Another version of the origin of the 中 character comes from an umpteenth type of ancient spelling evoking a circle with a flag on each side. The flags indicate the neighboring countries and in the center, the country in the middle, later called China or the Middle Kingdom.
The country’s second-largest real estate developer, China Evergrande of Shenzhen, is facing a debt, which could lead him to default. He had warned the government of Guangdong province as early as the end of August of the need to restructure his debt. Beyond an unsurprising event in China, what lessons can be drawn from this episode?
123 billion dollars of debt
At the end of June, the group had outstanding debt of 835.5 billion yuan ($123 billion). 130 is due for repayment at the end of January, equivalent to nearly all of its cash. The information came out at the end of September, causing the group’s shares to plunge, before rebounding by more than 45% since September 25, thanks to the support of its investors and the State.
靠山, Rely on a mountain
When a company is heavily indebted, investors are less concerned about the debt than about the company’s support at the political level. In Chinese, the expression leaning on the mountain is used, 靠山. If the company has the right support, debt is not a big problem. In other words, one wonders who the real investors are, whether they are influential “red” investors or red princes. If they are among the largest interest groups close to the central government, the party can go on. A group without support is nothing. On the other hand, you have to get the right “mountain.” Some companies could develop further if they had the proper support.
When we look at Evergrande’s prominent investors, we see the right color, like almost public companies, such as 山东高速集团, Shandong High Speed Group or a private company, 苏宁Suning, a Chinese Darty, with a lot of funds close to the State.
The debt machine
Each time a hanging occurs, a few measures are enacted to contain the debt frenzy better and, at the same time, occupy the gallery. Last month, the authorities delineated three red lines in terms of indebtedness. China has been able to develop with the help of the debt machine. A Chinese economics professor explained the growth model to me in simple words: “To invest, if you use your own money, you walk. You borrow, you drive. You make mortgages, you fly. “It must be recognized that in recent years the authorities have avoided the slippage that was apparent at the beginning of the last decade and the situation has improved. The real estate sector benefits from better credit from financial institutions than, for example, the manufacturing industry. Developers can pledge property as collateral, use a variety of leverage, and borrow more. Of the 50 largest players in the market, half of them have a more than 80% debt load than the leaders in most economic sectors.
Evergrande is also protected for its importance
Sales of the 100 largest developers fell slightly in the first half of the year, down 1.45%. Creativity, with online sales, helped limit the damage. Above all, it was the promotions with attractive prices that brought in money. Evergrande shows rising figures, but profitability declined and affected cash flow. The Vice-Minister, economist Liu He, about Evergrande, mentioned the famous stability factor. Indeed, the group employs 140,000 people, cooperates with 8400 companies in 229 cities on 7792 projects. Its bankruptcy could affect nearly three million employees. Beijing has, of course, every interest to support the Shenzhen company.
Laundry in progress
No one is fooled! Evergrand is only the tip of the iceberg. The economy has not been doing so well in recent years; the epidemic has only accentuated the difficulties. Part of the debts will not be honored. The sector is in front of a big clean-up. Huang Qifan, who serves as government spokesman on economic matters, had already warned at a conference in the summer of 2019 that two-thirds of the 97,000 companies in the real estate sector should disappear in the next ten years. There are far too many small companies, the market is too complicated. 15% control 85%, which means that more than 80,000 companies (85%) share 15% of the market. In times of declining government revenues, small and medium-sized companies cannot expect too much local governments’ help. Huang’s prediction shows that the government is well aware of the market’s stakes and prefers to leave the small ones for a bottled sector’s clean-up.
Do politics make the economy?
Colossal debts plague China. This is nothing new! At the governmental level, a company’s debt is not a problematic factor if the right support is present. Economics does not make politics; politics makes economics? The most interesting for the government – at various levels – will survive while the economic logic should let the others perish?
The first spelling of 北 showed two people back-to- back. 北 originally meant back. It took the meaning of North. Why 北 became North? A thesis explains that when large houses were built, the large reception hall had to allow the owner to stand facing south and back to North, 坐北朝南. Evolution of the spelling of 北 from left to right:
To avoid confusion of meaning, the meat key 月 has been added, which is found in many characters related to the body and limbs. Thus, 背 bèi was born, and it .
The name China, adopted by Westerners, derives from the first unifying emperor Qinshihuang 秦始皇 and the name of his dynasty Qin 秦, 221 to 206 BC. Many neighboring countries spoke of the land of Qin from the beginning of the Christian era. Thus came the word China adapted to each local language. Other interpretations bring together the words gold, 金 jin, and China or the word tartare for silk, serique, and China. Russia adopted Kitai, from the name of a Mongolian people, the Kitans.
And the Middle Kingdom?
