A tree and an eye

In the last few months, I have been digging into Chinese characters’ furrow to understand their logic and history. The journey is exciting. I go from old classical texts to modern essays or courses from Taiwan or China. Sometimes, I realize that the characters’ reality, what they tell us and show us, does not correspond to what I could learn during my first Chinese years. When I have the time, I skip through the manuals of foreign missionaries who were the first to write about Chinese characters in French. Léon Wieger S.J. was published in 1916, which I had consulted extensively in the 1980s.

First, I researched what Chinese tradition and modern Taiwanese, and Chinese authors said about the character 相, xiāng, examine, see with your own eyes, each other, face.

Chinese character Xiang  exam check 相

Chinese tradition and 相

木 tree + 目 eye = 相. Men examined nature to find out what plants could be food, medicine, poison, and how some could be used to make furniture, hence examining the meaning. It was also necessary to compare going from one plant to another, hence the idea of one to the other and by mutual extension.

Kyril Ryjik

Kyril Ryjik in the “L’ Idiot chinois” follows this line by quoting two scholars, Dai Tong (13th century) and Xu Shen (2nd century), author of the inevitable Shuowenjiezi 说文解字: “It is this need to look carefully to evaluate the material of the wood that is underlined by the quotation that Xu Shen attributes to the Yijing: [The qualities of] what we can observe on the ground, we cannot observe on the tree [= we cannot see what wood is]. The suitability of the material being examined [xiang] for the purpose of the craftsman’s work induces the sense of reciprocity [xiang]. “( Volume 2, page 469, 2014 edition).

Jesuit Wieger and 相

Let us return to Wieger, to his etymological lessons, the eye part (page 323 of the 1962 edition). With 相, he shares his conclusions, far from the previous remarks: “The primitive idea must have been, 目 to spy from behind a 木 tree; or, to open one’s eye under 木 wood, so as not to be surprised by an enemy or a beast; 从木。从目。会意字. The abstract sense of reciprocity, which gives this character such an extensive use, would come from a kind of pun, the two elements 木 and 目 both being pronounced soft. »
One does not have to believe in Wieger’s etymological interpretation. At least he gives a mnemonic device to remember the construction of 相.

Wieger sometimes nurtured quite personal or very Catholic interpretations of Chinese thought and culture; nevertheless, I read him to understand his influence and the Jesuits. His book on typefaces can be consulted and downloaded from the BNF website here.

Continue your journey in the characters:

Radical arrow 矢

Radical child 子

Radical eye 目

Radical heart 心

Radical illness 疒

Radical knife 刀,刂

Radical 巳

Character 青

5 September 2020

In search of meaning!

The search for the origins of a character sometimes leads to a labyrinth. The adventures bring great satisfaction. Not only do they allow a better understanding of the current meaning, but they show the deep connections between ideograms.

An example, 艮, gen means stubborn, hard.
Its first spelling shows a man looking behind him . What does this have to do with stubborn?
A later spelling with a different Chinese character , with an eye and a knife, gave it its present meaning. Both meanings will continue to live in this character.艮 also designates one of the trigrams of the I Ching Chinese character trigram gen, the mountain, the immobile.

look behind you in chinese

Thus, 限 xiàn, limit, includes a mountain 阝et this man who looks behind him: a look limited by the mountain.
As for 恨, hey, hate is 忄+艮, heart + hard.
艮 is found in the composition of a dozen common characters with its two senses.

The knowledge of the origin of the characters allows, on the one hand, to better understand the modern senses and, on the other hand, to grasp the interactions over the centuries between the characters. An exciting journey.

Articles classified by character :

Radical arrow 矢

Radical child 子

Radical eye 目

Radical heart 心

Radical illness 疒

Radical knife 刀,刂

Radical 巳

Character 青

28 August 2020

Eyebrow 眉 + Woman 女 = ?

We had seen the character for eye 目, when we associate it with another part, we have the eyebrow 眉 méi (see the article here).

We can put the character for woman on the left 女 : 媚 mèi, what meaning does it have? Originally 媚, meant “to raise eyebrows for a woman”. By extension, it gave “to please, to flatter someone”.
A good way to easily remember a character that is not used very frequently :女+眉 =媚.

Note that 眉 méi also gives the sound 媚 mèi, only the tone changes.

One of the ancient writings :

foule chinois caractère 众

Find the notes on the characters with 目 eye here and on the Chinese language here.

19 June 2020

Water + Eye = Crying

We have seen the character 目, eye, which consists of other characters that mean, for example see 看 or eyebrow 眉, see articles here. Today we note a mnemonic trick to remember the character 泪, lei.

caractère chinois 泪 pleur

The water 氵 associated with the eye 目, we can quickly find the meaning … Crying

NB: 氵is water. This is how it is written when water is a radical. Alone or in other situations, it is written 水.

Articles on the Chinese language here.

One hand + One eye = To look

After the note on the eye, 目 :
看, kàn, means to see, to look. The primitive writing represented a hand (who was protecting himself from the sun?) at the top and the eye at the bottom, as we can see on the first image below. Simple!

to look in Chinese

All the articles on the Chinese language are here.

5 June 2020

The eye and the eyebrow, Chinese characters

The eye character, 目, mù, is found in many other characters, to give various meanings. Let’s first see how it arrived at its current spelling. On the pictures below, we can see that some old spellings resembled the eye.

eye in Chinese

caractère chinois oeil

目 is found in 眉,méi, which means eyebrow. Some early spellings took up the eye with a few “hairs” above before giving the final character used today. 眉 is therefore composed of these two parts.

eyebrow in Chinese

The expression “having eyebrows, 有眉目” means: beginning to take shape, to materialize.
To find all the articles on Chinese characters and language, it’s here: Chinese language

31 May 2020