The Other Greek: An Introduction to Chinese and Japanese Characters, Their History and Influence 9789004369047, 900436904X

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The Other Greek: An Introduction to Chinese and Japanese Characters, Their History and Influence
 9789004369047, 900436904X

Table of contents :
Etymology as the principle of Chinese writing --
Introducing Chinese characters --
Deerpark hermitage --
River snow: part one-the other Greek --
River snow: part two-word-building --
River snow: part three-rhythm --
Windows --
Stars and seething pots --
The ballad of the ancient cypress --
On releasing a wild goose --
Ware, ware, snares for hares --
"The way": Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu and Lieh Tzu --
When I was green --
Snow and plum --
Farewell to the god of plagues.

Citation preview

The Other Greek

The Other Greek An Introduction to Chinese and Japanese Characters, Their History and Influence


Arthur Cooper † Edited by

Imre Galambos


Cover design by Celine van Hoek. Cover photo courtesy of Edward Cooper. The Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available online at LC record available at

Typeface for the Latin, Greek, and Cyrillic scripts: “Brill”. See and download:‑typeface. ISBN 978-90-04-36904-7 (hardback) ISBN 978-90-04-36905-4 (e-book) Copyright 2018 by Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands. Koninklijke Brill NV incorporates the imprints Brill, Brill Hes & De Graaf, Brill Nijhoff, Brill Rodopi, Brill Sense and Hotei Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, translated, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior written permission from the publisher. Authorization to photocopy items for internal or personal use is granted by Koninklijke Brill NV provided that the appropriate fees are paid directly to The Copyright Clearance Center, 222 Rosewood Drive, Suite 910, Danvers, MA 01923, USA. Fees are subject to change. This book is printed on acid-free paper and produced in a sustainable manner.

Contents Foreword vii Michael Loewe List of Arthur Cooper’s Publications ix Editor’s Introduction: Arthur Cooper and The Other Greek 1 Imre Galambos Author’s Introduction 22 1

Etymology as the Principle of Chinese Writing


Introducing Chinese Characters


Deerpark Hermitage


River Snow I: The Other Greek



River Snow II: Word-Building



River Snow III: Rhythm




Stars and Seething Pots


The Ballad of the Ancient Cypress




144 200

10 On Releasing a Wild Goose



11 Ware, Ware, Snares For Hares


12 The Way: Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu and Lieh Tzu 13 When I Was Green 14 Snow and Plum



15 Farewell to the God of Plagues Index





Foreword Insight, patience and perseverance stand first in the list of skills that are needed in breaking codes and ciphers, and it was from his training and experience in such work that Arthur Cooper acquired the outlook and approach of the scholar, together with a recognition of the type of work on which scholarship depends. The long years that he spent in GCHQ and the organisations that preceded it might well have included periods of frustration that accompanied hard work, perhaps with a realisation that a problem that had been under investigation for months would never yield a complete solution. But the work had involved a prized training in the recognition of slight, hardly perceptible evidence such as may be of crucial significance, whether in breaking a cipher or investigating the quirks of a language. Distrustful ever of a loose use of words, of ill-formed writings and the misconceptions that they engendered, Arthur believed passionately in the need to understand the origins, make-up and development of the terms and languages that we use. To a deep knowledge of many of these, ranging from Icelandic and Swedish to Japanese, he added a search for the basic concepts and practical reasons that lay behind the emergence of words in different cultures. Recognising the presence of a metaphor, whether open or concealed, in a Latin word, he would ponder what had given rise to a corresponding term in, say, Chinese, and he might well discern a hint or an allusion, whether to the same metaphor in the two languages or to the emergence of a different one. It was characteristic of Arthur that in pursuing these enquiries he firmly refused to be bound by some of the restrictions with which certain scholars have localised their interests in a particular language and its constructs, or in a particular type of text. At the same time he would insist on basing his research and conclusions on sound scholarly principles and a search for authoritative evidence. His work was not designed to expound a theory; it was intended more as a guide to understanding the implications of written language and thereby acquiring a deeper penetration of literature. Like Arthur Waley and Joseph Needham, Arthur had not enjoyed the benefit of attending a course in Chinese language that a university might offer. From a command of Japanese, he developed an interest in Chinese language along with an intense concern with the philosophies, literature and historical writings of the two cultures. From the mid-1960s, when he retired from the civil service, he devoted his time and energy to his study of China’s languages. Fully appreciative of the achievements of scholars from Asia, Europe, and America who had identified the major questions that face a philologist, Arthur did not hesitate to note the weaknesses upon which some of their conclusions were based or the evidence that they had ignored or misconstrued. He called on a comprehensive view of the development of languages to dismiss theories that were unsatisfactory, however long they had been cherished; a code breaker would quickly recognise anything that is invalid, or perhaps absurd. As a result, Arthur draws attention to a number of comparisons, contrasts and issues that may have eluded scholars, either through a lack of perception or thanks to a narrow concentration on particular modes or subjects of research. He set out to place the features of the Chinese script within a wide context that encompassed the problems and purposes of communication and took note of developments in other languages. As his book shows, within the make-up of



Chinese characters, both those of Shang Yin times and in the later developments, he saw a depiction or conveyance of ideas that pervade the world of nature and inform the human mind. Arthur never held the formal position of a teacher in a university. He combined a natural insight with a scholarly discipline that many might envy. He wrote deliberately for the benefit of scholars in widely separated fields of learning, with a clarity that is devoid of jargon and is by no means always to be found in an academic dissertation. He calls on literature to introduce or illustrate his points, perhaps starting a chapter with a verse of poetry. For behind the way of life of the scholar lay an inspiration often reserved for the poet, as may be seen in his presentation of examples of poems that date from the Tang period. An earlier expression of Arthur’s approach to the characteristics of China’s script may be seen in the introduction to his translation of the poems of two masters.1 Michael Loewe 1 Li Po and Tu Fu, Poems, translated by Arthur Cooper, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1973.

List of Arthur Cooper’s Publications Cooper, Arthur. “The Chinese Method of Writing and Plans for a New Dictionary”. The Incorporated Linguist (1972), v. 11, no. 3, pp. 66–70. Cooper, Arthur. The Creation of the Chinese Script. London: The China Society, 1978. Cooper, Arthur. “The Oldest Chinese Poetry”. In William Radice and Barbara Reynolds, eds., The Translator’s Art: Essays in Honour of Betty Radice. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1987, pp. 47–62. Cooper, Arthur. “Chinese Evidence on the Evolution of Language”. In Richard L. Gregory, ed., The Oxford Companion to the Mind. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987. Reprinted 2004. Cooper, Arthur. The Deep Woods’ Business: Uncollected Translations of Arthur Cooper. London: Wellsweep, 1990. Robinson, G. W. and Arthur Cooper, trans. Three Tang Dynasty Poets. (Little Black Classics No. 9). London: Penguin Books, 2015. Li Po and Tu Fu, Poems, translated by Arthur Cooper. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1973.

Editor’s Introduction: Arthur Cooper and The Other Greek Imre Galambos*

Today students of China primarily know the name of Arthur Cooper (1916– 1988) because of his translations of Tang poetry, first published in Penguin Classics in 1973 but in print to this day.1 It is less known, however, that his involvement with Chinese was the result of his having served as a codebreaker during World War II and its aftermath and that it was decoding Japanese military messages that led him to a deep appreciation of Chinese writing and poetry, which eventually grew into a passion of a lifetime. Even though he had not received proper academic training, he devoted many years of his life to studying and analysing the Chinese script and kept up extensive correspondence with leading sinologists in Britain and other parts of the world. Partly inspired by his profession, he developed an unconventional theory regarding the composition and origin of Chinese characters. He only published minor notes on this research and his main contributions were going to be two larger monographs that in the end never came out. Fortunately, the typescript of one of them survived and it formed the basis for the present book. Cooper’s views are largely independent of, and at times conflicting with, current scholarly interpretations of the history of the Chinese script but in some sense this is what makes them interesting, offering us a novel and in some sense untainted perspective of an “outsider”. What follows below is a brief overview of Cooper’s life and career, his views on the Chinese script and specifically the ideas at work in The Other Greek. Although he is warmly remembered in the writings of friends and acquaintances, such references are generally short and fragmentary, and there is no longer account of his life available in print or online. The dearth of information is primarily due to the secret nature of his professional work, the particulars of which remained classified until recently. Most of the details presented here concerning Cooper’s life come from interviews with his friends Michael Loewe and Steve Balogh, and his son Edward Cooper, or were pieced together from fragments of information scattered in recollections and memoirs concerning intelligence work during WWII.

* I would like to thank all those who helped by providing valuable information, including Antony White, Michael Alexander, Edward Cooper, Michael Loewe and Steve Balogh. They all wholeheartedly supported the publication of The Other Greek, as did Matthew Bullock of St. Edmund’s College. I am also grateful to Suzanne Paul, Françoise Simmons and John Moffett for facilitating my access to Cooper’s papers and correspondence; to Peter Kornicki for sharing with me relevant information he had located in the National Archives; to Marc Miyake for his comments and to Tom Baxter for proofreading the final version. Special thanks to Kelsey Granger for keying in the entire book from the original typescript the pages of which were sometimes nearly illegible. 1 Li Po and Tu Fu, Poems, translated by Arthur Cooper, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1973.

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 2018 | doi:10.1163/9789004369054_002

2 1


Life and Career

Arthur Richard Valentine Cooper was born in London in 1916 into a family of Anglo-Irish ancestry. He was the youngest of five children and was particularly close with his brother Josh, fifteen years his senior, who would remain a constant source of inspiration. His father Richard Synge Cooper was a civil engineer and not a kind parent to his children.2 He sent Arthur to a boarding school in Giggleswick in the north of England, and this is where he became interested in languages, the first manifestation of which was that he and a friend invented their own language, complete with a series of grammatical features, including aspects and inflections. Even at home he had played games that were centred around made-up languages in the company of his brother Edward, who was four years older than him. He thus invented the characters Bogdan and Boris who lived in a land where people spoke cod-Russian and spies communicated in secret code. They spoke a language of their own design, “heavily peppered with Irish words learned from their mother and from holidays on Ireland’s west coast”.3 When he was sixteen, he went on a bicycle trip to Iceland and, while there, learned Icelandic. Being drawn to poetry from an early age, he took an interest in the sagas and, on account of his family background, in Irish poetry. After finishing school, he went to study philology and art history at Stockholm University where within a year’s time he learned the language fluently. Not having any British students around him, he became an honorary Icelander in the community of Icelandic students, whose language he already spoke. Yet he had insufficient funds from his father and felt isolated in Stockholm. Practically malnourished, he developed septicaemia and had to return home after about a year. His brother Josh had done badly at Oxford, achieving only a Third, but subsequently got a First Class degree in London in Russian. He had joined the Government Codes and Cipher School (GC&CS) in 1925 and later Arthur followed him there. Arthur studied Japanese and in 1939 received an assignment to work as an intelligence officer in Hong Kong, where he also learned Cantonese. Glimpses of this period of his life appear in the book China to Me by the American writer Emily Hahn (1905–1997), a close friend of Cooper and lover—later wife—of his commanding officer Charles Boxer (1904–2000), head of the British army intelligence in Hong Kong. Hahn describes the young Cooper and his interest in “words” the following way: Cooper the poet. He looked just like one; he was young enough not to mind that. He was about twenty-five; he had a long, sorrowful face and a deep Irish voice, and he really didn’t give much of a damn about anything but words. He was fluent in Icelandic and Swedish, “and so,” as Charles would say blithely, “he was sent to Singapore.” Now he was in Hong Kong, as a sort of exchange for Alf Bennett, who was going south soon. Cooper was also getting pretty good in Cantonese and Japanese. Already he knew more Chinese characters than I did. He wrote poetry and 2 On this, see the comments in Kevin Jackson, Humphrey Jennings, London: Picador, 2004, p. 73. Arthur’s sister Cicely later married documentary filmmaker Humphrey Jennings (1907–1950) and thus Jennings’s biography includes quite a bit of information on the Cooper family. 3 Kevin Jackson, Humphrey Jennings, pp. 74–75.

editor’s introduction: arthur cooper and the other greek


jingles, pottered about with his languages, did a lot of mysterious work for Charles’s office, and looked exceedingly pained, not to say dignified, when Charles accused him of being a genius. He had a house way out in Shatin near the bishop’s house where Agnes Smedley was staying, and he ran a fantastically old Rolls-Royce which used too much gasoline.4 Hahn writes nothing about Cooper’s job other than it was mysterious, which is obviously because she did not know, or was meant not to know, any details. What is amusing is that even this short portrayal places the emphasis on his passion for language, words and poetry, as if this was the only thing that mattered to him even when the world around him was falling into chaos. In another instance, recalling a dinner party on Christmas Eve, Hahn remarks that “Cooper, had sunk, as usual, into a philological coma”.5 As a close friend, Cooper is a recurring character in the part of the book devoted to Hahn’s life in Hong Kong. One charming episode in particular involved Hahn coming to own a couple of pet gibbons and shortly before leaving the city Cooper also bought one, naming him Tertius (Fig. 1). As the Japanese advanced farther south, in March 1941 Cooper was sent to Singapore and when in January 1942 all personnel stationed at the Far Eastern Combined Bureau were ordered to leave for Ceylon, he offered to stay behind along with Lieutenant Commander Colgrave and Lieutenant Webb.6 Cooper and Colgrave worked on Japanese naval air radio transmissions up to the moment of their departure and provided valuable warning to RAF units on the strength and likely targets of Japanese air attacks.7 When the city fell in February 1942, he managed to board the last ship out, going first to the Philippines and then on a submarine to Australia. Tertius travelled along, accompanying his owner to clubs and other places. Art historian Arthur Dale Trendall (1909– 1995), who for a while worked with Cooper in Melbourne on decoding Japanese messages, remembers him arriving on a submarine from the Philippines with Tertius. He also mentions that “for intelligence purposes, Arthur Cooper was very much at the top of the tree” and that he had “a very fine brain”.8 Eventually, when Cooper returned to England at the end of 1942, he presented Tertius to the Melbourne Zoo.9 4 Emily Hahn, China to Me, New York: Open Road Media, 2014 (first pub. 1944), p. 237. 5 Ibid., 241. 6 National Archives HW 4/25, History of H.M.S. Anderson. According to a list of staff movements in the FECB, Cooper first arrived in Hong Kong in January 1939; moved to Singapore in August 1939; returned to Hong Kong in February 1940; went back to Singapore in March 1941; and was left behind in Singapore in January 1942. (All information from the National Archives cited in this paper was kindly provided by Peter Kornicki.) 7 This information comes from codebreaker Nigel de Grey (1886–1951), see National Archives HW 4/30. 8 Desmond Ball and Keiko Tamura, eds., Breaking Japanese Diplomatic Codes: David Sissons and D Special Section during the Second World War, Canberra, ANU Press, 2013, p. 117. Also available online at http://press‑; last accessed 26 August 2017. In his new book on Australian code-breakers, David Dufty writes that “Cooper was a particularly eccentric character, and was well known for his habit of carrying around a pet gibbon ape everywhere he went”; David Dufty, The Secret Code-Breakers of Central Bureau: How Australia’s Signals-intelligence Network Helped Win the Pacific War, Brunswick: Scribe Publications, 2017, p. 115. 9 The story of Tertius is retold in a newly published children’s book My Friend Tertius by Corinne Fenton (Sydney: Allen & Unwin Children, 2017).



figure 1

Cooper with his pet gibbon Tertius in Melbourne Courtesy of Edward Cooper

An anecdote from the time Cooper spent in Australia after his narrow escape from Singapore survives in the recollections of Australian cryptographer Eric Nave (1899–1993) who talks about him in connection with the work they carried out for the Special Intelligence Bureau: Arthur Cooper became a useful addition. Particularly so when we received a request from the Director of Naval Intelligence for assistance in drawing and making a facsimile of a Japanese pass used by them in New Guinea. The plan was to infiltrate a man into Rabaul, the HQ of the invading Japanese Army, and DNI had a man of partial Greek extraction who was willing to return to the area in which he had lived and traded. We were to produce the drawing from which a convincing stamp could be made. Arthur Cooper entered into it enthusiastically but I didn’t fancy my life hanging on its successful use and suggested it be slightly smudged when used.10 After arriving in England, Cooper went back to the house he had grown up in and where his widowed mother was still living, in Dun’s Tew, a village just outside Oxford. There he found Diana Julius, an attractive 29-year old woman who was working in the offices of MI5, which had been evacuated from London, because of vulnerability to bombing, to nearby Blenheim Palace. The employees were billeted in houses in the area. The couple were married by the end of 1943 and Diana went to work from MI5 to Bletchley Park. Their son Edward was born in Oxford in November 1944. At this time Cooper was less than 30 years old, but already headed the Japanese Section at Bletchley Park.11 He wrote a booklet entitled The Elements of 10 11

Cited in Michael Smith, The Emperor’s Codes: The Thrilling Story of the Allied Code Breakers Who Turned the Tide of World War II, New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2011, pp. 202–203. See recollections of Rozanne Colchester (née Medhurst) on the Bletchley Park website:

editor’s introduction: arthur cooper and the other greek


Written Japanese, which was used in the Naval Section.12 He stayed there until 1947 when he went back to Australia with his new family, being seconded to the Australian government to decode intelligence messages, still a top-secret assignment. He came back to England in 1953 and worked in Cheltenham for the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the successor of GC&CS. For decades after the war, the work carried out at Bletchley Park was kept absolutely secret and it was only in the early 1980s that books and memoirs about the role of the organisation in winning the war started to appear in print. Today, the site is a museum and dozens of books have been published by historians or people who had served there. Without question, the most important triumph of the organisation was breaking the “unbreakable” German military code Enigma. Among the more publicised reworkings of the story is the recent motion picture Imitation Game centred around the work of Cambridge mathematician Alan Turing (1912–1954). The memoirs and recollections, both published and unpublished, often mention Cooper’s brother Josh who was head of Air Section and thus had a particularly prominent role in the organisation. Some accounts make note of his “spectacular bouts of eccentricity”, such as inadvertently returning the “Heil Hitler!” of a captured Luftwaffe pilot and then, in embarrassment, missing his chair and falling under the desk.13 Arthur features less in the stories as he had spent less time there and had a less prominent position. Yet there are mentions of his exceptional intellectual abilities, such as being able to complete The Times crossword in his head.14 His work remained very secret until the mid-1960s when he had a real disappointment: he was not promoted to the position he was acting in at GCHQ, and thus he left and took a post at the Ministry of Education as a civil servant. His new job was to develop recommendations for the teaching of Chinese, as at the time the government thought that China was going to be important in the future. The scheme he developed was to make a Chinese village in the hills of Wales where people could totally immerse themselves in China—but in Wales. As can be imagined, the government never implemented the scheme and with time he grew acutely conscious of not being appreciated and listened to, working as a misfit civil servant on projects that were not going anywhere. Seeking a way out, he retired in 1968 at the age of 52, allegedly on psychiatric grounds, which in reality was merely a device to give him a pension and the freedom to concentrate on his own research. Even though it was not the happiest time of his life, he did not suffer from any psychiatric disorder but wanted to devote his time and energy to the study of Chinese writing. Retirement brought him a sense of freedom and optimism, which resulted in a burst of creativity. He had a deep interest in languages in general but his main focus was Chinese poetry, classical Chinese language and the Chinese script. He received a Leverhulme grant to compile a Quick Access Dictionary of Chinese Characters,


13 14; last accessed 27 August 2017. A copy of this is in National Archives HW 8/120. The archives (HW 8/125) also contain the transcript of a lecture Cooper gave to the Naval Section at Bletchley Park in August 1943 on the Japanese language. Sinclair McKay, The Secret Life of Bletchley Park: The WWII Codebreaking Centre and the Men and Women Who Worked There, London: Aarum Press, 2011, p. 15. Michael Smith, The Emperor’s Codes, p. 102.



and the point of the project was to devise a system that would enable people to look up Chinese characters more quickly and easily. The dictionary would have covered both classical and colloquial languages and would have remedied the cumbersome nature of existing reference works. His primary goal was to create an index-type reference tool and although each entry would have included the meaning and the pronunciation in both Chinese and Japanese, as well as potential variants used in China or Japan, the reader would have also found references to larger dictionaries, such as R.H. Mathews’ Chinese-English Dictionary and Bernhard Karlgren’s Grammata Serica.15 The grant partly came through his contacts at the Savile Club, a gentlemen’s club in London, where he used to spend quite a bit of time on trips away from his home in Gloucestershire. As part of the project, he took a post at Durham University and this gave him additional income and an occupation. He never produced the dictionary and Leverhulme went along with his suggestion that he needed to investigate the structure and origin of Chinese characters in more detail, which grew into a project that would occupy him for the following two decades. In the meantime, he published in Penguin Classics a volume of his translations from by the Tang poets Li Bai 李白 (701–762) and Du Fu 杜甫 (712–770), a book which very quickly became quite famous and which to this day remains popular not only among students of China but also the general public.16 It was also while working on the Quick Access Dictionary that he wrote The Other Greek. His original intention was that this would be a book for the intelligent reader as an avenue into learning a bit of Chinese and reading classical poetry. It was obviously not an easy read but was never intended as an academic book. He had a contract with the publisher André Deutsch and even received an advance for it. The publisher, however, was understandably interested in the commercial potential of the book and thought that the publication could only be successful if done in cooperation with an American partner. Unable to find such a partner, Deutsch eventually dropped the book. Cooper was bitterly disappointed and, after several brief and unsuccessful attempts with other publishers, put the manuscript aside, never returning to it. Part of the reason for leaving it aside was that he himself noticed some problems in the course of his own research. He understood that the long gap between his finishing the book and its final publication would have rendered some of the ideas less novel. As he wrote to his literary agent Andrew Best around the time he learned that the publisher abandoned the project, already more than two years after its completion, the book “certainly had ideas in advance of current linguistic thinking, and in other ways original when it was first delivered and which must become less and less so—apart from work of any others, it will already have been overtaken by my own Penguin, in ways that may need adjustment.”17 Needless to say, the additional 47 years since 1971 have only aggravated this problem and some of his observations have become obsolete or been proven wrong. Yet there are still many insights and original ideas that did not lose their timeliness, especially since academic research largely developed in a different direction. 15

16 17

For details of the planned dictionary and a sample page, see Arthur Cooper, “The Chinese method of writing and plans for a new dictionary”, The Incorporated Linguist (1972), v. 11, no. 3, pp. 66–70. Li Po and Tu Fu, Poems. Letter dated 12/08/1971, Arthur Cooper’s papers, Cambridge University Library.

editor’s introduction: arthur cooper and the other greek


Consequently, instead of publishing The Other Greek, Cooper continued his research which gradually evolved into an even more ambitious project called Heart and Mind. The objective was to take a smaller subset of characters, in this case the ones with the determinative 心 (“heart; mind”), and analyse the character structure by mapping out semantic and phonetic associations as a means of offering a reasonable account of their origin. He intended to do this with a precision and strictness customary in the sciences, almost as an experiment conducted in order to prove the correctness of a hypothesis. He developed the project by writing the characters on cards, along with their pronunciation and associated meanings. Thus he was essentially building a database, using a system of index cards to store and organise linguistic data. The final product would have been a book, for which he signed a contract with Oxford University Press (OUP). At the time the head of OUP was Robin Denniston, son of Alastair Denniston who had been head of Bletchley Park during the war and this personal connection may have helped in getting the contract.18 The book would have been called Heart and Mind: Ancient Language Making as Recorded in the Chinese Script and it was left unfinished when Cooper died in 1988.19 He was supposed to submit a camera-ready copy to OUP but as he suffered several strokes in the later part of his life, he never managed to finalise the manuscript. A set of cards that have been part of this project are now at Cambridge University Library. Although without a proper academic position he was isolated in the country, he kept up extensive correspondence with scholars in Britain, Hong Kong and America, including David Hawkes, Denis Twitchett, Michael Loewe, Joseph Needham and David N. Keightley. As soon as he completed the cards for a few new characters, he would make copies of those and send them off to friends and thus in essence he was continuously publishing his research to a select audience.20 The responses were not always positive and he was not the type of person who handled criticism well. Yet, as his son remembers, sending the cards out and waiting for incoming mail were an important routine in his life in those years. He was rather conscious of not having completed a university degree and thus tended to be defensive in his dealings with established scholars. At the same time, he regarded decoding as his profession and felt that his experience as a cryptanalyst gave him a type of pragmatic rigour that most academics did not possess. He could bring in from the shadows, so to speak, his previous training and skills in reading ciphers, and this would be the sort of rigour that would mitigate his lack of having an advanced university degree. His




For Alastair Denniston’s work at Bletchley Park, see Robin Denniston, Thirty Secret Years: A.G. Denniston’s Work in Signals Intelligence, 1914–1944, Clifton-upon-Teme, Worcestershire: Polperro Heritage Press, 2007. A new book published recently is Joel Greenberg, Alastair Denniston: Code-breaking From Room 40 to Berkeley Street and the Birth of GCHQ, Barnsley, S. Yorkshire: Frontline Books, 2017. Denniston also features in the 2014 film Imitation Game. In 1978, he cited the title as Heart and Mind: Language-making Seen in Early Chinese Script; see Arthur Cooper, The Creation of the Chinese Script, London: The China Society, 1978, p. 26. In a way, this method was similar to how Michael Ventris circulated to a select group of scholars a series of Work Notes recording his progress on the decipherment of Linear B; see John Chadwick, The Decipherment of Linear B, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014 (Second Edition), p. 49.



figure 2

Cooper at work on Heart and Mind in his study; Gloucestershire, ca. 1980 Courtesy of Edward Cooper

codebreaking experience was relevant in the sense that he had learned to classify and test linguistic data so that whatever insights he may have hit upon while decoding a message had to work on the next message. With a small sample, one may come up with almost any reading but it was the repeated application of the same principle that verified the correctness of the decoder’s assumption. Without question, in terms of its influence, Cooper’s major contribution is his translations of Tang poets that came out in Penguin Classics. The translations in this volume are highly acclaimed and continue to be admired by generations of readers. The book has a thorough and insightful introduction into Chinese poetry, which is still among the best of its type. Another batch of translations, some previously unpublished, was collected after his death by John Cayley into a slim volume under the title The Deep Woods’ Business: Uncollected Translations of Arthur Cooper.21 This collection contains all of Cooper’s translations apart from the Li Bai and Du Fu poems in the Penguin Classics edition. In general, his translations were so successful that some of his admirers regretted that his interests shifted towards the script and this prevented him from spending more time on additional poems.22 In terms of his personality, Cooper is almost always remembered in a romantic fashion as a brilliant but eccentric individual. In his history of the Savile Club, Garrett Anderson writes about Cooper as one of the more memorable members of the club, “an engaging dining companion” and “a brilliant linguist” whose magnum opus would have been the book Heart and Mind. As an amusing anectode, Anderson records the story told by Sir Arthur Vick how Cooper had once overheard on the Tube in London two men talking about him in Icelandic, saying that he was reading a book in Chinese even though he himself did not

21 22

Arthur Cooper, The Deep Woods’ Business: Uncollected Translations of Arthur Cooper, London: Wellsweep, 1990. See, for example, John Cayley’s comment in Cooper, The Deep Woods’ Business, pp. 11–12.

editor’s introduction: arthur cooper and the other greek


look Chinese at all. When one of them got off, Arthur said to the other one in Icelandic: “I am sorry to disappoint you, but the book I am reading is in Japanese not Chinese, and anyway I am Irish.”23


Views on the Chinese Script

Reading Cooper’s writings one cannot help but notice his fascination with Chinese poetry and the script, which were also the two subjects that formed the main direction of his scholarship. In The Other Greek he referred to “the extraordinary beauty of the script and its perfect rightness for its function”, in opposition to opinions that Chinese writing was inefficient and should be replaced by a phonetic alphabet.24 Arguing against assertions that Chinese characters prevented scientific thinking and hindered technological progress, and that the adoption of the alphabet represented the highest stage of cultural development, Cooper insisted that each type of script was suitable for those who use it. This was the reason why he rejected the claim that the Koreans achieved “a far higher stage” just because they had devised a type of script that was closer to an alphabet than the Japanese kana.25 Although not explicitly citing the book, with this comment he was critiqueing a statement in David Diringer’s acclaimed monograph The Alphabet, where the author argued that “[w]hereas the Japanese greatly reduced some of the difficulties of the Chinese characters by the invention of their syllabaries, the Koreans achieved a far higher stage by inventing (?) a script which is practically an alphabet, and is easy to learn and apply”.26 Similarly, he disagreed with those who maintained that, as a language, literary Chinese was vague and ambiguous in comparison with Western languages, and pointed out that it was “the language of the greatest Civil Service ever known; governing the most populous, longest lasting and for most of the time materially most advanced Empire in history”.27 He emphasised that the language was perfectly adequate for expressing all subtleties and nuances, including tenses and aspects of verbs, even if such distinctions were not compulsory in the language the way they were in Western European languages. The lack of grammatical specificity did not automatically entail imprecision; for example, to express a more inclusive sense that can be done easily in Chinese, Western lawyers sometimes have to use circuitous language, such as “person or persons who are or have been or intend to be”.28 Although his views on the origin and nature of the Chinese script feature in almost all of his publications, he explained them in some detail in a little booklet entitled The Creation of the Chinese Script, which derived from a lecture

23 24 25 26 27 28

Garrett Anderson, Hang Your Halo in the Hall: The Savile Club from 1868, London: Savile Club, pp. 110–111. See p. 40. See p. 336. David Diringer, The Alphabet: A Key to the History of Mankind, London: Hutchinson, 1968, p. 352. See p. 34. For a similar statement, see the “Introduction” in Li Po and Tu Fu, Poems, pp. 53– 54. Li Po and Tu Fu, Poems, pp. 53–54.



delivered to the China Society in the spring of 1977.29 This was several years after the unsuccessful attempt to publish The Other Greek and, similarly, the booklet had very little impact in academic circles. Shortly before his death, he published an entry for The Oxford Companion to the Mind, in which he proposed that Chinese writing, by virtue of graphically preserving details of how the people who invented it viewed their own language, could offer a glimpse into what a language spoken three and a half millenia ago was like.30 These two publications, however, were abridged summaries of his research and he planned to publish a systematic treatment of the script in Heart and Mind. This would have been the ultimate test where he would have examined whether his theories about Chinese writing held true for a larger set of characters. Cooper believed that due to its non-phonetic nature the script preserved some of the original associations present in the language at the time when it was devised to write that language. Thus in this respect the characters included etymological data, as the structure of characters often displayed connections that had once existed between the words those characters represented, even if some of these were no longer obvious. In some cases, these connections were not necessarily true historically but they showed what contemporary people felt to be true. Accordingly, Cooper saw each character as being connected to many others via their shared components, and the associations signified an etymological link between the words those characters stood for. It is likely that the idea of extensive associations originated from Cooper’s experience as a cryptanalyst, in which capacity he was trained to look out for all possible patterns and connections.31 Such associations were primarily noticeable in the so-called phonetic compound (xingsheng 形聲) characters, which made up the overall majority of characters, amounting to more than 90 % of the total number in everyday use. These characters have been generally understood as consisting of a semantic and a phonetic component, with the former, also called determinative, representing the meaning of the character and the latter, its pronunciation. A problem noticed early on was that in many phonetic compound characters the phonetic component was a conspicuously imperfect match for the pronunciation of the entire character. Often there were more suitable candidates and thus one needed to explain why a component with a relatively weak phonetic resemblance had been chosen to represent the pronunciation of the character. If the function of the component was indeed purely phonetic, it did not fulfill its role very well. The reconstruction of archaic pronunciations was in many cases able to reduce the significant differences between the pronunciation of the phonetic component and characters sharing that component. Phonology was able to show that often even characters pronounced very differently in Mandarin (or other modern dialects) at one time sounded much more alike. Yet there were also examples when this was not the case and there was an obvious discrepancy even in the reconstructed pronunciation. A related puzzle was that 29 30 31

Cooper, The Creation of the Chinese Script. Arthur Cooper, “Chinese Evidence on the Evolution of Language”, in Richard L. Gregory, ed., The Oxford Companion to the Mind, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987, pp. 142–147. Cooper’s military background is also evident in some of the words he chooses as examples. In The Other Greek there are words, otherwise uncommon in elementary vocabulary, which clearly relate to his military past (e.g. “propeller”, “propeller blade”, “aircraft”, “bullet”, “bomb”).

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there were many more characters used as phonetic components than it was necessary, especially if one considers the loose resemblance between the pronunciation of the component and the whole character. As a solution to the problem of phonetic mismatch, Cooper suggested that the phonetic component did not merely denote the pronunciation of the character but also had a semantic role. More precisely, it provided a link between the word the character stood for and other words written with characters sharing the same “phonetic” component. Since the link between these words was etymological, it also meant that they were cognates and the script preserved traces of this relationship even when it was otherwise no longer obvious. For this reason, Cooper preferred to use the term word associator to designate what was normally called the phonetic component. In turn, he called the determinative meaning associator, similarly emphasising its connection to other characters. This unorthodox terminology deliberately moved away from understanding characters as discrete graphic units and instead proposed to see them as parts of a larger system in which the correlation of individual entities and their position vis-à-vis other entities were just as significant as their unique values. To illustrate his understanding of characters written with the same “phonetic”, Cooper used a series of characters sharing the component zhui 隹, which on its own stood for a word that meant a “short-tailed bird” and originally represented a drawing of such a bird: . He listed nine characters composed of this symbol plus a determinative:32 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9.

zhui 鵻; “fat birds such as pigeons, quail”, etc. (same word as the original drawing). Determinative: 鳥 “birds”. wei 惟; “to think long and deeply, meditate; only; at” (these two meanings same without the determinative). Determinative: 忄 “heart, mind”. cui 崔; “towering high” (of a peak: same word as written without the determinative). Determinative: 山 “mountains”. zhui 騅; “dappled grey ‘flea-bitten’ colour of a horse”. Determinative: 馬 “horse”. wei 維; “to stay or keep constant; to moor (a boat); to tie; to unite; a constant, firm principle”. Determinative: 糹 “threads”. wei 帷; “curtain: (curtain-like) long skirt or apron”. Determinative: 巾 “cloth”. zhui 錐; “sharp-pointed tool: (shoe-maker’s) awl; to bore a hole”. Determinative: 金 “bronze or other metals”. tui 推; “to push away from oneself: to reject, abandon; to push onward, promote”. Determinative: 扌 “hand”, used for transitive verbs. dui 堆; “to put together in one place: heap, pile, mound, dump; to discard, abandon”. Determinative: 土 “earth”.

Although there were many more characters with the component 隹, these nine examples were sufficient to demonstrate the range of possible meanings of characters that include this component. The question was whether all nine examples were cognates and the component 隹 was signifying the shared root instead of a range of possible sounds as it was normally assumed? Cooper


The following analysis is from Cooper, The Creation of the Chinese Script, pp. 14–16.



suggested that if we thought of the short-tailed bird (also called fat bird) as a hen, then various associations of brooding, analogous to some of the semantic associations also present in English, could account for most of the meanings: Like our modern moorhen, the fat birds in (1)—which are also shorttailed—might be called ‘hens’. For (2) we have in English the verb ‘to brood’, cognate with ‘broody’ of a hen: our ancestors evidently chose the same metaphor. The broody hen finds a secluded place in which to isolate herself and sit, stay constant on her eggs: a metaphor both for ‘alone’ and ‘being at’, written originally with the ‘hen’ simply; but also appropriate to the secluding curtain and hiding, long skirt or apron of (6) as well as to the constancy of (5). The latter gives a pleasing image of moored boats as sitting like broody hens, and leads to a metaphor for other kinds of ‘tying up’. The original image of the hen has faded and been replaced in such an extension: as images must fade for language to grow from them; similarly in (3) ‘cuí’, the outstanding peak isolated from others by its height, coming to mean ‘high’ in other senses; and in (8) and (9) also as developments from the ‘isolating’ idea, but no longer thinking of the original expression of it. […] The meaning of the remaining two characters, (4) zhui 騅 and (7) zhui 錐 were harder to connect to the hen but Cooper speculated that, since they matched the pronunciation of zhui 隹 the closest, they probably had an even more intimate connection to the bird. He suggested that the word for the fleabitten colour of the horse derived from its resemblance to a speckled hen, whereas the word for the shoemaker’s awl could be explained in terms of the Chinese awl’s similarity to the body (i.e. large ball end) and beak (i.e. metal piercing end) of a plump bird. Accordingly, the words represented by these characters probably derived from the same root as the word for the short-tailed bird. Yet he also noted that 隹 may not have been the root itself but “was chosen to illustrate it as something that could be drawn”. Thus he linked these nine characters, suggesting that what normally was called the phonetic component in fact signified a connection with characters standing for cognate words. This is why this component was a word associator and in this capacity, it retained both its original meaning and pronunciation. Calling the phonetic component in xingsheng characters a word associator also had implications for understanding the so-called phonetic loan ( jiajie 假 借) characters, which were normally explained as existing characters being reused to write other words with identical or similar pronunciation. According to this explanation, the borrowing happened on purely phonetic grounds, in line with the so-called “rebus principle”, and thus a character could be employed to write a completely unrelated word, as long as its pronunciation was close enough. Since this resulted in the same character writing two or more words, often a semantic determinative was later added to one or more of the characters to distinguish the words they represented, thereby turning them into xingsheng characters. Nearly all grammatical particles are thought to have originated using the principle of phonetic borrowing because while drawing a horse was a straightforward task, if not necessarily easy, doing the same for a preposition or a conjunction was much more problematic. For example, the character zhi 之 derived from a picture of a foot and was first used for

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writing the word “to go” and only at a later stage came to be borrowed to write the homophonous possessive marker, which in time phased out the original use of the character and became much more common. Since xingsheng characters derived from phonetic loan characters, Cooper’s rejection of a purely phonetic explanation for the former also followed for the latter. Essentially, a phonetic loan character was a xingsheng character before the addition of the determinative, functioning as a stand-alone phonetic component. Cooper, however, saw the meaning of the words written with the same component (i.e. word associator) as connected and argued that it could not have been used for a completely unrelated word, even if it had identical pronunciation. Going back to the examples cited above, 隹 originally depicted “a short-tailed bird” and thus was chosen to represent the word with that meaning (pronunced zhui) but was then also used to write the word “to think long and deeply” (pronounced wei). To distinguish this second usage, subsequently the determinative 忄 with the meaning “heart, mind” was added to it, thereby forming the character wei 惟. But there was a stage when the character 隹 wrote both words even if, according to the conventional interpretation, they were completely unrelated and merely had a phonetic resemblance. Cooper, however, showed how the meaning of the second word could derive from the first and thus claimed that they were cognates. At the same time, Cooper was not overly rigid in his quest for etymological connections and allowed the possibility that the shared word associator did not automatically signify a cognate relationship between the words those characters represented. For example, when discussing the word chi 翅 (“wings; fins”), he elucidated the presence of the word associator zhi 支 (“branch”) by noting that the wings or fins of animals can be conceived of as “branches”. To this, he immediately added that this did not necessarily mean that the two words were cognates but that “the resemblance in sound was sufficient to associate them in the script”.


The Other Greek

Following the disappointment that resulted from the failure to publish The Other Greek in 1970–1971, Cooper moved on to new projects and gave up on trying to find a publisher. As a result, he stopped working on the book and laid it aside. Today, the manuscript survives as a typescript with copious hand corrections, which was the final copy sent to the publisher and the corrections represented last minute revisions. Cooper was meant to write a longer “Introduction” to lay out the conceptual framework for The Other Greek and explain the general principles at work. His correspondence includes comments which reveal that this would have been the place where he would have addressed, and responded to, issues and objections raised by early reviewers. Perhaps because the manuscript never reached the final stage of preparation, the “Introduction” was never written. Fortunately, Cooper’s papers include versions of an “Introduction” and of a “Preface”, although both of these are unfinished and represent preliminary drafts rather than a methodical introduction to the book. The “Preface” has the words “Hastily drafted!” in pencil across the top and still refers to the book by its original title: The Other Greek or the Imagination in Chinese Characters. The second part of this title was later altered to make it more descriptive and



possibly as a marketing strategy to reach not only readers interested in Chinese culture but also those who wanted to learn about Japanese. In the present book, these two pieces together—simply placed one after the other—make up the “Author’s Introduction”. Fragmentary as they are, they offer key information about the ideas and motivations behind the book and it seemed fitting to include them at the beginning of the book. Had the longer “Introduction” been written, it would have undoubtedly provided a more substantial exposition of the theoretical framework. Fortunately, among the Cooper papers presently at Cambridge there is quite a bit of correspondence related to the manuscript, including detailed comments by reviewers, editors and other people involved in the publication project. Among the aspects most commonly provoking criticism were the unusual structure of the book and its intended function. Reviewers were puzzled whether it wanted to teach Chinese language or poetry and did not appreciate the seemingly chaotic presentation of the material. The papers also include Cooper’s responses and reactions to some of the comments, demonstrating, on the one hand, his defensive attitude to criticism and, on the other hand, the considerable amount of thought and planning he invested into the preparation of the book. There were very few major comments he felt reasonable and in most cases he went out of his way to justify the current form of the manuscript and to explain his reasons for presenting the material in such way. Considering the brevity of the material presented in the “Author’s Introduction”, these responses are an important source of information for understanding what the author himself saw as the book’s function and intended audience and what he tried to achieve by choosing its admittedly unusual form. For example, responding with some irritation to a reader’s review commissioned by an American publisher, he fired off the following note to his literary agent Andrew Best: It is NOT intended as a textbook, for somebody to learn and be examined on. One can surely read about things, if they are inherently interesting, without being alarmed? There is no demand on the reader to learn anything whatever, I mean memorise anything, in the whole book! Every character is accompanied by its address every time it is mentioned again, if at all. Characters are introduced for their interest in passing, for instance for their structure and for the imagination, the kind of world and kind of mind that lies behind it; but they are then available for the reader to find when he comes across them, for instance in a poem—and in a “culture”, as it were, so that they are alive in a way that they would not be, if they were in a “vocabulary at the back” merely (which would anyway be impossible, because of the problem of look-up without an alphabetical order.) The “chaos”, dammit, is “disciplined”!33 These words were probably written in a sudden burst of emotion, as there is another letter with further thoughts on the same subject. In this, he addressed a reviewer’s concern about the potential audience and marketability of the book, providing additional explanation regarding the type of reader he had in mind when writing The Other Greek: 33

Letter to Andrew Best, undated (ca. autumn 1971), Arthur Cooper’s papers, Cambridge University Library.

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I am not naive, expecting myself to be the trend-boy, the Marshall McLuhan, of the 70’s, or TOG to be on every coffee-table! But I have gone to a great deal of trouble (more than would in fact suit a potential trendboy!) to make TOG available to a wide range of readers, of whom nothing is asked but an interest in humanity in general, and a potential interest in another great civilisation in particular; and a willingness to travel mentally, in other words use their minds and imaginations for the enjoyment of it … unhampered by demands for particular reading I do not ask them to have, or worries as if they were reading a textbook for an exam. To some extent, the more the book is directed towards those who may very properly want to improve themselves with tangible qualifications, the more inevitable the disappointment of the publisher! This is not intended as a “course”, but as a “garden” to walk about in; as, poor Andrew, I keep saying!34 These and other responses show the amount of deliberate thought that went into producing the current form of the book and what was seen by some reviewers as digressions and lack of structure were in fact intentional features. Indeed, the book is not a quick or easy read, it requires a more than average commitment on the part of the reader, as one is presented with a considerable amount of information about a fundamentally different culture and an unfamiliar script. Yet, as Cooper pointed out, there are no expectations towards the reader, there is no need to memorise anything. All one has to do is to continue reading with an open and inquisitive mind, as if strolling through a park. In terms of its narrative style, The Other Greek is a bit like telling a story, as the discussion moves from one association to the other. It is quite informal and the chapters are not structured lectures, at least not in the way textbooks or other teaching aids are normally organised. Instead, the author seems to let his mind wander, linking one idea with the next and then yet another in a seemingly endless chain of associations. Nonetheless, there is a gradual progression towards more characters and more words and the new material is always linked with, and relies on, what came before. One chapter builds on another and then the entire book advances incrementally in difficulty. Therefore the informal structure is mainly an illusion, in reality there is a methodical progression and the focus is always on the learner and her ability to acquire new knowledge. The title The Other Greek may seem at first glance unexpected for a book about Chinese writing and poetry but it was meant to convey the idea that the role of the Chinese language and script was just as fundamental in the shaping of East Asian civilisation as that of Greek culture in the West. He stressed that language was “the life blood of a civilisation” and the Chinese case was in fact analogous to what happened in Europe where the very notion of civilisation derives from the way the ancient Greeks viewed themselves and those around them. A related idea is that, even though it was less recognised in the intellectual tradition of the West, East Asia had its own cultural sphere which was just as old and great as its Greek-based counterpart in Europe. Chinese culture, language and writing represented the very foundation of this East Asian civilisation and remained its fabric despite the rise of modern nations. Calling the





book The Other Greek, rather than Another Greek, Cooper also asserted that there were no other comparable traditions in the modern world and that these two represented the highest point in the development of mankind. His intention was to draw attention to the one that had been neglected in the West. A seeming inconsistency in the book is that even though the analysis of Chinese characters is mainly concerned with the formative stages of the script, it nevertheless almost exclusively relies on modern Mandarin pronunciation, only occasionally citing examples of how a character sounds in Cantonese or how it may have been pronounced in pre-modern times. Similarly, despite the claim that the subject matter of the book is the “written language”, the majority of the examples of compound words meant to illustrate the context in which a word can appear are from the modern period and there is an abundance of words such as “automobile”, “telegram”, “chemistry”, “police officer”, which were certainly not part of classical vocabulary. These examples, however, demonstrate Cooper’s associative approach to the language and the script. He connects the language of classical literature with the one spoken today so that the reader can understand to what extent the former is still part of the texture of everyday Chinese culture. The past is never gone but lives on as part of the present. Just as importantly, the book was written with the educated but uninitiated reader in mind, for whom the actual pronunciation of a character in the second millennium BC mattered less than the ability to appreciate the continuity of the language and its relevance for today’s China. Indeed, Cooper is at his best when connecting the language and cultural background of Chinese poems written hundreds or thousands of years ago with our own world. He does not view the poems and other texts as exotic relics of a long-gone civilisation but tries to bring them into our own sphere of experience, relating them to examples from our own culture and history. Thus he likens the development of new metres during the Tang, which may have taken place under the influence of new types of music from Central Asia, to the problems of translating Italian opera into English. This is also how the Chinese name for Coca Cola comes up in the discussion of the first line of the Taoist classic Laozi 老子. At the same time, he refers to the literary tradition and precedents of the poems only briefly, even though the role of these would have been enormous in a literary culture such as that of China. If anything, he prefers to emphasise the innovations and new ways of expression that originate from outside influences or from contemporary spoken language. One of the practical innovations in the book is that it allows even readers not familiar with the Chinese script to look up characters. Each character receives a serial number and is displayed in large script, at its first occurrence, on the margin, along with its meaning and pronunciation. Whenever the character is used again, its serial number is also added in parentheses so that the reader can easily go back and locate where it first appeared in the book, and review the context in which it was first introduced, including a series of related characters. By virtue of the sequential numbers appearing on the margins, the book itself essentially functions as a kind of dictionary, only instead of dry and abstract definitions, the reader encounters the characters in context, along with a number of relevant cultural observations. Besides resolving the challenge of indexing characters for an uninitiated audience, this device also has the advantage of constructing an environment which greatly aids the retention of characters. Human memory works through associations and The Other Greek is indeed a massive web of associations.

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It is clear that Cooper is fascinated by the graphic composition of Chinese characters, and so he takes every opportunity to cite explanations that help the reader to see the logic behind their form and structure, even when these may not be historically accurate. For example, after explaining the phallic origin of the character gong 公 (“duke; public”), he remarks that in later times Chinese etymologists provided “a new moral interpretation” of the character, according to which it consisted of the components ba 八 indicating “division” and si 厶 meaning “private”, and the whole character therefore stood for the fair division of private interests. He notes that even though such interpretations were historically not correct, they were influential and it would be a mistake to regard them as completely wrong.35 Even accidental associations and similarities mattered and contributed to how contemporary people understood characters and the texts (e.g. poems) written with those. In accordance with this, throughout the book Cooper often cites folk etymologies or “post facto etymologies” in order to facilitate the understanding of the structure of characters and to demonstrate the range of meanings that may have been felt, consciously or subconsciously, by those who used the script in their daily lives. When analysing the poems, Cooper never treats the script as a mechanical tool used solely for the purpose of recording speech. Instead, he pays attention to a variety of graphic features that are not normally appreciated today but may have been noticed by most readers in pre-modern times. One such example is the eye-rhyme in Li Bai’s poem “Question and answer in the mountains” 山 中問答 between the characters xian 閑 and jian 間, which appear in rhyming position at the end of lines two and four. In another instance, he remarks on how in the first two lines of Liu Zongyuan’s 柳宗元 poem “River Snow” 江雪 there is a progression from the common and simple characters qianshan 千山 towards the less common and more complicated zongmie 蹤滅. None of these phenomena matter when one sees the script solely as a graphic representation of speech. A conspicuous aspect of The Other Greek is that it does not engage in any depth with current scholarship. There are very few footnotes and almost no references to the research of other scholars. Among the few Western scholars whose research he cites are Bernhard Kalgren, Arthur Waley, Joseph Needham, Michael Loewe and David Hawkes. He was a close friend of Loewe and Hawkes and also knew Needham personally—his papers contain substantial correspondence with these three scholars. This shows that Cooper’s research was primarily based on processing primary material, thinking about it for extended periods of time, and discussing his ideas, either in person or in letters, with a handful of people whose opinion he valued. In a way, this is understandable as he lived and worked outside mainstream academia but it also meant that he was not abreast of the most current topics in scholarship, which in turn rendered his own research less interesting for others. The Other Greek was written around 1970, just before new discoveries of Chinese manuscripts began to revitalise the field of Chinese palaeography. The first of these discoveries was a group of silk manuscripts from the second century BC found in 1972 in tombs at Mawangdui near Changsha. Following this, smaller or larger groups of manuscripts on silk, bamboo and wood were excavated every few years and these finds provided an unprecedented amount


See p. 116.



of first-hand material for the study of the early Chinese script. Even though The Other Greek could not rely on this fresh evidence, it is worth noting that the newly excavated manuscripts did not contain any palaeographic data that would negate Cooper’s theories of the script. It would have been intriguing to see what role, if any, these new finds would have played in Heart and Mind. Let us consider Cooper’s attitude towards simplified characters introduced by the Communist government from the 1950s onward. At the time when The Other Greek was written, simplified characters had been a relatively recent development and thus it was not entirely clear what their effect was going to be in the long run. Cooper emphasized that even though the reforms principally legitimised handwritten ‘vulgar’ forms already in common use, they occasionally also introduced entirely new forms, “many of which regrettably have novelty as their only virtue, lacking any merit aesthetically or pedagogically and being almost certainly harder to learn than the characters they officially replace”.36 He also noted that the simplification cut China off from its own literary heritage and, at the same time de-internationalised “the most successful international, as well as intertemporal, language the world has ever known”. Despite these comments, he was not opposed to the simplification per se, provided that the new forms did not alter their original structure. For example, when talking about the component 戔, he pointed out that in handwriting it was almost always written as 戋, a form that was “adopted in print in China, without disadvantage”. But he considered the simplification of the character 飛 into 飞 a mistake which in printed context had no compensatory advantage and was “ugly and unbalanced”. In a letter to Andrew Best, Cooper responded strongly to a reader of The Other Greek, who commented on “the author’s (perfectly understandable) distaste for Mao’s China”, arguing the book in fact “shows a great deal of sympathy and affection and deep admiration for Mao and ‘his’ (though I wouldn’t say ‘his’) China”. The suggestion was to keep the tone more neutral but Cooper instead retorted that “[t]he book will not be altered in this respect.” In its current form, however, The Other Greek does not strike one as expressing any form of bias, positive or negative, with respect to Communist China, apart from choosing a poem written by Mao and thereby placing him in line with the greatest poets of Chinese culture. Perhaps some of the negative comments were indeed removed at a later stage because the current version of the book appears to be neutral on this point.37 A word should be said about romanisation in The Other Greek. The pronunciation of Chinese words is consistently given in the official Pinyin romanisation scheme, including tone marks. This works as a kind of technical notation, which is further accentuated by using single quotation marks for marking the pronunciation. In contrast with this pinyinised pronunciation of specific lexical entries, Chinese words and proper nouns in the main text (e.g. T’ang poetry, Ch’ing Dynasty, K’ang-hsi Emperor) are romanised according to the Wade-Giles system. An exception to this rule is place names or personal names already

36 37

See p. 35. Unless, of course, we consider some of the remarks against certain simplified characters. However, as shown above, Cooper disapproved of only those characters that violated the internal structure of characters and was perfectly content with all others.

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in common use in English-language literature in other forms (e.g. Peking, Nanking, Kwangtung), in which case the familiar spelling is used. This double standard of using different systems of romanisation reflects the spread of Pinyin in Anglophone academia at the time of the book’s writing. Although it was tempting to streamline the romanisation and convert everything to Pinyin, in the end we decided not to intervene and to instead preserve the original form as designed by the author. Another issue is that of missing appendices. Cooper originally planned several appendices with topics ranging from romanisation tables (both Pinyin and Wade-Giles) and a demonstration of stroke order to a guide to the Chinese lunar calendar and the zodiac. As none of these can be found among his papers, it is very likely that he was going to complete them at a later stage. Rather than second-guessing the way they would have been presented by the author, we chose to omit the appendices and remove references to them from the main text. There is no question that in its current form the book is imperfect. Part of the problem is that the author did not have the chance to complete the last round of editing, which would have cleared up many of the issues. A more substantial “Introduction” would have also allowed him to respond to questions and comments voiced by the publisher and early reviewers. Since the author is not available for making revisions and proofreading the text, only the most obvious problems have been corrected, and we tried to remain, as much as possible, faithful to the original manuscript. As it was written nearly fifty years ago, a number of ideas have inevitably become obsolete or been proven wrong. Working outside mainstream academia also meant that Cooper did not have the benefit of having his publications assessed, critiqued and corrected on a continuous basis, which inevitably resulted in some ideas missing the mark. Yet there is also much in the book that remains fresh and innovative, with brilliant insights into poetry, language and culture that speak to both specialists and a more general audience.


Concluding Remarks

So what does the modern reader get out of The Other Greek, nearly half a century after its completion? Of course, to a significant degree this depends on the reader. Cooper envisioned an intelligent reader with a humanistic orientation who would pick up the book because of wanting to learn about a distant civilisation that had a written history of three and a half millenia. As the book progressed, the original publisher became increasingly sceptical whether there would be enough readers to ensure the commercial success of the book, and eventually decided to withdraw. Academic publishers felt that the book was problematic because it did not easily fit into any of the usual categories of books on Chinese culture; it was neither a textbook nor an introduction to calligraphy but a mixture of the two. Similarly, they felt that its structure was lacking focus and, at the same time, its scope was too narrow. Presently, The Other Greek is being published by an academic publisher and it is likely that most of those who read it will come from an academic background. This is clearly different from the author’s initial intention yet he would have undoubtedly been happy to see it in print. The publisher and its marketing strategy will necessarily influence how the book is read and received.



Likewise, it is difficult—and perhaps not necessary—to assess The Other Greek without considering its author and his professional work in the intelligence service at Bletchley Park and elsewhere during and after the war. Indeed, his interest in languages and the script is closely connected with his career in codebreaking. Just as importantly, his professional training gave him a type of rigour and discipline that he could rely on in his research, giving him a unique competitive edge. Our knowledge of his background no doubt informs our understanding of the book. The author insisted that The Other Greek could be read by even those unfamiliar with the language, as long as the reader had an open mind and a general interest in Chinese culture. Whether this is truly the case remains to be seen but I am certain that it will be a worthwhile read for undergraduate students already on their way to learning the language, and its perspective will serve as a useful complement to conventional curricula.

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figure 3

Sample page from original manuscript


Author’s Introduction Although China is without a rival for the extent, the numbers directly affected, and the continuity of its civilisation, it is not in fact quite without a rival as the oldest even of all living cultures. Its rival is Greece. Despite often repeated beliefs that Chinese civilisation is older than Mesopotamian or Egyptian, this is not so; but those civilisations are called dead because their languages are dead. Thus a language is tacitly and rightly accepted as the life blood of a civilisation. Chinese and Greek as languages with literature are similar in age;1 and the two cultures, despite their remoteness from each other, often have a remarkable tendency to be in step with each other. Very roughly, the earliest inscriptions, oracle bones from Anyang and inventories from Knossos seem to date from the mid-second millenium BC; the earliest poems in the Book of Odes (or Songs) and the Homeric poems seem to date from early in the first millenium BC; Confucius died when Socrates was a boy (there are ‘analects’ rather than writings of both); Mencius and other philosophers were meeting in their new Academy at the same time as, far away, Plato and others were meeting in his; and for the first time, on both sides, it becomes general that books can be ascribed to authors; then Alexander was only about a century earlier (not long in this time scale, and the preliminaries overlapped) in his conquest of his known world than The First Universal Ruler of Ch’in (Ch’in Shih Huang Ti) in his; both conquests were short-lived, but a lasting idea was created (there was conscious political thinking behind both the conquests); the great Han and other Chinese, the great Roman and other Western, super-powers followed; to this day. Today a Greek answers the tēléphono(n), pronounced tiléfono, a new thing in his old language’s expression for it; and we all use his language to give a name to this and other new things (or else use Latin or its descendent, French). Chinese people do not; but call it instead ‘distant voice’ (as it happens) ‘lightning or electric speech’: ‘diànhuà’; while the Japanese use the same Chinese ‘spelling’ but call it in their own pronunciation of the Chinese name: ‘denwa’; and the Koreans and Vietnamese also call it by its Chinese name in their own pronunciations of it. Greece was certainly not the country in which the telephone was first invented or named and China was not necessarily the first in the Far East where it was introduced. Many new Chinese words have recently been invented in Japan, particularly in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and then adopted by the Chinese themselves. The two countries often coin independently, both of them in Chinese. And this habit continues vigorously, even though the Japanese language also takes words nowadays from other (Western) languages and even though Japan is a modern country with an indigenous language which is not related at all to Chinese; not even as much as English (‘one, two, three’) is related by a sort of distant cousinship to Greek or to Latin (‘unus, duo, tres’). Japanese is wholly different, both structurally and in its native vocabulary, from Chinese; yet it incorporates Chinese in the

1 The position of Hebrew is somewhat different. The earliest inscriptions in what is distinctly Hebrew and the earliest text (of the Pentateuch) are thought roughly to coincide in time with their Chinese and Greek equivalents. But except as a literary and liturgical language, Hebrew has been “dead” until its recent revival in modern Israel.

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 2018 | doi:10.1163/9789004369054_003

author’s introduction


same sort of way as we incorporate Greek, Latin and French. But the Latin and French words themselves we incorporate are often modelled on Greek, being simply what the philologists would call ‘Greek calques’. The Germans at one time invented ‘Fernsprecher’, ‘far-speaker’, as a calque for ‘telephone’, though ‘Telefon’ is preferred, especially by foreigners when they see it written up; and even then it may be accompanied by a picture! Similarly many ‘Latin’ words in English, like ‘transform’ (cf. ‘metamorphosis’) are ‘Greek calques’. We think Greek, we verily breathe Greek, more than we know. And so do the Japanese, Chinese; though, for reasons that should become clear in this book, with greater awareness. It is quite natural and obvious to the Greeks when producing a dictionary of their own language, unless it is a specialised dictionary of modern spoken or ‘Demotic’ Greek only, or of Homer or some other specialised subject, to include all Greek in it. Before me for instance is a dictionary published in Athens in 1959 called Νέον Ορθογραφικόν Ερμηνευτικόν Λεξικόν (New Orthographic and Hermeneutic Lexicon), which covers Greek of classical times, including Doric, Arcadian and other dialects, Greek of the post-Alexandrian (‘Hellenistic’) period, Greek of the Eastern Roman Empire (‘Byzantine’), Greek of the Church (the Christian Gospels were of course originally in Greek and no other originals are known); and Greek of present-day Athens, of Mr. Onassis on his yacht at Cannes, and of Cypriots in Soho. Although Homer would not merely be very difficult, or Plato or Aristotle, but impossible to the storekeeper in Soho, unless he were specially learned; and although the most learned Greek would be unable to communicate verbally with any of these, if they came back from the dead, except for odd snatches (he himself might sound like a quite incomprehensibly boorish Bœotian peasant with many strange, rustic words), it is still one language, written with the same alphabet and much the same spelling, without violent breaks in its continuity, and able to subsume all its parts. In contrast, there is no such thing as a dictionary treating as one language Latin and Italian, Latin and French, or Anglo-Saxon and English. You will never find words used by Chaucer (1340– 1400) in an ordinary English dictionary, such as this is of Greek. What is true of Greek is true not only of Chinese and Chinese dictionaries, but even to a great extent of many Japanese dictionaries—as dictionaries of Chinese; with the qualification that the Japanese dictionaries are good for Chinese only insofar as it is commonly inherited: there will be modern Chinese of China which will not be dealt with; and modern Chinese, coined in Japan and not shared by the Chinese themselves. And all Japanese dictionaries, whatever their purpose, everyday language or electrical engineering, will be full of some kind of Chinese, just as dictionaries of English and other Western languages are full of some kind of Greek. I am grateful to my brother for permission to quote here from a note to the Introduction to his Russian Companion (Joshua Cooper, Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1967): Polyandry, epic, music, plankton, hierarchy, politics, anthropoid, nous, agnostic, pathology, nostalgia, thymus, psychology, enema, automatic, Apollyon, catalyst, hyperbola, theology, ion. Every one of the above is derived from one or more of the words that occur in the first ten lines of Homer’s Odyssey. What is more, between them they cover about half of the vocabulary used by Homer in this passage.


author’s introduction

The analogy would be closer however if these words looked in English exactly like the Greek words from which they derived, Greek words of ancient classical texts and of modern newspapers. Chinese, in fact, is the Greek of the Far East. Chinese is ‘the other Greek’! But whereas the population of modern Greece is about 8.5 million, and the language is also spoken elsewhere in the Mediterranean and the Levant, here and there, China now has a population of about 700 million, and Chinese is also spoken by much greater populations than Greek outside the country, especially in Formosa and South-East Asia. And it is the language of a great power, plainly potentially one of the world’s superpowers, which matches its vast population with great tradition and skill, industry, discipline and originality. It is also a language the incorporation of which is consciously felt, as already said, in that of its also industrious, powerful, progressive and highly civilised neighbour, Japan, with a population of 95 million; besides underlying much of the vocabulary and thinking of Korea and Vietnam. It may be debatable how directly the fall of Constantinople and the exodus of Greeks in 1453 led to the achievements in science of the Renaissance and of the seventeenth century, in the West ‘the age of genius’ as Whitehead called it; but nobody could fail to recognise the fundamental debt of our civilisation to Greece and its pupil, Rome; and the inspiration of their models to the scientific and technological ‘great leap forward’ originating in the West only in the last three centuries. The new ideas and inventions of this comparatively short period of Western history have however spread to the rest of the world, and are also being added there—in particular, in China and Japan with which we are here concerned, by inheritors of other inspirations as well, which can take on a new vitality refertilised by the new influences. That the Far East had a relatively far advanced technology, and scientific concepts still of great interest today, is most strikingly shown in Joseph Needham’s great work in progress.2 Are we on our side really right meanwhile to suppose that in every important respect our own culture, thanks to the developments of the last three centuries, or roughly 10 % of either the Greek-based or Chinese-based world’s literate history, is all that is worthy of the close attention of most of us? We may be patronisingly glad, and proud, to see what we regard as all our own adopted by others, though a little pained when our electronic and optical industries, our motorcycle manufacture and our motorcar exports encounter increasing competition. At the same time we may even be disappointed or contemptuous when we see what had seemed to us so picturesque, and suitable of laudations from a distance, corrupted by what we deem to be our own privileged ugliness and comfort. But if this civilisation learns from ours and we do not care to learn anything from theirs, which must in the end be the gainer? Is their wanting what we think ours enough reason for wanting nothing of theirs? Do we still take our cue from our own Age of Confidence (and often of Ignorance), expressed unfortunately in Locksley Hall: ‘Better 50 years of Europe than a cycle of Cathay’? This view may have seemed justified to Tennyson because the Chinese of the later Ch’ing Dynasty, and the Japanese of the later Tokugawa Shogunate, when he was writing, were themselves in their Age of Confidence and Ignorance, three-quarter despising and a quarter blindly fearing the ‘barbarians’ on the other side of the world. 2 Joseph Needham, Science and Civilisation in China, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1954–.

author’s introduction


It will not do to fall back on the excuse that their languages are so difficult to learn, that their script is so complicated by comparison with our much simpler one, though that may be true.3 Their languages are difficult, especially when, by the factor of continuity described above, one is hoping to read literature covering the whole span of Europe’s literate history; but it cannot be more difficult for us to learn theirs than for them to learn ours. ‘What’, it may be protested, ‘about this ideographic script, the thousands of ideographs one has to learn? We have nothing like that.’ Such rhetorical questions are often followed by kindly meant opinions that real progress by these nations cannot be expected until such an out-of-date and obscurantist, if not primitive, system of writing is abandoned in favour of romanisation. And yet the ideographic Chinese have recently made a rapid advance, much more rapid than expected and apparently with little outside help, to exploding a hydrogen bomb, and the ideographic Japanese have recently overtaken British exports in a further industry, the motor industry; have one of the highest literacy rates in the world; and sell about two thousand million books a year, according to their own statistics.4 In less than 50 years from feudalism and isolation from the West, this same ideographic country defeated what with all its weaknesses was recognised as a major Western power, Tsarist Russia, and in less than 90 years took on the U.S.A. with considerable initial success, driving Americans, British and Dutch out of the farthest East, using ships, aircraft and other weapons of its own design and manufacture, in a couple of months. Not a happy time for either side to remember, ending with temporary national humiliation besides the horror of atomic bombs for the Japanese; but one that suggests that resources of a people in education and communication cannot be so much handicapped by this admittedly difficult and in many ways inconvenient, so-called ideographic script as is often supposed. ‘Yellow peril’ is certainly not the theme of this little book, neither is it intended as a defence of Far Eastern culture, or of the Sino-Japanese system of writing in particular. It aims rather to describe what this latter is, so that its relevance to this history and culture of the Far East, and its advantages as well as its disadvantages today, may be judged with some understanding, and so that some idea of all the effects of its abandonment by the Chinese and Japanese may be gained. If there is, despite some declaration by Chinese communists in the late 1950’s, the exact intention of which was never altogether clear, no real sign of this, and also despite (for example) the non-existence of any economic form of typewriting not involving many copies, then whatever advantages exist to counterbalance all such disadvantages will, it is hoped, be of some interest. Above all, and without prejudice to any question of its future (which, after all, is for its own users to decide), it is hoped that the creation of the script, both as a practical thing and as a thing of beauty, may be seen and enjoyed as one of the most significant of human achievements, and that understanding and entertainment may be derived from this.

3 Which might be, but is not, spelt ‘trew’, ‘troo’ or ‘trough’. 4 Here is Japan, information guide published by the immense enterprise, the Sumitomo Bank Ltd. It must be however noted that this would mean about twenty books per head of population, man, woman and infant, and that ‘book’ is not defined. The truth of the literacy and eagerness to read of the Japanese is less questionable.


author’s introduction

The aim of this book is to introduce the reader to the Chinese script, and through it to Chinese poetry and to other aspects of the ancient and modern civilisation to which it belongs. It is not intended as a book for specialists, neither is it written primarily as a textbook for serious students, but rather with the purpose of introducing pleasures which, because its subject seems remote and exotic, are too often thought of as being for the specialist alone. Nevertheless it is hoped that it may also have value, as something rather different in nature and intention from the excellent books already available to him, to the serious learner. (The late Arthur Waley believed it would be sensible to start Chinese with poetry, and the book provides a useful basic store of about a thousand characters). The book is so designed that it can be read without effort at memorising; or, if the reader chooses, can be ‘read about in’. The greatest handicap of this script, felt acutely by beginners, is the lack of any way of arranging words in a dictionary or glossary as convenient and reliable as alphabetical order. In this book each Chinese character introduced is given a serial number and is printed with its number in the outer margin of the page. The number is given again on every subsequent occurrence, so that the character can be looked back to with ease. Nothing can be more fundamental to a civilisation than the source of its literacy: what the ancient Greeks, by their development of the alphabet and the literature they wrote with it, have given to the West, the ancient Chinese have given, in different ways, to East Asia; hence the title of the book. What was born as the method of writing of a small pastoral people in the Yellow River Valley, emerging from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age in the second millenium BC, and was used as much for magical communication with the gods as for communication with other men, evolved into being one of the greatest and most influential creations of the human mind, and the modern means of communication of a large, populous and powerful area of the world; including Japan which is said now to have the highest ratings for literacy and for book production in the world. Because each character, instead of shadowing a sound of speech as ours do at least in theory, gives visual demonstration of principles underlying all language-making, it carries its long history within itself and these are principles that, belonging to the free economy of imagination and association, cannot be systematised; hence also the subtitle of the book.5 There are other great systems of writing, ancestral to other great cultures, most notably the Semitic, which first taught the Greeks, and the Indian; besides now extinct systems such as that of the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. The Chinese alone of modern scripts is like the last in differing altogether from the alphabet principle, a fact that many take as proof of its outdated and unsatisfactory nature. It is not the aim of this book to plead its defence but to present it and show the causes and effects of its developing differently from other scripts. As the book is intended for the reading equivalent of the kind of tourist who does not want only to see cathedrals and palaces of the past but also to observe the present round about him, such as may also tell him something of the future, there are given modern scientific, medical, political and similar terms among examples of the use of the characters. The power that the script has evolved of

5 This refers to the original subtitle of the book (i.e. The Imagination in Chinese Characters), which was later changed to the one appearing on the cover of the present book (IG).

author’s introduction


relating the abstract to the concrete, but not too closely, is important and the beauty and efficacy of a language is to be seen in how it composes such words as well as in its poetry. The idea of the mental tourist underlies the book.6 Its main itinerary is 25 pieces of Chinese, the first 16 all well known, very short poems of the T’ang Dynasty, seventh to ninth centuries, which until recently was the beginning of modern times to the Far East. Such short poems give the beginner greatest reward in relation to the work required and are also among the most original and interesting creations of the language, throwing light on all Far Eastern art. They are followed by three longer poems, and a further short one, of the same period. The remaining half dozen pieces are from other times: a song of the eleventh century BC; extracts from the Book of the Way and its Power and a short quotation from the other great Taoist classic, Chuang Tzu, of about 100 BC; a thirteenth century song; a poem of 1958 by Mao Tse-tung; and an eleventh century New Year poem by the great political reformer Wang An-shih. That Chinese from the time of its earliest literature had gone much farther than modern English or any Western language in the basic simplicity of its grammar and immutability of its words, in sharp contrast with our classic languages, Latin and Greek, makes such a range possible without the reader needing to be held up by the learning of ‘the conjugation of an irregular verb’: the verbs are not conjugated at all and there is only one form for each. The same is true of other parts of speech, and no ‘formal grammar’ has to be presented in the book because there is none to present. Besides this main itinerary there are many side turnings, digressions which are part of the book’s method of building the store of characters and which include quotations from the Confucian classics and common proverbial sayings, besides modern vocabulary of the kind referred to above. While they do not give facts, such as of history and national customs, systematically they let the tourist pick up bits of this kind of information like any other tourist, out of the corner of the eye. Most of all it is believed that the poems themselves show the quintessence of this language and civilisation. Like Greek and Latin poems they belong to all who share it. After the first two, given in ‘literal’ translations only, the poems are accompanied by translations into simple English syllabic verse; matching as well as the author has been able the form and syntax of the originals because these are part of their meaning. The task of ‘translating poetry’ is in fact an impossible one; its manifold aspects cannot be transferred together from one language, within which it has been made, to another, in which it has not. Each translator must therefore select the aspects that he means to attend to, and let the others go. These translations are made with the intention of going with the originals, which the reader will be able to read for himself, as ‘verse cribs’; and particularly to go with them spoken aloud. So that the reader who wishes may hear the poems in Chinese, probably the best way also of learning Chinese pronunciation and mastering the ‘tones’ which seem such a frightening feature of the language when given merely verbal description. 6 As a result of subsequent improvements and corrections of The Other Greek’s manuscript, the following list of texts is somewhat different from the final version (IG).

chapter 1

Etymology as the Principle of Chinese Writing The Chinese language is basically composed of words of one syllable only; though these may be combined just as ‘air’ and ‘craft’ may be combined to make ‘aircraft’. There are therefore, at least in theory which is good enough to form the basis of the system evolved for the writing of the language, no such words as ‘aeroplane’ in which the ‘-o-’ is a syllable that possesses no meaning as an independent; still less ‘kangaroo’, in which none of the syllable has any meaning. Neither, again in theory but again good enough to be the basis of the script, do words undergo any grammatical changes of the kind ‘man/men’, ‘ride/rode’ or even ‘cat/cats’; so that there may be said to be no significant elements in the language smaller than a syllable, either. It is therefore natural for such a language to be written by a script in which the characters, instead of analysing (as our alphabet does, in theory) the sounds of each word down to particular vowels and consonants in it, should be used for whole syllables with no notion of representing the inherent parts. The number of possible, distinct single syllables in any language, however, is likely to be much smaller than the number of distinct concepts it is desirable for them to represent: for instance, ‘the air is light’ might mean ‘light’ in weight or ‘light’, ‘luminous’; and one might imagine a term ‘light craft’ being used with a meaning like ‘light industry’ as well as in its usual meaning of small boats. In these cases in English, ‘light’ is the same syllable, both as spoken and as written, but represents originally different words for the separate concepts of lack of weight and of brightness; whereas the two meanings of ‘craft’ have come about by extension from the one idea of ‘skill, trade; a strong suit’ (compare German ‘kraft’ for ‘strength’). Chinese as a language has the strange combination of being based, as above, on words of one syllable whilst at the same time having such a simple phonetic structure that the number of such words is exceptionally limited. Any novelist, though lacking knowledge of China or Chinese, is likely to be able to invent good Chinese names, perceiving these just from the number of them he has come across in reading newspapers. Because of this limitation there are far more cases of different words with identical pronunciation, like ‘light’ and ‘light’; ‘(a) bear’, ‘to bear’, ‘bare’; ‘to’, ‘too’, ‘two’; ‘ring’, ‘wring’ in Chinese than in English, or indeed in any other language. This is the reason for the peculiar nature of the script that the speakers of the language evolved: exactly when is not known, only that it was already just as it is now in all its essentials by the middle of the second millennium before Christ. The principle of this script is then, instead of analysing sounds of words down to vowels and consonants, to represent a syllable as a whole, but also to do something to show which meaning is intended. We, in fact, also do this a great deal by means of our anomalous spelling in English; which is often etymological, representing in some way an ancestral word in the older language, rather than phonetic, representing the word as it is spoken now. For instance, we spell ‘wring’ as distinct from ‘ring’, because the former sense of the word did once begin with a ‘w-’ in its pronunciation, as it still does in Dutch, and had nothing to do with ‘ring’.