中国 zhōng guó in Chinese refers to the country but has no relation to the term China or the first dynasty. It is composed of two characters 中 center and 国 country. The translation will give Middle Country or Middle Kingdom. But has China always called itself that?
The term had many meanings. The research is blurred by local political aspects that want to demonstrate the whole Chinese territory’s historical continuity. Nevertheless, the documents show that the main meanings of 中国 corresponded initially to the Shang dynasty’s territories, then to the states located in the center of China.
Names of the country
The country has had several appellations—华夏 huá xià de 华 splendor and 夏 first dynasty half legendary. A great Chinese bank, the Huaxia 华夏银行 took this name. People of Chinese origin living abroad with this 华 are called: 华人. Taiwan has taken back 华 in its name 中华民国, wrongly translated the Republic of China, but that’s another story. The People’s Republic of China has done the same with 中华人民共和国. Dynasties preferred to call the country by mentioning the name of the dynasty as the Ming (1368-1644), Grand Ming, 大明. Under the Qing, China was called the Great Land of Qing 大清国.
Are we Chinese?
Historian Shi Aidong reports the findings of a Portuguese merchant who experienced Chinese jails in the 16th century. He found it curious that “the Chinese (Zhongguoren) do not know that they are Chinese (Zhongguoren). He said: “We are used to calling this country China and its inhabitants the Chinese, but when a Chinese person is asked why they are so named, they say: ‘We don’t have that name, we never had that name. Very intrigued, Pereira insists: “What is the name of your country as a whole? When someone from elsewhere asks you about your country of origin, what is your answer? “For the Chinese, this question is very strange, but they end up answering: “In ancient times, there were many kingdoms. Now there is one man who rules them. But each state still uses its old name. These states are the provinces of today (sheng 省). The state as a whole is called the Great Ming (大明), and its inhabitants are the people of the Great Ming (大明人). “( Passage from the text of Dirlik)
Looking for a name
The official adoption of 中国 by the Chinese authorities is still quite recent; it appeared in contact with foreign countries. The term appeared for the first time in the Treaties of Nerchinsk with Russia in 1689. Chinese reformer Liang Qichao :
Some intellectuals of the Qing period, such as Zhang Deyi, initially complained that Westerners now use the term 中国 when the name was Da Qingguo. As the sinologist Arif Dirlik explains, thinkers such as the reformer Liang Qichao (1873-1929) did not want the term to be just a geographical name as Japanese imperialism would later claim. Liang played a pioneering role in constructing modern Chinese nationalism while providing the basis for the “concept” 中国. He lamented that his country did not have a name and that it had changed over time. One school sees in the term 中国, the appearance of a new idea to unite the Chinese under a banner (see Arif Dirlik’s text). This is another political story…
The etymology of Chinese characters remains a place where certainties are on a slippery ground. The 3000-4000 years of history of Chinese writing leaves some unknowns and the door open to interpretations without foundation or with.
The character 聊, liáo, chat, discuss, is a witness to this. One of the ancient spellings has multiple interpretations.
The first sense is a small noise, buzzing near the ear . . On the right, the character remembers two door or window leaves. It is a noise like when the leaves open and close . By extension, to chat.
On the left 耳, the ear gives the meaning, and on the right, 卯 mǎo, the sound.
Two people and an ear . This last interpretation is part of a theory which sees in the right part 卯 two people kneeling face to face:
At least, reflecting on these differences, one remembers his writing.
I lived near the Forbidden City for ten years. Its architecture is a real book of Chinese culture; every detail is arranged according to nature’s laws as conceived by the Chinese classics. Moreover, as Cyrille Javary explains, “Dans la cité pourpre interdite ,” it depicts the emperor’s greatness. An excellent opportunity to revisit the character 中.
中, the center
We had seen that a character could be read at various levels. For example, 中 zhōng means center, middle, or pronounced in the 4th tone zhòng strike right. Its origin goes back to the first spellings showing an arrow in the middle of its target or a flag on a mast in the center of a circle. On another level, 中 character for China designates the Middle Kingdom and recalls a whole section of culture, which sought the Middle Way. Finally, a Taoist sage will remember that 中 evokes the spiritual center to be found in each of us.
Evolution of Jiaguwen spellings with a modern character, from left to right:
Reaching the target in the “middle” at the “right” time
Cyrille Javary deciphers the Forbidden City while describing the various parts. The Middle Palace or Palace of Harmonization centered 中和殿, like the two other neighboring palaces, is dedicated to the sovereign’s harmonizing function. And here this task is qualified by 中. Let us follow the author in his explanation: “Of today’s controversial origin, this character has been explained for two thousand years as coming from the noble art of archery. It is said to represent, seen from above and from the edge, a target that an arrow pierces from side to side. Its most common meanings are “central middle” and “just, perfect” … In feudal antiquity, archery competitions involving feudal nobles were held at court every five years. The queen’s test was shooting to music. Not only did the target have to be hit in the “middle,” but it had to be hit at the “right” moment, i.e., at a precise moment of the melody marked by a gong shot. The accuracy of the shot was verified by the coincidence between the sound of the gong (in Chinese gongg’) and the sound of the arrow hitting the center of the target (which resembles djongg,’ precisely the way the ideogram “middle” is pronounced). The prince who had managed to shoot his arrow at the right place as well as at the right time thus showed his self-control and therefore his ability to govern; his feudal mandate was then renewed until the next contest” (page 94).
