‘He’s my rickshaw man’ and other frivolities

I was given a copy of a second-hand spoken Chinese textbook last Christmas.  But this isn’t your ordinary textbook; it was published in Shanghai in 1940, and is very much ‘of its time’.

The book, Introduction to Spoken Chinese (華言拾級) was written by J. J. Brandt, who also wrote Literary Chinese, Wenli Particles and Modern Newspaper Chinese. Anyway, it’s really good fun because some of the language used hasn’t really passed the test of time, as the example sentences seem aimed at wealthy expats with plenty of household staff. I provide some below (all taken from the example phrases sections after each lesson):

1. Tomorrow we are moving; hire some coolies.


2. This is my No. 1 house boy


3. Is your master at home?


4.  Our master is out, but the young master is at home.


5. The waistcoat is too tight


6. Bring me quickly some water to wash my face


7. And if you have no time the whole year, do you not take baths at all?


8. This article is not worth a single copper


9. He is my rickshaw man


The inside cover reads: “Modern students of Chinese owe a good deal to Mr. Brandt…and will find additional reasons to thank him for this new text.” Quite so.

3 responses to “‘He’s my rickshaw man’ and other frivolities”

  1. Aaron says:

    Why? What do you call your rickshaw man?

  2. Bilbo says:

    Now this post most definitely is worth a copper or two!

  3. Daan says:

    Oh, that’s great. I have a couple of really old books at home that a captain in the Merchant Navy used to take with him whenever he went to Asia. He has since passed away and his daughter decided to give them to me. When I get back to the Netherlands I should see if I can post some.

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