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 2018 | doi:10.1163/9789004369054_004

etymology as the principle of chinese writing


Chinese words, too, have inevitably changed greatly in pronunciation over the thirty and more centuries that the language has been written; but this particular kind of solution, or rather convenient evolution, for distinguishing similarly pronounced words was not available to a script which had never at any time had cause to analyse the sounds of words down to vowels and consonants. Furthermore, because the necessity of distinguishing such words in writing has been so much greater in Chinese than in other languages from the earliest times, no mere chance solution to the problem would have been good enough. The reason for greater distinction of words in writing than in speech is that the occasions of speech provide more context; and if they do not still provide enough context, the listener can register his failure to understand. Writing has always had to be more explicit in itself, without such opportunities; but also more economic, especially when its materials were costly. The Chinese solution to this problem was in fact so effective, necessity being the mother of invention, that it was possible for a correspondingly wide rift to develop even in the earliest times between speech and writing. The written language, the progenitor of the whole great China-centred civilisation, is then free to become almost a sort of concise ‘telegraphese’. The example just given, of the pair of English words ‘ring’ and ‘wring’, may (even though the case is different) be used to demonstrate the Chinese solution. It happens that all the words in English beginning ‘wr-’ have close or distant associations with some form of twisting: wring wriggle wrist write wreath wreck1 wrench wrest wrestle wrong wrath writhe wren (its flight, though straight, is whirring) wrought (iron) wrap wry wreak wretch The historical reason for this happens to be that two roots (that can, as it were, touch one another in meaning) predominate amongst these words so much that they can infect even the few that do not come from them. The more important of the two, for giving the twisting associations, is that to be found in Latin ‘vertere’, ‘to turn’, Anglo-Latin ‘convert’ and so on. This root underlies most of the words above; but in some of them, like ‘wrought’, ‘wreak’, ‘wretch’, there is the root of ‘work’. This can itself imply twisting, as in the example of ‘wrought iron’ or when one speaks of ‘working’ something loose. But it happens also, quite by chance, that the letter ‘w’, originally designed as double ‘u’ for a long ‘u’ sound in which the lips are in the same position as they are for making the ‘w’ sound, is itself a zigzag; and as such it is a good sidewayson representation of a screwing, spiral motion. This may be the reason why one would seldom find any of the above words misspelt; and even where such spellings as ‘nite-spot’ are found, one would not expect to see ‘auto-recker’. A further accident has happened in the case of the word ‘wring’, in that it has come to coincide in sound with ‘ring’ which also has associations of ‘(going) round, turning’. Supposing English to be written as Chinese is written, one might imagine a simple symbol or ideograph,

1 Twisted by being recklessly driven onto the rocks?


chapter 1

to be used, by convention, to ‘spell’ the word ‘ring’. The other word spelt ‘wring’, associated with the former by its sound but associated in meaning with those for various twisting actions, might then by the Chinese method be written with an ideograph taking both associations into account:

in which might be the conventional symbol for ‘twisting’, as the meaning associator; and stand for ‘ring’, as the word associator: suggesting together a word ‘ring’, or like ‘ring’, that has to do with ‘twisting’. Of course, neither of these imaginary English ideographs on the Chinese principle would be explicit: they would merely be conventional and easy to remember. Without a convention that was to be read as ‘ring’, there would be no reason why it should not be read as ‘circle, ball, hole’ or the like; whilst might be ‘water’ and the combination might be ‘(bath) plug’. Chinese writing is not therefore, and never was, simply ‘pictographic’; and does not represent things but represents words, property belonging to speech in the language. One important, and more than aesthetic, point may be noticed about the imaginary English ideographs above: the circle for ‘ring’ is drawn smaller in the composite character for ‘wring’. This would mean that each monosyllabic word would occupy the same notional space. Such is the practice in Chinese characters themselves: a very natural and practical thing to do, but one possibly of profound psychological effect on the Chinese mind and civilisation; and of course on all the others under their influence. What have been called in the imaginary English ideograph above respectively the ‘meaning associator’ and the ‘word associator’ are usually called, in relation to Chinese characters, the ‘radical’ or ‘determinative’, and the ‘phonetic’; but, for reasons that will become evident, the terms ‘meaning associator’ and ‘word associator’ will be retained in this book. Not all Chinese characters are formed on either of the imaginary models, simple symbol in itself or combination of symbols in this way. could, for instance, have disregarded the sound of ‘ring’ as it does the sound of ‘twist’. The two elements might then, instead, have made the conventional symbol for a ‘wreath’. One can seldom reconstruct a word from its character; only associate the two once both are known. In writing a language by such methods as this, the question must often arise: ‘When is a word not a word?’ For instance, we may in English agree that the word ‘ring’ is not the same as the word ‘wring’ and that the word ‘light’, referring to brightness, is not the same as the word ‘light’, referring to weight; but is the word ‘air’ in ‘aircraft’ the same as in ‘the lass with a delicate air’, or as in the ‘air’ to that song? And is the ‘craft’ of ‘aircraft’ the same as in the ‘craft’ of ‘craftsmanship’? There are two bases on which such a decision may be taken: one, subjective, whether the words are felt to be the same; the other, objective, whether they can be shown to be originally, that is historically, the same. The first two ‘airs’, atmosphere and manner, are in fact etymologically exactly the same word, but ‘air’ as a melody is slightly different, being in Latin ‘aer’; a derivative, ‘aerea’ from ‘aer’. The two ‘crafts’ are etymologically, however, exactly the same word: with a basic meaning of ‘one’s strong suit; trade, skill’ (for the meaning of ‘strength’ compare German ‘kraft’). From this has developed the ‘boat’ meaning much as one may speak of a concrete object as a piece of ‘needlework’.

etymology as the principle of chinese writing


From a purely historical point of view one could say that there are three ‘words’ here: ‘air’ (1), ‘air’ (2), and ‘craft’. In allocating ideographs to these words it is therefore likely that there would be three characters for them: ‘air’ (2) perhaps being written with something for ‘music’ as meaning associator and with ‘air’ (1) as word associator; but the different senses of ‘craft’ might be written with the same character and the context, as in English, left to decide which was meant. Here, however, the subjective basis of decision might overrule: if the two kinds of ‘craft’ were not felt any longer to be the same word, or if confusion were liable to arise (suppose, for instance, that ‘light craft’ might be used with a meaning like ‘light industry’ as well as ‘a small boat’), then ‘craft’ in its nautical and aeronautical sense might be distinguished by a meaning associator for boats, vessels. The character for ‘craft’ (2), that is, in the sense of ‘boat’, would then be identical in the manner in which it was composed to the character ‘air’ (2); even though the composition of the character for ‘air’ (2) reflected a true difference in etymological history, whilst in the character for ‘craft’ (2) it represented a sort of post facto differentiation in etymology and not in history. To talk of such a ‘post facto’ differentiation in etymology may not seem logical, so long as the word ‘etymology’ is completely identified with ‘original history’; but in fact the etymology of the word ‘etymology’ itself in Greek indicates rather the ‘real’ or ‘basic’ meaning of a word than its historical origin. It is possible then that for different reasons the three syllables involved in the phrase ‘light aircraft’, if English were written like Chinese, might each have two ideographs available to them according to the senses in which they were used; and one might perhaps say that these three syllables represented six notions in all. To speak of a pair of notions as represented by each syllable would, however, merely be to restate a convention decided upon for the script. Despite the different histories of these words, ‘light’ as two apparently quite unrelated words now coinciding in sound and spelling in English, ‘air’ as two originally different but related words, and ‘craft’ as originally one word, there is in fact no number between one and infinity that can be said to be the number of notions contained in any of them. The sense development from an abstraction to a concrete thing in the use of ‘craft’ has been noticed as paralleled in some uses of ‘work’. Other parallel sense developments, involving some of the English words considered in the examples above, may also be noticed: for instance, a ‘tort’ in law is related to the Latin ‘torquēre’, ‘to twist, wring’, just as is ‘wrong’ to the latter; while ‘crook’ and ‘crooked’, and in modern slang ‘bent’, follow the same path. There is also a typical sense development from ‘to turn’—‘convert’—German ‘werden’, ‘to become’ into ‘worth(y)’, that is, ‘to be becoming’, ‘comely’ and so on. Such sense developments can be paralleled in every language. Even more interesting is that the two ‘wr-’ roots in the examples quoted seem ultimately to be the same, of which a hint was to be found in ‘working loose’; and further to extend both Latin ‘vir, viri’, ‘man, men’ and ‘vis, vires’, ‘power, powers’, ‘virtue’ (compare ‘worth’ again). The schoolboy who makes the ‘howler’ of translating ultra vires as ‘farout people’ is not quite as wrong as the master may think who tells him that ‘vires’ is entirely different from ‘virt’; and he might be happy, too, to know that both are cousins of ‘weird’! Nowadays the relationship between these various words is hardly felt consciously at all by English speakers, though between some of them (as in the example of the words beginning ‘wr-’) it may still be of considerable effect in


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the subconscious mind. Three-and-a-half thousand years ago, however, when there was far greater unity between the ancestral languages of our family, that now include English, German, French, Welsh, Greek, Russian, Persian, Hindi and so many others, and when certain kinds of language making mechanism now dormant were still active, it is probable that the relationship was widely recognised by the conscious mind. To an Icelander today, for example, whose language is closely related to English of about a thousand years ago, it may be astonishing that an English speaker should not consciously feel that ‘soot’ is what ‘sits’ in a chimney; the two words being in fact related like ‘logos’, ‘a word’, to ‘lego’, ‘I speak’, in Greek. The earliest inscriptions so far found in Chinese script date from about three-and-a-half thousand years ago; and although the script has greatly changed in the form of the characters, while many, too, from that time have become obsolete and many others have since been invented, there is continuity from then until the present-day. Being etymological in principle the Chinese script therefore gives visual demonstration of the way human language itself has developed, at least during that long period. If, for instance, the indirect relationship that exists between ‘work’ and ‘worth’ had still been felt by our ancestors at the time when they invented the imaginary script on Chinese principles for English that has been supposed for illustrative purposes above, then an ideograph for ‘work’ might have been the word associator in that for ‘worth’ despite the fact that the two words are not pronounced the same, as now are ‘ring’ and ‘wring’. That is the disadvantage of calling the word associators ‘phonetic’, which suggests, when such an apparent anomaly occurs, that the ancient Chinese were careless hit-or-miss phoneticians; instead of the etymologists that in fact they were. Of course, some of the etymologies or associations between words that they made were not historically correct but in such cases, provided that some association more than merely phonetic seems to have been made, it seems better to think of ‘post facto etymologies’ rather than of ‘false etymologies’. The term ‘word associator’ has the advantage of begging the question, whether the association is merely phonetic or not. The world of the Chinese Bronze Age, three-and-a-half thousand years ago, in which the present Chinese script has its earliest known foundations, had its own roots deep into the Mesolithic and Neolithic Ages before it; when perhaps human language, as we now know it, was really established. This is not, of course, to say that Homo sapiens did not have speech for countless ages before these times (reckoned from about 8000 BC), but before them the requirements put upon speech by the wandering family groups, with the simplicity of their material possessions, must have been different. In such an age, before the Neolithic technical revolution, there is no reason to doubt the spiritual profundity of man’s mind, nor the astonishing powers of observations and of putting two and two together necessary to survive by hunting animals stronger and faster than himself; but there would have been little need for communication beyond the present family group, nor beyond the present time. Instead, it must have been possible for language to be almost in a continuous state of creation, differing not only from one tribe to another but from one generation to another: the Spirits were free at any moment to declare a new word. Perhaps it is a memory of the effects of a technical revolution that gave rise to the legend of the Tower of Babel; when it was not really the unity of language that changed, but the requirements which came to be put on language

etymology as the principle of chinese writing


for the first time made the differences noticeable and bothersome: rather as is happening now in the new Tower of Babel in New York, the United Nations. If these suppositions are true, then there was little more than a brief moment in the long scale of man’s history following the establishment of language as we think of it, and as distinct from its state of continuous creation, to the beginnings of writing: enabling it to extend beyond persons and time present. It would be a mistake, however, to think of the original purposes of these extensions as simply utilitarian, in what are our present notions of utility: the requirement felt was still as much for communication with the Spirits as with other men; and divining the mind of the Spirits, which man still saw as controlling a destiny chiefly beyond his own control, was one of the main purposes to which writing was first put and for which the Spirits, rather than man himself, were seen as having invented it. This invention of writing occurred on each side of the Eurasian landmass, probably independently or virtually independently but earlier at our end, amongst people whose material possessions, environment and ways of thought were essentially similar; so that, despite the different principle on which Chinese writing is based, the etymologies of the language will be found closely to resemble our own. It may be more than a coincidence, for instance, returning to our ‘w-r’ root, that the one word ‘kung’ in Chinese has meaning of ‘male’ (‘virile’), ‘wor-k’, and ‘wor-thy’; though written with different characters for these senses. These three characters are 公, 工, and 功 respectively. The first appears to have had a phallic origin; the second is said to have represented a carpenter’s square; and the third consists of this carpenter’s square with the addition of 力, a character for a word meaning ‘strength’. The division into three characters meant, since they seem always to have been pronounced exactly the same, that a time came when they were no longer felt to be the same word, or when it was recognised as inconvenient not to distinguish them in writing; whereafter, of course, they no longer in effect were the same word, just as ‘flower’ and ‘flour’ are no longer the same word to us. Very often, however, such a division of what we should think of as different meanings into different characters is not made (see above, “When is a word not a word?”). For instance, 公, besides meaning ‘male’, means ‘father’; from that, a title of respect and a rank of nobility; from that, the residence of such a person; from that, what goes on there, namely public business; from that, public, or official, as opposed to private; from that, nowadays a prefix for the officially approved, that is, metric, system of measurement; and so on: all these ‘meanings’ simply written with 公. The horrid term ‘polysemy’, meaning ‘having many meanings’, has been applied to the Chinese language and script because of this; but ‘polysemy’ is, of course, a feature of all languages, and one may say that ‘one man’s meaning is another man’s polysemy’: one need only look at some of the words and roots in our own language to see how puzzling their different uses might be to a Chinese. Nevertheless, there is some justice in the charge insofar as Chinese, by the nature of its structure, provides so much fewer clues outside the words themselves to help fix their intention. In this it is rather like the English of telegrams and of headlines: some years ago, when the death penalty was still imposed in Britain and a Conservative government was in power, the London Observer carried a headline: LABOUR CALL FOR DEATH PENALTY SUSPENSION


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Given the ‘polysemy’ of these words, ‘labour’ including the personified meaning of ‘workmen, staff’, ‘call’ including those of ‘summons’ and ‘requirement’, and ‘hanging’ being the basic meaning of ‘suspension’, it is possible to make the headline mean something like ‘recruiting drive for hangmen’. (It is not uncommon for a misinterpretation of this kind to come out so far from the original intention; neither is such a misinterpretation unknown of classical Chinese, by even the best scholars native as well as foreign.) One knows, however, at once that this is not the intention of the headline, and few Englishspeakers would even think of such an interpretation, for a number of reasons: for instance, ‘hanging’ of criminals, unless with some gallows humour one would not expect in the context, would never be called their ‘suspension’; which would, on the other hand, be appropriately applied to a law or sanction; and so on. But this implies also that one knows not to interpret the headline wrongly, because one knows what one would say if this wrong interpretation really were the intention. In other words, the writer of the headline can assume some ability to write headlines, in the reader. (If this were to be translated by computer, it might be necessary therefore to assume similar ability on the part of the computer.) There is a further interesting feature in this headline, also relevant to Chinese: one can know for certain what it means, correctly without being able to ‘parse’ or construe with any certainty the first two words. Does ‘Labour’ stand for the Labour Party used as a noun in the plural, as in ‘Labour have gained in the North’, with ‘call’ then a plural verb? Or is ‘Labour’ an adjective, as in ‘Labour Party’, and ‘call’ a noun qualified by it? Not only is there no possible way of deciding the answer to these questions, but there is no cause for asking them; either for the reader or for the composer, himself, of the headline. One cannot say, however, that there is no grammar in these two words; for it is because of grammar that either construction is a possibility. A difficulty often strangely great, encountered in reading classical Chinese lies in avoiding asking such causeless questions; but, as shown, this does not mean that the language ‘has no grammar’. No language could be anarchical; neither, on the other hand, could any language dispense with the experience and imaginative cooperation of listener or reader. Although it is often suggested that Chinese is essentially vague and ambiguous by comparison with Western languages, there is proof that the demands for cooperation it has made on listener or reader could not, on the whole, have been excessive, nor its lack of precision too great: in the fact that it was the language of the greatest Civil Service ever known; governing the most populous, longest lasting and for most of the time materially most advanced Empire in history. Its spiritual domain, taking into consideration Korea, Japan and Vietnam where it is all that Greek, Latin and French are to us, has been even greater and is still, with all the material advances of the West in the past three hundred years, comparable in population with all the nations of many different languages in Western Europe, North and South America, and Australasia, that use the Roman alphabet. Perhaps, however, its unconcern with certain kinds of grammatical precisions may have some responsibility for its failure to kill people for erroneous interpretations in such matters as the Holy Trinity and Transubstantiation; and for a much better record generally, if still imperfect, in the matter of religious tolerance than at our end of the Eurasian landmass. Perhaps, too,

etymology as the principle of chinese writing


this unconcern may have some responsibility for the failure of modern science to grow in what was otherwise a much more advanced society in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; but this is a more complicated question and more doubtful, and there seems little reason to associate this growth with the fire of fervent spiritual intolerance on which Westerners sometimes pride themselves; and which may be part of Western importations to the Far East now. Many failures arise from carrying virtues to excess: the chief virtue of the Chinese language has always been in the brevity of its expression. It is in the deepest nature of the economics of language that brevity is always a virtue but not, of course, at the expense of all other virtues; as the Chinese possibilities of it, and therefore passion for it, have sometimes made it. It is this, in some branches of Chinese literature, rather than the alleged ‘polysemy’ of the words themselves, that has led to inadequacies; at least from our point of view now. This is particularly so with much of Chinese philosophy written in its great period between the sixth and third centuries BC, and in much of later philosophic writing written in imitation of its style; such writing being intended less to be explicit in itself than to be expounded by a teacher, whilst the brevity of it gave room for the ideas in it to live and expand. Unfortunately, the early writings in this style not only assume a great deal of background no longer available to us, but they are also made difficult by coinciding with a time when Chinese writing was moving in a phonetic direction. This tendency consisted of wide use of character on the ‘rebus’ principle found in children’s puzzles, of the kind in which ‘can be’ is written with a picture of a watering-can and a picture of a bee; but the language had already so many different words of one syllable that were pronounced the same that, combined with the passion for brevity, the ambiguity was serious; and became more so as, with changes in the language, distinctions were further lost. Consequently, the script was gradually turned back in the ideographic direction and ‘meaning associators’ provided for the former ‘rebus’ characters, but unfortunately, in editing ancient texts, not always rightly. As a result, these texts are often extremely difficult to read and uncertain now as to their true meaning; and these events do justify some of the strictures about the written language that have been made, but should not be taken as applying to its possibilities or to its achievements in general. The return to the ideographic direction, say about the end of the first millennium BC was a necessity unless all the older literature, a continuity already of a thousand years (not counting the earliest inscription that has, in fact, only recently been found) was to become altogether incomprehensible: the Scriptures and Classics of the civilisation. From that time onward the script has changed little, so that it is easier to read writing of the second century BC than to read Elizabethan handwriting in English, until revisions of the past decades by the People’s Government in China aimed at simplifying and reducing the number of characters. These revisions mainly legitimise in print customary handwritten ‘vulgar’ forms; but also, in order to reduce the number, revert to the ‘rebus’ principle of writing the ‘wrong’ word in many cases; while in some they restore older and simpler forms and in others introduce new ones; many of which regrettably have novelty as their only virtue, lacking any merit aesthetically or pedagogically and being almost certainly harder to learn than the characters they officially replace.


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At times, a suspicion cannot be unjustified that the purpose of some of these reformed characters is even more to make the old language harder than to make the new language easier for the people. But the greatest pity about all the reforms is that they achieve little at the expense of de-internationalising the most successful international, as well as intertemporal, language the world has ever known. Similar reforms have also recently been carried out, on a much smaller scale (but independently and so also not internationally) by the Japanese; of whose written language Chinese characters have always been an integral part. The question often asked, how many Chinese characters there are, is not one that can be given a simple answer; any more than how many words there are in a language. But as the characters correspond to roots, or putative roots, of one syllable, whilst many of the words (as we should call them) of the language are of the ‘aircraft’ type, that is to say, of more than one syllable, the number is of course much smaller than the total vocabulary of a language. The biggest dictionaries give about fifty thousand; but of these the great majority are rare and obsolete variants, some simply taken from more ancient dictionaries and to be found nowhere in extant literature. A very well-educated, literary man’s knowledge might be of a fifth of this number; whereas half of that would suffice for almost all purposes; and half that again require only occasional recourse to a dictionary, as far as characters (as distinct from their combinations) was concerned. An even smaller vocabulary such as in this book with its approximately one thousand characters, will open many doors. The number of characters one knows, like the number of people one knows, is less important than how well one knows them and can predict their behaviour. Learning characters is much less difficult than might be supposed: to learn 2,600 of them is not comparable with a hundred times the difficulty of learning an alphabet of twenty-six letters and at the same time learning 2,600 words of a language to which these characters would belong. This is because the composition of the Chinese characters is rational and they have a limited number of elements. The greatest difficulty with such a script, however, is in giving its characters a reliable arrangement for the purpose of dictionaries and indexes: a problem that, in fact, the Chinese and other users of the script have never very satisfactorily solved. (As a result, most of at least older Chinese books maddeningly lack indexes.) The normal problems of looking up characters will be avoided altogether in this book by providing each character with a number in series as it occurs and repeating that number on each further occurrence: the characters, with their numbers, being written large in the margin beside their first occurrences where their meanings and examples of their use are given. Most often, something about the formation of the character, its etymology, will be given as well; but less often at first than later in the book, when some of the earlier given characters will also be explained; because it is much more difficult to do this, and more laborious for the reader, before a number of the basic elements have been encountered together with some acquaintance with common habits or principles. Another factor, because of the digressive nature of the ‘tour’ that this book constitutes, is that sometimes it does not seem advisable to stop to give an etymology. A further factor, of course, is that not all the derivations of the character are known. The pronunciation of the word for which each character stands is also given on its first occurrence, and repeated at each subsequent occurrence in a

etymology as the principle of chinese writing


composite word or in a text. This is romanised by the official system, called Pinyin, now used in the People’s Republic; which has some advantages over other romanisations. However, proper names are spelt in the text according to the English Wade-Giles system, which is also widely used internationally and in which, for instance, Mao Tse-tung is more familiar than as Máo Zé-dōng in Pinyin Romanisation. Capital initials are not used, even for proper names, in the Pinyin transcriptions in the book, which are treated rather as a phonetic guide. But the reader who wants to pronounce the words and understand the music of the language in the poems is advised to be guided less by any description of the sounds than by hearing them; for which the Linguaphone Institute’s records of the poems in the book are available. In the Pinyin romanisation above, it will be noticed that the familiar ‘tung’ of Mao Tse-tung becomes ‘dōng’. Similarly, the ‘kung’ of ‘male’, ‘work’ and ‘worth’ above becomes ‘gōng’. The diacritical mark on these words represent the ‘tone’; represented sometimes in Wade-Giles by numbers: e.g. tung1 and kung1; Mao2 Tse2-tung1. These ‘tones’ are in Chinese, as much as vowels and consonants, integral features of words. This is not altogether strange to English, in which ‘track’ for instance has a different intrinsic tone from that of ‘drag’; but what will be found novel in Chinese is that such differences in tone exist independently of the vowel and consonants of a word. What has happened, in fact, is that the speech-mechanical differences, like those between ‘track’ and ‘drag’, which caused the differences in tone, have disappeared; some of them in prehistoric times; but the results have remained. One might imagine that, in English, ‘air’ from Latin ‘aer’ retained a different tone from that of ‘air’ (melody), derived ultimately from Latin ‘aerea’; and, as between these two words, the tone in Chinese does often signal a lost grammatical function from a time when the language had inflections of the ‘ride, rode, ridden’ kind. Such inflections, however, have become so much atrophied and the original concepts behind so faint with the passage of time and the wearing down of the language that it is inadvisable to look for ‘rules’ in them. Some characters therefore have two or more readings, in different tones or occasionally with other differences, according to vestigial survivals of the defunct formal grammar; but more often the script treats such variants simply as entirely different words, just as ‘soot’ seems to us an entirely different word from ‘sit’. In the writing of such ‘different words’, nevertheless there will often be found a common ‘word associator’; showing that the relationship was still felt when the character was made. Let the reader now set forth on his tour; but let him, if he will, take two riddles with him: Heiman eg fór, og Heiman eg för gerði: sá eg á veg vega, vegr var undir, vegr var yfir, og vegr á alla vegu. From home I set forth, from home to make a journey: I looked at a path of paths, beneath there was a path,


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above there was a path, and a path to all the paths. Old Icelandic Riddle. Answer: A Book

峯 連 峯 上 峯

石 破 石 中 石

Stone break stone among stone Peak link peak above peak Chinese Painter, Shih T’ao, AD1630–1707. Answer: Imagination

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Introducing Chinese Characters 人 (1) ‘rén’ means ‘a man’, ‘the man’ or ‘men’ (Chinese has no ‘articles’ like ‘a’

or ‘the’ and does not distinguish singular and plural grammatically unless this is important to the meaning in a context). The character is a much-simplified representation of a human being, and it means ‘man’ in that sense and not specifically male. For a (male) ‘man’ there is the word 男 (2) ‘nán’ (Latin ‘vir’); but these two words are commonly put together to make a word of two syllables like ‘aircraft’: 男人 (2 – 1) ‘nánrén’, ‘a man’ (male). In the spoken language of North China, as transcribed in this book, the second syllable of this word degenerates in pronunciation, just as ‘man’ does in ‘Englishman’, and the word is pronounced ‘nánren’, stressed on the first syllable and with the second syllable toneless. It may also have been noticed that the word 人 (1) ‘rén’ beings with an ‘r’; a sound the Chinese are usually supposed to be unable to make. This is in fact true of the South Chinese, those most often encountered abroad; but the Mandarin language transcribed in this book has many ‘r’ sounds, also ‘r’ inflected sounds, like the English ‘tr-’ in ‘train’. The character 人 represents the word for ‘man’ to the speakers of all dialects, even though some may pronounce it as ‘yan’; others as ‘nyen’ (nearer to its original pronunciation) and so on. These dialects differ from one another in speech as much as, say, French and Italian; but their speakers are all equally at home in the written language, the subject of this book, which is common to all of them and can be used (helped out by some extra characters) also to write their local languages. These are not and never have had to be often written; except for purposes of some essentially spoken art, like drama. One of them, however, called in the West ‘Mandarin’, has itself now become the basis of a written language; and it is in the Northern, or Pekinese, form of this that the words in this book are transcribed. The Chinese for a ‘woman’ is 女 (3) ‘nǚ’ or 女人 (3 – 1) ‘nǚrén’. Like 人 (1), which was a much-simplified human figure, this was originally a picture, earlier , which represented a woman’s breasts. The picture had become turned at right angles by the early scribes; and no dots were put to mark the nipples because the original meaning, when the character was made, was ‘a virgin, young girl’. It also means ‘daughter’. (‘Early’, ‘earlier forms’ and the like will be used in this book for any versions of characters before the great reform of the script in the third century BC; whereafter they may be called ‘modern’). The character 男 (2) ‘nán’, on the other hand, was not a picture but combined two: 田 and 力. The first of these, 田 (4) ‘tián’ represented and means ‘field(s)’; the second 力 (5) ‘lì’, ‘strong, strength’, has already been mentioned in the first chapter, and is discussed further, below. Together they symbolise ‘man’, of male sex, as ‘strong in the fields’; making the character easily memorable. 母 (6) ‘mǔ’, ‘mother’, was originally the same as 女 (3) ‘woman’, except that here the nipples were dotted in. The only other difference, apart from balance, now in the writing is the closing of the top of the character. The turning round as in these two is found also in 目 (7) ‘mù’, ‘an eye’, differing in pronunciation

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 2018 | doi:10.1163/9789004369054_005


人 man, men, human being(s) (2)

男 man, men (of male sex)


女 woman, girl, daughter



田 力 field (6)

strong (7)

母 目 mother



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from 母 (6) ‘mǔ’ only in tone. This character, apart from being turned round, has also become squared up, or cubist in form, from the early pictures like

because a collection of straight or otherwise restricted lines is much easier to remember, write and read than free drawing. This was a major part of the reform of the third century BC. This kind of transformation also often led to the creation of new images in the characters, not merely loss of sight of the old ones. For instance, before the reform of the third century BC, the girl’s breasts in 女 (3) had become transformed by some writers into

a figure of a girl with her hands crossed demurely in front of her; whilst others took it as a seated woman, which it rather resembles now; not unlike the figure of Britannia on a penny. It is out of such transformations, and selection from them, that the extraordinary beauty of the script and its perfect rightness for its function have been born. But all the time, it must be remembered its function was to represent the word now pronounced in North Mandarin ‘nǚ’ and only a word, whatever sort of ‘nǚ’, girl or woman, it might stand for. The character 力 (5), which seems somehow a peculiarly satisfactory one for ‘lì’, ‘strong’, was earlier , the right hand; symbolising strength, but much less satisfactory in draughtsmanship. Now the stroke resembles, though upsidedown, upper arm, forearm and wrist flexed back; with added power given by the dash of the cross stroke, which is done second. The artist who first evolved the form 力 to give it strength need, of course, have no notions such as suggested above; but possibly the peculiarly satisfactory nature of this character may still have been aided in this way. If so, it would by no means have been hindered by the fact that the suggested is upsidedown. The power of an image can, on the contrary, be greatly reinforced by such an ‘impedance’ as this; which causes the beholder beneath the level of his consciousness, to go out to meet it rather than recognise it at once; and which also has the effect of generalising the notion.1 The images to be seen, consciously or otherwise, and the emotion to be felt from these seven characters are (whatever their long-ago origins) universal in their validity; and this is surprisingly and gratifyingly often the cause with Chinese characters. There seem to be relatively few, in fact, where the imagery is quite indirect and demanding of special knowledge as, say, in the etymology of English words like ‘Exchequer’, ‘to check’; derived from a particular chessboardtopped table in a particular office, hence notions of accountancy. But there are, of course, many in which the notion now chiefly represented has grown out of a representation of something unfamiliar to us today; but belonging to the distant past and to the near-to-Neolithic age when the oldest characters were formed.

1 See E.H. Gombrich, Art and Illusion; and Meditations on a Hobby Horse, London: Phaidon Press, 1985, especially plates 18–20.

introducing chinese characters


An example of such a character is 文 (8) ‘wén’ meaning a ‘character’, particularly characters such as 人 (1) and 女 (3) which are ‘atomic’, rather than ‘molecular’ combinations of other characters like 男 (2); and also meaning ‘literature’ as a whole; ‘essay’; ‘culture, civilisation’. (One must not complain of such a range of meanings, while accepting that a Doctor of Letters means more than a teacher of the alphabet!) This character had earlier forms like

which seem to represent a cross-legged man, the traditional posture of a teacher while his pupils kneel, with a tatoo-marking on his chest. The usual expression for ‘culture, civilisation’ is the two-syllable word 文化 (8 – 9) ‘wénhuà’; in which 化 (9) ‘huà’ has a force like the ‘-isation’ in ‘civilisation’, reminding that the meaning of that word is of a process and a progress, and not of a state. But 化 differs from ‘-isation’ in that the latter is only part of words and without independent existence in our language; whereas, as will be expected from what was said at the beginning of the first chapter, 化 is a word in itself. It then has a range of meanings about the notion of ‘genesis, transforming, metamorphosis’. The character consists of two human figures like 人 (1), which is reduced in composition when on the left of a character to 亻; while the figure on the right, now much changed, was originally the same but drawn in reverse as a mirror reflection of that on the left. This 匕 element occurs in other characters with the meaning of ‘female’, doubtless derived from this particular character; for the representation is of a couple, a man and a woman, or one might say, of Adam and Eve. Just as we use Latin words, ‘culture’, which also implies ‘generation’, and ‘civilisation’, so the Japanese use 文化 (8 – 9) which they pronounce, from an older Chinese pronunciation, ‘bunkwa’ or as ‘bunka’; the Vietnamese as ‘vǎnhoá’, and so on. 文 (8) ‘wén’ also often just means ‘a word’: the Chinese so identified words with the characters devised for writing them that this is very natural. In the sense of ‘word/character’ it occurs in a simple but profound statement about the understanding of language, by the philosopher Mencius (ca. 372–289 BC; book V, part I, chapter iv, verse 2): 不 以 文

害 辭 不 以 辭 害

bù yǐ wén hài cí, bù yǐ cí hài 10 11 8 12 13 10 11 13 12 志

以 意 逆 志

是 爲

得 之

zhì; yǐ yì nì zhì: shì wéi dé zhī 14 11 15 16 14 17 18 19 20 (For convenience, the characters in Chinese passages quoted in this book will be written like this in lines and from left to right, as with our own script. The normal Chinese direction of writing is in columns downwards; the columns starting from the right; and a book therefore starts from what to us is the back.) ‘Not through a word to let harm be done to a phrase, not through a phrase to let harm to be done to the intention; but with (your) mind to set out to meet the intention (as you would a guest): that is understanding it’.


文 character, letter(s), culture


化 genesis, metamorphosis; -ise, -isation



不 no! not, un-


以 holding, with, by


害 (to) harm, hurt


辭 analysis; to plead; a phrase

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Mencius’s Chinese expresses this with only eighteen syllables; and eleven different characters, all of them standing for simple and common words. The first two are amongst the commonest words in the language; and the last is perhaps the commonest of all. Besides their meanings, something must be said about the derivation of some of these important characters; but for the reasons at the end of the previous chapter, interesting as all the other characters are it would be laborious for reader and writer alike to attempt to deal with the origins of all of them at this stage. 不 (10) ‘bù, bū, or bú’, means ‘no’ or ‘not’. What might be called its ‘official tone’ (that is, in isolation) is ‘bù’; and this is used for ‘no!’ and sometimes kept also today reading poetry. But usually, as ‘not’ and when it qualifies a verb or adjective, it is in one of the other two tones: ‘bú’ only if the tone of the next syllable would be the same as ‘bù’, which is otherwise the tone used. This sort of variety is exceptional and is partly explained by the fact that the tone to which the word originally belonged has disappeared from the language transcribed here. (The commonest words in all languages often involve exceptions.) The origin of the character is a picture of a bird flying upward to the sky; though it seems likely that this may be its indirect origin and of the ‘rebus’ kind. The name of a particular bird was pronounced the same and may have been borrowed to write the word for ‘not’; yet, this being so, it is most probable that the early writers of Chinese, in whose economy hunting still played a large part, saw a bird flying away as a good symbol of negation! 以 (11) ‘yǐ’ means ‘holding, using, by means of, with, by, from’. The character is much changed from its early forms like ; which seems to have symbolised a hand clenched, as it would be holding a tool. This became 已, which is the way the character is written now in another, related meaning that will be encountered later; then the for 人 (1) was added as a mere distinguisher, a rôle this element often has in characters. 害 (12) ‘hài’ means ‘to harm, to cause harm to, be harmed’. That the same word can mean ‘to harm’ and ‘to be harmed’, or even ‘to recognise as harmful’, and that this is true of any verb that could take an object, presents one of the peculiar difficulties in understanding Chinese; and one that can be tackled only by taking Mencius’s advice as given here. Our own verb ‘hurt’ can be used in two ways, which could be hard for a speaker of another language to understand. From the conclusion of the passage, as well as the context in which it occurs it is clear that Mencius is not talking about composition but about understanding. If one were to say in English ‘Not with a word to harm a phrase’ it would certainly suggest the former; but in Chinese the expression is quite neutral in itself, and without the clues in the context could refer either to composing or to understanding. It is these clues that enable one to ‘set out to meet the intention’; obviously necessary for interpreting the Chinese verb 害 (12) discussed here, but in fact always true more than is commonly realised of all grammar in all languages. The difficulty with Chinese is that, used to other languages, one is inclined to seek more of a lead from inherent grammar than in fact one gets; and one is always in danger of allowing some kinds of grammar, that are not present but only transferred in one’s mind from one’s own language, to give a false lead to the interpretation. 辭 (13) ‘cí’ has a basic meaning of an ‘unravelling, analysis, explanation’; from which it derives various uses, such as ‘to plead, make excuses’ or simply as a noun for a ‘phrase’ of more than one character, which is more ‘explicit’ than a

introducing chinese characters


single character/syllable alone. Thus, whilst 人 (1) and 女 (3) are 文 (8) ‘wén’, 女人 (3 – 1) ‘nǚrén’ for a ‘woman’ is a 辭 (13) ‘cí’; in fact, a word of the ‘aircraft’ type. 志 (14) ‘zhì’ means ‘will, aim, determination, intention’. A distinction is to be made between ‘intention’ in relation to language and ‘meaning’, which is a ‘notion’ on its own. 意 (15) ‘yì’ has the latter meaning, besides ‘mind, idea, liking’ and other possible translations into English. Although Mencius’s intention here is not hard to follow, one of the great difficulties in understanding, still more in translating, Chinese philosophy is in the lack of common ancestry in the notions used; our own being largely of common, and ultimately Greek or Hebrew, provenance. This does not mean that the notions in Chinese do not exist in our own minds and languages; but that their territories, as it were, do not coincide as much as in languages of the same mental ancestry, neither are their precedences in thought identical. 逆 (16) ‘nì’ means ‘to set out to meet something or someone coming in one’s own direction’; most often now ‘to oppose’, a specialisation of meaning of a kind that may make the use of such a word in a context like this harder for a native Chinese, if not classically educated, to understand than for a foreigner who is often in a position to look at meanings with a fresher eye. (To a native, very colloquial language, such as that of the joke page in a newspaper, will seem to be what is easy; though it may be much more difficult than philosophic or scientific writings that he would regard as difficult, for a foreigner to understand.) In classical Chinese, and in some modern expressions, this word can be translated as ‘to anticipate’; but in Mencius’s time, especially, it had also a polite meaning of going to meet arriving guests. (It is still used in this sense in a Japanese word for an ‘inn’.) The character was in early versions

in which is a man, upside-down to show him coming towards the onlooker, while is a right foot, toes upward, going toward the man. The later-added was part of , road joined by two paths; of which the left side, , came to be written instead of the right; and on the left. This then became the 辶 by the aid of a further development which will be described shortly; as a meaning associator for ‘progression’, which, it should be noted, is always written after the rest of a character containing it. (One can usually be sure that a flourish is written last.) The original images of this character have become quite obscured by the development of the script, but their associations have not. 是 (17) ‘shì’ means ‘this, that, the self-same; what is right, true, proper’; and in the modern North Chinese or Mandarin language has come to be the ordinary verb ‘to be’ as a copula: X 是 Y, ‘X is (a) Y’. It is not used for the verb ‘to be’ in the sense of existing, as in ‘I am here’; nor with adjectives, ‘it is white’, because adjectives in Chinese contain the notion of the verb ‘to be’ and do not require a word for it. As a noun in moral writings particularly, 是 has often the sense of ‘property, correctness, truth, right(eous)ness’. There seems to be some parallel between this Chinese word and the Greek ‘autós’, meaning ‘(him)self’, ‘the very one’, ‘the same’, ‘this’ and so on; which seems to have an honorific sense of ‘the very one, the right one, the true (and noble)’ in such proper names as Autolycus, Odysseus’ grandfather, and Automedon, Achilles’ charioteer, ‘Himself of the Wolf’ and ‘Himself of the Guardian’. The latter is exactly


志 (15)

aim, intention

意 notion, idea, liking


逆 to go to meet, anticipate; greet, oppose


是 this, that, the self-same; right, true, proper; (verb) to be



爲 to do, make, act as, be; on behalf of


得 to get, take, understand (20)

之 (pronoun object) him, her, it, them; (sign of possessive) ’s

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the meaning of ‘Edward’ and the former of ‘Adolf’; which had the old Germanic prefix, ‘Aud-’, now used with a sense of ‘very easily’, therefore ‘automatically’, in such Icelandic expressions as ‘audsénn’ for ‘evident’: what is ‘auto-seen’. It may also be the word in ‘Aud Nick’, the Devil Himself; taken now as ‘Old Nick’ as if a term of (cautious) endearment, a use of ‘old’ in all languages including Chinese. Even if either is the historically earlier origin of the expression ‘Old Nick’, therefore, it would not be right to say that it is the correct one: words, and other things, can have more than one origin simultaneously. 爲 (18) ‘wéi’ means ‘to do, form, make, to act (as); to be (as)’; or pronounced ‘wèi’, ‘(by) doing, (for) doing’ and so on. This is a clear case of the change in tone representing a vestige of ancient grammar, as some kind of participle, ‘-ing’ form, of the verb. As to be expected, 爲 is one of the commonest character/syllables in the language. To this, the complexity of the character may seem unsuited but there seems to have been little idea in the earliest script of making commoner words simpler in form; though there has been, since the earliest times, a natural tendency sometimes to simplify or scribble them. 爲 is therefore usually hand-written in forms such as ; or in very fast and cursive writing reduced even to . The ‘reformed’ character in the official list of the People’s Republic is 为; which has no very evident advantage in print over the full form, but the disadvantages of having no clear element under which it can be expected to be found in dictionaries; and, to some minds, of making all preCommunist literature look old-fashioned regardless of its content. The full form, 爲, is placed in dictionaries under the element , which was earlier or a picture of a hand; usually, in the former position, seizing or working upon something. The rest of the character has puzzled Chinese scholars for two thousand years or more, and the answer has only comparatively recently been found at the end of the nineteenth century, with much earlier examples of the script than hitherto available. In these the character appears as a hand with an elephant, but probably in the particular sense of ‘ivory’ which the hand is carving: hence ‘to form’.

The elephant, once recognised, can still be clearly seen (though at a different angle) even in the cursive and the Communist forms above! Further associations of ‘elephant’ with ‘ivory’ and ‘form’ will be encountered later. 得 (19) ‘dé’ means ‘to get’, including what to us is the rather slangy use of the word as meaning ‘to understand’; which is its meaning here. As an auxiliary verb it is used like ‘to get to’, meaning ‘can’ or ‘may’. It is very common for idioms like this to be paralleled between Chinese and English and other languages, even though usages may not be exactly the same. 之 (20) ‘zhī’, perhaps the commonest word in the language, has, however, what may seem to us two quite distinct meanings: it is used as a sign of the possessive, like ’s in English; and it is used as a pronoun, ‘this, that, him, her, it, them’, in the objective case after verb: A 之 B, ‘A’s B’; X Y 之, ‘X Y’s it’ (or ‘Y’d them’ etc: neither tense nor number need to be expressed in Chinese, unless necessary to the context; nor is there grammatical gender, nor distinction of sex). In English when a verbal idea is made into a noun, the possessive case may be used with it as in ‘its rupture’, relating to ‘breaking it’; so that in fact the two uses of 之 are not wholly distinct and do not seem so to the Chinese. (In most of its uses 之 is replaced by another word in the modern Mandarin language.)

introducing chinese characters


An early meaning of the character/syllable was also ‘to go to’; and this need not be distinct, either. It is this that the character depicts, by being another form of ‘foot’; in some of its early forms:

and the like. The foot, in various forms, is one of the most important ‘etymons’ in the composition of the characters; and occurs in three characters in this short passage: in 逆 (16) (twice); in 是 (17); and in 之 (20). The second foot in 逆 is in the surround, 辶, which originally combined with . The foot in a character can indicate either of the things a foot does: going or stopping. In the form in 是 it is stopping, being in the right place, that it symbolises; with 日, earlier , possibly for the sun shining on the spot; and what was a cross, now just a line, between the two. It must be emphasised again that very few users of the script, however, are consciously aware of these symbolisms; scarcely, in fact, if at all, more than most English speakers are aware of a ‘lord’ as being a ‘loaf-ward’, ‘a guardian of loaves’, or of a ‘lady’ as being a ‘kneader’ of them. Even if they were aware, their conscious minds would have better things to do when reading than to think of such things. Yet this does not mean that even now, when the imagery is so much obscured in the Chinese script as it finally evolved some two thousand years ago, the symbols are wholly without significance. By the nature of the characters, one is bound to see them as symbols made of images; however one may, consciously or subconsciously, interpret those images. And, as with dreams, simultaneous and contradictory conceptions of them are never ruled out by the subconscious mind. There are various factors in the characters of the Chinese script, such as their notional equality in size and such as that they do not analyse into smaller units of sound, which obviously make them more ‘ideographic’ than words in our own script; but this does not mean that our own script is a stranger to ideography. We do not read every letter of words like ‘hare’ and ‘hair’, any more than we think of the derivations of words we read. They are simply there (and not ‘their’). Some words are as ideographically written as Chinese, however, and with the same convention about size: e.g. 1, 2, 3 … When these are followed respectively by ‘-st’, ‘-nd’ and ‘-rd’ we have no hesitation in reading them differently, though understanding them the same. The Chinese script does not in fact go as far as this, or as reading 14 backwards as ‘fourteen’; though the characters are used in such ways in Japanese, in which a pair of them may make a single ideograph: for instance 煙草 (21 – 22) is used to spell the loanword ‘tabako’, ‘tobacco’, in which 煙 (21), in Chinese ‘yān’ also written 烟, means ‘smoke’ and 草 (22), in Chinese ‘cǎo’, means ‘grass, vegetation’. (煙草 was an existing phrase in Chinese for steam rising from wet grass.) In Chinese, 十二 (23 – 24) ‘shí-èr’, literally 十 (23) ‘shí’, ‘ten’, 二 (24) ‘èr’, ‘two’, means ‘twelve’; whilst 二十 (24 – 23) ‘èrshí’ means ‘twenty’. With such a way of expressing numbers, speech itself is not far from ‘positional arithmetic’ and the Chinese in fact express ‘102’ by 百零二 (25 – 26 – 24) ‘bǎi-líng-èr’, ‘hundredO-two’; in which 百 (25) ‘bǎi’ means ‘a hundred’ and 零 (26) ‘líng’ means ‘zero’; originally a ‘raindrop’. (On the origins of ‘place’ or ‘positional arithmetic’ and of the ‘o’ zero sign, see Joseph Needham: Science and Civilisation in China, vol. 3, section 19.) Although the international Arabic numerals are written nowadays for all mathematical purposes, and there have long also been Chinese numbers



煙 草 烟

grass, vegetation

smoke (23)


十 二 ten




百 零 a hundred



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used specifically for reckoning, numbers in narrative are commonly expressed by ideographs which are no different from these words in the language; and must be read as they would be spoken: 83, 469, 751 (27)


八 千 eight

a thousand



三 四 three

four (31)

六 six (32)

萬 or 万 ten thousand (33)


九 七 nine




五 一 five




第 氧 number … (as sign of ordinal)




碳 養 charcoal, coal, carbon

to feed, nourish



食 羊 to eat


would be spoken in Chinese as ‘bā-qiān-sān-bǎi-sì-shí-liù-wàn-jiǔ-qiān-qī-bǎiwǔ-shí-yī’ and written 八 千

百 四 十 六 萬

九 千

七 百 五 十 一

bā qiān sān bǎi sì shí liù wàn jiǔ qiān qī bǎi wǔ shí yī (27 28 29 25 30 23 31 32 33 28 34 25 35 23 36) literally ‘eight thousand three hundred four ten six myriad (10,000), nine thousand seven hundred five ten one’. The last of them, 一 (36) ‘yī’, ‘yì’ or ‘yí’, ‘one’, behaves as far as tone is concerned exactly like 不 (10) ‘bù’, ‘bū’ or ‘bú’, ‘not’. Another tonal rule that may be noticed in passing is that ‘bǎi-wǔ’ ‘… hundred and fif(ty) …’ in this sequence tends to be pronounced more like ‘bái-wǔ’; which regularly happens when two examples of this tone come together. (Sometimes ‘bǎi-wǔ’ is so romanised as ‘bái-wǔ’; but that will not be done in this book. The reader is advised not to try to make the sounds of the language too much from print: should he want to pronounce the language correctly, he must listen a great deal and imitate regardless of theory first!) Besides being translatable as ‘one’, 一 (36) is often used idiomatically with a sense like ‘one-and-all’, or ‘once, as soon as’; and it also corresponds to GreekEnglish ‘mono-’ and Latin-English ‘uni-’. There is in the Chinese writing, however, no division between words as distinct from between the characters representing each a syllable; so that a distinction between these various uses is not reflected by its appearance on a page. Ordinal numbers are expressed by the prefix 第 (37) ‘dì’ as in 第一 (37 – 36) ‘dì yī’, ‘number one, first’; which is also used idiomatically with senses like ‘best, above all’. Whilst chemical formulae are now commonly written with our own, international ideographs, CO2 and so on, the Chinese expression of their names, written in words in Chinese script, is not much different. For this, some new Chinese characters have (exceptionally) been invented to represent the chemical elements, for instance 氧 (38) ‘yǎng’ for ‘oxygen’: 一氧化 (36 – 38 – 9) ‘yì yǎng huà’, ‘monoxide’. 碳 (39) ‘tàn’, on the other hand, is an old character for ‘charcoal, coal, carbon’; so that ‘carbon dioxide’, CO2, may be written as it is spoken: 二氧化碳 (24 – 38 – 9 – 39) ‘èr yǎng huà tàn’, which is ‘di-ox-idecarbon’. The newly made character 氧 (38) ‘yǎng’, and the word itself for ‘oxygen’ have been created on ancient principles. The word ‘yǎng’ means ‘to feed, nourish, sustain life’; in which meaning it is written 養 (40). This in turn consists of 食 (41) ‘shí’, ‘to eat, feed’, as meaning associator, with 羊 (42) ‘yáng’, differing only in tone from 氧 (38) and 養 (40), meaning ‘sheep, mutton’ as a word associator; on the same principle as the imaginary English character for ‘wring’ in the first chapter. It might be coincidence that 羊 (42) ‘yáng’, ‘sheep’, is so close in sound to 養 (40) ‘yǎng’, ‘to feed, nourish’, but it is evident that the early Chinese felt the words to be related: they were a pastoral people, and sheep were to be fed and fed upon.

introducing chinese characters


This 羊, ‘sheep’, element will be found in many characters with ‘good’ meanings; and there is a complex of associations here that will be found in many languages: for instance, the Russian ‘Bog’ for ‘God’ is related to Greek ‘phagein’, ‘to eat, feed’ (found in such scientific terms as ‘phagocyte’) and the associations originally of English ‘good’ and ‘God’ with ‘gather’ could be of similar pastoral origins. It may strike the reader, too, that the Chinese character for ‘nourish’ is similar to Christ’s words ‘Feed my sheep’. Sheep are associated with gentleness not only because they are gentle creatures but because in many societies it is the occupation of the youngest and of the oldest members of it to tend them. To make this into the new character for ‘oxygen’, the 食 (41), ‘to eat’, has been dispensed with as meaning associator and replaced by 气 (43), as a character on its own also written 氣, ‘qì’, ‘breath, spirit; gas’. Meaning ‘steam’ it is written 汽 (see below 水, 45, for the 氵). In its earliest form this simply shows a spiralling cloud of vapour


气 氣 汽

which has become formalised into 气. The sheep in some inscriptions is

breath, spirit, steam

a straightforward picture, but quite unsuitable to writing not only because of the time and skill required to draw it but because it is too precise to serve as a generalisation; it is a particular sheep only. The character therefore soon took such forms as ,


from which 羊 (42) is derived. As the precise pictures disappeared, so it became possible for such a character as 洋 (44) ‘yáng’, ‘ocean, overseas, foreign’ to be formed with its aid as word associator. It seems at first sight improbable that this word originally had anything to do with sheep; though one can never be sure, nor say that once the association is made it cannot be justified by the likeness of breaking waves on the ocean to bits of wool! The meaning associator of 洋 (44) is the three dots, which are by origin an abbreviation of the character 水 (45) ‘shuǐ’ ‘water’; of which more will be said below. A combination of the character 人 (1) ‘man’ with 母 (6) ‘mother’ is used to write the collective or distributive word 每 (46) ‘měi’, ‘every’; and to this in turn is added the three dots, 氵, ‘water’, to make 海 (47) ‘hǎi’, ‘sea’. 母 (6) for ‘mother’ is the word associator in both these characters; and also, surprisingly, it is phonetic because it can be shown that about the time the characters were created these three words were much more similar in sound than they are now, the ‘hǎi’ of ‘sea’ having also had an ‘m’ in it. All three words must have been felt as etymologically related: ‘mother’; ‘mother+man’, is a collective word. Collective nouns in Greek, Latin and other languages of our own family are Feminine in grammatical gender; which is the ‘mother’ gender, as distinct from Masculine, the ‘father’ gender, and Neuter, the ‘child’ gender. Then ‘collective+ waters’ means ‘sea’. The coincidence with the French ‘la mère’ and ‘la mer’ (earlier ‘le mer’) will be noticed! One need not see these things in the characters for them to have an effect: indeed by the ‘impedance’ theory above, the less one consciously sees them the


洋 ocean


水 water



海 sea



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better for their effect. Why is ‘Tyger, tyger, burning bright’ and ‘Plucke the keene teeth from the fierce Tygers yawes’ somehow more terrifying than when ‘Tiger’ is the spelling used? Is it not possible, that unknown to our conscious minds, we see gaping jaws and a menacingly twitching tail in the ‘y’? An early form of the Chinese character for ‘tiger’ could in fact be incorporated in the word (It is from a Chou Dynasty bronze):


In many modern characters, pictures are still easy to make out; for instance, 馬 (48) ‘mǎ’, ‘horse’, clearly shows neck, mane, tail and four legs; but so, if one wished, could one see the word ‘horse’ as



冰 ice

Although the character 馬 can be seen as a horse, it gives one, like the word in our own spelling, more choice in the matter than the first character for ‘sheep’ shown above, with its irrelevant and misleading detail: a sheep needn’t have horns, and can be an ewe. Thus, although 馬 (48) and ‘horse’ are so different as symbols in their origin, the difference in their effect is very slight: not only could one, as suggested, see horses in ‘horse’, and may therefore at times subconsciously even do so, but one need not see such a thing in 馬; which can, for instance, simply represent the sound ‘mǎ’ as in ‘Matthew, Mark’, without any suggestion at all of horses; or be borrowed for the similar sound ‘mā’, helped out with 女 (3) for ‘woman’, to spell 媽媽 ‘māma’, the universal baby-word for ‘mother’. Equally, 馬 as the Chinese, Japanese and Koreans write it, and ‘horse’ as we write it (or ‘pferd’ or ‘cheval’) are, as it were, playing cards. (馬 is in fact related to a representation of a horse in much the same way as a ‘king’ in cards is related to a representation of a king. More will be said on the subject of playing cards themselves later in this book). The character for ‘water’, 水 (45) ‘shuǐ’, is one that many people find especially satisfactory; but they are unlikely to see in it the original representation of a winding river . This became abbreviated in composition to ; which in turn, by ‘inspired misinterpretation’, became the 氵 in 洋 (44) and 海 (47). At the same time, 二, two straight lines, which were used for the levelness of ice ‘ice’, and meant ‘ice’, underwent a related change by ‘inspired misinterpretation’ into 冫; so that 氵 suggested no longer the appearance of water but something it does, drip, drip, splash; while in 冫 the process is slowed to drip … splash, as water freezes! The character for ice itself now is 冰 (49) ‘bīng’; 冫 is used now as meaning associator in many characters for coldness, coolness, indifference. Ice itself, as depicted by the original level lines, would overstate or be irrelevant to many of the notions for which 冫 is a useful symbol; by being less direct and at the same time by taking its place in a hierarchy of associations: 冫

ICE cold, cool, fresh, indifferent, etc., as in 冰 (49) ‘ice’

WATER liquid, vast, lacking fixed form, pure, random, etc., as in 洋 (44) ‘ocean’

STEAM intangible, spiritual, immaterial, etc., as in 氧 (38) ‘oxygen’


introducing chinese characters

The character 日 (50) ‘rì’ for ‘sun, daylight, day’, already met with in 是 (17) ‘shì’ for ‘this’ etc., is not only easier to write with a brush, the traditional Chinese writing instrument, than the earlier . (The dot in the middle is found also in Egyptian and other early ideographic scripts but argues no historic connection.) It is also a better ‘playing card’ representation; suitable for the whole range of notions to do with light, which include darkness, in a way that a representation of the sun itself would not be. The character for ‘light, bright, glorious, intelligent’, 明 (51) ‘míng’ consists of this with 月 (52) ‘yuè’, ‘the moon’, the two great heavenly luminaries; though in fact this character has also risen by inspired misinterpretation, which was of an earlier representation of a window with the moon shining outside:


日 sun



明 月 sun

At this point the reader has met the same number of Chinese characters as there are playing cards in a pack, and twice the number of letters in our own alphabet. It is easier for children to learn to play ‘rummy’, with fifty-two cards, than to learn to cope with the twenty-six letters of the alphabet: not only because the rules of rummy are much easier than the apparent anarchy of English spelling but because the cards repeat four suits with three picture cards and ten numbers, a smaller total of different entities than in the alphabet. The spelling C – A – T for ‘cat’ has one kind of logic, the rules for once working; but the spelling in Chinese 猫 (53) ‘māo’, also pronounced ‘miāo’, for ‘cat’, though without such rules, consists of three symbols too and has its own logic. The first of the symbols, 犭, had earlier such forms as



猫 cat




and put it in its ‘suit’; which was the Order of Carnivores, more or less, standing for dogs and other fierce and furry or hairy animals. The second, 艹, already seen in 草 (22) for ‘grass’, was earlier , and stood for vegetation smaller than trees or bushes; but here it was combined with 田 (4) for a rice-field to make 苗 (54) ‘miáo’, which happens to be the pronunciation of the word for ‘riceseedlings’. The whole character 苗 (54) could then be used as word associator, with 犭 as meaning associator, to make 猫 (53). Given such a system of making associations in writing, it is natural sometimes not only to distinguish different words by it that are pronounced the same, but to distinguish the same word where useful to do so; as with ‘flower’ and ‘flour’ in English. The same Chinese word 板 (55) ‘bǎn’, meaning a ‘plank, board’, may be written thus as in the ‘suit’ of the meaning associator 木 (56) ‘mù’, ‘tree, wood’ (material) when it is made of that and what we should in fact call a ‘plank’; or written with 金 (57) ‘jīn’, ‘gold, metal’ (in general) when intended for a ‘(metal) plate’; or with 片 (58) ‘piàn’, for which the character is by origin half of (56) split down the middle, when it implies a particularly thin kind of board, especially that used for the matrix in the original methods of wood-block printing; from which it occurs now in expressions for (printing) ‘press, publishing’. These three visual words all corresponding to the same spoken word ‘bǎn’, are 板 (55), 鈑 (55A) and 版 (55B) respectively. The word associator in all these is 反 (59) ‘fǎn’, meaning ‘to turn back, retreat; to turn against, rebel; back(wards), anti’ and the like, according to other characters it is joined with in composite expressions of two or more syllables and



苗 板 rice-seedlings




木 金 tree




片 鈑 split, thin plank

metal plate



版 反 printing matrix

to turn back, against



飯 cooked rice


吃 to eat


口 mouth


悦 to give pleasure


迄 as far as

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according to context. The character was earlier , showing a hand bending something. This ‘fǎn’, although never pronounced exactly the same as ‘bǎn’, serves the same function in these ‘bǎn’ characters as the 苗 (54) for ‘miáo’ serves in 猫 (53) ‘miāo’; each associating word by their sound. In each case the important thing is that the association is made: with associations in the human mind, unless specially and sometimes barrenly educated to think otherwise, one kind of association does not preclude another. There is no reason why, say, the short sprout-like ears of a cat should not be associated with other kinds of sprouts when the two words happen to be pronounced the same; just as we may associate an ‘ear’ of corn with the other kind of ‘ear’ even though the two words are certainly not historically related: ‘ear’ of corn being related to the Latin ‘acus’, ‘sharp’, and the ‘ear’ one hears with to ‘auris’, the Latin for it. (Very often unrelated words have a tendency to ‘bump into one another’, like strangers in the street sometimes have; as for instance the disparate ‘etymons’ of the two kinds of ‘ear’ do, when one happens to say that someone’s ‘hearing is acute’.) In 板 (55), the bendy nature of a plank is a further association with 反 (59), but in 飯 (60) ‘fàn’, ‘cooked rice’, it is harder to find such an association. This is the ‘farn’, often so spelt on menus in this country, in ‘chow farn’ for ‘fried rice’; 板 (55) is also well known through the term 三板 (29 …) ‘sānbǎn’ transcribed in English as ‘sampan’ for a small boat, described in Chinese as being ‘of three planks’. The meaning associator of 飯 (60), the ‘pip’ as it were for the ‘suit’, is 食 (41) ‘shí’, ‘to eat’, as it was in 養 (40) ‘yǎng’, ‘to nourish’. As would be expected, the characters on the menu in a Chinese restaurant are rich in occurrences of this meaning associator; which can in itself make one feel hungry. In spoken Mandarin, however, 食 (41) ‘shí’ is not much used for ‘to eat’, as a verb in itself, but replaced by 吃 (61) ‘chī’; which was a euphemism, just as Italian ‘mangiare’ and French ‘manger’ from the Latin euphemism ‘manducare’, ‘to chew, munch’, for ‘edere’, ‘to eat’. This word, 吃 (61) ‘chī’ originally meant ‘to stammer’, thence ‘to munch’, and the character has a variant 乞 of 气 (43) ‘qì’ as its word associator. (The two words once had had relatively similar pronunciations, apart from the association of ‘breath’ with ‘stammering’.) The meaning associator is 口 (62) ‘kǒu’, ‘a mouth’; now looking like a hole but originally , a line for the mouth in the lower half of a face. This is meaning associator for all kinds of things done with the mouth, such as shouting, singing and making other noises, kissing, tasting and so on. ‘Taste’ is also a common meaning for 口 (62) itself, as if we were to speak of the ‘mouth’ of a thing, but in Chinese under the influence of particular expressions like 悦口 (63 …) ‘yuèkǒu’, literally ‘to please the mouth’, in which 悦 (63) ‘yuè’ means ‘to give pleasure to’. A page rich in occurrences of 口 (62) is chiefly suggestive of noise. With a different meaning associator, 辶, already encountered in 逆 (16) as one for progression, instead of 口 (62), the character 迄 (64) ‘qì’ is made: meaning ‘to get all the way to’; and so again making more than an association merely in the sound of the word with 气 (43) ‘qì’, ‘breath’, even though the two like-sounding words may not originally have been related. 迄 now often means simply ‘up to, as far as, until’. With the two clues, one for sound with meaning and one for meaning alone, provided respectively by the word associator and the meaning associator, and bearing in mind that the speakers of the language already associated sound and meaning by knowing the word, such a character was

introducing chinese characters


not difficult to remember for it. A little reflection will indeed show that things could not have been far otherwise: a great and long-lasting empire and civilisation, which implies a great deal of learning one’s language and literature by foreigners, could not have been built and maintained with a system of writing as irrational and difficult as the Chinese is often made out to be. A page rich in occurrences of the 辶 in 逆 (16) and in 迄 (64) would look very active and full of movement. Early forms of this meaning associator show it as reduced to in which is the street joined by side roads, now also seen in the 彳 in 得 (19). ‘Foot’ itself is 足 (65), earlier , in which the ring at the top evidently stood, as in some other characters, for an area. Besides meaning ‘foot’, this character and word have from the earliest times stood also for a verb ‘to suffice, be enough’; which may have been of different origin, and the ‘foot’ of the character therefore used for it on the ‘rebus’ principle. It seems, however, likely that these two words were always felt to be the same, just as a foot was associated with ‘stopping’; and that the character therefore stood equally for both meanings, the ring (for an area) on the top contributing towards that of ‘enough’. Whether to take it as a noun, ‘foot’, or as a verb, ‘to be enough’, must of course depend on context. Mencius said (book IV, ii, 2, 5): 每

之 日 不 足

měi rén yuè zhī rì bù zú 46 1 63 20 50 10 65 “Every man, (to) please him: (the) day (is) not (long) enough”, or “It is no good trying to please everybody.” In this one knows at once that 足 (65) must be a verb, by the 不 (10), for ‘not’, before it; which cannot be used in Chinese before a noun, meaning ‘other than’ as in ‘not a foot’. But there is nothing in the inherent grammar of the language, as presented here without punctuation in the old Chinese tradition, to prevent one from taking the first four characters as meaning ‘Every man pleases him …’; though this could only be made sense of by taking the last three characters as meaning ‘… (so the) day (is) not (long) enough (for him)’, or something like that. Not only, however, does the context in which Mencius made the remark rule out such an interpretation, but the absence of some conjunctive word equivalent to the English ‘so’ suggests in the Chinese that the relationship between the first four and the last three characters is different from this; and, instead, that it is as indicated by the colon in the literal translation. There would then, nevertheless, still remain the possibility that the translation might be ‘The day is not long enough for everyone to please him’; and there seem to be no grammatical grounds on which one could firmly say that it does not mean this: only context (which is about those responsible for government) and the Golden Rule of common sense and of language, the ‘razor’ of William Ockham or Occam (died AD1349?) that ‘entities are not to be multiplied more than necessary’; as well as Mencius’s own principle quoted above! There is, however, another and more ‘grammatical’ principle involved in this sentence; that is to say, one relating to the customs of the Chinese language. This may be called the principle of ‘favourite rhythms’ and is most


足 foot; to suffice



聲 voice

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important to the reading of Chinese. There is always a strong expectation, it may be said, faced with seven characters like this, that the rhythm will be ‘tum tum, tum tum; tum tum tum’: ‘every man—please him—day not enough’. In fact seven consecutive sentences of identical rhythm follow in Mencius’s paragraph immediately after this (they are quoted from later in this book). But for the absence of a frame dictating the rhythmic patterns, the nature of the period of the language is always closer to verse than to our concepts of prose, in which we can pay less attention to rhythm thanks to other grammatical apparatus that Chinese does without. ‘Parsing’ Chinese is therefore largely a matter of achieving the best possible scores in favourite rhythms, while avoiding left over that would produce very bad ones or otherwise fail to make sense. This process is, of course, much helped by the punctuation nowadays provided in most Chinese books; but only by the most elaborate system of punctuation, such as would have other disadvantages, could it be obviated altogether. (Older Chinese books are not punctuated at all; and it is a Chinese tradition rather to enjoy doing without it.) It follows from the importance of rhythm to the understanding of Chinese that, other consideration apart and purely from a grammatical point of view, Chinese verse, in which frames do establish the rhythmic and therefore syntactic patterns (a fact that tends to be greatly obscured by translation into ‘free verse’ in other languages), is easier to construe than Chinese prose; and that reading it, besides being for those who get a taste for it one of the supreme pleasures, is also the best way of getting a sense, or as the Germans call it ‘Sprachgefühl’, for the Chinese language as a whole. The rhythm of Mencius’s sentence that has just been discussed happens to be now one of the commonest metres in Chinese verse; though it was not yet a verse-metre in his day. The very fact that it is so much repeated in his prose, however, may well have suggested some monotony to the reader of the description above. That such syntactic rhythms can in reality be so much repeated in Chinese without monotony is owed to the variety provided in turn to the eye by the characters and to the ear by the words’ inherent tones. The latter, being unlike our intonation independent of the syntax, can be arranged in their own tunes in counterpoint with it. The Chinese name for the tones is 聲 (66) ‘shēng’, ‘voice(s)’ and the distinction between them has arisen in the sort of speech-mechanical way suggested at the end of the previous chapter, before they came to constitute in themselves the distinction between words; as between 母 (6) ‘mǔ’, ‘mother’, and 目 (7) ‘mù’, ‘eye’, which are to the Chinese as much different words as, say, ‘dig’ and ‘dog’ with a difference in vowel, are to us in English; or as between ‘dig’ and ‘digger’, the Chinese having virtually no words, other than of the ‘aircraft’ type, of more than one syllable. This means, and it is most important to the whole spirit of the Chinese language, that as well as the characters for them the words themselves are all of the same notional size: just as are playing cards. In the matter of the weight or strength given to a word in verse, equivalent to our ‘stress’ but unlike it in being independent of meaning and syntax and therefore more like Greek or Latin ‘quantity’, the tones divide into two classes, like ‘stressed’ and ‘unstressed’ or ‘long’ and ‘short’, but according to the distribution of the energy in their utterance: those in which the energy is relatively evenly maintained, giving an effect of being Tense; and those in which it relatively decreases, giving an effect of being Relaxed. If one imagines oneself to be holding a rubber band, taut, between the two hands, the effect of the Tense

introducing chinese characters


Tones would be to move the hands outwards, tightening the band; and of the Relaxed Tones to let them go inward, loosening it. Something like the effect of Tense and Relaxed Tones in poetry may be seen in gestures of this kind accompanying speech, particularly by Frenchmen. The way in which the tones are pronounced, that is to say as sounds or musically, varies greatly throughout China, and even within the same dialect according to sentence intonation and the influence of one tone upon another, as in what has been said about 不 (10) ‘bù’ and 一 (36) ‘yī’, also 百五 (25 – 35) ‘bǎi-wǔ’; but that there tends always to be the distinction between these two classes in the matter of relative equality or variation of energy, so important to Chinese verse, has recently been confirmed electronically.2 This means that although the tones of Cantonese, say, and Pekinese (languages that are in speech as different as Italian from French) by no means match in the matter of rise and fall or levelness of pitch, they do maintain sufficiently similar relativity in the matter of the distribution of energy, for the same verses to scan happily on the same principle in each language. What is Tense in one is most often Tense in the other, Relaxed in one is most often relaxed in the other; even though the sounds may be otherwise musically quite different. As far as speech is concerned, it is entirely the subjective impression, of course, and not any kind of analysis that matters: one need know nothing of acoustic mathematics, nor even be ‘musical’, to speak effectively and not monotonously. Because we have instinctive abilities enabling us to master speech, much the best way of mastering the Chinese tones is simply to listen to them, forgetting all theory; and then, not immediately but when they have soaked in beneath conscious levels, to imitate them; only after that looking at the theory. But some notion of the nature of the Pekinese tones can be given, though with the warning to listen to the language rather than look for this nature in them, by taking the English word ‘two’ in various contexts. The first tone, 平 (67) ‘píng’, ‘even, level’, for which the character is derived from an ancient representation of a garden rake or harrow, might occur in English in the numbers ‘one—two—three …’ counted very distinctly and with determination. This is one of the pair of tones that count as Tense; the second starting lower but with a rising pitch, as in the question ‘Two?’ expecting the answer ‘Yes, please’ when offering something. The latter is also called 平 (67) ‘píng’, ‘even’, and is the tone to which ‘píng’ itself, transcribed with this accent belongs; whereas 聲 (66) ‘shēng’, with the bar, belongs to the first tone; which also is the tone one would probably use in saying ‘ah’ at the request of a doctor, as distinct from all the other ways in which one might say it. The first and second, both ‘Even’, meaning Tense, Tones are distinguished from one another by being called respectively 上平 (68 – 67) ‘shàng-píng’ and 下平 (71 – 67) ‘xià-píng’, ‘upper’ and ‘lower even’. It seems unlikely that the ‘even’ in their name ever referred (as might be and often is supposed) to the level of pitch or frequency but always to the amplitude. For 上 (68) ‘shàng’ and 下 (71) ‘xià’ for ‘upper’ and ‘lower’ and for other characters used to qualify the tones, see below. The third tone also rises like the second, but not like the confident ‘Two?’ and instead like a surprised or shocked ‘Two?!’, falling and rising. This is the first of the pair of Relaxed Tones in Pekinese: as for their duration, claims have been

2 Information from Dr. Paul Kratochvil, Cambridge.


平 even, level



上 top, upper; up, to rise; on, above

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made both ways, that they are shorter and that they are longer than the Tense Tones, but it seems safe to say that they are intrinsically neither; though there is a tendency in reciting poetry to pronounce the Tense Tones as the longer in order to increase their relative power. The third tone is called 上聲 (68 – 66) ‘shǎng shēng’, ‘the Rising Tone’. The fourth tone, which is the other Relaxed Tone, falls simply, rather as the answer might be to the third tones shocked question ‘Two?!’, by ‘Two’, meaning ‘Yes, that is what I meant’. This is in fact the normal way of saying an isolated word of one syllable in English; though, with greater emphasis it is also the way in which one would answer the shocked question rather crossly. (One of the great difficulties at first in learning Chinese is in escaping the influence of our own speech habits of this kind.) This fourth tone is called 去聲 (69 – 66) ‘qù shēng’, ‘the Departing Tone’, which is a good description of its nature in Cantonese, and probably in older Chinese, in which it is level and not falling musically but dying in volume. The accent ˇ is used for the Rising Tone in the Pinyin romanisation and the accent ` is used for the Departing Tone; but the reader must be warned that these accents are sometimes quite differently used in other romanisations. Besides these four tones, there was in the older language another called 入聲 (70 – 66) ‘rù shēng’, ‘the Entering Tone’; which survives in many dialects, even of the Mandarin main dialect or language to which Pekinese belongs although it has disappeared in that and others. This originally ended in a consonant ‘-k’, ‘-p’ or ‘-t’, as in ‘took’ instead of ‘two’; but as in this word pronounced as a Yorkshireman would pronounce it: with a long ‘-oo-’ and with a very short ‘-k’ and no audible breath after it. Furthermore, all the tones were once like the even tone in having an upper and lower version, so that there was ‘Upper Rising’ and ‘Lower Rising’, ‘Upper Departing’ and ‘Lower Departing’, ‘Upper Entering’ and ‘Lower Entering’ making eight tones in all; but only one division for purposes of poetry, between the two Even, or Tense, Tones and the rest, all regarded as Relaxed. These terms, Tense and Relaxed, will be used in this book for what is more commonly called ‘even’ and ‘oblique’, in order to avoid the impression that it is objective facts of frequency or pitch rather than a subjective notion of energy that is being talked about. The importance of various elements making up language is chiefly, to speaker and listener, subjective; and many of the terms we use have no clear definition otherwise. It is not even easy to say what a ‘syllable’ means, ‘objectively’; whether ‘fire’ should be regarded as one syllable or two; and whether, if it is sometimes two, the same should not be said of ‘time’; which can have a second pulse of energy in “what’s the time?”; that would seem just as entitled to ‘syllable status’ as the second syllable, if there is one, of ‘fire’. The syllable, like much else in language, grammatical as well as phonetic, and including such descriptions of the four tones, is useful as a conventional notion, no more. The first of characters not so far treated in the names of the tones is 上 (68) ‘shàng’, ‘top, upper, upward; on, over, above; to go up to’. When this has a meaning equivalent to ‘on’, ‘over’ or ‘above’ as prepositions in English, as in ‘on the grass’ and the like, it follows the noun: 草上 (22 – 68) ‘cǎo shàng’, literally ‘grasstop’. 上草 (68 – 22) ‘shàng cǎo’ would mean ‘top grass’ or ‘upper grass’; as 上海 (68 – 47) ‘shànghǎi’, Shanghai, means ‘upper sea’. A boat on the sea would be described, on the other hand, as 海上 (47 – 68) ‘hǎi shàng’, ‘on the sea’.

introducing chinese characters


The reason for this is that qualifying words and other expressions in Chinese almost always precede what they qualify; and in ‘grass-top’ and ‘sea-top’, as they are conceived in Chinese, it is ‘top’ that is qualified. As a verb, however, ‘shàng’ would precede its object; so that 上草 (68 – 22) ‘shàng cǎo’ could mean ‘to go up to the grass’, supposing it to be higher; while it could also in another context possibly mean ‘the rising grass’. In these last two senses, where it is a verb, it was once always distinguished by the pronunciation ‘shǎng’, sometimes indicated by an accent mark on texts as will be demonstrated later; but this is now only fossilised in certain expressions in the modern Mandarin language; such as 上聲 (68 – 66) ‘shǎng shēng’ for the Rising Tone, which is in effect one word, ‘shǎngshēng’, of the ‘aircraft’ type now. 去 (69) ‘qù’ is a verb ‘to depart, go away’; or often used after another verb like ‘away’ in English: 上去 (68 – 69) ‘shàngqù’ as one word stressed on the first syllable, ‘to rise away, soar away’ or the like; which, just as in English, could be used metaphorically as in ‘to climb or soar away to the heights of success’. 入 (70) ‘rù’ means ‘to enter’; and like 去 (69) ‘qù’ can be used with other verbs as we should say ‘to rise into’, or ‘to climb through’, becoming like a preposition in English; but it is not used adverbially for ‘in’ in ‘Climb in!’ as 去 is used for ‘away’. The character, which in handwriting is a mirror-image of 人 (1) and in print distinguished as 入, was originally a conventional arrowhead . 下 (71) ‘xià’ means ‘to descend; down, underneath, below’. Except that it never changes its tone, it is completely analogous in use to 上 (68) ‘shàng’, ‘to rise’ etc. 上 (68) and 下 (71), like 入 (70), have their origins simply in conventional diagrams: and ; as far as is known. The same appears now to be true of 中 (72) ‘zhōng’ meaning ‘centre, middle; among, between, in (the centre of)’; which, like 上 and 下, is conceived as qualified by a noun in expressions like 草中 (22 – 72), ‘cǎo-zhōng’; 海中 (47 – 72) ‘hǎi-zhōng’, ‘in the grass’, ‘in the sea, among the seas’. As an active verb, ‘to centre, to hit the centre (of a target)’, it is pronounced ‘zhòng’; another fossil of prehistoric grammar. This character, however, can be seen from early script and early meanings not to have been simply diagrammatic but to have represented a target with flags:

The basic frame of by far the greater part of Chinese poetry is syllabic; most of it but not all in lines of equal syllabic length: for instance, 四言 (30 – 73) ‘sì yán’, ‘four word’ (i.e. ‘four syllable’), the metre of the earliest verse, around 1000 BC, and still a fundamental ‘period’ in the language; 五言 (35 – 73) ‘wǔ yán’, ‘five word’, and 七言 (34 – 73) ‘qī yán’, ‘seven word’, both of which were much later but became predominant metres in the more formal kinds of lyric verse. It is these latter metres that are chiefly represented in the poems of this book. The character 言 (73) ‘yán’ means ‘word’, as the basic kind of ‘word’ of the Chinese language, namely of one syllable; also as a verb, ‘to speak, to say’. The origin of the character 言 (73), which now looks like 口 (62) a mouth with words or sound waves coming from it, appears to have been a picture of a kind of wind instrument being blown upward from a mouth:


去 to depart, remove; away


入 to enter, into, through


下 to descend, down; under(neath)


中 middle, among, between; to hit the middle


言 word(s); to say



絕 to cut off, break off (74A)




a line, period, verse



寺 shrine, convent (75B)

等 to wait; a class; ‘and so forth’.


