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Pei Pei, The Chinese Language Champion
The Epoch Times
12/5/2005

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Her name is Pei Pei Champion (yes, that’s her real name) and she is on a mission to save the Chinese language.

Many people may wonder how a language spoken by one fifth of the world’s population could be in danger, but Ms. Champion swears that if we do not act fast traditional Chinese characters may go the way of Egyptian hieroglyphics.

Pei Pei refers to the simplified characters, created under the rule of Chairman Mao Ze Dong during the communist revolution, as a kind of plague upon her language. Chairman Mao wanted to eliminate the Chinese characters, viewing them as part of the “old culture” that he sought to break away from.

“The Chinese language does not belong to anyone. It does not belong to China. This beautiful language belongs to the world. No one has the right to change it.

“Chinese characters have three levels of meaning—pictographic (as in the character actually looks similar to the concept it is describing), ideographic (as in the different elements of the character have their own inherent meaning), and phonetic (as in the character has pronounceable elements).”

The Chinese language has developed this depth of meaning through 5,000 years of refinement. Pei Pei says, “the simplified language destroys the meaning, the spirit, and the tradition of Chinese.”

In drawing different traditional characters, she illustrates how connected the characters are. And then in drawing the same words in simplified characters, she describes their disjointed nature and loss of meaning.

Traditional characters are still used in Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Singapore, and by most Chinese outside of the Mainland. However, 95% of Chinese speakers are in Mainland China and use the simplified version exclusively.

One Woman’s Uphill Journey

So, who is Pei Pei Champion, and how does she propose to save the traditional Chinese language?

Born in Taiwan, but having lived in America since 1992, Pei Pei has a degree in business administration and has also studied early childhood education. She taught English in Taiwan, and has always loved to teach.

Her lifelong dream was simple—“to find a good husband, have beautiful children, love them with all my heart, and live happily ever after as a devoted wife and mother.”

She met a wonderful American man with a great name, married him, and had a beautiful daughter. Her dream was on track to coming true. However, when her daughter was three years old things changed.

“I took my daughter to a Chinese class when she was three. I could see that all the children in the class hated it. They thought it was boring. They thought that learning this beautiful language was boring. I knew there had to be a better way to teach them.”

“Bo Po Mo” is a system of 37 characters used as a pronunciation guide for learning Chinese. The Chinese language is composed of monosyllabic words and there are not many different sounds. One sound, such as “ma” or “yi,” has hundreds of different meanings, but for each different meaning there is a different character.

It sounds complicated, but Pei Pei says that it is not. “Chinese is not as hard to learn as people think. They are just teaching it wrong.”

The school she took her daughter to in 1997 “took 55 classroom hours to teach the students the Bo Po Mo pronunciation guide. They would learn 3 per day, repeat them over and over, write them over and over, go home, come back next week, and learn 3 more. By then they had already forgotten the first 3.”

“It broke my heart to see the kids hating Chinese class. I went home and wrote all the Bo Po Mo characters on pieces of paper and spread them around me on the floor of my living room and just stared at them, thinking there must be a better way.”

Soon she began to understand the connections between the sounds of the words and the images of the characters. She started developing simple mnemonic devices that could be understood by children and general associations between the written and spoken form that would be fun and easy to learn.

This system has now become “Champion Chinese” and Pei Pei says, “what takes 55 hours in every other Chinese class takes two hours with Champion Chinese.”

“It works … my students can speak Chinese,” she says, and she has a pile of testimonials to prove it.

“I never planned on this … but after I taught my first class, the parents of my students all wrote letters to me. ‘You don’t know how much we have suffered. My child hated Chinese, now he loves it. You have to get your work published and teach more people.’ So I started down this path and there is no turning back.”

She teaches five classes a day at five different schools, and also campaigns very hard to get her method noticed by an even larger audience. “If I bump into a tree, I will ask the tree to help me save the Chinese language … I work every single bit of my blood every day for this.”

Stumbling Blocks at Every Turn

“My students love me, but others call me a trouble maker.”

Pei Pei says that she has taken her method to many Chinese teachers in America and Taiwan, but it is very difficult to get them to change their methods.

“They will not admit that there is a better way.”

Tirelessly traveling around the globe to try and teach people traditional Chinese, she feels undermined at almost every step by politics, greed, and plain laziness.

Her method, if it is as great as she and her students say, would seem to invalidate all the established theories. Pei Pei says this brings resistance from other prominent Chinese teachers. Also, she states that the Chinese government pushes for Chinese classes to teach simplified Chinese, and this also makes it hard for her.

The existing system is set up for the first year to be dedicated to learning the Bo Po Mo pronunciation, but with her system, if it is done in a few hours it will upset the system too much, according to Ms. Champion.

The tense political rivalry between Taiwan and Mainland China adds another sticky element to the issue. But Pei Pei pleads, “I don’t care about politics. I only care about my culture.”

For the Communist Party to admit that it made a mistake in changing the language 60 years ago would take a monumental leap, a leap that Pei Pei hopes it will eventually make. “They reversed their stance on having an open economy, they just need to do the same thing here.”

Pei Pei is also concerned about the spreading of simplified Chinese in the American school system.

“Senator Lieberman has proposed a plan to spend more than a billion dollars on cultural exchange with China. China will want all the language programs to teach simplified characters.” However if Pei Pei Champion has something to say about it, that will not happen.

The United States-China Cultural Engagement Act of 2005 (S.1117) suggests that $1.3 billion be spent over five years specifically to establish Chinese language programs in American schools.

In addressing President Bush about this new Act, Senator Joseph Lieberman (d. Connecticut) says it is an attempt “to redefine and enhance the relationship between the People's Republic of China and the United States of America.”

The plan is great according to Pei Pei, who hopes that more Americans will learn Chinese and experience the greatness of the culture she loves. However, if the language classes are all teaching simplified Chinese using the old, tedious methods, it terrifies her. “It will destroy the language.”

Pei Pei hopes that a clause is added to Senator Lieberman’s act specifically stating that traditional Chinese will be taught. “If you know traditional, then you can read simplified, but if you only know simplified you will not understand the traditional.

“My language has been suffering, we have to save it.” She bears the look of a mother whose child is lost, begging anyone for help.

Pei Pei has a long, uphill road ahead of her, but she is happy. “I work so hard, but I am so joyous,” she exclaims with a huge smile. “I could never do anything else now that I have started this.

“I want my life worth living, which means that I want to do something that is bigger than my life. I want Chinese heritage and culture not only to exist, but live forever!”

For more information on Champion Chinese, feel free to contact Pei Pei at peipeichampion@yahoo.com.

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