For more than two millennia,

successive imperial dynasties and generations of Confucian scholar-officials found in

the history of earlier eras explanations of the moral waxing and waning of society and

A Chinese saying is not necessary made up of four characters. It may contain only two (2) characters like Mao-
Dun or three (3) like Ye-Hue-Chan. It may also contain five, six, eight or even 12 characters. Two examples are Si-
Hai-Zhi-Nei-Jei-Xiong-Di-Ya, which is made of eight characters. Another example would be, Zhi-Xu-Zhou-Guan-
Fang-Huo-Bu-Xu-Bai-Xing-Dian-Deng which contains 12 characters.
Arguably, there is no Chinese language per se. However, what is unique or interesting to the Chinese language
when spoken it has many tongues or languages, but with only one form of writing.

its institutions. From this they drew conclusions about how the affairs of their own era

ought to be governed. The legitimacy of each dynasty was closely tied to the historical

explanation, and each dynasty produced an orthodox history justifying its rise to power.3

Together with its resurgence as a global actor/player/power in the worlds

theatrical stage, China empowers its soft power4 through language and culture to create

attractive and friendly image/s transcended from its myth of national humiliation5 and

rising hard power.6

One of the most illustrious soft power strategies of the Government of the

Peoples Republic of China (PRC) is the foundation and establishments of various

Confucius Institutes7 in different countries around the world. It is aimed at promoting

Chinese language and culture. It also supports local Chinese teaching internationally,

and facilitates cultural exchanges. The institutes operate in cooperation with local

In Chester B Cabalzas Manual, NSA 207-B: Political Dimension of National Security (International), Topic VII: The
Rise of China and India, pages 82-83, Distance Learning on Master in National security Management, National
Defense College of the Philippines, 2010.
Soft Power is a western-oriented discourse as proposed by Prof Nye Jr as the ability to get others to want what
you want which is a co-optive power, magnetizing others rather than manipulating their actions through force or
bribery. It is not merely the same as influence; after all, influence can also rest on the hard power of threats or
The central aspect of recent Chinese history, as interpreted by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), is the Chinese
peoples struggles against the humiliation of China by foreign imperialism during the 110 years between 1839-
1949. To the CCP, the era between the first opium war and the establishment of the Peoples Republic of China
(PRC) is essentially a chronicle of wars imposed by aggressive and arrogant imperialist powers, and, increasingly,
harsh terms forced on China the consequence of its defeat in those wars. It is a myth that is constantly told and
retold in Chinese schools, mass media, and countless mandatory study sessions attended by Chinese citizens.
Hard power describes a nation or political bodys ability to use economic incentives or military strength to
influence other actors behaviors. It relies on a measure of power propounded on power linked with the
possession of certain tangible resources, including population, territory, natural resources, economic and military
strength, among others (as defined by Public Diplomacy).
The Confucius Institute (CI) headquarters are located in Beijing, and the program is overseen by the Office of
Chinese Language Council International (Hanban), a non-profit organization affiliated with the Ministry of
Education of the PRC and United Front Work Department.

affiliate colleges and universities around the world, and financing is shared between the

Office of the Chinese Language Council International (Hanban) and the host


Because of Chinas evidently projected leadership in global economy,9 science

and technology, and influence on world politics and culture, the Chinese language with

its flagship Mandarin language, is purportedly posed to challenge the English language

to become the worlds lingua franca in the coming decades?10

The stigma of difficulty in both the spoken and written forms of Chinese language

(Mandarin) has been modified and simplified to assimilate non-Chinese speakers to

their culture. Since language is also a form of culture, the Chinese people are warm to

welcome other cultures to learn their language/s and become acculturated with their

diverse culture.