竹 bamboo


待 to wait; wait upon, entertain; to stay

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The trumpet of the instrument then seems later to have sometimes been taken as a forward-facing head, blowing downwards; the original mouth then becoming the trumpet; until the wind instrument disappeared altogether in the present more abstract and more expressive form. The first poems to be given in this book are all of the very short kind called by the Chinese 絕 (74) ‘jué’, ‘(to) cut short, to break off’. There has been a great deal of discussion as to the exact origin of this term: whether physical in the sense that the form is derived by reduction from another verse-form, as it is; or spiritual, in that ‘the poem stops but the sense goes on’. But whatever the origin, one may say that it is both; and the second in such a way that the poem’s real penetration seems to come like a following wave. The character 絕 has 糹, or on its own doubled as 絲 (74A) ‘sī’, ‘silk, thread’, as its meaning associator; earlier . The full name for the form is 絕句 (74 – 74B) ‘juéjù’, in which 句 (74B) ‘jù’ means ‘a sentence, period (in prose), line, verse (in poetry)’. ‘Poetry’ itself, or ‘poem(s)’, is 詩 (75) ‘shī’; which is used both as the general term and for a particular kind of poem, usually in lines of equal syllabic length. The meaning associator for this is 言 (73) for words, and the word associator is 寺 (75A) ‘sì’, ‘a hall, temple, shrine, convent, monastery’; now especially Buddhist. An earlier meaning, however, of this was a place of attendance, or attendants, and earlier still it meant the attendants themselves. The character in its oldest available form was ; in which is for a foot, as discussed earlier under 逆 (64) and is a hand: in fact, the same metaphor as we use when we speak of ‘waiting hand and foot’. ‘To wait’, in the sense of ‘waiting one’s turn’ or ‘queuing’, is now 等 (75B) ‘děng’; but as the queue was very seldom of a ‘first-come-first-serve’, egalitarian kind, this also means ‘class, type, status; to classify’. It is also used for ‘and so , ‘bamboo’; of forth’. In this, the meaning associator is 竹 (75C), earlier which tallies were made, so that it commonly occurs in words to do with reckoning or order. It has already been encountered in such a sense as the word associator of 第 (37), the prefix of ordinal numbers. ‘To wait’ in the sense also of ‘waiting upon’ and of ‘entertaining’ is 待 (75D) ‘dài’, or in the sense of ‘staying’ somewhere usually ‘dāi’; in which the meaning associator or ‘suit’ is that of path, 彳 as in 得 (19), ‘to get (to)’, and discussed also under 迄 (64) above. These three characters with 寺 (75A) ‘sì’ as a word associator, 詩, 等 and 待 pronounced now respectively ‘shī’, ‘děng’ and ‘dài’, and in the three respective ‘suits’ of words, bamboo and path, with the respective meanings of ‘poem’; ‘to wait, be classified, classify’; ‘to wait, attend, entertain, stay’; all were once, or at least felt to be, different grammatical forms of the same root. It sometimes happens to a language that under pressure of phonetic habits, such as when ‘dew’ is turned into ‘jew’ in English, combined with grammatical causes of the kind that in English can turn ‘blow’ into ‘blew’, the grammar of the language ultimately becomes so irregular that it collapses altogether and has to be shaped afresh. This is exactly what evidently happened to the grammar of prehistoric Chinese, in which these were all ‘inflections’ of the same word, or at least seemed so still to the makers of the script; but the very regular, quite uninflected grammar that followed the collapse of the old, highly irregular one did not, as has happened with other languages in like circumstances, gradually create a new formal grammar (as if ‘throve’ became ‘thrive did’ and then ‘thrived’). In-

introducing chinese characters


stead it has remained ‘analytic’ and ‘isolating’; probably to a considerable extent as a result of the script that was developed to suit it as it entered that stage. Without now any feeling of relationship as spoken words between 詩 (75) ‘shī’ for ‘poetry’ and 寺 (75A) ‘sì’, 等 (75B) ‘děng’ and 待 (75D) ‘dài’, some of these about as unlike as it is possible for any Chinese syllables to be, they are still associated with one another through the characters; poetry still, whether to the conscious mind or not, is therefore associated with the ceremonial hall and the attendant minstrels, back into the second millennium BC; however much the poetry since has changed. But such continuity, which in the Far East may even have taken some of the place elsewhere filled by religion, has not made society, thought and art static; as it is often supposed to have been, but only from the short perspective of the last three exceptional centuries in the West. From the Western point of view looking East, too, there is always masking of particular changes by general differences. (It can be astonishing to see the effect of this the other way round: how like one another, for instance, some of our own works of art, that seem to us completely different in spirit, may seem to Far Eastern people.) The continuity given to the written language by the script, which makes texts from before the time of Christ, though they may be difficult, consist almost entirely of exactly the same words as modern texts (and enables contemporary poems to be closely modelled, without Chatterton-like archaism, on ones not only of the time of Chaucer but twice as old) has indeed meant long period of conservatism in Chinese history; but without back-sliding into Dark Ages. During these periods ancient traditions of the civilisation, which in truth favour revolution as much as they do conservatism, have been kept, as it were, in cold storage. Besides reverence for an imagined Golden Age of the past, probably founded largely in the humanity and imagination revealed by the script, there was a moral doctrine of revolution, overruling when necessary ancient and universal doctrines of the divinity of royal lines and the like, in the very earliest Chinese philosophy; the philosophy which has always been most revered. The T’ang Dynasty (AD618–907), which was for long ‘the beginning of modern times’ to the Chinese, followed upon three centuries of political division and confusion; which are sometimes called ‘China’s Dark Ages’, though in most respects quite falsely. It was from a combination of the intellectual ferment of these centuries, largely under foreign influence, with the political stability created by its great founder, Li Shih-min, himself partly a foreigner by origin, that the T’ang Dynasty’s Renaissance-like glories arose. This was one of the periods of new thought, not of conservative ambition to emulate the ancients but of ambition to surpass their achievements. Although there had been very short poems much earlier, many of great charm, and although the idea behind them is one always close to the Chinese and Far Eastern genius generally, the chüeh-chü, 絕句 (74 – 74B) ‘juéjù’, was itself a revolutionary new form; in which a seemingly very natural and ‘unliterary’ quality left no room in one direction, and the brevity left no room in another, for self-consciousness of which one would grow tired. In a third direction, the poem was consolidated and made lasting by technical perfection founded on recent phonetic discoveries, psychological insights (this was the great age of Zen Buddhism) and new ideas in the other arts, especially music and painting, and about the ordering of thoughts. The poets, like Renaissance poets, lived in the whole world, of science and politics as well as literature, and were deeply learned although, as poets, they seemed able to throw their


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learning away. The result was poems which at first (unlike most very short poems that delight immediately and briefly) seem to have very little to them; yet have qualities that make them able to grow and therefore to last, indefinitely. For anyone reading such poems, even in the original, to expect to find all their quality at first, or for a foreigner perhaps ever, would be to expect too much; but fear of not enjoying them as a sensitive and learned Chinese would enjoy them ought put nobody off the enjoyment they may find. Nothing better about them could be said than by the great French scholar, Paul Demiéville: Un quatrain de vingt syllabes ne saurait faire un grand poème. Attention! Chacune de ces syllabes est un petit monde en soi, une cellule linguistique chargée de significations irradiantes comme une gemme à facettes. Elle déclenche de puissantes résonances auditives et visuelles, car elle s’ écrit au moyen d’ un calligramme qui est une œuvre d’ art, et sa prononciation comporte des modulations qui entrent en jeu dans la prosodie; elle va toucher la sensibilité esthétique en des centres héréditairement exercés dont notre psychologie, notre physiologie n’ offrent guère d’ équivalent. Voilà quelque trente siècles qu’ un grand peuple, à la fois le plus terre à terre et le plus subtil, communie dans cette poésie qu’ il tient pour l’expression la plus haute de son génie … Partout derrière les mots toujours concrets vous percevrez l’ immensité des espaces chinois, le cosmos répondant à l’ homme, et aussi le sourd écho des profondeurs qui échappent à la parole. Peu à peu vous vous trouverez dans un monde enchanté, où tout est repos, simplicité détente, et auprès de quoi toute autre poésie vous paraîtra verbeuse. “Introduction”, Anthologie de la Poésie Chinoise Classique, Paris: Gallimard, 1957

chapter 3

Deerpark Hermitage by 王 維 lù chái wáng wéi 76 77 78 79 鹿 柴

Deerpark by Wang Wei (AD699–759) 空

不 見

kōng shān / bú jiàn rén 80 81 10 82 1 On empty slopes / we see nobody, 但

語 響

dàn wén / rén yǔ xiǎng 83 84 1 85 86 Yet we can hear / their echoed phrases; 返

入 深

fǎn jǐng / rù shēn lín 87 88 70 89 90 Retreating light / enters a deep wood 復 照

苔 上

fù zhào / qīng tái shàng 91 92 93 94 68 And shines again / on the green mosses. The form of this poem is a 五言絕句 (35 – 73 – 74 – 74B) ‘wǔ yán juéjù’, ‘pentasyllabic’ or ‘five-word chüeh-chü’; with a cesura as marked by the oblique stroke in each line, dividing it as 2+3; and a rhyme of ‘-ang’ in Relaxed Tones (the tone-class is part of the rhyme) between the second and fourth lines. The ends of the first and third lines have in this form to be in tonal contrast with these rhymes as Tense Tones. It is also according to this frame desirable for the toneclasses of the second and fourth syllables in each line to be in contrast with one another: here in the first and second lines, Tense—Relaxed; and in the third and fourth lines, Relaxed—Tense; while the third syllable in each line should often contrast with the last, and does here but for ‘bú’ in the first line which was, however, in the Relaxed ‘Entering Tone’, when the poem was composed. Such arrangement of the tones was ‘modern’ when the poem was written. More about the principles of these tonal metres will be said much later in this book: for the present, it is best for the reader to read the poems, and hear them spoken if he can, without thinking about principles or listening for their demonstration. There is always a great deal in the tones that is not governed by principles nor a part of the frame of the poem; and so not consciously designed by the poet any more than a painter can consciously design the precise configurations of his brush strokes. Yet these other features are very much part of the

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poem’s magic, whether they might be called ‘accidental’ or not. Anyone can stick to the rules, but not everyone can always have ‘happy accidents’ in the phrase of Georges Braque! The translation here is such as will be given with each poem; to be read in conjunction with the original Chinese, as a kind of shadow of it in English. This translation and most in the rest of this book follow the Chinese in having a basic syllabic frame; but allowing two extra syllables of English for each half line: so that the Chinese 2 + 3 here becomes 4 + 5. This is necessary in order to accommodate the minor, colourless connecting words that English cannot do without and remain English. Each prosodic unit of the Chinese, half line, whole line and pair of lines, is also a syntactic unit, an essential feature of Chinese verse as it is of the whole language; and this too is followed as far as possible in the translation, so that the parcelling out and flow of thought should also be shadowed in the English. There can be no such thing as a ‘literal translation’, taking this phrase itself literally, of a poem or indeed of anything else from one language to another; but it is necessary, for the purposes of this book, for these translations to serve as ‘cribs’, in conjunction with the explanation of the characters and other explanations provided. It is no less necessary, however, for them to bring Chinese and English verse together in other ways as far as they can. A poem can only be translated as a poem. 鹿 (76) ‘lù’ means ‘a deer’. This character was earlier

鹿 deer


麗 a matching pair; elegant, lovely


柴 brushwood, firewood; fuel; a fence

which is its form on the Stone Drums in Peking, of the fifth or fourth century BC; in a record of a royal hunt. The character occurs in others as a meaning associator for deer; chiefly in names for different kinds of them. It also occurs in 麗 (76A) ‘lì’ meaning ‘a pair; fine, elegant, lovely’; both senses probably represented by an especially desirable thing: a pair of fine antlers. The top part of the character, above the deer, represented not the antlers but twins: . The association with ‘deer’ is something like the subconscious association there must be between ‘deer’ and ‘dear’ in English, in our case as a result of the words being now pronounced the same; and therefore an example of a post facto etymology: ‘I never nursed a dear gazelle, / To glad me with its soft black eye …’ (Thomas Moore, ‘The Fire-Worshippers’). This character 麗 (76A) has, of course, no particular relevance to the poem itself. Many such digressionary characters, distinguished from those in the immediate text by letters of the alphabet, will be introduced as occasion offers. Most of these characters will appear in texts later, but this will mean sometimes that the poem or other immediate text will disappear from sight for long sections of the book. The reader may therefore prefer to look up the characters in the poem first, and read the digressions afterwards. (The book is intended to be a ‘tour’, but not a ‘secluded tour’!) 柴 (77) ‘chái’ means ‘brushwood; firewood’; or a ‘fence’ made of such cut branches. Here 鹿柴 (76 – 77) ‘lùchái’ means a ‘deerpark’, land fenced off for the conservation of deer for the royal hunt, near the capital; but in particular it was the name of a Buddhist hermitage on the poet Wang Wei’s own land. This was made famous by this little poem and taken as a nom de plume by the owner of the famous Mustard Seed Garden in the seventeenth century, which in turn gave its name to a famous manual on painting, extensively quoting Wang Wei.

deerpark hermitage


柴 (77) ‘chái’ is often used in the sense of fuel as one of the four necessities

of life, the others being rice, oil and salt; while ‘firewood’ itself was expressed more explicitly by the compound word, of the ‘aircraft’ type: 火柴 (77A – 77) ‘huǒchái’; now particularly used for ‘matches’. In this, 火 (77A) ‘huǒ’ means ‘fire’ and is also meaning associator in the composition of other characters to do with heat, fire, ardour, enthusiasm and the like. It was a representation, earlier of flames. In 柴 (77) the meaning associator is 木 (56) for wood, and the word associator is 此 (77B) ‘cǐ’, ‘this’, which was relatively close in its pronunciation to that of ‘chái’ in early pronunciation. The position in a character of word associator and meaning associator in relation to one another is usually dictated only by aesthetic considerations; and there are many characters in which a choice is allowed between putting, say, the meaning associator on the left, as in 板 (55), or underneath, as here. 王 (78) ‘wáng’ means a ‘king; royal’; and here it is the poet’s surname (which precedes the personal name in China, Japan and other Far Eastern countries) as he might be called King, Leroi or König: one of the commonest Chinese surnames. These are much more limited in number than personal names, which in theory are unlimited and ad hoc, not from an approved list as ours mainly are. The character 王 was in very early script a representation of a royal figure with legs spread wide on the ground, like Holbein’s Henry VIII:


火 fire (77B)

此 this


王 king; royal

sometimes also in a wide hat Later the modern form was explained by scholiasts as symbolising the union of three levels: Heaven, Government and People. It does not itself serve as meaning associator in other characters, but its form 王 does so as an abbreviation of 玉 (78A) ‘yù’, ‘jade’, leaving out the dot. As jade has always been to the Chinese the king of precious things and kings are rich, there is of course a close association of the two ideas; but as far as the etymology of the characters goes, it is a post facto etymology: 玉 (78A) is derived from quite different pictures than 王 (78) such as which soon became a simple pendant for ‘gems’. (From the second of these forms, it seems that the dot came later.) The deep significance and rich associations that jade has for the Chinese, superbly cut by them since neolithic times, are something like those of ‘jewel’ or ‘gold’ to us; but naturally not exactly the same, so making it often a difficult word to cope with in translation. 玉人 (78A – 1) ‘yùrén’, literally ‘jade person’, for instance, means a ‘beautiful woman’; while 玉女 (78A – 3) ‘yùnǚ’ was simply an old-fashioned courtesy for referring to ‘your daughter’. As what is precious, it occurs with a surround to present frontiers in 国 (78B) ‘guó’, ‘patria, country, nation, state’; which in turn occurs in 中国 (72 …) ‘zhōngguó’, literally ‘the Central States’, the name of ‘China’ itself in Chinese. This character is also, and more formally, written 國; in which 戈 was

a man with a weapon; 口 (62), a mouth; and 一 (36), the number one: a united command of warriors. A further way of writing it is 囯 as if ‘kingdom’. 玉塵 (78A – 78C) ‘yùchén’, ‘jade dust’, is a poetic metaphor for ‘snow’; in which 塵 (78C) ‘chén’ meaning ‘dust’ represents the 土 (78D) ‘tǔ’ ‘earth’ as kicked up


玉 jade


国 國 囯 state, nation, country



塵 土 dust




坂 embankment, bank


to tie together, to (up)hold

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by running 鹿 (76) ‘deer’. 塵 (78C) ‘chén’, ‘dust’, is very commonly also used in the sense of the ‘dust of the world, worldly existence, worldly things’, especially by the Buddhists. In it, 土 (78D) ‘tǔ’, is ‘earth’ and the meaning associator in many characters to do with soil, geography and so on; such as 坂 (78E) ‘bǎn’, ‘an embankment, bank’; which was obviously felt to be related to 板 (55) ‘bǎn’, ‘plank’, even as ‘bank’ and ‘bench’ are related in English. 維 (79) ‘wéi’ means ‘to tie together, hold fast; uphold, be constant, faithful (to)’; and is Wang Wei’s personal name. The character has 糹 (74A) for silk, or just thread, as meaning associator with 隹 which meant a bird and was pronounced somewhat similarly to 維 in ancient times, as word associator. This bird character is no longer used as a word on its own but occurs in many birdnames and other characters to do with birds. To distinguish it from the character now a bird, which is also used, it will be referred to from time to time as the ‘plump bird’. In early forms it was later 維 (79) as Wang Wei’s personal name was an Indian Buddhist saint’s name:

for Vimalakirti, contemporary and disciple of Shakyamuni or Guatama (569?– 478? BC) the historic Buddha. Such foreign names were, and are, transcribed into characters combining approximate with suitable meaning; but usually shortened, omitting combinations of sounds uncomfortable to the Chinese tongue: as when the ‘Vic’ of Queen Victoria was rendered by this same 維 (79) ‘wéi’. Vimalakirti’s full name in Chinese became Wei Mo-chieh, assimilated in form to a Chinese name. Wang Wei when adult took the Mo-chieh as his namein-religion; so that he is also known as Wang Mo-chieh. He is further known as Wang Wang-ch’üan, after his beloved country estate; where he painted and composed, and where the Deerpark Hermitage was. (More will be said about Chinese personal names later in this book.) The suggestion in the name 維 (79) ‘wéi’, even for anyone who did not know that it was here intended for the Buddhist saint, would be one of ‘constancy’; and it will often be found that characters with the meaning associator 糹 (74A) for ‘silk; thread; binding’ can be translated by words beginning with the Latin prefix ‘con-’ in English. Such notions and some means of expressing them are essential to a language; but the difference with Chinese is that, thanks to the system of writing, it need not always distinguish words such as ‘constant’ and ‘instant’ from one another except by writing the syllable ‘stant’ with the appropriate meaning associator. In speaking, however, it is necessary to be somewhat longer winded if the two kinds of ‘stant’ are not in any way distinguished in sound. It is then that a compound of two or more syllables, each contributing a direction of meaning, must be used; even when, in writing, one syllable alone will do. From this arises the, to us, strange situation that a poem like this may not be immediately comprehensible when spoken aloud, unless to someone who has already read it; without its being in anything equivalent to our notions of archaic or very literary language, but simply because it is too brief and simple. Once the characters for the syllables are known, it is not in high-flown or in archaic-sounding, but in very pure and plain language.

deerpark hermitage


To make clear that the meaning ‘to uphold’ is intended, a compound expression, like 維持 (79 – 79A) ‘wéichí’, or colloquially now ‘wéichi’, stressed on the first syllable with the second toneless, would be used. In this 持 (79A) ‘chí’ means ‘to support’ and has 寺 (75A), the hand and foot, as its word associator; suggesting that at the time the character was made the Chinese etymologists regarded these as forms of the same root-word. The meaning associator given to 持 (79A), 扌, is an abbreviated form of 手 (79B) ‘shǒu’ meaning a ‘hand’. This had earlier forms such as


持 to support


手 hand

and now 爫 as in 辭 (13) and 爲 (18); 又 as in 反 (59) and its derivatives like 板 (55) and 坂 (78E); and 寸 as in 得 (19) and in 寺 (75A) and its derivatives. Unlike the merely different position of 木 (56) in 板 (55) and in 柴 (77), however, there tends to be some slight difference in sense between these forms of 手 (79B). In its form 扌 as in 持 (79A), the hand is usually a meaning associator for active or transitive verbs, corresponding somewhat to endings like Anglo-Latin ‘-ate’ or ‘-ivate’ in the way it works: so that while 待 (75D) ‘dài’, with the path 彳 as its meaning associator, means ‘to be in attendance’ (as in ‘to entertain’), 持 (79A) means ‘to support’ quite directly. This sort of thing in Chinese characters, and indeed in human language generally, is not a matter of ‘rule’ but of ‘convention’ that can be overruled; but it can be interesting and helpful to notice these things, even though one has no right to make firm rules of them and then complain at the apparent exceptions. Wang Wei or Wang Mo-chieh, AD699–759, was a ‘universal genius’, equally composer, painter and poet; and famed also as a physician and as a high Minister of State. His musical compositions are unfortunately entirely lost; and no original paintings of his survive, though there are some early and probably close copies and there is a strong tradition about what his paintings were like. The poems too, of which compared with the work of other great Chinese poets there is not a great quantity, have helped to keep at least an imaginary notion of his paintings alive; and there is evidence from the great Sung Dynasty poet and critic, Su Tung-p’o, AD1036–1101, who most probably saw originals, of the nearness of his paintings to his poems in their imagination. Despite the absence now of such originals, Wang Wei’s reputation remains immense as a painter; especially as a landscape painter of genius who was in many respects father to the whole great tradition of Chinese and other Far Eastern landscape painting in the centuries following; and atoms of whose influence (if the view of some Italian art historians is right that Chinese influence is to be found in landscape backgrounds of some fourteenth century paintings of the Sienese School) may have gone even further. Among particular inventions credibly attributed to him in painting are the expression of colour by skilful gradations of the tones of monochrome Chinese (so called ‘india’) ink; and the invention of the long landscape scroll, called ‘makimono’ by Western connoisseurs after the Japanese name for it, in which time is used as a dimension as in music. In his youth Wang Wei seems, even unattractively, to have been conscious of his own brilliance; and indeed overweeningly ambitious, if the story is true, or reflects his character, that he refused to take the Doctorate examination, essential to public success, until assured of first place in the whole Empire.



空 empty, vacant, the sky, space



悟 吾 to perceive, be enlightened

I, me; we, us

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But his public career was disastrously affected, like that of many of his contemporaries including other great poets, by the Great Rebellion, which nearly brought the T’ang Dynasty to a close, of An Lu-shan. The latter, a general of Central Asian origin, has a personal name Lu-shan, pronounced now in the more archaic Cantonese dialect as Lok-san, half-familiar to us by being related to the name of Roxana, Alexander the Great’s Queen; and he is ‘principal villain’ in the history of the T’ang Dynasty. He rose to power through the support of the lover, the Lady Yang Kuei-fei, of the later years of the ‘Brilliant Emperor’, Ming Huang, who reigned from AD 712–762; and her story, with its end like that of Jezebel, is also one of the most famous in Chinese history and literature. Wang Wei was compelled to serve in An Lu-shan’s highest bureaucracy after this rebel had taken the capital and made himself briefly Emperor; and was condemned to death for collaboration when Ming Huang was restored. Pardoned, he went into retirement and devoted his life to his deep Buddhist faith, and to his music, painting and poetry which were inspired by it, until one day in 759 it is said that he wrote letters of farewell to his family and friends, laid down his brush and died; one of the greatest and most revered and, above all, loved men of genius in all Chinese history. The first character of the poem, 空 (80) ‘kōng’ means ‘empty, vacant, vacancy, space, the sky’ and is a word of profound import both in Buddhist and in earlier Chinese philosophy. Buddhism, brought from India, first reached China, according to what is probably reliable history, in AD 56; that is to say, though it was a much older religion, at the same time as Christianity reached Rome. But it did not have much weight until the three centuries of political division and foreign influence preceding Tang; when it gradually took on Chinese forms and was syncretised both with Chinese popular religion and with Chinese philosophy; also reconciled, as the Jesuits in the sixteenth century would reconcile Christianity, to the state religion of Confucianism. The notion of ‘sky’ in 空 (80) ‘kōng’ is that of empty space, and not of a heaven as a divine dwelling. In the poem, by Chinese grammar which commonly omits words for ‘and’ as it does for ‘in’ or ‘on’, it could as well mean ‘in the sky and on the mountains’, but for the fact that one would not expect to see anybody in the sky; and but for the fact that the first two words, ‘kōng shān’, make a phrase used elsewhere in the same sense of ‘empty mountain’, particularly in Wang Wei’s own poetry. Nevertheless, though one may rightly categorise it as ‘not meaning sky here’, it would be wrong to say that there is no suggestion at all of sky in it. The image on the mental retina is of an apparently deserted mountain jutting into the sky, as an inevitable result of that association of the word. The overlap of meaning is part of the poem, which could have been avoided by using different words; while the exact musical matching of the high, Tense Tones of the first two syllable, which always seem particularly important in each line of Wang Wei’s Five-Character poems, adds to the effect. In the sixteenth-century popular novel of pilgrim’s progress, of which there is a delightful and brilliant abbreviated translation by Arthur Waley called Monkey, the monkey hero’s name-in-religion is 悟空 (80A – 80) ‘wù-kōng’, Aware of Vacuity, in which 悟 (80A) ‘wù’ means ‘to be aware, perceive’, especially in the sense of a religious enlightenment; and is well known to Western devotees of Zen Buddhism by the Japanese reading of this character: ‘satori’. The word associator in 悟 (80A) ‘wù’ is 吾 (80B) ‘wú’ meaning ‘I, me, we, us’; which in turn has 五 (35) ‘wǔ’, for its sound, as word associator; together with

deerpark hermitage


口 (62) for a mouth, suggesting that the former is used only to indicate a sound. The meaning associator of the whole character 悟 (80A), on the left, already met in 悦 (63) is 忄; an abbreviation always used in this position for 心 (80C) ‘xīn’,

meaning ‘heart, mind’. This is written in full, or sometimes as , when it occurs elsewhere than on the left in composition of other characters; for instance in 志 (14) ‘zhì’, ‘determination, aim’. Besides meaning the heart in both a physiological sense and a psychological one (though in the latter meaning it differs a little from English usage, by comprehending the conscious intellect rather than just the emotions), 心 is much used in the meaning simply of centre; as in 中 心 (72 …) ‘zhōngxīn’, ‘centre’, used in politics, mathematics and physics among other contexts. The character was earlier a picture of a heart:

In 空 (80) ‘kōng’, the meaning associator is 穴 (80D) ‘xué’, ‘a vault, cavern, gap, hole’; earlier , which was a picture, but has now been rationalised into 宀, a meaning associator for roofs; with 八 (27) ‘eight’, itself a meaning associator for division, opening. (Eight being a number that can be much divided or opened was written with this symbol.) Such rationalisation of former pictures is common, reducing the number of distinct elements to be learnt in the characters. The word associator in 空 (80) ‘kōng’ is 工 (80E) ‘gōng’, said to have depicted a carpenter’s square and meaning ‘(to) work’: 工人 (… 1) ‘gōngrén’, ‘worker, workpeople, workers’. An apparently serious article in the Chinese People’s Daily, soon after the success of the Communists in 1949, proposed that the abbreviated form 囯 (78B) for ‘state, nation’ should be further abbreviated to ; with 土 (78D) for the good earth inside the frontier, instead of an anachronistic 王 (78), king. This would also remove the top, ‘opiate of the people’, religious level in the old scholastic explanation of 王 (78); while a new scholastic interpretation could be that 土 represented 工 (80E) the workers, with just a short protrusion upward representing the Party! With as yet another form of for a hand, and 工 (80E) for the carpenter’s square said to have been originally depicted, the character 左 (80F) ‘zuǒ’, ‘left, lefthand’ symbolises the hand that holds the square while the right hand does the work. Against this, 右 (80G) ‘yòu’, ‘right, righthand’, symbolises, with 口 (62) for the mouth, the hand with which one puts food into one’s mouth. It is, of course, entirely coincidence that the character for ‘left’, used now also for the political ‘left’ by derivation from arrangements in the Chamber of Deputies in France at the time of the French Revolution, should contain 工, apparently for ‘workers’ in Chinese; and that these should also seem to be present in 紅 (80H) ‘hóng’ meaning ‘red’! In the latter, really 糹 (74A) is meaning associator and 工 (80E) ‘gōng’ is word associator for its proximity in sound. 左 (80F) and 紅 (80H), in their new political senses, therefore present new cases of ‘post facto etymologies’: where there is a symbol, it is natural for the human mind to expect it to act as such; and this must apply in varying degrees and at varying levels of consciousness to all the symbols of human language. 山 (81) ‘shān’ means ‘hill, mountain’; earlier written . It is meaning associator in characters to do with mountains; peaks, precipices, passes and the like. 山水 (81 – 45) ‘shānshuǐ’, literally ‘mountains and water’, is the ordinary term for ‘landscape’ in art.


心 heart, mind, centre


穴 vault, cavern, hole (80E)

工 (to) work




右 right(hand)


紅 red


山 hill, mountain


見 (82) ‘jiàn’ means ‘to see, perceive’. It can also be used on occasion as a sort


of auxiliary verb for indicating the passive voice, which on other occasions can simply be left to be made evident by context in Chinese; as it can sometimes in English where we can say ‘your hand is hurting’ (actively, hurting me) and ‘my hand is hurting’ (passive, feeling hurt), just as one can with 害 (12) ‘hài’, ‘to hurt’, in Chinese. The sense development of ‘to see’ as a sign of the passive can be paralleled in English by ‘I shall never see promotion’, meaning ‘I shall never be promoted’. The character was earlier

見 to see


看 to look


覓 to look for


但 only, but

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旦 dawn

showing what is now 目 (7) for an eye, on a briefly sketched figure. ‘To look at’ is 看 (82A) ‘kàn’, in which there is the eye only shaded by 手 (79B), a hand. ‘To seek, search for’ is more active, and the figure is present again with a different form of hand over the eye 覓 (82B) ‘mì’. In such characters as the last two there is, of course, no pattern of meaning associator and word associator as in so many others: thoughts instead are symbolised by action, much as they are in drama. To say ‘I cannot see’ in Chinese the common construction is 看不見 (82A – 10 – 82) ‘kàn-bu-jiàn’, literally ‘look-notsee’, in which the ‘bu’ is generally weak in stress and toneless in the Mandarin dialect. 不見人 (10 – 82 – 1) ‘bú jiàn rén’ in the translation alongside the poem is ‘we see nobody’; although, of course, there is no ‘we’ in Chinese. Neither is there any ‘present tense’: these three words could equally well in other contexts be translated as ‘they have seen nobody’, ‘she will see nobody’, and so on. The notion of an autonomous verb like this, that does not need to be governed by subject and tense, is alien to our grammar; and one of the difficulties in learning to read Chinese is in learning to accept its own grammar, and not to impose subjects and tenses in one’s own mind. But when engaged in translating Chinese into English one cannot fail to provide notions necessary to English grammar: even a sort of ‘pidgin literal’ translation, though sometimes attempted as a guide, really seeks to do the impossible; for where English words are, there are the notions of English grammar. We cannot utterly sever the notions of the words and the grammar of our own language in our minds; neither do we do any sort of justice to the Chinese language by making it appear to be a kind of baby-talk. The reason for the choice of ‘we’ in the translation here is knowledge that this is one of a series of poems, celebrating the Buddhist hermitages and other favourite places on his much-loved estate in the mountains, that Wang Wei composed with his younger friend P’ei Ti (born AD 714) in the form of pairs of ‘chüeh-chü’; Wang Wei composing the first and P’ei Ti the second of each pair. The complete pair in this case will be found later in the book. 但 (83) ‘dàn’ means ‘only’ or ‘but’. Such conjunctions are comparatively uncommon in Chinese verse of this kind, because of its extreme concreteness and concentration; and so are rather stronger in effect where they do occur than they would normally be in English. The character has its word associator 旦 (83A) ‘dàn’, ‘dawn’ and as its meaning associator 人 (1) for man. This is often used as a sort of all-purpose meaning associator, when the word associator represents a coincidence in the sound of two words: as if here the notion were ‘dawn’ but not the ‘dawn’ in nature, rather the ‘dawn’ by which ‘men’ mean ‘but’. That a connection can be made between the notion of ‘dawn’ and the notion of ‘but’ (‘… but it dawned on me that …’) of course helps.

deerpark hermitage


聞 (84) ‘wén’ means ‘to hear’; often also, like 見 (82), ‘to perceive’ even when

the auditory senses are not involved. (One may ‘hear a smell’ in Chinese.) The meaning associator is 耳 (84A) ‘ěr’ meaning an ‘ear’, which was a picture of one. (The likeness between the sounds of Chinese and English in the last two words is, of course, nothing but a coincidence: earlier pronunciations of this Chinese word were quite different, and began with an ‘n’.) The word associator is 門 (84B) ‘mén’ meaning ‘a (double) door, gate’; of which it was also a representation. This ‘mén’ and the ‘wén’ of ‘to hear’ were more similarly pronounced than now in the ancient language, both beginning with ‘m’; so that there was a good phonetic connection between them. But this character well illustrates, also, the difficulty of categorising characters according to their construction: for one could equally well say that an ear with a door was a good symbol for the meaning ‘to hear’; as a mouth and a door is a good symbol of the meaning of ‘to ask’ in 問 (84C) ‘wèn’, which has that meaning. The difference in tone between ‘wén’ for ‘to hear’ and ‘wèn’ for ‘to ask’, that is to say ‘to cause (oneself) to hear’, is one of the many vestiges of ancient, no longer productive, grammar in the language. The first two syllables of this second line, again, have a remarkably magical musical effect; strangely, but not untypically, whether the poem is spoken in Mandarin, ‘dàn wén’, or in Cantonese, ‘daan man’ with a musically quite different pattern: in both cases there is in terms of energy a dying sound, in Mandarin falling in note and in Cantonese level but also weakening, followed by a tension, in Mandarin rising in note and in Cantonese falling. Both thus have the contrast of Relaxed and Tense, while both also have the consonance of the final ‘n’ in each word. One does not want to make too much of these things, accidents perhaps but happy accidents of composition; still less to suggest that Wang Wei ‘went for’ such effects, rather than that he may well have been happy when what he did go for brought them along uninvited. The magic, indeed, seems usually to be a poet’s uninvited guest. 語 (85) ‘yǔ’ means ‘speech, language’. The implication is more than if 聲 (66) ‘shēng’, ‘voices’, had been used; namely that out of the apparently deserted evening scene in the mountains, the actual words of invisible people (perhaps returning woodcutters) were heard. The character 語 (85) has 言 (73) ‘yán’, ‘words’ as its meaning associator, with 吾 (80B) ‘wú’ as word associator: phonetically seeming now very inaccurate, ‘wú’ for ‘yǔ’, but less so relatively in the ancient language of the time when the characters were composed. One of the difficulties we have in accepting such phonetic equations, apart from not knowing the relativities of the ancient language unless a special study of it is made, is that changes to the beginning of a word (unless we happen to speak Celtic languages like Welsh or Irish) seem less natural than changes to their endings, to which our own language accustoms us. It would be beyond the scope of this book to try to explain all such phonetic relationships as between the ‘wú’ and the ‘yǔ’ here; and the reader must therefore be asked simply to accept such oddities in the phonetic role of some of the word associators. 響 (86) ‘xiǎng’ means an ‘echo’. The word associator is 鄉 (86A) ‘xiāng’ meaning a ‘settlement, village, country district’. This was earlier a picture


聞 to hear



門 gate


問 to ask


語 speech, language



響 鄉 echo

of two people sharing the same immense, heaped-up dish; kneeling as is the Japanese custom still. (The use of chairs in China was one of the foreign


village, country district, home


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customs brought in during the three centuries before the reunification of the Empire and the establishment of the T’ang Dynasty; but the custom was adopted only gradually, and never fully adopted in Japan. One result from this is the similarity of Japanese clothes to those of China before the use of chairs became fashionable.) The heaped bowl of food in the middle evolved into 良, which has already been seen in 食 (41) ‘shí’, ‘food, to eat’; while the two kneeling figures became on one side 乡, as if part of 糹 (74A) for silk, and on the other side changed to 阝. The latter, when on the right of a character as here, is a meaning associator for human settlements; having evolved as an abbreviation of


音 a sound; acoustic (86C)



返 to return, retreat



scene; light

in which the circle above indicates the notion of an enclosed territory, or walled village as in China today, and the kneeling figure below indicates a settler. The character 鄉 (86A) is very often used in the sense of one’s ‘home’. The meaning associator of 響 (86) ‘xiǎng’, ‘echo’, is 音 (86B) ‘yīn’, ‘to sound’; so that the word may well have been understood as a form of ‘xiāng’, ‘home’: meaning a ‘homing’, that is ‘a homing sound’. The character 音 is derived from a merely arbitrary variant of the same original picture of the mouth with a wind instrument that lies behind 言 (73) for words or speech. ‘Acoustic’ as a scientific term is now expressed by 音響 (86B – 86) ‘yīnxiǎng’. 暗 (86C) ‘àn’ means ‘darkness’, in which the meaning associator is the sun 日. 返 (87) ‘fǎn’, meaning ‘to return, retreat’ is only a more explicit way of writing, by the aid of 辶 as in 迄 (64), this partial sense of the word represented by the character 反 (59) ‘fǎn’ alone. It should be noticed, however, that the word still has a suggestion of ‘bending’, thence of ‘slanting’, in it; for the evening rays. 景 (88) ‘jǐng’ means basically ‘a scene with light on it’; thence either the ‘scene’ itself or else the ‘light, brightness’. The meaning associator is 日 (50) for the sun, while the word associator 京 (88A) ‘jīng’ means ‘a big granary’ or ‘silo’, thence a ‘capital city’; the character having depicted the former:

capital city (88B)

北 north

With 北 (88B) ‘běi’ meaning ‘North’ is made the name 北京 (88B – 88A) ‘běijīng’, Peking or Pekin. The character for ‘North’ was in its ancient forms much like that for 化 (9) ‘huà’, ‘genesis, transformation’, indeed barely distinguishable from it, and consisted also of two human figures of which one was the mirror image of the other:

The intention in this case, however, was different and the notion of the two figures was ‘back-to-back’; thence ‘the back’, now written with the meaning associator for parts of the body. (See 89F below.) The ancient Chinese took their bearings from the sun at midday, a custom that must have come from residence always in fairly northern latitudes, so that the North was then at the back; differing in this from many other peoples who looked to the East at dawn, whence our term ‘orientation’ for which the Chinese equivalent is literally ‘meridionation’. In later archaic forms of the character, as with 化 (9), the figure on the right was transformed into one seated

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which became the present 匕 and also symbolised ‘woman, female’. The North is the darkest direction, and the Dark and the Female have always been associated in Chinese thought, in contrast with the Male and the Light; but the Female, of course, also with ‘genesis’ so that the early similarity of the two characters did not seem just accidental. ‘East’ is 東 (88C) ‘dōng’: 東京 (… 88A), in Chinese ‘dōngjīng’, is in SinoJapanese Tōkyō, the Japanese capital, and in Sino-Vietnamese ÐÔNG KINH, whence Tonkin as in the name of the Gulf. These two places are thus spelt the same in China, where in history there have been several ‘Eastern Capitals’. (A number of Chinese place-names are like this, functional, and so liable to move about geographically in history.) The character 東 (88C) ‘dōng’ for ‘East’ appears now to be 日 (50) the sun; not yet fully risen, and thus still below the top of 木 (56), a tree; and is commonly so explained. Such a symbol, which would do equally well for the setting sun and therefore ‘West’, does not, however, exist in the earliest script; but is a reinterpretation of something more interesting and fundamental:

the shape that now seems like a ‘pineapple’ (that is, without the three strokes underneath) in this and other characters represented vegetable growth. The three strokes underneath were roots, and the East was symbolised as the place of the roots of the Sun which rose and made things grow. ‘West’ is 西 (88D) ‘xī’: 西洋 (… 44) ‘xīyáng’, literally ‘Western Ocean’, is the term used for ‘Western, Occidental’, equivalent to our ‘Oriental’, looking the other way. The character was a bird sleeping on its nest, for evening:


東 east


西 west

The English ‘West’ is a distant cousin, historically, of Latin ‘vesper’; and both ‘East’ and ‘Easter’ of ‘ausora, aurora’. The rhyme in English between ‘West’ and ‘nest’, also ‘rest’, is not the result of any historic relation between these words but cannot for that reason be regarded as insignificant in the working of the language: the requirements, to a great extent universally shared, of the human imagination can be met as well by opportunism with accidents as in any other way. Perhaps it is difficult to make a mechanistic model of such a truth about the working language; but the truth should not, for that reason, be evaded. The Chinese characters for ‘West’ may put the reader, rightly, in the mind of Blake’s The sun descending in the west, The evening star does shine; The birds are silent in their nest And I must seek for mine … ‘South’ is 南 (88E) ‘nán’: 南京 (… 88A) ‘nánjīng’, Nanking. The character, which, because of its importance in the view of the Chinese habit of ‘meridionation’, has undergone various interpretations and transformations, had early forms like


南 south


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a picture of a sunflower in a flowerpot; for which the bottom part of this ancient character was at the time the conventional representation. This sunflower character, and the ancient character for ‘North’ with its female figure (still associating it with other female characters in the modern script), seem to share some deep imaginative associations with another poem of Blake’s: Ah, Sun-flower! weary of time, Who countest the steps of the Sun, Seeking after that sweet golden clime Where the traveller’s journey is done: Where the Youth pined away with Desire, And the pale Virgin shrouded in snow Arise from their graves, and aspire Where my Sun-flower wishes to go.


背 the back


深 deep, profound (89A)

探 to search, enquire

It is interesting, too, that the pronunciation of this word ‘nán’ for ‘South’ in Chinese, which ended with an ‘m’ in the ancient language, has always been exactly the same as that of 男 (2) ‘nán’ for an able-bodied man, as so well symbolised by that character; and that in our own language ‘South’ and ‘sound’ in the sense of ‘able-bodied, healthy’ seem also to be of the same root (compare Old German ‘sund-ar’ for ‘south’). Defended in our essentially urban civilisation equally from the elements and from the time of day (which means to most of us ‘six o’clock’ sooner than it does ‘sunset’), our conscious thoughts may be otherwise prescribed than those of our ancestors; but even James Bond is bronzed! The word for ‘the back’, mentioned above, is 背 (88F) ‘bèi’ differing in tone from that for ‘North’ while the character is distinguished by the addition underneath of 月. The latter is not historically the same as 月 (52) for the moon, though identical now in the way in which it is written; but is an abbreviation, in the composition of characters to do with flesh and parts of the body, for a character for flesh which will be met later. That exactly the same symbol can stand for quite different things is not against the conventions of human language, which are un-mechanical in being based on an assumption of Free Will: these same conventions serve the composition of the Chinese characters, making them in the way they work a visible human language. In Wang Wei’s poem, the phrase 返景 (87 – 88) ‘fǎn jǐng’, the golden light on things to the East as the sun sets in the West, is from an ancient medley of marvels and strange tales, in parts already a thousand years old in his day called 山海 (81 – 47) ‘shān hǎi’, Mountains and Seas. 深 (89) ‘shēn’ means ‘deep’, of the sea and so on; but with similar extensions of meaning to those in English, such as ‘profound, abstruse’ and ‘very’, as in ‘deeply grateful’. The character has 氵 (45) for water as meaning associator with 罙, also meaning ‘deep’; consisting of the cavern 穴 (80D), but in this combination for some reason always written without the dot on top, and with 木 (56) for tree(s). This word associator occurs also in 探 (89A) ‘tàn’ meaning ‘to search, enquire’; evidently felt to be related to 深 (89) ‘shēn’, and meaning ‘to put one’s 扌 (79B) hand in deeply’: 探問 (89A – 84C) ‘tànwèn’, ‘to investigate’. Confucius (?551–479BC) used this word 探 in an amusing comment (he does not seem always to have been as humourless as piety tends to make him) on the


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kind of argument used frequently nowadays for certain trends in the theatre and elsewhere: 見

jiàn 82

shàn rú bù 89B 89C 10

jí, jiàn bú 89D 82 10

shàn rú tàn 89B 89C 89A

tāng: wú jiàn qí rén yǐ! wú wén qí yǔ yǐ! 89E 80B 82 89G 1 89H 80B 84 89G 85 89H ‘Seeing what is good as if it cannot be attained, seeing what is not good as if testing hot water: I am aware of those people! I am aware of their talk!’ (Analects: XVI, xi, 1) 善 (89B) ‘shàn’, ‘good, goodness’, was a combination in early forms of 羊 (42) for sheep with 言 (73) or 音 (86B) for the shepherd’s reed pipe; an idealisation, very

familiar to Western thought and culture, of the pastoral life. Shepherding is the work in some agricultural societies of those who should be treated with special goodness, namely the very young and very old, as well as being work requiring goodness and gentleness. (See also remarks on 羊, 42.) 如 (89C) ‘rú’, consisting of 女 (3) ‘woman’ and 口 (62) ‘mouth’, the former for the word’s sound which anciently close to that of ‘nü’, with the latter to show that the character stood just for such a sound. It means ‘to be like, as if’. 及 (89D) ‘jí’ means ‘to reach, extend to’, very often ‘to include’ and thence simply ‘and’. 不及 ‘bù jí’ can often be translated as ‘not to succeed’. The character consists of a form of 人 (1) a man, with the 又 form of hand reaching and catching him. 湯 (89E) ‘tāng’ means ‘hot water’; or, in cookery, ‘soup’. With 氵 (45) for water as meaning associator, the word associator (of which more will be said later in the book) will be seen to contain 日 (50) the sun. This word associator occurs also in 陽 (89F) ‘yáng’, in which 阝 on the left of the character has a different origin from that of 阝 in 鄉 (86A) and was earlier , meaning associator for steps, stairs or slopes. 陽 thus meant, basically, the sunny slope of a hill in contrast with the dark slope which was called ‘yīn’. These are the Yang and Yin, represented by the combined symbol

which are the Male and Light odd-numbered, and the Female and Dark evennumbered, universal principles, also symbolised respectively by an unbroken line and by a broken line in ancient works on divination. The notion of a basic duality in nature, born of primitive methods of soothsaying not unlike the drawing of lots with long and short sticks, laid the foundations of early Chinese, thence other Far Eastern, mystical and scientific thought. For an account of it, and the delight of Leibnitz in hearing of it when developing his binary arithmetic, on which our computers are now dependent, the reader is recommended to see Needham, op. cit., Section 13. 其 (89G) ‘qí’ means ‘pertaining to what has just been mentioned or is in mind’: translatable, according to context, by ‘that, those, his, her, its, their, of it, of them’ and so on. The character is a ‘rebus’, being a picture originally of a basket


善 good(ness), gentle(ness) (89C)

如 (89D)

to be like, as if

及 to reach, include; and


湯 hot water, soup


the sunny side of a hill; the light and male universal principle, “yang”


其 that, its (etc.)



矣 an exclamation, final particle


林 a wood, forest


復 to return; to reply; to repeat; re-; again

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the name for which was pronounced the same as this grammatical word. (The hands underneath, or on a table; hence basket was later shown with the present form.) 矣 (89H) ‘yǐ’ also is a grammatical word, of a kind very important in Chinese to this day and without proper use of which speech seems incomplete, unsympathetic and barely comprehensible: a particle of mood or attitude; like an exclamation, yet unlike that because of its quite essential nature in the grammar of much of the language; from the ancient philosophers to modern conversation, though not including poems such as this of Wang Wei in which the rule of economy and concreteness is overriding. Chinese, given the simplicity of its grammatical apparatus for indicating connections and disconnections on the one hand, and given the use of tone as inherent within words and therefore little available for expressing mood and emphasis, on the other, has to have kinds of spoken punctuation which can at the same time give appropriate emotional flavour to speech. 矣 (89H) ‘yǐ’ serves such a purpose, with a meaning like ‘indeed’ or simply an exclamation mark. Looking at the twenty-one characters of his quotation, of which fifteen are ones that he has already met, from the Chinese of the fifth century BC, modernised only to the extent that the characters would have then appeared in some of what are here generalised as ‘early forms’, the reader will see very well the problem of translation; besides the extraordinary continuity that the script gives to the language, bearing in mind that the words Confucius ever spoke were very remote from those of the language today. A possible word-for-word monosyllabic translation of this would be: ‘See good like not reach, see not good like test soup: I see that man, eh! I hear that talk, eh!’ Such a translation is not without its attractions; but not only is it seldom possible for it to be as understandable as this (the first line of the poem, for example, would be impossible), it also gives a character to the whole Chinese people, who are people like ourselves, which would be an inherent lie. Instead, the translator must ‘set out to meet the intention’ as truthfully as he can; which means neither keeping too close to the original nor departing too far from it: a matter, ultimately, of taste and of nothing else. What cannot be done always with a language cannot really be done at all; which is why there have been so many demonstrations of ‘machine translation’ without there still being any such thing. 林 (90) ‘lín’, two 木 (56) trees, means a ‘wood, forest’. The phrase 深林 (89 – 90) ‘shēn lín’, ‘deep wood’, was a favourite one with the poets; pronounced in Wang Wei’s time something like ‘shyam lyam’, rhyming and in two Tense Tones but with the first high and the second low in key: much as it is now in the modern Cantonese pronunciation which is ‘sam lam’. The character 林 was used in the Han Dynasty (202BC–AD 220) in a transcription of the name of Rome, its great contemporary Empire to the west, of which there was some indirect knowledge through Central Asian intermediaries; but probably referring only to Roman Syria, not to Rome itself. 復 (91) ‘fù’ means ‘to return; to reply; to repeat; again; re-’; and, though it may most often be translated in one of the last two ways, is a verb closely allied in meaning to the 返 (87) ‘fǎn’ that begins the preceding line. The second characters of each of these lines, namely 景 (88) ‘light’ and 照 (92) which means ‘to

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shine’ (discussed below), also are closely allied in meaning. This kind of parallelism or antithesis (the latter, provided it is not taken as meaning contrast only, seems the better term) is a feature of poetry the world over, but exploited with special felicity by the Chinese poets; for whom it is one of their most powerful devices, not just rhetorically but in the picture-like composition they use for their poems. This device is called by different names, one of which is 對偶 (91A – 91B) ‘duìǒu’, or spelt ‘duì’ǒu’ with an apostrophe to separate the syllables; in which 對 (91A) ‘duì’ means ‘(to make a) pair (with), stand opposite’, and 偶 (91B) ‘ǒu’ means ‘one of a pair; even (of numbers); an image, a puppet, a doll’: as in 木偶 (56 – 91B) ‘mù’ǒu’, ‘a wooden puppet or doll’. In English the device may be found in ballads:



(to be) a pair; (to be) opposite

one of a pair; a puppet, doll

And bonny sang the mavis Out o’ the thorny brake; But sairer grat the nourrice When she was tied to the stake in ‘Augustan’ verse: To what would he on Quail and Pheasant swell, That ev’n on Tripe and Carrion cou’d rebel? Dryden: ‘Absalom & Achitophel’

and in headlines: FLIGHTS CUT TRAINS CANCELLED MORE SNOW DENSE FOG The last example, in which there are no pronouns, conjunctions or other merely connecting words, produces in some ways an effect most like that in Chinese poetry; but it is not like the Chinese poetry, at all, in its breathless, staccato effect; and one could hardly get further from its spirit than by translating Chinese poetry in such a way. The first example would meet with the most Chinese approval: for the sympathy as well as the rhyme between the sharp cruelty of the ‘brake’ and the ‘stake’; and for the antipathy, in both sound and meaning, of ‘sang’ with ‘grat’. But this device, though its effect can to some extent be explained in such ways, is not made to order in the best poetry. Like everything else good in it, it involves the uninvited guest! 照 (92) ‘zhào’ means ‘to illumine; to reflect; to show (up), according to’. The four dots underneath, met with as the legs in 爲 (18) and in 馬 (48) are in this case, however, as they most commonly are in characters, a flattened form of 火 (77A) for fire, which is the meaning associator. The rest of the character consists of three elements; of which the first is 日 (50) for the sun. The second is 刀 (92A) ‘dāo’ meaning ‘a sword, a knife’, of which it was a picture: . This occurs a great deal as meaning associator in characters, as 刀 or as 刂, with opposite effect to that of 糹 (74A); namely it acts like ‘dis-’ instead of ‘con-’ in Anglo-Latin words. With 八 (27) in its original symbolism of ‘division’, it makes 分 (92B) ‘fēn’, ‘to divide; a division, part, fraction’: 三分之一 (29 – 92B – 20 – 36) ‘sān fēn zhī


照 to illumine, show up; according to (92A)


刀 分 knife, sword to divide; a part, fraction



召 to summon


招 (92E)

to beckon

昭 to manifest; glory


光 rays of light; to shine


to look at; to see, oversee; to look at one another, mutual


像 image

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yī’, ‘one third’; 分工 (… 80E) ‘fēn gōng’, ‘to divide work, share labour’; 分手 (… 79B) ‘fēn shǒu’ (so established a phrase as preferably to be spelt as one word ‘fēnshǒu’), literally ‘to part hands’, means ‘to part from one another’ of people, ‘to say farewell’. As word associator, with 口 (62) for mouth as meaning associator, 刀 (92A) ‘dāo’ makes 召 (92C) ‘zhào’ which means ‘to summon’. The former was once pronounced something like ‘dog’ and the later like ‘dyog’, ‘jog’, so that the resemblance in sound was close; and, what is important, just as close as would be found at the time between obvious grammatical variants of the same word. It may therefore well have been that the deviser of the character for ‘to summon’ combined the mouth for calling, with the sword for threatening, on a supposition of some relationship of the ‘dyog’ with the ‘dog’ for sword. Nothing threatening is, however, necessarily implied by the word, which can be used for ‘to invite’ or ‘to beckon’; and the sword on top of the character now happens also to look good for this: like a forefinger, beckoning in the Eastern fashion, upside-down to us, with the thumb behind. The exact meaning of ‘to beckon’, however, is now generally expressed by 招 (92D) ‘zhāo’ in a different tone, with the addition of 扌 (79B) for a hand as a distinguisher. 召 (92C) ‘zhào’ or ‘zhāo’ was then associated with a word of similar pronunciation, and by a stretch of imagination connected meaning 昭 (92E) ‘zhāo’ for ‘to display, show, manifest; brightness, glory’; and the obviously related word to that, 照 (92) ‘zhào’, was distinguished by having, in addition to 日 (50) for the sun, a rather arbitrary further meaning associator 火 (77A) for fire as another source of light. (Though it would not have been ‘against the rules’ of this game of ‘Chinese boxes’ to have added a second sun.) Because ‘active’ and ‘passive’ are not necessarily distinguished in Chinese verbs, 照 (92) ‘zhào’ can, as well as meaning ‘to illumine’, mean ‘to be illumined by’; the context and common sense deciding. And from that it can be used like the ‘prepositional phrase’ in English, ‘in the light of, according to’. It seems also to have been first choice for the translation of ‘photo-’ in Western scientific terms, though in most of them replaced later by 光 (92F) ‘guāng’, originally pictorial for rays and meaning ‘rays of light; to shine with such rays’: 月光 (52 …) ‘yuèguāng’, ‘moonbeams, moonlight’. 照 (92) ‘zhào’, however, survived as ‘photo-’ in 照相 (92 – 92G) ‘zhàoxiàng’, ‘photograph(y); to photograph’: in which 相 (92G) ‘xiàng’ is ‘to look at, to see, oversee; an image, form, symbol’; or, pronounced ‘xiāng’, ‘to look at one another, mutual, reciprocal’. It is, of course, to be expected that often the same English expression, like to ‘look at’ already given for 看 (82A), has different Chinese expressions with, to Chinese speakers, different ‘meanings’: to them, this is a matter of English ‘polysemy’! The character 相 (92G) consists of 木 (56) a tree, with 目 (7) an eye; the same constituents as countless ‘figures’ in our own manuals illustrating subjects relating to vision, trigonometry and so forth, for which a tree seems always to be a favourite object of vision. This is, therefore, another character of the kind that combines images to symbolise its meaning. The principal of the two images here is naturally considered to be the eye; so that, although this is not a character of the type with meaning associator and word associator, 目 (7) is treated for purposes of dictionary arrangement as if it were the meaning associator, under which the character will be found, among those that have four strokes (for the 木 in addition to 目.) ‘A photograph’ is 相片 (92G – 58) ‘xiàngpiàn’. This can also be written as 像片 (92H …) in which 像 (92H) ‘xiàng’ is a character for an ‘image’; designed to avoid

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the ambiguity with 相 (92G) in its reading ‘xiāng’, which is common as sign of ‘reflexive’ verbs as in 相見 (… 82) ‘xiāngjiàn’, ‘to see one another’, 相對 (… 91A) ‘xiāngduì’, ‘to be opposite one another, opponent’. An earlier way of avoiding this ambiguity was to use the ‘rebus’ character 象 (92I) ‘xiàng’, ‘elephant’; in early forms:1


象 elephant

This still tends to be used for ‘image’ in certain expressions, in particular the one for characters that are, like this, simply pictorial in origin; so also 馬 (48) for ‘horse’ and so on. As a rule, however, 人 (1) is added as meaning associator to make 像 (92H) ‘xiàng’, a character that can be used only for images and imagemaking, thereby avoiding all ambiguity. Two important terms using 象 (92I) ‘xiàng’ in its proper sense of ‘elephant’ are 象牙 (… 92J) ‘xiàngyá’, ‘ivory’, in which 牙 (92J) ‘yá’ means a ‘tooth, fang, tusk’; and 象棋 (… 92K) ‘xiàngqí’, ‘chess’, as distinct from the Chinese boardgame, also called 棋 (92K) ‘qí’—often written 碁—which is commonly known in the West by its Japanese name of ‘go’. 象棋, related to our kind of chess, was introduced from Persia or India and popularised by Ssu-ma Kuang, a great eleventh-century historian of whom more will be said later. The game came to us, like so much else from the further East, through the Arabs, to whom the ‘eléphant’ piece which moved diagonally, was still an elephant, in Arabic ‘fīl’; which became transformed in French to a ‘dunce, fou’, whose cap became to us a mitre, hence our ‘bishop’. In Chinese something rather similar took place, in that 象 (92I) ‘xiàng’, ‘elephant’, had the same sound as 相 (92G) ‘xiàng’, ‘to see’, which had a sense development of ‘(over)see(r)’, thence the title of a Minister of State. As a result the Elephants of one of the players are distinguished not only by colour but by having this character, 相, instead. (Chinese chess-sets are like draughtsmen with characters on them, except those made for the foreign market.) The character 棋 (92K) ‘qí’ for ‘chess’ is very typically constructed, with 木 (56) because the pieces were made of wood; and with 其 (89G) ‘qí’ serving the mental ear because they were pronounced the same, while at the same time serving the mental eye because of the box or basket the pieces were kept in. 青 (93) ‘qīng’, also written 靑, means ‘green’; but besides what we should call ‘green’ comprehends other colours that we should call ‘blue’ and even ‘black’. The concept of colour is less a logical or objective thing than it is made to seem by our present notions and international correlation of it; and more must be said about Chinese colour-names later. The associations of 青 are more with ‘clarity, purity, freshness, growth, youth’ than with a notional band of a spectrum. Among characters having it as a word associator, and so felt to stand for related words, is 情 (93A) ‘qíng’, ‘affection, feeling, love’; but also used for ‘circumstances’ generally, viewed subjectively, as when one speaks in English of the ‘feel’ of a situation. In the Chinese theory of poetry, as expressed by a great thirteenth century critic, of whom more will be said later, a poem must

1 The last is from an engraving on stone: one of the two tails is a fault.

(92J) (92K)

牙 tusk, tooth

棋 chess


青 green, blue


情 affection, feeling (for); circumstances



清 (93C)

pure, fresh, clear


clear, sunny


to welcome, invite, please…


pure, refined, essence


(uncooked) rice


peace(ful), quiet

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have 景情 (88 – 93A) ‘jǐngqíng’; that is to say ‘light on a scene’ and this green growth in the heart 忄 (80C). One might translate this term, more briefly, as ‘scene and feeling’ or as ‘feeling for scene’ within the rules of Chinese grammar; either of which would be rather jejune, and neither of which would be really right because of the simultaneous introduction of our own kind of grammar, (which has to be precise about one possibility at the expense of another), with exclusion of the associations belonging to these words in the Chinese language. A great deal of the beauty of Chinese language and thought, well worth our respectful attention, is inevitably lost in this way in translation. Other characters having this 青 (93) word associator are 清 (93B) ‘qīng’, ‘pure, fresh, clear’, with 氵 for 水 (45) water as meaning associator; 晴 (93C) ‘qíng’, ‘clear sky, fine weather, sunny’, with 日 (50) for the sun; 請 (93D) ‘qǐng’, ‘to be welcoming, to invite; please …’ (as a prefix to a request), with 言 (73) for speech; 精 (93E) ‘jīng’, ‘unadulterated, pure, refined; spirit, essence’, with 米 (93F) ‘mǐ’ meaning hulled, uncooked ‘rice’ (one of the necessities of life, along with 柴 (77) ‘fuel’). 靜 (93G) ‘jìng’, ‘undisturbed, peaceful’. The meaning associator in this is 爭 (93H) ‘zhēng’, ‘to contend, quarrel’, which depicted the familiar kind of table-wrestling in which one man’s hand, , tries to force down another man’s arm resting on its elbow : ‘wrestling’ can be meaning associator in ‘peace’, just as ‘sun’ can be in ‘shade’. (The position of the 青 here, on the left instead of on the right, is just a matter of aesthetic consideration.) Both forms of 青 (93), with the apparent moon 月 (52) underneath or written as 靑, derive from an early

爭 to contend, quarrel


生 to bear (fruit); be born; live; alive; life; to generate, cause


先 prior, before

in which the underneath part is , a conventional representation in early characters of a pot or tub for flowers as in the early form of 南 (88E); but with another line to indicate the level of water in it. Above this is , which now was a character on its own is written 生 (93I) ‘shēng’. This is probably a related word in origin to the various ‘qing’ and ‘jing’ words with 青 and is one of the most important of all root-words in the language, meaning ‘to bear fruit or children; to be born; to live; alive; life’; with metaphorical meanings such as ‘to cause, give rise to’. In the sense of ‘born’ of it occurs in the polite title 先生 (93J …) ‘xiānshēng’, as in 王先生 (78 …) ‘wáng xiānshēng’, ‘Mr Wang’, similar to the ‘senior’ notion in Italian ‘signor’ etc. 先 (93J) ‘xiān’ itself means ‘prior, before’. 生 (93I) ‘shēng’, earlier , showed a plant in earth with a flower at the top; and with water, the dot which became the cross stroke in the middle, rising in its stem. The lower part of this ancient character, without the flower at the top but drawing attention, one might say, to the osmosis and to the earth, was often developing into a bud-like . This is what has become 土 (78D) ‘tǔ’, ‘earth’. It is sometimes explained, however, as a ‘phallic symbol’; but it bears no resemblance to such symbols as are found in the ancient script, all with connotations of ‘male ancestor’, ‘ancestor worship’, ‘clan, family’, and such a symbol would also be most unlikely in a character for ‘earth’. (Sometimes anthropologists’ notions of ‘fertility rites’ may not do justice to the observation and reasoning of our ancestors, or perhaps of those whose life is similar.) The earth to the ancestors of the Chinese was Feminine, as it is in IndoEuropean languages: Latin ‘terra’, French ‘la terre’, Greek ‘gē’, German ‘die Erde’,

deerpark hermitage


Russian ‘zemlyá’, Welsh ‘daer’, Irish ‘talamh’ and so on. It was indeed the supremely Feminine, expressed as all-Yin in the ancient six-unit binary code:

In the work of uncertain and mixed dates but in its basic matter of very great antiquity, known as the Book of Metamorphoses or Changes, this is a doubling of the three-unit symbol for the Receptive, Devoted, Mother. To the ancient Chinese and to their descendants in culture, the whole Universe, of abstract ideas as well as concrete things, has always seemed a living organism, composed of living organisms ad infinitum. As much contrast as we are accustomed to make between ‘abstract’ and ‘concrete’, ‘animate’ and ‘inanimate’, never really arose in such thinking; in which the universal binary Yin-Yang notion, however much despised the superstitions and pseudo-sciences associated with it might be, was ultimately the foundation of all things, whether consciously thought about or not. Such thinking, in which all Chinese art (including cookery) and manners are deeply rooted, can avoid altogether some kinds of ‘materialistic’ notion, of which our own modern science is often at pains to rid itself. The opening plant at the top of , the ancient form of 生 (93I) ‘shēng’, also now slightly differently written in 青 (93), but omitted in for 土 (78D) ‘tǔ’, is , as the ancestral form of the vegetation sign in on its own and doubled, 草 (22) for grass and 苗 (54) for rice-seedlings. This meaning associator occurs in the next character of the poem, 苔 (94) ‘tái’, ‘moss’. The word associator here is 台 (94A) ‘tái’, meaning among other things ‘terrace, verandah, dais, platform’: probably considered by the character-makers to be a related word to that for ‘moss’, to which it is appropriate for more than its sound alone. 台 (94A) ‘tái’ is also used for Taiwan, Formosa, the full name being ‘terraced bays’; which, with steep, very green mountain forests, do from a distance look like mossy mounds. The capital of Taiwan is 台北 (94A – 88B) ‘táiběi’, Taipeh or Taipei, meaning (the city) in the north of Taiwan. The north of Taiwan itself, or Northern Taiwan, would be 北台, ‘běitái’. ‘North’ would then qualify ‘Tai(wan)’ instead of ‘Tai(wan)’ qualifying ‘North’. This rule of qualifying words preceding what they qualify is stronger than in English; and extends also to adverbs with verbs: for instance 復照 (91 – 92), translated ‘(and) shines again’, must be in that order in Chinese. (Exceptions to Chinese rules of word order are to be found but they are very much rarer, and so more powerful rhetorically, than they are in English. The freedom from formal grammar, of course, can allow little freedom usually in word order.) From Taiwan come the typhoons, in Chinese 台風 (… 94B) ‘táifēng’, from which our word is derived. In this, 風 (94B) ‘fēng’ means ‘wind(s)’, which has been used also since the earliest times as in ‘winds of change’ to mean ‘fashion, style, influence’. 風 is meaning associator in characters for various kinds of wind; and the way in which the written vocabulary of the language has been extended by the method of creating characters with the aid of ‘word’ and ‘meaning’ associators is to be seen from the fact that ‘typhoon’ can also be written 颱風 ‘táifēng’, making a new character which is then available on its own in literature to express the meaning of ‘hurricane’. Other characters, with 風 (94B) for wind as meaning associator, exist for zephyrs, tempests and so on; but they are not, as one might expect they would be, used often in poetry, at least in that of the classical school. Instead, the word 風 itself, simply ‘wind’, is almost always used, sometimes qualified by ‘gentle’, ‘fierce’ or the like; but even

(94) (94A)




風 wind


(94C) (94D)


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such qualifiers as these are sparingly used and only when the context cannot be relied on to show clearly enough what kind of wind would it be. Adjectives in such poetry are used mainly to define; as when ‘yellow millet’ means a particular kind of millet more often than for ‘millet with its yellow colour’. To encourage visualisation, the poet relies mostly on other means; while just to show his own particular and poetic awareness of things would, in the ‘ethos’ of this poetry, be an insult to the reader in whom no less awareness than his own should be assumed. Time of day and time of year, however, are important things to mention as a rule, if they are not sufficiently implied otherwise: for one thing, they help to establish the state of the light and shade, the Yang and the Yin, without which there could not be a work of art; for another, they help to capture what Paul Demiéville in his essay quoted at the end of the last chapter calls ‘la réalité immédiate’, which is an aim no less essential to the notions of art in these poems. As a result, such simple expressions as 春風 (94C – 94B) ‘chūnfēng’ and 秋風 (94D …) ‘qiūfēng’ are everywhere in these poems; in which 春 (94C) ‘chūn’ means ‘spring’, combining 日 (50) for the sun with a sign for flowering to be seen in



經 canon, scripture, classic; already, all through; sign of perfect and pluperfect

which is an early form of this character; while 秋 (94D) ‘qiū’ means ‘autumn’, combining 禾, a leaf on a tree 木 (56), which make together the meaning associator for harvest, with 火 (77A) fire. The name for the ancient Chinese magical art of geomancy, the choosing of sites for buildings on behalf of the living or for graves on behalf of the dead, such that the good spirits will be present and the evil spirits will be absent, is 風 水 (94B – 45) ‘fēngshuǐ’, literally ‘wind and water’; which, though the decision may be made with the aid of superstitious ritual and mumbo-jumbo, shows both in its name and, invariably, in its results simple agricultural and sociological common sense. The geomancer is a devoted expert in matters in which his clients may be expected to have views of their own; and it is doubtful whether there could ever be a society, short of the most brutal dictatorship, in which such an expert can do without ritual and mumbo-jumbo! In its sense of ‘fashions’, 風 (94B) ‘fēng’ occurs in the name of the most ancient work of Chinese literature, 國風 (78B …) ‘guófēng’, literally ‘the fashions or customs of the states or nations’; which is the first and most ancient book of the great early anthology of poems, said to have been selected by Confucius himself, called the 詩經 (75 – 94E) ‘shījīng’, Shih King, Book of Odes, Poetry Classic or Book of Songs. Some of the poems in this first book of the anthology may go back as far as the twelfth century BC, possibly even earlier but such poems are very difficult to date (like ‘folk songs’ everywhere and difficult also to some extent to define, as to when a variant should be called a different poem); others that genuinely belong to the anthology, up to about 600 BC; while others still are evidently later forgeries. In the name 詩經 ‘shījīng’ for the anthology as a whole, 經 (94E) ‘jīng’ means ‘canon, scripture, law, classical writings’. The character has 糹 (74A) for thread as its meaning associator; with 巠 as word associator. This, which alone was probably the original character for the meanings of 經, seems to have been variously interpreted, and as a result variously written, before the standardisation of the characters achieved in the third century BC.

deerpark hermitage


Its basic meaning was something like ‘to be threaded through’; and besides its meaning of ‘classic’ now, its other meanings could well have developed out of this. For instance, it can play the part of the auxiliary verb ‘have’ or ‘had’ in English for forming ‘perfect’ or ‘pluperfect’ tenses of verbs, or it can be translated adverbially as ‘all through’ or ‘all along’ or ‘already’. In the oldest available form of the character, of the eleventh or tenth century BC it appears as and a century or so later as , which may be bobbins of looms for weaving. Some later versions, however, took the 巛 as water, and explained it as a watercourse; also fitting well with its range of meanings: with the result from this notion that versions of the character such as

are then found, with for the thread, now 糹; a hand 手 (79B), a knife 刀 (92A); and earth 土 (78D); all suggesting the digging of a watercourse. Both early interpretations of the still more ancient character, as often happens, have their descendants in the modern script: 經 from the loom as until recently the approved form; 経 from the hand digging the earth as until recently the ‘vulgar’, abbreviated form; but now the ‘reformed’. Both notions, the loom weaving the basic fabric of a civilisation, and the hand digging its watercourse, seem good for the ‘classics’. The little song that follows is from the first, ‘Customs of the States’ or ‘Folklore’, section of the classical anthology 詩經 (75 – 94E): No. 72 in editions arranged after the scholar Mao Ch’ang in the second century BC. Its words are simple but for botanical names, which always constitute a particular difficulty in translation of the earliest poetry; for the exact plans intended are often probably different from those the characters, if still in use in plant names, nowadays refer to; or else they can be accurately translated only by inappropriate horticultural names. For this reason, some of the characters here will be given only as ‘a plant or herb’. On the right of the poem as written in present-day characters is a version in forms of these characters more like (one can say no more, because no contemporary manuscripts of such ancient poems survive) those in which it would have been written down in the time of Confucius; already probably centuries after its composition. Under these is given, from Bernhard Karlgren’s Grammata Serica, an approximation to the sounds of the language of that time, as reconstructed by this great Swedish scholar. These are left here in his own transcription, to explain which in detail would be beyond the scope of this book; but it should be said that, as with other romanisations, the ‘k’, ‘p’ and ‘t’ here are intended for the sounds represented in Pinyin, as used in this book, by ‘g’, ‘b’, ‘d’; and that there was a very rich system of vowel, diphthongs and triphthongs, as well as many more different consonants than today, in this ancient Chinese. Tones are not indicated in this transcription, they must already have existed but little more can be said. The form of the song is three groups each of three lines of four syllables; the first and third line in each group ending with the same interjection which represents a sigh. There is a rhyme, imperfect or perfect, between the penultimate syllables of the first and third lines of each stanza, besides the sigh rhyming with itself. This is a simple love-lyric that might come from any time and any country. It is a work-song and dance as well as a love-song; and the singer is a girl.


chapter 3

彼 采 葛

bǐ cǎi gé xī 95 96 (97) 98 Here I go gathering tarragon, oh! 一 日 不 見

yí rì bú jiàn 36 50 10 82 One day that I do not see him 如

rú sān yuè xī 89C 29 52 98 is like three months, oh! 彼 采 蕭

bǐ cǎi xiāo xī 95 96 (97) 98 Here I go gathering wormwood, oh! 一 日 不 見

yí rì bú jiàn 36 50 10 82 One day that I do not see him 如

rú sān qiū xī 89C 29 94D 98 is like three autumns, oh! 彼 采 艾

bǐ cǎi ài xī 95 96 (97) 98 Here I go gathering lad’s love, oh! 一 日 不 見

yí rì bú jiàn 36 50 10 82 One day that I do not see him 如

歲 兮

rú sān suì xī 89C 29 99 98 is like three years, oh! The artificiality of the script on the right, supposedly contemporary with the poem, needs stressing: these characters are from various inscriptions of various dates and some are reconstructed from parts of more than one character. One cannot say, either, how much the meaning associators would have been used, as in the insertion of on the three plant-names: probably little, though the notion of them is as old.

deerpark hermitage


彼 (95) ‘bǐ’ means ‘over there’, hence the for a path as meaning associator;

though it is most probable that the word associator alone, depicting a hand skinning a horned animal, would have been used simply as a ‘rebus’ character at that date. Ideas such as ‘over there’, difficult to represent in drawing, were usually conveyed by such ‘rebus’ characters; like the ‘bee’ for the verb to ‘be’ in our children’s puzzles. The ‘flaying’ character itself will be encountered later. From the meaning of ‘over there’ (or ‘over here’ more naturally in the poem, like ‘Here we go gathering nuts in May’), 彼 (95) ‘bǐ’ developed the meaning of ‘that there, that yonder’ as a ‘demonstrative’ adjective or pronoun; its usual meaning now 彼此 (… 77B) ‘bǐ-cǐ’, literally ‘that (and) this’ is often used much as we use ‘respectively’. 采 (96) ‘cǎi’ means ‘to harvest; to gather, pick’. The character had a hand plucking some growing cereal, which in later forms of the character became like a tree with a leaf on top, the 禾 in 秋 (94D); and in this character now simply 木 (56) a tree. In present day writing an extra 手 (79B) hand is usually written, in the form 扌, making the character 採; whilst the nominal form of the word, meaning what is picked or gathered, ‘greenstuff, vegetables’ (one of the headings in Chinese menus) is written 菜 (96A) with the addition of the vegetation sign, and pronounced ‘cài’. There is no evident resemblance now between the words ‘cǎi’ meaning ‘to harvest’ and ‘qiū’ meaning ‘autumn’ (compare German ‘Herbst’), but in Karlgren’s reconstructed early pronunciation given above it can be seen that the two words, respectively ‘ts’əg’ and ‘ts’iôg’, were most probably just different forms, in a now defunct grammatical system, of the same root-word. Once the feeling for this system collapsed after it had become obscured by phonetic wearing-down, such restraint as it till then exercised against further phonetic wearing-down was also lost; and Chinese became the kind of language it has been throughout almost all its literary history. 葛 (97) ‘gé’, and the other two characters, 蕭 ‘xiāo’ and 艾 ‘ài’, given the same number, are all aromatic herbs of the wormwood, southernwood family (Artemisia). The word associator of the first of these, will be seen from its ancient form not to have 日 (50) the sun at the top of it; but what is in fact a mouth as in the early forms of 口 (62), with the lips open, speaking. Underneath that is a seated figure (perhaps female: compare 化, 9) on the left, approached by a standing figure on the right. This meant ‘to beg’ and is also word associator with 口 (62), in 喝 (97A) ‘hē’ meaning originally ‘to become hoarse’; but now the everyday word, corresponding to 吃 (61) for ‘to eat’, used in Mandarin for ‘to drink’. 喝采 (… 96) ‘hēcǎi’, literally ‘getting hoarse and plucking’, on the other hand, retains the older sense and is the idiomatic expression for ‘to applaud; applause’. 兮 (98) ‘xī’ is an exclamation like ‘alas, oh’ in old poetry. 歲 (99) ‘suì’ means a ‘year’, especially of years of age. The character has the 戈, earlier , for a man wielding a weapon already met in 國 (78B); with an unexplained element which, in its earliest form as given above, looks like a rake. Perhaps age was symbolised in a way something like that for Time familiar to us in the West, where the old man has a scythe. (Another agricultural tool, shears, appears in 乂, the bottom half of 艾, one of the varieties of Artemisia in the poems.) For the symbolism of Age to be similar in the ancient Chinese characters and in our own Western symbolism is an example of something not at all uncommon; but one will find little of this kind of symbolism in literate, other than


彼 there; that


采 採 to harvest, pick


菜 vegetables


葛 蕭 艾 (kinds of Artemisia)


to become hoarse; to drink (98)

兮 alas!


歲 year; age


chapter 3

popular religious, Chinese art: nothing, for instance, like The Triumph of Death or Et in Arcadia Ego. Symbolism of this kind undoubtedly has its place in art, and meets a human need; but the need for it is met, rather differently, for the users of the Chinese script by the characters themselves. Symbols of this kind are drawn into the script, intensively, rather than expressed extensively in ways we are accustomed to. There are mythological gods and goddesses to be found in Chinese poetry, playing a useful part but more or less like anyone else who may usefully appear in a poem; and not so much as symbols essential to the fabric of a mythology, for which the characters themselves will serve. One is therefore liable, unknowingly, when reading this poetry, especially in translation, to miss these and other symbols which have taken their place in modern Western poetry, and to feel by their absence some emotional coolness and lack of the grandeur and excitement we expect of poetry; or else perhaps to admire these same ‘cool’ qualities as something exotic and new to us who are forever seeking the exotic and new. But in either case we should be wrong, for the flights of imagination and the excitement of such poems as Wang Wei’s ‘Deerpark’, and the power of its symbols, are nowhere near so far from our own poetic traditions, even if so differently expressed in this language and its script, as we might suppose. The great difference is only the possibilities of ‘intension’ rather than ‘extension’ that the language and the script have always provided. Perhaps such an apology is unnecessary, but what is necessary to realise is that ‘Deerpark’ to the Chinese is something deeper, and far more lastingly moving, than a merely charming vignette: the great Ming Dynasty critic Li Tungyang (AD 1447–1516) regarded the last couplet of this poem, along with a poem by Li Po and a couplet by Tu Fu, both contemporaries of Wang Wei, as among the profoundest and hardest for ordinary people fully to grasp in the language; but one cannot exclude the very simplicity from being part of the difficulty he was thinking of. Returning to the word 歲 (99) ‘suì’, this is well known in the West in its SinoJapanese guise as ‘zai’ in the expression 萬歲 (32 – 99) ‘wànsuì’, in Japanese ‘banzai’, meaning ‘long live, hurrah (for)’. The character 萬 (32) ‘wàn’ for ten thousand in such expressions, and widely in Chinese poetry, means merely a number beyond counting and such that the individuals in it are not recognised. The earliest character was apparently a ‘rebus’

for a scorpion; which may have had similar pronunciation in the prehistoric language. This was rationalised in the evolution of the script into the present 萬; in which 艹, as in 草 (22) for grass, suggests great number; and 禺, met with in 偶 (91B) for a doll or puppet, was earlier

meaning a monkey or a puppet and suggested the seeming loss of individuality in a great number. To a great extent in Chinese words like 百 (25) ‘bǎi’ for a hundred, 千 (28) ‘qiān’ for a thousand, and 萬 (32) ‘wàn’ for ten thousand, a myriad, serve a purpose like our own grammatical plural; though our grammar recognises only one kind of plurality and makes the expression of that compulsory, while Chinese has degrees of plurality, not compulsory and by convention usually greatly

deerpark hermitage


exaggerated in the literal meaning of the numerals. There is therefore seldom any case for the literal translation of these numbers when they are clearly being used in such a way. The short from 万 of 萬 (32) was originally the Indian

卍 swastika, so corrupted by the Nazis but meaning ‘countless blessings’.

chapter 4

River Snow I: The Other Greek by 柳 宗 元 jiāng xuě liǔ zōng yuán 100 101 102 103 104

River Snow by Liu Tsung- Yüan (AD 773–819) 千

qiān shān / niǎo fēi jué 28 81 105 106 84 Among mountains / where birds fly no more, 萬

wàn jìng / rén zōng miè 32 107 1 108 109 Nor have the paths / any men’s tracks now, 孤 舟

笠 翁

gū zhōu / suō lì wēng 110 111 112 113 114 There’s orphaned boat / and old straw-hat man 獨 釣

dú diào / hán jiāng xuě 115 116 117 100 101 Alone fishing / the cold river snows. This poem is in the same basic five-character ‘chüeh-chü’ form as Wang Wei’s in the last chapter, but the rhyme scheme, instead of x A x A, is A A x A. ‘A’ is again Relaxed, so that ‘x’ has to be Tense. The rhyme, now of ‘-ue’ but with ‘-ie’ as an acceptable variant, was in T’ang times all in -iwät, perfectly: an Entering Tone rhyme in the Relaxed class. The first character of the last line, 獨 (115) ‘dú’ was also in this tone and class as d’uk; the criterion being the final stop consonant, kept still in Cantonese but lost in Mandarin. Allowing for this, it will be noticed that the first two syllables alternate from line to line as both Tense, both Relaxed. The third line, except for 笠 (113) ‘lì’, being all in the same high Tense Tone is not part of any rules, but certainly part of the effect. The picture-like composition, better than any adjective for realising the scene, is possibly even more evident in this than in Wang Wei’s poem; but it may be noticed that the two poems have in common a beginning with a background and a working forward to a foreground, leaving the eye resting on a detail that concentrates the whole poem tightly; so that it explodes again in the mind at the poem’s end. It is this explosion, outside the poem itself, which is the real creation the chüeh-chü poet seeks. The Chinese have always been good at seeing art as a release of the beholder’s own creativity. An uncertainty, of exactly what the poet means by ‘fishing the cold river snows’ invited imaginative search (snow doesn’t lie on rivers: is it the reflection on water in winter calm from the

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 2018 | doi:10.1163/9789004369054_007


river snow i: the other greek

mountains? What is the old man doing? Is he fishing for snow, by any chance?); the gentle invitation, 請 (93D), of so much Chinese and Chinese-inspired art. Part, too, of the pictorial structure of the poem lies in its parallels or antitheses: the first line is character for character antithetical with the second, and the first two characters of the third and fourth lines are also perfectly antithetical; while the last antithesis, the old man and the snow, is also a summary of the whole poem. But none of these effects is obvious, so that it proclaims a cleverness or could be the foundation of artistic ‘-ism’; and however much of them can be seen consciously, and may have been so by the poet at work, there is always something else just as important that neither he nor we can see at all: wholly unexpected and therefore magical; as in a different landscape, a cold Dutch winter scene in a sketch by Rembrandt. As with him, it is not the scene but the flash of recognition of a creature, even if an extraordinary one, so certainly of our own species, that counts. Liu Tsung-yüan, like Wang Wei, was a devout Buddhist. Apart from his poems he was renowned as a prose writer, particularly in a genre of landscape essay, and as a calligrapher; and he was later sometimes named as one of the eight writers of outstanding genius in a period of some five centuries. Like Wang Wei he was a high official, and like him he was banished for involvement in conspiracy. The old man of this poem, a self-portrait, has become very famous; and many later Chinese scholars, poets and artists must have since named themselves after him with a kind of gentle defiance, 蓑笠翁 (112 – 113 – 114) ‘suō lì wēng’, Old Straw-hat Man. (The translation of this phrase is very gratefully taken from the delightful Introduction to Chinese Literature by Liu Wu-chi, Indiana University Press, 1966.) 江 (100) ‘jiāng’ which means a ‘river’ is often used particularly for the Yangtse; or Yangtse Kiang on many maps, in which the ‘kiang’ is the same word, otherwise romanised. The character has 氵 (45) for water as meaning associator, with 工 (80E) ‘gōng’, work, as word associator. 雪 (101) ‘xuě’ means ‘snow’. The upper part of the character, 雨 (101A) ‘yǔ’, means ‘rain’ and is meaning associator in characters for all kinds of precipitation, hail, dew, mists and so on. In early forms it was ,


雪 (101) ‘xuě’, ‘snow’, at a similar date to the first of these (latter half of the

second millennium BC) was which became later in which trees, as in 林 (90) for a forest, are added: easier to distinguish in writing from the other kinds of precipitation than snowflakes were, which are drawn in some early versions; and, though not ‘logical’, a clear enough reminder of snow. These trees, however, seem later to have turned into crystalline flowers,1 like those in snowflakes; whilst a hand, in a form that also suggests a broom and occurs in many characters to do with sweeping and brushing, was added underneath:

1 A Chinese writer refers to the hexagonal crystalline structure of snowflakes as early as the second century BC: see Needham, The Grand Titration, Allen & Unwin, 1969.


江 river (101)


雪 雨 snow




了 to complete, finish, close; sign of verb looked on in state of completion (101C)

霜 frost


雲 cloud

chapter 4

It is this hand or broom that has now become the discriminant of the character. In the early language, when more vestiges of the prehistoric formal grammar remained than now, 雨 (101A) could also be used as a verb, ‘to rain’ or ‘to precipitate’: the phrase 雨雪 (101A – 101) ‘yù xuě’ occurs meaning ‘it snowed’ and not as one might suppose ‘rain and snow’: a typical difficulty in the classical language. In this meaning the 雨 (101A) has changed its tone from ‘yǔ’ to ‘yù’ which is the indication that it is a verb, but not all texts provide an accent mark as a guide. In this same tone, as a verb, it occurs in a notable phrase about the invention long ago of writing, looking back on it in a work of the second century BC: ‘It rained grain’. Now, however, ‘to rain’ or ‘to snow’ is expressed as 下雨 (71 …) ‘xià yǔ’ or 下雪 (71 …) ‘xià xuě’, in which 下 (71) ‘xià’, ‘to fall’ or ‘to drop’, is the verb. It is not therefore true to say that Chinese has no grammar nor distinct parts of speech: these notions are as essential to it as to any other language, even though the number of words that can play more than one rôle as a part of speech is much greater than we are accustomed to, even in English; where we can say ‘the rain’ and ‘to rain’, as the Chinese cannot, with exactly the same word; and where we can say ‘River Snow’, as the Chinese can also but many other languages could not. All the ‘naming of parts’ in grammar, it has to be remembered, is artificial: some of the best users of language in the world are illiterate and know nothing of such names at all, though it cannot be said that they know nothing of the notions that such names struggle to represent. The ‘word’ itself is only such a notion; and there is no natural law under which one can say whether 下雪 (71 – 101) ‘xià xuě’, ‘to snow’, should be regarded in Chinese as one word or two. Much of the time it behaves in a way that seems to us most like one word of the ‘aircraft’ kind; but then if one wants to say ‘it has snowed’ one may say 下了雪 (71 – 101B – 101) ‘xià-le-xuě’, or 下了雪了, ‘xià-le-xuě-le’ in which 了 (101B) ‘liǎo’, or in contexts like this just ‘le’, means ‘to complete’ or is a sign of looking on a verbal or whole phrase, as in a state of completion. In the second example, which is the more idiomatic, it does both: make the verb something in a state of completion, and then does the same to the whole phrase, as if that were bracketed: [(ab)c]b. In language, of course, the second 了 does not necessarily indicate any greater fall of snow: it may be merely more polite and sympathetic to add it; quite unlike telemetry, in which an earthsatellite is not expected to be polite. The character 了 (101B) and its word ‘liǎo’ or ‘le’ seem neither of them to be very old, but this syllable may be a variant of one pronounced in the older language roughly as English ‘lock’, and in some dialects still so pronounced; which has a sense of rounding, finishing off, closing, and may have its origin as a natural gesture by the tongue to be found equally in our English word. More is said later in this book about such ‘gesture words’ which seem often to be internationally comprehensible. 雨 (101A) for precipitation is meaning associator in such characters as 霜 (101C) ‘shuāng’ for ‘frost’, in which 相 (92G) ‘xiāng’ is word associator; and 雲 (101D) ‘yún’, ‘cloud’, in which the bottom part itself, now treated as if it were only the word associator, originally had this meaning. It was a picture of a cloud hanging from the heavens which are represented, as in many characters including 雨 (101A) itself, bu a straight line at the top (compare also 不, 10):

river snow i: the other greek


This 云 (101E) ‘yún’, as it is now written, was a useful ‘rebus’ character for a word of the same pronunciation meaning ‘to say; he said’, Latin inquit; which was an even commoner word than ‘cloud’, so it appropriated the character and ‘cloud’ had then to be written by the addition of the meaning associator it has now: a very common story in the history of the script. Doubled, 云云, ‘yún-yún’, means ‘and so forth, and so on, etc.’ 雷 (101F) ‘léi’ means ‘thunder’, with 田 (4) for a field; and 電 (101G) ‘diàn’ is ‘lightning; electricity, electro-’: similar but with a vigorous flourish. Despite the resemblance of 田 ‘tián’ in sound to the latter, the evolution of both these characters was more complicated and interesting. The former is an abbreviation of , with three fields which in the earliest script had such forms as or and represented a word of the same pronunciation as ‘thunder’ but meaning paths between cultivated fields. In the version on the right the path itself has grown close in form to and of which the version on the left was evidently a picture of lightning;2 while that on the right, where two hands have evolved, was used both for lightning and for a once rather similarly pronounced word, now written 申, meaning ‘to stretch’. In the sense of ‘lightning’ this has become 电 which is distinct from any other character and so is much used on its own for 電 (101G): 电力 or 電力 (… 5) ‘diànlì’, ‘electric power’; a typical Chinese compound word of the ‘aircraft’ kind and much shorter than our term. 雷電, ‘léidiàn’, on the other hand, is ‘thunder and lightning, a thunderstorm’: two characters now similar. Notions such as an electric ‘field’ and ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ electricity (the two hands in the evolutionary form above, pulling) are easily accommodated to the ancient characters. This is something that seems to happen strangely often when these encounter new concepts, as seen above with 左 (80F) for ‘left’ and 紅 (80H) for ‘red’ but the mystery is not entirely inexplicable: in the first place, the Chinese characters owe their success to being very accommodating things for the imagination; and, in the second, all notions including ‘scientific’ notions have roots, both original roots and roots they have later put down, in the same human sensations and human imagination. 電氣 (101G – 43) ‘diànqì’ is ‘electricity’. Although it is, of course, a coincidence that 工 (80E) seeming to represent ‘labour’ should appear in the ancient Chinese characters for ‘left’ and ‘red’, it is not a coincidence without some weighting in favour of its happening. ‘Left’ is a better political symbol for its meaning than ‘right’ would have been if the seating arrangements had happened to be that way: the weaker left hand that 2 Forms like that on the left and that in the centre should not be thought of as necessarily sequential in time. It could well be that the lightning picture developed out of that at the centre, of something else; that could, for instance, have been a dance movement. We cannot know.


