Generations and the passage of time
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Generations and the passage of time

Generations and the passage of time

Welcome to this week’s issue of the Giant Mandarin newsletter. This week’s newsletter includes words relating to the topics of generations and the passage of time.

Last month, The New Yorker’s long-time China correspondent Peter Hessler published an essay reflecting on the lives of his former students from when he taught English at a college in China for two years in the mid-1990s. In doing so, he draws on his decades-long correspondence with many of them, including through letters and in-person reunions. The article tells some of the stories that make up the lives of his students. There are stories of love and loss, as well as success and failure.

Hessler notes that in China, generations are typically identified by their decade of birth, rather than familiar names like the boomers, Gen X, millennials, Gen Z and so on. But departing from this convention, he refers to his formers students, who would have been born in the 1970s, as the reform generation, on account of much of their lives coinciding with China’s rapid reform period that began in the late 1980s.

The article gives a great amount of insight into both life in contemporary China and the country’s developmental path over the last couple of decades. Like anything Hessler writes, it’s also a pleasure to read. I encourage you to check it out!


Approximately in ascending order from elementary to advanced

  1. 70后/七零后/七〇后 qīlínghòu - the generation born in the 1970s

一代 yīdài - generation (singular)

上一代 shàngyīdài - the last (previous) generation

下一代 xiàyīdài - the next generation

后代 hòudài - later generations; future generations

一代一代 yīdàiyīdài - generation by generation; each generation

  1. 时间 shíjiān - time
  2. 出生 chūshēng - to be born
  3. 去世 qùshì - to pass away
  4. 儿童 értóng - child; children
  5. 青少年 qīngshàonián - youth; young people

年轻 niánqīng - young

年轻人 niánqīngrén - young people

成年 chéngnián - fully grown; adulthood

成年人 chéngniánrén - adult

  1. 老人 lǎorén - an elderly person; the elderly
  2. 老年人 lǎoniánrén - an elderly person; the elderly
  3. 一辈子 yībèizi - a lifetime

时代 shídài - era; age; times

儿童时代 értóngshídài - childhood

新时代 xīnshídài - new age; new era

信息时代 xìnxīshídài - information age

时期 shíqī - period

特殊时期 tèshūshíqī - special period; exceptional period

关键时期 guānjiànshíqī - crucial moment; critical point

  1. 改革开放 Gǎigékāifàng - reform and opening up (refers to a series of economic reforms that began in China in the late 1970s)


China’s Reform Generation Adapts to Life in the Middle Class, Peter Hessler, The New Yorker

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Giant Mandarin (@GiantMandarin) is written by David Wu (@davidwuio).