The CI at the Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU) was inaugurated in October 2006, which is the first such
institute established in the Philippines. According to the website ( it aims to promote
Chinese language, culture, and knowledge of contemporary China in mainstream society. As a nonprofit institute, it
offers Mandarin language courses at low cost in various parts of Metro Manila, as well as activities to promote
Chinese culture.
In 2010, China replaced Japan as the second largest economy in the world. By 2015, it is projected that China and
India will account for 34% of global GDP and by 2050 both resurging Asian powers will likely become two of the
worlds largest economies.
Historically, the English language before presumably becoming the global tongue in science and technology,
literature, diplomacy, and literature since the beginning of the globalization process of a deterritorialized world; it
also suffered stigma of being difficult to pronounce due to its nasal intonations (originally British English), until
colonized countries using the English language adapted it as their own. Now countries like US, Australia, South
Africa, India and the Philippines are making advantageous of the colonial language in the so-called reverse
colonialism where it has benefitted them through outsourcing/off-shoring/in-shoring. On the other hand, at the
end of the 20 century, it also struggled to attain a global superiority stature since the French and Spanish
languages were predominantly used in diplomacy and the German language was generally accepted in the field of
science. But now, the English language has leveled off the playing field for many developing and developed
countries, making it today the worlds lingua franca.

The objectives of the study are the following: (1) to analyze the power relations

and/or political ascendancy of the Chinese language as a plausible lingua franca of the

world cemented by the resurgence of China as a global economic superpower and a

major cultural catalysts in the coming decades; (2) to give an overview of China-

Philippines relations and how Chinese language and culture influenced the Philippines

to make the study more relevant by the researcher of a Filipino origin who has research

interest on Chinas soft and hard powers; (3) to present Chinese language by also

understanding briefly Chinese culture, history, and society; and lastly, (4) to take

functional approach that aims at developing the basic skills needed to communicate in

Chinese that are most useful in daily life situations, and uses of typical everyday

expressions and lively settings.

Ni Hao, Zhnggu

Zhnggu is usually translated as the Middle Kingdom but it could also be

translated as Central State. Sino (Qin/Chin 221-207 BCE) is the most commonly

accepted theory as to the origin of the English word China. The prefix Sino comes

from the Qin dynasty that first unified the third largest country in the world today after

Russia and Canada. However, it was called as Cathay during Marco Polos time.

The concept of all under heaven or tien hsia outlays the belief of the Chinese

whom they consider themselves as the central country of the Chung kuo, simply

understood as the Middle Kingdom.

The Chinese people are called Zhnggu ren. Thus, China holds the record

today as the worlds largest population with more than one billion people. However, in

the coming decades, Chinas giant resurging neighbor and fellow cradle of civilization,

which is India, will outpace the number of its population. This is also the fact that China

faces a serious security threat on ageing population attributed to its rapid urbanization

and closed-door migration.

They also deem that they are the descendants of the dragon11. And in East Asia

(fusion of Northeast and Southeast Asia), Zhnggu ren consider themselves as the

head of the dragon.

Overview of Philippines-China Relations

It was during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644 CE) that Philippines-China friendship

reached its peak. In one of the Sino-Sulu relations recounted in the Ming annals, it is

recorded that the Sultan of Sulu, Paduka Patara, visited China in 1417 where he was

royally received by the Chinese emperor. On his way home after a 27-day visit, the

Sultan was stricken ill and died in the city of Dezhou in Shandong province.12

The Chinese dragon represents strength and valor and not the same dragon represented in the Judeo-Christian
tradition that is evil and dark.
Quoted from Salvador Laurels China Update 2000, page 1, Manila: PDM Press, 2000.

The emperor honored the Muslim king with the title Kong Ting (brother) and

ordered the building of a handsome mausoleum to mark the tomb of his Filipino friend

the only tomb of a foreign monarch in honor of the 15th century Sulu sultan.13

Prior to western conquest of the Philippines in 16th century, Chinese traders and

diplomats had been travelling our islands and even named Mindoro as Ma-i or Ma-yi,

known to locals as Mait,14 according to the accounts of Zhufa Zin, written around 1225

CE during the Song dynasty.