云 to say, (he) said (101F)


雷 電 thunder

lightning; electric(ity), electro-



天 sky, heaven, god; weather; day


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in the Chinese character holds the carpenter’s square in a world dominated by the right, the powerless ‘gauche’ hand. ‘Red’, too, besides being the colour of blood and passion, is also the colour of splendour, luxury, of work, and of the faces of hard workers: a notion ill-served by ‘white’. To say that the ancient makers of the Chinese script thought the same as revolutionaries thirty-five centuries or so later in Europe, or as modern physicists about electricity, would be nonsense; but nonsense in its starting point and not merely in its conclusion: ‘the same’ implies a category, fixed and established, which is not the primary concern of language. Its symbols are concerned rather with directions of thought, and still more with starting points for various directions of it: 工 as a symbol seems to go in different directions in 左 and in 紅, one towards weakness and the other towards strength, but at the same time to associate the two with one another, and we can only talk of concepts to do with electricity, ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ and its ‘field’, or of any other concepts, ‘scientific’ or otherwise, by means of endless mixed metaphors. The ‘weather’ itself is expressed by 天 (101H) ‘tiān’ or 天氣 (… 43) ‘tiānqì’, usually pronounced ‘tiānqi’ with a weak second syllable in Mandarin, in which 天 means ‘Heaven, the sky; God’; or the ‘it’ of ‘it is raining’ in English, though in Chinese no such grammatical subject is necessary. Chinese can also very often dispense with a verb for ‘to be’; and never uses one with adjectives, so that 雨 紅 (101A – 80H) ‘yǔ hóng’ is all one would say for ‘the rain is red’. As a result, although 雪 is a noun, one can also say 天雪 (… 101) ‘tiān xuě’ for ‘the weather is snow(y)’. Besides the meanings above, in Mandarin 天 is the word chiefly used for a ‘day’, rather than 日 (50) which is now only a literary word except in compound expressions of the ‘aircraft’ kind; so this could also be translated as ‘the day is (or was) snowy’, ‘it is (or was) a snowy day’. The character 天 was earlier ,


柳 willow


宗 sect, clan, kindred


a picture of God; with a great head and similar to 王 (78) for a king but that the latter has his feet on earth. The anthropomorphic origin of this character, still evident from ancient forms, an educated man would know was objected to by some philosophers; who therefore substituted for it in their writings 靝, combining 青 (93) for purity and growth with 氣 (43) for spirit and energy. The poet’s surname 柳 (102) ‘liǔ’ means a ‘willow’. This can have associations in Chinese with beautiful young, willowy women, and from that with gaiety and dissipation. Care is therefore needed in the use and interpretation of such a word: it may be inadvisable, for instance, to take one’s maiden aunt to the attractive-sounding ‘Willow Tearooms’. But ‘willow’ has other associations also in Chinese, as a symbol of peace and good government when the embankments of waterways are well kept; enemies repelled; agriculture in good order; and the danger of floods, a nightmare in Chinese history, reduced. Again, one set of associations need not interfere with another of such a symbol in language, which depends as much on freedom to dissociate as freedom to associate. The word associator in the character 柳, with 木 (56) for a tree as meaning associator, is a sign for the Pleiades and in the calendar. 宗 (103) ‘zōng’ means a ‘sect, clan, kindred’. The top part is the roof met with in 穴 (80D) for a vault, and the bottom part was earlier

river snow i: the other greek




for heavenly manifestations, phenomena. This as a character on its own, 示 (103A) ‘shì’, means ‘to make manifest, show’; and it is also meaning associator in characters for spiritual things and for showing, observing and examining. 示明 (… 51) ‘shìmíng’ is a common officialese expression for ‘to notify’. In the sense of ‘observing’ or ‘watching’, the character 視 (103B) ‘shì’, pronounced exactly the same, is used: 電視 (101G …) ‘diànshì’, ‘television’. The left side is a flattening of 示, convenient for writing on the left of characters, like 忄 for 心 (80C) heart in 情 (93A). On the right here is 見 (82) for ‘to see’. This flattened form of 示 needs to be kept distinct from the flattened form 衤, with an extra short stroke, of 衣 (103C) ‘yī’ which means ‘clothes, dress’ and is a meaning associator in characters for this; a character from an ancient presentation of a coat with sleeves and skirt:


示 (103B)

to show

視 to watch (103C)

衣 clothes

In some ancient versions of this the bottom two strokes were interpreted as two 人 (1) people, as if it signified ‘a covering for people’; and has probably influenced the modern form, of which 𧘇 can stand for 人人 in other characters. There are far too many words now pronounced like 衣 (103C) ‘yī’, or like 示 (103A) or 視 (103B) ‘shì’, for these to be used much on their own in speech, rather than as components of less ambiguous expressions. ‘Clothes’ therefore are referred to as 衣服 (103C – 103D) ‘yīfú’, literally ‘clothes-wear’; a unique word that is at once clear, in which 服 (103D) ‘fú’ means ‘to wear’ the prescribed clothes, as in ‘sportswear’ in English. The original meaning of this character was ‘to do what is prescribed, submit, be governed’ and in early forms it was written like

On the right of this is a kneeling figure with a hand behind or over him, on the left is a boat (see No. 111, below) for the notion of ‘steering’: the same notion as in our own ‘govern’ and ‘cybernetics’, both ultimately from Greek ‘kubernaô’, ‘I steer’ (a boat). The boat has now become a moon, suggesting months of prescribing to the proper wear and customs of mourning; the particular kind of ‘submission’ from which the sense of ‘wear, clothes’ developed. The Confucians prescribed long periods of mourning for the death of a parent, parent-in-law or other senior and close relative, and attached great importance to the observance of such ‘Rites’; but usually, it will be found, also with some thoroughly practical social benefit that would have been difficult to attain in any other way. This particular custom meant compulsory ‘sabbaticals’ for members of the bureaucratic class, however busy or important they or their colleagues might think they were. Sometimes custom can be indispensible, for being more rational than the rationalism of men and protected them from their short-sighted reasoning: no society could perhaps be based wholly on its members’ current notions of rationality without becoming stupid and inhuman. The righthand side of 服 (103D) occurs also in the important character 報 (103E) ‘bào’, in which the kneeling figure’s hands are manacled


服 (to) wear; to submit, be governed


報 to requite, repay, report



元 first, chief, head, original, principal, principle

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The symbol is probably of a hostage, and the basic meaning of the word is ‘to requite’; which could either be a matter of vengeance or of being safely returned. The phrase 報國 (… 78B) ‘bàoguó’ means dedication (for which the notion of a hostage is used in many ancient languages) to one’s country, ‘patriotism’; but the commonest sense of the word now is ‘to report, a report’, something sent back: 日報 (50 …) ‘rìbào’, ‘a (daily) newspaper’; 報人 (… 1) ‘bàorén’, ‘a journalist’. All such compound expressions are composed in the classical language rather than in the colloquial, so that 天報 (101H …) ‘tiānbào’ would not be sued for ‘daily paper’; but this expression does exist, meaning neither that nor ‘weather report’ which might be another guess, but ‘divine retribution’. 電報 (101G …) ‘diànbào’, on the other hand, does not mean being struck down by lightning for one’s sins, following the last sense, but a ‘telegram’. This seems more unfair than it really is, if one thinks of the language rather than the script as made up of these one-syllable units and if one forgets the problem one would have in giving meaning in English to the syllables ‘re’, ‘in’, ‘port’, ‘form’ and ‘ruse’ such as would explain ‘report’, ‘import’, ‘reform’, ‘inform’, ‘refuse’, and ‘infuse’. Nobody should really expect to find the meanings of words like this without a dictionary, in English or Chinese. (At this point, when the digressions away from the poem are becoming so lengthy and its text is not yet even begun, the apology to the reader should perhaps be renewed; if he has not already worked through the poem, using the vocabulary in the margin as suggested at the beginning of the last chapter. But the vocabulary now being built up, and the observations on the language, are of course intended to be the foundation of the reading in Chinese that will be available to him later.) 元 (104) ‘yuán’, the second character of the poet’s personal name, has meanings such as ‘first, chief, basic, original, head, principal, principle’: 元氣 (… 43) ‘yuánqì’ standing for the primeval life force by its own origin as a phrase is an everyday word for ‘health, vitality’. 元 was the name given to the Mongol or Yüan Dynasty, AD 1280–1368, ironically for the conquered and oppressed Chinese, and was also the first of such honorific names to be given to dynasties; followed by the 明 (51) ‘míng’, Ming, 1368–1644, and the 清 (93B) ‘qīng’, Ch’ing or Manchu, 1644–1911; respectively the ‘Glorious’ and the ‘Pure’. The character made the same metaphor as our own metaphorical word ‘head’ in the sense above: or showing a figure, like that which became the bottom part of 見 (82), with attention drawn to the head. There is in fact no word ‘yuán’ or much like it in Chinese meaning a (physical) head; so that the resemblance in metaphor-making, as quite often happens, is in the character only. Other words ‘yuán’, or like it in their ancient pronunciation, tend to mean ‘to lead (from), spring (from), a spring, source, oasis’; or ‘to turn, to go around, be round, complete’; and whether these two kinds of ‘yuán’ and similar words were ultimately relayed or not, there is always a certain amount of sympathy and interchange between them. 元 (104) ‘yuán’ is for example used now in place of

river snow i: the other greek


a member of the second group, 圓 (104A) ‘yuán’ meaning ‘round; a disc, circle’; thence a ‘coin’ and basic currency. This in Japanese is pronounced as ‘en’ or ‘yen’, the Yen of Japan and the Yüan of China in international currency, and usually written as 円 by the Japanese, which is the bottom part of 青 (93) when written as 靑. 圓 (104A) expresses the notion of ‘circular coin’ in four ways at once: first there is the outer perimeter, as in 國 (78B); then the 口 (62) mouth, but in this character formerly a picture of a circle; and then the 貝, which itself works in two ways: originally it was a picture of a kind of circular cauldron but it has become assimilated in the modern script to another character which was a picture of a cowrie-shell, standing for ‘currency, money, value’ in many characters; of which more will be said later. (The outer perimeter was added last to reiterate that this was a ‘circular circle’ when the inner, 員, had taken a sense development of its own; as in ‘playreading circle’, of a ‘circle’ of people.) This 員 (104B) ‘yuán’ had by then developed further, into meaning a member of such a circle: in particular a ‘government circles’, hence ‘an officer, official’ or ‘member of staff’: its chief meaning now. (The character gave an opportunity for a post facto etymology that must often have appealed to the heavily taxed and bureaucratically oppressed Chinese: 口 a mouth eating 貝 money.) The first kind of ‘yuán’, close in sense to 元 (104), is also represented by 原 (104C) ‘yuán’ meaning ‘a spring, fountain, source, origin’; or ‘really’ as in 原不 (… 10) ‘yuánbu’ ‘… really not’. It is often difficult to distinguish the use of this from 元 (104), but the character was earlier

depicting a cliff or hillside, now 厂, with water falling from a cavern. This character came also to require reiteration of its original notion, through being used for ‘watershed’, metaphorically, and also, physically, for a plateau, riverside meadows or simply plains. As a result 源 (104D) ‘yuán’ was created, adding 氵 (45) for water to show that the first and basic physical sense of a spring was intended; though it is not unknown for this to be used metaphorically too! In these, the original ideograph for water gushing from a cavern in a hillside, as represented in the ancient character above, had become changed into something more suited to the ‘Meccano parts’ with which the script had come conveniently to be written; in which the lower dot and cave-sides were turned into 小, as a variant of 水 (45) water, the upper dots and top of the cave became 白 (104E) ‘bái’, ‘white’; suggesting together ‘white water’ gushing from the 厂 hillside. The transformation from the picture as above into these formal parts, making a poetic and satisfactory symbolism in its place, also produced a character much easier to write and remember, and more adaptable to generalisation and abstraction; as with the history of 羊 (42) for a sheep shown in Chapter Two. The character 白 (104E) ‘bái’, also pronounced ‘bó’, meaning ‘white’ has a number of other related meanings such as ‘bright, plain, clear, blank’; according to context and in composite words of more than one syllable of the ‘aircraft’ kind: 明白 (51 – 104E) ‘mìngbai’ means ‘to cause to be, make, or treat as bright and clear’, namely ‘to understand’. (The option open to any Chinese expression


圓 circle, disc, coin; yüan, yen (currency)


員 member of circle, of staff; officer, official (104C)

原 spring, fountain; source, origin; watershed, meadow, plain


源 spring, fountain


白 white, bright, clear, pain



伯 uncle; earl


泉 waterfall (104H)


韻 韵 resonance, rhythm, rhyme

線 綫 thread, line, wire

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to mean ‘to make’ or ‘to treat as’ whatever it describes is one of the features of the language perhaps strangest to our grammatical notions; and certainly important to get used to.) As a character, 白 has, like many characters a multiple origin: one of its antecedents seems to have been as a word for an old man, not only white-haired but thought of as a senior male and progenitor of the clan, the 百 (25) ‘bǎi’, ‘hundred’ men; and as such it seems that the early forms such as may possibly have been phallic. In this original, ‘old man’, sense it is now 伯 (104F) ‘bó’ or ‘bǎi’, with the addition of 人 (1) as meaning associator, meaning ‘a senior male, uncle’; or as an old rank of nobility, still used as such in Japan, a rank equivalent to ‘earl’. But the sense of ‘white’ or ‘bright’ has, together with a decency which obscured such symbols in other characters, caused this symbol to be assimilated to 日 (50) the sun, but with a ‘heraldic difference’ of the tick at the top; which is explained in Chinese etymological works as a ray shooting from the rising sun as it whitens the sky. The notion of ‘white water’, which led us to this character, is also to be seen in 泉 (104G) ‘quán’, ‘a waterfall’, in which the 水 (45) water keeps its proper form; but which was also once a simple picture, such as or . This, a thread of water, was suitable, especially in the ancient language when the two words were more alike relatively in sound, to use as the word associator, with 糹 (74A) for silk thread, in 線 (104H) ‘xiàn’ (but also written 綫 with a different word associator to be met shortly) meaning ‘a thread, line, wire’: 電線 (101G …) ‘diànxiàn’, ‘electric wires; telegraph lines’; another modern idea expressed briefly and neatly with the aid of the ancient characters. Related to the 元 (104), 員 (104B), 原 (104C) ‘yuán’ series is 韻 (104H[->I]) ‘yùn’; also more briefly written as 韵 with another word associator. This stands for a most fundamental concept in Chinese thought, ‘rhythm, resonance, harmony’, including ‘rhyme’ in poetry, by combining 音 (86B) for sound with 員 (104B) round. The Chinese for a ‘concept, idea, notion’ itself embodies that of ‘resonance’ in 意 (15) ‘yì’, a 音 (86B) sound or resonance in the 心 (80C) heart or mind; while 言 (73) ‘yán’ for ‘words, language’, as has been noticed, was a picture of the same reed instrument. 風韻之人 (94B – 104I – 20 – 1) ‘fēngyùn zhī rén’ means ‘a man (or woman) of taste’, ‘a cultured or civilised person’; and 氣韻 (43 …) ‘qìyùn’, literally ‘resonance in breath, spirit or invisible energy’, embodies one of the most important notions in Chinese theory, both of aesthetics and of science.3 This phrase 氣韻 occurs in the first of the Six Canons or Essentials of Art, recorded by the critic and theorist Hsieh Ho in the fifth century of our era but attributed by him to earlier tradition. This Canon is freely but carefully translated by Professor William Acker of the University of Leiden, who has made a deep study in Chinese sources of these mysterious and difficult Canons, as: ‘Reverberation of the life-breath; that is the creation of movement’; but the meaning even of this is not something, though expressed in only four syllables or five in the original Chinese, that can be taken out of its context in Chinese thought and be neatly packaged in English.

3 The reader is advised to disregard what Dr Lin Yutang has, in rather polemic fashion, to say about the meaning of this term, as simply ‘tone and atmosphere’ in The Chinese Theory of Art. It certainly means a great deal more, and the Six Canons would not, given Dr Lin’s matter-offact interpretation, have meant as much as they have for 1,500 years.

river snow i: the other greek


To translate 韻 (104I) ‘yùn’ as ‘rhyme, rhythm, resonance, harmony’, or Professor Acker’s ‘reverberation’ or Dr Lin’s ‘tone’, and for that matter to translate the Chinese word used here as ‘Canon’ is only to offer English words that may in various contexts approach these in their usage; but the 意 (15) ‘yì’, notions, of them can be grasped only by reference to their own starting points and sources of resonance. 鳥 (105) ‘niǎo’ means a ‘bird’; and is used as a meaning associator for birds, as is the 隹 in 維 (79), but unlike that character now, also as a word on its own. The character was originally a picture such as:


鳥 bird

Of these, the form on the left is that of the first simplified and ‘standard spelling’; known as the ‘Lesser or Small Seal’ style, established in the third century BC and the direct ancestor of the present script. (The latest character, in the ‘reformed script’ of the People’s Republic is strikingly like it again: 鸟. This is because such ‘reformed’ characters are largely derived from handwritten versions, which are sometimes closer to the earlier script than the more formal or printed characters are.) 飛 (106) ‘fēi’ means ‘to fly’. This has a number of ancient versions such as and


飛 to fly

of which the second occurs on the Stone Drums, like the early version shown above of 鹿 (76) for a deer; and is plainly ancestral to the modern form. In its relationship to its ancestral forms 飛 is not just a matter of adaptation to the gamut of brush-strokes, nor of ‘abstract design’, still less (as some would have it) of ‘scribal errors’ and ‘corruptions’; but is a corporate member of a system of writing, international and intertemporal, which took at least fifteen hundred years for an intelligent people to evolve and has served them well for about two thousand years since. The 升 in it, for instance, is a character that on its own means ‘lift’, sufficiently appropriately to flight as to be the correct aeronautical technical term for ‘lift’ now; pronounced ‘shēng’ and having nothing whatever, historically, to do with the ancestral forms of 飛. Thanks to the system, therefore, one gets two characters (in fact several more that must be omitted here) for the price of one: knowing 飛, it is easy to learn 升 and vice versa. Such a system is upset, usually by a combination of ignorance with arrogance, only at some peril: the ‘reformed’ character in the People’s Republic for 飛 is 飞, and this is used in print as well as in handwriting, also substituted in new and approved printings of ancient works. Such a form, handwritten as , has for many centuries had a place in rapid handwriting; though a doubled form is more distinct and therefore preferred like

which is a copy of the hand of the greatest of all Chinese calligraphers, and the father of almost all contemporary styles of writing and print, Wang Hsichih (AD321–379). 飞, however for all purposes in print, is not only ugly and unbalanced, and usually ill-matched with its neighbours, but it has no real compensatory advantage: it is certainly not quicker recognised in reading and it



機 engine; strategem, device; machine; opportunity

(106B) (106C)

money, cash



几 a bench, low desk


幾 how (much)? some, a few


徑 径 path, diameter

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loses the connection with 升, thereby destroying pedagogically practical and useful associations; among them the aesthetic pleasure that the script, both handwritten and printed, has always given the Chinese, and with it ‘motivation’ for learning. Many of the reforms are acceptable, some good and long called for; but it is to be hoped that ones like this will become as forgotten as the revolutionary names of the months have become in France! 飛機 (… 106A) ‘fēijī’ as an ‘aircraft, aeroplane’; literally ‘flying machine’, in which 機 (106A) ‘jī’ for ‘machine’ has had a sense development much like that of ‘engine’ in English: originally meaning ‘wit, ingenuity, cunning’, thence particularly in a military sense, and used for ‘stratagem’ and for mechanical ‘devices’; in Chinese extending also to senses such as ‘opportunity’. The character has 木 (56) for wood, relating to the mechanical devices, with 幾 which was the original character; having 𢆶, very small threads as part of 絲 (74A) which represent notions of delicacy, minuteness, mystery and subtlety in a number of characters; combined with 人 (1) for man; and 戈, earlier , for a (man with a) weapon as in 國 (78B). The 𢆶 is doubled partly for balance and partly for reinforcement, in this and other characters. 電機 (101G …) ‘diànjī’ is an ‘electric motor’. The weapon 戈 was reinforced by doubling in 戔, an obsolete character for annihilation, used as word associator for its sound chiefly or solely in some important characters: 綫, the alternative way of writing 線 (104H) ‘xiàn’; 錢 (106B) ‘qián’, ‘money, cash’, with 金 (57) for metal: and 淺 (106C) ‘qiǎn’, ‘shallow’, with 氵 (45) for water. In all these, 戔 is almost always handwritten as 戋; and this is now adopted in print in China, without disadvantage. 機 (106A) ‘jī’ is now printed as 机, in which 几 (106D) ‘jī’ means a ‘bench’ or ‘low desk, low table’; a very suitable-seeming substitute for the complicated 幾 in a word meaning machine and a long-established abbreviation in handwriting. This substitution is carried through to all other characters with 幾, in many of which it has long been allowed, but also to 幾 as a character in itself. This 幾 (106E), though the original character for the ‘stratagem’ notion, was long ago appropriated on the ‘rebus’ principle for a word ‘jǐ’ meaning ‘how (much)?’ or ‘some, a few’ (like French ‘je ne sais combien’), far commoner than the ‘stratagem’ or ‘machine’ which had then to be distinguished by the 木. It is therefore entirely in the tradition of the language, though new, that 几 on its own should now be written instead of 幾; there being few contexts in which ‘bench’ would be a likely meaning. 幾 is an attractive and interesting character, but has no special justification and is too complicated for its job. Changes like this, when the case is good, have quietly taken place throughout the history of the script; chiefly reflected in running handwriting where the need for them is strongest. To ease learning, there is obviously a good argument for bringing handwritten and printed forms of the characters closer, so that one model may serve for both instead of there being two or more models to be learnt; but there are sometimes other arguments, not mere conservatism, in favour of retaining established ‘full’ forms of characters in print, even if they may be abbreviated in a running hand. The crude assumption that simpler is invariably and for all purposes better, easier to learn and so forth, was in fact long ago disproved by the ancestors of the Chinese; who must have given more attention to the subject than any other people before or since. 徑 (107) ‘jìng’, also written 径, means a ‘path’, especially a ‘path across’ and so a ‘diameter’. The character has the same word associator as 經 (94E), which is

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plainly a related word, together with 彳, part of the earlier , for the notion of a road or path. The latter as a character on its own is now written 行 (107A) one of the commonest of characters and like the commonest elements in all human languages, irregular: it has three readings corresponding to ancient and now obsolete grammatical forms, ‘xíng’, ‘xìng’ and ‘háng’. As ‘xíng’ it means basically ‘to walk, go’: 飛行 (106 …) ‘fēixíng’ is ‘to fly’ (by aeroplane); but it is used idiomatically to mean ‘to do’ or ‘to behave’, which is a development common in all languages; as in French ‘marcher’ and ‘aller’: 不行 (10 …) ‘bù xíng’, ‘cela ne va pas, it won’t do’; 行不行 ‘xíng-bu-xíng?’, ‘will it do?’ As ‘xìng’, it is a verbal noun from this last sense, ‘behaviour’; while as ‘háng’ it is some other kind of verbal noun, meaning ‘things that go one after another’, a ‘row’ of things on the ground; ‘line’ or a ‘column’ of Chinese writing; a ‘street’ as a ‘succession’ of houses and shops. From this, because in a language without grammatical singular and plural a collective notion can be used for a single thing within it as much as a single can for a plural, ‘háng’ commonly means a ‘business’ or a ‘firm’: in Chinese cities businesses of the same kind, banks, bookshops, tailors or whatever it may be, were each to be found in their own streets; as in most other cities in the past. 銀行 (107B …) ‘yínháng’ is a ‘bank’, in which 銀 (107B) ‘yín’ means ‘silver’, the standard of currency, along with copper, always in China, rather than gold. 銀錢 (… 106B) ‘yínqián’ is the ordinary word, literally silver and copper cash, for money. In both its readings of ‘xìng’ and ‘háng’, 行 (107A) is a noun, but although as ‘xíng’ it is basically a verb, as such it can act as a noun, too; as any Chinese verb can. One may say that it is a convention of Chinese grammar which, despite the lack of separate forms for verbs and nouns, relies on the distinction between them as any language must, that any verb may move into the function of acting as a noun, but that this is a One-Way Traffic: a word that is a noun, basically and by origin, may not be used as a verb; even as much as we can do so in English. (More will be said later about the notions behind this in Chinese and other grammar.) Neither as ‘xìng’, behaviour, nor as ‘háng’, a ‘line’ etc., can 行 therefore ever act as a verb. As a verbal noun, 行 ‘xíng’ occurs in the important and ancient phrase 五行 (35 – 107A) ‘wǔxíng’, usually translated as the Five Elements; but near in sense to Five Agents, Actions, or Courses: 水 (45) Water, 火 (77A) Fire, 木 (56) Wood, 金 (57) Metal, 土 (78D) Earth. After these are named the 五星 (35 – 107C) ‘wǔxīng’, Five Planets: 水星, ‘shuǐxīng’, Mercury; 火星, ‘huǒxīng’, Mars; 木星, ‘mùxīng’, Jupiter; 金星, ‘jīnxīng’, Venus; and 土星, ‘tǔxīng’, Saturn. 星 (107C) ‘xīng’ means either a ‘star’ or a ‘planet’ and combines 日 (50) sun, light, with 生 (93I) ‘shēng’, ‘to be born, give birth’, with which it was also related in sound. These planet names are used in parts of China, and in all Japan, along with 日 (5) for Sun- and 月 (52) for Mon-, for the Western-imported days of the week: Mars for Tuesday, as in French ‘mardi’; Mercury for Wednesday; Jupiter for Thursday; Venus for Friday; and Saturn for Saturday. (The Western week of seven days, though popularised by the aid of recent Christian missionaries, had been known of long before, through other much earlier missionaries but had no function in Chinese life. Nowadays in China and in most parts always, the days of the week except Sunday are numbered.) In ancient Chinese ideas, 五行生六氣 (35 – 107A – 93I – 31 – 43) ‘wǔxíng shēng liùqì’, ‘the Five Hsing, Agents, give birth to the Six Ch’i’, Essences, breaths, or spirits; which are Yin, Yang (陽, 89F), Wind (風, 94B), Rain (雨, 101A),


行 to go; to do, behaviour; a row, series; street; business, firm


銀 silver


星 star, planet


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Darkness, and Daylight (日, 50); in other words they give birth to the ‘elements’ in the other sense of our own word, not as internal ‘element’ like chemical elements, but external. Our word ‘element’ is, in fact, an exact match with the Chinese character 爲 (18), which overlaps much with 行 (107A) in its meaning; for ‘element’ is derived, through Latin and probably Etruscan before that, ultimately from Greek ‘elephant’.4 (A possible explanation of both 爲 and ‘element’ is carved ivory idols: ivory was much in use for purposes in China in the second millennium BC, when the character has first been found.) 行爲 (107A – 18) ‘xíngwéi’, literally ‘courses (or deeds) and actions’, is the usual term now for ‘behaviour’; replacing 行 ‘xìng’, in that tone, the older expression for it, by means of compounding two words of similar meaning, as in our own ‘deeds and actions’. And the grammatical means reflected in the changed tone ‘xìng’ is only here and there fossilised. 行爲 shows how close in meaning are these two Chinese words; and how strangely close, therefore, the early Chinese notion of ‘element’ is etymologically to our own; although the ancient Romans probably did not, and the ancient Chinese contemporary with them certainly did not, see the elephant in either word; both being recent etymological discoveries! From identical starting-points, Chinese and Western thinking seems often to have gone in different directions, owing largely to different prehistoric developments in their language, ‘accidental’ in the sense that the course of a stream might be called ‘accidental’: our own thinking flowing, as Dr Needham says, in the direction of ‘atomism’, and Chinese towards ‘wave-theory’ in their philosophia perennis: Just as Chinese mathematics was indelibly algebraic rather than geometrical, so Chinese physics was wedded to a prototypic wave-theory and perennially averse to atoms, always envisaging an almost Stoic continuum.5 While much of the metaphor-making on which all human language is founded is derived from universally shared human experience, much else, especially after peoples have become literate, is derived from other, but not necessarily universally shared, notions with which one must also live all the time: namely those that are to be found in the structure, however it may have come about, of one’s own language. This, is of course, ‘snowballs’, the language feeding the thought, and the thought the language, ad infinitum towards ultimate narrow-mindedness and sterility; unless different directions of thought, from another language, can intervene. The simplest explanation of the relative ‘stagnation’ of Chinese civilisation in its later centuries may well be the very superiority it had reached; which made it little inclined ‘to learn other languages’ but instead to scrape the bottom of its own, making increasingly trivial discoveries: a fate that might eventually overtake the whole world if it can be taught, with means now available, to think sufficiently alike.

4 ‘Elephant’ was not originally Greek but the ‘el’ and ‘eph’ were each words for ‘elephant’ in neighbouring languages; reversed ‘eph-el’ in the word ancestral to Arabic ‘fíl’ (p. 75). The ‘eph’ occurs again as ‘iv’ in ‘ivory’ in English. 5 Joseph Needham, Science and Civilisation in China, v. 4, Pt. 1, p. xxiv.

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In a way, Chinese might be said to be the most ‘atomic’ of all languages: each word of one syllable is indivisible as far as its meaning is concerned; but has two constituents, in the Chinese view, in its sound. These are both called 母 (6), ‘mǔ’, ‘mothers’: there is one for the initial consonant, which words even that seem to us to begin with a vowel are all conceived as having, like the ‘rough’ and ‘smooth’ breathings written in Greek and another, called 韻母 (104I – 6) ‘yùnmǔ’, literally ‘rhyme mother’, for the rest of the word. To these must only be added a third constituent, a mere colour as it were to the last, which is the 聲 (66) ‘shēng’, ‘voice’ or ‘tone’. All the words of one syllable, the atoms, of the language now share equally this same form, and have done so throughout its literate history; although it is possible to know that this was not so in its distant prehistory. The script duly reflects the atomic notion that this structure provides, by having a character for each separate syllable-with-meaning (as these are conceived) and by each of these characters occupying the same notional space. For an atomic theory to seize the imagination, the atoms of Chinese are much too obvious; but also too large. The only kind of change the atomic word of one syllable in Chinese can undergo is not a matter of addition or subtraction applied to it, but of something like ‘refraction’ of the whole: as when an oar in water seems bent, and as happens when ‘ride’ in English becomes ‘rode’.6 (That consonants can be ‘refracted’ as well as vowels is something that makes acceptance of the phonetic rôle of the word associators in Chinese often difficult for us.) The three pronunciations ‘xíng’, ‘xìng’ and ‘háng’ (there is also an unimportant fourth, ‘hàng’, meaning ‘active, bold’, and there was once a fifth) of 行 (107A) is an example of such ‘refraction’ in Chinese. It was this, a much less commonplace feature in the language, that was more worthy of interest; and in China inevitably occasioned thought among early scientists, for whom the grammar of their language was perhaps a principal stimulator among all peoples, on lines akin less to ‘atomic’ than to ‘wave-theory’. Words like ‘behaviour’, which to us at least seem to contain the atoms, ‘be-’, ‘hav(e)-’, and ‘-iour’, could either be expressed by ‘refraction’ of ‘xíng’ to ‘xìng’ or by combining 行爲, ‘xíngwéi’ as ‘deeds and actions’. (Our word is in fact a hybrid of ‘behave’ with ‘havour’, a different word from French ‘(h)avoir’, then coloured by ‘saviour’.) One might, atomically, also call 行 (107A) and 爲 (18) each an ‘atom’, and 行爲 a ‘molecule’ formed of the two: a notion which can work well up to a point, but the other and stronger tendency in the language is to think of each as a path; and of the two juxtaposed in 行爲 as a junction of the paths. Such seems, in fact, to be the notion in ‘elements’ and of other meanings of the character, as depicted in early forms of 行:

This is often described as a ‘crossroads’; yet in the twenty-nine facsimiles in a comprehensive catalogue of the very earliest characters on oracle bones from 6 The ‘refraction’ of vowels is a feature in many languages; especially Semitic, in which it is the main one of their grammar. It is in Greek ‘legô’, ‘I say’, and ‘logos’, ‘word’, and in English ‘sit’ and ‘soot’, already mentioned. There seems also to be a common psychology, not to be explained entirely by the mechanics of speech, in some of these ‘gradations’ or cases of ‘Ablaut’ as they are called.


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the second millennium BC, twenty-seven are like the four on the left and only two like that on the right; suggesting the notion was rather of ‘conduction’. (More will be said later about these oracle bones.) Such junctions of paths are felt equally in the Chinese compound expressions whether they are like 電力 (101G – 5) ‘diànlì’, ‘electric power’; 雷電 (101F …) ‘léidiàn’, ‘thunder and lightning’; 男女 (2 – 3) ‘nánnǚ’, ‘men and/or women’. Between these the grammar of the language makes no distinction: they each make a junction of the path in the first syllable with that in the second, so that there becomes a combined stream of thought. The more the notions in such compounds already have in common, like ‘thunder and lightning’ or ‘men and women’, the more likely the ‘and’ would be in English;7 otherwise, the second notion is the main one, qualified by the first, like ‘electric power’. The important concept in 氣韻 (43 – 104I) ‘qìyùn’ is certainly of the second kind. For 南雲 (88E – 101D) ‘nányún’, the meaning ‘South and clouds’, two things having little in common, would be unlikely; so ‘southern clouds’ would, without thought, be taken as the meaning. 雲南 ‘yúnnán’ on the other hand, would make ‘South’ into the main notion; and ‘clouds’ to qualify it: ‘South of the Clouds’, Yunnan, the name of the Chinese province bordering Burma, Laos and Vietnam. This means, of course, that there is less grammar in Chinese, that is independent of meaning; but not that ‘Chinese has no grammar’, as is so often said. Each path that a word represents must have a known direction before such grammar begins to work; whereas in our grammar, and still more in that of our classical languages, Greek and Latin, which inform so much of our thought, it is more a matter of the grammar being the path, giving direction to what would otherwise be static entities, the words. The difference should not, however, be exaggerated: both ways of thinking are common and available to all humanity, and neither needs consciously thinking about in order to speak and understand. Yet there does seem to be, in this difference in grammatical trends, the foundation of the difference in what Dr Needham describes as the philosophia perennis on the two sides of Eurasia. One result of the Chinese trend towards thinking of action more in connection with meaning (and less with grammar) is to be seen in the tendency of the characters, even when they have started as ‘pictures’, to turn into ‘actions’: as in the transformation of the early representations of a river in 水 (45) into 氵. Another is the general tendency in thought and language to allow one thing to turn into another in ways we are unaccustomed to; and the interest such transformations have for the mind of all those influenced by the Chinese language and script. This may be seen in the fact that what we should regard as ‘careless’ handwriting, in which constituent details of words utterly disappear, has equal status with other kinds of handwriting in the art of Chinese calligraphy; and that this art is at the centre of all the arts in this civilisation, as architecture was supposed to be with the Greeks. The loss of detail in Wang Hsi-chih’s fluent version of 飛 (106), with the complete disappearance of the 升 for ‘lift’, is not felt 7 When Chinese does use a word for ‘and’, it is much fussier than English; choosing one of a number, according to whether the sense is ‘extending to’, ‘including’, ‘side by side with’, ‘vis-àvis’ and the like; while English covers a number of quite different notions, without recognising their difference, with the simple ‘and’.

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in any way as a fault, but the whole of the one character to be a sort of wavetransformation of the whole of the other; changing but not losing its life and balance, and not therefore its inner meaning either. It is these transformations that so delight the Chinese mind that their calligraphy is first among equals, with poetry, painting and music; and more widely appreciated, more in fact of a popular art, than any of them. But the same profound interest is to be found in all the arts, major and minor, of the whole civilisation. Again, it must be said that it is an interest common to all humanity and displayed in all human art; so that it is never beyond appreciation; except perhaps in their calligraphy itself, at least to the extent, not total, that this requires knowledge of the characters. But in literature, obviously too, it cannot be appreciated fully without reading in the original language. Nevertheless, there is also a more general kind of difficulty to be overcome: although ‘atomic’ and ‘wave-theory’ ways of thought are common to all men, together with the interest in metamorphoses, just when and how much anything may be allowed to change its form is largely a matter of the conventions of a society; which the individuals in it lack freedom to ignore. These conventions differ greatly on the two sides of Eurasia: so much so that, to either side, the other may seem in some ways rigid and unbending and in others irresponsible and anarchical. (We seem to be wholly released from these conventions only in dreams.) The character 行 (107A), though derived from the early symbol shown above, long ago came to be seen quite differently; as in the form of the third century BC

which is explained as a man walking, with for his stepping with one foot and for his stepping with the other; close in its conception to Futuristic theories of art, in the West early in this century.8 彳, as in 得 (19) and other characters, which had once been a mere abbreviation of 行, was then taken as being a sign of the action, stepping: another like development to that of 氵 out of the early form of 水 (45). The character 街 (107D) ‘jiē’ means a ‘thoroughfare, street’; without the notion of action in 行 (107A), nor ever used in verbal senses, but apparently combining this character with two 土 (78D), the earth on which people’s feet successively step. Much earlier forms of this, however, were like or , of which the two original feet have undergone the same transformation as in the top of 寺 (75A), once indicating ‘waiting hand and foot’. The new interpretations make just as good sense, though at the same time making the characters 行 and 街 much easier to write; in fact possible to write, instead of draw. Their metaphorical aptness, though the metaphors are changed, is no less than it was before. These are ancient and venerable examples of the Chinese trick of letting one thing turn into another: in ways that can seem rather shocking to us, and apparently do to some modern Western scholars who castigate them as ‘scribal carelessness’.

8 That is to say, to the ‘dynamism’ in Futuristic theories, expressed by ‘simultaneity’. The reader may also be reminded of Marcel Duchamp’s ‘Nude Descending a Staircase’ (1912).


街 a street, thoroughfare

100 (108)

蹤 踪 從 从 (108A)

footprint, clue

to follow, from


滅 灭 to extinguish, destroy, erase

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蹤 (108) ‘zōng’ means a ‘footprint, trace, vestige, clue’; and can also be written by an alternative character, 踪, in which 宗 (103) is word associator, and 足 (65) meaning associator. The latter is phonetically precise, whereas 從 (108A)

‘cóng’ has a better association by meaning ‘to follow, proceed (from)’. This is an important word, used much where we should use the preposition ‘from’: 從北 京 (… 88B – 88A) ‘cóng běijing’, ‘from Peking’. These senses of ‘to follow’ and ‘to proceed from’ may seem almost opposite in meaning to us, the one going towards and the other away; yet we ourselves can talk equally of ‘following’ a clue or ‘proceeding from’ a clue, without difference. Almost always, if one escapes from particular English words or particular English usages, one can find others in our own language to resolve such, at first sight, puzzling contradictions in Chinese. The character 從 has 彳, just discussed, for a path or for stepping, with 从, one 人 (1) man following another, and , the form of foot in 足 (65) itself. 从 alone was an old way of writing the whole of this character, and is now ‘official’ again under the latest reforms in China; a sensible one in view of the commonness of the character, in the sense of ‘from’, when writing modern Mandarin: in which such ‘prepositions’ are much more used than in the classical language. 滅 (109) ‘miè’, also written now simply as 灭, means ‘to extinguish, eradicate, erase, destroy’: 滅火 (… 77A) ‘mièhuǒ’ is ‘to put out a fire’. The character has 氵 (45) for water, 火 for fire with a line over it, as a suppressor or extinguisher coming down on it, and 戊 as a form of the 戈, weapon, in 國 (78B), a (defended) nation. The notion of ‘extinction’ is thus expressed in three ways in the character; while it could be said that ‘sequence’ was expressed in four, or a combination of four, in the previous character. This seems rather excessive: hardly to be called ‘long-winded’ in view of the concentration into the standard notional space, but perhaps unnecessarily packed. There is some reason, however, for such packings; not unlike that which turned the too-detailed sheep we saw earlier into 羊 (42), though achieved in an opposite way: each of the expressions of ‘extinction’ in 滅 widens the range of its meaning; so that the mind has a choice of the kind of extinction intended, whether putting out a fire as in 滅火 or, more sinisterly, in 滅口 (… 62) ‘mièkǒu’, ‘to rub out’, in gangster language, a ‘grass’, someone who might talk or has done so. Here, though there are other words that might do for the meaning of either, the antithetical placing in the poem of 絕 (74) ‘cut (off)’ for the flight of the birds, with 滅 (109) for the cancelling of footprints by fresh snow, has an especially powerful effect. There are other effects too, in this and in the poem by Wang Wei in the last chapter, from the characters themselves; not just in their imagery but in the simplicity of 千山 (28 – 81) here at the beginning, and of the whole of Wang Wei’s first line 空山不見人 (80 – 81 – 10 – 82 – 1); a simplicity both because of the relatively few strokes in these characters and because of their commonness; leading to the 蹤滅 (108 – 109) here and the 響 (86) in Wang Wei’s poem, more complicated and less common words, at the end of the first half of each. Such would not be an effect consciously sought, in all probability, nor would it be likely to be commented on by a Chinese critic, but it is the sort of thing that helps to make the mysterious ‘rightness’ of the whole of each poem; rather as the choice of a simple Anglo-Saxon word, or of a Latin one, in English may for that reason alone contribute in some way to the ‘rightness’ of an English poem.

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There is also a sharpness, appropriate to the cold scene, in the rhyme as it originally was, ending in ‘-t’; like English ‘… flight cut, … tracks out’; which is returned to in the 雪 (101) as the last word of all, in the poet’s time pronounced something like ‘sweat’, for ‘snow’. The final line, in the Chinese theory of this kind of poem, should be a ‘binding together’ of the whole. This theory reflects a universal human pattern in creative thought and in all the arts; especially in music, which with us seems to do most among the arts to fulfil our needs for a ‘wave-theory’ approach to things; while in the Far East rather more attention is perhaps given in other arts to these particular needs. Poems of this kind are divided into four parts: lines in this case, couplets in the form from which this was derived as an abbreviation; which is the Chinese ‘sonnet’, illustrated later in this book. The first part is called the 起 (109A) ‘qǐ’, ‘raising’; which is the Introduction of the Theme. The second is the 承 (109B) ‘chéng’, ‘inheritance, acceptance and passing on’, the Development of the Theme. The third is the 轉 (109C) ‘zhuǎn’, ‘turning, changing of direction’, introducing a Second Theme. The fourth is the 結 (109D) ‘jié’, ‘binding together’, the Conclusion. (The 糹 74A in the character matches, as so often, with a Latin ‘con-’.) The second half of the poem should thus be something of a restatement, from a different point of view, of the first; and the whole though contained in such tiny poems of twenty syllables as these, bears a striking resemblance to the Sonata form and to the Symphony in Western classical music. 起 (109A) ‘qǐ’, ‘to rise, raise, begin’, is used in the sense of preparing or starting a journey in 起行 (… 107A) ‘qǐxíng’, with that meaning. The character has 走 (109E) ‘zǒu’, ‘to run, walk, go (on foot)’ as meaning associator, with 己 (109F) ‘jǐ’, ‘self’, as word associator. Like many words in all languages, 走, which originally meant ‘to run’ and combined a picture of a man in a hurry with one of the forms of a foot

has been weakened by exaggerated use; until in modern Mandarin it just means ‘to go’ (on foot). 承 (109B) ‘chéng’ means basically ‘to accept humbly as a charge’, rather than as a possession for oneself; hence ‘to inherit; to receive and forward’, and such meanings; or ‘to develop’ in phrases like 承右句 (… 80G – 74B) ‘chéng yòu jù’, ‘developing the theme in the preceding paragraph’. (右, righthand, is used here for ‘preceding’, of course because of the columns from the right on a Chinese page.) The character showed in early forms a kneeling figure:

for humility, with two raised hands offering him something. 轉 (109C) ‘zhuǎn’ means ‘to turn’, properly in the sense of ‘turn itself, oneself, gyrate’; while in the tone ‘zhuàn’ it properly means ‘to turn’ something, like a wheel. The two have become confused, however, and although both tones survive in phrases in the modern language, showing some vestiges of old grammar (just as ‘hanged’ in a special sense does in English) other phrases like ‘to (take a) turn (round) the corner, go round (about in) the garden’ have caused the intransitive and transitive senses and the two pronunciations to be confused.



to raise


to inherit


to turn

結 to bind



走 己 to run; go on foot


102 (109G)

車 wheeled vehicle; carriage

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The character has as its word associator 車 (109G) ‘chē’ meaning a ‘wheeled vehicle, carriage, chariot, cart’: 馬車 (48 …) ‘mǎchē’, ‘a (horsedrawn) carriage, cart’; 汽車 (43 …) ‘qìchē’, ‘a motorcar, automobile’; 火車 (77A …) ‘huǒchē’, ‘a railway locomotive, a train’. In Japan, however, and in the colloquial of some parts of China, 汽車 ‘qìchē’ is used for the railway engine, or train; in Japanese pronunciation, ‘kisha’. In Japan foreigners in the last century invented the 人力車 (1 – 5 …) ‘rénlìche’, Japanese pronunciation ‘jinrikisha’, whence English ‘rickshaw’. An understandably strong dislike of this foreign-introduced way of using men as beasts of burden has developed, though hardly with effect on native ways of doing the same. The idea of one man pulling another, with the effort required and running before him like a horse, has a repugnance, however, felt less about pedicabs, which are tricycles. The character 車 now looks like an overhead view, in plan, of a cart with a wheel at each side (Far Eastern carriages were always two-wheeled); but the picture has changed: what now seems to be the body of the cart itself was doubled and represented the two wheels, not in perspective, in the earliest forms like ,


專 to turn the attention to; particular; alone


尃 敷 to spread, propagate; announce; ample; to flower

which was then simplified to

This, representing just one wheel, axle and hubs, was also more convenient in columnar script and became the modern form and visual interpretation. 電車 (101G …) ‘diànchē’, Japanese ‘densha’, is an ‘electric train, tram’. The word associator in 轉 (109C) ‘zhuǎn, zhuàn’, ‘to turn’ is 專 (109H) ‘zhuān’, which is basically a verb meaning ‘to turn the attention to, concentrate on’; thence ‘particular, special; single, unique, alone’. This, though the top part now looks like 車, had quite a different origin from it, as on the right: 尃

The character on the left represents a garden bed, as in 東 (88C) or something similarly horticultural (in some versions it became a pot), with a hand; and means ‘to spread, luxuriate’. The character on the right, 專 (109H) ‘zhuān’ was the same symbol but with the seed added under the luxuriation. 專門 (… 84B) ‘zhuānmén’ means a ‘specialist department’, a particular door to which one turns attention: 專門化 (… 9) ‘zhuānménhuà’ is ‘to specialise’. 專 電 (… 101G) ‘zhuāndiàn’ is an ‘exclusive telegram’ to a newspaper. The neatness of the two Chinese syllables against our six is made possible because nobody would expect 電 in such a context to mean anything but ‘telegram’; and because of the etymological nature of the script, even though very few people would know anything about the actual histories of these characters. The ancient versions above are comparatively recently discovered, and the ‘etymologies’ in standard Chinese dictionaries are quite different. The ‘etymologies’ in these, in fact, make 尃 and 專 much more different than they really are; although the script keeps the two sufficiently alike for the dictionaries to have to warn against confusion. The former, 尃 (109I) ‘fū’, usually written more complicatedly as 敷, from meaning ‘to spread, propagate’ has come to mean ‘to make a statement, announce’. As a qualifying word, adjective or adverb, however, it means ‘ample, enough’, and as a verb it can also mean ‘to open’ of flowers. Like ‘ample’, it can sometimes point to ‘rather too much’, as

river snow i: the other greek


in 尃言 (… 73) ‘fūyán’, ‘verbosity’. All these notions, while nobody using the language need consciously think of the fact, relate in various ways to the gardening image; as also do those of 專 (109H) ‘zhuān’, which is obviously unrelated to ‘fū’ as a spoken word. Both 尃 and 專 make characters with the meaning associator 人 (1) for man: 傅 (109J) ‘fù’ means ‘to spread, apply’ colours; and as a noun, ‘a tutor, teacher’. 傳 (109K) ‘chuán’ means ‘to propagate, transmit’; and as a noun, ‘records, chronicles, biography’, pronounced ‘zhuàn’ when an object like a book is in mind. 傅 電 (… 101G) ‘chuándiàn’ is ‘to conduct electricity’. This last is a compound word in Chinese grammar, and as such romanised as one word in the Pinyin spelling; but it still consists of a verb with a noun object, even though it may be used in such expressions as 傳電線 (… 104H) ‘chuándiàn xiàn’, or ‘chuándiànxiàn’, ‘a conducting wire’; or it can be split, as in 傳陽電線 (… 89F …) ‘chuán yángdiàn xiàn’, ‘a wire conducting positive electricity’. The reader will see from these terms how artificial the word divisions in the romanisation become and why, therefore, the Chinese script is without them. Because 電 (101G) ‘diàn’ has been illustrated much in this chapter, here is a review of the terms in which it has occurred: 雷電 電力 電氣 電視 電報 電車 專電 傳電 傳電線 傳陽電線

(101F – 101G) ‘léidiàn’, ‘thunder and lightning, thunderstorm’; (… 5) ‘diànlì’, ‘electric power’; (… 43) ‘diànqì’, ‘electricity’; (… 103B) ‘diànshì’, ‘television’; (… 103E) ‘diànbào’, ‘telegram’; (… 109G) ‘diànchē’, ‘electric train, tram’; (109H …) ‘zhuāndiàn’, ‘exclusive telegram’; (109K …) ‘chuándiàn’, ‘to conduct electricity’; (109K … 104H) ‘chuándiànxiàn’, ‘wire conducting electricity’; (109K – 89F … 104H) ‘chuányángdiànxiàn’, ‘wire conducting positive electricity’.

All these expressions may well seem ‘precise’ where notions in such characters as 專 (109H) and 尃 (109I) and their derivatives, grown in the same garden, may seem rather vague and elusive. There are two distinct reasons for this: in the first place, any notion will seem more precise if one has it already; and most of these last Chinese expressions are for notions that have recently travelled from us. All terms in all languages relating to modern international science and technology stand for exactly the same notions, whether borrowed like French ‘tram-way’ or re-expressed like 電車. The days of the week are an example of the assimilation of notions: they came themselves first from peoples speaking Semitic languages in the Near East and were named by the Romans after the Roman gods. But the Roman gods had themselves been assimilated to those of another civilisation, the Greek: Mars, an agricultural deity made responsible for fertilisation by the simple and backwards ancestors of the Romans, was assimilated with Ares, minor Greek god of berserk frenzy; with whom the Germanic god Tiw,9 never of much importance either in their myths, was later

9 ‘Tiw’ as a name is the same as Zeu-s and Ju-piter; but their role, that of 天 (101H) itself, came to be divided between Woden for the winds and Thunor, Thor, for thunder. Jupiter-Zeus is,



to spread, apply to transmit; (colours); records, a teacher chronicles, biography


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assimilated; Mercury, a god of markets, was assimilated with Hermes, a god of roads and the messenger of the gods; with whom, for the sake of his swift eight-legged horse, Woden, though the chief of the Germanic gods, was later assimilated; and so on. Then 火星 (77A – 107C) ‘huǒxīng’, the Fire Star, or planet Mars, was equated in ‘Tuesday’ and so forth, in the original Semitic week; itself a concept remaining unchanged by these changes of names. The gods themselves did change however; in that the notions represented by the ancient Roman gods disappeared altogether in the state religion of the Roman Empire; replaced by rather stiff and pompous versions of the Greek, but no longer vague, elusive or liable to change and to the production of new ideas. The second reason is a simple navigational one, that each of these expressions provides a cross-bearing; while 傳 (109K) and 傅 (109J) are only single bearings, from which one does not get a ‘fix’. The last of the expressions, having four bearings, gives the most precise ‘fix’ of all; but this will be so only when the first reason also applies, and there is a concept already available to the mind, the ‘wire carrying positive electricity’ in this case, to be found in the place where the bearings (with a little bending of each) can be made to meet: 傳 (109K) must be bent away from ‘biography’; 陽 (89F) from ‘male sex’; and so on. The points from which the bearings are taken are their 起 (109A) ‘qǐ’; the direction of each is its 承 (109B) ‘chéng’; the variation, that is to say the amount it must be turned, is its 轉 (109C) ‘zhuǎn’; and the ‘fix’ is the 結 (109D) ‘jié’. Needless to say, one does not have to think of these things consciously in using a language or, much of the time, in learning one. At least when a concept is already available to the mind, one can simply deal in the end-product of the process, in ‘fixes’: so that the red wire for ‘positive’ is simply ‘chuányángdiànxiàn’, or more briefly ‘yángxiàn’. But before any of these ‘fixes’ could be made, or any ideas can be created, there has to be the navigational process. The danger of dealing in universally shared notions is always that they consist too much of 結 (109D) at the expense of 起 (109A); which significantly contains, as its word associator, 己 (109F) ‘jǐ’, ‘self’. To learn another language while learning nothing of its 起 is therefore only to learn ways of using one’s own language to ‘foreigners’; retaining one’s own 己, while learning nothing profound about theirs nor acquiring new 起 from which one might make new and interesting 結! 結 (109D) ‘jié’ means basically ‘to tie up, bind’; from which it has sense developments like a ‘contract’ in business; ‘to cohere, cohesion, coagulation’; ‘to connect’; ‘to conclude, finish’. With 糹 (74A) thread as meaning associator, the word associator is 吉 (109L) ‘jí’, ‘good fortune, happiness’. This, as might be expected, is found much in the inscriptions for ancient oracles, where the early form of 口 (62) for a mouth, commonly used for some kind of vessel, has above or in it a steeple-like object:

of course, assimilated to Thor in Thursday, French ‘jeudi’. Before literature stabilised them, the gods themselves could change their roles and the estimation in which they were held; not only as they passed from people to people but as between generations and villages of the same people.

river snow i: the other greek


What exactly this represented is not known; but it is likely that, besides symbolising the meaning of 吉 (109L), it would be found to have some connection with the direction of meaning of 結 (109D). At least in the earliest characters, it will not very often be found that a word associator in a character, or a character regularly used for another on the ‘rebus’ principle, has no such connection. That 象 (92I) ‘xiàng’, ‘elephant’, should be used in the sense of ‘image’, for instance, seems to relate both to the origin of 爲 (18) and to that of our own word ‘element’: possibly important idea-stimulating ivory images, very long ago. The opposite of 吉, ‘good fortune’, is 凶 (109M), ‘xiōng’ ‘ill fortune’ which also seems to be in some kind of vessel. 吉凶 ‘jíxiōng’ means ‘luck’ in its whole range from the best to the worst: a useful and unambiguous form of Chinese compound expression in which the two paths meet head-on, making a straight and continuous road.


吉 good fortune, happiness


凶 ill fortune

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River Snow II: Word-Building 孤 (110) ‘gū’ means basically ‘to be fatherless, an orphan’; thence ‘solitary, forlorn’ and simply ‘alone’. The word associator is 瓜 (110L, treated below) which


孤 (110A)

orphan, forlorn, alone

depicted vegetables of the ground and cucumber family; and the meaning associator is 子 (110A) ‘zǐ’, ‘child’. This was a picture in its early forms like

子 a child; son; gentleman; title of honour; you, sir; ‘diminutive’ suffix in grammar


兒 ㄦ child; son; boy; male; ‘diminutive’ suffix in grammar

Besides meaning ‘child’, 子 is used much in a simply ‘diminutive’ sense; as ‘diminutives’ are used in other languages and not necessarily with any sense of being very small or a smaller version of something bigger, but like the ‘-ette’ in French ‘bicyclette’. In this sense it is related to the Neuter gender in the ancient languages of our own Indo-European family. 刀子 (92A …) ‘dāoz’ means a ‘knife’, but not necessarily a small knife such as a pen-knife. The 子 in such uses is in Mandarin weak and toneless, and reduced in the Pinyin to the letter ‘z’ as here. 子, with its full tone ‘zǐ’, can also be an honorific title, like the ‘childe’ in Childe Harold; meaning a ‘son’ (of a noble line), hence a ‘gentleman’, or ‘Sir’ or, politely, simply ‘you’. It also means a ‘son’ in 子女 (… 3) ‘zǐnǚ’, ‘sons and daughters, children’. In this it is rather like the word ‘man’ in English, which should just mean a human being but is mostly used for the male sex only. 原子 (104D …) ‘yuánzǐ’ is an ‘atom’, in the sense of a ‘fundamental particle’ (though not, of course, as that term is used in physics now); and 分子 (92B …) ‘fēnzǐ’ is a ‘molecule’, in the sense of a ‘divisible particle’. 陽電子 (89F – 101G …) ‘yángdiànzǐ’ or ‘yángzǐ’ is a term for a ‘proton’, though another term is also used for this. In all these, ‘zǐ’ in the meaning of a particle gets its full pronunciation. A word closely related to 子 (110A), in some of its meaning and uses, is 兒 (110B) ‘ér’, ‘child, son, boy’; used for ‘stallion’ colloquially in 兒馬 (… 48) ‘érmǎ’, and also used as a ‘diminutive’ suffix ‘-r’; 相片兒 (92G – 58 …) ‘xiàngpiànr’, or ‘xiàngpiàr’, rather than just 相片, ‘xiàngpiàn’, is the usual colloquial way of saying ‘photograph’ or ‘photo’; or the same with 照片 (92 …). This ‘-r’ proliferates in Pekinese colloquial, almost as if just a sign of a noun and written since the reforms as ㄦ only; but colloquialisms need using carefully and very sparingly when speaking anyone else’s language: imitation does not always seem the sincerest form of flattery. Too close imitation of a language by a foreigner can seem no better than false pretences to a native, and so by no means ‘sympathetic’ but displeasing. 馬兒 (48 …) ‘mǎr’ has two special meanings: one, of paper objects used in sacrifice to the gods; the other, as baby-language ‘gee-gee’ or the like, for a ‘horse’. (The foreigner affecting a free colloquial style is only too apt to use words like ‘gee-gee’ on inappropriate occasions in any language!) 馬子 (48 – 110A) ‘mǎz’ with the other ‘diminutive’, on the other hand, has one meaning only: a ‘chamber-pot’. The character 兒 (110B) has early forms such as:

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 2018 | doi:10.1163/9789004369054_008

river snow ii: word-building


In the form on the left, the hair is in two tufts tied with ribbons; which was done with all children’s hair from the most ancient times in China, not just girls. (The character and word 兒 can also be used of girls in some expressions as well as boys: as in 女兒, 3 …, ‘nǚ-ér’, ‘daughter’). In the form on the right, the tufts, or the hands over the head, or the hand with a basket on the head, have been reinterpreted, according to some, as open fontanels of the skull; which do not close before maturity. This is much later than the others, and in the ‘modern style’ of the third century BC. Both 子 and 兒 have associations with the signs of the Zodiac. These seem, however, to have been symbols from the first that were quite separate from the rest of the script, possibly belonging originally to another culture, though they are characters of most frequent occurrence in the earliest inscriptions. Among them a sign variously written as

is used for our Aries, in which some of the forms look rather like some of those for 兒. The pronunciation of this sign, however, is ‘zǐ’; and 子 is now used to write it; though it seems originally to have had nothing to do with that word or with children. To add to the confusion, the early sign for our Virgo was

which does seem to be a human figure, but always has the arms in this one-upone-down position. This became 巳 in the modern script, pronounced ‘sì’; to be distinguished from 己 (109F). There are yet other names in Chinese for the signs of the Zodiac: those of twelve animals, in which Aries is represented by the Rat and Virgo by the Snake; which have no connection with any of these signs and provide further evidence of the early cultural admixture to be expected of any great civilisation. The honorific use of 子 (110A) is to be seen in the name and title 孔夫子 (110C – 110D …) ‘kǒng fūzǐ’, ‘the Master K’ung’, which was latinised by Jesuit missionaries in the sixteenth century as ‘Confucius’. In this, 孔 (110C) ‘kǒng’ is the Master’s surname, having a child or ‘childe’ with what was probably a symbol of a priestly office: a symbol perhaps relating to the pastoral metaphor and so to our own bishop’s crook. His ancestors had been a younger branch of the ruling house in the 2nd millennium BC, who became hereditary priests to it. His descendants of the surname K’ung, in the direct male line, live today where he lived as members of a family which must have by far the longest known genealogy in the world. 夫 (110D) ‘fū’ was a man, probably with a ceremonial pin through his topknot, meaning someone of importance; thence a ceremonial title. The adult Chinese men wore their hair long in a neat top-knot on which a small hat with wings like a tightrope-walker’s pole was balanced by important people, something that might also be what is represented. This was the custom until the


孔 K’ung; surname of Confucius (110D)

夫 honorific title; a man, woman (usually of distinction)



字 to rear, foster; to love; a character (in the script); a word (in language)

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Manchus, who conquered China in 1644, forced them to adopt their own pigtail down the back from a shaven head; regarded as a detestable humiliation by the Chinese, which they were glad to forget after the fall of the Manchu Dynasty in 1911. (Their dislike of the name ‘Chinaman’, which seems it should be agreeable when one thinks of ‘Englishman’ and ‘Frenchman’, most likely stems from its association with pigtailed representations of themselves in an age in which they feel little pride.) 夫 can also be used of a woman, as in 夫人 (… 1) ‘fūrén’, stressed on the first syllable, for ‘Madam, Mrs’. For 工夫 (80E …) ‘gōngfu’, strongly stressed on the first syllable with the second toneless, there two idiomatic meanings: the first usually expressed by 工夫兒 (… 110B) ‘gōngfur’, is a ‘manual labourer, navvy, coolie’; and the second, without the 兒, means ‘work’, such as is devoted to art or study, that requires much time but is not the way one earns one’s living. It may also be translated as ‘leisure’, as when one says “Alas, I have no leisure (for such things)”, or as ‘practice’ when one says “I lack practice”. A yet further use 夫 has, in the classical language but in the pronunciation ‘fù’, is as a particle emphasising the word following it; which may sometimes be translated as a ‘this’ or a ‘that’ in English, or sometimes with a conjunction like ‘for’: “this behaviour is …”, “for now is the time …”. Here 夫 ‘fù’ is a ‘rebus’ character used for what the Chinese call an ‘empty word’; which being empty has no associations to be made with anything concrete, and so could be written conveniently with any character chose for its similarity in sound. Uses of 夫 in this way will be met in passages of classical prose later in the book. From 子 (110A) ‘zǐ’ for a child is derived the verb 字 (110E) ‘zì’ meaning ‘to enchild’ in the senses of ‘to foster, to nurse and rear’; hence ‘to treat kindly, to love’, and ‘to enter a family in order to give it children’ as of a woman on becoming betrothed or married: 字人 (… 1) ‘zìrén’, ‘to become engaged to, marry someone’, of a girl. The character has 宀 for a roof with 子. The most important sense development of this, however was as a verbal noun for a ‘thing fostered’, in the particular meaning of a ‘character’ in the script; like 字 itself, which is not a simple 文 (8) ‘wén’ but allows one 文 to ‘foster’ another. All composed characters, that are not single images like 子 or 兒, are therefore called 字; and the term for the ‘script, writing’ as a whole, and for the ‘characters’ in it, is 文字 ‘wénzì’. But distinction between the two kinds of character is not always made, so that 字 is mostly used as an inclusive word for all ‘characters’; or, since the Chinese do not much separate the notions in their minds, for spoken ‘words’. Words were therefore thought of as ‘fostered’ or ‘fostering’, in the old Chinese tradition, and their written characters as living and sacred things: never to be defaced, but (if a correction had to be made) to have the correction just written alongside; or else a circle drawn round the wrong character, which was not itself to blame or to be hurt. The ‘family’ metaphor in this sense-development of 字 is one of the most basic to all Chinese thought. The 字母 (110E – 6) ‘zìmǔ’, which could be regarded as ‘foster-mother’, is the initial consonant with which (in Chinese phonetics) every syllable begins; and which together with the 韻 母 (104I – 6) ‘yùnmǔ’, ‘rhyme-mother’ and the 聲 (66) ‘shēng’, ‘voice’, goes to make up every syllable or word. Vowels and consonants in our own phonetics, are called in Chinese 母音 (6 – 86B) ‘mǔyīn’, ‘mother-sounds’, and 子音 (110A – 86B) ‘zǐyīn’, ‘child-sounds’, respectively.

river snow ii: word-building


‘Mother’ and ‘child’ together form the 字 character, for ‘to love, to like; likeable, good’: 好 (110F) pronounced ‘hǎo’ in the latter sense, as ‘good’, and ‘hào’ as a verb ‘to like’. The character had early forms:


好 to like; good

These are all from the 2nd millennium BC but for that on the right which is in the ‘modernised and standardised’ script of the third century BC; the immediate predecessor of another much like the characters of today, that replaced the sinuous lines with bold brush-strokes. The curves, however, are returned to (but at speed) in the cursive script currently used but developed chiefly about the fourth century after Christ:

All the ways of writing 好, from the most ancient and pictorial to the most cursive and apparently far removed from the Mother and Child image, have equal status in the art of calligraphy; and the same is true, of course, of any other character like 兒 (110B) of which some of the more ‘representational’ forms were shown above. All are equally significant and equally sacred as different manners of writing; but all must, of course, have life. (Dead characters, stylised to go with dead architecture, had a small and fortunately brief vogue in the 1920s and ’30s.) 好人 (110F – 1) ‘hǎorén’ means ‘a good fellow, good person’, usually pronounced ‘hǎoren’ with the first syllable heavily stressed, and is used equally of men and women. 好不好 (… 10 …) ‘hǎobuhao’, usually also heavily stressed on the first ‘hǎo’ only is the ordinary colloquial way of asking ‘is it all right?’ or ‘may I …?’ 好吃 (… 61) ‘hǎochī’ means ‘good to eat’, but pronounced as ‘hàochī’ it means literally ‘liking to eat’ and is used for ‘greedy’. 好 ‘hǎo’ is also much used where we should say ‘well, very’ as in ‘well satisfied’ or ‘very satisfied’. 好大 (… 110G) ‘hǎodà’ means ‘very big’; in which 大 (110G) ‘dà’, meaning ‘big, great, large, grand’ and so on, is the same figure of a man as in 夫 (110D), 天 (101H) and in early forms of 王 (78). In the earliest script this was more or less interchangeable with 人 (1) as a character on its own, but it gradually became specialised in its present use for the sake of the outstretched arms. 大人 ‘dàrén’ has now two meanings, according to stress in Mandarin: stressed on the first syllable, but only more lightly on the second which does not therefore lose its tone, it means an ‘adult, grown-up’; evenly stressed it means ‘Excellency’ as a title for high officials. 大夫 (… 110D) means a ‘doctor, physician’ and has what is fortunately a rare kind of irregularity, in being pronounced ‘dàifu’. This is heavily stressed on the first syllable, and with the second toneless, in Mandarin. (The ‘dài’ is an older pronunciation of 大, preserved only in this word which was once a title of high officers of state, including leading physicians.) 太 (110H) ‘tài’, distinguished by the dot from 大, as a kind of ‘accent’ or ‘heraldic difference’, is an emphatic word like ‘very’ enlarging the word (which can be a noun) that follows it; a little like ‘too’ but without necessarily denoting excess; and more like the French ‘très’ especially in some of its older uses: ‘tréfonds’, earlier spelt ‘très-fonds’, for ‘subsoil’ matches in its construction Chinese 太空 (110H – 80) ‘tàikōng’ for ‘space’, as in ‘space exploration’. 太子 (… 110A) ‘tàizǐ’ was the title of the Imperial Heir, son of 天子 (101H – 110A) ‘tiānzǐ’, the


大 great, big, grand


太 very; French ‘très’; emphatic word



安 safe(ty), peace

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Emperor; the latter commonly translated as ‘Son of Heaven’, but just a little as if the Chinese were to translate ‘lord’ as ‘Warden of Loaves’! 太太 ‘tàitai’ means ‘Madam’ for the mistress of a house; not to be used in the People’s Republic where it would be taken as sarcastic. 太上 (… 68) ‘tàishàng’ means ‘those on high’; the gods or the Immortal Sages. The difference between 大 and 太 can be seen in 大西洋 (110G – 88D – 44) ‘dàxīyáng’, literally the Great Western Ocean, for the Atlantic, and 太平洋 (110H – 67 – 44) ‘tàipíngyáng’, literally ‘Très-Calme’, as a translation for the name of the ‘Pacific’ Ocean. If the latter were called “大平洋” it would mean ‘great flat ocean’, which would be possible but poor compared with 太平 which is a phrase for ‘peace, pacific’ in the language; but “太西洋”, ‘very western ocean’ would be impossible, as it would not even extend the notion of ‘western’ in a westerly direction but all round. 太平 is well-known beyond China as the name of the T’ai P’ing Rebellion against the 清 (93B) ‘qīng’, or as it called itself 大清 ‘dàqīng’, Ch’ing Dynasty; from 1851–1864, when Hung Hsiu-ch’üan (AD 1812–1864) captured over six hundred cities in sixteen of the eighteen provinces of the Empire and came near to establishing a new dynasty; which he called 太平天國 (… 101H – 78B) ‘tàipíng tiānguó’, styling himself as Emperor 天王 (101H – 78) ‘tiānwáng’. This rebellion nearly succeeded because it had wide popular support; promised a restoration of Chinese rule, abandoning Manchu customs such as the shaven head and pigtail (although these had been imposed for over 300 years); and because it spoke with a political idealism which, though mixed with Christian doctrines dreadfully muddled and blasphemous in the view of the missionaries who could give them no support, was thoroughly Chinese. The obscurity and limited education from which its leader rose was typical of the foundation of Chinese dynasties, also his willingness to seek new ideas from ‘barbarians’; and, though it failed, it must have been the biggest revolution in the world up to that date. ‘Peace’ is a notion expressed in a variety of ways in Chinese, by the ‘convergence’ system described under 行 (107A) in the last chapter: 平安 (67 – 110I) ‘píng-ān’ is ‘peace, quiet, safety, tranquillity, security’, in which 安 (110I) ‘ān’ means ‘safe(ty), peace’; the character showing a woman (3) under a roof as in 宀 (110E). The hyphen, also expressed by an apostrophe, in the romanisation ‘píngān’ is to avoid confusion with ‘pín-gān’ which can then be written ‘píngān’. This ‘ān’ is in fact the first Chinese syllable met in this book to be romanised as beginning with a vowel; and there are only 9 such word-syllables in the Mandarin language as transcribed: a, ai, an, ao; e, ei, en, er; ou. All these begin with the ‘glottal stop’, as in Cockney ‘wa’er’ for ‘water’; which is a consonant, or as a semi-vowel like ‘y’ or ‘w’. (Many people pronounce an ‘ng’ in some of these words in its place: ‘ngān’ instead of ‘ān’, with the ‘ng’ as a single sound as in ‘song’.) In Sino-Japanese, using this term as one might use Anglo-Latin for words like ‘information’ in our own language, 平安 is pronounced ‘heian’, and the word was used for the old name Heian for the city of Kyōto; and for the period when it was first Capital called the Heian Period, from AD 794 to 1185, coinciding with the latter part of the T’ang and most of the Sung Dynasties in China. This was a period, one of the most glorious in all the Japanese arts, when Chinese civilisation, thoroughly taken over by the ruling élite in the previous centuries, began to be assimilated with the indigenous language and civilisation of Japan; no longer despised and neglected as they had been under the first enthusiasm for everything Chinese.

river snow ii: word-building


“The Tale of Genji” by Murasaki Shikibu (ca. AD 978–1020), a Lady-in-Waiting at Heian, is an example of the genius of this age; and in the translation of the later Arthur Waley, also a great novel of the English language. The age of “Genji”, an imaginary Prince of the Minamoto Clan, whose clan name is written with the character 源 (104D) in Sino-Japanese ‘gen’, is brilliantly described, too, in “The World of the Shining Prince” by John Morris. Another ‘convergence’ for ‘peace’ is 安靜 (110I – 93G) ‘ānjìng’ (or ‘ānjing’) meaning in particular ‘(to be) quiet’, and ‘peaceful’ in that sense. Another still is 和平 (110J – 67) ‘hépíng’, which is the usual word for ‘peace’ as opposed to ‘war’. Pronounced ‘héping’, or reversed as ‘pínghe’, in each case with successive strong- and no-stress, in spoken Mandarin it means simply ‘peaceful, gentle, quiet’. From examples like these it will be seen that a new sort of grammar of stress, much like the distinction made in spoken English between a ‘China man’, a porcelain figure of a man, and a ‘Chinaman’, has developed in this spoken dialect of Chinese. As this book is about the universal literary Chinese language, however, it is not much concerned with this language; of which a most valuable and detailed study may be found in The Chinese Language Today, by Paul Kratochvíl (Hutchison University Library, 1968). In 和平, ‘hépíng’, 和 (110J) ‘hé’ means ‘peace’ particularly in the sense of ‘to unite, to be in concord, harmonise’: 和氣 (… 43) ‘héqì’ is used for ‘harmony, agreeable(ness)’ among people. This character was taken by the Japanese to serve as the name of their country, as it was at the time in the southwest of modern Japan, and of which Heian or Kyōto became a capital: called Yamato (the name is now also a poetic one for Japan as a whole much like Albion for Britain or England), which in native Japanese meant ‘Mountain Land’. 和文 (… 8) ‘héwén’, in Sino-Japanese ‘wabun’, is used for the native Japanese language; the system of writing it derived from Chinese (which will be described later); and its literature. In Mandarin, spoken and written, 和 ‘hé’ is used on its own as one of the words for ‘and’ by extension through the sense of ‘in harmony with, together with’; but it never entirely ‘forgets’ its origin. In calling it a word for ‘and’ one only means, of course, that it is a word often used where we should say ‘and’. About as often, one can translate it by ‘with’: ‘I talked with him’. ‘Harmony’ (including musical harmony) ‘concord’ and the like as a separate word is most often expressed by the ‘convergence’ of 和合 (110J – 110K) ‘héhé’; written with two characters now identically pronounced in Mandarin; which is of very similar meaning, but quite different in older pronunciation, in other dialects, and in origin. 和 (110J) ‘hé’ in Cantonese, usually the more archaic dialect, is pronounced something like the Japanese ‘wa’ in ‘wabun’ for 和文 above; but 合 (110K) in Cantonese is something like English ‘hop’. All such final consonants as this ‘p’ are lost in Mandarin (all except ‘-n’ and ‘-ng’). As Randle Cotgrave said in his French-English Dictionary of 1650 about French, Mandarin is “a hungry language, for it devours more consonants than any other”. Both these character have, in fact, to do with food and cooking; the subject of very many metaphors in a script invented at a time when such things were of prime importance to man: with which invention, as quoted in Chapter Four, “it rained grain”! 和 (110J) has 禾 for grain or harvest as in 秋 (94D), together with 口 (62) for a mouth. The grain character 禾 may be regarded as the word associator, for it is similarly pronounced ‘hé’ though it is no longer used as a


和 peace; concord, harmony (to be in concord) with; and



合 to shut, close, fit well; to suit, agree with, unite


瓜 gourd, cucumber, melon


舟 a boat; saucer

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character on its own; and 口 as the meaning associator. Or one may think of 和 “as grain to the mouth”: the choice is free. 合 (110K), on the other hand, has to do with the cooking of the grain; by symbolising a lid covering a cooking-pot, in early forms:

This lid is one of the commonest of metaphors for ‘agreement’ in the characters, and it will be met many times more in this book; both in characters later given and in explanations of some of those in the book so far. The meaning of 合 (110K) ‘hé’ is ‘to shut, to close; to meet’ (as the lid and the pot meet when closing it); ‘to unite; to match, fit, be good for, suit, agree with’. Because of the closeness in sense of some of these meanings to some of those of 和 (110J) ‘hé’, the two characters may be confused in ‘wrong spelling’. A wrong character like this in Chinese is called a 白字 (104E – 110E) ‘báizì’; and one of the present ‘reforms’ referred to above is to allow many such 白字, in order to reduce the number of characters to be learnt. Such is a policy that needs very careful handling, however: words pronounced the same in one dialect, or language using Chinese characters, may not be so in another; older literature may be made to seem odd or incomprehensible; and the clarity of meaning etymologically, and with it the control over misuse or misunderstanding of words, can be hurt. This is not to say that all such moves to permit what have hitherto been regarded as ‘wrong’ characters are to be frowned on; only that no age has a monopoly of reason, and that the rationality of one’s ancestors is never too lightly to be disposed of. Eventually the gain can be found to be less than the loss. (The notion of total romanisation of Chinese was widely talked about in 1958; though how much ever believed in, apart from some limited uses, in China itself is doubtful.) 瓜 (110L) ‘guā’, the word associator of 孤 (110), is used for the cucumis family of vegetables, gourds, cucumber, melon, eggplant and the like. It is also meaning associator in characters for some members of the family, and in one for petals of a flower, seeds of a melon, or divisions of a fruit. 瓜分 (… 92B) ‘guāfēn’ is ‘to dismember’, in particular, a conquered nation; 瓜子兒 (… 110A – 110B) ‘guāzǐr’ are ‘melon seeds’, from the 西瓜 (88D …) ‘xīguā’, ‘water-melon’; which are boiled with salt or spices for making sauces. 瓜子兒 ‘guāzǐr’ is also a term used for the classic type of Chinese beauty: a woman’s face shaped like a water-melon seed. 舟 (111) ‘zhōu’ means usually a (small) ‘boat, skiff’ and is also used for kinds of ‘saucer’, comparably with our ‘sauce-boat’. 舟人 (… 1) ‘zhōurén’ is a ‘waterman, bargee, longshoreman’; 舟車 (… 109G) ‘zhōchē’ is sometimes used as a general word for (means of) ‘travel’. The Chinese have always had a preference for concrete subjects, and for using a word like this rather than an abstract when speaking of travel as wearying one, of being travel-stained and the like. The character, which is meaning associator in others for shipping, navigation, was a picture of a boat:


船 ship

船 (111A) ‘chuán’, meaning ‘ship’, is not only used for larger vessels but is the more generally used word for all craft: 太空船 (110H – 80 …) ‘tàikōngchuán’ is a ‘space-ship’. 三隻太空船 (29 – 111B …) ‘sānzhī tàikōngchuán’ would be ‘three

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spaceships’; in which 隻 (111B) ‘zhī’ is a counting word, as we speak of ‘three head of cattle’, used for birds, cattle, characters on a page, and boats or ships. The character showed a bird 隹 as in 維 (79), on a hand. Two birds on a hand, 雙 (111C) ‘shuāng’, means a ‘pair; double(d), folded in two’ and is used for ‘bi-’, ‘bin-’ in many terms like 雙視 (… 103B) ‘shuāngshì’, ‘binocular’ (vision). In mathematics 隻 (111B) ‘zhī’ is used for ‘odd’ and 雙 (111C) for ‘even’ numbers. Another notion of a ‘pair’ is expressed by 兩 (111D) ‘liǎng’, which means rather ‘two separate things equally; both’; and replaces 二 (24) ‘èr’, ‘two’, when that would be on its own (and not part of a number like ‘twenty-two’) before a word: 兩隻鳥 (… 111B – 105) ‘liǎngzhi niǎo’ means ‘two birds’; but not necessarily ‘both birds’, meaning ‘the two birds’. The use of the counting word 隻 and of 兩 instead of 二 are later than the truly classical language, in which one could say simply 二鳥; but such counting words have become part of the grammar of the modern language, and are used with words like ‘this’ and ‘that’ as well as with numbers. They are something like ‘gender’ in other languages, insofar as one must use the right one. The most commonly used counting word, and almost but not quite a general purpose one for use when one cannot think of a better, is 個, also written 个 (111E) ‘gè’, meaning ‘individual’: 兩個人 (111D – 111E – 1) ‘liǎngge rén’—these counting words are usually toneless—‘two people’; 三個合子 (29 … 110K – 110A) ‘sānge héz’, ‘three boxes’. (合 in the sense of a ‘box’ can be written with a character of its own, having 合 only as its word associator; but this spelling is also permissible and was the original one.) Hearing foreigners talk of three boxes as three ‘pieces of luggage’ cause the Chinese to equate ‘piecee’ with this word; so that ‘piecee’ became a characteristic word of ‘pidgin’ (a contortion of ‘business’) English. This, when spread by sailors and merchants, became something of an international language; although it was never as Chinese in origin as is usually supposed. It was, rather, ‘grammarless English’ with a mixture of vocabulary from many languages and designed to consist of words that a general category of ‘orientals’ or ‘foreigners’ might be expected to understand when they failed to understand proper English. It had, of course, its equivalents created by the Portuguese, Dutch, French and others; borrowing words from these if they seemed to be the ones the ‘natives’ understood, and its visiting users then very often supposing these words to be Chinese, Japanese or whatever the native language; while the natives supposed them to be good English. In this way, it was unlike an international language aimed at creating understanding, but served the purpose rather of preventing understanding; by making intelligent and well-educated people of the countries visited seem worthy, at best, of treatment as ‘children’ and by ensuring that the visitors themselves would not ‘go native’ nor acquire anything but goods and money. It was, naturally, equally unclear to the ‘natives’ that anything else could be obtained from the visiting ‘barbarians’. (There is an unexamined assumption that trade alone fosters international understanding: however that may be, the barriers it set up in the Far East are still there.) Both 隻 (111B) ‘zhī’ and 雙 (111C) ‘shuāng’ can be written with simpler, substitute characters. 只 (111F) ‘zhī’, meaning ‘only, but, merely’ when pronounced ‘zhǐ’, is used as a 白字 ‘báizì’ for the former, now approved in the Chinese Government’s reforms; 双, on the other hand, for the latter is an old-established abbreviation consisting of two 又 hands.


