The User Guide for the book included in the printed version of Chinese Blockbuster 1 is presented below for your convenience.
Each character and building block is presented with its own entry in the series. Using as examples four characters that were introduced in Book 1, the different sections of each entry are explained below, using the four figures that appear at the bottom of the page as references.
- This is the sequence number, reflecting the order of presentation of the character in this series.
If a character has two different pronunciations and each pronunciation means something different, two separate entries are created for the same character. The corresponding entries follow each other. Figure 4 is such an example where the letter ‘A’ after the number indicates that this character has at least another entry following this one, with the same number followed by the next sequential letter. Likewise, if a simplified character represents the simplification of two different traditional characters, both entries follow each other.
- Chinese character. In Figure 1, there exists only one version of the character. Figure 2, Figure 3 and Figure 4 show characters with both a simplified and a traditional format, the traditional one being written between square brackets.
- The tone used (first, second, third or fourth tone) when the character is pronounced. An accent is indicated above the number, as an additional reminder of how the tone is written in pinyin. This space is left empty for characters pronounced in the neutral tone and for building blocks having no pronunciation of their own.
- The real, actual definitions of the character, written in italics and presented as a numbered list. Some of these are also underscored with a solid line; they are the values selected in this series to be associated with the character when it is used as a building block in other characters. All the values written in italics should be learned. This section may also list, next to the symbol †, ancient or obsolete meanings worthy of mention. Figure 3 shows such an instance. If a definition is indicated but is not written in italics, it is a definition that is no longer used in modern Chinese. For non-characters that only serve as a building block in other characters, they are indicated as such.
- The pronunciation of the character, in pinyin. For non-characters, “Not applicable” will be indicated since they no longer have a pronunciation.
- The sound word used that best represents the character pronunciation, written in bold. The part of the sound word which reproduces the Chinese sound is doubly underlined in that section. In the case of a non-English sound word, as shown in Figure 3, its phonetic is indicated between /slashes/ using the International Phonetic Alphabet. A definition of the sound word follows, when deemed useful. In some cases, you will also see a reference to Appendix 3: Special sound mnemonics in this section, that provides additional details to help you understand the choice of a sound word. For non-characters, “Not applicable” will be indicated.
- An image used to reinforce the meaning of the sound word.
- The list of components or building blocks making up the character. Here are a few important points regarding this section:
For characters having both a simplified and a traditional format, the building blocks of each are represented under separate headings, with the traditional ones between brackets. When both formats of a character are composed of the same building blocks, each format using either the simplified or the traditional version of the said building blocks, only one heading is provided, as shown in Figure 4.
In some other cases, only the simplified or the traditional character is decomposed into its building blocks, its counterpart being too simple to decompose or its shape being better represented by a fictitious meaning. Figure 3 shows an example of just the traditional character being broken up.
Another important point concerns the difference between real and fictitious meanings. Building blocks are always written in underlined small caps (hint: blocky letters) where they appear. The building blocks underscored with a solid line represent real meanings while those underscored with a dotted line signify fictitious meanings. When a component is slightly different than its manifestation in the character under study, it is preceded by a ~ tilde.
In Figure 2, you can also see that the word inch is appended as a superscript to the building blocks for staple gun and staple. When a corresponding real value exists for a fictitious building block, it is indicated as such. In this case, ‘inch’ is written in underlined small caps because ‘inch’ is also a value selected to represent character 寸 when it is used as a building block. Otherwise, one of the real values (that are written in italics and not underlined when presented in the Definition section of the character) is appended as a superscript and written with normal font. When no real meaning superscript is written besides a building block, as is the case for winery in Figure 2, it means that there is no longer an actual value associated with it.
The superscript number written to the right of the building block corresponds to its sequence number in the series and allows you to quickly reference the character or building block. Appendix 1: Building Blocks Defined in Previous Books lists all the building blocks previously defined in Book 1, along with their respective values.
Finally, the components making up a character are listed in the order in which they would be written.
- You will find in this section memory hints and mental images to help you memorize the character as well as important things to remember, presented in the form of a bullet list when there are more than one, as in Figure 1.
In some instances, the ancient form of the character is provided when it may help you understand and remember the character under study, as is the case in Figure 1, where shows a hand begging for money.
The fictitious meanings given to some characters are also presented in this section. In Figure 3, the character is given the fictitious meaning of road. The fictitious values are always written in italics and underscored with a dotted line when introduced. This is to remind you that when this character serves as a building block in another character, its value will appear in small caps and will be underscored with a dotted line as well (like road in this case).
A quick way to know if a character will ever be used as a building block is to look at its Definition and Mnemonics (if present) section. If no values are underscored by a solid line or a dotted line in both sections, as is the case in Figure 4, the character will never be used as a building block.
Finally, illustrations often accompany the fictitious definitions in this section, as shown in Figure 3.
- The Story section is the centerpiece of the whole presentation. This is where all the elements of a character (meanings, building blocks, pronunciation) are brought together in a memorable narrative. The part of the story dealing with the traditional characters is written between brackets. The meanings are written in italics, the components in underlined small caps (solid or dotted line) and the sound word in bold.In certain situations, these various formats may be combined in a story. For instance, when a building block has the same value as one of the meanings for the character under analysis, it is written in italics small caps. Likewise, if the sound word has the same value as one of the meanings, it is written in bold italics.
There may be cases where either the Mnemonics or the Story section is sufficient to convey a memorable narrative. Typically, only the Mnemonics section is used for ‘non-characters’ and very rare characters.
- Seeing Chinese characters in combination with other characters is very useful to be able to read Chinese texts. As such, this section provides, except for very rare characters and non-characters, examples of usage to form words in modern Chinese, presented in a numbered list that corresponds to the numbered list in the Definition section. Most of the examples provided consist of two-character words (as most modern Chinese words are now written), but expressions and sentences are given as well. For economy of space, only the simplified character is used in the examples. Also, although it is usual practice to glue together the pinyin of each character forming a word, the pinyin pronunciation of each character is separated by a space in this series, to help you distinguish them better.
In a few cases, a character is pronounced in the neutral tone when used in a specific word. For instance, one such example is the word 儿子(ér zǐ) which means ‘Son.’ While the character 子 is usually pronounced in the third tone (as shown by the accent above its pinyin), it is pronounced in this word in the neutral tone. To help you notice these special cases, the pinyin of the character, zǐ, will be underscored with a dotted line.
- Because learning Chinese characters is so interesting, I am betting you will ‘want a little more.’ This last section indicates:
- Whether the character is one of the 100 most common Chinese surnames, based on a report on the household registrations released by the Chinese Ministry of Public Security on April 24, 2007, for Mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau.
- Whether the character is one of the 214 Kangxi radicals.
- Whether the character is a heavenly stem or an earthly branch.
- The frequency of use of each character, going from the most to the least frequent, we have: Top 10, Top 100, Top 500, Top third (1-2000), Middle third (2000-4000) and Bottom third (4000-6000). For non-characters, i.e. pure elements of the Chinese writing system, for characters that are no longer used to form words but which are still used as building blocks and for characters with a frequency of use above 6000, no frequency of use is indicated, as is the case for Figure 3.
- Any additional points worthy of mention and other fascinating facts about the character.
 International Phonetic Alphabet: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Phonetic_Alphabet