In analyzing historiography of the Philippines in pre-Spanish times, a new look in

our history is currently in circulation now on who first discovered our country. Spain

called our Islands, the Philippines, in honor of King Philip. It was known that during the

Indianization process from 1st to15th centuries Common Era of Southeast Asia, China

is more concerned with trade and diplomacy, albeit influencing much of Vietnam, than

other kingdoms and chiefdoms in the region. A case in point of its trade with the

Philippines; in June 1993 Palawan archeological discovery, the wreck of the 15th

century Chinese junk yielded thousands of artifacts including jars, ceramics, and coins

bearing date of 1414 that coincided with the time frame of Admiral Zheng Hes

expedition and circumnavigation of the world.15

Literally means country of the Blacks.
In Chester Cabalzas blog, Chinese or Indian Discovery of the Philippines ad Maritime Strategy in Asia,

Fast forward today. In one of the murals at the National Defense College of the

Philippines (NDCP), a realist painting would show that Chinese in the Philippines have

always been partners of the Filipino people in the struggle for freedom. During the

Spanish occupation, the Chinese rebelled against the oppressive ruler. Filipino

historians referred to these rebellions as the Chinese Uprisings.16 In the war against

resistance to Japanese, the local Chinese organized eight guerilla groups to fight side

by side with Filipino guerillas. Most notable was the Philippine-Chinese Anti-Japanese

Guerilla Force, popularly known by its Chinese name as Wha Chi or Squadron 48. The

group, composed mainly of Chinese Hukbalahap. Even in modern times, many of

Chinese lineages who are strongly assimilated to Filipino culture have triumphantly

succeeded in leading the different sectors of Philippines society. The Chinese in the

Philippines, called Tsinoys, are generally partners of the Filipino people in the fight for


Many of Chinese descent in the Philippines originated from Fujian and other

southern coastal provinces of China. There are two waves of migration in the

Philippines according to Ang See (2005):

In 1953, Chinese rebels led by Pan Ho wu killed Governor Luis Perez Dasmarinas. The ilustrado or bourgeois
class, which led the Reform Movement and the Philippine Revolution against the Spaniards and the Americans,
was basically a Chinese-Filipino mestizo class. Worth mentioning was Ignacio Pua, the full-blooded Chinese general
in the revolutionary army. He was responsible for building munitions factory in Imus, Cavite. He was the
revolutionary armys fundraiser, and led many battles against the Spaniards. Transcribed in Chester Cabalzas blog,
Chinese Immigrants in the Philippines,

(1) Pre-war Philippines: The diaspora started in pre-war Philippines, where

Chinese fled their country to developing Southeast Asian countries as

undocumented and illegal. Chinese diaspora increased with the bright

desire to improve their lives due to reasons of poverty, which at that time,

PRC was poorer than some Southeast Asian countries.

(2) Post-war Philippines: In 1940s, no new immigration allowed in the Philippines

except as investors, students, and tourists. But in 1980s, due to economic

reform in China, numerous Chinese migrated to all parts of the world and

many of those went to developed countries in Southeast Asia as popular

destinations. Fortunately, some who came in the Philippines became

billionaires and wealthiest tycoons and taipans in the country.

Advance System of Writing in Chinas Early Dynasties

Written Chinese characters originated from a pictograph system invented by the

Chinese people 4,000 years ago, making it the worlds oldest form of writing still in use

today.18 The Dongba writing, considered as the only living pictographs, is an ancient

script of the shamans of Chinas Naxi ethnic minority, with a history of over 1,000 years.

Originally carved on wood and stone; later, it came to be written on paper. There are

about 1,400 characters in the script, which are still in use. It is the only living pictograph

language in the world, and is touted as a living fossil.19

China, p76, Foreign Language Press, 2011).

Shang20 writings were found in scapulas or shoulder bones of cattle, plastrons, or

under shells of tortoise. Pieces of evidence from Shang oracle bone inscriptions dated

around 14th century Before Common Era (BCE). It is highly sophisticated with already

2000 characters. Writing was done from top to bottom (brush was used on a slip wood

or bamboo).21 Albeit, it said that the early writings were difficult to learn and understand;

the system of printing was more complicated compared to western Roman alphabets or

form of writing. On the other hand, it was also well appreciated because values included

in each character make it more substantial; highly aesthetic through calligraphy

principles and surmount various dialects in China. At the same time, this form of writing

highly influenced the Sinic or Sinitic culture of the entire Northeast Asia including the

two Koreas, Japan, and Mongolia, and Southeast Asias Vietnam.