隻 (111C)

(counting word) (111D)


兩 两 both; two


個 个 counting word: “piecee”; individual


只 only, merely, but

114 (111G)

又 on the other hand; moreover; and/or (111H)

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A single hand 又 (111G) ‘yòu’ on its own has a basic meaning like the English phrase ‘on the other hand’; though not necessarily making a contrast, as the phrase usually does in English. It can thus often be translated as ‘furthermore, also, in addition’; or may have the force of ‘and / or’, avoiding specifying whether an addition or alternative is intended. Among characters having 舟 (111) for a boat as their meaning associator, there is 航 (111H) ‘háng’ meaning ‘to sail, to navigate’. An early form of this is

航 to sail, navigate



straw raincoat

sackcloth, mourning garment


in which a form of 行 (107A) instead of the present 亢 is used as word associator; and it seems most probable that the word is a derivative from the same root as 行. 航船 (… 111A) ‘hángchuán’ is a ‘mailboat, liner’; while 汽船 (43 – 111A) ‘qìchuán’ is simply a ‘steamboat’; 航空 (… 80) ‘hángkōng’ is ‘aviation’. 蓑 (112) ‘suō’ is a ‘raincoat’ as worn by fishermen and made of grass and coconut-matting. The meaning associator is 艹 as in 草 (22) for grass and the word associator is 衰 (112A) which has two pronunciations: as ‘cuī’ it means a mourning garment, of rough hemp with frayed edges and equivalent to the Biblical sackcloth; as ‘shuāi’ it means ‘to fray, decay, fade, decline’. This character originally represented the straw raincoat

and was then, as it were, ‘commandeered’ for the mourning garment; so that the original meaning and pronunciation had to be represented ‘with a difference’ as would be said in heraldry. Many characters have had a similar history, which is a common one in all language. 笠 (113) ‘lì’ is the Chinese and other Far Eastern ‘coolie hat’ made of bamboo splints; sometimes the familiar shallow cone simply, and sometimes like

‘coolie’ hat


立 to stand; to establish


位 position; honorific counting word

It is also such as is worn by boatmen and fishermen. The meaning associator is 竹 (75C) for bamboo, and the word associator, 立 (113A) ‘lì’, means ‘to stand’; and serves for other words with the root ‘sta-’ in English like ‘to establish’. (It acts also as a meaning associator in characters of similar meaning.) 中立 (72 …) ‘zhōnglì’ is ‘to stand in the middle; be neutral, neutrality’; 立春 (113A – 94C) ‘lìchūn’, literally ‘establishing spring’, is one of 二十四氣 (24 – 23 – 30 – 43) ‘èrshísì qì’, ‘the 24 ch’i’ or ‘weathers’, each of half a lunar month, into which the year is divided; this being the early part of February beginning with Chinese New Year. A full list of these weather periods is given later in this book. The character 立 represented a man with his feet firmly on the ground:

This stance of firmness and dignity is combined with 人 (1) for man, to make the character 位 (113B) ‘wèi’ which means a ‘position’ and is a more honorific counting word than 個 (111E) ‘gè’ for people: 兩位人 (111D … 1) ‘two people’; 上位 (68 …) ‘shàngwèi’, ‘the high seat, place of honour’; 位大 (… 111G) ‘wèidà’, ‘of high place, exalted position’; grammatically ‘great by position’, when the 位 precedes

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the 大. The dignity of the image in 立 has led to this symbol replacing parts of other drawings, where a forward-facing head and shoulders was originally represented as or which will be found in many characters with an implication of dignity. 竝 (113C) ‘bìng’, also written 並 and 幷, represented a different image, of twins, and means ‘simultaneous, together with’. 翁 (114) ‘wēng’ means ‘an old man’; and is also used as a title of respect and in terms for ‘father-in-law’. (The terms for family relationships in Chinese are numerous and very precise.) The top part of the character in the earliest script represented a phallus . As a character on its own it is one of those pronounced ‘gōng’ (dealt with as No. 114A below). With this is 羽 which was a picture of feathers, possibly as a symbol of a chieftain, the ‘old man’ of the tribe, but much more probably simply of a beard. (As a character on its own for ‘feathers, wings’, dealt with as No. 114J below). The association of ‘feather’ with ‘old man’ seems a very natural one, and most likely to have been represented in our own ancestral language by the words ‘feather’ and ‘father’, Greek πτερὀν and πατήρ. As for the phallus, symbol of ancestry, this as a recognisable image disappeared early in the history of the script; though it survives more recognisably in other characters where, however, it is only indirectly a phallic symbol by being a representation of an ancestral tablet (similar to a gravestone in shape). It might well be said, according to current Western fashions, that the characters were ‘bowdlerised’ at a very early date. However, not only was what is now regarded as ‘prudery’ once everywhere regarded as a matter of civility, and of civilisation; but such an image would have been out of place in the script, in much the same way as the over-explicit picture of a sheep in early forms of 羊 (42) was found to be out of place. In a number of characters the phallic image has been abbreviated to 厶, with a meaning of ‘private’. (If, as the script evolved, the clear phallic image had been retained, it may be doubted if it would have ‘corrupted readers’; but it certainly would have corrupted the script.) 公 (114A) ‘gōng’ has a wide range of meanings, derived from its basic sense of ‘important male’. In 公母 (… 6) ‘gōngmǔ’ it retains its ‘male’ sense by being used for ‘male and female’ of animals. But it was also a title, translated ‘Duke’, in the feudal era of China; which ended in the third century BC, with the centralisation of government and establishment of the Empire proper. After that it became eventually a title of honour only later used after a name simply as a mark of high respect: 王公 (78 …) ‘wáng gōng’, ‘(most respected) Mr Wang’. But the Ducal Granary of a feudal state was the Public Granary, and from that 公 acquired its principal modern sense of ‘public’; as in 公報 (… 103E) ‘gōngbào’, ‘a public or official report or gazette’; 公文 (… 8) ‘gōngwén’, ‘public papers, official documents’; 公海 (… 47) ‘gōnghǎi’, literally the ‘public sea’, that is to say the ‘open sea, high seas’ as in law and in relation to fishery or piracy. The fact that 厶 had come to mean ‘private’ led ancient Chinese etymologists to a new moral interpretation of 公: that 八 meant division, as in 分 (92B), and that with 厶 meaning private, the whole symbolised the ‘public interest’ as meaning the fair division, or allotment, of private interests. Such an


竝 並 翁 幷 (114)

old man, venerable

simultaneous, together with


公 (important) male; duke; public



法 method, technique; course (of action); convention, law

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interpretation, remote from the real history of the character, must, however, have been instrumental in shaping the later forms of the character. It would be mistaken, therefore, to say that it was quite ‘wrong’. The origin of 公 (114A) ‘gōng’ in all its meanings is as a noun. When it is used in the sense of ‘male’ it is contrasted with another noun, 母 (6) ‘mǔ’, ‘mother’, and when it is used for ‘public’ it is still a noun; used as Americans use ‘Navy’ in ‘Navy Stores’ as against the older English use of the adjective ‘Naval’. It is not therefore as free in the way it may be used adjectivally as 白 (104E) ‘white’ or 大 (110G) ‘great’; either of which can, according to Chinese grammar, be used as a verb ‘to be white, to be great’, or on occasion ‘to treat as white, to treat as great’. One can say 海白 (47 – 104E) ‘hǎi bái’ or 海大 (47 – 110G) ‘hǎi dà’, ‘the sea is white’ or ‘the sea is great’; but “海公” (47 – 114A) ‘hǎi gōng’ for ‘the sea is public’ would not be grammatically possible. Neither could one freely make an expression “公車” (… 109G) ‘gōng chē’ for ‘public vehicle’, as one could with 白 車 ‘bái chē’ or 大車 ‘dà chē’ for ‘white cart’ or ‘big car’. The way in which 公 may and may not be used might be called an accident of its birth and, at first sight, might seem now to be nothing but an unnecessary restriction; but it is essential to the working of this language that each word should include various grammatical ‘charges’ in its ‘total charge’. One must in any language have rules or conventions, however they may historically have arisen, to make understanding possible; assisted by the knowledge: “if he had meant that, he couldn’t have, or would be unlikely to have, put it that way”; a knowledge in the understander, which, of course, the composer in a language relies on. If “海公” (47 – 114A) were seen written somewhere, the most likely explanation to occur would be that it was a ‘portmanteau word’ or ‘acronym’ like ‘Interpol’, standing for the ‘Maritime’ something-or-other ‘Public’ something-or-other else. If, as a matter of fact, 海大 (… 110G) were written, even though 大 is ‘free’ and makes ‘grammatical sense’, a similar explanation might well occur: “the sea is great”, as a statement, might well seem pointless; but the phrase could in Chinese be ‘acronymic’ for Hainan or Hoihow University, as the Chinese equivalent of initials like ‘H.U.’ Not just with Chinese but with all languages, one is all the time (more than one knows or thinks about) ‘betting on’ likely intentions rather than ‘knowing’ them through the machinery of the language itself. A perfect language which left no room at all for choice might also leave, at best, a very limited room for new ideas. By being a growth, even if it may seem an untidy one, ordinary language assumes there can be further growth; an assumption very much more difficult for a philosopher to make. ‘Grammar’ in Chinese is called 文法 (8 – 114B) ‘wénfǎ’; in which 法 (114B) ‘fǎ’ means ‘method, art (of doing something), technique, course (of action); conventions, rules, law(s)’. The character shows 氵 (45) water 去 (69) running away and thereby, according to the gravitational pull and to the obstacle it finds in its way, making a ‘course’ for itself. This character, for the sake of a very rough approximation in sound, is also used to transcribe the name of France: 法國 (… 78B) ‘fǎguó’. French national (statute) law, the Code Napoléon, might be translated as 法國國法 ‘fǎguóguófǎ’; but, if so, this would be understood at once and scarcely seem odd, or perhaps indeed be noticed as a palindrome: both halves being good phrases in the language, and the combination making evident sense. Each constitutes a 辭 (13) ‘cí’ as in Mencius’s saying earlier; and as Confucius said (Analects XV, x1):

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辭 達

13 114C cí dá “An explanation, let it (just) get through, (that’s all)” or “Words, let them just be understood”. (The “that’s all” is in the text but omitted above). In this, 達 (114C) ‘dá’ means ‘to get through’; thence ‘to succeed; to understand, be understanding, intelligent, intelligible’. As in the headline “LABOUR CALL” at the beginning of this book, any ‘parsing’ of Confucius’s words here to the lengths of choosing between various English constructions, active or passive and the like, would belong to the English and not to the Chinese; as also would be the choice between ‘explanation, phrases, words’ for 辭 (13) ‘cí’ in the context.1 But all this simply means that the Chinese is showing here greater capacity for generalisation: as when we use ‘tails’ for animals in general, and do not insist on using special words like ‘brush’ for a fox. (Miss Honor Tracy has a story of asking a Dublin policeman the time, but on doubting the look of an old turnip-watch when he produced it, saying “Mind you, I want the exact time.” Without looking at the watch, the policeman replied: “Ah now, Miss, the exact time is between ten and eleven”. His wit was philosophical.) The character 辭 (13), of which an analysis will be given later, has in fact developed a wide range of meanings; but as often happened, when this range became too wide for certain particular intentions to emerge clearly enough in its use, the character was ‘split’, as ‘flour’ is split from ‘flower’ in English; and another character 詞 (114D) ‘cí’ is used for some of the senses developed from this word. (These include a kind of lyric poem.) The character 達 (114C) ‘dá’ in the quotation above from Confucius has 辶, as in 迄 (64), for progression as its meaning associator; with what was

showing 大 (110G) ‘dà’, ‘big’ as the word associator, associated by similarity in sound, but also as a man, in particular a shepherd; with 羊 (42) for the sheep he guides through obstacles. This is another of the very many ‘pastoral’ characters.2 For a ‘free’ word, in the meaning of ‘public’, one must in Chinese use a ‘convergence’ showing that that and none of the other possible meanings of 公 (114A) ‘gōng’ is intended. This ‘convergence’ is made by adding 共 (114E) ‘gòng’, a word unrelated and to the Chinese ear as distinct as ‘wrong’ from ‘ring’ to us, which means basically ‘to share’. 公共 (114A – 114E) ‘gōnggòng’ can then be used for ‘public’, freely attachable to anything that can be so described: 公共汽車 (… 43 – 109G) ‘gōnggòngqìchē’, literally ‘public-motorcar’, is an ‘omnibus’.

1 In his The Analects of Confucius, Arthur Waley paraphrased this passage, inserting “In official speeches …” and annotating: “Tz’u means pleas, messages, excuses for being unable to attend to one’s duties, etc.” This seems unjustifiably precise in the context where the passage occurs; but such over-exactitude, relating everything in Confucian teaching to ritual, is much to be found also in some Chinese commentaries. This “analect” is about language, no more. 2 Some early forms have 大 ‘dà’ alone as the word associator without the assistance of the sheep; and the pastoralism of the character is probably a later rationalisation as with 公 (114A), but of something originally simply meaning ‘to grow, break out’, of vegetation.


達 to get through; be intelligible; understand; succeed


詞 phrase; kind of lyric


共 to share; sharing, together, all, collectively


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While 公 (114A) ‘gōng’ on its own is a title of respect, 共 (114E) ‘gòng’ on its own can mean ‘to share’ as a verb, or ‘sharing’; and from that ‘all’ or ‘together’, or both, in various contexts: 五個人共一個火共吃飯 (35 – 111E – 1 – 114E – 36 – 111E – 77A – 114E – 61 – 60) ‘wǔgè rén gòng yígè huǒ gòng chīfàn’ means ‘five people sharing one fire all eat dinner together’. In this there is a natural pause after 火, as there is likewise after ‘fire’ in English, so that a comma may be written here; but in the older Chinese traditions the sense would be relied on to give the punctuation. The character 共 (114E) ‘gòng’ for ‘to share’ originally showed two hands joining and with something between them; or else receiving or offering something apparently divided into portions:

共 ‘gòng’ often means ‘collectively’ or corresponds to a ‘co-’, ‘con-’, or ‘com-’ in


同 to match, be the same; alike, together

words of that meaning in English, such as ‘communal’; also ‘communist’. (In Vietnamese ‘Vietcong’ is a Chinese loanword containing it, in what was a Portuguese transcription with a ‘c’ for the initial ‘g’, and with this last sense.) As an independent word for ‘collective’, 共同 (114E – 114F) ‘gòngtóng’ is used: 共同行 爲 (… 107A – 18) ‘gòngtóng xíngwéi’ is ‘collective behaviour’, also a ‘joint act’ in law; which can further, of course, be translated simply as ‘acting together’, just as 共 alone can often be translated as ‘together’. The 同 (114F) ‘tóng’ in this ‘convergence’ can be so translated, too, but its basic meaning is as a verb ‘to match (perfectly); be identical, the same’; thence any other part of speech in our grammar with the meaning ‘same’. 一同 (36 …) ‘yìtóng’, literally something like ‘(with) one same(ness)’, means ‘all together’, with the implication of ‘alike’. This is a merely passive notion, distinct from the active cooperation implied in 共同 ‘gòngtóng’ above. 同一, ‘tóngyī’, on the other hand, ‘(with) same one(ness)’, implies ‘identity’; perhaps literally translated better as ‘(by being) same, (therefore) one’, because as usual the first part of the convergence is felt as qualifying the second. These things should not, however, be laboured: labouring such points that the human mind is conditioned to grasp quite easily about a language may hinder more than it helps; and be painfully boring. But let it just be noticed that there does exist a logic in these convergences; and that it is always best to go back to the basic meaning of any Chinese word, single syllable or convergence, rather than think of it in terms simply of its possible translations into English. What seems to us the lack or imprecision of Chinese grammar is often made up for by much greater precision in the use of vocabulary. The character 同 (114F) ‘tóng’, also written as 仝, had an image close to that of 合 (110K) ‘hé’, ‘to close tight, fit’, in the early script. It seems, however, to have represented a different kind of lid or stopper, such as may have made an even closer fit; perhaps by the aid of a flange, so that it became almost invisible when fitted and thus represented the notion of ‘identity’ rather than of mere ‘agreement’:

合同 (110K – 114F) ‘hétóng’ together is a technical term for the conclusion of an agreement, 合; of which each party to it retains an identical, 同, copy. Such an

river snow ii: word-building


expression, however, would not in the first place have been made up just like that: obviously just the combination of the two syllables, similar in meaning, could hardly convey to anyone this precise notion; and could very well suggest a number of others. This kind of very neat and brief, but not fully self-explicit, term in Chinese will almost always be found to have arisen by being an ‘acronym’ of a longer and more explicit one. The ‘atomic’ nature of the syllables invites this technique, either of expansion for clarity, as in 公共 (114A – 114E) ‘gōnggòng’ for ‘public’ and in 共同 (114E – 114F) ‘gòngtóng’ for ‘collective’; or of contraction for brevity, as here or in our own ‘Interpol’ mentioned in Chapter Five. The latter, ‘acronymic’, principle which is most important in the making of Chinese words will be looked into further, later in the book. 共和 (114E – 110J) ‘gònghé’, with the other ‘hé’ and meaning literally ‘sharing and being on good terms’, is a political term coined to translate ‘republican’: 共和國 (… 78B) ‘gònghéguó’ is a ‘republic’. This is just as much one word in Chinese, in effect, as ‘republic’ is in English: the 國 ‘guó’ being nowadays much like the suffix ‘-land’ of ‘England’, and not often used as a word on its own for ‘nation’ or ‘country’. (‘Land’ in that sense has now rather a literary smack also in English.) If one wants to express ‘nation’ or ‘country’ in Chinese as a word on its own, a two-syllable expression, 國家 (… 114G) ‘guójiā’, is now usually preferred. The 家 (114G) ‘jiā’ in this means ‘a home, family, homestead, house’, the latter with thought to its residents more than to the building. 家人 (… 1) ‘jiārén’ is a ‘member of a house or family’ including a ‘domestic’; 王家 (78 …) ‘wáng jiā’, ‘the Wang family’ could also be used as the ‘House of Wang’ or ‘Wang’s’ as the name of a shop or other business. From this, 家 ‘jiā’ has become a suffix like ‘-ist’, ‘-er’ for professions: (101H – 8 …) ‘tiānwénjiā’, ‘astronomer’; (75 …) ‘shījiā’, ‘poet’; (78B – 114B …) ‘guófǎjiā’, ‘expert in national or statue law’; (8 – 114B …) ‘wénfǎjiā’, ‘grammarian’; (114B …) ‘fǎjiā’, ‘Doctor of the Law’, i.e. of Buddhist religious dogma 專門家 (109H – 84B …) ‘zhuānménjiā’, ‘specialist’ or ‘expert of any kind’; 專門家之意見 (… 20 – 15 – 82) ‘zhuānménjiāzhīyìjiàn’, ‘an expert opinion’. 天文家 詩家 國法家 文法家 法家

家家兒 (… 110B) ‘jiājiār’ evenly stressed in modern Mandarin, or just 家家 ‘jiājiā’

in more classical language and in other dialects, means ‘in every home, for every home’ and the like. For the expression ‘every’, reduplication of this kind has always been a useful device in Chinese; as it is many languages. The same phrase 家家兒, but stressed on the first syllable in Mandarin, is the childish language, however, like ‘gee-gee’ or ‘housey-housey’, and is used of ‘playing house’ by children. The character 家, a whole ‘homestead’ rather than a ‘house’, had a variety of early forms:

These represented a pig or pigs (sometimes perhaps a dog) under a roof. The roof has now become 宀, as in 字 (110E) and 安 (110I).


家 family, home, house


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家 is used as a counting word for businesses: 兩家公司 (11D … 114A – 114H) ‘liǎngjiāgōngsī’ ‘two companies, both companies’. In 公司 ‘gōngsī’, sometimes called in English a ‘kongsi’ in the Far East, 司 (114H) ‘sī’ means ‘to administrate,


司 to rule, manage, administrate; management

rule, manage; management’. Business firms or 公司, ‘gōngsī’, in China are most often given auspicious names and not names of people like ‘Smith & Jones’. These names ring changes on agreeable and confidence-giving characters such as those for ‘grandeur’, 大 (110G), 太 (110H); ‘peace’, 安 (110I), 和 (110J); ‘concord’, 合 (110K), 同 (114F); and others for ‘flourishing’, ‘prosperity’ and the like. The number of characters used traditionally was comparatively small; and therefore easy, much like our own inn-signs, for the illiterate to spot. Many of these characters, in the pronunciation of the more archaic dialect of Cantonese (as seen in Hong Kong and in most Chinese settlements overseas) have a tendency to produce what seem English words: a bus company might be called 合安公共汽車公司 (110J – 110I – 114A – 114E – 43 – 109G – 114A – 114H) ‘hé-ān gōnggòngqìche gōngsī’; which would in Cantonese begin ‘Hop On Gong Gong’! Languages can seem odd in different ways: the Greek for a ‘bus company’ is Εταιρεία Μ εταφορών, apparently a ‘society of metaphors’;3 yet the Chinese and the Greek are equally everyday and equally nobly classical. The character 司 (114H) ‘sī’, though now looking like part of 同 (114F), was earlier

in which something looking like a riding whip is combined with 口 (62) a mouth for command. 司馬 (114H – 48) ‘sīmǎ’, ‘Master of the Horse’, was the title of the Minister for War in the Chou Dynasty (ca. 1050–249 BC), comparable in its origin as a word with ‘marshal’ in English; but later the title sank greatly as a grade in the civil service. For this one may compare some of the uses of ‘marshal’ has in English; which seems to have started low, as no more than a ‘groom’, and both to have risen and sunk in various meanings. 司馬 also became the surname of an important family, one of whom was a great historian, born about 145 BC; and another, also a great historian the Ssuma Kuang or Szema Kuang, 司馬光 (… 92F) ‘sīmǎ guāng’, mentioned earlier in connection with chess. Two character surnames such as this, which could be translated ‘Marshall’, are few by comparison with ones like 王 (78), ‘wáng’, ‘King’. Another such double name, 司空 (… 80) ‘sīkōng’, literally ‘in charge of the gaps or requirements’, was the title of the Minister for Works in the Chou Dynasty. Under the feudal and “caste” system of that time, posts such as Minister for War and Minister for Works were hereditary insofar as they were allotted to particular clans; with the result that their titles became surnames.4 Other surnames arose in a similar way, and the possession of a surname was for a long time in Chinese history a sign of caste; those without surnames being the 3 Our own word ‘transport’ comes from a translation into Latin roots of the Greek ‘metaphor’; which had that basic meaning. 4 A search some years ago by the author through names of Irish clans anciently associated with the medical profession, in the telephone book of Melbourne, Australia, showed a number of doctors and dentists above random expectation, it seemed, even allowing for the number of Irish as a whole in these professions.

river snow ii: word-building


servile, lowest caste but including (as in Greece) many who contributed greatly to technology and science even if “without names”. As in other countries, all the ancient clans traced descent from the gods themselves; or from younger branches of dynastic families, which amounts to the same thing. The head, chief elder or father of such a family was, of course, often a 公 (114A) ‘gōng’, Duke; and in later times, after the hereditary feudal system had disappeared at least in theory, the process was reversed by the conferment of this title, as the highest life-peerage (somewhat equivalent to Cardinal in the Roman Catholic or Patriarch in the Orthodox churches) on servants of the state who had achieved the highest distinction. The title was also often conferred posthumously. What seems most probably to be a mere variant on the character 公 (114A) ‘gōng’ is the righthand side of the character 船 (111A) ‘chuán’ for a (public) ship, as distinct from a mere (private) boat. In its usual form, 公 appears also in 松 (114I) ‘sōng’, ‘pinetree’; grown for boat- and shipbuilding (compare the word ‘pinnace’ in English) and for other public works. But this tree was also associated with 公 and 翁 (114) as the ‘old man’ of the trees; which became the symbol of longevity as an evergreen, and of the dignity of age, and is used widely as such in painting. Such symbols need never be consciously analysed to have their effect; and the force of this pinetree symbol is universally accepted in the area of China-inspired civilisation. The character 羽 (114J) ‘yǔ’ for ‘feathers, wings’, in 翁 (114) ‘wēng’ for ‘father, old man’, had two distinct forms in the earliest script; one of which seems to represent ‘wing’ and the other ‘feather’ (Latin ‘pinna’ and Greek πτερὀν also failed to make the distinction):

羽人 (… 1) ‘yǔrén’, ‘a winged man’ is a Taoist ‘angel’ or ‘Immortal’ and 羽化 (… 9) ‘yǔhuà’, ‘to become winged’, is the phrase used of the death of a Taoist. (Something about the Chinese Taoist philosophy and religion will be said later in this book, especially in Chapter XI; where Buddhism, China’s great cultural import from India, and the transformation it underwent, are also touched upon). 羽衣 (… 103C) ‘yǔyī’ is the ‘feather dress’ worn by Buddhist angels or ‘Devas’, called 天女 (101H – 3) ‘tiānnü’. The word ‘tiān’ itself may be noticed as having some resemblance to the Old Latin ‘Dian-’, in Dianus,5 later Janus, who was a god of the sky and once the principal god, and in Diana; which are certainly related to the Indian ‘Deva’. An argument against the significance of such a relationship on the grounds that “the Chinese were not Indo-Europeans” must at once be discounted; for except in very muddled thinking, and in the pseudo-philosophy of the Nazis, the ‘Indo-Europeans’ were never a race: any more than are the Turks who speak a remarkably homogenous language across Asia, at one side of it looking like Europeans and at the other like Chinese. There are, however, three very much stronger arguments: firstly, that such a proximity in sound between two roots of similar meaning, both short, must happen accidentally a great deal, so that there is no need to seek significance in it; secondly, that, if it had significance, there should not only be other

5 See the beginning of Frazer’s “Golden Bough”.


松 pinetree


羽 wings, feathers



私 private

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relationships, but some sign of relationships between the relationships; and thirdly, that the whole matter is trivial, giving undue prominence to mere physical similarity between words, by comparison with the much greater significance of the similarity of thought, whether that be the result of diffusion from one centre or the result of shared human imagination: a question that applies also to the ‘element’ and ‘elephant’, and to countless other similarities in metaphor-making between Chinese and our own languages. In all these similarities, and in similarities of the same kind occurring between all languages of the world, it is the same shared thought, regardless of its cause, that seems to be of the greatest significance; as something to be observed, and not necessarily to be forced into the frame of a theory imitating objective, physical science. The opposite of 公 (114A) ‘gōng’ in the sense of ‘public’ is 私 (114K) ‘sī’, ‘private (interest)’; which shares the 厶, and has harvest 禾 as in 秋 (94D) for autumn, serving as a meaning associator for ‘interest’ (including ‘interest’ on money) and ‘profit’: 家私 (114G …) ‘jiāsī’, is ‘private property, personal effects’; 一人私言 (36 – 1 – 20 … 73) ‘yìrén zhī sīyán’, is ‘an individual’s privately expressed opinion’; 私心 (… 80C) ‘sīxīn’ is ‘private interest, secret motive; selfish(ness)’; 私生子 (… 93I – 110A) ‘sīshēngzǐ’ is an ‘illegitimate child’; 私人 (… 1) ‘sīrén’, is a ‘private individual’ or ‘private’ in that meaning as an adjective; 私意 (… 15) ‘sīyì’ is a ‘private idea’ or ‘secret notion, secret purpose’; 私錢 (114K – 106B) ‘sīqián’, literally ‘private money’, has two separate senses: an individual’s money, as the phrase would mean in English; and ‘base, forged money’. As with 公 (114) for ‘public’, 私 is not freely attachable; but some phrase such as 私人 above, or 私立 (… 113A) ‘sīlì’ meaning ‘privately established’, or the like, is used according to the sense of ‘private’ that is intended. This useful precision is easily attained in Chinese, the various expressions each having only two syllables. One of the uses, as word on its own, of 私 (114K) ‘sī’, ‘private interest’, in older Chinese manners was as a politely humble term for oneself; hence, in effect, a personal pronoun for ‘I, me’. The same in Japanese was expressed by a native word, ‘watakushi’, now usually abbreviated to ‘watashi’, which has become the common word for ‘I, me’ in the language; and is written with the Chinese character 私. But in words adopted from Chinese such as 私人 and 私立 above, 私 is read in a Sino-Japanese pronunciation, that is to say in the transformation according to Japanese speech habits of an older Chinese pronunciation, as ‘shi’; and these words are read as ‘shijin’ and ‘shiritsu’ respectively. (The ‘-tsu’ is for older Chinese ‘-t’, and the ‘r’ because the Japanese have no ‘l’.) This means that often, because of this Japanese way of using the characters both for native words and for those imported from Chinese, one may be in doubt how to read a particular word or name: 羽田 (114J – 4), for instance, would as Sino-Japanese be read ‘uden’ (‘yǔtián’) but in fact it is read in native Japanese as Haneda, the name of Tōkyō Airport, meaning ‘Wingfield’. (The Chinese, on the other hand, would always call it Yü T’ien, ‘yǔtián’, just as they always call Tōkyō, 東京, 88C – 88A, ‘dōngjīng’.) There can be no doubt that this multiple way of reading the same Chinese character in Japanese can cause great inconvenience and difficulty (many of the characters have more than two readings); but this has been the price of membership of the civilisation, and of sharing (also independently developing from) the benefits of its long history, its philosophy and its classics.

chapter 6

River Snow III: Rhythm 獨 (115) ‘dú’ in the poem means ‘alone’ and is the fourth word given so far that can be so translated: 一 (36) ‘yī’ means ‘one’; 專 (109IH) ‘zhuān’ means ‘unique’, the ‘onlie begetter’; 孤 (110) ‘gū’ means ‘left on one’s own’; and this character, 獨,

means ‘independently’; but all can be said to ‘mean’ the word ‘alone’, and each to have a number of other ‘meanings’ in English. 獨力 (… 5) ‘dúlì’ means ‘by one’s own efforts’, and so can equally be translated as ‘alone’; 獨立 (… 113A) ‘dúlì’ means ‘independently established’, and is pronounced exactly the same as the preceding in modern Mandarin; in which “hungry language”, as in the seventeenth century description of French, a ‘-k’ has been swallowed in 力 and a ‘-t’ in 立. 獨立國家 (… 78 – 114G) ‘dúlì guójiā’ means ‘an independent nation’: one would hardly say ‘dúlìguó’, any more than one would say ‘independentland’ in English. The character 獨 has its meaning associator the 犭 for clawed mammals, as in 猫 (53) for a cat; reminding one of Kipling’s Cat That Walked By Himself. But it stood for a lone gibbon ape, said to have been a cannibal eating other gibbons. The word associator is 蜀 (115A) ‘shǔ’, originally meaning a ‘caterpillar’ or ‘silkworm’:

To this drawing was added in the Chou dynasty 虫, then written as ,



as meaning associator for animals that are not mammals, birds nor fish, but that include worms, reptiles, amphibians, crustaceans and insects. Equine animals, horses and donkeys, but also camels, have the meaning associator or classifier 馬 (48); ovine, sheep and goats of various kinds, 羊 (42); birds, 鳥 (105) or 隹 as in 維 (79), though in some characters with the latter there was originally simply 羽 (114J) in its form for a wing; corvine, 鹿 (76); porcine, 豕 as shown in 家 (114G), though this is often confused with 犭, clawed mammals in both written and printed characters; and there is also one for bovine animals; one that includes badgers and martens (though also, strangely, leopards); one for rodents; one for tortoises; and one for dragons. The zoological classification may not be up-to-date but its existence in the earliest characters shows a “scientific” mind at work. This classification, which was spread during the first millennium BC to characters that were not originally included, also had the great advantage in the script of eliminating the careful drawing of animals difficult to distinguish at speed, such as the caterpillar above. (The confusion in the drawing of pigs and dogs is illustrated under 家, 114G). As a character itself, 蜀 (115A) ‘shǔ’ is now used only as the name of a country within the Chinese Empire, which became the province of Ssuch’uan, Szech’uan or Szechwan in various romanisations. During various divisions of the Chinese Empire, notably in the third and in the tenth centuries after Christ, Szechwan has been an independent country. It has always been

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 2018 | doi:10.1163/9789004369054_009


獨 alone; independent


蜀 silkworm; Szechwan Province



虫 蟲 worms, insects, etc.



旱 dry; drought


犬 吠 dog, hound

to bark



樂 思 to rejoice; joy, gladness

to think; thought; to dream of; longing

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important for its proximity to Burma, India, Tibet and Turkestan and to what to the Chinese have been Western cultural influences and stimulus; as well as a region of exits for Chinese ideas and inventions. In the tenth century, it was particularly important for the development of the somewhat earlier invention of printing, the first printed book in the world being an edition of the Chinese Classics produced there; and, with printing, for the development of paper currency, which came into full circulation at that time, and of playing cards. 虫 (115B) ‘chóng’ as a character itself is usually written 蟲, meaning ‘insects’ or ‘worms’, though the simple form has become official in the latest reforms; and as a word on its own it usually has a diminutive suffix: 蟲子 (… 110A) or 蟲兒 (… 110B) ‘chóngz’ or ‘chóngr’. 蟲霜水旱 (… 101C – 45 – 115C) ‘chóng shuāng shuǐ hàn’, in which 旱 (115C) ‘hàn’ means ‘dry’, is a proverbial phrase describing the farmer’s life: “Locusts, frost, floods, drought”. Such proverbial phrases of four characters play a very great part in Chinese speech and writing, and might be called the shortest and most popular of poems; as “A stitch in time saves nine” and the like might be called, with us. Another such phrase, referring to the proverbial cloudy and rainy weather of Szechwan, is 蜀犬吠日 (115A – 115D – 115E – 50) ‘shǔ quán fèi rì’: “Szechwanese dogs bark at the sun” (because it is a stranger); which is also used proverbially of people who are upset and frightened by new ideas. In this, 犬 (115D) ‘quán’ is the form 犭 has taken as a character on its own, meaning a ‘dog, hound’ (see under No. 53: Confucius is said to have admired especially, as a picture, the character as it was in his day); 吠 (115E) ‘fèi’, the same with 口 (62) for a mouth, means ‘to bark’. Another proverbial saying about Szechwan, or the Szechwanese abroad, that has been said also about the Irish, is 樂不思蜀 (115F – 10 – 115G – 115A) ‘lè bù sī shǔ’: “When they’re happy they don’t think about Szechwan”. In this, 樂 (115A), which is considered at length below, has two separate pronunciations and meanings: ‘lè’, ‘to be happy, rejoice; joy, happiness, well-being’; and ‘yuè’, ‘music’. 思 (115G) ‘sī’ means ‘to think; thought’; sometimes particularly in the sense of ‘to dream of, long for’. This character has 心 (80C) for the heart, with what is now 田 (4) for a field; but the character was earlier

with, above the heart, a picture of a skull. (There is a resemblance of the ‘misfortune, evil influence’ character, 凶, 109M, to this; and so somewhat to a ‘skull and crossbones’ symbol.) The Shuo Wên Etymological Dictionary, published in AD202 (already referred to and of which more will be said) explains the character: The bones in the gate (門, 84B) to the head are hollow (空, 80); and from the skull to the heart it is as if there were threads (如絲, 89 – 74A) strung through them and mutually (相, 92G) connecting (the two) together without a break (不絕, 10 – 74).1

1 The complete passage here translated, in admirably clear and scientific language in the original Chinese, has only 14 character/syllables in all, 7 of which are interposed in the

river snow iii: rhythm


A further four-character phrase is 樂人之樂 (115F – 1 – 20 – 115F) ‘lè rén zhī lè’, “To rejoice in someone else’s happiness”; in which 人, as often, implies ‘someone else, other people’. The precise intention, comment, exhortation or the like, of this notion of rejoicing in others’ happiness will be determined by context; and so also its translation into the grammatical apparatus of our own language. A proposition ‘A B C’ has, we recognise, no meaning; but once in our language we say ‘A B-ed C’ it seems to begin to have some meaning, insofar as one knows that ‘A’ must be someone or something that did something called ‘B’ to someone or something called ‘C’. Chinese has no stage like this. Then, to us (especially some of our philosophers) once ‘values’ are given to ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’ and it becomes, say, ‘Balbus built a wall’, it may seem completely ‘meaningful’; though one has only to go up to someone and say “Balbus built a wall, Get what I mean?” to find out if this is really so. Without a context to enable this person to go out to meet the intention of the remark, as Mencius put it, the structure leaves it precisely as meaningless as if one had said “A B-ed C” or simply “A B C”; and one would have to provide a context to give it meaning, externally or internally such as: “It has just been discovered by archaeologists that a man named Balbus, familiar from our Latin grammars, did build a wall of considerable importance”. This would give the remark potential interest, though whether the listener would be interested or not would depend on him. But one might want, instead, to widen the range of intentions this ‘A B C’ could include; and prevent the listener from concentrating on one of them and drawing conclusions from it at the expense of other possibilities. In this event, one would also need to expand it but into something like: “A person or persons associated with the name of Balbus has or have built, is or are building, or will build a wall or walls; or any wall or walls being built, or about to be built by such person or persons …”; in order to cover all the possibilities that ‘A B C’, given ‘values’ as ‘Balbus—build— wall’, might have in Chinese. The superior efficiency of Chinese for dealing with the latter kind of problem (or giving the “exact” time as “between ten and eleven” in Miss Tracy’s story mentioned earlier) is obvious; and it has been of the greatest importance insofar as nobody in China has ever died at the stake for something like a wrong grammatical construction of the doctrines of the Holy Trinity and of the Sacraments, nor has been attacked in disputations (like some of those that have gone on recently in American universities) for holding the wrong view on whether, if one turns “Everyone in this room knows at least two languages” round into “At least two languages are known by everyone in this room”, it does or does not mean it must be the same two languages that are then intended! What worries some people is the question of the ability of the Chinese language to be precise; though that is curious, because “being precise” is obviously a quality of individual people rather than of their languages. And it is people who particularly pride themselves, professionally, on their precision, lawyers, who with us have to produce contortions like that just given. The question is not basically one of the abilities of languages but of the abilities and temptations of people. It is tempting to a speaker to avoid the effort of saying “a wall or

translation. The author was Hsü Shên, who died about AD120 and whose dictionary was published posthumously.


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walls” even if that would be more exact; and it is tempting, too, to the listener to be bored and to allow his attention to stray if such exactitude at the cost of extra words is maintained. Likewise, in Chinese it is tempting to say “Balbus—build—wall” even when better information would be given by saying “Balbus—once—build—up— one—wall”; or something like that, making it clear that the event was in the past, that the work was finished and that the information refers to one wall only. Very often such additional information would be quite superfluous, but the disadvantage of Chinese is that what at the time of an utterance was superfluous information may not be so now; and while Latin, whether it likes or not, has to distinguish “Balbus murum ædificavit” from “Balbus muros ædificavit”, and does so at no cost, a Chinese author may have decided against the cost of (to him) superfluous information which would be very welcome now. This also means, of course, that what was said with one intention clearly discernible at the time, may end up without it original context being known but with another, more easily imagined, being supplied; and so suggesting a quite different intention: one may, similarly, if one knows nothing about horseracing, suffer unnecessary alarm from catching sight of such a headline as, say, CONSTANTINOPLE FALLS. In this case, it will be noticed, the bit of grammar of our kind available that would not be so in Chinese, the ‘-s’ of ‘falls’, is not of the slightest help. The advantage of our kind of grammar, against the Chinese kind, is that it cannot help giving more information, though not necessarily usefully; its disadvantage, that it makes no distinction between what is useful and what is not, nor perhaps even true as part of the original intention: an illusion that has caused much damage in our history and that one would be grateful to theologians, philosophers and others for not extending. For all our grammar or the more elaborate grammar of Greek and Latin, and however skilfully it is used, it still always takes two to make a language: by meeting one another as in Mencius’s remark. There is, however, another advantage to our kind of grammar; and that is, given the amount of information, whether superfluous or even not quite true, that it provides, it effects often a quicker meeting. This is undeniably an advantage; but not always as much, even in itself, as may be supposed. Given the facilities, that is, the relative cheapness of printing and paper (both of which were developed in China long before Europe), quicker reading can mean both quicker writing and longer writing, to try to slow down the reader’s intake and make it the more effective; leading in turn to devices by him, unconscious or abetted by Rapid Reading Courses, to get round this; and so the making of an inflationary situation by both parties, that can be unhelpful to their ever meeting. In the four popular phrases of four characters each, given above, (1) (2) (3) (4)

蟲霜水旱 蜀犬吠日 樂不思蜀 樂人之樂

霜 (101C) ‘shuāng’ can mean ‘to perish’; and (1) could be construed as “insects perish, water dries up”. But it would be perverse to do so, because there would be no evident rhythm in the thought; this interpretation just might be a

river snow iii: rhythm


description of winter, which in China is dry; but to use a word for ‘frost’ in the sense of ‘perish’ followed by a mere ‘drying up’ instead of freezing, for the water would be more than merely feeble: it would be quite out of rhythm. There is a good rhythm, on the other hand, in “insects” (meaning in China especially locusts), “frost, water” (meaning too much of it, as the first two terms are uninviting) and “drought”; in which there is the common theme of disaster to farmers, but alternating with summer locusts, winter frosts, summer floods and winter drought. Because of this alternation, and because a rhythmically unvaried series of syllables, ‘tum—tum—tum—tum’, would be unpleasing and unnatural, the speech rhythm would match the rhythm of thought by making a cesura in the middle: “bugs, frost—floods, drought” (that’s the life of the Chinese farmer!) The tones contribute as well here, a pair of Tense and a pair of Relaxed (or one might say resigned); and the two pairs also go well with a cesura between them. If it might be objected that this is more like art than grammar, so of course it is: we don’t say “A stitch in time saves seven”. But all grammar is also largely art, in all languages; and any description of it that does not allow for the fact is not a description of language. In (2), a connected sentence in English, there would be more flow, notionally at least, in the Chinese; but to make “the dogs in Szechwan” the meaning rather than “Szechwanese dogs” as a breed, there might be more or less of a cesura between 蜀 (115A) ‘shǔ’ and 犬 (115D) ‘quán’, as well as between the two halves of the proposition. The phrase “notionally at least” applies to all of this: one cannot divide the notions of the sound and meaning of speech from one another nearly as well as might be supposed; and although one’s mind may make different word divisions between “ice cream” and “I scream”, and be firmly convinced that they are there in one’s speech, experiments show how imaginary they really may be. Language always exists and only exists between two human parties, even if in one’s thoughts the two parties are oneself and oneself; and if in writing or broadcasting they are oneself and such humanity unknown but as may read or listen. What one is concerned with, in expressing oneself, therefore is what may be anticipated, 逆 (16) ‘nì’, by the other human party. If one says something like: “Gafe tim”, meaning “I gave it to him”, one is still using that construction and expecting it to be anticipated in the mind of the hearer. The same is true of the grammar one uses. All this is obvious and known to everybody; whether thought about or not; but disregard of it can lead to extraordinary and expensive fallacies. In the third and fourth sayings, as far as cesuras or imaginary cesuras go, both have a major one after the 樂 (115F) ‘lè’; while 不思 (10 – 115G) ‘bùsī’ and 人之 (1 – 20) ‘rénzhī’ each forms a bond like ‘doesn’t’ (we can’t say ‘thinksn’t’) and ‘people’s’. But whereas those both fall in English, 不思 rises grammatically in Chinese and 人之 falls. There is then a minor cesura before 蜀 and 樂 respectively. This might be called the “theme” in each of these sayings. Each “theme” can have “variations”: as in English one might stress “they don’t think about Szechwan”, or “they don’t …”, or one might put pauses in different places, or lengthen one of the words out of the thematic rhythm; the latter devices, without the former, being used more in French. Whatever is done in this way, however, the underlying grammatical “theme” remains. Yet one cannot say that the grammatical “theme” is more meaningful, carries more of the intention, 志 (14) ‘zhì’,


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than the “variations”; nor that its existence is any more independent of human parties, and of their powers of anticipating the intention, 志, which will be derived from their whole environment: linguistic and other. The character 樂 (115F) in its pronunciation ‘lè’, ‘happy’, can have various translations into English, especially when it occurs in phrases or ‘convergences’: 樂意 (… 15) ‘lèyì’, literally ‘to be happy at the thought’, or ‘to have a happy response to’, can be translated as ‘should like to’; incorporating this ‘mood’ of the verb English. 樂得 (… 19) ‘lède’, stressed on the first syllable in Mandarin with the other toneless, means ‘likes to’ with an implication often of ‘manages to’; as in ‘most people like to (manage to) save a bit of money’; whereas 王先生 樂意去 (78 – 93J – 93I … 69) ‘wáng xiānshēng lèyì qù’ suggests ‘Mr Wang would like to go.’ 樂天 (… 101H) ‘lètiān’ means ‘rejoicing in (the ways of) heaven, the gods’, and so ‘cheerful, optimistic, happy-go-lucky’; 樂天家 (… 114G) ‘lètiānjiā’ is ‘an optimist’. In its pronunciation ‘yuè’, ‘music’, 樂家, ‘yuèjiā’, or 音樂家, ‘yīnyuèjiā’, means a ‘musician’; 音樂, ‘yīnyuè’ is ‘music’. The character 樂 (115F) had early versions, that on the left from about the middle of the second millennium BC and that on the right from the third century BC, and those between from various times between:

From the version on the left, the earliest symbol seems to have had simply strings, as in the modern version of the character, and 木 (56) for wood. The strings seem then to have been turned into bells, with another bell or a drum in the centre, or three drums in a row as in the fifth version shown above; while in the third the tree, having become a stand, has turned into a man and the centre bell or drum into his large eye; finally becoming in the third century version (but in others before it, not shown) the symbol for feasting, a heaped up dish, as seen in early forms of 鄉 (86A); making a very satisfactory combined symbol for ‘glee’, Old English ‘glīw, glēo’, which like 樂 had both meanings: the musical one surviving in ‘glee-singing’, which is not necessarily gay nor hearty. The two pronunciations of 樂, namely ‘yuè’ for ‘music’ and ‘lè’ for ‘joy’, must certainly have been recognised for what they evidently were, when the character was first used for both: grammatical forms for the same ‘glee’ word in the ancient Chinese inflectional grammar, now long extinct but for fossils of it left in the language. More archaic dialects than Mandarin bring the resemblance of the two pronunciations closer: such as Cantonese where they are ‘yök’ and ‘lok’ respectively. In the great Swedish Sinologue Bernhard Karlgren’s reconstruction of the language of the 詩經 (75 – 94E) ‘shījīng’, Book of Odes or Songs, roughly of the time between 1000 BC and 600 BC, of which reconstruction and its methods more will be said later, he produced a conjectural ‘nglǒk’ for the present ‘yuè’ and ‘glåk’ (almost rhyming with English ‘cloak’) for the present ‘lè’, ‘joy’. The proximity of these to English ‘glee’; comes to include the sounds of the words and even closer; but German ‘glocke’ for a bell and ‘glück’ for ‘happiness’ are closer still. There is no need, however, to suppose that any of these three words are related historically to the Archaic Chinese (as Karlgren calls this language). In fact there seems to be no historical relationship between ‘glee’; in

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English (related historically to ‘glow’); ‘glocke’ in German (related historically, it is thought, to Celtic as a loanword into Germanic, which is ‘klukka’ in Icelandic and a conjectural ‘klokkā’ in the original Celtic; from which Irish ‘clog’, Welsh ‘cloch’ and, indirectly English ‘clock’ and French ‘cloche’); and ‘glück’ in German (related historically to English ‘luck’; with the German prefix ‘ge-’, and not, by origin, a ‘gl-’ word at all). 樂 (115F) is word associator in several other characters: one, that for some reason never ‘took on’, was 㦡, in which 忄 for 心 (80C), heart, was added in order to differentiate in the usual way the ‘joy’ from the ‘music’ sense; another, 藥 (115H) ‘yuè’, or more commonly nowadays ‘yào’, means ‘medicinal herbs’, or ‘medicine, drugs’ of any kind and so ‘chemicals’ in a more general sense; with 艹 as in 草 (22) grass as meaning associator. 藥水 (… 45) ‘yàoshuǐ’ is (liquid) ‘medicine’; 火藥 (77A …) ‘huǒyào’ means the Chinese invention, ‘gunpowder’. With 金 (57) for metal as word associator, 鑠 (115I) ‘shuò’ means ‘to fuse, weld’: 鑠金 ‘shuòjīn’, ‘to fuse metals, to weld’. The use of a symbol for ‘music’ also to mean ‘joy’ seems understandable, and is anyway paralleled in the original meanings of ‘glee’ in English; but the use of the same symbol in ‘medicinal herbs’ and in ‘welding’, the latter as ‘shuò’ bearing little resemblance in sound to either ‘yuè’ or ‘lè’, might at first sight seem hard to explain and even to be evidence for the oddity of the ancient Chinese mind. Yet we ourselves ‘tune’ yachts and motorcar engines, and take ‘tonic’ which advertisers tell us will put us in ‘glowing’ health; and make metal glow in order to weld it: using a word with which ‘glee’ is related. Perhaps the correspondence would be more convincing if the Chinese series included a word like ‘glow’; so it does, 爍 (115J) ‘shuò’, meaning ‘to be glistening, brilliant, splendid, glorious’; with 火 (77A) fire as its meaning associator. It seems probable that these two ‘shuò’ words are the same, given a ‘flower/flour’ distinction in the script; and that the initial ‘sh-’ was one ‘sgl-’ with the ‘s-’ as a prefix in vanished grammar, like the ‘s-’ in Italian ‘scusi, scusare’ from ‘excusare’ and in ‘scavare’ from ‘excavare’, still in Italian obviously related to ‘cava’, ‘a cave’. A similar relationship of the ‘s-glow’ word to the ‘glee’; one must have still been felt when 樂 was used to write it. There seem then to be here notions common to human psychology and physiology (that is to human ‘thought’, 思, 115G ‘sī’, as the character was explained by Hsü Shên) extending even to the ‘gl-’ in the articulation of these words. These correspondences look very much better than that of 天 (101H) ‘tiān’ with Dianus, but there is still no case to yield to temptation of supposing that these words in Chinese and our own language must be related historically, or to suppose any other diffusionary explanation; for it has already been seen that some of the various ‘gl-’ words, closely related in sound and notion, even in our own languages are not related historically to one another. And the connection in sense development between ‘tune’, ‘tone’ and ‘tonic’ on the one hand and 藥 (115H) ‘yào’ on the other has nothing to do with the sounds of the words in the two languages. ‘Tune’ and ‘tone’ in English are related historically to ‘tension’ and to ‘thin’, originally what is stretched, ‘tensed’; like a drum or fiddle well-tuned, that makes the heart ‘glow’, and by playing that we call ‘brilliant’. It may not be altogether a ‘coincidence’, either, that the ‘lè’ 樂 should be similar to the ‘-le’, 了 (101B), which is a ‘sign of the perfect in verbs’,2 even though

2 This is not a sign of the ‘perfect tense’ as we know it in our grammar, exactly; neither does it


藥 medicinal herbs, medicine, (115I) chemicals

to fuse (metals), to weld


爍 brilliant, glistening, glorious



釣 to fish with rod an line, to angle


的 target; object(ive); (sign of Chinese object, possessive, in Mandarin)

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that may be historically a reduction of ‘liǎo’: in Cantonese, as already remarked, the corresponding word is similar to English ‘lock’ in pronunciation; and this is also the pronunciation in it of 樂 corresponding to Mandarin ‘lè’. That this should be a satisfactory articulation for expressing the perfect, just as ‘luck’ and ‘glück’ in English and German seem satisfactory articulations, may have deep roots in human psychology and physiology; though we can also understand the perfect tense as expressed by a hen when it lays an egg, and whatever the sound really is, we interpret it as ‘cluck’. But this in itself is not language. 釣 (116) ‘diào’ in the poem means ‘to fish with rod and line, to angle’. It has, with 金 (57) for metal, what was earlier a picture of a spoon or ladle, once similar in sound, as word associator. In the Analects (VII, xxvi) it is said of Confucius: 子釣 (110A …) ‘zǐ diào’, “The Master fished with a rod and line”: continuing “and did not net; he shot but not at sitting birds”. The very new notion of giving ‘sportingly fair chances’ to fish or bird (curiously often raised recently during English debates for and against fox-hunting) would certainly not have entered the Master’s head; but only game preservation. There was, however, always another reason for making shooting difficult: archery being important to national defence. With the same word associator but with 白 (104E), white, as meaning associator, 的 (116A) ‘dì’ means a ‘target’ or more strictly its ‘white’, equivalent to the ‘gold’ in our archery. 中的 (72 …) ‘zhòng dì’ means ‘to hit the target in the centre, score a bull’s eye’, also metaphorically, in which 中, normally ‘zhōng’ and a noun, is a verb pronounced ‘zhòng’ as a vestige of ancient grammar; 目的 (7 …) ‘mùdì’ is a ‘target, aim, object(ive)’. This is used also for the ‘object’ as a grammatical term. In Mandarin, the more or less northerly group of dialects which became the official spoken language and in this century has become also the basis of the official written language, 的, most often pronounced as a toneless ‘de’ much like French ‘de’, has become the commonest word; replacing 之 (20) as such, and having both similar meaning and similar sense development. 之, ‘zhī’, meant originally ‘to go to’, hence one’s ‘objective’; and in Mandarin this is replaced by 的, ‘dì’, ‘target’, weakened to ‘de’. From the Chinese point of view “Balbus—build—wall” when meaning “Balbus built a wall”, is, mentally at least, rhythmically disjunctive; not quite like our notions of a subject being linked to the verb, and the verb to an object. “A Balbus (& Co.) Built Wall”, however, can when necessary, be distinguished from this sentence by giving warning of the coming conjunction of an object, that is, an object in Chinese grammatical notions and not in ours of “the object of the finite verb in a sentence”. Such a warning is given by saying “Balbus— build 之 wall” in the more classical language, or “Balbus—Build 的 wall” in Mandarin, colloquial or the new literary language based on it. Exactly the same relationship exists, in Chinese grammar, in “Balbus’s wall”: “Balbus 之 wall” or “Balbus 的 wall”; “le mur de Balbus” in French. (French, which puts adjectives after nouns, reverses the word order. The fact that the word ‘de’ is so similar in Mandarin and in French may be another of those things which are not quite purely accidental.)3

belong only to ‘verbs’ as we know them: 好了 (110F …) ‘hǎo-le’ means “Good!” or “That’s fine”, “OK!”, or the like. This is what is called a ‘gesture word’ in the next chapter. 3 The meaning ‘this’ as a “demonstrative pronoun” is commonly given in dictionaries as one of

river snow iii: rhythm


王先生看不見東西 (78 – 93J – 93I – 82A – 10 – 82 – 88C – 88D) ‘wáng xiānshēng kàn dōngxī bú jiàn’ means ‘Mr Wang cannot see (the) things’; 東西

‘dōngxī’, ‘east-west’, having developed the meaning of ‘this and that’ and thence simply of a ‘thing’. (It could equally be singular ‘thing’ here). 王先生看見的東西, ‘wáng xiānshēng kànjiàn-de dōngxī’, would mean ‘things looked at (and seen) by Mr Wang’; and 王先生的東西, ‘wáng xiānshēngde dōngxī’, ‘Mr Wang’s things’. 王家 (… 114G) ‘wáng jiā’ is ‘the Wang family’, ‘Wang’s family’, ‘the House of Wang’: when to use 之 or 的 is not a matter of rule, like “using the possessive or genitive case”, but of making rhythm anticipate the reader’s ability to understand. To say “It was (or is) seen by Wang” will be made clearer by saying 是王看 見的 (17 – 78 – 82A – 82 – 116A) ‘shì wáng kànjiàn-de’; so that one could call 看見的 “a passive participle of the verb ‘kànjiàn’”, but there is no advantage whatever, and much danger of deception, in importing such grammatical terms from other languages. In 是王看見的, one cannot really even say whether 是 “means” the ‘it’ or the ‘was’ (or ‘is’) of the translation.4 It is not only better but much easier, for a human being if not for a computer, to “go out to meet the intention”, as in Mencius’s saying in which the character first occurred; taking a language, made by other human beings but like ourselves, on its own terms. Another character having 勺 as its word associator, but with more apparent association in sense as well, is 酌 (116B) ‘zhuó’ meaning ‘to ladle out, pour out wine’ (usually warmed rice-spirit). In this the meaning associator is 酉, for a bottle of wine; earlier written as:


酌 to pour wine; consult, discuss; symposium

The first and simplest of these ancient drawings seems to be the same, but the other way up, as the object shown above the mouth in the early forms of 吉 (109L) ‘jí’, ‘good fortune’; suggesting that it may be those that are upside down, and that the image may be of draining a bottle into the mouth, in one of the drawings joined to the bottle by the lips. A suggestion that such a revered and ancient character might symbolise “Bottoms up!” (still the universal toast, in the form “Dry cup!”, of the Far East) for ‘good fortune’ may seem rather shocking. However not only is there no law by which one can say that such was not the toast of the second millennium BC, but the magical or demonic powers of alcohol used socially in an urbane civilisation with little need to think about harvests while eating and drinking, and those same powers in a society with every reason to think about harvests, are two very different things. The god of harvests himself was in the bottle, the rice spirit in more sense than one; as in the character 精 (93E) ‘jīng’, which suggests ‘what makes the rice grow’ but has come to mean ‘essence’ and what is most ‘pure’. It may be that the draining of the bottle was done by a witch-doctor before his magic dance, rather than by the congregation at large; and that this is the

those for 之; but it only has the meaning ‘this’ as an object; and ‘object’ is really its meaning, even though it cannot be translated that way, in all contexts all the time; except in some of the oldest where it may retain its oldest use as a verb ‘to go to’. 4 It really means neither, but ‘to be the thing’; hence ‘this’ as the ‘subject of discussion’; and ‘subject’ is really its meaning, even though it cannot be translated that way; just as ‘object’ is of 之 and 的.



酒 wine


樓 (building of more than one) storey

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explanation of the substitution of 士, meaning a ‘scholar, official’ (No. 250 in this book) for the bottle in “a more polite age”; whence the later explanation of the character as “Good fortune comes from heeding the wisdom that comes from the 口 (62) mouths of 士 scholars”. The form with the bottle, if such it be, had long disappeared from knowledge, until excavations at 安陽 (110I – 89F) ‘ānyáng’ Anyang at the end of the nineteenth century. The character 酉 as written now has a line (distinguishing it from 西 88D, for ‘west’ which was derived from quite a different picture), representing the level of wine in the bottle; a common way of showing a liquid in the characters. 酌, ‘zhuó’, ‘pouring out wine’, is often used for ‘drinking, feasting together’; and like ‘symposium’ from a word of the same meaning in Greek, can mean ‘discussion, consultation’, and it can be a verb ‘to discuss, consult together’: 對酌 (91A …) ‘duìzhuó’ is literally ‘facing one another pouring out wine’ and means ‘to drink together’, a very common phrase in poetry; 酌滅 (… 109) ‘zhuómiè’, on the other hand, is an ‘acronymic’ business expression for ‘to consult and make proposals for reduction’. 酒 (116C) ‘jiǔ’ is ‘wine’; with 酉 for the bottle and 氵 (45) for the liquid: 酌 酒 (116B – 116C) ‘zhuójiǔ’ is ‘to pour out wine’; 酒精 (… 93E) ‘jiǔjīng’, literally ‘essence of wine’, is ‘alcohol’.5 This 酒, ‘jiǔ’, is a noun and can never forget that it is a noun, as ‘wine’ can in English in ‘to wine and dine’; for which the Chinese would be 酌, ‘zhuó’. It seems quite likely that the two words ‘zhuó’ and ‘jiǔ’ were originally verb and noun, ‘to wine’ and ‘wine’, from the same root; and 氵 could therefore be called the meaning associator and 酉 the word associator in 酒. Chinese dictionaries, however, do not treat it in this way: but instead regard 酉 as the meaning associator; and as the ‘section heading’, or ‘radical’ as it is called in English, under which the character is to be placed in dictionary order. It is therefore found in dictionaries, along with 酌, among those characters having 酉 as their place-in-dictionary-giving ‘radical’ and having three extra strokes. In view of the fact that all other characters with 氵, ‘three-dots-water’, on the left of them are placed under 水 (45) water, one rather fears that this may have been a joke on the part of the seventeenth century lexicographers of the K’ang-hsi Dictionary, whose arrangement of the characters has been followed exactly by dictionaries since; and that their attitude was that of Noah in G.K. Chesterton’s ballad: that they “didn’t care where the water went, if it didn’t get into the wine!” 酒家 (116C – 114G) ‘jiǔjiā’ is a ‘restaurant’; also called ‘jiǔlóu’, 酒樓 (… 116D), in which 樓, ‘lóu’, means a building of more than one storey, or a ‘storey’ itself: 二樓 (24 – 116D) ‘èrlóu’ means the ‘second floor’; but as in American usage, the ‘first floor’ in British. The name of a restaurant almost always has two syllables, in order to produce a rhythmic balance with 酒家 ‘jiǔjiā’ or 酒樓 ‘jiǔlóu’; such as 北京酒家 (88A – 88B …) ‘běijīng jiǔjiā’, ‘The Peking Restaurant’, or 大同酒樓 (110G – 114F …) ‘dàtóng jiǔlóu’, ‘Bon Accord’. In at least older Chinese tradition, the best food was not always or even generally to be found in the brightest looking and most luxuriously appointed establishments; but often in places that seemed nondescript at best, and that would not be given a second glance except by those in the know. Such a place might, however, have, inside and almost in the dark, some very good calligraphy; perhaps by a distinguished habitué. This might well be the only

5 The character 精 itself, of course, indicated ‘rice spirit’.

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decoration, with the plainest of furniture; while guests would be equally simply dressed, in the Chinese tradition of the ‘man of taste’: who would be a ‘scholar’ and therefore not ostentatious though his coat might, if he could afford it, have a very beautiful lining. The calligraphy would be to him a recommendation. As has already been said, this art has really no equivalent with us: an art that was traditionally part of the scholar’s, also meaning the state official’s and the gentleman’s, most routine life, because he had to write in his office every day; and yet it was, and is still, an art held in the highest regard (as if he scribbled his memoranda by playing the piano; thinking of their content rather than of his playing, but with his playing never irrelevant). The qualities required of good handwriting in the Chinese script, by all including the Japanese and the Koreans who use it, are not in fact irrelevant to qualities that we used to call ‘leadership’; and calligraphy was to some extent a test of intelligence and personality together, built into the structure of the whole civilisation. Neither, despite the fountain pen and the westernised learned man’s scribble of the present day, is the notion by any means dead. Good handwriting is seen as a matter both of self-control and of judgement it should be suited to its purpose, rapid or careful; should neither be vain nor clumsy; slavishly modelled nor too anxious to display originality; and so on. These are all qualities that might be studied by any interviewing board in any country, for ‘executive positions’; and which are difficult, particularly with a lightly moving brush suspended vertically from the wrist and not fully controllable by the conscious mind, to simulate without their being present. Good calligraphers can in reality, of course, have many failings that would not show. The interest is in what does show: inner qualities that could hardly be measured mathematically, or fully analysed by the conscious mind any more than they can be produced by it. Despite the personal qualities required, good calligraphy could never be achieved, any more than good playing of the piano, without persevering study and practice; themselves, of course, regarded as most valuable mental and physical exercise. The term for calligraphy, meaning no more than the art of writing, is 書法 (116E – 114B) ‘shūfǎ’ in which 書 (116E) ‘shū’ means ‘to write, writing(s)’; hence also ‘book’ or ‘letter’. The bottom part of this is not 日 (50) for the sun, but always written wider. (This is the only case of distinguishing characters or elements in them.) As a character on its own, 曰 (116F) ‘yuē’ means ‘to say’, but is archaic like ‘quoth’. It is also much like ‘inquit’ in Latin, as introducing a quotation: 子曰 (110A …) ‘zǐ yuē’ is “The Master said …” used of Confucius and other Sages. Early forms of 曰 showed a mouth, like 口 (62) in its early forms; but with a short line above, making a parting of the lips: later turned into The earliest forms of

was with the simple mouth:

later turned into In these, the top part showed bamboo strips tied together. On those books and letters were at the time written, downward on each strip held in the hand; before they were tied from right to left: the present arrangement of characters


書 to write; writing(s); letter, book


曰 to say; quoth, “inquit”


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on a page. The introduction of the writing brush, about the third century BC, led to its substitution (although the bamboo strips were still used):

These have now become 聿. This, as a word on its own, had 竹 (75C) for bamboo, the stem of the writing brush, added; becoming 筆 (116G) ‘bǐ’, the character for the instrument now, a character which sometimes serves like ‘pinxit’ under an artist’s signature. There are three main styles, though with unlimited gradations within them, of calligraphy now. Older styles, including (since their rediscovery the oldest from the second millennium BC), are also used by artists, and particularly for making handsome seals, but have a place something like ‘gothic’ or ‘halfuncials’ with us. The three styles are: (116H)

楷書 (116H – 116E) ‘kǎishū’, the ‘formal hand’ or printed style of writing, as

used in this book; and essentially the model for the founts used in printing, in which serifs replace some of the turns of the brush; 行書 (107A …) ‘xíngshū’, the ‘cursive hand’, as in

formal, model

and 草書 (22 …) ‘cǎoshū’, as in

for the same two characters.



皆 階 all (alike)


This last style, literally ‘grass writing’, is a sort of shorthand, originally devised for making rough drafts, which are called 草 (22) ‘cǎo’ because as if written on blades of grass, instead of on the more lasting strip of split bamboo. 草 is also used as a verb: 草合同 (… 110K – 114F) ‘cǎo hétóng’ is ‘to draft an agreement’. With us, this would be mere careless, untidy writing; but in Chinese writing this is a style, artistically perhaps the most important and most admired of all in the calligrapher’s art. It is not even derived directly from rapid writing of 楷 書 ‘kǎishū’, as is 行書, ‘xíngshū’; but is somewhat older than either and derived directly from the same source as they are, a formal style of the first centuries before Christ. All these styles were fully developed by the fourth century after Christ and are still current. Real 草書 ‘cǎoshū’, as distinct from highly abbreviated and rapid 行書 ‘xíngshū’ is not often used in China now, except by professional calligraphers; but in Japanese it is quite extensively in use, still. That such a tradition is not necessarily stifling to individuality and variety may be seen from any dictionary of classical calligraphy. The character 楷 (116H) ‘kǎi’, ‘model, formal’, is ‘model’ only in the sense that it is the ‘theme’ on which other forms of a character (whether they are so historically or not) may be regarded as ‘variations’. The meaning associator is 木 (56) ‘a tree, wood’, and the word associator is 皆 (116I) ‘jiē’ (once much nearer in its pronunciation) which means ‘all’ (alike, without distinction). With 阝 on the left of this, for a slope as in 陽 (89F), the character 階 (116J), also pronounced ‘jiē’ and probably the same word in origin, is made;


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meaning ‘stairs’, which are all alike and on a slope. 人人皆知 (1 – 1 – 116H – 116K) ‘rénrén jiē zhī’ means ‘everybody knows it, what everybody knows’; in which 知 (116K) ‘zhī’ means ‘to know, understand’. The Book of Lao Tzu, or of The Way and its Power, the greatest of the Taoist classics and traditionally supposed to be of the sixth century before Christ, though probably compiled a couple of centuries later, says: 天

下 皆

之 爲


知 to know, understand

tiān xià jiē zhī měi zhī wéi měi 101H 71 116I 116K 116L 20 18 116L in which 美 (116L) ‘měi’ means ‘beautiful’; so that the whole is apparently: “All Under Heaven know what it is in the beautiful that makes it to be beautiful”; but it goes on: “It is only from this that there is ugliness”; so that, especially since the first part of the proposition would plainly be untrue and a most unlikely thing for such a philosopher to say, the meaning is rather: “All knowing by people in the world of what it is in the beautiful that makes it to be beautiful is the source of ugliness”. This is entirely in accord with Lao Tzu’s philosophy. (Which, including the whole chapter here quoted, is looked at further, later in this book.) The character for ‘beautiful’, 美 (116L) ‘měi’, also written 羙 which is better calligraphically, has 羊 (42) above 大 (110G), as if a (big) man with a sheep over his shoulders like the famous archaic Greek koros: though in that it is a calf:

In early versions it seems to have developed from an extreme simplifications of such an image, or possibly a sheep-man in a dance (in one version perhaps a sheep-man and sheep-woman dancing together), into a similar figure carrying a fleece. Before the invention of silk (of which the exact date is unknown, but certainly before 1000 BC) wool must have been considered the most beautiful of things:6

6 The rightmost form is in the reformed script of the third century BC; the others are 1,000 or more years earlier.


美 羙 beautiful


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美 ‘měi’ is used to transcribe the ‘-me-’ of ‘America’, as 法 (114B) ‘fǎ’ is used as an approximation for ‘France’: 美國 (… 78B) ‘měiguó’, ‘the American State(s)’, is (116M)

比 to compare

the usual short expression for the U.S.A. In 皆 (116I) ‘jiē’, the top part 比 (116M) ‘bǐ’ means ‘to compare two things’, and so is used in the “comparison of adjectives”: 馬比羊大 (48 … 42 – 110G) ‘mǎ bǐ yáng dà’, ‘horses are bigger than sheep’; which can also be expressed by 羊不如 馬大 (… 10 – 89C …) ‘yáng bùrú mǎ dà’, ‘sheep are not as big as horses’. In the character 皆, therefore, it symbolised things, between which 比 comparisons leave 白 (104E) whiteness; that is, a blank, nothing over, and so are all alike. The character 比 has the same as in 北 (88B) for North and in 化 (9) for genesis, the female figure; doubled here so that one was compared with another, passively, perhaps working in the fields, but also whereas the two men in 从 (108A) followed one another, actively, whether or not usefully,


寒 cold, chill


塞 to stop up, block up; frontiers


失 to lose

Although the columns of characters on a page are read from right to left, which was the arrangement of the bamboo strips that preceded the page, each character is written (on the whole) from left to right. It is then the convention, as in Egyptian and other ancient script, for any figure to face or to move towards the direction of writing: like 馬 (48) for a horse which is plainly going from right to left; as are the men in the early form of 从 above. The reversal of this image therefore kept the women still, in their place. 寒 (117) ‘hán’ in the poem means ‘cold’: 衰草寒烟 (112A – 22 … 21) ‘shuāi cǎo hán yān’ is a four character phrase meaning: “Faded grass and cold smoke”; for autumn. The ‘direction’ of the ‘path’ in 寒 ‘hán’ for ‘cold’ is always subjective: the cold one feels; rather than cold that is given out, for which there are other words used in terms for ‘refrigeration, cryogenics’ and the like, and in ‘cold-hearted’. 寒心 (… 80C) ‘hánxīn’, on the other hand, means a ‘chill felt in the heart; fear, anxiety, despondency, horror’. The character showed 人 (1) a man; 宀 (as in 家, 114G) indoors; with 艸 or 艹 straw (as in 草, 22, but doubled), round him; and 冫 (as in 冰, 49) ice outside:

The same image but with 土 (78D) earth instead of the ice makes the character 塞 (117A) ‘sāi’ meaning ‘to stop up, block up’; or pronounced as ‘sài’, what is blocked or stopped, a ‘frontier’. 塞翁失馬 (117A – 114 – 117B – 48) ‘sài wēng shī mǎ’, in which 失 (117B) ‘shī’ means ‘to lose’, is a well-known four-character phrase or proverb: “The old man on the frontiers lost his horse”. Like many of these phrases, and proverbs in all languages, this is not explicit without knowing the story. The old man had a valuable stallion, but refused to grieve when it got out of the stable and he lost it; because he was sure that some good would come of it. One day the stallion returned, followed by a beautiful mare, but the old man refused to rejoice; because he was sure some ill would come of it. Then


river snow iii: rhythm

one day the old man’s son was breaking the mare when he was badly thrown, so that he would be lame for life, but the old man refused to grieve when he was told the news; because he was sure that some good would come of it. War came, the son’s unit, which he had been unable to join, was wiped out: (The moral is, of course, be like the old man and don’t over-react to events.) 失 (117B) ‘shī’ in this, meaning ‘to lose’, looks now like a lengthened and so ‘overshot’7 矢 (117C) ‘shǐ’, ‘arrow’; which in modern Mandarin differs only in tone, though in ancient script the two pictures were quite different: (矢)


失手 (117B – 79B) ‘shī-shǒu’ is (absent-mindedly) ‘to let fall from the hand; to drop; omit’: 失了手了 (… 101B …) ‘shīle shǒule’, ‘(went and) dropped it’, in colloquial. 失足 (… 65) ‘shīzú’ is closer to English idiom as ‘to lose foot’. 不失志 (10 … 14) ‘bù shī zhì’ is ‘not to lose heart’; 失志氣 (… 43) ‘shī zhìqì’ is to ‘lose spirit’: the

Chinese ‘convergence’ here expressing with more exactitude what we mean by ‘spirit’ in such a context (as these ‘convergences’ usually do). 矢 (117C) ‘shǐ’, besides meaning ‘arrow’, often means ‘declared aim’: 矢言 (… 73) ‘shǐyán’ is a ‘declaration, undertaking, promise, oath’; 矢口 (… 62) ‘shǐkǒu’ has a similar meaning, as a verb used in law for ‘to swear’. (失言, ‘shīyán’, on the other hand, means ‘to make a slip of the tongue’.) There may have been a notion in the composition of the character 知 (116K) ‘zhī’, ‘to know’, similar to that in the separate syllables 矢口: that what one knows for the truth will come to the mouth like an arrow, without prevarication; which is how the character is traditionally explained. The last four syllables of the poem, 釣寒江雪 (116 – 117 – 100 – 101) ‘diào hán jiāng xuě’, “angling cold river snow”, or “fishing the cold river snows”, are simple, unsentimental and unrhetorical. Yet there seems no end to their mysterious power: one will never be able to say “exactly” what they mean, neither want anybody else to try.

∵ On Seeking a Hermit and Not Finding Him by Chia Tao (AD 777–841) 賈 鳥

jiǎ dǎo 118 119 下

矢 an arrow

(arrow) (to lose) ‘śι ̭ər’ ‘śι ̭et’


sōng xià / wèn tóng zǐ 114I 71 84C 120 110A Under a pine / I asked his pupil, 7 Despite the different early drawings, and pronunciations given in Karlgren’s reconstruction, it is not impossible that the words were felt to be related; but rather with the arrow as something ‘loosed’. This may account for the present resemblance. 8 Explained as a hand letting go of something.

138 言

chapter 6 師

採 藥

yán shī / cǎi yào qù 73 121 96 115H 69 Who said: Master’s / Gone gathering balms; 只

zhǐ zài / cǐ shān zhōng 111F 122 77B 81 72 Only somewhere / About the mountain 雲

不 知

yún shēn / bù zhī chù 101D 89 10 116L 123 The cloud’s so thick / That I don’t know where.


賈 to trade; merchant

This poem, to conclude these six introductory chapters (but not, of course, the introduction of a language; which is never concluded), again has only twenty syllables and characters; of which sixteen have already been met with in the book so far. Chinese characters, however, are much like people and not often remembered after a single brief acquaintance; so that the reader, who if he has followed all the book and its digressions so far has encountered some three hundred of them, should not be in the least discouraged by failures to remember. The rhyme is between ‘qù’ and ‘chù’, again in Relaxed Tone and an imperfect rhyme to our ears now in Mandarin pronunciation; as between ‘ch’ü’ and ‘ch’u’ in the Wade-Giles romanisation. But to the Chinese ear it is the initials that differ, one like the ‘ch’ in ‘cheese’ but the other almost like the ‘tr’ in ‘true’; and the difference in the vowel is an insignificant, inevitable result. Chia Tao was a Buddhist monk, devoted to poetry and famous for the perfectionist pains he devoted to his own; each New Year sacrificing to the poems he had written in the departing year, and praying to them to restore the energy they had taken from him. The efforts he made to find the right word have given rise to a word for ‘polishing’ a poem or other literary composition, which means literally ‘pushing and knocking’. This is from a story that once he was riding a donkey, composing a poem and trying to decide whether to use ‘push’ or ‘knock’ in a line he was working on, “under the moon, a monk … a gate”, testing each in the air as he weighed them up, when unfortunately his arm knocked into, or pushed against, the sedan-chair bearer of a high officer of state; who, on being given explanations, decided immediately in favour of ‘knock’. Fortunately for Chia Tao, the official himself was one of the most famous thinkers and writers in Chinese history, Han Yü (AD 768–824), who thereupon became his patron and obtained him a post in the Civil Service; in which, however, Chia Tao had little distinction. (The story is told in Chinese later in this book.) Chia Tao’s surname 賈 (118) ‘jiǎ’ means ‘merchant; to trade’: 大賈 (110G …) ‘dàjiǎ’ is a term for a ‘wholesaler’. The top part of the character, though now looking like 西 (88D), ‘west’, is more correctly, though seldom, distinguished 覀; meant ‘to bind’, hence its use in the character for ‘trade’; and ‘merchant’ or ‘trafficker’ (who “on the beach undid his corded bales”); but also a ‘binder, sash’, which it depicted in

river snow iii: rhythm


now 要 (118A) ‘yào’, with 女 (3), as on the right, for a woman to whose dress a sash belonged; and in the two outer drawings with two hands tying it; meaning either a ‘sash’ or the ‘waist’ it went round. (The resemblance of ‘waist’ to ‘west’, must be accidental! But ‘waist’ in English meant originally the place of growth, in pregnancy, and so also was associated with women.) This word came to mean, further, the waist as a ‘pivot’ and as a verb ‘to pivot; to be as a pivot, important; to (be) need(ed)’: 不要 (10 …) ‘búyào’, ‘to be unnecessary, there is no need, not to want’. 王先生不要 (78 – 93J – 93I …) ‘wáng xiānshēng búyào’, ‘Mr Wang does not want (it)’. This last sentence looks just like the English construction, with ‘Mr Wang’ as the subject of the verb ‘does not want’; so much so that it is almost unavoidable for us, with our kind of grammar, not to think of it that way. In fact, however, the Chinese construction is more like “Mr Wang: there is no need”. This could also mean, grammatically, that Mr Wang is not needed but in English, according to the rhythm or notional rhythm,9 “There is no need for Mr Wang” could, no less, mean either. The difficulty of dealing with verbs that “do not distinguish Active and Passive” is made worse if one cannot resist thinking in such terms, of a supposed conjunction of a subject with a verb; when in Chinese (and in many other languages) their relationship is, on the contrary, disjunctive: like “Passenger To The Left” or “Passengers Keep To The Left”, which has a mental colon after “Passengers” and means in effect that they are kept to the left. Much difficulty can be made in learning a language, simply by not taking it on its speakers’ own terms. Chinese can express what we express when we turn something into the passive, in a number of different ways, just as it can express a past tense or a plural; but it does not incorporate the expression into its compulsory grammar, simply because it does not use the same notion of a subject being joined by invisible ties to a verb. A ‘waist’ itself is 腰 (118B) ‘yāo’; in which 月 is the meaning associator, added as often to the less generally used word, but is not 月 (52) moon and is the same as in 背 (88F) for the ‘back’: a meaning associator for ‘flesh’; and so for parts of the body, on the one hand, and for meat, on the other. As a character on its own, this is 肉 (118C) ‘ròu’, ‘flesh, meat’, but in the earliest script it was also very like the half moon character, sometimes (as in composite characters now) indistinguishable from it. As meaning associators, and therefore as section headings or ‘radicals’ in the arrangement of dictionaries, the two are, however, kept apart; so that in looking up a character of unknown meaning one may have to try both sections of the dictionary: that for 月 the moon itself, and that for 肉. (This anomaly is fortunately unique. Although some of the characters now with 月 derive it from neither moon nor flesh but for instance from an earlier boat as the meaning associator, they are put in the place for the moon characters in dictionaries.)