Therefore, one of the emperor’s tasks was to be at the center to connect Heaven and Earth, space, and time. In this palace of the Just Middle, he made this connection, with the help of rites.
中 brings an additional example on the richness of the reading levels of a Chinese character. Of course, much could be developed on this character because it can represent a gateway to Chinese civilization, so much 中 is at the center of many fundamental notions. But that’s another story. To be continued!
An attentive reader had asked me for explanations on 病毒 bìng dú, virus. I had written several articles on 病 and the key to the disease. In order to celebrate the brilliant results of the management of the virus by western governments, I am coming to 毒 today.
毒 dú, poisonous, poisonous, poisonous, nasty, drug
Let’s look at the first spellings:
毒 dú, poison, etymology of the Chinese character 1. The upper part represents the herbs that grow, the lower part 母, which retains its old meaning, does not…not. A poison is a herb that must be refused. 2. Another explanation: Cut poisonous herbs from which one makes a poison in a jar (L’idiot chinois, T.2, Ryjik, 64).
I took advantage of a question I was asked this week on the expression 月光族 to go back to 光 seen last month. 月, yuè, month, Moon and 族, zú, clan, family do not pose any difficulties.
月光, Moon Shine
As for 光 guāng, it has multiple meanings of light, brightness, and ray (of light). Moreover, 月光 has the meaning of brilliance or moonbeam, which remained in the Chinese imagination with Li Bai’s poem, Quite Night Thoughts. The first line: 床前明月光, chuāng qián ming yuè guāng, The front of the bed is illuminated by the brightness of the night (translation Javary).
光, consume to the end
In 月光族, 月光 cannot be translated by the brightness of the moon. Indeed, 月 has the meaning of month, and 光 has a relationship with two other of its functions. As an adjective 光 is the equivalent of nude, it is found in 光头 bald head and 光脚 barefoot. 光 may also be a result compound, it indicates the result of an action, which marks something that is completely consumed. 他吃光 了, he ate it all up ，他花光了, he spent it all.
月光, the salary (the month) is used up or month-naked.
Let’s go back to our expression, which refers to people who have spent all their salary and have nothing left at the end of the month or who spend more than they earn. We can explain the construction 月光 in two ways: The salary (the month) is exhausted or month-nude. We find the Chinese language’s flexibility with characters that fill a lot of boxes in the categories of grammar, noun, light, adjective, brilliant, resultant complement, used up.
The phenomenon of 月光族 is quite recently with the arrival of the consumer society. Parents, who have experienced more sober times, sum up the group motto “We spend as much as we earn, eat everything, and use everything and we are healthy! 挣多少用多少，吃光用光，身体健康, zhēng duōshǎo yòng duōshǎo, chī guāng yòng guāng, shēntǐ jiànkāng!
We saw that the word 隔离 quarantine, isolation was formed of two characters. Today, we are looking at the second one, 离/離, lí, distant from, leave, separate.
A jiaguwen writing (on the right of the picture) evoked a bird and a net, hence the original meaning “to catch a bird”:
By extension, it gave “to suffer damage” as a bird caught in a net. The only solution is to flee, which brought the senses to leave and separate. Other spellings showed two hands closing on a bird:
Evolution of characters from the Jiaguwen period to the characters used today, from left to right:
The traditional spelling kept the basic structure with 离, which reminds the net and 隹 the bird, while the simplified one let the bird fly away 离. 离 is also the name of the trigram of the Yijing, the fire that has the meanings of sticking and attaching.
贪/貪 (traditional) tān, corrupt, greedy It took me a long time to remember how to write 贪 . It took the so-called anti-corruption（ campaign 反贪）of the new president Xi in 2013 to get the strokes into my brain. At the time, there was a lot of talk about it. I could have registered 贪 much earlier if I had known its origin.
It is composed of 今 and 贝/貝. The first meaning of 今 was contained, keep in the mouth. It lost this meaning, 含 hán took it. 贝/貝 is the cowrie, which was used as a currency during antiquity. It represents money. 今 + 贝/貝 /contain, keep in the mouth + money = 贪/貪/corruption
This comment on 贪/貪 shows again the importance of knowing the origin of characters to better learn and understand modern characters.