Chinese writing system survived long dynastic periods in China. But it was during

the Six Dynasties Period (222-589 CE) that the revival of the empire, after the failure of

Confucianism with the upsurge of Taoism and the arrival of Buddhism, that Chinese

language became the official court language, encompassing the nature of the Chinese

writing system.

The Shang dynasty is the earliest dynasty in China, known for its early sophisticated potteries, which was
historically located in Northern China. The geographical location of this dynasty somewhat affected the early
writings of the Chinese based from unearthed artifacts on bones of cattle. The colder temperature especially
during winter may have helped these artifacts preserved.
During this period, the Shang had made already a Calendar (with 12 months = 365.25 / 24 periods; 12 months
solar and 29.5 per lunation). It was also argued by archaeologists that those found in An-yang were unmistakable
Chinese writing.

Chinese Spoken and Written Languages

Hanyu (spoken Chinese) is the most commonly used language in China. The

Hanzi (Chinese written characters) is the most commonly used written language. Pinyin

is the Chinese phonetic alphabets and English translations, which is now becoming

popular simply because of peoples interests, from all walks of life, on basic and

advanced Chinese language worldwide.

The basic sound of modern Chinese language is not difficult to reproduce if one

speaks the English language. Pinyin (spelling the sounds of Chinese characters) uses

the English alphabet. Most of the letters are similar to the English sounds. Only a few

sounds in modern Chinese do not occur in English. Most Chinese syllables consist of

two (2) parts: an initial (beginning sound) and a final (ending sound). The Pinyin system,

which was officially adopted by China in 1953, has successfully Romanized the Chinese

language, and this made it possible for English-speaking people around the world to

learn Chinese. Moreover, the English and Chinese languages share some basic

grammar rules. A sentence has a subject and a predicate; the word order is almost the

same. However in Chinese, prefixes and suffixes are not prominent because it does not

exist in the language itself.

Zhonghua Zihai (Grand Dictionary of Chinese Characters), published in 1994

contains more than 85,000 Chinese written characters. The official Xiandai Hanyu

Changyong Zibiao (List of Frequently Used Characters in Modern Chinese)

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promulgated in 1998 that also contains 2,500 most frequently used characters and

1,000 in less common use. Furthermore, all of Chinas 55 minority peoples have their

own languages, except for the Hui and the Manchu, who only use Chinese; 22 have

their scripts, with 28 scripts in total.

The Chinese language is basically monosyllabic. A monosyllabic language is a

language in which words predominantly consist of a single syllable. Thus, syllables are

units of speech.

The Chinese alphabet (thonemes) has 21 consonants (initials). The consonant

that begins the syllable is called initials.

b l zh
p g ch
m k sh
f h r
d j z
t q c
n x s

The Chinese language has 16 vowels:

a ou u
o an
e en
ie ang
ai eng
ei er
ao I

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Combination of Initials and Finals:

ba ben bin
bo bang bing
bai bi bu
bei biao
bao bie
ban bian

In the syllable (after the initial), the vowel or the compound with the nasal

consonant is called Final, thus, there are 38 finals. There are nine (9) simple finals (a

syllable with one vowel). On the other hand, there are 13 compound finals (a syllable

with two or three vowels). The nasal finals are made up by a vowel and a nasal

consonant. Finals can stand by themselves as syllable except those beginning with i, u.

Every syllable in modern Chinese, theoretically speaking, has four tones. Every

syllable has its definite tone. The tone is the variation of the speakers pitch. It does not

change with ones emotion as in English. And like the initial and the final, the tone is

part of a syllable. There are four (4) official tones in the Chinese tone language. The 4th

official tones represented by four diacritical marks. The 4th Official Tones represented by

4 diacritical marks: -, /, , \. They are placed on top of the vowels in every syllable.