9 ‘Notional rhythm’ can be taken in two ways: rhythm that does not have physical expression, and the rhythm of notions. Both are important to language: the latter far more than any ‘titums’, ‘iambics’ and the like, to poetry.


要 (sash, waist) pivot, to (be a) pivot, to be important, to (be) need(ed)


腰 waist (118C)

肉 flesh


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Underneath the 覀 ‘bundle’, in 賈 (118) ‘jiǎ’, ‘to trade’, there is the very common meaning associator for characters to do with value and with financial transactions, 貝; which anciently represented the means of exchange in many societies before the advent of coinage, the cowrie-shell:


價 price



開 to open; to start, begin

島 an island (120)

童 young person, child, youth, boy

賈 thus represented the bundle and the means of exchange. With 人 (1) added, which often signifies particular human interest, 價 (118D) ‘jià’ is a noun meaning ‘price’. This is much used in commercial terms, which are expressed by such convergences as 平價 (67 – 118D) ‘píngjià’, ‘a fair, equitable price’; 開價 (118E …) ‘kāijià’, literally ‘opening in price’; in which 開 (118E) ‘kāi’ is the ordinary verb ‘to open’, having 門 (84B) for a gate. (Like ‘to open’ in English, this is much used in the sense of ‘to begin’: 開工, 118E – 80E, ‘kāigōng’ is ‘to start work’.) Chia Tao’s personal name is 島 (119) ‘dǎo’, sometimes also written as 嶋, meaning an ‘island’; and showing 鳥 (105) a bird but without the dots on 山 (81) a mountain or rock: 青島 (93 …) ‘qīngdǎo’ is Ts’ingtao, the important deepsea port of 山東 (81 – 88C) ‘shāndōng’, Shantung Province. 童 (120) ‘tóng’ means a ‘young person’: 兒童 (110B …) ‘értóng’ is the commonest word for a ‘child, children’. 童 often, but not always, means a ‘boy’ and is used too for a ‘servant’. In the poem, 童子 (… 110A) ‘tóngzǐ’ means the hermit’s pupil and acolyte. This character had earlier forms like

in which the 立 (113A) now on top of 童 is the forward-facing head-and-shoulders of authority, with under it an eye for watchfulness. Underneath that, or has the sign for growth, met with in the earliest versions of 東 (88C) for East; of 專 (109H) for ‘to turn particular attention to’; and of 尃 (109I) for ‘to spread’. In the version on the left above this “pineapple” shape, depicting the growing garden, has roots underneath it, as in 東 (88C) but under them a line for the sub-soil beneath the roots. In the version on the right, there is , the stem with the rising sap; now 土 (78D) for earth, but also in 青 (93) green and in 生 (93I) life. All this lower part of the character, beneath the eye, is now written as 重 (120A) which has two pronunciations: as ‘zhòng’ it means ‘heavy’, like the heavy soil beneath the roots, and so ‘weighty, grave, important’: 重要 (… 118A) ‘zhòngyào’ is the usual convergence with the meaning of ‘important’. As ‘chóng’, 重 means ‘stratum, layer, fold’, again like the soil beneath the roots, and a verb ‘to be stratified, to stratify’; or to be conveniently imagined in that way. It is therefore used as a counting word for things in layers or reiterated, like ‘fold’ in English ‘a thousandfold’ and so on: 萬重山 (32 … 81) ‘wànchóng shān’, ‘many mountains’, one after another; and is used also as a word for ‘again, repeatedly, re-’ or ‘to reiterate, do again as before, repeat’. Among these various words once written by gardening metaphors, four are similar in pronunciation, starting with a dental sound and ending in ‘-ong’:

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東 ‘dōng’ for the East, where the roots of the Sunflower are, that rises again daily and reaches its height in the South, 南 (88E) ‘nán’, when its male strength in the fields, 男 (2) ‘nán’, is greatest; 重 ‘chóng’ for the folds of heavy, ‘zhòng’, Female Earth, 土 (78D), that lie beneath the roots of the growth, 生 (93I), of the Sun; 童 ‘tóng’ for the Virgin child, with its creative seed still buried in its

Earth; growing under the watchful and loving eye of one entitled to respect. If people thought in such ways in the Early Bronze Age from which the first examples of these characters date, they may well then (or long before that date) have composed their spoken words in similar ways; and therefore have been perfectly right in their historical etymologies, which regarded these ‘dōng’, ‘chóng’, ‘zhòng’ and ‘tóng’ words merely as grammatical refractions of one another; all sharing the same core as expressed in their ideograms. 師 (121) ‘shī’, ‘master’, is what the boy in the poem would have called the hermit. The 𠂤 on the left was earlier

a symbol of authority of uncertain ultimate origin but of wide occurrence in objects10 as well as in characters. 師 is used on its own for a ‘teacher’, for which 先生 (93J – 93I) ‘xiānshēng’ is also a term; and is further used for a ‘doctor’ of medicine: 醫師 (121A …) ‘yīshī’. In this, 醫 also written 医 (121A) ‘yī’ means ‘to heal’ or can itself mean a ‘healer, doctor’, and has 匚 for a box of needles (for acupuncture, represented by 矢, 117C, arrows); 殳 which was a hand with a mallet


師 master, teacher, doctor


醫 医 to heal, doctor

and 酉, as in 酌 (116B), for a bottle. 行醫 (107A …) ‘xíngyī’ is ‘to practise medicine’; 牙醫 (92J …) ‘yáyī’ is a ‘dentist’; 醫生 (… 93I) ‘yīshēng’ is another word for a ‘doctor, medical practitioner’; 女醫生 (3 …) ‘nǚyīshēng’ is a ‘woman doctor’; 醫 家 (… 114G) ‘yījiā’ or 醫門 (… 84B) ‘yīmén’ is ‘the medical profession’ collectively. With 犬, 犭 (115D) for clawed mammals as meaning associator and 師 (121) as word associator, 獅 (121B) ‘shī’ means a ‘lion’, usually expressed with a cautious and endearing diminutive, 獅子 (… 110A) ‘shīz’. This is also the name of the breed of dog, ‘shih-tzu’, which was ‘designed’, as the small, similarly named Pekinese was also, to resemble the Chinese notion of a lion; which is, unlike the tiger, a semi-mythical animal in China.11 在 (122) ‘zài’ means ‘to be available, present (at)’; hence simply ‘(to be) in, at’: 在北京 (… 88B – 88A) ‘zài Běijing’ means ‘(to be) in Peking’; 在美 (… 116L) ‘zàiměi’ ‘in America; in the U.S.A.’ The character consisted originally of 土 (78D) 10 11

It is strange that the ‘pince-nez’ and the ‘half-moon’ forms of spectacles, so much a symbol of learning and authority with us now, have the same shape as this. The word itself, ‘shī’, in the sense of ‘lion’, appears to be taken from Persian and related to the ‘Singh’ of Sikh surnames in India and to the same syllable in ‘Sin(g)halese’; both meaning ‘lion’. The ‘etymology’ in the Chinese character is therefore a post facto one.


獅 lion (122)

在 to be available, present (at); (to be) at, in, at hand



才 (to have) ability at hand; to be capable; capability, skill





wealth, capital

處 䖏 虎 (123A)

place; to perform

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earth, place, with 才 one of the many forms of a hand (like English, ‘to be at hand’). But this 才 (122A) ‘cái’ as a character on its own means ‘to have at hand, what one has at hand, available’ particularly in the sense of ‘capability’; and it is much used in the sense of ‘talent available’ for government, in Chinese literature. (It is, of course, the same in form as the character 手, 79B, when that is part of another character; and it is listed under 手 in dictionaries.) 才分 (122A – 92B) ‘cáifèn’ is a ‘gift, talent’ (compare English ‘a man of parts’); 不才 (10 …) ‘bùcái’ is ‘to lack skill, be stupid’; in which the 不, being used only with verbs, is a reminder that 才, though often translatable by a noun in English, is basically a verb, like 在 (122) ‘zài’. Some senses of 才 (122A) are distinguished by the addition of meaning associators in writing: with 木 (56) tree, 材 (122B) ‘cái’ means ‘timber’ for building the wood available and capable of the job; whereas with 貝, the original cowrieshell as in 賈 (118) ‘trade(r)’, 財 (122C) ‘cái’ means ‘wealth, capital’. The last character in the poem, 處 (123), also written 䖏, when pronounced ‘chù’ as here, means a ‘place’: 處處, ‘chùchù’, ‘everywhere’; and when pronounced ‘chǔ’, it means ‘to carry out, execute, manage, perform’: 處家 (… 114G) ‘chǔjiā’, ‘to manage a house, family’. The origin of this character is not fully explained; the 虎 (123A) ‘hǔ’ in it meaning a ‘tiger’. (One can associate the words ‘den’ and ‘arena’ with tigers, and the latter with a ‘performance’. Some of the oldest forms as of the character make a similar derivation seem possible.)


figure 4

The character for ‘tiger’, from inscriptions of about 1500–1100BC (Today: 虎, third century BC: )

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Various versions from the second millennium BC ancestral to the present 虎 for ‘a tiger’ are shown opposite; none much like it nor to that shown from the third century BC, which clearly is ancestral to the modern form. A link may, however, be found in some decorative ‘rampant regardant’ versions from between the two dates such as

In colloquial Chinese, the tiger is referred to as 老虎 (123B – 123A) ‘lǎo hǔ’, in which 老 (123B) ‘lǎo’ means ‘old’ of people, and is used in expressions equivalent to ‘old Smith’, ‘old Jones’ and ‘Old Nick’. It is also very common in popular sayings like 如養虎 (89C – 40 – 123) ‘rú yǎng hǔ’, meaning “like feeding a tiger”, for doing something that will cause evil in the end; 不入虎穴不得虎子 (10 – 70 … 80D – 10 – 19 … 110A) ‘bú rù hǔ-xué, bù dé hǔ-zǐ’, “if you don’t go into the tiger’s den, you won’t get the tiger cubs”, for “nothing ventured, nothing won”; and 騎虎難下 (123C … 123D – 71) ‘qí hǔ nán xià’, a famous four-character proverb which can be reduced simply to 騎虎 ‘qíhǔ’, in describing a situation: “The difficulty in tiger-riding comes on dismounting”. In this, 騎 (123C) ‘qí’, with 馬 (48) as meaning associator, is ‘to ride’; and 難 (123D) ‘nán’12 means ‘(to be) awkward, embarrassing, difficult, impossible’, represented by a trussed-up bird: 堇 was a man tied up, and 隹 was the form of bird in 維 (79). There is, of course, no tiger in Chia Tao’s famous little poem: “associations”, as Coleridge said, “are the hooks and eyes of memory”; but they are hooks and eyes to be done up or undone according to the will, and according to the whole rhythm of thought. It is easier to accept this poem for the magic it makes than to say why it does so; even now and like new, twelve centuries after the poet’s birth. One cannot say, certainly not in a way that would enable anybody to repeat the feat, how it creates so completely a moment: not only an exterior scene but an interior thought; so that one is there again. Yet what is the thought? The visitor does not find the hermit; the boy reassures him, but cannot say exactly where the hermit is: no mystification, no rationalisation, no moral. As Paul Demiéville advises, in the passage quoted at the end of Chapter Two, “only put yourself in a state of innocence, as this people’s best philosophy would have you do.” 12

This ‘nán’ is now pronounced the same as 男 (2) and 南 (88E) in Mandarin dialects, but not in others nor in the ancient language.


老 old (of people)



騎 難 to ride

difficult, awkward; impossible

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Windows by 李 白 yù jiē yuàn lǐ bái 78A 116J 124 125 104E

Marble Stairs Grievance by Li Po (AD 701–762) 玉

yù jiē / shēng bái lù 78A 116J 93I 104E 126 On Marble Stairs / Still grows the white dew 夜 久

yè jiǔ / qīn luó wà 127 128 129 130 131 That has all night / Soaked her silk slippers; 却

què xià / shuǐ jīng lián 132 71 45 93E 133 But she’s let now / Her crystal blind down 玲

líng lóng / wàng qiū yuè 134 135 136 94D 52 And sees through glase / The moon of autumn! 玉階, the Jade Stairs, led to the Anartaepin of the Imperial Ladies, the Seraglio;

and the mood of the little poem ‘He cometh not, she said’ is that, of course, of Tennyson’s ‘Mariana’. Some say that these stairs were inlaid with jade or other gem stones, but they may simply have been made of something like a white marble. Jade is often used not in a literal sense but to express perfection. It is a symbol of such importance, however, that it may sometimes seem strange in English—as when a “jade flute” may mean no more than a flute of pure notes. The reader of an English translation cannot be asked to accept many such symbols, even though he might readily accept their equivalent in a language like Greek, ancestral to his own culture. Jade, as has already been remarked, is used as an epithet for a beautiful woman, particularly for her pure complexion; which is a part it plays here, along with the “crystal blind”, in implanting the thought of her beauty and her tears. The “White Dew” is a name for one of the twenty-four weather-seasons into which the Chinese lunar year is divided, about mid-September and so early autumn; a hint that, although still beautiful, she is not in her first youth. Compassion for such ladies of the Imperial Seraglio, sometimes angry compassion, is a recurrent theme among the poets; who felt for their loneliness once they had lost the Imperial favour, without proper family life. The magic in such a poem as this is in how much more the reader may imagine with its aid than

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it need tell in its mere twenty syllables of Chinese. This economy is partly achieved by the omissions that the Chinese language allows: there is no personal pronoun in the original, so that “she” and “her” in the translation are unexpressed and could equally be “I” and “my” (as in the translation of this poem by Ezra Pound in his “Cathay”); whilst “on”, “that has” and so on have also to be supplied in the English, where the Chinese is a succession and juxtaposition of images and sounds to match them. 怨 (124) ‘yuàn’ means ‘grievance, resentment’; or ‘sadness, sorrow’ with that implication. On the left of this character, above 心 (80C) for the heart which is the usual meaning associator for the emotions, there is 夕 (124A) ‘xī’, ‘evening’: 夕星 (124A – 107C) ‘xīxīng’, ‘evening star, Venus’. This character was earlier and , and is usually taken as a variant of the drawing of the crescent moon in 月 (52); although there is evidence that people with sharp sight, and on very clear nights, can in fact see the phases of Venus which the character may really have depicted. On its right here, there is 㔾, a curl, which could mean also ‘to roll over’ as if tossing sleepless at night. A Chinese or Japanese seeing this character 怨 would however now no more see these elements in it, consciously, than we might see ‘eve’ in ‘grieve’. But that is not to say that such things, whether part of a true etymology or not, play no part to the mind. 李 (125) ‘lǐ’, consisting of 木 (56) and 子 (110A), means a ‘plum’, generally of the small dark kind, and is the surname of 李白 or 李太白 (125 – 110H – 104E) Li Po or Li T’ai-po, in which 太白 is another name for the planet Venus; probably the best known name in the West among all Chinese poets. In Japan the characters 李白 are read as Rihaku, the name under which Ezra Pound translated several of his poems. Unlike the great majority of Chinese poets, Li Po seems not to have come from a typical family of the ‘literati’ or governing class but from a Sino-Turkish family, very probably of merchants, long settled in Central Asia; where he was born somewhere likely to have been close, on either side, to the present Soviet-Afghan border. There is much to suggest that he was partly Turkish in ‘blood’, as also was the ruling family of the T’ang Dynasty who shared his surname and acknowledged his kinship; but the extent to which he was Turkish or Chinese has no more to do with that nor relevant to his place in Chinese literature, than the origin and name of an Anglo-Irishman, such as Synge or Yeats. One characteristic of Li Po’s poems adduced to his Turkish background, was his obsession with the moon, even greater than in other Chinese poets; something curiously enough shared with Yeats. His Turkishness is however sometimes used against him by Chinese critics who for other reasons, his Taoist rather than Confucian beliefs and attitudes, the Dionysiac qualities of his poems, his drunkenness and apparent lack of interest in politics and other such subjects proper to poets, have reservations about his work in general. His youth was undoubtedly wild, and in it he played the part of what is variously translated ‘knight-errant’ and, rather more appropriately, ‘roving brave’. ‘Condottiere’ might also convey the meaning. He duelled, wenched, and drank; and his drinking, the subject of many of his poems, continued throughout his life and prevented even the most kindly disposed Emperor from employing him in public service. In his later years he called himself and some companions 酒 中八仙 (116C – 72 – 70 – 125A) ‘jiǔ-zhōng bā-xiān’, ‘the Eight Genies Among the Bottles’; in which 仙 (125A) ‘xiān’, made with 人 (1) ‘man’ and 山 (81) ‘mountain’, is a magical, faery being or Taoist ‘Immortal’.



grievance, grief

夕 evening


李 Plum; (a surname)


仙 genie, fairy, immortal



道 way; Tao; to say


首 head (126)


露 路 dew



各 each


夜 night

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Taoism was very much in the ascendant in the T’ang Dynasty, helped by Imperial favour: the surname 李 (125), of the Imperial family and of the poet, was also supposed to have been that of the ancient Sage who founded it. He was believed to have been born at the end of the seventh century BC and to have been Confucius’s senior contemporary and to have been named 李耳 (125 – 84A) ‘lǐ ěr’, Li Erh, but was known as ‘The Old Master’, 老子 (123B – 110A), ‘lǎo zǐ’, Lao Tzu or Lao Tse. The philosophy and the religion of which he was regarded as founder, Taoism, takes its name from 道 (125B) ‘dào’, ‘a way, a road; to tell, to say’; ‘the Way’ or the ‘Tao’ of his teachings. The Book of Lao Tzu, at once mystical and hard-headed, gentle and at the same time startling, which is ascribed to him is now thought mostly to be a much later production, probably of the fourth or third century BC with some still later interpolations; but whatever its date, it stands clear as one of the most remarkable books in the world and, alongside the very different Confucian Classics, has had a most profound influence on Chinese civilisation. A later chapter of the present book, though by no means adequate in its quotation, is devoted largely to it, and gives in full its first two short chapters. By the Chinese, who are fond of grouping in pairs, Li Po and Tu Fu, his younger contemporary and friend, are commonly regarded as their greatest poets. A book such as this can obviously show very little of either of them. In the present chapter seven of Li Po’s 絕句 (74 – 74B) ‘juéjù’, chüeh-chü poems are given, a form of which he is universally regarded as the outstanding master; but a few such short poems, in such a restricted form for the scope of his extraordinary imagination, can by no means represent him. There was also a new music that Li Po brought to his poems, astounding his contemporaries. Turkish influence was most probably also in this, as it revolutionised the instrumental music of the T’ang Dynasty. Turkish peoples occupied the Central Asian deserts between the Chinese Empire and the other great contemporary civilisations of India, Arabia and the Eastern Roman Empire, and they were the carriers of ideas and influences of all kinds along the caravan routes even when their own cultures were without literature. How much was contributed in both directions by their epics and songs, their stringed instruments and their flutes can scarcely be known. The Central Asian desert and its hardy occupants may have been an impedance to the passage of ideas between the surrounding urban civilisations and yet a very useful one, preventing the passage of ideas ready-made but allowing them to be reborn on either side. The character 道 (125B) consists of 辶 (compare 逆, 16; 迄, 64; 返, 87; 達, 114C) and 首 (125C) ‘shǒu’, ‘head’—compare ‘ahead’ in English. 首 was originally a picture of the head of a horned animal. It is also the counting word for poems—so many ‘head(ings)’, as we might say so many ‘titles’. 露 (126) ‘lù’, ‘dew’; or as a verb ‘to expose, to reveal’, has 雨 (101A) as meaning associator and 路 (126A) ‘lù’, ‘a road’, as word associator. This in turn has 足 (65) for a foot as meaning associator, with 各 (126B) ‘gè’, ‘each, every; variously, respectively’. The top part of this was in the early script one of the many variant signs, , also for a foot, at which date 各 was pronounced not greatly differently from 路 but both with a ‘kl-’ initial; so that the two words must have been felt, probably correctly, to be related: with an association of meaning as in “let each go his own road”. 夜 (127) ‘yè’ means ‘night’; or as an adjective, ‘later’. This was , in which 𠆢, now 亠, represented outstretched arms for the cover of night.



久 (128) ‘jiǔ’, ‘long’ (of time), is said by ancient dictionaries to represent a

man with a trailing gown, walking slowly and majestically. ‘Night-long’ makes a sentence in itself, ‘the night is long’; or if more follows, ‘the night is so long that …’; as here and as in the similar construction for ‘the cloud is so deep that’ in the poem at the end of the previous chapter. 侵 (129) ‘qīn’, ‘to invade’, included a man, 人, a hand 又, and a broom ; as we would spreak of ‘hordes sweeping over …’. ‘Snow’ 雪 (101) also has an associwas ation with this broom, being what sweeps and what one has to sweep. in early script, a hand on a broom. 羅 (130), ‘luó’, ‘silk gause, net’ or as a verb ‘to lay out, arrange’, has on top an abbreviated form of 网 which is a net; together with 糹 (74A) for thread or silk and 隹 for a bird to catch (cf. No. 79). 羅 is much used in transliterations, as in 羅馬 (130 – 48) ‘luómǎ’, ‘Rome’. 襪 (131) ‘wà’, which is a complicated character and is sometimes written more simply as 袜 (See No. 156A below), was a garment similar to the modern Japanese ‘tabi’; socks of heavy silk in which the lady would normally walk about indoors without slippers for which they would substitute. The meaning associator is 衣 (103C) ‘yī’, as usual in names of clothes. 却 (132) ‘què’ is a verb meaning ‘to withdraw’ but is mainly used as a conjunction like ‘but’. 水精 (45 – 93E) ‘shuǐjīng’ literally ‘water-pure’, is an expression for ‘rock crystal’; more usually written 水晶 (45 – 132A); in which 晶 ‘jīng’, a multiple refraction of the sun (50), is the character for a ‘crystal’. But here it is night, and the hint is of her tears. 簾 (133) ‘lián’, ‘a hanging screen, curtain or blind’. A roll-up bamboo blind is 竹簾 (75C – 133) ‘zhúlián’. Bamboo is also the meaning associator in this character and the complicated remainder is a character pronounced the same and meaning ‘purity, honest(y)’. (One may think of ‘jalousie’ as the name of a kind of blind.) For this also there is a simpler character but used mostly for a different meaning: 帘 ‘lián’, a flag-sign hung in a shop or tavern window: which combines cloth 巾 (cf. No. 121) with 穴 (80D), for an opening or window. This is another case of a mere graphic distinction of the same original word. (帘 can now be used for 簾 as part of the movement to simplify the script.) 玲瓏 (134 – 135) ‘línglóng’ is a member of a large class of Chinese onomatopoeic words of two syllables, such as might be said to form a part of speech of their own. Expressions like ‘ding-dong’ in English are somewhat similar, arising from the same word-forming instinct, but are generally felt with us to be childish and hardly dignified; which is not always true of their Chinese equivalents. To translate such expressions, that are rich in their associations, is impossible: one could only give a lengthy paraphrase to show which particular associations seemed most aroused in a given context: and, as will be seen, these associations cannot be dissociated from the script. The meaning associator of each character here is 玉 (78A) ‘jade’, the dot always being omitted in composition, while the word associator of 玲 ‘líng’ is 令 (134A) ‘lìng’ an important word meaning ‘to command, a command; to cause’. This also became an honorific, ‘belonging to one who commands me; your …, Sir’. It serves as word associator for a number of characters pronounced ‘líng’ in the second tone, which are all, however, remotely related in sense to a bell, which the character originally depicted, and so to the onomatopoeic ling like in English ting-a-ling. For instance, with 金 (57) for metal, it makes 鈴 (134B) ‘líng’, ‘a small bell’; as in 馬鈴 (48 – 134B) ‘mǎlíng’, ‘bells on horses’. This association


久 long (time) (129)

侵 invade (130)

羅 (131)

silk gauze; to lay out

襪 socks (132)

却 (132A)

晶 chyrstal

to withdraw; then, but (133)

簾 blind, curtain



玲 瓏 (see text)

(see text)


令 command, cause


鈴 bell



龍 dragon


朧 hazy moon


望 to gaze


亡 to vanish, perish

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has led to a meaning of little drops of anything; the character 零 (26) ‘líng’; now used for ‘zero’ as already seen, but originally meaning a droplet of rain or dew. 令 can also be written as 令 in all these characters. The word associator in 瓏 (135) ‘lóng’ is 龍 (135A) ‘lóng’, ‘a dragon’. 九龍 (33 – 135A) ‘jiǔlóng’, ‘The Nine Dragons’, is Kowloon (our name is from the Cantonese pronunciation of the place), named after the nine children of the dragon: 龍生 九子 (135A – 93I – 33 – 110A) ‘lóng shēng jiǔ zǐ’, ‘the dragon begat nine children’. These have each a function, an intellectual responsibility, for music, literature, engineering, war and so on; somewhat like those of the Nine Muses of the Greeks. The supreme importance of the dragon, which was also the symbol of the Emperor’s divine power, in Chinese mythology is well known: it symbolises wisdom, majesty and grandeur; but also the mystery of the elements, of the weather that could make famine or plenty. It is usually portrayed half-emerging out of clouds and it seemed no mere myth, for it had been seen by anyone who ever saw the phenomenon of a water-spout. Because of its importance there is a great variety of early forms of the character. The left side, made up now of 立 (113A) and 月 (52), seems to have shown a front view of head and body; while what is on the right seems to have been a profile; possibly the two together, male and female as in 化 (9), also symbolising the notion of coupling and of generation:

The chief association with 龍, apart from merely the sound, in such a character as 瓏 is mystery. Written with 月 (52) ‘yuè’ ‘moon’, it makes 朧 (135B) ‘lóng’, ‘a rising, hazy moon’; which some editions use in the present poem. 玲瓏 ‘línglóng’ itself thus implies, besides the glitter and the tinkle of the ‘crystal blind’, the delicate beauty of the moon, as seen through both blinds: of her room and her tears. Although no Chinese would consciously consider all these associations, and there could be many more, each must have its small gravitational pull. 望 (136) ‘wàng’ means ‘to gaze at, discern’ something in the distance. The moon is again to be seen in this character, but one should not make too much of this, as far as the poem is concerned, any more than one should try too hard to analyse the effects of sound in poetry: human language is the creation of an animal with free will, and one needn’t see any of these things! The 𡈼 underneath is not originally ‘jade’ or ‘king’ and is usually written with the top stroke from right to left. In early forms of the character it appears to have had 土 (78D) ‘earth’ from which one looks at the moon above. On the left of the moon is the word associator 亡 (136A) ‘wáng’, ‘to vanish, perish’; of which an early form seems to show a man entering 入 (70) a hiding place. The hiding place now has 亠, the covering arms of darkness as in No. 127. The rhyme in this poem, quite obscured by modern Mandarin pronunciation, is between 襪 ‘wà’ and 月 ‘yuè’, now a rhyme in tone only. When the poem was written these would have rhymed perfectly, with a splendid triphthong, and also with a ‘t’ at the end which still survives in Cantonese pronunciation. The four T’ang poems so far given, “Deer Fence”, “River Snow”, “On Seeking a Hermit” and this, are all phrased in units of 2 + 3 = 5. This measure, and one of 4+3 = 7 are much the commonest so that some collections of poetry are



arranged according to them and thus exclude poems in other measures. (In such simple basic measures as these there was of course great variety possible, thanks to the tones.) As the T’ang Dynasty, however, was a time of innovation, there was a great deal of experiment with other measures, particularly with measures to fit songs to the new music inspired from Central Asia. These became a separate branch of poetry, distinguished from the 詩 (75) ‘shī’ and called 詞 (114D) ‘cí’, ‘phrasings’ in which the lines were of irregular length and their tonal structure also designed to fit the new tunes. The division between 詩 and 詞 was not, however, especially at first, a sharp one: there had been irregular lengths of line also in 詩, and in the poem that follows the measure could be considered as 4+3 = 7 but with the fourth syllable in each of the two lines replaced by a silent beat before the cesura; doubling it as was quite commonly done in 詩 (75). Nevertheless, in form and spirit this next poem is generally considered to be one of the first examples of a true 詞 (114D), of which a further, fully developed example will be given later in the book.

∵ by 白 居 易 huā fēi huā bái jū yì 137 138 137 104E 139 140 花

非 花

Flower or Not Flower by Po Chü-I (AD772–846) 花

非 花

霧 非 霧

huā fēi huā / wù fēi wù 137 138 137 141 138 141 Flower or not flower, / mist or not mist was here: 夜 半

yè bàn lái / tiān míng qù 127 142 143 101H 51 69 At midnight, came; / with day, no longer there; 來 如

lái rú chūn mèng / jǐ duō shí 143 89C 94C 144 106E 145 146 Came, like a dream of spring, / a time; 去 似 朝

無 覓

qù sì zhāo yún / wú mì chù 69 147 148 101D 149 82B 123 Went, as a cloud at dawn, / nowhere. 花 (137) ‘huā’, ‘a flower’, has 艹, as in 草 (22) ‘grass’, with 化 (9) ‘huà’, ‘to engender,

metamorphosis’ as word associator. A more elaborate character for ‘flower’ is written 華 (137A) which is used more in senses of ‘a flowering’ and is pronounced in a different tone, ‘huá’: 華王 (137A – 78) ‘huá wáng’, ‘the king of flowering’ is a name for the peony; 中華 (72 – 137A) ‘zhōnghuá’, ‘the central flowering’ is one of the most usual names for China; and 華 alone commonly



花 華 flower

flower, culture, China



非 is not

(139) (139A)

to dwell

old, ancient, of long ago


易 easy, to change (140A)




creek, harbour





名 name


號 sign

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means ‘Chinese’; 華文 (137A – 8) ‘huáwén’, ‘Chinese (written) language, Chinese culture’; 華人 (137A – 1) ‘huárén’, ‘a Chinese, Chinese people’. 非 (138) ‘fēi’, ‘is not’, qualifies a noun in the sense of ‘to be other than’, whereas 不 (10) ‘not’, qualifies only a verb or an adjective. This is pronounced the same as 飛 (106) ‘fēi’, ‘to fly’; for which meaning the character was originally devised, as a pair of wings. Again, as in the bird in 不, there is an association in the character between negative and flying. The sound of ‘fēi’ here, thanks to the association with 飛, especially ‘huā fēi huā’ with its three even tones, gives an aerial effect to the first line of this song. Po Chü-i is one of the best loved of all Chinese poets, both at home and abroad. His influence was especially great in early Japan, which his poems reached in his own lifetime and where he became regarded as the divine model of Chinese poetry; so that the term ‘The Works’ was used alone there to mean his. Many of his poems have been translated into Western languages, into English by Arthur Waley in particular; for, as he said, they are probably more readily transplanted from Chinese soil than any others. If this is so, it may be that this is largely the result of Po Chü-i’s own poetic theory which had a good deal in common with Wordsworth’s; favouring simplicity and straightforwardness of language. There is a story that sometimes he read poems to his old washerwoman and changed words she could not understand. 居 (139) ‘jū’ means ‘to dwell’. The meaning associator was originally a figure of a reclining-man, ㄕ; and the remainder of the character is 古 (139A) ‘gǔ’, the word associator, which means ‘old, ancient, of long ago’; what has passed through 十 (23) ten 口 (62) mouths. Whereas 老人 (123B – 1) ‘lǎorén’ means a man who has grown old, 古人 (139A – 1) ‘gǔrén’ means ‘a man of ancient times’. 易 (140) ‘yì’, ‘easy, at ease; to change’. 易經 (140 – 94E) ‘yìjīng’ is the name of the Book of Changes. The character was a picture of a chameleon. Po Chü-i is also commonly called by his coming-of-age name Po Lo-t’ien 白 樂天 (104E – 115F – 101H) ‘bái lè-tiān’, in Japanese Haku Rakuten, the name Ezra Pound called him by: and by the name of the Scented Mountain monastery where he retired. Po Hsiang-shan 白香山 (104E –140A – 81) ‘bái xiāng-shān’; in which 香 (140A) ‘xiāng’ means ‘fragrant, scented’. This with 港 (140B) ‘gǎng’, ‘a creek or harbour’ makes the name of the island 香港 ‘xiānggǎng’, Hong Kong. It has the sun, 日, with harvest 禾 as in 秋 (94D). 港 has water 氵, with 巷 (140C) ‘hsàng’, ‘a lane, alley’; which in turn has 共 (114E) for connecting, and 㔾 as in 怨 (124) for its twists and turns. Po, 白 (104E) ‘bái’ or ‘bó’, is the poet’s surname, the name by which he was born, for which the character is 姓 (140D) ‘xìng’, ‘clan, surname’: made up of 女 (3) ‘woman’ and 生 (93I) ‘to be born’. His given name was Chü-i, 居易 ‘jū-yì’, as Li Po’s was 白. This is called their 名 (140E) ‘míng’, which is the ordinary word for ‘a name, a noun’. (This is by origin of both word and character a variant of 明, 51, as an extension of ‘glory, reputation, good name’.) On some special occasion such as coming of age a ceremonial name would be given: Po Chü-i’s was Lo T’ien, 樂天 and Li Po’s was T’ai Po, 太白. It is a matter of individual choice how much this name is used, which is called the 字 (110E) ‘zì’, not here meaning ‘a (composite) character’ but in its original sense of ‘the child bred and brought up’. A yet further kind of name might be given to an indivudal or taken by him in later life, such as 香山 in Po Chü-i’s case. This is called a 號 (140F) ‘hào’, a word meaning basically a sign or a slogan, used for various kinds of mark of



distinction: 第一號 (37 – 36 – 140F) ‘dì yī hào’ means ‘No. 1’. The ‘tiger’ 虎 (123A) on the right, originally for a war slogan,1 is now completely omitted, and the character just written 号 (140F). The 丂, which has been met in 兮 (98), is said to have meant ‘to exclaim’. 霧 (141) ‘wù’, ‘mist’ consists of 雨 (101A) ‘rain’ with 務 (141A) ‘wù’, ‘task, business’ as word associator. 半 (142) ‘bàn’, ‘half’ was originally made up of 八 (27), which indicates division, with 牛 (142A) ‘niú’, ‘an ox’, earlier : 夜半 (127 – 142) ‘yèbàn’ means ‘midnight’. For the middle of the day there is a single word 午 (142B) ‘wǔ’, ‘noon’: a character very similar to that for ‘ox’ but which had earlier forms like and , reminiscent of the sign for Libra. (午 is also the equivalent zodiacal sign.) 來 (143) ‘lái’, ‘to come’, was a picture of a plant, borrowed for its sound. (In early literature it was ‘wheat’ but there is a word now pronounced the same as 來, written 萊 with the meaning associator for plants, for ‘goosefoot’ which the character resembles.) 來 ‘lái’, ‘to come’ has many idiomatic uses: 起來 (109A – 143) ‘qǐlái’, meaning ‘to come up’, is often used after verbs in the colloquial language much like ‘up’ is used in English; 以來 (11 – 143) ‘yǐlái’, following an expression of time means ‘from … onwards’; 來月 (143 – 52) ‘láiyuè’ means ‘next month’; 夜來 (127 – 143) ‘yèlái’ means ‘from the coming of night onward, all last night’. 夢 (144) ‘mèng’ means ‘(to) dream’ and has 夕 (124A) for dusk as its meaning associator under 𦭝; which possesses a number of early versions, some suggesting horns and a large eye. Underneath that, 冖 is a sign covering or enveloping. The whole character in the last sinuous forms before the brush-made characters is:

The most famous romantic novel in Chinese,2 written in the eighteenth century, is called 紅樓夢 (80H – 116D – 144) ‘hóng lóu mèng’; a title usually translated as The Dream of the Red Chamber but closer to meaning ‘of the beautiful palace’. (The 紅 in many of its uses is close to the Russian ‘krasnyi’. 樓 is always a particularly difficult word to translate and because of the tent-like shape of Chinese roofs is often rendered as ‘pavilion’, or ‘pavilions’.) 多 (145) ‘duō’ meaning ‘much’ or ‘many’ is written now as if a doubling of the evening character, 夕 (124A); but by origin this is another form, just as 月 (52) can be, of 肉 (118C) for meat. The character 多 is thus like English ‘plenty’. 時 (146) ‘shí’, ‘time, hour’, has the sun 日 (50) with 寺 (75A) as word associator. 幾多時 (106E – 145 – 146) means ‘for how long?’; but as in many languages no clear distinction can be made between interrogative expressions like this and indefinite ones: ‘for just a while’. Some versions of the song have 不 (10) 多時. Preceded by a verb, 時 often may be translated by ‘when’: 來時 (143 – 146) ‘lái

1 ‘Slogan’ in English is a loanword from Gaelic for a ‘war-cry’. 2 This has the subtitle The Story of the Stone, under which it is being translated for Penguin Classics by Professor David Hawkes; in its entirety. Some abbreviated translations into English already exist.



霧 務 mist




半 牛 half


(142B) (143)


to come


夢 dream


多 plenty, much, many


時 time


(147) (148)

like, resemble



鮮 (148B)


魚 fish


無 not to have, without


舞 to dance (149B)

巫 shaman, witch doctor


題 subject, title

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shí’, ‘when he came, when you come’, etc. Followed by a verb, it may mean ‘at times, sometimes’; 時來 ‘shí lái’, ‘at times it comes’, etc. 似 (147) ‘sì’, ‘to resemble; like’ is made up of 人 (1) and 以 (11). 朝 (148) ‘zhāo’, means ‘dawn, morning, early’; or if read as ‘cháo’, ‘the Imperial Court; a dynasty’. (One may compare our word ‘levée’ for an audience, court ceremonial, to see how this sense developed.) On the left is the sun, 日, caught still in 艹, grass or plants, which are turned vertical to show more clearly how the sun is still caught in them; while on the right the moon is still visible. Instead of the moon, however, in early versions of the character there was 水 (45) water or 舟 (111) boat because the earliest meaning of the character was the early morning tide, that had to be caught to go fishing. 朝鮮 (148 – 148A) ‘cháoxiān’, in Japanese Chōsen, is Korea, another great participator of the culture that originated from China. The name means ‘Morning Freshness’; the character 鮮 (148A) ‘xiān’ meaning ‘fresh’ and consisting of 羊 (42) for mutton with 魚 (148B) ‘yú’, ‘fish’; two foods that need to be fresh, but also a further example of 羊 in a character with a ‘good’ meaning in a script developed first by the Chinese people’s pastoral ancestors. 魚 has early forms:

and is also sometimes now written 𩵋. 無 (149) ‘wú’ means ‘to not exist, not to have’ (indistinguishable as meanings in Chinese grammar, as there is no notion of the attachment of a person to a verb); ‘without’. The character, which has changed greatly in the evolution of the script, was originally a picture of a man dancing with regalia of some kind in his hands:

There is a related word and character 舞 (149A) ‘wǔ’ which is now the verb ‘to dance’; in which the bottom part showed the man’s legs dancing, though they are no longer recognisable as a picture and the lefthand part has become 夕 (124A). The man himself with his regalia appears in a further related word and character: 巫 (149B) ‘wū’, which is a ‘shaman, witch-doctor’, who danced to exorcise evil spirits. Whether these three ‘wu’ words in different tones are related or not, the characters show that they were originally felt to be related. 無名 (… 140E) ‘wúmíng’ means ‘anonymous’; 無綫電 (… 109H – 101G) ‘wúxiàndiàn’ or simply 無綫 ‘wúxiàn’, ‘wireless telegraphy, radio’; 無綫電天文家 (… 101H – 8 – 114G) ‘wúxiàndiàn-tiānwénjiā’, ‘a radio astronomer’. The end of the little song would, of course, more literally be translated ‘nowhere to be sought’. The rhyme scheme is A A x A; with ‘wù’, ‘qù’ and ‘chù’ all rhyming in the Falling Tone, though the ‘u’ in ‘qù’, being ‘ü’, does not rhyme now perfectly to our ears. In this scheme and in the fact that the third line, which does not rhyme, ends in a contrasting Tense Tone, the song is no different from a 詩 (75) ‘shī’ of four lines. A more typical example of the 詞 (114D) form, from its greatest age in the Sung Dynasty, is given later in this book. The next poem which is also a love poem is, though a 詩, no less personal and intimate in the new fashion. Love poems were commonly just called 無 題 (149 – 149C) ‘wú tí’, ‘Without Title’; in which 題 (149C) ‘tí’ means ‘a heading,



subject, title’: 問題 (84C …) ‘wèntí’, literally ‘the subject of a question’, is a ‘problem’; as in 華美問題 (137A – 116L …) ‘huáměi-wèntí’, ‘the Sino-American Problem’.

∵ 夜 雨

寄 北

yè yǔ jì běi 127 101A 150 88B

by 李 商 隱 lǐ shāng yǐn 125 151 152

Letter North in Night Rain by Li Shang-Yin 君

歸 期

jūn wèn guī qī / wèi yǒu qí 153 84C 154 155 156 157 155 You ask when I return? / I have no date yet 巴 山

夜 雨

bā shān yè yǔ / zhàng qiū chí 158 81 127 101A 159 94D 160 (Pa mountain rain tonight / Spread pools of autumn) 何 當


hé dāng gòng jiǎn / xī chuāng zhú 161 162 114E 163 88D 164 165 For us to snuff the light / In the west window 却

巴 山

夜 雨

què huà bā shān / yè yǔ shí 132 166 158 81 127 101A 146 And talk of the night rain / In the Pa Mountains. 寄 (150) ‘jì’ has at first sight two different meanings as a verb, namely ‘to lodge, stay’ and ‘to send, deliver’. The character has ‘roof’ 宀 as in 家 (114G); with 奇, already met in 騎 (123C), as word associator. Its two meanings are really developments of the same basic meaning of ‘to entrust to’, hence ‘to send’ (by someone); or (since active and passive are not distinguished) ‘to be entrusted to’, thus ‘to lodge with’. In the latter sense it is usually combined with 宿 (150A) ‘sù’, also meaning ‘to lodge, to stay’: 寄宿 ‘jì sù’. This hospitable character has a hundred 百 (25) men 人 (1) under one roof. 寄生 (150 – 93I) ‘jìshēng’ is used for ‘parasite, parasitic’ (‘living by lodging’), for instance 寄生草 (… 22) ‘jìshēng cǎo’ for ‘parasitic plants’ (like mistletoe), and 寄生蟲 (… 115B) ‘jìshēng chóng’ for ‘parasitic insects’. In the title, 寄 means ‘posted’, of a letter. 商 (151) ‘shāng’ is the name of the Shang Dynasty, traditionally dated 1766– 1122BC, from which come the first specimens of writing, about 1400 BC, so far discovered. (This is also known as the Yin, or the Shang-Yin Dynasty.) As a word, it seems to have meant basically ‘to deliberate’ or sometimes ‘to give, to bestow’; later ‘trade, commerce’, which became its most usual meaning: 商人 (… 1) ‘shāngrén’, ‘a merchant’; 商務 (… 141A) ‘shāngwù’, ‘business, commerce, commercial’; 商船 (… 111A) ‘shāngchuán’, ‘a merchant ship’; and so on. The top


寄 entrust, send; stay with (150A)

宿 to lodge


商 trade; ‘Shang’



內 inside



外 outside

隱 conceal


陰 dark, ‘Yin’


君 prince (153A) (153B)

群 flock



歸 submit; return


婦 wife, woman

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part of the character has a form, in early versions of it, that often represents a full face (cf. 龍, 135A); and in those versions the bottom part, without the mouth 口 (62) which they often omit, resembles early forms of the character 內 (151A) ‘nèi’, ‘inside’; itself containing 入 (70) ‘rù’ for entering. The whole character 商 may then originally have symbolised something like ‘to enter the presence (and speak)’; thence possibly the name of a court and so the Shang Dynasty, with the other developed meaning of negotiation. 外 (151B) ‘wài’ means ‘outside’. 隱 (152) ‘yǐn’, ‘to conceal’ is evidently a related word to 陰 (152A) ‘yīn’, ‘the north, dark side of a hill’, the Yin principle (see Yáng, 陽 89F). 隱害 (… 12) ‘yǐnhài’ is ‘to do secret injury’; 隱情 (… 93A) ‘yǐnqíng’ is ‘secret feelings’. 隱 is also used for ‘latent’, as in 隱力 (… 5) ‘yǐnlì’, ‘latent energy’. This seemingly too complicated character long ago replaced one too simple; which was the 𠃊 in 亡 (136A), formerly used for this word. The little poem to his wife at the capital, Ch’ang-an, whence he had been posted away to the south in Szechwan, here represented, is not typical of Li Shang-yin’s poetry, which is often almost chaotic in its imagery, colour and allusions; sometimes condemned as ‘decadent’ (largely because this is a label that seems to suit his date in the Late T’ang period), but also among the most wonderfully orchestrated in brilliant images of all Chinese poetry. (For translations and more about this poet, see A.C. Graham’s Poems of the Late T’ang in Penguin Classics.) 君 (153) ‘jūn’, ‘a prince, princess; lady, gentleman’. It is used here for ‘you’, between intimates and, despite its original meaning, like a ‘tutoyer’. It is still used in Japan, pronounced ‘kimi’. The character showed a hand , now , holding a staff or shepherd’s crook; together with 口 (62), a mouth to command. With 羊 (42) for sheep, it makes 群 (153A) ‘qún’, ‘a flock of sheep; mob, herd, multitude’. A related word, but not related character, to these is 軍 (153B) ‘jūn’, pronounced exactly the same as 君 but meaning ‘an army’; the character representing covered 冖 wagons 車 (109G). 君子 (… 110A) ‘jūnzǐ’ is a term constantly recurring in Chinese moral writings, for instance by Confucius and his followers, for ‘the man fit to lead’, and variously translated as ‘the superior man’; ‘the gentleman’, or ‘the accomplished scholar’. It, too, is often used for ‘you’. 歸 (154) ‘guī’ meant originally ‘to marry’ (of a woman only); thence ‘to yield, submit’. From the sense of submission it came to mean ‘to come back, to return’, but the character symbolises the first meaning. On the left is the symbol of authority 𠂤 (cf. 師 and 帥, 121 and 121B) with, under that, a form of ‘foot’ for ‘going’—a woman went from her own family’s to her husband’s family’s authority; and on the right 帚, which is a hand holding a broom. This in an early form was , and like though not quite the same as what is now the righthand side of 侵 (129); for the cloth 巾, instead of a hand, 又, further indicated housewifely duties. 婦 (154A) the same element with 女 (3) is pronounced ‘fù’ and means ‘a wife, a woman’; as in 婦人 (… 1) ‘fùrén’, ‘a woman’, 夫婦 (110D …) ‘fūfù’, ‘a husband and wife’. (On the other hand 夫人 ‘fūrén’, rather surprisingly, also means ‘a wife’ in polite language: ‘Mrs; your wife’.) The picturesque etymology of 歸 is forgotten here but there are other words for ‘to return’ that the poet might have used and while it would be excessive to say that this means more than that, or ‘yield to your entreaties’, all the seeds of a word’s history are latent in it. It is the mind of a user of the language, ‘going out to meet’, in Mencius’s phrase, that quite unconsciously activates them.



期 (155) ‘qī’, ‘a time limit; a short period of time; a date’; with 月 (52) for the moon on the right as meaning associator, and 其 (89G) ‘qí’ as word associator. 星期 (107C …) ‘xīngqī’ is the ordinary word now for ‘a week’. 星期日 (…

50) ‘xīngqirì’—with the ‘qi’ unstressed and toneless—is used for ‘Sunday’, while the rest of the days of the week are simply numbered 星期一 (… 36), ‘xīngqiyī’, ‘Monday’, 星期二 (… 24), ‘xīngqièr’, ‘Tuesday’ and so on. 未 (156) ‘wèi’, ‘not yet’, being a word no more trouble to say than 不 (10) ‘bù’, ‘not’, is much more used than ‘not yet’ in English. The Chinese will thus often say ‘not yet done’ when others think ‘not done’ nearer the mark. The character is one of three derived from placing a crossbar on 木 (56), a tree: if the long bar is placed near the top, it makes the character 末 (156A) ‘mò’, meaning ‘limit, end’; which has been met in composition with 衣 (103C), clothes, to make 袜, the short form of No. 131: ‘end-clothes’, i.e. ‘socks’. If the long bar is placed on the way up the tree, it makes 未 ‘wèi’, ‘not yet’, as above. And if a bar is placed near the bottom of the tree, it makes 本 (156B) ‘běn’, meaning ‘stem, origin’: 日 本 (50 …) ‘rìběn’, ‘the origin of the sun, the Land of the Rising Sun’, is Japan; our name being derived from a slightly different Mandarin pronunciation, through Portuguese; and the Japanese name, Nippon or Nihon, from the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese characters as received in Japan when the initial of 日 was still a kind of ‘n’. 有 (157) ‘yǒu’, ‘to have; there is, there are; a, an, some, any’: these are various possible translations of this word, which in Chinese has only one meaning. 有人 (… 1) ‘yǒu rén’ means ‘to have a man’, ‘there is a man’, ‘there were men’, ‘a certain person’, ‘some people’; or can be so translated, according to context. If it is followed immediately by a verb, like 有人見 (… 82) ‘yǒu rén jiàn’, it is most likely to be translated ‘some people see’ or in a story ‘somebody saw’. In the poem it can equally be translated ‘I have no date yet’ or ‘There is no date yet’; the distinction being one of English grammar only, the difference in information conveyed by the alternatives being no more here than an apparent choice that the nature of our grammar compels us to make. The negative of 有 is 無 (149) ‘wú’: 無人 (… 1) ‘wú rén’, ‘I have nobody, there are no people’; 無人見 (… 82) ‘wú rén jiàn’, ‘nobody sees, no one saw’, and so on. 有綫電 (157 – 109H – 101G) ‘yǒuxiàndiàn’ is ‘line telegraphy’, in contrast with ‘wireless telegraphy’. Like 無, the character 有 has distant origins to do with magic. It now appears to consist of , earlier , the right hand which is seen also in 力 (5) and 右 (80G), holding the moon (it is ‘moon’ and not ‘meat’) 月 (52). This has been the form for about three thousand years, and seems an interesting symbol of human ideas of ‘having’, reminiscent of William Blake’s ‘I want, I want’ ladder to the moon; but earlier still it appears to have been not one but two characters, one above the other but often run together. This was commonly done, because of the frequency of a combination and in order to save space, on the oracle bones. The first of these two characters was , an upright hand or possibly a man with arms raised, for the verb ‘to have’ (forms like this are still used for it in fancy writing, equivalent to our ‘Gothic’) and the second had forms such as and , meaning an ‘omen’; though of exactly what kind and how the word was pronounced, which has no known descendant in the later language, is unknown. This phrase ‘There is an (omen of some kind)’ came simply to be used for ‘There is’, and the moon to be substituted for the obscure ‘omen’ character, thus replacing the hand alone as the character for this meaning. As a guess one may suppose that , whatever exactly it meant (this form indicates divination by the cracks on prepared and heated bone or tortoiseshell)


期 time, period (156)

未 not yet (156A)

末 end (156B)

本 origin (157)

有 to have; there is, there are



巴 Pa (placename) (158A)

把 take


漲 flood, spread


長 chief, long





draw bow, stretch

池 pond (160A)

虵 (160B)

snake, serpent

也 too, also (160C)


地 他 earth, ground


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was somehow associated with ‘moon’, in pronunciation or otherwise. The word ‘yǒu’, 有, is related certainly to the word ‘yòu’, 又 (80G) for ‘right hand’. 巴 (158) ‘bā’ is the name for a region and mountain range in what is now Szechwan Province. This meaning, as a placename, is its earliest recorded; but the great Shuo Wên Etymological Dictionary of characters, published in AD 102, believes it (shown there as ) to have depicted originally a python. It is word associator in many other characters; such as 把 (158A) ‘bǎ’ meaning ‘to take hold of’, in which the meaning associator is 扌 for 手 (79B) a hand again, in the form commonly found in transitive verbs. In the modern language this ‘bǎ’ is very commonly used as a sign of the object of another verb: 把山看一看 (… 81 – 82A – 36 – 82A) ‘bǎ shān kàn-yi-kàn’, ‘have a look at the mountain(s)’. 巴 itself is a great deal used in approximate transcription of foreign names, as for the first two syllables of ‘Barbara’ and as 巴西 (… 88D) ‘bāxī’, ‘Brazil’. 把 ‘bǎ’ is also used as the counting word (compare No. 111E) for things like knives, umbrellas and fans, that have handles: 一把刀 (36 … 92A) ‘yìbǎ dāo’, ‘one knife’. 漲 (159) ‘zhàng’, ‘to extend, to stretch, to rise (of water)’. On the right of the character is 長 (159A) ‘cháng’, ‘long’ (used of both space and time); or pronounced as ‘zhǎng’, ‘to grow; one who has grown, an elder, a chief’. This last meaning is the one that the character originally represented, still resembling, as it does, a North American Indian chief’s feather headdress; although more probably it is the chieftain’s long hair, for which the crossbar represents the hairpin (cf. 夫 No. 110D); and the bottom part, now much altered, represented the rest of the man: the Chinese in ancient times did not cut their hair but did it up in a topknot fastened with a pin; so the length of hair suggests age and seniority. (The queue or pigtail was a Manchu custom forced on the conquered Chinese, who detested it and therefore foreigners’ supposition that it was theirs, only in the seventeenth century.) On the left of 長 is 弓 (159B) ‘gōng’, ‘a bow’, originally a picture of the Eastern-type reflex bow: 弓 and 長 together make 張 (159C) ‘zhāng’, ‘to draw a bow; to stretch; to spread, to publish’; to which in turn 氵 (45) water has been added for the ‘flower/flour’ distinction, 漲, ‘to flood’, as above. 池 (160) ‘chí’ means ‘a pond, pool, reservoir’. 電池 (101G …) ‘diànchí’ is an electric ‘battery, accumulator’. 也 on the right was originally a picture of a cobra , in some versions with a foot or a man treading on it, hence the meaning of danger. These versions have become 它 and 㐌 in the modern script and all three versions are used as word associators in other characters; for instance 也 is used, with 虫 (115B) as meaning associator, in 虵 (160A) ‘shé’, ‘serpent, snake’. In its various versions this serpent image is one of the commonest and most important of all the word associators, but as far as pronunciation of the words containing it goes it now seems very irregular. 也 itself as a character on its own was an exclamation which acquired a grammatical use as 也 (160B) ‘yě’, ‘too, also’; emphasising the word before it and sometimes at the end of a sentence marking a predicate, like a verb ‘to be’ joining two nouns: A B 也, meaning ‘A is (a) B’. That it was once an exclamation is shown by the word order, unlike A 是 (17) B for a similar meaning. With 土 (78D) the sign of the earth altar, 也 makes the character 地 (160C) ‘dì’, ‘ground, earth, place’; and with 人 (1) for man it makes 他 (160D) ‘tā’, ‘another’; which in modern Mandarin can serve also as a pronoun, ‘he, it’. Such an element as 也 and 它 (these are as has been said above only variin 右 (80G) ‘yòu’ and 有 (157) ‘yǒu’, which ants of the same element) or as



in this book is called the ‘word associator’ of a character, is usually called its ‘phonetic’, but the unreliability of word associators phonetically has already been remarked on several times. For ‘yòu’ and ‘yǒu’ to share the same ‘phonetic’ seems eminently reasonable, but for ‘chí’, ‘shé’, ‘yě’, ‘dì’ and ‘tā’ to do so, even given what has been said about changes in sounds of the languages since the script was first created, must make anyone wonder how good these ‘phonetics’ ever were. Five different initial consonants are represented in these five words as they are now; but in the characters with this ‘phonetic’ in Bernhard Karlgren’s Grammata Serica, which gives reconstructed early pronunciations, it appears that it would serve in the ancient language not for fewer initial consonants but for still more: six different initial consonants combining with four different terminating vowels! To make things worse, various of these combinations could equally well be expressed by other ‘phonetics’. This seems enough to show that the ‘phonetics’ never were much good, phonetically at least, which is why instead in this book they are called ‘word associators’. While there was in the early language some phonetic resemblance to associate these five words, ‘chí’, ‘shé’, ‘yě’, ‘dì’ and ‘tā’ (they all began with a dental sound and ended in a vowel) they must have all had something else to associate them. 池 (160) ‘chí’ was then doubtless a serpentine pool, as on a bend of a river and like The Serpentine in London’s Hyde Park; 蛇 (160A) ‘shé’ was a snake itself; 也 (160B) ‘yě’ was possible to think of as an exclamation of warning or fear on seeing a snake; 地 (160C) ‘dì’ was the ground on which the serpent shall walk on his belly all the days of his life; the Earth of which he is a world-wide symbol, as in the Norse ‘Midgard’s Worm’. 他 (106D) ‘tā’ for ‘other’ looks more difficult, but ‘spread to others’ gives a clue and there is also a verb ‘to spread’ with 也 in it, which will come later in this book; while another verb 及 (89D) ‘jí’ has been seen to have a somewhat similar sense development from ‘to extend’ to being a mere conjunction ‘and’. In Grammatica Serica there are twenty-five characters in all having this word associator and they can all, mostly with very much less difficulty than 他, be associated with the snake it represented. Nowadays, however, users of the script would no more see snakes in these characters (only those learned in character etymologies would connect 也 with 蛇 at all and to see snakes in these characters would be nothing but a nuisance) than English-speakers would see, say, Aphrodite in April; though that is her month. The birth of Aphrodite from the sea waves, Venus Born of Foam, has something in common with that of the Chinese characters. Originally she was Ishtar or Ashtaroth in Semitic languages, not Greek and nothing to do with the sea; but the Greeks turned her name about, not by conscious effort but by what to the Phœnicians was ignorant error, because of their need for it to mean something—and the legend of the Birth of Venus was born, as it might be said, by a Greek ‘malapropism’. Whether the word for Earth itself in early Chinese had any connection with ‘serpent’ or not, this was the association they made; and just as April is a beautiful and evocative name for the month in English, without sight of Aphrodite herself any longer in it to English-speakers, so is 地 a beautiful and evocative character for Earth to the users of Chinese characters, in China, Japan and Korea, without sight any longer of its ancient symbol of the serpent. Though the creature is not visible as a picture, the serpentine form is still somehow present in 也; playing its part to the mind, along with subconscious association with the other characters containing this symbol.


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何 (161) ‘hé’ means ‘how?’, ‘how able?’, ‘what?’, ‘what kind of …?’: 何時 (… 146) ‘hé shí’, ‘what time, when?’. The character has 人 (1) for man; though seeming


何 (161A)

how? what?

可 to fit; can, may


河 river: the Yellow River


當 to be right, ought; when, for


常 normal, constant, for ever

here to be little more than a sort of ‘general purpose’ meaning associator, as it often is; with 可 (161A) ‘kě’, the basic meaning of which is ‘to be satisfactory’, hence ‘to be suitable, can, may, to be able’. Because of our particular way of joining subjects to verbs, we tend to think of ourselves as being able and of things as being suitable but ‘A 可 B’ could be translated as ‘A’ (say, a person) ‘is able to B’ (a verb, active or passive); or ‘A (a thing) is suited to B’ (a thing); and so on. We can use some words in a rather similar way, ‘One is fit to work, the other is fit to sack’, but the freedom of Chinese in this respect takes getting used to: 可見 (… 82) ‘kějiàn’ can so often be translated ‘visible’ that one needs to avoid making such an equation in one’s mind, which will only cause difficulty when it should be translated ‘can see’. Another important character with this word associator is 河 (161B) ‘hé’, ‘a river’, but especially the great Yellow River which irrigates North China and enabled the first growth of Chinese civilisation. (It can therefore be used alone to mean the Yellow River, just as 江, 100, can be used for the Yangtse.) The word associator itself, 可 (161A) had the same 丂, now the in it, as 兮 (98) and 號 (104F). It seems here also to have indicated an exclamation or cry, but of satisfaction. The Shuo Wên Dictionary says that the indicates breathing, coming up against , an obstruction; making, with 口 (62) for mouth, a belch of satisfaction, such as (correctly performed) is courteous after a meal in much of the world including China. A word somewhat close in basic meaning to 可 (161A) is 當 (162) ‘dāng’, which means ‘to be the normal thing for’ and so also ‘to be suitable, right’; but as what we should translate by an ‘auxiliary verb’, it has the meaning of ‘ought, should’ rather than ‘can, may, to be able’. As a verb in Chinese, however, it can have a number of other uses which we on our part would not translate by verbs at all: such as ‘for’, from the sense of ‘being the normal, right thing for’; and ‘when’, from the sense of ‘being the normal, right time for’. Because a Chinese verb and a Chinese adjective are not formally distinct as parts of speech; because either can act as its corresponding noun; and because either can do without joining words such as in ‘fit for’ and ‘normal to’, because they together constitute something that in relation to our notions of parts of speech is sort of Joker; capable of playing any of their rôles, or at any rate of being translated by any of them. Often it is only from the rhythm of a sentence, and, from other experiences of the language, that it is possible to tell how from our point of view such a Joker is being used. The meaning associator in 當 is 田 (4) for a field (as we say “in the field of”); and the word associator is 尚 above it. This is found in a number of characters pronounced ‘dang’, ‘tang’, ‘chang’ or ‘shang’ in various tones. Unfortunately the other-than-phonetic associations of most word associators cannot be gone into en passant without holding things up too much; but this one, which will be mentioned again later, appears to have been some kind of building (a shrine that should be attended regularly?) and ideas of propriety and regularity are to be found in the characters having it. One of these is 常 (162A) ‘cháng’, ‘to be normal, constant, all the time, for ever, ordinary’: 常青 (… 93) ‘chángqīng’, ‘evergreen’; 非常 (138 …) ‘fēicháng’, ‘extraordinary’. This last appears to come in the opening line of the Book of Lao Tzu, but the rhythm 1, 2 of the phrase preceding it impels a matching 1, 2 rhythm which cuts it in two, making it mean ‘not … for ever’ instead of ‘extraordinary’:


windows 道

dào / kě dào // fēi / cháng dào 125B 161A 125B 138 162A 125B The Way that can be told is not the for-ever Way. The rhythm is not something (like, say, the presence of a Dative Case in Latin or Greek) that can be determined independently of meaning in Chinese, but only a factor to be taken with others in the process of ‘going out to meet the intention’. 剪 (163) ‘jiǎn’ means ‘to clip, cut’ or as a noun ‘scissors’. The meaning associator is 刀 (92A) for a knife, though sometimes 羽 (114J) for feathers is substituted without difference in meaning. The word associator is 前 (163A) ‘qián’, which also has a knife, in its flattened 刂 form, in it and means ‘before’. The history of these two characters is rather complicated: the original scissors character was a picture of a pair of shears, which is what has now become apparently moon or meat, 月; the latter making good sense in relation to cutting, but then needing distinction by the addition of 刂. This was then borrowed on the ‘rebus’ principle for the idea, not easy to draw and distinguish from ‘above’ in vertical columns of writing, of ‘before’ for which the word was pronounced much the same; but it was distinguished in this meaning by a symbol of a foot above it, which has now become the . Then for some reason the meat-and-knife symbol for cutting, 刖 as it had become, went out of favour and a new character was created by adding a knife or feathers to its own derivative 前. There are, of course, many such devious etymologies among the characters; but no more—indeed less, because of the visible, tangible nature of script— than among the spoken words of all languages. 前 (163A) ‘qián’ is used like 中 (72) as a postposition: 山前 (81 …) ‘shānqián’, ‘in front of the mountains’; 前山, ‘qiánshān’ on the other hand would make it adjectival and so mean ‘the mountain in front’, or preceding another noun it may mean ‘former’. 窗 (164) ‘chuāng’ means a ‘window’. The meaning associator is 穴 (80D) for an opening, added to clarify 囪 which had itself been a picture of a window, in early script with forms such as which has been seen to have turned into the sun in 明 (51). In this form of the character there is 夕 (124A) seen through the window. With 心 (80C) for the heart or mind, there is made a character 悤 for ‘brightness, intelligence; to be clever’; and (in a manner somewhat similar to the development of 剪 above) this is now often made, with 穴 or with 片 (58) for a frame, the word associator for ‘chuāng’, window itself. The original 囪 now therefore has three forms, all in use: 窗, 窻 and 牕. 燭 (165) ‘zhú’ means a ‘candle’. With 火 (77A) for a flame, the word associator is 蜀 (115A) ‘shǔ’ for a silk cocoon; a good word associator for while somewhat like in sound, there is also association in colour and form with the flame of a candle, as well as with moths. This ‘zhú’ in the poem at the end of the third line should by the rules of its versification be contrasted in tone (and usually as much as possible otherwise) with the rhyming syllables ending the first, second and fourth lines. The rule is apparently broken here, but only because ‘zhú’ originally ended in a ‘-k’ and was in the (Relaxed) Entering Tone, now lost in the modern dialect transcribed. As for the rhyme itself, this is more apparent in the romanisation between the words ‘qí’, ‘chí’ and ‘shí’, pronounced respectively something like ‘chee’, ‘chr’ and ‘shr’, than it may be to the foreign ear; similarly to the rhyme between ‘-u’



to cut; scissors

前 before; former


窗 窻 牕 window (165)

燭 candle




話 舌 to speak; speach


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and ‘-ü’ in the previous poem. To the Chinese, however these are only variants of the same phoneme, which is what matters more than the difference in sound. After the sound romanised as ‘q-’, the vowel ‘-i’ is inevitably pronounced as ‘-ee’; whereas after the sounds romanised as ‘ch-’ and ‘sh-’, which are pronounced in a position in the mouth similar to that in which the English ‘r’ sound is made, the vowel ‘-i’ inevitably, as far as the speakers of this dialect are concerned, becomes a vocalic ‘r’. They therefore have no more reason to take account of the fact that it is a different sound than English speakers have of such a fact that the ‘g-’ in ‘get’ is different in sound from the ‘g-’ in ‘got’; a difference that might matter very much to the speaker of another language. The difference between ‘get’ and ‘yet’, inaudible at first to a Swede, however does matter to us. 話 (166) ‘huà’ means ‘to speak; speech’. With 言 (73) for words, there is 舌 (166A) ‘shé’ for ‘the tongue’. This is not a word associator between these two words, but it associates the ideas only. The character 舌 now has 口 (62) for a mouth with something, looking like 千 (28) for a thousand, coming out of it; but in early script the whole character was a picture of a tongue, drawn with such forms as:

中國話 (72 – 78B …) ‘zhōngguóhuà’ is the ordinary name now for the Chinese (spoken) language; which in more formal or literary language is called 漢語 (166B)

漢 Han


唐 T’ang

(166B – 85) ‘hànyǔ’. 漢 (166B) ‘hàn’ was the name of one of the ancient feudal states of China, before the political union of the Empire and when the dynasties were of High Kings or High Pontiffs and not yet of Emperors as later understood, and it is still the name of the Han River on which 漢口 (… 62) ‘hànkǒu’, Hankow, stands. Many Chinese dynasties after the establishment of Empire were named after these ancient feudal states, as if a change of dynasty meant that another of the ancient, loosely federated states was now taking its turn at the central government. The first hegemony over the rest of China was achieved by the state of Ch’in (whence ‘China’) whose ruler declared himself Emperor, ‘From Ch’in, the First Majestic Divine Ruler’, in 221BC; but though it abolished feudalism and established the future Empire its severe totalitarian rule was short-lived and succeeded in 206 BC by the great Han, 漢, Dynasty which lasted till AD 220. The reader who would like to know something of life in China in this age is particularly recommended to read Everyday Life in Early Imperial China by Michael Loewe (Batsford Putnam, 1968). It was in the Han Dynasty that most of the basic institutions of the Chinese Empire were founded, so that this period of Chinese history is to the Chinese much like that of the Empires of Alexander and of Rome, which so largely coincided in time, to the countries round the Mediterranean and to Europe. As a result 漢 is still used a great deal not only for ‘Chinese’ but, like ‘Christian’ once in Europe, simply for a ‘fellow’ or ‘a chap’; and sometimes, like the same word in the form ‘cretin’, in an uncomplimentary sense. For ‘Chinese’ there is used in South China beyond the limits of the Empire as it was in Han times, the name of another dynasty, T’ang, AD 618–907; and 中 國話 or 漢語 are commonly called 唐話 (166C – 166) ‘táng huà’, or in



Cantonese pronunciation ‘tong wa’—the Cantonese tones, being different, are not marked. China south of the limits of the Imperial rule, and its inhabitants, were called 越 (166D) ‘yuè’, ‘to be beyond; to exceed, transgress’; and this, pronounced in Cantonese ‘yüt’, is still used as a name for the southeastern provinces of Kwangtung and Kwangsi. It is better known however in the name 越南 (166D – 88E) ‘yuènán’, in Cantonese ‘yütnâm’ with a long ‘a’, and locally ‘Vietnam’, meaning what is south of the old ‘beyond’. The Vietnamese, who name themselves from this Chinese point of view, have a language basically unrelated to Chinese but which, under the influence of the great Empire to the north, has taken gradually a thoroughly Chinese monosyllabic and tonal form; as well as countless Chinese loan words, which it pronounces much closer to their T’ang Dynasty sounds than modern Mandarin. Until recently Chinese characters were used to write this language, with a large number of extra characters devised to write native words; but these were not a great deal used because, as in the whole Chinese ‘cultural empire’, literary Chinese was both more respected and more convenient—as Latin once was in Europe.

∵ 靜

夜 思

jìng yè sī 93G 127 115G

by 李 白 lǐ bái 125 104E

Thoughts on a Still Night by Li Po (AD701–762) 牀

chuáng qián / míng yuè guāng 167 163A 51 52 92F Before my bed / There is bright moonlight 疑 是

yí shì / dì shàng shuāng 168 17 160C 68 101C So that it seems / Like frost on the ground: 舉

jǔ tóu / wàng míng yuè 169 170 136 51 52 Lifting my head, / I watch the bright moon; 低 頭

故 鄉

dī tóu / sī gù xiāng 171 170 115G 172 86A Lowering my head, / I dream that I’m home. This is the most famous poem of nostalgia in the Chinese language, partly because it seems in the Chinese so extraordinarily spontaneous; and any reader who wished to hear it should ask a waiter in a Chinese restaurant to say it in his own dialect. Its extreme simplicity is typical of Li Po’s revolutionary boldness— it is not generally thought by the rule makers to be ‘good poetry’ to repeat


越 to go beyond, to exceed; Yüeh, Viet.



牀 bed


病 ill(ness)


疑 to doubt, wonder


舉 to raise



與 to give, for, with, and

興 prosper (169C)

臼 a mortar (170)

頭 head


豆 bean (171)


低 底 low




氏 民 claw


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words in the way that 明月 is repeated in this (or 巴山夜雨 in the previous poem) and in fact there even exists an ‘improved’ version with 山 (81) for the second 明, avoiding this repetition; which is, of course, part of the simple magic. Unfortunately that version is the one which reached Japan, where it is still current. 牀 (167) ‘chuáng’ means ‘a bed’. The lefthand side like 片 (58) is sometimes said to be half of , the early form of 木 (56), but ancient forms of this character, such as , show that itself it meant a ‘bed’; being a picture of one though turned on its side. This occurs also in the meaning associator for diseases 疒, in which is an abbreviated form of , representing the bed, and 亠 (which originally had no dot in the middle but was just a line) represented a recumbent figure: a meaning associator that will be found running through the numerous Chinese and Japanese advertisement for potent medicines! ‘Disease, illness, ill’ is 病 (167A) ‘bìng’, with 丙 ‘bǐng’ (a calendar sign not to be confused with 內, 151A) for word associator. 疑 (168) ‘yí’ means ‘to doubt, to wonder; to be in two minds, uncertain, hesitant’. At the bottom right is 疋, one of the many forms of ‘foot’, earlier and differing little from , which was in the early for of 足 (65). マ above this is in earlier versions of the character, 子 (110A) a child; so that one may think of a child’s hesitant steps. On the left of all this is a variant of 矣 (89H) ‘yǐ’ as word associator. 舉 (169) ‘jǔ’ means ‘to raise’. 與 on top of this was originally , four hands; but , between the upper pair is unidentified. This part of the character alone, 與 (169A) ‘yǔ’, means ‘to give; for; to’; and other prepositions according to context, including ‘with’, from which it has further developed usages as if a conjunction like ‘and’. To this a fifth hand, sometimes written in full 手 (79B), sometimes as 丰 and most often now as 𠀆, has been added to make 舉. Related to these characters is 興 (169B) ‘xīng’, ‘to prosper, prosperity’, which will often be seen in the names of Chinese businesses; in which the 同 between the upper pair of hands is not originally 同 (114F) but a picture of a sail— suggesting raising the sail in a fair wind. All these characters are placed in dictionaries under the radical 臼 (169C) ‘jiù’ a ‘mortar’, which was originally a picture of one and so nothing to do with them. There is a great deal of such deliberate misplacing of characters in dictionaries in order to keep down the total number of radicals. 頭 (170) ‘tóu’ means ‘the head’; in Mandarin now often expressed by 頭兒 (… 110B) ‘tóur’. On the right is 頁, serving for ‘head’ as a meaning associator. It was originally an out-of-proportion picture of a human head, above a pair of legs for the rest of the body—compare 見 (82). On the left is 豆 (170A) ‘dòu’, ‘beans’; itself originally a picture of a kind of dish on a stem, like a soup tureen. It is used also for ‘beans’ which sounded the same but may have had other associations with this kind of dish. The dish itself has a neck, the stem, and so is comparable with a head. More will be said later about vessels of all kinds in characters. 低 (171) ‘dī’ means ‘low, to lower’. The righthand side 氐 also occurs in 底 (171A) ‘dǐ’, ‘bottom’, obviously a related word, in which 广 is meaning associator for ‘shelter’; the meaning that ‘bottom’ has in many English placenames. The origin of the element 氐 is obscure but in some of its version it may have been a crowd of 人 (1) people with a line underneath. Without the line it occurs in 氏 (171B) ‘shì’, ‘a clan’, used after a name to mean ‘Mr’, suffixed as in 李氏, Mr Li. 民 (171C) ‘mín’, which is another form, means ‘people’: 國民 (78B …) ‘guómín’



is the people of a nation, ‘national’; 人民日報 (1 … 50 – 103E) ‘rénmínrìbào’ is The People’s Daily, leading newspaper of Communist China. 故 (172) ‘gù’, means ‘old, former, original; an origin, cause, reason; consequently, therefore’. In the meaning of ‘old’, this differs from both 老 (123B) ‘lǎo’ and 古 (139A) ‘gǔ’, though that is obviously a related word. As ‘old’ 故 points somewhat in the direction of ‘former’; but as ‘former’, it differs from 前 (163A) ‘qián’ by pointing somewhat in the direction of ‘origin’; while as ‘origin’, it differs from 本 (156B) ‘běn’ by pointing somewhat in the direction of ‘cause’: the meaning of words is not so much a matter of territory held as of direction in which proceeding. 故鄉 ‘gùxiāng’ means the village or region of one’s origins. The meaning associator 夂 added on the right to 故 is a very common one, indicating some sort of action as in an ‘active’ or ‘transitive’ verb: 故 is more active in meaning than just 古. 夂 was a quick way of writing 攴; which the 又 for a hand underneath, to symbolise action; and 卜 above it, held in the hand, was a word associator not only similar in sound to 攴 but a symbol of cause and effect, of the dark sources of destiny as they appeared to the ancestors of the Chinese at least as far back as the third millennium BC and before even the earliest specimens of Chinese writing. There was then a method of divination by gouging lentil-shaped holes lengthwise along the inside of a carapace from a tortoise and heating it over a fire. A long crack would then appear on the outside rather like the line of life in palmistry perhaps, along the length of the shell; with smaller cracks developing sideways from it, which would be ‘read’ as the augury. This character 卜3 in 攴, the whole reduced to 夂 in 故 (172), represented, unchanged from its earliest forms in the script, the long crack on the tortoiseshell with a short crack developing from it. By the fourteenth century BC (much earlier specimens may yet be found) interpretations were being scratched in characters ancestral to the Chinese script on the tortoiseshells and on the wide, flat bones that were also used, of the divinity’s revelations made in this way. Possibly writing itself then, in China and the same could be true elsewhere, was not so much an invention as a revelation, begun by seeing pictures in cracks as one may on old walls. In the spiritual world in which men lived at the time, there were no accidents and everything had its significance and place in a continuous line of destiny. Such a 故, origin, to the characters would explain much about them and even about a great deal else in the art and civilisation of which they were the source: the vitality of the script from the very first and its lack of concern with the kind of draughtsmanship, accurate but rather stiff, found in Egyptian hieroglyphics; and the readiness to read pictures differently and turn one thing into something else, like Hamlet looking at the cloud. The Chinese love of the accidental, shared with others under their influence, of calligraphy with brush and ink which they believe must reveal the inner spirit of the writer but can never be wholly controlled by his conscious will; their custom of building landscapes out of inkblots; their enjoyment of running drips of glaze on pottery; even their enjoyment of what we regard as imprecise use of language, capable of producing interesting

3 It will be seen, the other way up and, on what is evidently a bone, in one of the old forms shown as part of 有 (157).


故 old, origin; cause; therefore


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accidents of meaning; all these things, without stemming directly from the ancient method of divination, may well be a river of which it was the far distant source.

