If you want an almost endless supply of HSK-graded Chinese texts, maybe The Chairman’s Bao app is for you. Here’s a review about The Chairman’s Bao written by GoEast Mandarin student Jaap about it.
Why I want to improve my reading
Firstly, TCB provides Chinese texts graded by HSK level in all language levels. Yet me specifically, I’m looking for HSK4+ text. I’ve finished the HSK4 course, and I’m now learning Intermediate Spoken Chinese. I found out that my Chinese reading skill has fallen pretty far behind my listening or speaking skills. Not just is my reading speed pretty low, also I encounter loads of Hanzi characters which I should know, but have forgotten. In other words: from my Chinese language comprehension, my reading is clearly the worst.
This is the gap that TCB can fill. I can self-study on my own aside my Chinese classes and speaking with Chinese friends. Besides, reading news-based content in Chinese sounds like a kinda relaxing way to do homework.
In the beginning, you’re asked to set a few features; do you want Pinyin shown or not? Simplified or Traditional, and which levels? You are also asked whether you want to receive notifications or study-reminders. I don’t, so I select no, HSK4 and Simplified Chinese characters. The font-size I’m not sure, and I go for the default options. But it’s nice TCB gives me such a wide range of options, maybe I’ll be spending dozens or a hundred hours on this app, then to fine-tune it is a great addition.
From there on the app is pretty intuitive. I don’t need to read a help guide or tutorial or anything, and can immediately start reading my way through the endless content.
The articles in Chinese
The top article shows very recent news about Covid-19, but this is not really my cup of tea and I’m going to scroll down and choose something a bit happier. There’s an article about the Three Gorges Dam. I can read it without audio, or click the play button for an audio reading (see here for screen recording). The audio is clear and great to follow. I’m listening to it in the subway of Shanghai, and actually, between switching for stops my mind sometimes drifts, but I can go back to the text, click a word and press play from there to re-do that passage.
In fact, I can click any word and the app will give me the Pinyin, English translation and if it belongs to a HSK level, it’ll also show me which HSK level. Underneath the article, keywords are shown as well as grammar points and proper nouns. This is nice! I continue for a recent story on the NBA, which you can see/hear here.
Included in each article — hidden underneath the academic hat icon on the top right — are exercises. There are text-based questions that ask you about the article. Some questions are sneaky; I don’t remember how many meters the Three Gorges Dam is, but most points I can answer rather easily. After that, there’s a matching exercise, when you need to match Hanzi characters with Pinyin and the English meaning.
Audio exercises play a minute of audio without text (no Hanz or Pinyin or any text), after which you do some exercises (Select the most suitable answer, say a statement is true or false, or fill in the blanks). After that, you see how well you mastered the whole text.
It’s not the most comfortable way of learning: just listening is more relaxing. But that’s the whole point of these exercises; it’s a good way to make sure your mind isn’t wandering off and check yourself if you listened actively.
It’s not real HSK, but that’s great
What surprises me is how many words I don’t know, despite selecting HSK4. But that’s actually nice, because if you just stick to HSK4, you mostly get the same words over and over again, with little rotation of new important words. With TCB you can really study new vocabulary while the core of the sentence I can fully understand. For the article on the Three Gorges, there are the functions of the dam (三峡); 防止大水 (protect against flooding), 发电 (generate electricity), and 航运 (shipping transport).
I can save the words I don’t know and want to study by clicking the floppy disk icon (I’m old enough to know what floppy disks are…), and I can rehearse these later at home at my desk instead of the Shanghai subway. You can sort the words you want to rehearse by date, difficulty. You can rehearse them as flashcards, after which you can also sort them on your level of retention, but also see the individual characters by stroke order.
TCB adhering to the HSK difficulty level but adding more vocabulary to the mix has not just a lot of learning value; it also makes the stories more interesting.
Interesting stories that motivate learning
The biggest benefit of TCB isn’t a technical feature. It’s not boring. Of course, I still think it’s more fun to read a fiction novel or watch a movie — but as for learning Mandarin is concerned, TCB is pretty fun. When I learned HSK4 from the Beijing University books, I sometimes cringed at how corny the texts were — each of them telling me to 学习努力，不要放弃，坚持，你一定会成功! Other graded reader apps have too many stories that revolve around puns, a Mandarin learner hears 凉快 instead 两块 and you already know how the whole story will go.
TCB instead uses real news stories in a wide range of tastes. Some are a bit too clickbaity or sensationalist for me, but that’s still better than what other apps offer. A quick glance on my app shows the following titles:
- University Students Participate in Online Relay Race to Celebrate Their Alma Mater
- Meet China’s Municipal Motorcycle Guard
- 100 Whales and Dolphins Die in Mass Stranding on New Zealand’s Chatham Islands
- Report Finds Lingering Symptoms in Patients Who Recover from Covid-19
- University Teacher Designs Village Courtyards Using Resident’s Waste Materials
- Tibetan Online Video Star Given Job Promoting Tourism in Sichuan
Also, new stories are constantly being added. I log-in a few days later and two new articles are shown on top of the list.
Tons of other features
I keep using the app for the next week and cycle my way through more stories. I discover more features, such Videos, in which a story is told through visuals — but they’re not loads, so it’s really an extra and not a real reason to get this app.
The Legends category, available through the menu, is more interesting though: stories similar to the news-based stories, but then based on timeless legends or historical figures, such as King Zhou’s forest of meat, The Butterfly Lovers, and even Jackie Chan. These are a fantastic addition. Some are a bit above my level, but that provides a goal for me to learn towards.
You can create an account for free and start learning, but if you want unlimited content you need to get a subscription. A monthly one is $10, and it gets cheaper the longer you commit: three months is $25, six months $45, and $80 for a year and $140 for two years. And if you use the code goeast25 at checkout, you’ll get a 25% discount on your first subscription.
The Chairman's Bao review
There are several graded reader apps available, and also HSK-graded books, but TCB is one of my favorites because the technical side works perfectly, while the stories are interesting, not just the news-based ones but also the modern and historical legend stories. One advantage is that you’ll learn Chinese culture more, but the biggest benefit is that it’ll encourage you to keep learning or learn more. Self-discipline is different for every learner, but I know I felt my motivation waning throughout HSK4’s boring stories and other self-learning apps. I’m sure with TCB I’ll look forward to more stories, and that’ll it help me to develop my Chinese vocabulary and reading skills.