Thekla Chabbi


Spoken by 1.3 billion people, what does the world’s most commonly spoken language tell us about China’s rise to become an economic superpower?

Huawei and social surveillance, a strengthened military and enormous economic power: The West is growing fearful of China. In her enlightening new book, sinologist Thekla Chabbi says that’s because we don’t understand it. How can we, she argues, if we don’t understand its language? 

Chabbi’s work takes us on a fascinating journey through the Chinese language, from the Oracle bone and Leibniz’s fascination with China to the Chinese names for VW, BMW and Siemens. Writing with an effortlessly entertaining style, she explains how the Chinese language functions. Yet more importantly, she explores the role of Chinese as a way of accessing the Chinese “world” in all its facets, both past and present. She also describes how it’s used as a political tool, how China’s leadership exerts ‘soft power’ by founding Chinese language institutes around the world, how censorship is used to remove controversial terms from the internet and how the Chinese online community dodges state censors. 

In 1919, a century ago, China’s May Fourth Movement became a mass cultural phenomenon advocating a rejection of Western culture and a focus on national identity while emphasising the importance of one language across the entire nation. Today, Chinese is the language of victors. Thekla Chabbi’s book explains this fascinating language to us, replacing fear with understanding. Among other questions, she explains how to correctly pronounce ‘Huawei’. 


Thekla Chabbi

Thekla Chabbi

Born in 1968, Thekla Chabbi studied sinology in Trier and Nanjing. She has translated works by Chinese novelist Li Er into German. She was awarded the Friedhelm Denninghaus Prize for her Chinese learning textbook, Liao Liao.