Example: m, m, m, m, Meanings are derived according to tones:

m mother

m rope (hemp)

m ride a horse

m to scold

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The meaning is also derived according to the situation: N ha m? How are


There are two ways to ask questions:

1. S m?

2. Positive + Negative (w/o m )?

ex. N ha buba

In Chinese Language, there are two (2) special verbs needed to complete a


1. Sh (Positive) is am are yes

Bsh (Negative) is not no

2. Yo have (Positive)

Me yo (Negative)


N yo b m?

T me yo mm m?

T yo meyo bb mm?

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My visits to developed and coastal cities of China in its northern and southern

parts like Beijing, Shanghai, Xiamen, and Hongkong, in a way mesmerized me to look

back and rethink of the achievements of Zhnggu. The reason why I studied MA Asian

Studies reinforced with a short course I obtained from Peoples Liberation Army,

National Defense University (PLA-NDU), is very strategic to understand Chinas soft

and hard powers, with my hope to pursue a cultural study on Chinas resurgence as a

global power for my doctorate studies. China is projected by many experts to play a

major role, sometimes considered as the next superpower, although as an Asian power

China would dispel that ambition to becoming the worlds superpower. The typical

Chinese and Asian values of being low-key and humble would be Chinas strategy, in its

rise from power which is very opposite from any western power that is aggressive and


One of the strategies to better understand China is through language and culture.

I myself enrolled in basic Chinese language to feel the grasp of the vivid and poetic

monosyllabic language of the Sinitic culture. Sometimes, with my dream of becoming

fluent in the Chinese language. I tried my best to learn, grasp, words and sentences,

syllables and intonations, calligraphy writing, and a taste of Chinese culture through my

travels and study tours. But in reality, I am also intimidated with this language, which I

think is thorny and difficult, however, fun!

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I myself admit that it is difficult to learn the art of calligraphy writing and reading

characters, which I also suffered the same when I studied Nihonggo. Better yet now that

there is the popularity of the pinyin. It was said to me that in the realm of

communication, an average Chinese needs to memorize or should know at least 2,000

characters to be able to read and write. The Chinese language is also familistic thats

why in their kinship system, one needs to recognize a relative based on the latters

seniority and position within a chronological sequence of kinsmen. This is cognizant of

the Confucian values that they patronage.

There is indeed a stigma attached to the Chinese language, which is as old as its

civilization, reflecting only its sophistication when it was invented. This contested future

lingua franca uses morphemes to represent characters with corresponding meanings. It

requires simple logic. Unlike other Romance or Austronesian languages, which are

more bi-syllabic. Furthermore, in Mandarin Chinese it needs neither particles nor

prefixes. Somehow, this is the reason why most Tsinoys who speak Tagalog or Filipino,

utter choppy sentences.

According to my laoshir or teacher, in studying the Chinese language, it is also

important to study their culture because the Chinese people are warm and welcoming to

outsiders who wish to learn their language and culture, as evidenced by the

establishments of the Confucius Institutes around the world.

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Who knows, Mandarin Chinese will replace the English language as the next

worlds lingua franca!?

I hope that this paper will inspire me more to understand and continue learning

the sophisticated Chinese language and culture.

Hen xie xie!!

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Ang See, Teresita. China: New Chinese Immigrants: Problems and Challenges, Power
Point Presentation, October 2005.

Ateneo de Manila University.

Cabalza, Chester. The Rise of China and India, in Political Dimension of National
Security (International), Distance Learning Manual on MNSA, NDCP, 2010.

______________. Chinese or Indian Discovery of the Philippines ad Maritime Strategy

in Asia,

Intensive Course of Chinese Language (in Chinese-English). Book One. Hong Kong,

Ji, Lifei. Learn Chinese (Hanyu) The Fast and Fun Way, Barrons Educational Series,

Laurel, Salvador. China Update 2000, Manila: PDM Press, 2000.

Merin, Eliseo. Chinese Mandarin Language, PowerPoint, NDCP, 2011.

Nye, Joseph Jr. Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics, Public Affairs and

Peoples Republic of China. China, Foreign Language press, 2011.

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