Monday, 19 October 2009

Learning the meaning of Chinese Characters

I (wǒ), the hand that is holding a weapon

When learning Chinese characters you will be tought that Chinese characters are divided in six categories (六書 liùshū or "Six Writings").

To one of the six categories belong the characters that are created by two or more pictographics to a  "joined meaning" (會意 huì yì ).


木 [木] mù  = 1 tree
林 [林] lín =  2 x trees = forest

Here some more "joined meanings" or so called "ideogrammic compounds" :

 亻 man leaning at a  木 tree resting  休 xiū

日 sun and 月 moon  =  bright 明 míng

 女 woman with a  子 child   =  good   好 hǎo

 力 strength working on a  田 ricefield  =   male  男 nán

豕 pig under a 宀 roof  =  family, home  家 jiā

 手 hand  holding a  戈 weapon   = I   我

Isn't this interesting how the Chinese sign for "I" (我 wǒ) was composed (above picture) ?

I am "The hand that is holding a weapon" !

This results from really rough times. If you cannot defend yourself, you cannot exist !

Actually, my latest Chinese teacher told me that the sign 我 (, engl.:  I ) is a combination of the sign for "corn" (or grain) and the sign for "weapon" (here: lance).  The corn is to feed yourself and the weapon is to defend yourself.

I could not verify if corn (禾 hé) is meant here for the first sign or if it is rather the hand  手. If there is a Chinese expert among my readers, please feel free to comment about that post!

Check out this link - it will show a new Chinese characters any minute :

I added the link to my blogroll, so anytime you visit you can learn some Chinese.


xzhou said...

Hi Suzie, love your blog!

I'm a Chinese and I'm eligible to comment this :) Your decomposition of the character "我" makes good sense to me, and I'm a bit astonished about it: I bet most Chinese people won't realize that "grain (禾) and lance (戈) make up an individual as everybody themselves"!

Best luck!

- Suzie - said...

Xie xie ni ! Thank you !
I was really looking for the "grain" and "lance" characters to write a post about how feeding and defending seems the most important actions to create the symbol for the individual, "I", in Chinese language.
However so far on google I only found the hand and the weapon. But I deem feeding even more important, especially in rural China, and am happy that you could tell me that the grain symbol might be in as well !

xzhou said...

Hi Suzie,

I think the part you questioned looks like "禾" (grain) with some transformation. And it also looks like "扌" (提手旁, indicating hand) to me. I'm not expert at all and let's trust the explanation of your Chinese teacher...

I tried to translate my blog post in English for you to read. Cheers!

Sharon said...

Hi Suzie,

I happened upong your blog on chinese furniture and maybe you can help. Sorry for posting it here, but this is your latest blog.

Anyways, I have gone back to Beijing many many times and have never managed to find a good rosewood/redwood curio stand. Been to the renovation district with the Antique building but only saw a few that looked like they were made of balsa wood. Would you happen to know which markets to look for such a thing.

I see them used as displays in chinese tea shops.

Here is a link to what I am talking about. I will be in Beijing again this December so if you can help, please.

Thanks in advance.


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