The thing I love most about Chinese as a language is the stories behind characters in written communication. I’m not sure who coined the term ‘character’, but I think it’s most appropriate because Chinese characters are characters in the story behind the Chinese word.
I have talked about this before, but breaking up a Chinese character into its component radicals can help you understand how the word was formed through the stories that the radicals convey. The radicals that are used in a character can also reflect societal values of the time period that the word was formed in. We can see this in common words such as ‘good’ 好, which is made up of the radical meaning woman 女 (female), and the radical on the right meaning son 子. When the radicals are combined the word means good, to convey that a women is meant to stay with her son (boys were also favoured over girls in Ancient China…and arguably still today).
One of the characters that my teacher recently helped me dissect is卡 ‘ka’ meaning ‘’stuck’’. The character is comprised of two radicals,上 and下. 上 ‘shang’ means “up”, as in ‘on top of the horizon’, and 下 ‘xia’ means ‘’down” as it has the opposite meaning of ‘underneath the horizon’. The line at the bottom of shang and at the top of xia represents the horizon, and then the line above and below the ‘horizon’ conveys that the characters are either above or below. The word ‘ka’ is interesting because it uses both of these ideas together.In the character 卡 you can see that shang forms the top half of the character and xia forms the bottom. As mentioned above, 卡 means ‘stuck’ precisely because it is stuck between the points both above and below the horizon! Because of the phonetic sound of that character, ‘ka’卡is used as the Chinese word for ‘card’. My Chinese teacher also showed us a character that looks similar to卡, which is the surname ‘Bian’ 卞. By following the reasoning for why卡 was formed, perhaps you could offer your own reason for the story behind bian卞, because I’m not too sure. My teacher’s friend has 卞 ‘Bian’ as her surname, but she gets offended when people accidently misspell it as卡because she does not want to be ‘stuck’!
[If you look at these side by side you can clearly see the similarities:卡 上 下卞].
The radical components in almost every Chinese character are something I find interesting. Not all words have extensive stories behind them, however as I mentioned in a previous post people sometimes offer their interpretations and stories behind characters on online forums etc. Now that I have developed my introduction of this concept, I would love to share with you short reasons behind why certain characters were formed (or at least some of the reasons).
If you feel that you are stuck between midway, good luck 世界。
从欣妍 – From Xinyan.
P.s. I found some beautiful pictures of horizons that I was going to include at the start of this post, however I stuck with a photo I took at the park last summer as the sunset was emerging (maximizing the use of primary sources!) Great horizon right 😛🌅