∵ 春 夜 洛 陽 聞 笛 by 李 白 chūn yè luò yáng wén dí lǐ bái 94C 127 173 89F 84 174 125 104E

On Hearing the Flute on a Spring Night in Loyang by Li Po (AD 701–762) 誰

shuí jiā yù dí / àn fēi shēng 175 114G 78A 174 86C 106 66 From which house is it a clear flute / In the dark so flies its voice 散

入 春


sàn rù chūn fēng / mǎn luò chéng 176 70 94C 94B 177 173 178 It intermits spring winds / Filling Lo city? 此

夜 曲 中

cǐ yè qǔ zhōng / wén zhé liǔ 84 180 102 77B 127 179 72 For this evening among its airs / Hearing ‘Breaking the Withies’, 何 人

不 起

故 園

hé rén bù qǐ / gù yuán qíng 161 1 10 109A 172 181 93A Who does not remember / Long ago gardens? (173)



周 Chou (Dynasty)


都 capital city; also, all

洛 (173) ‘luò’ is the name of a river, tributary of the Yellow River, on which stands 洛陽, Loyang, ‘the south-facing slope on the Lo River’, which first became a temporary capital in the eleventh or twelfth century BC when the Chou, 周 (173A) ‘zhōu’, Dynasty overthrew the Shang, 商 (151). It became the chief capital of the Empire in 770 BC, in place of Ch’ang-an, 長安 (159A – 110I) ‘cháng-ān’, the west-

ern, and the other great capital city of ancient times. The latter was the capital in T’ang times, when this poem was written, and had a population of about two million. Loyang was a somewhat smaller but comparable city which had already had a population of about two hundred thousand at the time of the birth of Christ, so it would not in reality have been filled by the sound of one flute! It was to Loyang in AD 68 that India’s greatest gift to China, Buddhism, was first brought. 洛, pronounced in Japanese ‘raku’—it has a ‘k’ on the end in T’ang times and still has in Southern Chinese dialects—is used now in Japan, reflecting Loyang’s ancient glory, for their own ceremonial and ancient capital, Kyōto, in such expressions as 入洛 (70 – 173) ‘rùluò’, pronounced by the Japanese ‘nyûraku’, for ‘to go to Kyōto’. ‘Kyōto’ itself, in Chinese ‘jīngdū’, is 京都 (88A – 173B), in which 都 (173B) ‘dū’, like 京, means a capital; so that something like ‘the capital city’ is the meaning of the whole name. Tōkyō, 東京, which is of course the



administrative capital of Japan, has in its name of ‘Eastern Capital’ one that also at various times in history belonged to Loyang, and at other times to other cities in China as well as Hanoi (‘Tongking’) in Vietnam. 上都 (68 …) ‘shàngdū’, near the Later Ch’ing Dynasty summer capital of Jehol, was the Mongol Kublai Khan’s capital in the thirteenth century; which so impressed Marco Polo and is ‘Xanadu’ in Coleridge’s poem. The 阝 on the right of 都 is a different meaning associator from 阝 ‘mound’ written on the left of a character as in 陽, and is an abbreviation of 邑. This was earlier , in which the circle represents a city wall with underneath it, not 巴 (158) a python but a kneeling figure to indicate a peaceful and settled place— in ancient times the Chinese, like the Japanese still knelt on the floor rather than sat on chairs. The word associator in this character will need to be looked at later. 都 is also used in the later language for the meaning ‘altogether, all, also, too’; as in 都來了 (… 143 – 101B) ‘dōu lái-le’, ‘they’ve all come, they’re all here’. 笛 (174) ‘dí’ is ‘a flute’; usually made of bamboo, hence 竹 (75C) as the meaning associator. The qualification by ‘jade’ in the poem need mean no more than ‘pure, beautiful’; as already remarked in connection with the ‘Jade Stairs’. 誰 (175) ‘shuí’, ‘who?’ could also be translated ‘someone’—‘from someone’s house’. As in many languages there is no clear distinction between interrogative and indefinite pronouns; but also, as in other languages, a question is a more emotional kind of expression than a mere indefinite statement. The Chinese are much inclined to use questions for strong statements rather like the Irish ‘Isn’t it sad I am?’. 言 (73) ‘words’ on the left is for the meaning and 隹, the plump bird as in 維 (79) is word associator. 散 (176) ‘sàn’, ‘to scatter’ has the action associator 夂 (see No. 172) on the right. The lefthand side is not satisfactorily explained. 滿 (177) ‘mǎn’, ‘full; whole, complete’. The construction is ‘scatteredly-enterswhole-Lo-city’. On the right of 氵 (45) water is a weighing balance. 滿 is also used for the Manchu people who defeated the last native dynasty, the Ming 明 (51), in the seventeenth century and ruled China as the 清 (93B) Ch’ing Dynasty until 1911. Our name ‘Manchu’ is derived from the name of their country 滿洲 (… 177A), ‘mǎnzhōu’. 州 or 洲 (177A) ‘zhōu’—there is only some indistinct difference in usage of the two characters for this same territorial word—meant originally sandbanks or islands, indicated by the dots, in 川 (177B) ‘chuān’, ‘a river’; the latter a character very like 水 (45) in its early forms. 四川 (30 …) ‘sìchuān’, The Four Rivers, is the province of Szech’uan. 洲 is used for the names of continents, as 美洲 (116L …) ‘měizhōu’ for (the continent of) America, and 非洲 (138 …) ‘fēizhōu’ for Africa; which are named after approximations to their second syllables: a convenient trick, enabling South America and South Africa, to be expressed simply by 南美 (… 88E) and 南非 (… 138), ‘nánměi’ and ‘nánfēi’. 城 (178) ‘chéng’ is ‘a wall, rampart; walled city, citadel’. With the meaning associator 土 (78D) for ‘around’, there is 成 (178A) ‘chéng’, ‘to fulfil; to become established, perfect’. Early forms of this character, such as , show a man with a halberd; perhaps representing military ‘mopping up’. 長城 (159A …) ‘cháng chéng’ is the Great Wall of China, eight hundred miles long, the purpose of which was much of the time less to prevent invasion than to impede communication between the Chinese and the barbarians beyond, to the latter’s advantage; and so also to prevent unauthorised visits abroad by the Chinese themselves.


笛 flute


誰 who?


散 scatter


滿 full


州 洲 land


川 river


城 wall; city


成 fulfil, become

166 (179)

曲 bent; song


折 to bend and snap (180A)

斤 axe; a ‘catty’


園 garden


遠 distant


近 near

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曲 (179) ‘qū’ means ‘bent, crooked’: and thence, as in English, it can mean

‘wrong’; and by a different extension, pronounced ‘qǔ’ as here, ‘a melodious line; tunes, songs, airs’. A new form of lyric, long after this in the Mongol or Yüan Dynasty, was called 散曲 (176 – 179) ‘sànqǔ’, ‘interspersed airs’, which were part of a sort of ‘musical’: a play with songs according with the latest musical fashions of the time. The words of these songs, to suit this form of entertainment, tended to be more colloquial than the past lyric forms, and so the 曲 evolved a further Chinese verse-form. The character, earlier , seems to have represented some kind of curved implement or vessel. 折 (180) ‘zhé’ means ‘to bend and to snap off’. It has an idiomatic commercial use in such phrases as 九折 (33 …) ‘jiǔ zhé’, literally ‘nine (tenths) and snap off’, that is ‘a ten percent discount’. That this does not mean ‘nine (tenths) snapped off’, that is ‘a ninety percent discount’, is the sort of thing one can only learn about Chinese by other means than linguistic analysis! The character has 扌 (79B) a hand with 斤 (180A) ‘jīn’, ‘an axe’, of which it appears to have been a picture now much altered; also used for ‘a catty’ in Chinese weights and measures, about 1 lb avoirdupois. The ‘catty’ is divided into sixteen 兩 (111D) ‘liǎng’, Chinese ounces. This character, too, like the right side of 滿 (177), is evidently a picture of scales. 折柳 here is a name, reminiscent perhaps of ‘Strip the Willow’, of a flute melody; one of twenty-eight such melodies mentioned at the time of the foundation of the first Chinese Academy of Music in 120 BC. All these ancient melodies are unfortunately long lost. The name of ‘Breaking the Withies’ refers to a custom of seeing friends off at a bridge just outside Ch’ang-an, the capital again in the first half of the Han Dynasty, and there twisting and snapping off a withy from a willow as a symbol of reluctant parting. 園 (181) ‘yuán’ means ‘a garden’, but 故園 here is a phrase like 故鄉 in the last poem for ones old home. 公園 (114A …) ‘gōngyuán’ is a ‘public garden, park’. The meaning associator is the surround, as in 國 (78B) ‘a country’; while the word associator, now obsolete as a character in itself, is said to have meant and depicted a long trailing gown, hence the resemblance of the bottom part to 衣 (103C). The construction of the end of the poem is: ‘(In) what person do not arise original garden (= old home) feelings’. The word associator 袁 occurs in many characters pronounced ‘yuan’ in various tones, including 遠 (181A) ‘yuǎn’ meaning ‘distant’; where it has 辶 as the meaning associator for proceeding or travel. Although there is no means of proving how much associations made by the script have influenced the language itself and the thought of people using it, this may have had some influence on the association of gardens with homesickness; on the Chinese love of gardens with distant perspectives; and so even on their invention of landscape gardening which was first brought to Europe in the seventeenth century by the Dutch. The character for ‘near’ is 近 (181B) ‘jìn’, with 辶 as in 遠 and with 斤 (180A) ‘jīn’ as word associator. 近遠 ‘jìnyuǎn’ is the term for ‘perspective’ in painting. The origin of landscape painting as such in Europe may well owe a great deal to the Far East, through Marco Polo and other travellers and what they brought home with them. Certainly its main development took place after the first contacts. Far Eastern conventions for rendering perspective in paintings, however, differ in many respects from those we are now most used to, especially our drawing of linear perspective since the Renaissance; though not



necessarily from some later ideas since the hold of Renaissance interest in particular mathematical and architectural theories has weakened. These theories became known to the Far East from the time of the first Jesuit missionaries in the sixteenth century (one later such missionary became renowned as a Chinese court painter, Guiseppe Castiglione, 1688–1766, in a style that was otherwise largely Chinese) but they tended to conflict with the Chinese approach to the problem, as it does with them. Neither extensive shading to indicate form, especially of objects that might be expected to move, nor linear perspective such as fixed the position of the viewer, struck the Chinese and those who had learnt painting from them as at all ‘realistic’, though that might be thought their virtue where they came from. The reader interested in the Far Eastern painters’ own approaches to the problem is particularly recommended to see the remarks on it under ‘Painting’ in William Willetts: Foundations of Chinese Art, where the author says ‘… not until a way is found of making depth and space intelligible to a beholder by pictorial means does landscape become pure landscape’; but also rightly says ‘… the discomfort so often felt by Westerners when confronted for the first time with a Far Eastern painting, is partly due to unfamiliar conventions of linear perspective used in its construction’.

∵ 春

by 孟 浩 然 mèng hào rán 183 184 185

chūn xiǎo 94C 182

Spring Morning by Mêng Hao-Jan (AD689–740) 春

不 覺 曉

chūn mián / bù jué xiǎo 94C 186 10 187 182 In spring one sleeps / Absent to morning 處

啼 鳥

chù chù / wén tí niǎo 123 123 84 185 105 Then everywhere / Hears the birds singing 夜 來

yè lái / fēng yǔ shēng 127 143 94B 101A 66 After all night / The voice of the storm 花

huā luò / zhī duō shǎo 137 189 116K 145 190 That petals fell, / Who knows how many? 曉 (182) ‘xiǎo’, ‘dawn; to dawn; to perceive’. On the right of 日 (50) for the sun is 堯 (182A), originally meaning ‘exalted’ but chiefly known for being the name of

the legendary and holy Emperor Yao, son of a virgin, who was born with eyebrows of eight different colours, ascended the throne in 2356 BC and ruled for



曉 堯 dawn




孟 Meng (a surname)

(184) (184A)


to proclaim (185)

然 thus

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nearly a century; when he set aside his own son in favour of a much worthier man not of his own blood, Shun, and retired. The age of the Sage-Kings Yao and Shun is a mythical Golden Age. 孟 (183) ‘mèng’ is the poet’s surname which was also that of Mencius, 孟子 (… 110A) ‘mèng zǐ’, ‘Meng the Master’. Originally it meant ‘eldest’: 子 is the meaning , a kind of bowl or dish. This associator and 皿 underneath was earlier or will be found in many characters to do with vessels of various kinds or related meanings such as ‘full’ which are therefore to be found under it as ‘radical’ in dictionaries; but 孟, because its meaning associator is 子, is given under that— one may therefore have to look in several places for some characters unless one already knows their approximate meanings! 浩 (184) ‘hào’ means ‘vast’ like the ocean. The sound associator on the right of 氵 (45) water is 告 (184A) ‘gào’, ‘to proclaim, announce’: 口 (62) a mouth with 牛 (142A), ‘a bull’. 然 (185) ‘rán’ means ‘thus’, or suffixed can indicate a likeness or quality, rather like ‘-ly’ or ‘-ness’. The character has simply been borrowed for its sound from one meaning to light a fire for cooking: over 灬 for 火 (77A) fire is the for 肉 (118C) flesh of an animal 犬 (115D). 浩然 meaning ‘of a vast nature’ is Meng Hao-jan’s personal name and comes from a passage in Mencius (Book II, Part 1, Chapter 2, verse 11): 我

之 氣

wǒ zhī yán: wǒ shàn yǎng wú hào rán zhī qì 185A 116K 73 185A 89B 40 80B 20 43 (185A)

我 I, me, my


眠 to sleep (187A)


覺 to perceive


to learn

小 small

in which 我 (185A) ‘wǒ’ means ‘I, me, my’ for which it is now the ordinary word. The 戈 weapon in it suggests it originally meant ‘we, our side’. Some vestigial grammatical distinction is made (similar distinctions still exist in some modern dialects) between its use and that of 吾 (80B) ‘wú’ as between ‘I’ and ‘my’ in this passage: which may be translated: “I know words (therefore) I am able well to nourish my vast (-ness possessing) spirit”. Mêng Hao-jan, one of the chief of the earlier T’ang poets, much admired by Li Po, is associated particularly with Wang Wei as one of the pioneers of a new movement in poetry. He lived his early life as a hermit on Lu-men Mountain 鹿 門山 (76 – 84B – 81) ‘lùménshān’, from which he is sometimes called Wâng Lumen, and did not go to the capital before he was forty when he was befriended by Wang Wei, his junior by ten years but by then high in government service. (On one famous occasion when Wang Wei was visited by the Emperor himself, the shy Mêng Hao-jan had plunged and hidden under a couch and was discovered; but fortunately forgiven.) 眠 (186) ‘mián’, ‘to sleep’, has 目 (7) eye for meaning with 民 (171C) ‘mín’ as word associator. 覺 (187) ‘jué’ means ‘to perceive, discern, be or become conscious of’. The meaning associator is 見 (82), to see, and the sound associator is a short form of 學 (187A) ‘xué’; a related word meaning ‘to learn’, which has between two raised hands (compare 舉, 169) 爻 representing a Chinese-style column of writing; over a form of 子 (110E) a child under 宀 for a roof, but without the dot. 大學 (110G …) ‘dàxué’, besides being the title of one of the books ascribed to Confucius, The Great Learning, is the word for a ‘university’; 中學 (72 …) ‘zhōngxué’ is a ‘secondary school’; and 小學 ‘xiǎoxué’ in a ‘primary school’, in which 小 (187B) is ‘small, little’.



學 also means ‘learning’ and is a suffix to names of different kinds of study

and science. In both Chinese and Japanese it is now commonly abbreviated to 学: 美學 or 美学 病原學 天文學 化學 語原學 幾何學 語言學 醫學 古文書學 語音學

(116L …) ‘měixué’, ‘aesthetics’ (167A – 104C …) ‘bìngyuánxué’, ‘ætiology’ (101H – 8 …) ‘tiānwénxué’, ‘astronomy’ (9 …) ‘huàxué’, ‘chemistry’ (85 – 104C …) ‘yǔyuánxué’, ‘etymology’ (106E – 161 …) ‘jǐhéxué’, ‘geometry’ (85 – 73 …) ‘yǔyánxué’, ‘linguistics’ (121A …) ‘yīxué’, ‘medicine’ (as a subject) (139A – 8 – 116E …) ‘gǔwénshūxué’, ‘palæography’ (85 – 86B …) ‘yǔyīnxué’, ‘phonetics’

and so on. All these words (except the last, for which a different expression, also in Chinese, is preferred) are used in Japan with appropriate Sino-Japanese pronunciation: ‘bigaku’, ‘byōgengaku’, ‘tenmongaku’, ‘kagaku’ for the first four above, and so forth. Even the word ‘jǐhéxué’ for ‘geometry’, pronounced ‘kikagaku’ in Japanese and seeming to mean the science of ‘how much and what?’ is used in that language, although this name is derived cunningly in Chinese (modern, Northern pronunciation) from an approximation to the sound of English ‘geo-’(metry). Some of these words are old and some like this, are new coinages; but the new coinages have the advantage to the Japanese of being comfortably pronounceable (‘ætiology’ in Japanese pronunciation would be ‘īchiorojī’) and of giving some indication of the meaning of each word in everyday characters. There are disadvantages: some words, like the word for ‘science’ itself and the word for ‘chemistry’, became pronounced exactly the same in Japanese though written differently; but the Japanese like the Chinese are used to making differences in writing that are not represented in speech. A somewhat similar problem arises in English with the words ‘oral’ and ‘aural’. 啼 (188) ‘tí’ means ‘to crow, to sing, to warble’ (of birds). Chinese is less rich than English in such verbs, whereas Japanese has still fewer; even using the one native verb ‘naku’ for crying babies, twittering birds, neighing horses, bellowing bulls, barking dogs and so on. Nevertheless it distinguishes the kind of noise intended by this word in writing wherever Chinese itself makes a distinction, by using for it the appropriate Chinese character. The first specimens of many languages are of glosses in it on a classical language from which the art of writing has fast been learnt; in Old English, for example, glosses on Latin. Japanese has never altogether lost this approach to itself; still writing, as it were, the proper Latin even if reading it by a native word. The word associator in 啼, ‘to crow’, is 帝 (188A) ‘dì’, ‘Emperor’. This was a picture of a majestic being:


啼 to crow, sing (of birds)


帝 Emperor, God

With the same forward-facing head at top left in 龍 (135A) ‘lóng’, ‘dragon’; which seems always to be a symbol of majesty in the characters; and with large sleeves and skirts. The original meaning was ‘a supreme being, god’: 上帝 (68



英 heroic; England, Britain


落 to fall


少 few; young

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…) ‘shàngdì’ was an old Chinese expression for the Supreme Heavenly Being, adopted by Christians for ‘God’; 帝國 (… 78B) ‘dìguó’ is an ‘Empire’. 大日本帝國 (110G – 50 – 156B …) ‘dà rìběn dìguó’, in Japanese Dai Nihon (or Dai Nippon) Teikoku, was the pre-war full, official name of the Japanese Empire, now just called 日本國, ‘rìběnguó’ or Nihonkoku. The British Empire was 大英帝國, (… 188B …) ‘dà yīng dìguó’, in which 英 (188B) ‘yīng’ was originally the name of a plant, then borrowed on the ‘rebus’ principle to represent a word for ‘heroic’, and then as a complimentary transcription of the first syllable of ‘England’. A resemblance to the Union Jack may also have helped the choice of the character. In Japanese, which had no final ‘ng’ sound when it took words from Chinese, this became ‘ei’; so that the British Empire, written exactly as in Chinese, became Dai Ei Teikoku, while England or Britain (the distinction, important as it is especially to some inhabitants of the islands, was never really grasped), in Chinese 英國, ‘yīngguó’, is in Japanese Eikoku. 落 (189) ‘luò’, ‘to fall; to let fall, drop’, has 艹 for leaves or blossom with 洛 (173) ‘luò’ for word associator. 少 (190) ‘shǎo’, ‘few’ or, as an abbreviation of few in years, ‘young’, but then pronounced ‘shào’. The character is derived from 小 (187B) small, plainly an etymologically related word, and distinguished by a cross stroke. A literal construction of the second verse would be: ‘From night(fall) on’ i.e. ‘all night’—‘(there was the) sound of wind and rain: blossoms (must have) fallen: (who) knows, many (or) few?’ 知 here was a colloquial expression of the time for ‘who knows?’; which is at first sight somewhat puzzlingly explained in Chinese editions by 知不知也 (… 10 … 160B) ‘to know’ is (here) ‘not to know’. 多 少, posing alternatives, or a range, is an ordinary expression for ‘how many?’ in questions, or in statements for ‘a certain number’ (in the sense of an uncertain number). It can also be used as a noun meaning ‘quantity’. In modern colloquial Mandarin the former meanings are pronounced ‘duōshao’ with the first syllable stressed and the second toneless, but the meaning of ‘quantity’ is pronounced ‘duōshǎo’ with both syllables fully toned. In either case 多少, ‘duōshao’ or ‘duōshǎo’, can be regarded as a single ‘word’ of two syllables in terms of our language. The same is true of 風雨 (94B – 101A) ‘fēngyǔ’ in the poem, which though literally ‘wind (and) rain’ is no less a word of two syllables for ‘storm’; that is, as much as such a word as ‘nightfall’ in English is a single word of two syllables. The rhyme in this poem, as will be seen, is ‘-ǎo’; and since its rising tone is Relaxed, the third, unrhyming, line has to be in a Tense Tone. That it does not end in a vowel but in ‘-ing’ adds typically to the contrast, the ‘anti-rhyme’ as it were, which is aimed at in this position. Something like the tonal effect is reproduced in the translation with ‘storm’ against ‘morning’, ‘singing’ and ‘many’; but unfortunately the problem of conveying the meaning and spirit at all of these tiny and intense verses is enough most of the time to defeat the translator without his attempting to make a rule of copying such an effect, important as it is to the structure of the poem in Chinese.



by 李 白 zì qiǎn lǐ bái 191 192 125 104E 自 遣

Abandon by Li Po (AD701–762) 對

不 覺 暝

duì zhuó / bù jué míng 91A 116B 10 187 193 With you I drank / Till, absent to Night, 落

luò huā / yíng wǒ yī 189 137 194 185A 103C Fallen petals / In folds of my gown, 醉 起

步 溪 月

zuì qǐ / bù xī yuè 195 109A 196 197 52 I staggered up / To stalk the brook’s moon: 鳥

亦 稀

niǎo huán / rén yì xī 105 198 1 199 200 The birds were gone / And men too were few. This appears to be addressed to Mêng Hao-jan as an echo of the last poem. 自 (191) ‘zì’ means ‘self’. It is said originally to have been a picture of a nose, borrowed on the ‘rebus’ principle for its sound but perhaps also symbolically as one’s centre, of one’s face. 自己 (… 109F) ‘zìjǐ’ means ‘self, oneself, auto-’ as in 自己暗示 (… 86C – 103A) ‘zìjǐ-ànshì’, ‘auto-suggestion’. 自 further means ‘nature, natural, naturally, of course’ and is sometimes, from the latter meaning, used merely emphatically. 自然 (… 185) ‘zìrán’ also means ‘nature, natural(ly)’; 自 動 (… 191A) ‘zìdòng’ is used for ‘automatic’, in which 動 (191A) ‘dòng’ means ‘to move’—重 (120A) ‘weight’, with 力 (5) ‘strength’. 自動化 (… 9) ‘zìdònghuà’ is ‘to make automatic, to automate’; 自動車 (… 109G) is used in Japanese, pronounced ‘jidōsha’, but not in Chinese for ‘an automobile, motorcar’ (compare Japanese 人力車 ‘jinrikisha’, from which ‘rickshaw’ is derived); 自行車 (… 107A …) ‘zìxíngchē’, or 自行車兒 (… 110B) ‘zìxíngchēr’, on the other hand is used by the Chinese for a ‘bicycle’ but not by the Japanese who use 自轉車 (… 109C …) pronounced ‘jitensha’; though this, equally, of course, is a Chinese composite word. Such differences are comparable with the British preference for ‘motorcar’ to the American ‘automobile’. 遣 (192) ‘qiǎn’ means ‘to send (away); to banish’. 自遣 thus means something like ‘self-banishment’ or ‘abandon’. 對酌 means pouring out wine together, and is very common in poetry for drinking in company. 暝 (193) ‘míng’ means ‘darkness, Night’ (rather with a capital ‘N’). It is related to a word 瞑 ‘míng’ meaning ‘to close the eyes’ with 目 (7) instead of 日 (50) as meaning associator; which in some editions is given as the character here, but wrongly. The word associator of both is 冥 (193A) ‘míng’, ‘darkness,


自 self


動 to move


遣 send away (193)


暝 冥 dark, night dark, Hades


(194) (195)


drunk (195A)


soldier (195C)


戰 (196)


步 step (196A)



溪 tributary, stream, valley


鷄 雞


domestic fowl, to (re)turn; chicken however


環 ring, circle

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obscurity; the Land of Darkness, Hades’; now pronounced exactly the same in 明 (51) ‘bright(ness)’ and so, obviously, no longer an independent word but one that is only fossilised in phrases. 盈 (194) ‘yíng’ means ‘to fill; full, abundant, overflowing’. For 皿, a dish, see 孟 (183). 醉 (195) ‘zuì’, means ‘drunk, intoxicated’—also in metaphorical sense in meanings like ‘delighted, fascinated’. On the right of 酉, the bottle as in 酌, ‘zhuó’ above, is 卒 (195A) ‘zú’, ‘a servant, a private soldier’. This and 兵 (195B) ‘bīng’, also meaning ‘a soldier’ (or as an adjective ‘military’) are both used, one for each side, as the name for ‘pawns’ in Chinese chess. 兵法 (… 114B) ‘bīng fǎ’ is the name of the extraordinarily brilliant and still largely valid military treatise, The Military Art, or Art of War, ascribed to a philosopher named Sun Tzu and dating probably from the 戰國 (195C – 78B) ‘zhànguó’, ‘Warring States’ period of Chinese history, 453 – 221 BC: in which 戰 (195C) ‘zhàn’ means ‘(to) war’. 戰前 (… 163A) ‘zhànqián’ is ‘pre-war’. 步 (196) ‘bù’, ‘a step, a pace; to follow in the footsteps of’. The character was earlier , showing feet one behind the other. It is given in dictionaries under 止, which is the form that came to take in the squaring up of characters and which has already been met in characters such as 歸 (154). As a character on its own, 止 (196A) ‘zhǐ’ means ‘to stop; to abstain’. 止酒 (… 116C) ‘zhǐjiǔ’ is ‘to abstain from liquor; teetotal’. 溪 (197) ‘xī’ means originally ‘a tributary’, hence ‘a brook, a mountain stream, a mountain valley with a stream’. These three characters, 步溪月, ‘bù xī yuè’, are a fine example of the visual suggestiveness achieved by the economy of these poems at their best: the first, ‘following in the footsteps of’, has a suggestion of ‘stalking’, of intermittence; then ‘brook moon’ or ‘valley moon’ makes the moon belong, by its reflection, to the mountain stream, seen intermittently through trees which do not need to be mentioned: the view of it would not be intermittent and it would not belong so much to the stream or to the bottom of the valet, if there were open fields on either side; so the trees are put in by Lao Tzu’s ideal method of 不言 (10 – 73) ‘bù yán’, not mentioning them. It should be said that the two ‘bù’ in this poem, occurring in the same position in the first and third lines, are an accident of modern pronunciation and were pronounced differently from one another when the poem was written, as they still are in many dialects. With 氵 (45) for water in 溪, ‘xī’, the word associator is 奚, meaning a ‘bondman’, which has for a hand, part of 系 (74A) a thread for binding, and 大, meaning, as it often does as part of a character, simply a man; hence, precisely, ‘a tributary’. The same ‘bondman’ is to be found in 鷄 (197A) ‘jī’, sometimes written 雞, with 鳥 (105) or 隹 (as in 79) for a bird; hence, precisely, ‘domestic fowl; chicken’: 鷄肉 (… 118C) ‘jīròu’, ‘chicken meat’. 還 (198) ‘huán’ means ‘to turn round, to return, restore, be restored’ according to context; or, pronounced as ‘hái’ in the modern language, ‘but on the other hand, still, however, yet’. Here it means simply that the birds have returned, namely to their nests: ‘die Vögelein schweigen im Walde’. With 辶 as usual for movement, the word associator has 罒 for 目 (7) an eye, and an abbreviation of the 袁 which was met with in 園 (181) courtyard, garden; the combination meaning ‘to turn the eyes, look round’. With 玉 (78A) for jade, gem, instead of 辶, the same word associator makes 環 (198A) ‘huán’, ‘a ring, bracelet, circle; to encircle, make a ring’. All these 睘 and 袁 words were evidently felt to belong to the same root and it seems likely that the suggestion of something circular, like a skirt spread wide, was in the garment originally represented by 袁.



亦 (199) ‘yì’ means ‘also, including, moreover’. The character probably repres-

ented the idea of ‘covering, embracing’ and is the same figure with outstretched arms as in 夜 (127); for this character originally written as , with two shadows under the arms (‘under the arms’ is itself an early meaning for the characters), one of which was replaced by a form of moon, and the other possibly by a curve for the crescent Venus, in early forms of 夜 ‘yè’ for night. These two words ‘yì’ and ‘yè’ were also felt, along with a number of others containing the same figure, to belong to the same root. There can therefore be said to be a darkness about the word 亦, even though it means no more than ‘also’, in the context. That one might find it in another context with no such possible suggestion would not, in the way that language works, contradict such a suggestion here; any more than that in many English poems ‘sh’ is a suggestively soft sound contradicted by its occurrence in the verb ‘to shout’. , which has become simply 亠 in many characThe symbolism in the ters, might indeed be called weak compared with, say, Blake’s figure of Night which also has a head and outstretched arms. Certainly no Chinese, Japanese or Korean reading his newspaper with many characters containing this element is going to see such a figure in them, or for that matter to hear in his mind’s ear the association in sound between ‘yì’, ‘also’, and ‘yè’, ‘night’; and it is improbable that he will ever in his life think consciously of the ‘embracing’ notion that connects them. But he may still find this a more moving line than it would be with a synonym for 亦. Furthermore, his whole culture is built on foundations laid by people to whom this symbolism was still evident; which may be a reason, for instance, why it never greatly developed other forms of pictorial symbolism, developed in the West, like Blake’s Night, or like The Triumph of Death or Et in Arcadia Ego. 稀 (200) ‘xī’ means ‘scarce, rare; weak (of liquids); open (of weaving); to thin out, become scarce’. 稀少 (… 190) ‘xīshǎo’ means ‘rare’ or ‘scarce, scarcely, scarcity’: 稀少; 人烟稀少 (1 – 21 …) ‘rén-yān xīshǎo’ is a four-character phrase, literally ‘men and smoke scarce’, for a thin and scattered population. The character 稀 has 禾 for grain as in 秋 (94D) with 希 (200A) ‘xī’ which is pronounced exactly the same and is in origin the same word as 稀, meaning ‘scarce’. The two crosses in this represented 爻 open weaving or ‘threadbareness’, and the 巾 underneath is for cloth, as in 婦 (154A) and as in the skirts of 帝 (188A). This character, 希, however, came commonly in phrases like 希 望 (200A – 136) ‘xīwàng’ literally ‘scarcely to see from a distance’, meaning ‘to hope’; from which 希 alone came more often than not to mean ‘to hope’. One could imagine ‘I scarcely … that’ coming to have such a meaning, particularly if there were nothing about the form of the word ‘scarcely’ to distinguish it from a verb. Equally from such phrases as ‘I scarcely dare ask’ it has come to be a polite way of expressing ‘please!’ In its original sense it has therefore needed the distinction provided by 禾 grain as meaning associator, to show that ‘scarcity’ in a more literal sense is intended. The notion of ‘hope’ does not seem anywhere to be a very old one with mankind and is therefore without a root of its own in our family of languages, but expressed in different ways by various of its members. At one time the gods ordered things, though one might please them with sacrifices and flattering prayers for their intercession.4 In English the word is related to ‘hop’ (in

4 Without the existence of doubt, there cannot be hope.


亦 also, moreover


稀 scarce (200A)

希 to hope; please!



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Swedish ‘hoppas’ is a kind of reflexive, ‘to hop oneself’) and originally meant involuntary, physical jumping with expectation; but although besides Swedish, the German, Dutch and other languages closely related to English have it also, it seems to be quite a late creation. The cloth in 希 and in the other characters mentioned above is, as a character on its own, 巾 (200B) ‘jīn’, ‘cloth’; 手巾 (79B …) ‘shǒujīn’, ‘handkerchief, hand towel’; 頭巾 (170 …) ‘tóujīn’, ‘a headcloth, turban’. It represented drapery, .


∵ by 張 說 zuì zhōng zuò zhāng yuè 195 72 311B 159C 201

醉 中

A Drinking Song by Chang Yüeh (AD 667–730) 醉 後

無 窮

zuì hoù / wú qióng lè 195 202 149 203 115F Once drunk I make / Merry/music5 unending 弥

醉 時

mí shèng / wèi zuì shí 204 205 156 195 146 (Even better / Than when I’m sober); 動

是 舞

dòng róng / jiē shì wǔ 191A 206 116I 17 149A All my movements / Are simply ballet; 出

chū yǔ / zǒng chéng shī 207 85 208 178A 75 Can’t even speak / But it’s a poem! (201)

說 speak; explain

Chang Yüeh, 張說 (159C – 201) ‘zhāng yuè’, the author of this poem, lived in Early T’ang from AD 667 to 730. He was both a poet and a painter as well as a general and statesman of importance in his age, though he was banished several times; once by the notorious usurper Empress Wu for refusing, in open court before her, to bear false witness, as was supposed to have been agreed with him, in a case of high treason. The Yüeh in his name is for the same word as 悅 (63) but is sometimes also written like this. More often now, however, this character (201) is read as ‘shuō’, meaning ‘to explain’ or in the later colloquial language simply ‘to speak’: 說英語 (… 188B – 5 The word ‘merry’ here is really the correct one as far as the spoken words go—note the pronunciation ‘lè’ which could not be anything else in the context; but there is also a possible pun in this character at the end of the first line, that cannot be disregarded with ‘ballet’ and ‘poem’ at the end of the third and fourth.



85) ‘shuō yīngyǔ’ is the ordinary modern expression for ‘to speak English’. 說 明 (… 51) ‘shuōmíng’ however means ‘to explain’, keeping the older and more literary meaning of the character. The Shuo Wên, 說文 (… 8) ‘shuō wén’, ‘Explaining Characters’, is the commonly used abbreviation for the title 說文解字 (159C – 8 – 201A – 110E) ‘shuōwén jiězì’, ‘Explaining Primary Characters and Analysing Composite Characters’, of the great etymological dictionary of over nine thousand characters, completed about AD120 and several times already quoted here. In this title, 解 (201A) ‘jiě’ means ‘to untie, unravel; to analyse; to elucidate; to understand’; consisting of 角, earlier , a picture of a ram’s horn and sense associator for things to do with horns, corners and the like; with 刀 (92A) knife, and 牛 (142A) ox: suggestive (though the Shuo Wên itself gives a different explanation) of unravelling a knot with a marlin spike. 後 (202) ‘hòu’, ‘after, behind’ (either in space or time); the antonym of 前 (163A): 戰後 (195C – 202) ‘zhànhòu’, ‘post-war’. Nowadays 后 (202A) ‘hòu’, pronounced the same but properly meaning ‘a consort, queen’ is often used instead for simplicity. This simpler character is derived from a mirror-reflection of 司 (114H) to rule. The symmetry of two ruling figures side by side is like that of the two consorts who are together in 化 (9). 窮 (203) ‘qióng’ means ‘exhausted; impoverished; exhaustive’ (as of an investigation): 無窮 as in the poem means ‘infinite’ and 無窮樂 ‘wúqióng lè’, ‘infinitely happy’ is a well-known phrase. 樂 in its reading ‘yuè’, the noun ‘music’, could not on its own so comfortably make a predicate here as it can in its reading of ‘lè’, ‘to be joyful’ and from a grammatical point of view there can therefore be no question of the correct reading; but the other translation nevertheless must also occur to the eye. The character 窮 can also be simply written as 穷. 穴 (80D) for a hole, often serves as meaning associator for a lack; to which 力 strength, for ‘lack of strength’ is added. In the character’s full form, 身 (203A) ‘shēn’ means ‘the living human body, the person, self’, which was a picture of a figure with a large belly: . 自身 (191 – 203A) ‘zìshēn’ is a common expression for ‘personally, oneself’; or of things, ‘the … itself’. On the right of this is 弓 (159B) for a bow; which is word associator for the whole character, its pronunciation ‘gōng’ and that now ‘qióng’ having once been similar, but also of course with a suggestion of ‘body too weak to draw a bow’. 弥 (204) ‘mí’ originally meant ‘to extend’ as of a bow; here it has the effect of ‘still’ with a comparative: ‘still better’. The righthand side, in full 爾, meant originally ‘luxuriant’ but in many characters it is often abbreviated like this to 尔. It appears, always thus abbreviated, in the ordinary second personal pronoun in the modern language: 你 (204A) ‘nǐ’: ‘you’. 勝 (205) ‘shèng’, ‘to win, overcome; victory; to exceed, excel’, often means as here just ‘better than’. The meaning associator is 力 (5) strength and the whole of is the word associator. The 月 (52) moon on the left was earlier 舟 (111); while the part on the right seems to have been two hands reaching for something or pulling on it. 容 (206) ‘róng’ had a basic meaning of ‘to contain’; thence, in one direction, it developed the meaning of one’s ‘countenance’ (which in English is also related ‘to contain’) or ‘appearance, deportment’; and in another direction it developed the meaning of ‘to admit, to allow’ (‘to countenance’). 失容 (117B …) ‘shīróng’ is an expression for ‘to lose countenance, to be disconcerted’. The remarkable similarity in the Chinese and English word development will be noticed! ‘To


解 to unravel, analyse; understand

(202) (202A)


queen; after (203)

窮 穷 exhausted


身 (human) body, person


弥 still (204A) (205)


victory (206)

容 to contain; countenance





出 (to go) out, to utter


交 to engage, communicate


總 in all aspects, altogether, all

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lose face’ is a translation of another similar Chinese expression but the literal, oriental-alienating translation into English was anyway unnecessary. 容步 (… 196) ‘róngbù’ means ‘deportment’, and here 動容 means much the same, ‘my manner of moving’. From the other direction of the word’s development, ‘to countenance’ 容 can to mean ‘tolerant’, thence ‘easy’: 容易 (… 140) ‘róngyì’, but stressed on the first syllable in modern Mandarin with the second toneless, is now the most usual word for ‘easy’ (to do). The character 谷 (206A) ‘gǔ’, ‘a valley’, with 宀 for a roof; both, suggesting containment. 出 (207) ‘chū’, ‘to issue; to go out; to utter, put out; out’; the antonym of 入 (70) ‘rù’: as in ‘In’ and ‘Out’ on gates: 入 出 . 出版 (… 55B) ‘chūbǎn’ is ‘to publish’, i.e. to issue through the press; in Japanese ‘shuppan’, generally to be found somewhere on the title-pages of Chinese and Japanese books. 出版家 (… 114G) ‘chūbǎnjiā’ is a ‘publisher’. (As we ourselves often speak of ‘a publishing house’ it is easy to see how 家 came to be used like ‘-er’ as a suffix of profession.) 出 生 (… 93I) ‘chūshēng’ is ‘to give birth, to produce, to be born’; 出身 (… 203A) ‘chūshēn’ is ‘to start life’, as in ‘he started life as a …’, and it can also be used as a noun for a person’s origins or background. 出力 (… 5) ‘chūlì’ is ‘to put out one’s strength’, that is ‘to make efforts’. After verbs in the spoken language 出來 (… 143) ‘chūlái’ is used much like ‘out’ in English expressions like ‘to branch out, to pick out’. This ‘out’ in English often has a sense of completion or achievement, as in ‘I worked a problem out’ or ‘The flowers are coming out’, and the same development occurs in Chinese. The underlying gestures of language seem to be universal. In Japanese 出來 is read in the native language as ‘dekiru’ and, amongst other uses, is the ordinary verb for ‘to be able’. 出 ‘chū’ like 入 is a verb; though the function of a word as a part of speech in Chinese, in which words do not undergo formal changes, is just part of its meaning; and so, as ‘In’ and ‘Out’ on gates concern movement 入 and 出 are appropriate, but if one wanted to show which was the inside and which the outside of something, one would use 內 (151A) ‘nèi’ and its antonym 外 (151B) ‘wài’, ‘in(side)’ and ‘out(side)’ which are not verbs. 出外 (207 …) ‘chu-wài’ is ‘to go out’, or ‘to go abroad’. 外交 (… 207A) ‘wàijiāo’ is ‘foreign relations, foreign affairs, diplomacy’; in which ‘jiāo’ means ‘to engage, exchange, communicate, deliver, deal with, negotiate’ and the like, and was a man with outstretched arms as in 亦 (199) but sitting crossed-legged: . (Our word ‘diplomacy’ relates to ‘diploma’ and to ‘two-ply’; a folded letter of introduction.) 外交家, ‘wàijiāojiā’, is a ‘diplomat’. The character 出, sometimes nicknamed ‘double mountain’, has no connection with 山 (81) but depicted an area of containment , with a foot with its heel to the back of the area and so emerging from it: . The semicircle was later squared up to 凵, which is the element under which the character will now be found in dictionaries. The character 外 has 夕, not as (124A) but originally 月 (52) ‘yuè’ for the moon; which was pronounced something like ‘ngiwat’ whereas 外, ‘wài’, was something like ‘ngwaad’ and so not very different. On the right of the moon, 卜 is the cracks again on the outside of the bone or tortoiseshell, as shown under 故 (172), which thus act as meaning associator. 總 (208) ‘zǒng’ has 糹 (74A) for thread, binding or ‘con-’ as a prefix in English words, with 悤, a form of (164) for a window and for perception, already shown under that character, and it means ‘in all aspects, altogether, thoroughly,



conclusively, invariably, always, absolutely’ and the like, according to context; in which, like so very many Chinese characters, it may often be translated simply as ‘all’, though to the Chinese these are all different kinds of ‘all’. It occurs like ‘general’ in terms like ‘Commissioner General, Secretary General, General Assembly’, and 總司令 (… 114H – 134A) ‘zǒngsīlìng’ is a ‘Commander-in-Chief, Supreme Commander’: in Japanese ‘sōshirei’.

∵ 山

shān zhōng yǔ yōu rén duì zhuó 81 72 169A 209 1 91A 116B

by 李 白 lǐ bái 125 104E

Drinking with a Gentleman of Leisure in the Mountains by Li Po (AD 701–762) 兩

liǎng rén duì zhuó / shān huā kāi 111D 1 91A 116B 81 137 118E We both have drunk their birth, / The mountain flowers, 一 杯 一 杯

復 一 杯

yì bēi yì bēi / fù yì bēi 36 210 36 210 91 36 210 A toast, toast, a toast, / Again, another; 我

醉 欲 眠

且 去

wǒ zuì yù mián / qīng qiě qù 212 213 69 185A 195 211 186 Now I’m drunk, long to sleep, / Sir, go a little: 明

意 抱

míng zhāo yǒu yì / bào qín lái 51 148 157 15 214 215 143 Bring your lyre (if you like) / Early tomorrow! 幽 (209) ‘yōu’, ‘hidden, subtle’. The character contains 幺, which commonly means ‘tiny’ as part of 糹 (74A) a thread of silk, with 山 (81) mountain; a needle in a haystack. 幽人 means strictly ‘a hermit or recluse’, but it was also used as a

polite expression for members of the official class who were, like actors, ‘resting’; voluntarily or otherwise. The word order of the title will be noticed: ‘In the mountains with a gentleman of leisure, drinking’ which is similar to ‘On a spring night in Loyang, hearing the flute’. In Chinese, just as adjectives precede their nouns, adverbial expressions, such as of time and place, as a rule precede the verbs they qualify: the ordinary Chinese word order for ‘I go tomorrow’ is therefore ‘I tomorrow go’. If the meaning of the first line of the poem were: ‘As flowers open we two sit drinking’, one would for this reason expect ‘As the flowers open’ to come first. The word order used suggests either a new thought or that the opening of the flowers is a kind of object of the 酌 libations; preferably the latter because the flow of the line does not suggest a new thought, whilst a further object for the verb 酌, namely 一杯, follows in the next line.


幽 hidden


杯 (210) ‘bēi’, ‘a cup’, is also written 盃 with the meaning associator for bowls or dishes (compare 盈, 194); instead of 木 (56) as here, which suggests that a wooden bowl was the original meaning. 不 (10) is the word associator, close in


杯 盃



茶 tea (211)

欲 want (211A)

慾 lust


卿 noble


且 just; moreover (213B)


祖 ancestor

Sung (Dynasty)




包 (215)


琴 lyre, zither



鋼 今 steel

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original sound. 茶杯 (210A …) ‘chábei’ is a ‘teacup’; in which 茶 (210A) ‘chá’ is the Mandarin pronunciation of ‘tea’; a Chinese loanword in English taken from the Fukienese dialect, in which the word sounds like ‘tay’, the older English pronunciation. 一 杯茶 ‘yìbēi chá’ is ‘a cup of tea’. 欲 (211) ‘yù’, ‘to lack, want; to desire, long for’. 欠 on the right, which is somewhat similar to 穴 (80D) is a meaning associator for ‘gap, gape, gasp’; here combined with 谷 (206A) ‘valley’. Some early forms of 欠 had 气 (43) for breath with 人 (1). Both Taoism and Buddhism urge their followers to rid themselves of desires. To indicate in this word the particular intention of ‘appetite, lust’, there is a derivative character 慾 (211A), pronounced the same but with the addition of 心 (80C) for the heart or mind. 卿 (212) ‘qīng’ means ‘a noble’ but is also a term of respect or endearment. This was in early times pronounced very similarly to 鄉 (86A) ‘xiāng’, the ‘feasting’ character and is derived from a mere variant of the same word and picture—compare ‘lord’ as originally ‘loaf-ward’, a keeper of loaves. 且 (213) ‘qiě’ has a meaning very like ‘just, in just a little’, ‘just let me ask’ as a tentative, polite way of speaking; or as a conjunction it can mean ‘furthermore, moreover’. As for other such words difficult to depict, the character is of the ‘rebus’ type; depicting an ancient altar, most probably in the form of a phallic symbol. In its original meaning it occurs in the character 祖 (213A) ‘zǔ’, ‘an ancestor’. 太祖 (110H …) ‘tàizǔ’ ‘Most Revered Ancestor’ is the posthumous name conferred on the founding Emperor of several dynasties: for example 宋 太祖 (213B …) ‘sòng tàizǔ’, the founding Emperor T’ai Tsu of the Sung Dynasty, who reigned from AD 960–968. The 示 (103A) in 祖 is the usual meaning associator for divinity. 宋 (213B) ‘sòng’, the name of the Sung Dynasty, was the name of one of the early Chinese feudal states, after which, as has already been remarked, Chinese dynasties up to the Mongol invasion were by convention named. At the beginning of the next line of the poem there is a natural pause after 明朝, ‘tomorrow morning early’ which is sufficient in the context and with the conventions of the language, for 有意 to mean ‘if you have the thought (or wish)’. The pause means there is no need in the Chinese for a conjunction, and it is all very politely put. 抱 (214) ‘bào’ means ‘to carry enfolded in the arms’. With 扌 (79B) for the hand there is 包 (214A) ‘bāo’, ‘to enfold, include, wrap; a parcel’. This was a representation of a foetus 已, earlier , in the womb. 琴 (215) ‘qín’ is a Chinese lyre or zither. The meaning associator which occurs in a few names of stringed musical instruments, is 玨, resembling strings crossing frets; or possibly representing the pegs (it is more like the latter in early versions of the character). This is not a ‘radical’ in dictionaries, where characters having it are given under 玉 (78A) jade. The instrument at the time of the poem was something like a modern Japanese ‘koto’ (which is written with the same character) but it was smaller and had seven instead of thirteen strings. 琴 qualified by 鋼 (215A) ‘gāng’, ‘steel’ makes the Chinese name 鋼琴, ‘gāngqín’, for the modern Western ‘pianoforte’. The word associator in 琴 is 今 (215B) ‘jīn’, ‘now; this, to-’ in expressions of time: 今日 (… 50) ‘jīnrì’, ‘today’; 今月 (… 52) ‘jīnyuè’, ‘this month’, but 明日, 明月



‘tomorrow, next month’. The top part of this character is the same lid, symbolising ‘fitting with exactitude’, as has already been met with in 合 (110K) for agreement. 今 also originally occurred as word associator in 㱃, now pronounced ‘yǐn’ in the modern Mandarin language but once much closer to the sound of 今, and this meant ‘to drink’. Here may be seen as a lid or stopper being drawn from 酉 (compare 酌 116B), a decanter; together with 欠 (compare 欲, 211). This whole character was, however, later simplified by substituting 食 (41), meaning associator for eating, for the complicated lefthand side; making 飲 (215C) ‘yǐn’, ‘to drink’, which is how it is now written. 飲食 ‘yǐnshí’ is ‘food and drink, victuals’. 飲 is one of many characters that can be read with a difference in tone making a difference in meaning (compare 好, 110F): representing a vestigial survival of an old inflectional system: 飲 ‘yìn’, in the departing tone instead of the rising tone, means ‘to give drink’, as in 飲人 (… 1) ‘yìnrén’, ‘to give drinks to people’ and 飲馬 (… 48) ‘yìn mǎ’, ‘to water one’s horse’. These differences of meaning with different tones can be indicated in writing where necessary by the convention of a small circle: in the bottom lefthand corner of a character it indicated Even Tone; in the top left, it indicated Rising Tone; and in the top right, it indicates Departing Tone. (In the bottom right, it indicates Entering Tone which is obsolete in the dialect in which this book is transcribed.) °飲馬 would therefore indicate, where necessary, ‘yǐn mǎ’, ‘the horses (that are) drinking’, in contrast with 飲°馬, ‘yìn mǎ’, ‘to give drink to the horses’. Need of such signs as these is seldom felt in the modern language but in ancient texts such as the Confucian Classics they are very necessary, for the old inflectional system was much more active at the time and the terseness of the language does not provide enough clues without them. A little more will be said about tones and tone-marks later, but an idea of how such tone-distinctions might arise in a language can be gained from listening to a certain kind of English accent in which ‘Powell’ becomes the same as ‘pearl’ and ‘tower’ the same as ‘tar’: a half-way stage in this process could be imagined, and may even exist in some English, whereby a tonal wobble would maintain the only distinction within each of these pairs of words. If the falling together of such once unlike words were to proceed in English as far as it had already in the earliest Chinese of which anything is known, the maintenance of this half-way stage might become necessary and create a tonal system; as it has, for instance, in some very monosyllabic Jutland dialects of Danish. In modern Mandarin, though 飲°馬 ‘yìn mǎ’ for watering horses survives, the ordinary spoken word for ‘to drink’ is 喝 (97) ‘hē’: 喝茶 (97 – 210A) ‘hē chá’, ‘to drink tea’. The 今 (215B) ‘jīn’ word associator is one of the most important in the script, though sometimes it has become disguised; for instance in 金 (57) ‘jīn’, ‘gold, metal’, which joined it originally with 土 (78D) for earth, hence mineral: something like . These four words, 琴 ‘qín’, ‘zither’, 今 ‘jīn’, ‘now’, 飲, ‘yǐn’, ‘to drink’, and 金, ‘jīn’, ‘metal’, rhyme in all the dialects; in those that are more archaic, like Cantonese, ending in a neutral vowel and an ‘-m’, as they did in the ancient language in which they shared similar initials and other particularities. Although they may not, as words, all be related in origin to one another, the sharing of a word associator in the earliest script probably always meant more than merely phonetic association: the ‘zither’ was fitting by being in tune; ‘now’ fits the moment


飲 to drink



燕 a swallow


嚥 to swallow

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of speaking; ‘to drink’ was symbolised by pulling a well-fitting stopper from a bottle, with a gasp; ‘metal’ was earth that could be molten and made to fit a shape. Children before learning to read, learning to accept other ways of categorisation and otherwise being educated out of it, must make similar associations: a ‘bear’ might be so called because it wore no clothes, or it might be vice versa. (The fact that other animals in the zoo wore no clothes would make no odds: nobody’s talking about them; and in language, as in dreams, one situation does not occlude another.) The ancient Chinese who created the script were by no means children: they carved the hardest jade; already made high-fired vitreous pottery; invented and exploited the weaving of silk; cast bronzes as perfect as have ever been made; and with their superior organisation and their bronze weapons conquered and held their territories. It was their human rationalism, instinctively demanding reasons for the data available, that made them make such associations. The same kind of process must, however, also have made the words themselves; and it may be that some of these four words were in fact etymologically related. It is not easy for us now, educated in the particular association-making of our own society, to make or even to follow all the associations the ancient Chinese made; but it does seem that very many formed by our own ancestors were the same. A curious case in point is that of the word ‘swallow’, as the name of a bird and as a verb; to which Professor Karlgren long ago drew attention, because in Chinese 燕 (215D) ‘yàn’, earlier , is ‘a swallow’, while with 口 (62) for a mouth added, it makes 嚥 (215E) ‘yàn’, ‘to swallow’. Although the two kinds of ‘swallow’ were not identical in Old English, Professor Karlgren observed that the difference was not at all fatal to an original relationship. He suggested that the wide-open beaks of baby swallows might have caused the association in both languages, but another possibility would be the swallow’s manner of flying into openings. Some may suggest other reasons; but the very fact that one should think of different reasons or puzzle about it at all suggests that the associationforming habits both of our own ancestors and of those of the Chinese were similar, where ours (at least our conscious ones) are dissimilar. Further instances like this will be found in the present book. It also seems strange that, though one can be certain from its earlier forms that the 欠 in 飲 (215C) does not derive from a picture of a swallow, it too should now be such a very good one!

∵ 山

答 by 李 白

shān zhōng wèn dá 81 72 84C 216

lǐ bái 125 104E

Question and Answer in the Mountains by Li Po (AD 701–762) 問

余 何 意 棲 碧 山

wèn yú hé yì / qī bì shān 84C 217 161 15 218 219 81 They ask me where’s the sense / In jasper mountains:


windows 笑

而 不 答

自 閑

xiào ér bù dá / xīn zì xián 220 221 10 216 80C 191 222 I laugh and don’t reply, / In heart’s own quiet, 桃

táo huā liú shuǐ / miǎo rán qù 223 137 224 45 225 185 69 Peach petals on their streams / Far away floating 別

非 人

bié yǒu tiān dì / fēi rén jiān 226 157 101H 160C 138 1 227 To other skies and earths / Than those of mortals. The rhyme in this poem, like that between ‘qí’, ‘chí’ and ‘shí’ in No. 3 above, though plainly visible in the romanisation, is ‘phonemic’ and therefore evident to the ear only within the context of the language to which it belongs, in that ‘shān’, with a vowel like the ‘a’ in ‘Khan’, rhymes with ‘xián’ and ‘jian’, each having a vowel more like that in English ‘can’. Between the last pair there is also a kind of ‘eye-rhyme’, as there was between 時 and 詩 in No. 8; and the same eye-rhyme heads the whole poem, 門 (84B) a gate. Chinese poets like Li Po, and the same is true of Chinese painters, were not much in the way of naturalists or lovers of the country for itself, as a true naturepoet might be; but saw it rather from the city-dweller’s view, quite distinct from the countryman’s, as a gateway from the particular material world of politics, war, love affairs, ceremonial, court intrigue and so on, with which they were acquainted, to a freer spiritual world of the imagination. But as men of the world who had undergone long literary education, their city-dwellers’ imaginations were never free from literature; a freedom of which they had no notion and for which they had no desire. The literary allusion of this poem is to a famous story, which became a thread running through all the fabric of Chinese poetry, up to the present-day and to the poem of Mao Tse-tung given in the last chapter of this book. This story, by the great poet T’ao Yüan-ming or T’ao Ch’ien, AD 372–427, is of a fisherman who one day following a little river came to a grove of wild peach-trees and going on through it found a cave. Through this he passed and when he came out again to daylight, there before him was another world of perfect peace and happiness where people dressed even as they had some six hundred years ago, before, as it seemed, the world had become so clever and so wicked. The fisherman, delighted, decided to settle in this happy land, but first he must go home and report his find. Carefully, as he went out, he marked the entrance to the cave; but when he returned there was no cave to be found. So famous is T’ao Yüan-ming’s little story that the mention of peach blossom alone became enough to bring it to mind: one could not read of peach blossom, or even an indirect reference to peach blossom, without thinking of it. 答 (216) ‘dá’, two pieces of 竹 (75C) ‘bamboo’ 合 (110K) ‘fitted perfectly together’, means ‘to answer, reply’. The two characters composing it had also some resemblance in their sounds to associate them in the ancient language; when they rhymed and both ended in ‘-p’ as they still do in some Southern Chinese


答 to answer, reply




I, me; excess

餘 excess


棲 栖 to perch, roost, settle


妻 wife (219)

碧 colour-name (see text)

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languages. 問答, ‘wèndá’, as in the title of the poem, in Japanese ‘mondō’, is also used in religion for a ‘catechism’; and in particular for the often strange-seeming questions and answers that may not appear to fit one another and are part of a Zen Buddhist monk’s training. 余 (217) ‘yú’ is yet another word, now only literary, for ‘I, me, my’. Nowadays the character is chiefly used for another word of the same sound, also written as 餘 (217A) with the meaning associator 食 (41) eating, which means ‘too (much), excessive, surplus’: 餘力 (… 5) ‘yúlì’, ‘surplus energy’. The character appears to have been a picture of some kind of shovel, with which one would clear away surplus, ; and it may possibly have become a personal pronoun out of modest reference to oneself as ‘de trop’. 何意 in the poem means rather more than just ‘why?’: 意 often means ‘aim’ or ‘purpose’ in life: 生意 (93I …) ‘shēngyì’, but in modern Mandarin stressed strongly on the first syllable with the second toneless, means simply one’s ‘job, profession, business’. The question is imagined as from some gentleman from the city who cannot understand the poet’s being out of the swim without some practical motive. 棲 (218) ‘xī, qī’ can also be written 栖 and it is related to 西 (88D) ‘xī’, ‘west’; the bird in its nest. It means ‘to nest, roost, perch’ of birds, or by extension ‘to settle (oneself)’: 棲身 (… 203A) ‘xīshēn’, ‘to settle oneself’; 棲宿 (… 150A) ‘xīsù’, ‘to stay the night’. But it never entirely loses its historic meaning of the perching of birds; for instance, when it is applied to fishing boats moored for the night, or to hermits or anchorites perching like birds in the mountains. A comparable word in English, though not the same in meaning or implication, is ‘to brood’ which one can use without any thought of birds or any particular awareness at a given moment of the word’s connection with birds in its origin; and yet which in the way it is used, as distinct from, say, ‘meditate’ or ‘dream’, will always retain some link with the broody bird. The form of the character used here, 棲, does not, however, connect it directly with nests but with 妻 (218A) ‘qī’, ‘a wife, consort’; this character indicating a married 女 (3) ‘woman’ with a hand putting in a hairpin. (Unmarried women wear their hair in plaits, married women put it up.) The 木 (56) ‘tree’ in this form of the character however still maintains the nesting suggestion. 碧 (219) ‘bì’ has no equivalent in English, though it is close in meaning to the Gaelic ‘glas’ (in ‘Glasgow’), as a colour-name which can mean ‘blue’, ‘green’ or ‘grey’; but which is contrasted with ‘gorm’ (as in ‘Cairngorm’), corresponding to the Chinese 青 (93), but also meaning ‘blue’ or ‘green’. In both languages the contrast is not so much in hues, as they might be matched at a draper’s, as between emotional associations (and colours are after all emotions) with things either of stone, plain or precious, or living. In Gaelic, as in Chinese, blue skies and green leaves can equally be described by the one term: ‘gorm’ or 青; and a greyhound or grey horse, namely stonecoloured, a green sea, namely emerald, blue mountains and so on, by the other: ‘glas’ or 碧. The original meaning of ‘livid’ in Latin seems also to have been rather similar to the latter. This different view of the spectrum, as we are accustomed to think of it, can be difficult to understand, and of course impossible to translate, but it may have been general among older languages including Ancient Greek, of which the colour names are also often difficult to translate; yet no one would suggest that the makers of Chinese silks and porcelains, or for that matter the illuminators of Old Irish manuscripts, were deficient in colour sense!



The meaning associator in 碧 is 石 (219A) ‘shí’, ‘stone’, and this is the ‘radical’ for placement of the character in dictionaries, but a second meaning associator is 王 for 玉 (78A) ‘jade’, with all that that implies; while the word associator is 白 (104E) ‘bái’, ‘white’. 石 simply showed a cliff, with a rock beneath. ‘Colour’ itself is 色 (219B) ‘sè’, sometimes pronounced ‘shǎi’, and this often includes other sensual qualities in its meanings, or it can mean ‘sensuality’ itself. And it is commonly used, too, for ‘kinds, varieties’, rather as we speak of ‘all complexions’. The origin of this character is obscure, but the 巴 in it is not in its early forms similar to the python (158) and the Shuo Wên Dictionary says that it is a stamp or seal; while on top is a common form in composition of 人 (1). The Shuo Wên therefore explains the character as ‘complexion’; which, as when he blushes, is the seal of a man’s inner feelings. But the seal itself that the editor of the Shuo Wên saw disappears in forms of the character than were unavailable to him, which may perhaps have just had a combination of pictures for ‘spirit’ and for ‘face’. 笑 (220) ‘xiào’ means ‘to laugh’. The character is explained as 夭, earlier , the figure of a man bending and shaking like 竹 (75C) bamboo in the wind. 而 (221) ‘ér’ was a picture of a moustache and beard, borrowed on the ‘rebus’ principle for an important grammatical word that connects the action of verbs similarly to ‘and’ in ‘to try and do something’; or ‘-ing’ in ‘trying to do it, he failed’. 閑 (222) ‘xián’ means ‘peaceful, undisturbed; leisure’. The character has 木 (56) a tree barring 門 (84B) ‘a gate’; but the result is also reminiscent of an image used several times by the Belgian surrealist painter, René Magritte, of a door through which one can see a large upended leaf having veins that are also the trunk and branches of a tree. A variant of this character has the moon instead between the two sides of the gate: 得閑 or 得閒 (19 …) ‘déxián’ means ‘(to have, get the) leisure, free time’; and is much used in polite phrases. The 閑 form of this character can also mean ‘to defend’, while the 閒 (222A) form is sometimes interchangeable, in the sense of an interval, with 間 (227) below. In the ancient language, some of these ‘gate’ characters began with an ‘m-’ and others with a guttural, which were often felt to be related as between 每 (46) ‘měi’ and 海 (47) ‘hǎi’; so ‘the gate’ words may all at one time have been felt as words belonging to the same root. 桃 (223) ‘táo’ is ‘peach (tree)’; here meaning the wild flowering peach indigenous to China, whence peaches first reached the West through Persia; hence the Latin name of ‘Persian (apples)’, ‘Persica (mala)’ from which our word ‘peach’. Ancient Chinese books refer to the 碧桃 (219 …) ‘bìtáo’, a name given to a double-flowering variety of great magnificence, as bearing fruit only for the Immortals to eat. A poem by a later T’ang poet, Kao P’ing, (d. AD 887) on the theme of the poem in Chapter Six, ‘On Seeking a Hermit and not Finding him’, alludes to Li Po’s poem here, by beginning 落 (189) 花流水, ‘luò huā liú shuǐ’, ‘fallen blossoms float with the stream’, and ending 碧桃開 (… 118E) ‘bìtào kāi’, ‘the double-flowering peach opens’. The problem of translating 碧 as a colourname, for it undoubtedly refers to the colour of the flower, shows the difficulty of the word. Elsewhere it is used for what, long after death, the blood of a hero was discovered to have turned to. All these associations belong to a language and its basic mythology, as those of ‘amaranth’ do in English, or of ‘asphodel’: ‘Bid amaranths all his beauty shed / And daffodillies fill their cups with tears’.


碧 stone (219B)

色 colour



to laugh

而 grammatical word: -ing, and


閑 peaceful, leisure


閒 leisure, interval (223)

桃 peach



兆 omen; 1,000,000,000,000 (224)

流 to flow


杳 remote, indistinct (226)

別 (to) separate




shell; armour


間 interval; to insert, mix

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Kao P’ing’s poem creates a new effect with its 碧桃 by associating it also with the 碧山 and the 桃花 of this poem; and so particularly through this poem, in line of ancestry, to T’ao Yüan-ming’s story of the fisherman. It is in such a way that ‘literary allusion’ works in Chinese poetry, of which it is undeniably a most important part. Yet no reader should be frightened of reading Chinese poetry for fear of missing such allusions; any more than one need refuse to listen to a song in Italian, German or Russian because one cannot understand the words, or not attend an opera because one cannot make head or tail of the plot. The relationship of allusion to poem is indeed not unlike that of words to song, in that any good Chinese poem is inspiring in itself as a whole and integrated work of art; and sometimes not even improved by knowing its allusions. The character 桃 for the wild peach in the poem has 木 (56) for ‘tree’, with 兆 which is used for ‘sign’ or ‘omen’ but also for an unimaginably large number: 兆 (223A) ‘zhào’ now means 1,000,000,000,000. This is a richer form of the [image] as discussed under 故 (172), and also indicates the cracks made in ancient divination on the prepared and heated bone or tortoiseshell. 流 (224) ‘liú’ means ‘to flow’: 桃花流水 in the poem could be translated ‘the peach blossom and the flowing stream’, ‘the peach blossom on the flowing stream’, ‘the stream flowing with peach blossom’ and in many other ways, because the Chinese has no need to specify such relationships; and one could not say either which, ‘blossom’ or ‘stream’, was the subject of the verb 流, for the simple reason that, as has already been said, Chinese verbs do not have subjects! Only sentences do, and as far as the sentence is concerned the peach blossom and the flowing stream are, of course, equally and jointly the subject. With 氵 for 水 as meaning associator, the word associator of 流 is 巟, which is used for various things with pendants or tassels that flow from them. This is what, in some of its forms at least, the character appears to represent, but more will be said later about this element. 電流 (101G …) ‘diànliú’ is the modern electrical term for ‘amperage’. 杳 (225) ‘miǎo’ means ‘remote, indistinct, dim and distant’. The character shows 日 (50) the sun, which in 東 (88C) East has risen a little, still below the roots of the 木 (56) tree. There are other words, written with different characters and differing also somewhat in pronunciation, that are related to this ‘miǎo’ and that all have to do with indistinctness and mystery. 別 (226) ‘bié’ means ‘to separate, distinguish; different, apart, special’. The character had a skeleton on the left, with 刂 for 刀 (92A) the anatomist’s knife on the right. This skeleton had early forms such as , which can be more clearly seen now in characters such as 骨 (226A) ‘gǔ’ for ‘bone’; in which 月 for 肉 (118C) is the usual word associator for parts of the body. 甲 (226B) ‘jiǎ’, which may be seen as a very much simplified picture of a tortoise, means ‘shell’; and 甲骨文 (… 8) ‘jiǎgǔwén’ is the name for the earliest script discovered on the oracle shells and bones. 甲 is also used for ‘armour’. 間 (227) ‘jiān’ means ‘an interval’ of either time or space; or pronounced ‘jiàn’ it is a verb meaning ‘to insert, to mix with’. 人間, ‘rénjiān’ in the poem means by its origin ‘the age of man(kind)’: an expression used collectively for ‘humanity, the world of mortal men’ and individually for a ‘human being’. In its construction it is exactly the same as the English word ‘world’, in Old English ‘weorold’, in which ‘weor’ (like the related Latin word ‘vir’) means ‘man’, 人, and ‘old’ is not the modern English adjective but a related noun meaning a ‘space of time’, 間. The underlying meaning of both the English and the Chinese was



the world of mortals in contrast with the realm of the immortals; a meaning that is, of course, still latent in our word without our having to know its derivation.

∵ 早

zǎo fā bái dì chéng 228 229 104E 188A 178

by 李 白 lǐ bái 125 104E

Early Departure from White King by Li Po (AD701–762) (Shooting the Yangtse Rapids) 朝

辭 白

zhāo cí bái dì / cǎi yún jiān 148 13 104E 188A 230 101D 227 At dawn we leave White King, / Its clouds all coloured, 千

里 江

一 日 還

qiān lǐ jiāng líng / yí rì huán 28 231 100 232 36 50 198 For passages to Kiang Ling / In one sun’s circuit: 兩

啼 不 住

liǎng àn yuán shēng / tí bú zhù 111D 233 234 66 188 10 235 While both banks’ gibbons cry, / Calls still unceasing, 輕

qīng zhōu yǐ guò / wàn chóng shān 236 111 237 238 32 120A 81 Our light boat has gone by / Manifold mountains! The rhyme in this poem is the same as in the last. 早 (228) ‘zǎo’ means ‘early; soon; earlier, previous’. The character shows the sun still touching the grass and has already been met as word associator in 草 (22) ‘cǎo’, ‘grass’. 發 (229) ‘fā’ means according to context ‘to issue, originate; to send, go forth; to start up, begin; to depart; to generate; to flourish; arising from, issued by, from’. 北京發電報 (88B – 88A … 101G – 103E) ‘běijīng fā diànbào’, heading a newspaper story, is ‘Telegram from Peking’; or in journalists’ telegraphese ‘EXPEKING TELEGRAM’; 發電力 (… 5) ‘fā diànlì’ is ‘to generate electric power’; and 發電機 (… 106A) ‘fādiànjī’ is a ‘generator, dynamo’. Such a word as 發 ‘fā’ in Chinese, besides being a verb like ‘to generate’ in its own right, can thus, in context, correspond in meaning to an English noun like ‘departure’; adverb like ‘forth’; preposition like ‘from’; or prefix like the ‘ex-’ in ‘expand’ and the ‘pro-’ in ‘produce’; or it may need more than one of these for translation into English, as it does here: ‘departure from’. This is not evidence in support of what is often said about Chinese being necessarily vague and ambiguous, but simply means that monosyllabic words, as represented in writing by the characters, have what to us is extraordinary freedom in the


早 early


發 to issue


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grammatical, as distinct from the semantic, rôles they may take. It is true that they may also play a number of different semantic parts, so that the terrible word and accusation of ‘polysemy’ has been levelled against the language; but ‘polysemy’ is something one sees more readily in other people’s languages than in one’s own! The rôles that a syllable like 發 can take are unlimited in terms of our own parts of speech, yet they are not really unlimited insofar as 發 can never, as it were, forget entirely that it is a verb. Although Chinese does not formally distinguish parts of speech, by endings like ‘-us’ and ‘-et’ in Latin or by their potential endings like ‘-ed’ in English, parts of speech nevertheless exist in the language; but reduced to a basis, which seems also in language to be an irreducible minimum, of only three. The first two of these are nouns and verbs, the distinction of which seems to be the whole and perhaps unique basis of specifically human language: one of the many ways of defining Man might be as the noun-and-verb distinguishing animal. Nevertheless, the distinction being both fictional and functional, existing simply within language, is much easier to know than to define; as one discovers at school in face of various grammar-book definitions of the verb in terms of meaning, which do not always work. (With regard to school grammars, however, children may perhaps best “always keep a hold of Nurse / For fear of finding something worse”!) These two parts of speech are sometimes called by the Chinese grammarians ‘full words’. The third part of speech, although it exists in all languages, is not specifically human and will be called here ‘gesture words’; called by the Chinese grammarians ‘empty words’ (though in fact their definitions of these terms, and of the parts of speech in their language, varied a great deal). Such words are exclamations, reaction-testing expressions like ‘you know’; and the most important of them all is the silent word, the pause itself. That exclamations and hesitancies are something distinct from the rest of the human language, though incorporated in it, may be seen from the fact that unlike other words they are mutually comprehensible: whether I say ‘Ow!’ or ‘Ai Ya!’ anyone will know, even my dog whose yelp I also understand, that I have hurt myself. But the dog seems to have no language to distinguish the noun ‘bone’ and the verb ‘to gnaw’. Gesture words seem to be incorporated more into the Chinese language than into ours; but this is probably only because, with much fewer basic parts of speech, they stand out more. A gesture word need not, like ‘Ow!’, simply originate as such: one might, instead of that exclamation use a swear word, with some profane origin in one’s language; and this would still as much be a gesture word. The kind of grammatical function a gesture word may have, very often as it happens in Chinese grammar, it to be seen in the old joke about the man who couldn’t understand a placard ‘One Man, One Vote’ until it was explained to him as ‘one * * * man, one * * * vote’; whereupon it became quite clear. A similar gesture to this is made by the Ancient Greek particles ‘men’ and ‘de’; while another gesture, more obviously related to an exclamations, is made by the ‘o’ in Latin, and ‘a’ in Gaelic, before a Vocative Case. In Japanese, this ‘o’ is suffixed as a sign of the Accusative Case; for sympathy, as it were, with the sufferer of a verbs action. There seems, too, sometimes to be a gesture of suffering and sympathy in the sound ‘m’, much heard in baby-talk like ‘Diddums hurts himself then?’, and this may similarly have been the origin of the Accusative Case in ‘-m’ still found in older members of our own family of languages, like Latin.



Between ‘he too came’ (with its pause) and ‘he also came’ there is a difference, relating ‘too’ to a gesture word like 也 (160B) ‘yě’ in Chinese, which is used in exactly the same way; whilst the function of 也 at the end of a sentence is also much like some people’s expression of strong affirmation: ‘It is too!’ In Chinese, a verb like 却 (132) can become a gesture word as in the Marble Stairs poem (this is now its chief use) and in English a gesture word like ‘but’ can become both a verb and a noun in ‘Nay, but me no buts’. Equally the noun ‘fish’ can be used unchanged as a verb ‘to fish’; and in this case and a few others like ‘sheep’, the same form of noun can be used both for a single individual and a number of individuals. Yet between English and Chinese there is this great difference: though ‘fish’ and ‘sheep’ may not change physically in the plural, there is a notion of change in them so long as they are felt to belong to the same class of word as ‘cow’, which does change to ‘cows’; a feeling which is not in English present in relation to such a word as ‘brown’ that (as an adjective) never changes. Similarly, the change of class from gesture to noun is signalled by the plural sign, impossible in a gesture word, of ‘but me no buts’, and it is also invisibly present, in a way it would not be in Chinese, in the first and unchanged ‘but’; because that has now entered a class distinguished in the language, among other things, by liability to certain changes, ‘he butted me no buts’, of which Chinese has no more notion than our language has of plurality in ‘brown’. Without inflections, therefore, the ‘part of speech’ to which a word belongs in Chinese is a matter of its meaning; but, since words can act in different contexts as different parts of speech, as seen with 發 (229) ‘fā’, it must be said that in this case its meaning as a verb is its home base; and that that is what it does not forget. Similarly, being a noun is the home base of 人 (1), which it does not forget either. As a result it can, as any Chinese noun can, act as a predicate on its own: X人, ‘X (is or acts like a) man’; but it cannot, because to be a transitive verb would be departing too far from its home base, be used like ‘man’ in English: ‘to man the barricades’. When 人 acts as a verb or has a meaning derived from acting as a verb, as its home base, then it is normally written with a different character 仁 (229A) ‘rén’, ‘to be humane, kind, benevolent; humanity, kindness, benevolence’. The righthand side of this is 二 for ‘two’: ‘one man to another’. Again, adjectives in Chinese being verbs, without a home base of their own, ‘brown’ means ‘to be brown’; but with such as its meaning it cannot be used in ‘to brown one’s boots’ or ‘the cake browns’ because either would take it too far from its home base, in this case not as a part of speech but as a meaning. To show that the cake was turning brown something like 化 (9) would have to be added. Sometimes a Chinese word may have two home bases, both as a noun and as a verb; but in that case, it tends to be felt to be two different words and is then commonly written with two different characters as with 人 (1) and 仁 (229A). The notion of a home base however is a real one; and a useful one because without it Chinese grammar would be the anarchy that some suppose that it is, but that it is not. To give one further example, the home base of 聲 (66) ‘shēng’ is as a noun, and it cannot therefore mean, though it sometimes may seem to, ‘to voice’ as a transitive verb; which is expressed by such compound expressions as 聲明 (… 51) ‘shēngmíng’, in which it is 明 that is the verb and 聲 is a noun in apposition to it: ‘to clarify by voice’; which can then indeed be used as in English ‘to


仁 (to be) humane; benevolence



現 to be evident, present


彩 to paint; colour(ing)


里 parish; mile

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voice’ (a complaint). But in 發聲 (229 …) ‘fāshēng’, ‘to voice’ in the sense of ‘to vocalise, pronounce’, it is 發 that is the verb and 聲 its object. This also explains why some Chinese compound expressions that are usually romanised as one word can be split, but others cannot. 聲明, ‘shēngmíng’, cannot be split because it would be uncomfortable to wedge anything between the noun 聲 in apposition and the verb 明 that it governs, just as it would be uncomfortable to do so in English between, say, ‘man’ and ‘made’ in ‘man-made’; but 發聲 ‘fāshēng’, on the other hand can be split because one can always comfortably have an adjective between a verb and its object, as in 發大聲 (… 110G …) ‘fā-dà-shēng’, ‘to pronounce loudly’. To say that 聲 does not forget its home base as a noun and that 發 does not forget its home base as a verb does not mean that they cannot travel from their homes. One might say that in English ‘sound’ has its home base as a noun, but it can be a verb with a complement in ‘it sounds good’ or a transitive verb in ‘to sound a bell’ and ‘to sound a warning’. Yet ‘to sound a greeting’ would be carrying it so far from home that one would wonder what the mind of the speaker was up to. 聲 can be similarly used, as in 發聲 ‘fāshēng’, meaning that 發 sounds or is pronounced ‘fā’; and in classical Chinese 聲 can also be used transitively for sounding a bell or sounding a tocsin; but that is about as far from home as it will comfortably travel. (The trouble with some ‘structural’ descriptions of grammar is that notions vital to it like ‘home’ and ‘comfort’ cannot be expressed in algebra!) For all the different translations of it into English given above 發 therefore is still a word of clear and single meaning, even if wide uses, to the Chinese; and not more guilty of ‘polysemy’ than countless words in any language. The character, which players of Mah Jong will recognise as the tile they call ‘Green Dragon’, has on top. This is reduced from , 止 (196A) and its mirror image; representing probably not just feet turned outward, but productiveness as symbolised by the male and female in 化 (9), combined with progress. To this are added 弓 (159B) a bow, and 殳 as in 醫 (121A) a hand with a mallet, both suggestive of energy and impact. The character, as a well-laden advertising image-maker, occurs a great deal in the names of businesses (like ‘development’ which is one of its meanings) and was, in its Cantonese pronunciation of ‘fat’, an unfortunate word in restaurant names. 發現 (… 229B) ‘fāxiàn’ means ‘to discover’; in which 現 (229B) ‘xiàn’ means ‘to be evident, present’ and has 玉 (78A), as always without its dot in composition, for jade or jewels and therefore glitter, with 見 (82) ‘jiàn’ ‘to see, or be seen’. In discovering, one may be said to ‘fā the presence of something’. Combined with 在 (122) ‘zài’, 現在 ‘xiànzài’ is the usual expression for ‘at present, now(adays)’. In the first line of the poem, 辭 (13) ‘cí’, ‘to speak phrases’, has the developed sense of ‘to take one’s leave’. 白帝, the White King’s City (such ‘cities’ in Chinese need be no more than walled villages) and White King’s Mountain, are in the Yangtse Gorges; where the river tumbles down a series of, with skill, just navigable rapids that continue for many miles. 彩 (230) ‘cǎi’ means ‘to paint, colour; colouring, colour’; a word with home base as a verb while that of 色 (219B) ‘sè’, ‘colour’, is as a noun. The character has 彡 for ‘painting, decoration’, as meaning associator with 采 (96) ‘cǎi’ as word associator. 里 (231) ‘lǐ’ means a ‘parish, village, country district’, or as a measure of distance of Chinese mile, a little over a third of an English mile. 公里 (114A …)



‘gōnglǐ’ is now used for a ‘kilometre’, and 公 ‘official’ is the prefix for conversion of other traditional measures to metric system: 公斤 (… 180A) ‘gōngjīn’, ‘kilogram’. The character 里 for ‘parish’ may be thought of, like ‘parish’, as 土 (78D) an altar to the earth and fertility in 田 (4) the fields; which is its origin. 陵 (232) ‘líng’ means ‘a barrow, burial mound’. Kiang Ling or Chiang Ling, or the Yangtse Barrows, was the ancient capital and burial place of the Kings of Ch’u, one of the nine feudal states supposed to have been created by the founder of the prehistoric Hsia Dynasty about 2200 BC; though this date and almost everything else said about this dynasty in the history books is undoubtedly of later invention. If the dynasty existed, it must have been of a Neolithic society. The character for Hsia is 夏 (232A) ‘xià’, ‘great, grand’, which is also used for the word, of the same pronunciation, for ‘summer’. The primary meaning and the origin of the character are not known. 岸 (233) ‘àn’ means ‘shore, coast, riverbank’. The word associator is 干 (233A) ‘gān’, ‘a stem, treetrunk’ of which it was a representation ; from which it came to mean ‘a shield’. With this are two meaning associators, 山 (81) ‘mountain’, which is used also for rocks, and 厂 ‘a cliff’ as in 原 (104C) and 石 (219A). 猿 (234) ‘yuán’ means ‘a gibbon ape’; once common in China but now only in the far south. Anyone who has stayed near a zoo will know their passionate mating call, whooping in scales. 犭 (115D) is for mammal and 袁, as in 園 (181) ‘yuán’, ‘garden’, is the word associator. The Shuo Wên Dictionary’s statement that the extinct word 袁 meant a ‘long robe’ gets some support from its appearance in 猿; for a gibbon’s two-legged gait is as if it were wearing such a robe many sizes too large. 住 (235) ‘zhù’ means ‘to stay’, both in the sense of ‘to stop’ (‘to stay one’s hand’) and ‘to dwell, reside’. 不住 after a verb means that the action goes on ceaselessly. With 人 (1) is the word associator 主 (235A) ‘zhǔ’, ‘to be lord, landlord, host; to reside; to rule; chief, main, principal’. An older form of this character is , traditionally explained as a picture of a lamp, and a related word 炷 (235B) ‘zhù’, with 火 (77A) for fire added, means a ‘wick’. 主義 (235A – 235C) ‘zhǔyì’, ‘main principle, -ism’, is an important word and suffix; in which 義 (235C) ‘yì’ has a meaning of ‘morality’, what is conceived as right and proper. This character combines 羊 (42) for ‘sheep’, present as usual in words of a good meaning but here probably with the thought particularly of the social flock, with 我 (185A) ‘we, us’. The two words were once similarly pronounced (義 was something like ‘ngia’ and 我 was something like ‘nga’). The San Min Chu I, as they are usually called in the West, were the famous Three “People” Principles of Dr Sun Yat-sen (AD1866–1925), 三民主義 (29 – 171C …) ‘sān mín zhǔyì’, namely; Patriotism (the Chinese is nearer to ‘racism’ but it would be unfair now to translate it so), Welfare, and Democracy; each preceded by 國民 (78B – 171C) ‘guómín’ ‘(on behalf of) the People of the Nation’. The following are some other ‘-isms’: 孔子主義 平民主義 平等主義 未來主義 人道主義

(110C – 110A …) ‘kǒngzǐzhǔyì’, ‘Confucianism’; (67 – 171C …) ‘píngmínzhǔyì’, ‘democracy’ (in sense of ‘equality’); (67 – 75B …) ‘píngděngzhǔyì’, ‘egalitarianism, equality, equity’; (156 – 143 …) ‘wèiláizhǔyì’, ‘futurism’ (in art); (1 – 125B …) ‘réndàozhǔyì’, ‘humanism’ (i.e. ‘rationalism’ as opposed to ‘revealed religion’);


陵 barrow, tumulus


夏 Hsia (Dynasty); summer (233)


岸 干 shore, bank

stem; shield (234)

猿 gibbon (235)


to stay


to be host, to reside, to rule, chief

炷 wick


義 morality, principle

190 人文主義

帝國主義 個人主義 國家主義 自然主義 和平主義 共和主義 西洋主義 (235D)

產 (236)


輕 light (in weight)


已 already


過 to pass, exceed; beyond

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(1 – 8 …) ‘rénwénzhǔyì’, ‘humanism’ (i.e. cultural as distinct from theological or scientific studies; Chinese avoids confusing the two sense of humanism); (188A – 78B …) ‘dìguózhǔyì’, ‘imperialism’; (111E – 1 …) ‘gèrénzhǔyì’, ‘individualism’; (78B – 114G …) ‘guójiāzhǔyì’, ‘statism’; (191 – 185 …) ‘zìránzhǔyì’, ‘naturalism’; (101J – 75B …) ‘hépíngzhǔyì’, ‘pacifism’; (114E – 101J …) ‘gònghézhǔyì’, ‘republicanism’; (88D – 44 …) ‘xīyángzhǔyì’, ‘Westernism’.

