In Search of Hua Ma

In Search of Hua Ma

John Pasden and Jared Turner

BREAKTHROUGH LEVEL (150 unique characters)

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As a young boy is walking through the mountains in search of a gift for his mother’s birthday, he comes across an ancient looking home. An old lady beckons him inside and asks him to find “Hua Ma”. As he leaves, he finds himself inexplicably transported to the distant island of Hainan while the old lady and the house have disappeared. Unsure of who or what Hua Ma is, he sets out on a quest to find him, realizing this mysterious Hua Ma may be his only chance to find his way back home!

Adaptation Notes

Any learner that has managed to learn 150 Chinese characters knows it is not an easy task, and the prospect of reading a real text in Chinese seems discouragingly faroff. Typically textbook dialogs are the only reading material available for years on end. That’s why being able to read an actual story with only 150 Chinese characters is a very big deal, and a huge help to the fluency development of early-stage learners.

The stories told at this 150-character Breakthrough Level are special, however. Nouns, verbs and adjectives at this level are in short supply, and the stories revolve around the limited vocabulary by necessity. This is why Breakthrough Level stories are not adaptations of western classics. They are original stories co-written by John Pasden and Jared Turner, specifically designed to be engaging to readers despite the limitations.

This story also ties into the larger “Mandarin Companion Universe.” It’s one of the more fantastical stories, partly inspired by stories like Alice in Wonderland and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. But if you continue reading other Mandarin Companion stories, you may see the mysterious old man from this story in The 60-Year Dream, a Mandarin Companion Level 1 story.

Because of the fantastic nature of this story, liberties were taken with some cultural details, such as the clothing worn by the old man and woman (although both are dressed in ancient Chinese styles). Enjoy the story… those who can read this book at an enjoyable pace, you are already well on your way towards progressing to the Level 1 stories.

Character Adaptions

The following is a list of the characters from In Search of Hua Ma in Chinese followed by their corresponding English names from Pasden’s original story. There are, of course, other characters in the story besides these, but many do not have exact correspondences to the original. The names below aren’t translations; they are new Chinese names used for the Chinese versions of the original characters. Think of them as all-new characters in a Chinese story.

  • 南南(Nánnán) Nannan
  • 妈妈(Nánnán Māma) Nannan’s Mom
  • 老太太(Lǎo Tàitai) Old Woman
  • 老头(Lǎotóu) Old Man
  • 花马(Huā Mǎ) Hua Ma

Sample of In Search of Hua Ma










  1. 地方 dìfang n. place
  2. 出门 chūmén vo. to go out the door, to go outside
  3. 以后 yǐhòu adv. after; later, in the future
  4. 看到 kàndào vc. to see
  5. 大海 dàhǎi n. the ocean
  6. 怎么会 zěnme huì phrase how could
  7. 因为 yīnwèi conj. because
  8. 一个人 yī gè rén phrase alone
  9. 看不到 kàn bu dào vc. to be unable to see
  10. 真的 zhēn de adj., adv. real; really
  11. 回头 huítóu vo. to turn one’s head
  12. 老太太 lǎotàitai n. old lady
  13. jiā n. home
  14. 可是 kěshì conj. but
  15. 不见了 bùjiàn le phrase disappeared
  16. 这样 zhèyàng pr. like this
  17. v. to be afraid (of)
  18. 怎么 zěnme adv. how
  19. 海边 hǎibiān n. seaside
  20. 一边 yībiān conj. while doing… (two things)
  21. 地上 dìshang n. on the ground
  22. 好看 hǎokàn adj. good-looking
  23. 看看 kànkan v. to take a look
  24. 第一次 dì-yī cì phrase first time
  25. 这么 zhème adv. so…
  26. 从小到大 cóng xiǎo dào dà phrase from a young age until adulthood
  27. 外面 wàimian n. outside
  28. 生日 shēngri n. birthday

My favorite of the 3 current breakthrough books(Martian, Misadventures, and this). After reading the others, I was able to comprehend full sentences, and sometimes multiple sentences just flowed like reading English. The story was very touching. Looking forward to all of the upcoming higher level readers!

– Daniel Crocker

These are fun to read and are authentic. I absolutely loved practicing my reading comprehension and character retention. These are worth way more than this price tag! I actually want them to make harder versions!!!

– Joshua Thomas

Mandarin Companion are great books for the beginning Chinese reader, keep them coming!

– Denise