The first appearances of Chinese writing date back to around 1700 B.C. during the Shang Era. These signs were oracular inscriptions on bones: 甲骨文 jiǎ gǔ wén*. The writing was not fixed. To designate the same thing, during a period that lasted a millennium, one could have about twenty spellings, some very different from each other. Knowing the origin, rather the origins of the characters, makes it easier to navigate when one begins to have a good knowledge; indeed the various representations gave various connotations; some meanings have remained. They explain the various meanings that a character can have. It is therefore essential not to omit this step. Apart from the basic pictograms, such as sun, moon, man, during my years of learning Chinese, I have not seen a teacher explain the origins of characters. Too bad!
To illustrate my point, I use the character 艮 seen here. The ancient spellings gave it three main meanings: 1. hard, obstinate (the modern meaning) 2. A man looking behind him. 3. The mountain, a trigram of the Yijing.
Ancient graphics from 痕 :
痕, hén is composed of the key to the disease 疒 (seen here) and 艮. 痕 means scar. What is a scar? It is what remains after an accident, an illness and an operation; when we look back, we see the past, the scar is the “fruit” of the past. It is the idea of looking back. 艮, nowadays, no longer has the sense of looking back. Only the knowledge of the old meaning makes it possible to make the connection.
*The Californian company Oracle is called 甲骨文 in Chinese.
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29 August 2020