Most people ask the same question when I first show them Dong Chinese. There are two answers to that question. One is simple (but boring), and the other is complicated (but interesting!)
tl;dr: “Dong” means “understand”.
In Chinese, the name of Dong Chinese is 懂中文 (Dǒng Zhōngwén). The first word, 懂 (dǒng), means “understand”. The second word, 中文 (zhōngwén), means “Chinese language”.
Once upon a time, a little baby boy was born to two American parents who were working at a university in 山东 (Shāndōng) province. This momentous event took place in January, in the middle of 冬天 (dōngtiān; winter), in China’s 东方 (dōngfāng), the easternmost region of China.
They named him 盛华东 (Shèng Huádōng), since he was a magnificent (盛) little baby boy born in China (华), in the east (东).
Family and friends called him by the nickname 东东 (Dōngdōng) for short, except his siblings, who quickly thought of less endearing ways to call their brother:
- 小动物 (xiǎo dòngwù): Little animal
- 东东弟弟有大肚肚！ (Dōngdōng dìdi yǒu dà dùdu): Little brother Dongdong has a big tummy!
Dongdong departed China six months after he arrived, so unfortunately he didn’t grow up speaking Chinese. A couple decades later, once he graduated from university, he went back to his hometown for a few years to finally learn to 懂 (dǒng; understand) the language and culture that he had been missing for so long.
So, what does “dong” mean?
For me, it evokes lots of meanings:
- 山东 (Shāndōng) - Shandong province
- 冬天 (dōngtiān) - Winter
- 东方 (dōngfāng) - East
- 盛华东 (Shèng Huádōng) - My Chinese name
- 动物 (dòngwù) - Animal
懂 (dǒng) - Understand
Oh, and last but not least:
- 懂中文 (Dǒng Zhōngwén) - Dong Chinese
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