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Here’s an easy phrase for you; the building blocks 白 (white) and 人 (person) combine to mean “white person”. This literal translation isn’t exactly politically correct, so we’ll go ahead and use the phrase “Caucasian” here. Because we used the character 人, this phrase can refer to both men and women.


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If we take the character for 白 ‘white’ and duplicate it 白白, we don’t get ‘very white’ (you wish!). We in fact get the phrase ‘in vain’ or ‘no purpose’. Why is twice as much white in vain, though? The character for 白 ‘white’ can also mean ‘empty’ and ‘blank’. There is little sense in having a lot of nothing! So if you have two lots of nothing then you don't really have anything at all and there is no purpose to that!


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大門 This phrase contains the compound 大 (big), and the building block 門 (door). Traditionally, the front door of a house is built to be impressive and useful, so it’s usually big! The literal definition of this phrase is “big door”, which we can translate to “front door”. The simplified form of the character門 is 门.


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門口 This is a pretty easy phrase, so it’s good practice if you’re just starting to learn compounds. It’s composed of two building blocks: 門 (door) and 口 (mouth). The simplified form of the character 門 is 门. By itself, 口 means “mouth”, but in some phrases like this one, 口 can mean “entrance”, just like a mouth is an “entrance” into the human body. This phrase can mean 'doorway' or 'entrance'.


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Can you recognize the components in this Chinese compound: 東? We start with the building block 木 (tree), and add a 日 (sun), another building block, in the middle. The sun rises in the East, so this compound represents the direction of the morning sunlight coming through the trees. It’s really a beautiful image to capture in such a simple character. Powerful nature imagery is an important theme in Chinese art, and we can also see it here in the language. Pretty cool! The simplified form of the character is 东.


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Do you recognise these two characters? I am sure you recognise these two. But what do they mean when they're combined? Mountain (山 ) + East (東) = ??? (山東) 山東 - Shandong in English.


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