Anyone who has ever attempted learning Chinese has been faced by a harsh reality: Sooner or later, you’ll be expected to read a newspaper.

But have you ever picked one up and just looked at it? Even if you’re at a C1 level of Chinese like me, a newspaper is typically an incomprehensible spattering of inscrutable abbreviations, punctuated with transliterated proper nouns that look more like lengthy clauses than names.

Contrary to everything I learned in my journalism classes in the U.S., Chinese newspaper articles (at least the “official” ones) are simultaneously so cryptic and telegraphic on the one hand, and bombastically verbose on the other, that the only way to understand them is by knowing what they say before you attempt reading them. When working outside of class to discover “the main point” of an article, I quickly found that my native-speaking tutors were often almost as clueless as I was.

To know what it felt like to spend hours pouring over a 2-page document filled with endless run-on sentences composed of completely unfamiliar words and characters, only to discover that there was virtually no meaning at all, listen to Sir Humphrey’s little speech in “Yes, Minister,” and imagine that instead of listening to this, you’re reading it in a non-phonetically written foreign language:

My 4 semesters of Chinese newspaper class in language school showcased the 2 things we Western learners of Chinese share in common: (1) We usually feel frustrated. (2) We usually feel confused. In short, we are walking, talking time bombs. Two things that help to diffuse us? Simplicity and consistency.

The best Chinese learning tools tend to be the ones that mix those two ingredients together by focusing on one thing, and then doing it really really well, carefully eliminating anything that may confuse or frustrate unnecessarily. This is the genius behind elegant tools like the Pimsleur program or Skritter.

Enter The Chairman’s Bao. It’s great… in an eat-your-steamed-asparagus kind of way. Anyone who has sat through the torture of a Chinese newspaper class can attest to the fact that it’s about as much fun as shoving bamboo under your toe nails and lighting it on fire. The Chairman’s Bao at least keeps things non-flammable.

It does this by taking a completely revolutionary approach to using news in Chinese education: Actually considering the students’ real-life language level.

Mind blown.

The articles are divided among the 6 HSK levels, plus an HSK 6+ level. Articles are not published as they originally appeared, but are rather carefully re-written (“graded“) down to those different levels. A student who finds he is able to read HSK 4 articles fairly easily can daily return to the site and find other HSK 4 articles at or below his level.

Don’t miss that: At or below his level. This is how to make progress.

Do I subscribe? I used to, but I let my subscription expire a few months ago. I’ve toyed with the idea of “eating my vegetables” and subscribing again, but this article by John Pasden persuaded me to stick with “fun” stuff over “useful” stuff.

I’m glad for what The Chairman’s Bao has brought to Chinese news: Simple, consistent level-appropriateness. They’re also good at choosing fairly interesting material, in stark contrast with the empty government pronouncements from the 1990s I was afflicted with in language school.

Had TCB been around when I started, my attitude toward Chinese news would no doubt be much better. Hopefully now that it’s here, the Chinese-language news world will never be the same again.