‘Communism’ is 共產主義 (114E – 235D …) ‘gòngchǎnzhǔyì’, in which 產 (235D) ‘chǎn’ means ‘to bear offspring’ (it occurs for instance in the word for ‘obstetrics’); thence ‘to produce goods’ or ‘products, produce (as a noun)’. 輕 (236) ‘qīng’ means ‘light’ in weight; the antonym of 重 (120A) ‘zhòng’, ‘heavy’. The character has 車 (109G) for a cart as meaning associator, with the same word associator as in 經 (94E) ‘jīng’ and 徑 (107) ‘jìng’. (A cart seems lighter when on a made road.) 已 (237) ‘yǐ’ means ‘already’ and is used much like ‘have’ in English for the perfect tense: 已見 (… 82) ‘yǐ jiàn’, ‘to have seen’. 經 which is used in much the same way can be added as reinforcement: 已經見 (… 94E – 82) ‘yǐjīng jiàn’, ‘to have already seen’, 已經不見 (… 10 …) ‘yǐjīng bú jiàn’, ‘not to have seen yet’. All tenses of verbs in Chinese are like the future tense in English in being voluntary rather than compulsory within the grammar of the language. In English one need not always say ‘I shall go tomorrow’ but can say ‘I go tomorrow’; but one cannot say ‘I go yesterday’ as one could in Chinese, and indeed most often would because ‘yesterday’ makes the expression of tense tautological. The character 已 is a mere variant of the same as is now written 以 (11) ‘yǐ’, while 矣 (89H) ‘yǐ’ is the same word differentiated in writing as a gesture word. 已 can also be used as such, or the two together, at the end of a sentence. The quotation from the Analects of Confucius in Chapter Five is in full: 辭達而已矣 (13 – 114C – 221 …) ‘cí dá ér yǐ yǐ’, ‘words, let them get there, that’s all!’. The basic meaning of 以 (11) is something like ‘to hold’, thence ‘to use’ or as a preposition, ‘with’; but it is not far from a meaning ‘to have’, so that the sense development of the word as a mark of the perfect tense, though then written usually with this variant character 已, is much like that in English ‘have seen’ and similar constructions in many other languages. The form 已 needs to be distinguished from 己 (109F) ‘self’ in which, instead of half-closed, the gap is fully open; and from 巳, the foetus in 包 (214A), in which the gap is fully closed. Both 己 and 巳 belong to series of calendar signs which are difficult now to interpret as symbols and which seem to have a distinct and possibly even more ancient origin than all the rest of the script, though they have become assimilated with it. The earliest forms of 以 and 已 were just a sort of loop: . In 以, this has been reduced to while 人 (1) has been added on the right. The reduplication ‘yǐ yǐ’ written as 已矣, in the quotation from Confucius above, is reminiscent of the Anglo-Irish reduplication ‘at all, at all’. 過 (238) ‘guò’ means ‘to go past, to pass, go by; to transgress, exceed; beyond’: 過夜 (… 127) ‘guòyè’ means ‘to pass, spend the night’, and like 發聲 (299 – 66) ‘fāshēng’ above is of the type of compound word that can be split, 過好夜 (… 110F …) ‘guò-hǎo-yè’, ‘to pass a good night’; similarly 過河 (… 161B) ‘guòhé’, ‘to



cross a river’ and 過期 (… 155) ‘guòqī’, ‘to pass a date, exceed a time limit’, each of which also consists of 過 with home base as a verb, followed by a word homebased as a noun. 過年 (… 238A) ‘guònián’, in which 年 (238A) ‘nián’ means ‘a (calendar) year’, on the other hand has two meanings, one as a compound that can be split and one as a compound that cannot. As the first it has the particular meaning of ‘to see out the (old) year’, that is to say ‘to celebrate the New Year’: 好好兒的過個年 (110F … 110B – 116A … 111E …) ‘hǎohāorde guò ge nián’, with a change of tone on the second ‘hao’ that stresses and lengthens it, means in modern colloquial Pekinese ‘to see the old year out merrily’. But as a welded compound that cannot be split, 過年 ‘guònián’, in modern Mandarin stressed on the first syllable with the second toneless ‘guònian’, means, not as one might expect ‘the past year, last year’, but ‘the year beyond, next year’, for which the commoner expression is 來年 (143 …) ‘láinián’. ‘Last’ is expressed by 去 (69) ‘qù’, ‘to depart’ in 去年, ‘qùnian’, ‘last year’, similarly stressed in spoken Mandarin and also a two-syllable, unsplittable word. Suffixed to a verb, 過 can form a kind of perfect tense with a meaning similar to the Irish use of ‘I am after doing it’, in the sense that my state is of, and influenced by, having done it: 我可看見過 (185A – 161A – 82A – 82 …) ‘wǒ kě kànjian-guò’, ‘I am after getting to see it’. (Chinese can, in fact, express tenses and aspects of verbs with great subtlety, even though they are not built into the compulsory grammar of the language in the way that ours are.) The character 過 (238) has 辶 for progression as in 逆 (16) and many other characters now met with, and 冎 which is related to the lefthand side, now much reduced, of 別 (226) ‘to separate, distinguish’, and to 骨 (226A) ‘bone’. How exactly it came to symbolise ‘to pass, exceed’ is not clear but, although there may be no connection in sense development, it is worth mentioning the character 滑 (238B) ‘huá’, ‘to slip, to be slippery, to slide’, which has 氵 (45) for water with 骨 (226A) for bone, clearly making a ‘kenning’ or metaphor for the most slippery thing, ice; which also occurs in Old English poetry, ‘water’s bone’. Possibly the bone in 滑 may have been this kind of bone, ice, on which one’s 辶 progression tends always to be excessive and past the mark. The character 年 (238A) ‘nián’ for ‘year’ was a picture of a man carrying in the harvest over his shoulder, in various versions from the 2nd millennium BC:

重 (120A) in 萬重 (32 …) in the poem is to be read as ‘chóng’, then having the

meaning not of ‘zhòng’, ‘heavy’, but of ‘to heap, to fold; a heap, a fold’, or ‘-ply’ as in ‘three-ply’, 三重 (3 …), ‘sānchóng’. 多重 (145 …) ‘duōchóng’ means ‘to be multiple’. 萬 (32) means here no more than ‘very many’ but 千 (28) above in the poem is not necessarily an exaggeration. The distance by river from Pai Ti, White King, to Kiang Ling is about this, if not more, and there are other accounts of doing it between dawn and dusk, by shooting the rapids. A fifth century writer, describing the strength of the current in this part of the Yangtse, wrote: ‘Sometimes people leave Pai Ti at dawn and come to rest at Kiang Ling by nightfall. It is in all more than 1,200 li [400 miles] but the flying clouds and the swiftest of birds cannot overtake them’. There are many poems on this subject. Shên Tê-ch’ien (AD 1673–1769), who was a famous poet and who had the endearing distinction of failing his degree seventeen times and finally passing at the age of sixty-five, wrote about this one:


年 a (calender) year


滑 slippery, to slide


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In the way it depicts the thousand li in the batting of an eye and in a breath, it is as if it were divinely inspired … Putting in the line about the gibbon’s voices in no way damages the composition but gives it colour like a painter’s landscape. Others have seen the effects of 白 and 彩; 帝 and 陵; 千 and 萬; 輕 and 重— the last really a visual pun like 樂 in poem (8) above—all but the first lost in translation. But such observations would not enable anyone to make Li Po’s poem; and what one may notice is a matter of free will. Perhaps even, if Wordsworth’s “Intimation” ode could have been known to Li Po, a ‘literary allusion’ to its ‘clouds of glory’ might be found by scholars in 彩雲; for there is something in the little poem, as there is in so many Chinese long-scroll riverscape paintings, that suggests, without labouring the theme, the journey of life.

∵ 鹿 柴

lù chái 76 77

by 王 維 wáng wéi 78 79

Deer Park Hermitage, Part One by Wang Wei 空

不 見

kōng shān / bú jiàn rén 80 81 10 82 1 On empty slopes, / We see nobody, 但

語 響

dàn wén / rén yǔ xiǎng 83 84 1 85 86 Yet we can hear / Their echoed phrases; 返

入 深

fǎn jǐng / rù shēn lín 87 88 70 89 90 Retreating light / Enters a deep wood, 復 照

苔 上

fù zhào / qīng tái shàng 91 92 93 94 68 And shines again / On the green mosses.

… 其

二 by 裴

qí èr 89G 24

péi dí 239 240

Part Two by P’ei Ti (AD 714–?)


windows 日 夕

rì xī / jiàn hán shān 50 124A 82 117 81 As the day fades / See the cold mountain, 便

獨 往

biàn wéi / dú wǎng kè 241 18 115 242 243 Where, if we were / Travellers alone, 不 知

林 事

bù zhī / shēn lín shì 10 116K 89 90 244 We should not know / The deep wood’s business, 但

dàn yǒu / jūn jiā jì 83 157 245 246 247 But for traces / Of a stag or doe. These two poems belong to a little series of such pairs, in which Wang Wei composed the strophe and a young friend the antistrophe. Very little is known about P’ei Ti. This pair of poems describes perhaps more perfectly than any other the spirit of Chinese landscape painting, so that its title, 鹿柴, Lu Ch’ai, was the nom de guerre adopted by the seventeenth-century principal author of a very famous manual on brush drawing called The Mustard Seed Garden.6 裴 (239) ‘péi’, consisting of 衣 (103C) clothes with 非 (138) as word associator, is a kind of robe, also a verb with a meaning like ‘to pace’. Here it is P’ei Ti’s surname. His personal name was 迪 (240) ‘dí’, meaning ‘to follow, or direct to, the right path’. With 辶 as in 逆 (16) for progression, there is 由 (240A) ‘yóu’, which is the word associator, and has already been met with in 笛 (174) ‘dí’, ‘flute’, showing 田 (4) a field with a path leading out of it: ‘to go out from’ is its basic meaning; thence ‘from, by, with; by means of, depending on’ and similar meanings. 發 (229) ‘fā’ can correspond fairly well with Latin ex, as observed in the last poem, while 由 can do so with ab. As a noun it may mean ‘cause’: 自由 (191 …) ‘zìyóu’, literally ‘self-causation’ or ‘proceeding by or from oneself’, means ‘(to be) free, freedom’; 自由主義 (… 235A – 235C) ‘zìyóuzhǔyì’ is ‘liberalism’; 自發 (191 – 229) ‘zìfā’, on the other hand, literally ‘self-generated’, means ‘spontaneous, spontaneity’; 由北 (… 88B) ‘yóu běi’ means ‘from the north, southwards’; whereas 發北 ‘fā běi’ means ‘starting from the north, originating in the north’ or the like. Such meaning, of course, overlap and could often be said to be ‘logically’ the same, but the intentions are distinguished, or felt to be distinguished, by using one or the other; and such are the concern of language. The difference in intention between 由 and 發 can be important, for instance, to the proper understanding of technical and scientific writing; and the expression

6 There is a superb edition of this, with all its illustrations as well as some others, and text translated with a learned and illuminating introduction, by Miss Mai-mai Sze; published as number XLIX of the Bollingen Series, Pantheon Books, New York.


裴 Robe (surname) (240)


迪 由 to take the right path

from, by, with



油 oil, fat


便 convenient; then, if


往 to proceed, go

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of intention belongs only within the context of a whole language, of what else one might have said in it. With 氵 (45) for ‘liquid’ or ‘fluid’ as meaning associator the character 油 (240B) ‘yóu’ means ‘oil, grease, fat’, which trickles from; whether that was the real etymology of this word in Chinese, or only a ‘popular’ one accepted by the maker of the character. 石油 (219A …) ‘shíyóu’ is ‘petroleum; petrol, gasoline’. The pronunciation ‘dí’ of 笛 (174) and 迪 (240) seems remote from ‘yóu’, but has arisen by the aid of similarity in the early language of consonants once related to one another much as the ‘d’ of ‘dew’, the ‘j’ or ‘Jew’, and the ‘y’ of ‘yew’ are in English. In the poem, similarly, the rhyme, which was between 客 and 跡, is now quite hidden in modern Mandarin pronunciation; whereas a false rhyme, just where there should not in this verse-form be one, has appeared between the latter and 事. 便 (241) ‘biàn’ means ‘(to be) convenient’; and by extension, ‘if it be convenient’, hence as here, ‘let there be’, ‘if’, ‘in the event of’. (In a different sensedevelopment 便 is used euphemistically rather similarly to ‘convenience’ in ‘Public Convenience’; one cannot say it would be a 大 ‘great’, 便, ‘convenience’ without saying something probably unintended.) 便 also, as an adverb, means ‘then, thereupon’. The sense of ‘then’, that of ‘convenience’ and that of ‘if’ may all be extensions of an original meaning something like ‘circumstances’. The Chinese, like anybody else, first learn their language from hearing connected speech, and ‘biàn’ in its various senses to us is then just ‘biàn’ to them without their needing to think of such things as etymology and sense development until they learn to read and until they require to understand and express complex thoughts. Here 便 clearly takes its sense from the context; especially from the combination 便 爲. In this the verb, 爲 (18), means basically ‘to do, to make’, but in the sense of ‘to be as, to act as’. (That is to say, for those acquainted with Spanish, it describes a state or condition like ‘estar’, but does not make an equation like ‘ser’.) 往 (242) ‘wǎng’ means ‘to proceed, go’, and so must be carefully distinguished from 住 (235) ‘zhù’ meaning ‘to stay’. The established form 往 has arisen through error, doubtless influenced in its form by 住. It should really be written 彺, in which 彳, half of 行 (107A) ‘to go’, is the meaning associator and 王 (78) ‘wáng’ is the word associator. 往 is a word occurring in the earliest oracle shell and bone inscriptions of about the middle of the second millennium BC, but written with the same character as used for 王, king; which must even then have been very similarly pronounced and so could be interchanged on the ‘rebus’ principle. These earliest inscriptions of the mid-second millennium BC however show that the important invention of adding ‘meaning associators’ had already been made, although then and for a long time afterwards these were used less than in the later, fully developed script. The present tendency in China is often to remove them again, in order to reduce the total number of characters. This, like other recent reforms, is sometimes done wisely but sometimes is more inspired by revolutionary ardour than by common sense. In one very curious case on the other hand, meaning associators have been added during this century with no relevance whatever to the Chinese language itself but to represent the genders of the third personal pronoun in English. This is done by sometimes writing instead of 他 (160D): 她, with 女 (3) as meaning associator, to represent ‘she’, and 牠 with 牛 (142A) as meaning associator for ‘cattle, chattels’, to represent ‘it’; pronouncing them all equally as ‘ta’! (The



Chinese have been mystified about what it was that enabled the West to overtake them but they need not have supposed it was having genders in personal pronouns.) 往 is often used for ‘to go’ in contrast with 來 (143) ‘to come’. The two verbs can be put together, 往來 ‘wǎnglái’ or 來往 ‘láiwǎng’, meaning ‘(to have) comings and goings; traffic; business relations; dealings from time to time’; and the like. 往復 (… 91) ‘wǎngfù’ is ‘to go and come back; to and fro’. 往 can also nowadays just give directions like ‘-wards’: 往下 (… 71) ‘wǎngxià’, ‘downwards’ or ‘onwards’;7 往北 (… 88B) ‘wǎngběi’, ‘northwards’. 客 (243) ‘kè’ means ‘a guest, visitor; customer; stranger; traveller, passenger’. The character has a roof as in 家 (114G) ‘house’ with 各 (126B) ‘gè’ as word associator. 客家 ‘kèjiā’, ‘the guest or foreign families, settlers’, in Cantonese pronounced ‘hakka’, is used for the people and language of that name in South China; who migrated from the North during the foreign invasions in the Sung Dynasty. 客人 (… 1) ‘kèrén’ is the ordinary word for a ‘guest’; 船客 (111A …) ‘chuánkè’ is a ‘passenger’ on a ship; 客船 ‘kèchuán’ is a ‘passenger ship’. The phrase 獨往 ‘lonegoing’ is sometimes used in literature, from the philosopher Chuang Tzu in the fourth century BC onward, of people who for spiritual reasons forsake the material world. Here it could refer to any traveller, alone because belated in reaching his evening lodging; but the association would still be latent in the phrase and is undoubtedly intended. No traveller is seen, but imagined—Wang Wei’s poem shows that nobody was to be seen—and being imagined is therefore a projection of the poet himself and of his friend who were in Retreat at the hermitage. The language of these T’ang poems, however, tends to be remarkably plain rather than ‘poetic’. The whole line 便爲獨往客 could equally be imagined serving in another context: as Chinese of a kind that, by its basic metaphors and structure, translated into bad bureaucratic English in such a phrase which might be imagined in some Regulations or Conditions as: ‘In the event of acting in the capacity of an independently proceeding passenger …’ This kind of officialise (choctaw, gobbledygook or academia prose) is often preferred in English to something more natural like ‘If you are going on your own’ when wanting to achieve a degree of de-personalisation and abstraction in our language, that is the normal state of affairs in Chinese. In English, however, it takes more words; in Chinese, fewer. It is done especially to avoid the grammatical convention, which we possess, of possession by verbs of subjects and objects: so that ‘I think he …’ gets replaced by ‘With regard to this member of personnel it is considered …’ In Chinese, with no history of ‘cases’ of nouns or ‘persons’ of verbs, like those of Greek or Latin or Old English, the problem does not arise. In the poem, 見 and 爲 have no subjects except insofar as the reader, from what he knows of the situation, chooses in his imagination to provide them. The lone traveller is an invisible stranger far away on the mountainside, and is the poet and his friend, all at once. The greatest difficulty in learning a language is in unlearning one’s own; and so, with a language as different as Chinese, is not addressing irrelevant questions to its grammar. Information about the relation in space of the physical presence of the poet to his sympathetic or imaginative presence as a lone way-

7 上 (68) is much used for what precedes and 下 (71) for what follows on the analogy of the columns of Chinese writing.


客 guest



事 thing, affair


使 to make to; to use


史 chronicle


記 to remember, record

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farer on the mountain is not something that Chinese grammar forces on poet or reader. It would not, either, be something the poet would go out of his way to state; but he might rather go out of his way not to state it, because in his view it would be irrelevant, hamper the reader’s imagination and weaken the poem. His language is such that going out of his way of this kind can be achieved by brevity. In the West, it is perhaps those of literary rather than those of scientific poetic or painterly habit of mind who will at first most miss such irrelevant information. Grammatical habits seem to affect more than the use of words. A Chinese landscape painting, as has already been remarked, does not give its creator or viewer a fixed position but rather invites the viewer to enter the scene, choosing his way according to what seems his own will; and then to go beyond what the painter has presented to him, to the other side of the mountain. This absence of fixed position has perhaps something in common with the absence of our subject-verb relationship. Absence of shadows, too, has perhaps something in common with the absence of grammatically compulsory tense. Whether this is so or not, a man of Western culture who has looked little at Chinese paintings finds some grammar to unlearn and to learn; and the same is true in reverse of a man of Far Eastern culture who has looked little at Western paintings. 事 (244) ‘shì’ originally meant ‘to serve’; whence ‘affair, business, thing, matter’: 事務 (… 141A) ‘shìwù’, ‘business matters’; 事前 (… 163A) ‘shìqián’, ‘before the affair, beforehand’; 事多 (… 145) ‘shìduō’, ‘to be very busy, have much to do’; 多事 ‘duōshì’, ‘to do too much, be a busybody’ (in each of these phrases the second element plays the part of the verb, qualified by the first element); 家事 (114G …) ‘jiāshì’, ‘domestic (household) affairs’; 公事 (114A …) ‘gōngshì’, ‘public business, public affairs’; 軍事 (153B …) ‘jūnshì’, ‘military affairs’, or simply ‘military’ in apposition qualifying anything abstract such as ‘aid’ or ‘expenses’; 大事 (110G …) ‘dàshì’, ‘a major matter’; 小事 (187B …) ‘xiǎoshì’, ‘a minor matter’; 閑事 (222 …) ‘xiánshì’, ‘an idle matter’; and so on. The character occurs in one of the earliest inscriptions on a bone from the second millennium BC in the phrase:

that is, 王事 (78 …) ‘wángshì’, ‘The King’s Business’; where it represents a hand with a writing instrument and a tablet . A character composed of 人 (1) with a simplification of this symbol is 使 (244A), ‘shǐ’, ‘to make to serve, to employ, use’; which is the auxiliary verb of ‘causing’ with other verbs 使人知 (… 1 – 116K) ‘shǐ rén zhī’, ‘to cause people to know’. 使 is sometimes read as ‘shì’, that is to say pronounced in a Falling Tone the same as 事, when it means ‘a servant, messenger’ in a number of phrases as 使女 (… 3) ‘shìnǚ’, ‘maidservant’; but it is read as ‘shǐ’ in 大使 (110G …) ‘dàshǐ’, ‘ambassador’, which will be seen on the brass plates of Chinese and Japanese Embassies. (Our own word ‘ambassador’ relates ultimately to the Gaulish for a maidservant.) A further important character that derives from another and further reduction of the same symbol is 史 (244B) ‘shǐ’, ‘chronicles, annals, history’: 史學 (… 187A) ‘shǐxué’, ‘history (as a study); historiography’; 史學家 (… 114G) ‘shǐxuéjiā’, ‘historian, historiographer’; 史書 (… 116E) ‘shǐshū’, ‘historical records, history books’. The greatest of Chinese historiography 史記 ‘shǐjì’, the Shih Chi or Shih Ki, was completed about 90 BC; in which (244C) 記 ‘jì’, consisting of 言 (73) words plus



己 (109F) ‘jǐ’, ‘self’, means ‘to record, register; to remember’: 記事 ‘jìshì’, (the first

element of this is the verb, the second its object) ‘to put on record; a memorandum’; 記名 (… 140E) ‘jìmíng’, ‘to register names’; 記不得 (… 10 – 19) ‘jì bù dé’, or colloquially ‘jìbude’, ‘can’t remember’; 日記 (50 …) ‘rìjì’, ‘a diary, journal’. Some versions of this poem have 松林事 (114I …) ‘sōng lín shì’, ‘the pinewoods’ business’, but the present version is the one generally accepted and seems much better for its exact echo of Wang Wei’s poem. Many such variants are recorded of poems of this period, when printing was only just beginning to be used, locally and without attracting much attention, for such purposes as prayers and charms for the faithful at Buddhist monasteries. Its wider effects on Chinese culture did not have their beginnings for another two centuries. 麏 (245) ‘jūn’ means (a gentle kind of) ‘deer; hind, doe’ used symbolically for gentleness and timidity. The character which is an uncommon one represents another special use of the same word ‘jun’ that is also written 君 (153), ‘prince’ or 軍 (153B) ‘army’, and it probably meant members of the stag’s ‘harem’. 麚 (246) ‘jiā’, ‘a stag that sheds its antlers’, is similarly an uncommon character representing a special sense of the word 叚, which had a sense of borrowing; assuming a disguise; borrowed time, temporary. This does not now occur on its own, but with 人 (1) it makes 假 (246A) ‘jiǎ’ ‘to borrow, to assume; assumed, false; assuming that, if’; or, pronounced as ‘jià’, by a sense development through that of ‘temporary’, it can mean ‘leave of absence’ as in 病假 (167A …) ‘bìngjià’, ‘sickleave’. 假病, pronounced ‘jiǎbìng’ on the other hand means ‘malingering’; 假 名 (… 140E) ‘jiǎmíng’, ‘an assumed name, alias’; 假山 (… 81) ‘jiǎshān’, ‘imitation mountains’, that is to say ‘rockeries’ in gardens of flower arrangements; 假爲 (… 18) ‘jiǎ wéi’, ‘to pretend to be’; 假然 (… 185) ‘jiǎrán’, ‘assuming, granted (that)’; 假 報 (… 103E) ‘jiǎbào’ or ‘a false report’ or ‘to report falsely’; 假話 (… 166) ‘jiǎhuà’, ‘lies’; 假情 (… 93A) ‘jiǎqíng’, ‘hypocritical expression of feelings or affections’. The element 叚 in 麚 and 假 is an interesting one for it was originally a doubling of what is now written as 皮 (246B) ‘pí’, ‘a skin, a pelt, peel, bark’; thus making a metaphor rather like ‘borrowed plumes’. 皮 can be seen as a hand 又 holding a knife, the short vertical stroke, and peeling skin as of a fruit, represented by the fold ; but early forms of the character show that has in fact been reduced from a picture of the carcase of a horned beast with its skin partly removed. This character therefore, like 氵 (45) for water and many others, has evolved by ‘inspired misinterpretation’. 皮包 (… 214A) ‘píbāo’ is used for a leather handbag, briefcase or school satchel; 象皮 (92I …) ‘xiàngpí’, literally ‘elephant skin’, ‘(india) rubber’; also written 橡皮, using a character with 木 (56) for a tree, properly meaning the chestnut-oak but now also a rubbertree. 皮 is word associator in 波 (246C) ‘bō’, ‘waves’. 皮 and 波 were closer in sound in the ancient than in the modern language but waves could also be thought of as the skin, wrinkles and bark of water, whether the words were really related or not. Characters written with the double-skin symbol, too, all have more association with one another than merely resemblance in sound. For example, the following are all pronounced ‘xia’ in various tones: 騢 (246D) ‘xiá’ is a ‘skewbald’ horse, a horse of two coats; 蝦 (246E) ‘xiā’ is a crustacean such as a shrimp or prawn, of which the coat is detachable; 龍蝦 (135A …) ‘lóngxiā’, the dragon of that family, is a ‘lobster’ or ‘crayfish’; 蝦皮 (… 214A) ‘xiāpí’ is the ‘shell’ of any of these creatures; 暇 (246F) ‘xià’ is ‘spare time, relaxation’, when one casts off one of one’s selves; 遐 (246G) ‘xiá’ is ‘to cast off,


麏 doe (246)

麚 (246A)


假 to borrow, assume


皮 skin


波 waves (246D)


騢 蝦 skewbald




暇 遐 leisure

put away, afar

198 (246H)

瑕 blemish


霞 twilight

chapter 7

abandon’, with a sense development sometimes to ‘far off, distant’; 瑕 (246H) ‘xiá’ is a ‘blemish, fault’, a second colour in a piece of jade; 霞 (246I) ‘xiá’ is ‘twilight’, with a suggestion of rain or mist. All the words represented by these characters were felt to be related and were distinguished in writing by being given the meaning associators respectively: 馬 (48); 虫 (115B); 日 (50); ⻍ (as in No. 16 and other verbs of motion); 玉 (78A); and 雨 (101A). Because all these ‘xia’ words contain 叚 in their characters, they are associated more with one another and even with words rather differently pronounced like 麚 ‘jiā’ and 假 ‘jiǎ’, than they are with, say, 下 (71) ‘xià’. Something like this often works in our own ‘illogical’ English spelling: for instance ‘alms’ has a gentle association with ‘balm’ and ‘calm’ that it does not have with ‘arms’. Such associations have great power in the hands of good poets. Here in particular there may be an association of 麚 with 霞 above. The phrase here, 麏麚 is in fact an echo of the first line from a beautiful lyric, beautifully translated, of the second century BC; in which there does indeed seem such an association in the poet’s mind: … White deer, roebuck and horned deer Now leap and now stand poised Sheer and steep, Chill and damp: Baboons and monkeys And the bears Seek for their kind With mournful cries … Translation by David Hawkes: Ch’u Tz’u, The Songs of the South, Oxford, 1959

Such associations of characters with characters and of phrases with phrases in other poems help to make these small poems like gems to turn in the hand, letting them catch different lights. This is a most valuable form of ‘literary allusion’, but there is still much for any reader, however little the knowledge he brings to these poems to enjoy. It is a paradox that it is these smallest poems that seem to give most room to walk about in and the reader who comes as a stranger fresh to them has compensations, like any other traveller, in finding new delights in what may escape the notice of those more at home. For the latter the pleasures will often by different; but it seems questionable to what greater meaning ‘understanding poetry’ has a right than gaining spiritually from it. Gaining marks in an examination from it is certainly not one of its meanings. But having or lacking ‘background’ of course makes a difference: such a poem as No. 5 above, for instance, ‘On Hearing the Flute on a Spring Night in Loyang’, has different pleasures to offer the reader to whom its images come wholly fresh and, as it were, raw, and to the reader who has met that flute, that wind and that tune of ‘Breaking the Withies’ all before, even within a single poem, but to whom there is no less magic in what Li Po does with them. One would not reject, say, a ‘Fête Champêtre’ because one had seen several such pictures. Yet there must be a special and different pleasure for one who has not met such a picture before; and nobody can say that that is a less deep or significant pleasure either. It is a quality, too, of great poetry (and these poems, though so small, are, in the Chinese, surely great poems) that it can have many meanings and applications apart from what need have been in the poet’s mind: the present pair of



poems, for example, seems perfectly to describe what both author and reader of this book are doing; in visiting Wang Wei’s and P’ei Ti’s mountain from so far and after so long. Hereafter for analysing a new character a brief code will be used whenever suitable in order to save space: 跡 (247: 65+199) ‘jì’ means ‘tracks, traces, clues, evidence, (hidden) manifestations’; the code in the bracket showing that the character combines 足 (65) for a foot, with 亦 (199). The later is the word associator, the figure with outstretched arms that occurs too in 夜 (127), night.


跡 traces

chapter 8

Stars and Seething Pots by 杜 甫 zèng wèi bā chǔ shì dù fǔ 248 249 27 123 250 251 252

八 處

For Wei Pa, in Retirement by Tu Fu (AD 712–770) 人

不 相

rén shēng / bù xiāng jiàn 1 93I 10 92G 82 Our livelong days we never meeting 動

dòng rú / shēn yǔ shāng 191A 89C 253 169A 151 Move as do stars in other clusters, 今

復 何

jīn xī / fù hé xī 215A 124A 91 171A 124A Yet this evening (‘And what an evening!’) 共

gòng cǐ / dēng zhú guāng 114E 77B 254 165 92F We’re sharing this lamp and candlelight— 少

shào zhuàng / néng jǐ shí 190 255 256 106E 146 But youth and strength how briefly it lasts 鬢

bàn fà / gè yǐ cāng 257 258 126B 237 259 For both our heads have become grizzled 訪

fǎng jiù / bàn wéi guǐ 260 261 142 18 262 And half of those we ask about, ghosts, 驚

jīng hū / rè zhōng cháng 263 264 265 72 266 Till cries of shock pierce our very breasts!

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 2018 | doi:10.1163/9789004369054_011


stars and seething pots 焉

二 十 載

yān zhī / èr shí zaǐ 267 116K 24 23 268 How could we know twenty years would pass 重

chóng shàng / jūn zǐ táng 120A 68 153 110A 269 Before I came again to your house? 昔

xí bié / jūn wèi hūn 270 226 153 156 271 Though in those days you were unmarried 兒

ér nǚ / hū chéng háng 110B 3 272 178A 107A Suddenly sons and daughters troop in, 怡

yí rán / jìng fù zhí 273 185 263A 274 275 Greet merrily ‘Papa’s companion’, 問

來 何 方

wèn wǒ / lái hé fāng 84C 185C 143 161 260A Ask from what parts it is that I come? 問

wèn dá / nǎi wèi yǐ 84C 216 276 156 237 But such exchange must stay unfinished: 驅


qū ér / luó jiǔ jiāng 277 110B 130 116C 278 You chase them off to get out the wine 夜 雨

yè yǔ / jiǎn chūn jiǔ 127 101A 163 94C 279 And ‘in night rain pull up spring onions’ 新

xīn chuī / jiàn huáng liáng 280 281 227 282 283 To be steamed fresh with yellow millet;

202 主

chapter 8 稱

zhǔ chēng / huì miàn nán 235A 284 285 286 123D Till with your ‘Come, we can meet seldom’ 一 舉

十 觴

yì jǔ / léi shí shāng 36 169 287 23 288 You’ve charged my glass ten times in sequence: 十 觴

亦 不 醉

shí shāng / yì bù zuì 23 288 199 10 195 Ten times and still I’m not quite tipsy 感

故 意 長

gǎn zǐ / gù yì cháng 289 110A 172 15 159A But filled with sense of old acquaintance; 明

日 隔

míng rì / gé shān yuè 51 50 290 81 291 For tomorrow the hills divide us, 世

shì shì / liǎng máng máng 292 244 111D 293 293 Both out of sight in the world’s affairs. Tu Fu with his older contemporary and close friend, Li Po, whom he admired to the point of worship, are usually regarded as the two giants of T’ang, and indeed of all, Chinese poetry; and their personalities are contrasted: Li Po as the Taoist, Tu Fu as the Confucian. While this contrast can be overdone, to an extent that obscures what they have in common, it has much truth: certainly the Confucian ideal was never better or more attractively shown than in Tu Fu’s character. It is this character that is to many, no less than his intellect and technical perfection, one of the greatest of all the impressions in Tu Fu’s poems; so that it can command a devotion to him like that felt in front of a Rembrandt self-portrait. Tu Fu did not, as Li Po did, see himself as belonging to another world, but he is no less a magician with language. His has a nobility that can fit the common-place as well as the grand: he said “Words that do not startle men die, do not repose”; while remaining free of grandiosity,—something from which his strength of character and gentle humour, surviving all the great misfortunes of his life, always saved him. He has Confucian humanity and good manners. This simple domestic scene and celebration of old friendship is in a fivesyllable metre with a cesura after each first pair and with a single rhyme, ‘-ang’ in Tense Tones at the end of every second line. Although the form is of a 古 詩 (139A – 75) ‘gǔshī’, ‘Old Style Poem’, modelled on folk-poetry and in which

stars and seething pots


the latter developed contrasting patterns of the tones are not obligatory, such patterns may clearly be seen in the first four lines: Tense Tense / Relaxed Tense Relaxed Relaxed Tense / Tense Relaxed Tense (Rhyme) Tense Relaxed / Relaxed Tense Relaxed Relaxed Relaxed / Tense (Relaxed) Tense (Rhyme) in which the last syllable but one is now, in the Peking dialect transcribed, Tense but in Tu Fu’s day was Relaxed; as it still is in many dialects even of the ‘Mandarin’ language, where it is in the Entering Tone (ending in some of these dialects in a glottal stop like the sound in Cockney ‘wa-er’ for ‘water’; but in other non-Mandarin dialects in a ‘-k’, as in Tu Fu’s day). The rhythms of the thought and of the syntax are also ordered like those of the sound. As in other poems of this metre, the first two syllables of each line are in themselves a unit of meaning and syntax; causing a natural cesura before the remaining three syllables, which again make such a unit; as in turn does each whole line and each couplet. There is an unobtrusive symmetry in the whole poem, contributed to by the way in which one thought of the first couplet is echoed in the last (a poetic device in many languages). In the title, 贈 (248) ‘zèng’, ‘to present’, translated here simply by ‘for’, is an honorific verb to be found, for instance, in the dedication of paintings. 贈詩 (… 75) ‘zèngshī’, is a customary exchange of poems when friends part, and Wei Pa would also doubtless have presented one to Tu Fu. This custom persists in both China and Japan, and although the poems so generated may seldom be memorable, except possibly to the friends, it encourages skill in versification and therefore the appreciation of it. Most of the poems of the kind called 詩 in Chinese are ‘occasional’, at least in theory, but it would surprise all peoples among whom poetry is a living and popular art that such poetry could be regarded as necessarily of an inferior kind. The word associator in 贈 is 曾 (248A) ‘céng’, ‘already’ which may be used like 經 (94E) ‘jīng’ and 已 (237) ‘yǐ’ to indicate a perfect tense in a verb that follows: 可曾看見? (161A … 82A – 82) ‘kě céng kànjiàn?’, ‘maybe you have (already) seen it?’ The character was a picture of a double-saucepan or ‘steamer’, still clearly discernible in the character’s modern form: lid; upper compartment with the material for cooking; lower compartment with water indicated by the line as in 酉 for a bottle in 酌 (116B). The double-saucepan was used for a symbol of ‘one thing on top of another’, and so of events heaped up and one event ‘already’ overlaid by another. It carries this symbolism as word associator into other characters pronounced ‘ceng’ or ‘zeng’ in various tones, all felt to have the same underlying idea. In 贈 it has a cowrie-shell, symbolising value as in 財 (122C) ‘cái’, ‘wealth’; heaped up, so that the character represented ‘gifts, homage’; 憎 (248B) ‘zēng’, ‘to hate’ was also a heaping up, in one’s heart, 心 or 忄 (80C), ‘xīn’. 層 (248C) ‘céng’ is used in the sense of ‘layer’ or ‘stratum’, or the ‘storey’ of a house; or an adjective for ‘stratified’ or ‘storied’. This has the meaning associator for a recumbent figure as in 居 (139) ‘jū’, ‘to dwell’. For heaping up itself, in the sense of ‘to add, to increase’ 土 (78D) ‘tǔ’, ‘earth’, is meaning associator in 增 (248D) ‘zēng’ with this meaning. This word commonly goes in speech and writing with 加 (248E) ‘jiā’, ‘to apply, put in, on, add’—in which 力 (5) represents not ‘strength’ but its symbol, the right hand, and 口 (62) is the mouth; hence ‘to put in’ like food to one’s mouth.


贈 to present


曾 already



憎 層 to hate




增 加 to increase

to add



衛 to guard


圍 to encircle

chapter 8

The compound-word 增加 ‘zēngjiā’ thus means ‘to increase, add to’: 增加生產 (… 93I – 235D) ‘zēngjiā shēngchǎn’ is ‘to increase production; increasing productivity’. 增 alone in such a phrase would not have enough weight to balance with 生 產, or to be immediately clear in view of all the other words pronounced like it. Therefore compound expressions are often formed of two syllables of like meaning; one confirming the sense of the other, rather as we may say ‘add an increment’ instead of merely ‘add’. Just as 曾, and 叚 in the last chapter, and the characters derived from them exemplify principles of construction in a great number of Chinese characters, so 增加生產 can demonstrate principles of construction in a great number of Chinese compound words. But while this is an admirably clear expression for ‘increased productivity’, the Chinese with its four syllables, like the English with its seven, becomes cumbersome once ‘increased productivity’ is a concept needing to be mentioned often. In English the problem is solved, rather dangerously, by simply extending the meaning of the word ‘productivity’ alone, as in ‘productivity bonus’; even though that seemingly might mean a bonus for producing at all. The Chinese solution is that of the ‘portmanteau-word’ or ‘acronym’, as represented in Western languages by coinages like ‘Interpol’ for ‘International Police’; but with the difference in Chinese that they need not involve broken words like ‘pol’ and so are more naturally coined; and easier to assimilate with existing language because of its whole ‘atomic’ nature. ‘To increase production’ or ‘increased productivity’ thus becomes 增產 ‘zēngchǎn’. In Chinese, such expressions are often in themselves so neat and easy to grasp that their origins as ‘acronyms’ may not be apparent; yet ‘zēngchǎn’ is not such a coinage as would have been immediately digestible in the spoken language. 增加生產 had first to make way for it, much as ‘International Police’ had for ‘Interpol’; and the ‘acronym’ had first to appear in writing, which in any literate language has more part to play than speech in the production of new words. Other neat Chinese expressions already encountered in this book have a similar ‘acronymic’ origin: for instance 共產 (114E …) ‘gòngchǎn’ for ‘Communist’ was not immediately coined as such, but is an abbreviation of an earlier, more explicit 共有財產 (… 157 …) ‘gòngyǒu cáichǎn’, meaning ‘together possessing the capital and the produce’. Once ‘Communist’ itself becomes a word of very frequent occurrence, further ‘acronyms’ could be made, acronyms of acronyms; like 越共 (166D …) ‘yuègòng’, ‘Vietcong’ instead of 越南共產 (… 88E …) ‘yuènán gòngchǎn’, ‘Vietnam Communist’: the Vietnamese, like other surrounding peoples, take from Chinese not only loanwords but Chinese principles of word formation. 衛 (249) ‘wèi’, ‘to guard, defend’, is here a surname. 紅衛兵 (114A … 195B) ‘hóngwèibīng’, is the ‘Red Guards’. The centre part of the character was showing a sentinel’s footprints around a city wall; to which 行 (107A) for ‘to walk’ was later added. 圍 (249A) ‘wéi’, ‘to encircle, surround’, replaces the latter with an enclosure as in 國 (78B) ‘guó’, ‘a country’: 圍棋 (… 92K) ‘wéiqí’, is the name of the Chinese board-game, ‘encircling or territory-winning chess’, said to have been invented in the third millennium BC by the Emperor Yao. This is usually known in the West by its Japanese name of ‘go’, a Sino-Japanese reading of 棋 (92K). 八 was probably Wei Pa’s childhood name as the eighth son, or possibly he might have been ‘Brother Eight’ in some brotherhood when he and Tu Fu were young. It is his nickname rather than his formal name (which is unknown).

stars and seething pots


士 (250) ‘shì’, which is sometimes used by the Japanese to represent their word ‘samurai’, probably represents a word of the same group as 事 (244) ‘shì’, and 使 (244A) ‘shì’ or ‘shǐ’; but in the sense of ‘one who writes’; a literate person,

hence a member of the meritocracy, made in effect hereditary by opportunity to receive education and pass examinations; an ‘officer’ and ‘gentleman’. (China was always a bureaucracy, never a democracy.) It does not always denote the male sex: 女士 (3 …) ‘nǚshì’ may be used as a polite title and form of address for a ‘lady’. The origin of the character, which is distinguished from 土 (78D) ‘tǔ’, ‘earth’, by having the bottom bar shorter than the one above it, is not known. It is word associator in 志 (14) ‘zhì’, ‘ambition, aim, intention’. Professor Hawkes in A Little Primer of Tu Fu (Oxford, 1967), a delightful book and the best possible introduction to this poet and his language, says of 處 士 here that it ‘is often translated as “hermit” or “recluse” … but … basically a ‘chǔ-shì’ is an educated man who prefers to opt out of the usual curriculum of examination and office, preferring to lead a life of quiet retirement in the countryside.’ 杜 (251: 56+78D) ‘dù’ is the poet’s surname, Tu, and 甫 (252) ‘fǔ’ ‘to originate; great, eminent’, is his personal name. The latter in its early forms represented a ‘seedling’, in one version in a field , therefore similar to 苗 (54) ‘miáo’, the word for seedling now; but in another, from which the modern character derives, in a pot: . This pot on its own evolved into 𤰆 or 用 (252A) ‘yòng’, ‘a utensil; to use’: 使用 (244A …) ‘shǐyòng’ is the most common verb now for ‘to use’; literally ‘to employ as instrument’. It was from such phrases as this probably that 用 itself came ‘acronymically’ to be a verb meaning ‘to use’. 用 is also often suffixed to nouns in the sense of ‘for … use’, as in: 常用 日用 化學用 婦女用


士 officer, gentleman



杜 用 Tu Fu (personal (surname) name); to originate; eminent (252A)

用 utensil; to use

(162A …) ‘chángyòng’, ‘for ordinary use’; (50 …) ‘rìyòng’, ‘for daily use’; (9 – 187A …) ‘huàxuéyòng’, ‘for use in chemistry’; (154A – 3 …) ‘fùnǚyòng’, ‘for women’s use; women’s’.

In Mandarin, these expressions are usually followed by its sign of adjective or adverb, 的 (116A) ‘di’ or ‘de’. The poem begins with two ‘formulaic phrases’ from old Chinese love-songs; of the kind to be found in ancient, and indeed in modern, popular poetry of all countries. The first is literally ‘(In) human life’; the second, ‘we never see one another’. Opening with these familiar phrases sets the poem’s tone of affection and nostalgia, as does the reference that follows to stars proverbial for their separation; all suggestive, together with the refrain from the wedding song which is remarked on below, of strains of old music which then accompany the whole poem, helped by the twanging ‘-ang’ rhyme in Tense Tones that runs right through it. 參 (253) ‘shēn’ is a constellation of the three bright stars, Betelgeuse, Bellatrix and Rigel, that form a stellar triangle, of which the top of the character was a picture, in Orion. 商 (151) ‘to negotiate’ is also the name of a constellation here, part of Scorpio, which is over on the other side of the night sky; so that the two would never be up together. 與 (169A) here means ‘and’ but with a sense of ‘in relation to’, as in ‘you and I will talk together, you and I seldom see each other’. 及 (89D) ‘jí’ may equally be translated in English as ‘and’, but it means ‘extending to’; and so is a different kind of ‘and’.


參 name of constellation; to consult; three


chapter 8

The character 參 is also used to represent a word pronounced ‘cān’, meaning ‘to meet; to blend; to consult, participate, take part’: 參加 (… 248E) ‘cānjiā’, ‘to enter (for instance a competition), take part in’; 參戰 (… 195C) ‘cānzhàn’, ‘to enter, intervene in a war’. (The relationship in meaning between 參 and 商 will be noticed.) 參 is further used, often as 叁 with 三 instead of 彡 underneath, to represent 三 (29) ‘sān’, ‘three’, in a series of formal ‘long’ numerals designed also to be difficult to alter; used like our writing ‘in words’. These will commonly be seen on cheques, banknotes and postage stamps:


燈 lamp


登 to ascend, climb


壯 strong


能 to bear; be able


熊 a bear (256B)

態 bearing


鬢 hair (at temples)















The next line of the poem, 今夕復何夕, is a quotation of part of the refrain of a wedding song of the period approximately 1000 to 600 BC; which is in the Book of Odes and so would be recognised by any educated person. 燈 (254) ‘dēng’, ‘a lamp’: 開電燈 (118E – 101G …) ‘kāi diàndēng’ nowadays means ‘to switch on the (electric) light’. The word associator 登 (254A) ‘dēng’ means ‘to raise, rise; climb, ascend’: 登山 (… 81) ‘dēngshān’, ‘to climb mountains, mountaineering’. This character has the two feet at the top as in 發 (229). Underneath them is 豆 (170A), now meaning ‘bean’ but in both characters it represents an ancient sacred vessel, not unlike a soup tureen, raised on a stem and earlier drawn . Such a vessel also resembles a head and neck, hence its presence in 頭 (170) ‘head’. 壯 (255) ‘zhuàng’, ‘strong, healthy’, has 爿 as in 牀 (167) ‘chuáng’, ‘bed’ apart from its sound for its original sense of a (strong) plank, board; together with 士 (250) for its ‘knightly’ meaning. 能 (256) ‘néng’, was originally a picture of a bear. The triangle at top left represented the head and the strokes on the righthand side were the paws. In the earliest language, it meant both ‘a bear’ and ‘to bear’ (endure). In English, the animal ‘bear’ is derived by some from an Indo-European root ‘bhero-’ meaning ‘brown’; but others connect it with ‘bher-’ meaning ‘to bear, carry, endure’ and see it as having meant ‘the strong one’. The latter may find support for their views in this curious Chinese coincidence! 能 came later most often to mean ‘(to have) power, strength; potent; to be able, can’. (French ‘pouvoir’, not ‘savoir’.) 可能 (161A …) ‘kěnéng’ is now the common compound for these meanings. 能 力 (… 5) ‘nénglì’ is ‘power, strength, energy’. 原子能 (104C …) ‘yuánzǐnéng’ is ‘atomic energy’—derived from ancient pictures of a mountain spring, a baby and a bear! 熊 (256A) ‘xióng’ was another word, with four dots added, for the animal ‘bear’ (the four dots) and is the one now used, colloquially mostly as 人熊 (1 …) ‘rénxióng’; an expression which also reveals an interesting attitude towards bears. There is one other character with this same word associator, 態 (256B: 256+80C) ‘tài’, meaning ‘bearing’ (comportment, attitude, composure). 鬢 (257) ‘bìn’ means the hair at the temples: 雲鬢 (101D …) ‘yúnbìn’, ‘clouded temples’, was the name of a feminine hairstyle; 鬢霜 (… 101C) ‘bìnshuāng’,

stars and seething pots


‘temple-frost’ is a common poetic expression for ‘age’. The top part of this character, 髟, is meaning associator for all hair of the head; consisting of a slight abbreviation of 長 (159A), long, with 彡 as in 彩 (230). The word associator is 賓 (257A) ‘bīn’ now meaning ‘visitors, guests’, as in 賓客 (… 243) ‘bīnkè’, a common expression with that meaning. In the earliest script this was just , in which a man is seen passing under the eaves or lintel of a house, to which an honorific cowrie-shell as in 贈 (248) was later added. The meaning of this word associator is thus really ‘eaves’ or ‘under the eaves’ (and the ‘temples’ are the ‘eaves of the skull’). Perhaps ‘under the eaves’ was once used as a common epithet (similar to the formulaic epithets in Homer) for a guest; until, by the ‘acronymic’ process described above, it came itself to have that meaning. The wide sense development of many Chinese monosyllables may have come about in just such a way; helped by a system of writing that was then capable of setting them up on their own as new words. The ‘eaves’ of the sea, 濱 (257B) ‘bīn’, is the ‘shore’ or ‘strand’. 髮 (258) ‘fà’ is ‘hair’ of the human head. The bottom part of the character, namely 犮, is the word associator; an obsolete character for ‘to pull (out)’ which is said to have represented 犬 (115D), ‘a dog’, with its leg tied, pulling. 假髮 (246A …) ‘jiǎfà’ is ‘a wig’; 理髮 (258A …) ‘lǐfà’ is ‘haircutting, hairdressing’ in which 理 (258A) ‘lǐ’ is ‘to set right’. 玉 (78A) ‘jade’ is here the meaning associator because this character had an early meaning of ‘cutting stones according to their veins’; and 里 (231) ‘lǐ’ is word associator for its sound, but perhaps with some thought of dividing land according to its contours. 理, which has a very important place in Chinese thought and vocabulary, thus has an underlying meaning of ‘dealing with things according to their proper structure’; ‘to arrange, to regulate; right, truth, reason; principle’ (in nature more than a man-made social principle as represented by 義 235C). 理 由 (… 240A) ‘lǐyóu’ is ‘a natural cause, reason’ for something; 理事 (… 244) ‘lǐshì’ is ‘to regulate, manage affairs’ but is most common now as a noun for ‘a member of a board of directors’; 學理 (187A …) ‘xuélǐ’ is ‘a theory’ or ‘a principle of teaching’. ‘Theory’ is also and more often expressed by 理論 ‘lǐlùn’, in which 論 (258B) means ‘to discuss, to reason (out); argument, dialectic’: 論語 (… 85) ‘lùnyǔ’, Lun Yü, the Analects (of Confucius); the character showing 言 (73) words; 亽 ‘a lid’, as in 合 (110K); and 冊 ‘books’; an element about which more will be said later. 論理 that way round, is sometimes used for ‘logic’; while 理學, that way round, is used instead of just 學 in many words ending in English in ‘-ology’: 病理學 生理學 心理學 地理學

(169A …) ‘bìnglǐxué’, ‘pathology’ (compare ‘ætiology’ above); (93I …) ‘shēnglǐxué’, ‘physiology’; (80C …) ‘xīnlǐxué’, ‘psychology’; but (160C …) ‘dìlǐxué’, ‘geography’.

Although these are modern terms, Western-influenced, and although the character 理 does not happen to be one of those occurring in the earliest 甲骨 (226B – 226A) ‘jǐagǔ’, shell and bone, inscriptions, yet the idea of 理 in these terms and as an important term in traditional Chinese philosophy can be traced back to the Neolithic craftsmen who found that the hardest stones had their 理, structure or organisation, holding them together, however invisible it might be. In Chinese thought, though a thing be animate, inanimate, concrete or abstract like ‘goodness’, it must have such a 理 as well as a 氣 (43) ‘qì’, ‘spirit energy’, to


賓 guest

(257B) (258)

濱 shore

hair (of head)


理 to put in order; proper, underlying structure of things


論 to argue, reason


chapter 8

make it what it is. Despite the difference from 義 (235C), 理 is therefore an idea that belongs as well to ‘moral’ as to ‘natural’ philosophy; two things that the Chinese tradition was never inclined to separate. In the Sung Dynasty preface to the ancient work attributed to a grandson of Confucius and called by Legge The Doctrine of the Mean, it is said: 不 易

之 謂


bú yì zhī wèi yōng 10 140 20 258C 258D 庸

下 之 定

yōng zhě tiān xià zhī dìng lǐ 258D 258E 101H 71 20 258F 258A (258C)


謂 庸 to be called

usual, usage; constant


者 (gesture-word)


定 to fix; fixed


科 to classify; a class

In this, 謂 (258C) ‘wèi’ means ‘to be called’. 庸 (258D) ‘yōng’ is a by-form of 用 (252A) ‘yòng’, ‘to use’, but meaning ‘usual; usage, practice’ or sometime ‘constant’. The title of the work in Chinese is 中庸 (72 …) ‘zhōng yōng’, most probably intended for the Practice or Doctrine of the Middle or Mean, as Legge took it; but by the author of this preface taken as the Centre and Constant, two terms which he proceeds to define. 者 (258E) ‘zhě’ is a gesture word acting like spoken punctuation, making a break and thereby isolating the subject; not necessarily of a verb because such a connection need not exist in Chinese, but indicating what is going to be talked about. The character 者 has already been seen as the word associator in 都 (173B) ‘dū’ ‘(a) capital (city)’. These two words were once more similar in pronunciation but are also related in meaning; just as a capital city is with a capital letter! More will be said about this element later in the book. Another grammatical function of 者 is that, by isolating, it can, as it were, de-fuse a verb or an adjective as such in a sentence, making it then into a noun: ‘reading (is good); the reader (will see)’; from which it later acquired a general use like ‘-er’, ‘-or’: 航海者 (111H – 47 …) ‘hánghǎizhě’, ‘navigator’. 定 (258F) ‘dìng’ means ‘to fix; fixed’: 定價 (… 118D) ‘dìngjià’, ‘a fixed price’. The whole quotation, throwing light on 理 in Chinese thought, is thus: “What does not change is called ‘the Constant’. The Constant is the fixed 理 in all things under Heaven.” ‘Science’ itself is called 科學 ‘kēxué’, in which 科 (258G) ‘kē’ means ‘to classify; a class’. The character consists of 禾 for ‘grain’ as in 秋 (94D) ‘qiū’, ‘autumn’; with 斗 which was originally a picture of a large ladle, bushel or dipper. (It is also, on its own, the name for the Great Bear constellation.) The metaphor in this character is similar to that of ‘seeding’ tennis-players but the meaning of 科學 is not ‘taxonomy’ (the study of classifying for which there exists another more explicit term) but merely ‘classified study’ or ‘a discipline’ in that sense. It has the advantage of avoiding the vast equation with ‘knowledge’ that our own word ‘science’ dangerously implies. In names of particular sciences 科 indicates a branch or specialisation, as in 兒科 (110B …) ‘érkē’, 婦科 (154A …) ‘fùkē’, 產科 (235D …) ‘chǎnkē’ in Medicine; which, followed by 學, ‘xué’ or 醫學 (121A …) ‘yīxué’, mean respectively ‘paediatrics’, ‘gynaecology’ and ‘obstetrics’. Medicine and Surgery in contrast with one another are called respectively 內科 (151A …) ‘nèikē’, and 外科 (151B …) ‘wàikē’: 外科醫生 (… 121A – 93I) ‘wàikē-yīshēng’, ‘a surgeon’, in contrast to ‘a physician’; 外科牙醫 (… 92J – 121A) ‘wàikē-yáyī’, ‘a dental surgeon’.

stars and seething pots


蒼 (259) ‘cāng’, here ‘grey’ but often ‘a pale blue’ or ‘bluey green’, is another colour word difficult to translate except in context. With 艹 for grass as meaning associator, the word associator 倉 (259A) ‘cāng’ means a ‘granary, warehouse’

and was originally a picture of one. 訪 (260) ‘fǎng’, ‘to enquire after’; by extension ‘to pay calls, visit’ as in 訪問 (… 84C) ‘fǎngwèn’, now usually ‘to call on; to interview’. With 言 (73) for ‘speech’ as meaning associator, the word associator is 方 (260A) ‘fāng’, ‘a square; a region, place; a direction, trend; a manner, method, prescription’: 方公里 (… 114A – 231) ‘fānggōnglǐ’, ‘a square kilometre’; 東方 (88C …) ‘dōngfāng’, ‘the East, the Orient’; 地方 (160C …) ‘dìfāng’, ‘region, area’; 方言 (… 73) ‘fāngyán’, ‘a regional dialect’; 方法 (… 114B) ‘fāngfǎ’, ‘a way, method’ of doing something; 藥方兒 (115H … 110B) ‘yàofāngr’, ‘a medical prescription’. The character (reminiscent of Van Gogh’s picture of himself going painting) represented a man with a carryingpole, going to a place to do something there. 方 is word associator in many characters including 放 (260B) ‘fàng’, with 攵 as in 故 (172); which means ‘to send forth, release; emit, radiate’: 放學 (… 187A) ‘fàngxué’, ‘to dismiss school, give a holiday’ (not ‘radiology’!); 放心 (… 80C) ‘fàngxīn’, ‘to (be) free of care’; 放聲 (… 66) ‘fàngshēng’, ‘to raise one’s voice’; 放 光 (… 92F) ‘fàngguāng’, ‘to emit rays, to radiate, radiation’; 放送 (… 260C) ‘fàngsòng’, ‘to broadcast’ by radio; in which 送 (260C) ‘sòng’ means ‘to send’. The latter is one of the commonest words in the titles of Chinese poems, so many of which concern seeing off friends. It is courteous in China to see people off by escorting them part of their way; which 送 often implies. 方, though common as a word associator, never occurs as meaning associator in other characters. Characters in which it appears as a ‘radical’ in dictionaries really have the meaning associator 㫃, which is unrelated in origin but derived from a picture of a banner . Characters containing this have to do with expeditions, travel and tribes (people who gather under the same banner); for example, 旅 (260D) ‘lǚ’, ‘to travel’: 旅行 (… 107A) ‘lǚxíng’, ‘to travel, voyage’; 旅客 (… 243) ‘lǚkè’, ‘a passenger’. The 氏 in this was earlier 人 (1). The assimilation, as the script was simplified, of the original banner sign with that of 方 the man with the carrying-pole, but plus for 人 is typical: a man accompanied by a porter was still a good symbol for travel and expeditions. 舊 (261) ‘jiù’, ‘old’. This is the fourth character to be given in this book that may be so translated, but each has its own meaning. 舊衣 (… 103C) ‘jiùyī’ means ‘old clothes; second-hand clothes’, whereas 古衣 (139A …) ‘gǔ yī’ might mean ‘clothes in ancient style’. Neither 故 (172) ‘origin(al)’ nor 老 (123B) ‘aged’ would be used in either of these senses. When applied to friends, 故 has the meaning ‘from of old’; 老 rather of a gesture, ‘my dear old’. (Compare also 老虎, … 123B, ‘(old) tiger’, in which the gesture is precautionary and pacifying.) The character 舊, one of those too complicated for its frequency of occurrence, can be abbreviated to 旧, the form now most used in both China and Japan. Its composition, apparently representing vegetable, a plump bird and a mortar, seems strange; but see 昔 (270) below. A phrase like 訪舊 in the poem, for ‘asking about one’s old friends’, would probably have an ‘acronymic’ origin; as a contraction of some easily understood, longer phrase such as 訪問舊友 (… 84C … 261A) ‘fǎngwèn’—in its basic sense of ‘enquiring after’—‘jiùyǒu’ ‘old friends’. This last phrase could also be expanded to 故舊朋友 (172 … 261B …) ‘gùjiù péngyǒu’, ‘comrades and friends from of old’, in which ‘gùjiù’ and ‘péngyǒu’, respectively ‘from of old’ and



blue, green, grey

granary (260)


訪 方

to enquire after

square; region; trend; manner


放 to release (260C)

送 to send


旅 to travel


舊 old



友 朋 friend




鬼 ghost



餓 hungry

驚 to be startled



to hold in awe, respect


to warn

官 officer, official

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‘comrades and friend(s)’, are each phrases or words (one can make no clear distinction) of two syllables; and each unambiguous and immediately comprehensible even to an unexpectant ear. (For the two new characters, 友 and 朋, see below.) The Chinese language is in fact a sort of concertina, which can be pulled open or closed up; explicit to the point of tautology when stretched, concise to the point of obscurity when compressed. Economy of a kind that avoids both tautology and obscurity while allowing here and there a little impedance for the reader to pass through and make the meaning the more his own—that is what is most prized in the classical tradition. But the power of the language to create what we are here calling acronyms causes much difficulty for the foreigner, and sometimes for the Chinese themselves; because, unless well established, these are often not to be found in even the largest dictionaries. Understanding them then depends on recognising the master-phrase: which sometimes requires both ingenuity and being well read in the same literature as one’s author. It is from this that again and again in the history of Chinese literature the Phoenix dies. Literature cannot be born merely out of literature. The character 友 ‘yǒu’, consisting originally of two clasped hands, means ‘a friend’. 朋 (261B) ‘péng’ has a similar meaning but more in the direction of ‘fellow, mate, companion, partner, accomplice’. By what we have called inspired misinterpretation, this character has come to look like ‘double-flesh’, 月 for (118C); but the ‘radical’ in dictionaries is in fact 月 as (52) moon—looking at the moon together? The real origin is however more mundane: in the character’s earliest forms the two objects are strings of cowrie-shells, suggesting putting money together; which is then the same as the origin of ‘fellow’ (‘fee-laying’) in English. 朋友, in modern colloquial Mandarin stressed on the first syllable with the second toneless, ‘péngyou’, is the ordinary word for ‘a friend’: 酒肉朋友 (116C – 118C …) ‘jiǔròu-péngyou’ is the opposite of a friend in need, ‘a cupboardloving friend’. of a 鬼 (262) ‘guǐ’ is a ‘ghost, spirit, demon’. The character was a picture demon with gigantic head, in kneeling posture. 鬼火 (… 77A) ‘guǐhuǒ’, ‘ghostly fire’, is the ‘Will-o’-the-Wisp’; 餓鬼 (252A …) ‘èguǐ’ is ‘a hungry ghost’; the frightening ghost of Chinese ghost stories which, as in other civilisations, was of someone who had not been buried with proper rites. 餓 (262A: 41 + 185A) ‘è’ is ‘hungry; to starve’. 驚 (263) ‘jīng’, ‘to startle, be startled’. The character has 馬 (48) for ‘a horse’ as meaning associator, for ‘to shy’. The word associator is 敬 (263A) ‘jìng’, ‘to fear, (to hold in) awe; to honour, respect’; in which was , a kneeling figure having hair on end with fear; to which 口 (62) a mouth for his cry and 攵 as in 故 (172) for the cause were added later, when such simple drawings had proliferated too much to be distinguished easily. With 言 (73), words, as meaning associator, there is made the character 警 (263B) ‘jǐng’, ‘to warn, caution, notify’ is made: 警官 ‘jǐngguān’, a ‘police officer, constable’; in which 官 (263C) ‘guān’ means ‘an officer, official’. Those three ‘jing’ words in different tones are obviously related. Words belonging to such groups could all once be written the same, leaving the context to decide which was intended; until the need for greater precision was felt. Then the simple , having become 敬 for visual clarity, was developed further to 驚 and 警 for semantic clarity. The character 官 has under 宀 a roof, as in 家 (114G) a house, a variant (without the dot at the top) of the symbol of authority in 師 (121) a master.


stars and seething pots

官話 (… 166) ‘guānhuà’ is ‘officials’ language’: educated Chinese speech with

the grammar, vocabulary and approximate pronunciation of the capital—in recent centuries mostly Peking. In the West, this is called Mandarin after a word introduced from India by the Portuguese; where they had themselves created it by confusing a Hindu word (related to ‘mind’ in English), meaning ‘counsellor’, with their own verb ‘mandar’, ‘to command’—a typical foreigners’ word in China! 呼 (264) ‘hū’, ‘to call, to cry out’. With 口 (62) mouth is 乎 (264A) ‘hū’, an exclamation which became a gesture word of several uses in classical Chinese grammar. At the end of a sentence it may mark either an exclamation or a question, whilst internally it may be like ‘than’ between two things compared. Confucius’s famous reply (Analects: XIII, iii, 2), when asked what he would first do on taking over administration of a state, was: 必



呼 乎 to call (out)


bì hū zhèng míng yě 264B 264A 264C 140E 160B ‘What is more important than the rectification of names!’ In this, 必 (264B) ‘bì’ too was originally a gesture word: 必要 (… 118A) ‘bìyào’ means ‘to require; (to be) important, essential, necessary’; in which 必 originally reinforced the 要, rather like ‘sure’ in the American ‘sure want’. The modern form of the character even looks like a gesture, ‘cross my heart’; but now it can often be translated as an auxiliary verb, ‘must’. 必, 乎 and 也 in this passage were all thus gesture words; making three out of the five words in the Master’s reply, the essence of which is only 名 (140E) and 正. 正 (264C) ‘zhèng’ is a verb meaning ‘to adjust, correct, put right’, or an adjective, ‘correct, right’—‘ortho-’ in such terms as 正字法 (… 110E – 114E) ‘zhèngzìfǎ’, ‘orthography’. In some of its uses it can, like ‘just’ in English, became itself little more than a gesture word: 正在 (… 122) ‘zhèng zài’, ‘just at’ (doing something, now or just about to); 正好 (… 110F) ‘zhèng hǎo’, ‘just fine!’ 正如 (… 89) ‘zhèng rú’, ‘just like’. 心正筆正 (80C … 116G …) ‘xīn zhèng, bǐ zhèng’ is a saying about calligraphy or painting: “When the heart is right, the brush will go right.” The character 正 which has 止 (196A), from a drawing of a foot as the lower part, can be remembered as ‘toeing the line’. It may in fact originally have meant ‘marking a boundary’, with a developed sense of expeditions to ‘correct’ barbarian intruders. (The English word ‘just’, and of course ‘justice’, are probably related to an old Indo-European word for ‘safety’.) The 𤴓 in 定 (258F) is a variant of 正; in that character under a roof as in 家 (114G): ‘fixed’ abode. 熱 (265) ‘rè’, ‘to heat; hot’: 熱泉 (… 104G) ‘rèquán’, ‘hot springs’; 熱天 (… 101H) ‘rètiān’, ‘hot weather’; 熱力學 (… 5 – 187A) ‘rèlìxué’, ‘thermodynamics’; 熱河兒 (… 161B – 110B) ‘rèhér’; Jehol: seat of the summer palace, North of Peking, of the Manchu emperors as was 上都 (68 – 173B) ‘shàngdū’, Xanadu, of the Mongols in the time of Marco Polo; 熱病 (… 167A) ‘rèbìng’, ‘fever’; 熱心 (… 80C) ‘rèxīn’, ‘ardour, enthusiasm’,—‘rè’ can be used alone in this sense, as in 登山熱 (254A – 81 …) ‘dēngshānrè’, ‘a fever, craze for mountaineering’. The top part of the character was a picture of a man gardening: , to which 灬 (77A) fire was added in its four-dots form. The picture of the garden became changed as a result of assimilation with 執 (275) below.


必 surely, must


正 (ad)just


熱 hot


腸 (266) ‘cháng’, ‘the intestines, bowels’; home in the body of deep emotion


腸 intestines


揚 to lift, winnow




chapter 8



載 to register; year (268A)

and compassion, as in the First Epistle of St John, iii, 17: bowels of compassion. 熱腸 (265 …) ‘rècháng’, when a noun in itself, can be translated ‘passion’. The character, which is also written 膓, has 月 for 肉 (118C) flesh as meaning associator and the same word associator as 陽 (89F), the Yang of Yin and Yang. This element is to be distinguished from 易 (140) the chameleon, which is without the centre line. The 易 and 昜 word associators—the latter with 人 (1) added—came from an early form of what is now written 揚 (266A) ‘yáng’, ‘to lift up, throw up, winnow’: , which shows a man winnowing with the sun shining. 揚子江 (… 110A – 100) ‘yángzǐjiāng’, is ‘the Yangtse Kiang, River Yangtse’, but this is usually called 長江 (159A – 100) ‘chángjiāng’, the Long River, or simply 江. The phrase 揚眉 ‘yáng méi’ is ‘to raise the eyebrows’ in astonishment; in which 眉 (266B) ‘méi’ derives from a picture which represented the brow over the eye, 目 (7). 焉 (267) ‘yān’ at the beginning of a sentence happens to be the gesture word for that gesture, ‘how can it be?’, of raising the eyebrows; or pronounced ‘yan’, it has a meaningless meaning like ‘really’ or ‘you know’ and was used in the classical language as a mere pause-maker for the listener’s benefit, or perhaps for the speaker to judge his reaction, inside or at the end of sentences; much like the German use of their gesture word ‘also’ (not the English word of the same spelling) or by New York Jews of ‘already’. The character, a curious mixture of 正 (264C) and 鳥 (105) is said once to have represented some kind of bird: it can perhaps conveniently be remembered as ‘the raised-eyebrow or just-so bird’. Whatever it was, the ancient Chinese did not much mind what pictures they borrowed, on the ‘rebus’ principle, for the representation of such ‘empty’ words as they called them. 載 (268) ‘zài’ is basically ‘to load a waggon’ 車 (109G), particularly with weapons; whence ‘to fill up’ also forms, indents and registers in offices, but then usually in a different tone when that is the meaning: ‘zǎi’; as in 記載 (244C …) ‘jìzǎi’ meaning ‘to record, to register; a clerk’; and from that it developed further to mean ‘a full register; a (full) year’. 歲 (99) ‘suì’, of which the exact origin is unknown but which also shows weapons is used mainly for counting years of life. Besides these two words, the ordinary word for ‘a year’, used in dating is 年 (268A) ‘nián’ which originally meant ‘harvest’ and in its early forms was a man carrying a sheaf:



堂 hall

堂 (269) ‘táng’ means ‘a great house, hall, court’; often implying a law-court in phrases like 過堂 (238 …) ‘guòtáng’, ‘to pass through the courts, have a case

tried’. It is also the word adopted into English as ‘tong’ for Chinese guilds and secret societies. The character has 土 (78D) for a place, with the word associator in 當 (162) ‘dāng’. Tu Fu’s friend did not necessarily possess a ‘stately home’: 上君子堂, literally ‘mount up to my lord’s hall’, was no more than politeness which was part of the conventions and therefore grammar of the language. In Chinese, and even more in Japanese, the use of honorific or self-deprecating verbs and nouns often replaces, but without affectation, our use of personal pronouns.

stars and seething pots


昔 (270) ‘xí’, ‘formerly of old, in days gone by’: 昔年 (… 238A) ‘xínián’, ‘in years

gone by, once upon a time’. Professor Karlgren interestingly suggests that early forms of this character, and , show meat spread to dry in the sun. 腊, with the meaning associator 月 for 肉 (118C) ‘meat’, had this meaning, or ‘sausage’, and is now read ‘là’ in 腊腸 (270A – 266) ‘làcháng’, in Cantonese ‘lapcheong’, a kind of Chinese salami. It may possibly then be that 舊 (261) above had a similar origin and once was seen to represent ‘old’ game made appetising by being pounded in a mortar with herbs or spices. Both 昔 and 舊 would thus have been words for ‘the old’ as opposed to ‘the fresh’. In reading classical texts, 腊 for ‘dried meat’ is pronounced ‘xí’, the same as 昔; but it changed its sound by being used in place of another, more complicated character for ‘salted, winter meat’, 臘, pronounced ‘là’. In this, the word associator 巤, no longer a character on its own, depicted probably some wild animal. The bottom part of it is the same as in 鼠 (270B) ‘shǔ’ ‘rodent, mouse, rat’, earlier:


昔 formerly (270A)

腊 sausage


鼠 mouse

This ‘spiced mincemeat’ interpretation of 舊 (261) ‘jiù’, parallel with what may be the true one of 昔 (270), however, though it may have been entertained and have contributed to the present form of the character, has nothing to do with its origin; which in its earliest forms was an owl with erect ears, in some versions tufted, standing on the edge of its hole, which in all the most ancient examples of the character is drawn as a simple U shape:1

This ‘owl’s hole’ has now become the 臼 (169C) in the character, which on its own is also pronounced ‘jiù’ and means a ‘mortar’. (It is quite likely that an ‘owl’s nest or hole’, full of typical debris and of the right shape, either gave its name to or took its name from the mortar.) The same hole or mortar has also become the bewhiskered face of the mouse in 鼠 (270B);2 as well as the child’s head, with open fontanels, in 兒 (110B). The suitability of the old owl at home for the meaning of 舊 (261) is evident. 婚 (271) ‘hūn’ is ‘to marry a wife’. With 女 (3), the word associator is 昏 (271A) ‘hūn’, dusk, dark. 婚禮 (271 – 271B) ‘hūnlǐ’ is a ‘wedding’; in which 禮 (271B) ‘lǐ’ means ‘formality, rite, ceremony’; with 示 (103A) ‘divine’ as meaning associator and 豊, a picture of a sacramental vessel. 禮 is commonly abbreviated to 礼, with the short form of 示 and with the same symbol on the right as in 孔 (110C) Confucius.



to marry a wife

昏 dusk, dark


禮 form, rite; custom

1 The form on the far right is from the third century BC and is no longer much like an owl. 2 This has connections also with stars, as one of the popular astrological signs; as in ‘the Year of the Rat’.


chapter 8

禮, whilst scarcely less important in Chinese thought, Confucian at least, has no connection with 理 (258A) ‘lǐ’, though both words are now pronounced


體 form, body



忽 random, sudden


do not

吐 to spit

exactly the same in Mandarin. In moral philosophy, it means accepted and honoured custom, propriety, as distinct from either law or a particular rightness. The righthand side of 禮 is shared with 體 (271C) ‘tǐ’, meaning ‘form, body’; in which 骨 (226A) ‘bone’ is substituted, as meaning associator, for 示 (103A) ‘manifestation’. This too is commonly abbreviated, because of the number of strokes required to write 豊. The abbreviation is 体 (1 + 156B), an altogether different combination. 忽 (272) ‘hū’, ‘random; careless, absent-minded; unexpected, sudden(ly)’. 心 (80C) ‘heart’ or ‘mind’ is the meaning associator and the word associator is 勿 (272A) ‘wù’, ‘do not!’, as in the common notice 勿吐 (… 272B: 62 + 78D) ‘wù tǔ’, ‘DO NOT SPIT’. This 勿 is not the same in origin as the same collection of brush strokes in 易 (140) and in 腸 (266); neither should it properly be called the ‘word associator’ or, in the usual terminology, the ‘phonetic’ in 忽. It would be truer to say that 忽 was ‘phonetic’ in 勿; and that the kind of bird which 不 (10) originally represented was also ‘phonetic’ in 不 (10); negative particles, like the ‘not’; of the English rebus which represents it by a ‘knot’, cannot be drawn easily. This element has a complicated history of reinterpretations. Its earliest known forms, like or apparently show a man 人 (1) with random lines, as on the left; later turned into an irregular line with other lines in a straight row, as on the right. The meaning may have been something like shepherding an unruly herd. Later still, the picture turned into a member of the herd, a quadruped, or


物 thing, chattel (animate or inanimate)


怡 glad

while others saw it as a staff with pennons on it, the symbol (as in the Chinese theatre today) of a military expedition: a disorderly mob shepherded by a general. 勿 (272A) ‘wù’ is word associator in 物 (272C) ‘wù’, ‘thing(s), chattel(s)’, which earlier began with an ‘m’; and was possibly the individual word to the collective ‘hū’ and as 每 (46) ‘měi’ was to 海 (47) ‘hǎi’. 牛 (142A) for ‘cattle’ is meaning associator in this. ‘Chattel’ is, in its legal sense, of course, a piece of movable property (as opposed to ‘goods’, originally ‘real estate’); and is the same word in origin as ‘cattle’ and ‘capital’. 萬物 (32 …) ‘wànwù’ means ‘all things in creation, animate and inanimate’; 見物 (82 …) ‘jiànwù’, ‘to sightsee, sightseeing’; 生物 (93I …) ‘shēngwù’, ‘living things, life’; 動物 (191A …) ‘dòngwù’, literally ‘moving things’, ‘animals, animal life’; 動物園 (… 181) ‘dòngwùyuán’, ‘zoological gardens, a zoo’; 動物學 (… 187A) ‘dòngwùxué’, ‘zoology’; 生物學 (93I … 187A) ‘shēngwùxué’, ‘biology’; 物理學 (… 258A – 187A) ‘wùlǐxué’, ‘physics’. 成行 in this line of the poem means literally that the children ‘formed a row’. One can tell from the rhyme that 行 (107A) here is ‘háng’, ‘a row, line’, not ‘xíng’. 怡 (273) ‘yí’ is ‘to be glad, delighted, pleased’: 怡然, in the poem, ‘delightedly, merrily’. The phrase is from Confucius but also current in modern speech. This ‘yí’ once began with a soft ‘d’ sound and ended with a ‘g’, then differing relatively

stars and seething pots


little from the sound at the time of 台 (94A), ‘tái’, the word associator; which had among its meanings ‘a dance-floor’. 忄 for 心 (80C) ‘heart’ is the meaning associator. 父 (274) ‘fù’, ‘father’: 父母 (… 6) ‘fùmǔ’, ‘father and mother, parents’. 父 and 母 are not used on their own for ‘father’ and ‘mother’ in the modern language but are always followed by 親 (274A) ‘qīn’, ‘beloved, dear; parent, relative’, making 父親, 母親 ‘fùqīn’ and ‘mǔqīn’. One’s own parents are intimately called 爸爸 (274B: 274+ 158) ‘bàba’, with the ‘p’ pronounced as in French ‘papa’, and 媽媽 (274C: 3+48) ‘māma’; words that seem to belong to universal baby language. The character 親 has 見 (82) ‘to see’, hence ‘to look after’, with what in early forms was , a younger 子 and meaning ‘baby’ (110A). Early forms of the character 父 show a hand with a staff . 執 (275) ‘zhí’, ‘to grasp, grip, control, manage, administrate’: 執行 (… 107A) ‘zhíxíng’, ‘to administrate, execute (business); executive’. Although this character and the top of 熱 (265) are now so similar, 幸 here is of the same origin as in 報 (103E) ‘bào’, ‘to requite’; representing manacles. (There is an ancient slave also in our words ‘minister’ and ‘to administrate’.) In one of the ancient books of 禮 (271B) ‘lǐ’, ‘good form’ there is a piece about behaviour by children towards someone called 父之執 (… 20 …) ‘fù zhī zhí’ meaning a colleague or friend of one’s father. It is said that children should not advance into the presence of such a person, nor withdraw from it, nor speak, unbidden by him; which does not seem, however, to have been fully observed by this cheerful family. In both 熱 and 執, the 丸 was originally a kneeling figure , but on its own 丸 (275A) ‘wán’ means ‘curved, round; a ball, bullet; a circle; a pill’. This, which has replaced or become confounded with the kneeler in these characters, derives from a different figure, , of an old man or woman with a round back and a stick. (In the meaning of a ring or circle and pronounced ‘maru’ in Japanese, this character 丸 has a curious use as a suffix of all Japanese merchant ships’ names.) 乃 (276) ‘nǎi’ originally meant ‘your’ and was probably a vestige of a possessive case of 你 (204A) ‘nǐ’ when Chinese had such inflections. In the later language, it came to be used for a gesture word sometimes like ‘namely, that is to say’, and sometimes like ‘yet, still, however, moreover’. Simple characters like 丸 and 乃, unless they were good as meaning associators and so justified being made ‘radicals’ themselves, had to receive quite arbitrary places in dictionaries: for no particular reason 丸 is placed under 丶, a dot or short stroke, which serves also for 之 (20), 久 (128) and 乎 (264A); while 乃 is placed under 丿, an equally meaningless longer stroke. The Chinese call all the ‘radicals’, whether meaning associators or not, as used in dictionaries, simply 部首 (276A – 125C) ‘bùshǒu’, ‘section headings’; in which 部 (276A) ‘bù’ means ‘a section, department’. 驅 (277) ‘qū’, ‘to chase, urge’: 驅蟲藥 (… 115B – 115H) ‘qūchóngyào’, ‘insectrepellent, insecticide’; 先驅 (93J …) ‘xiānqū’, ‘(to be) a pioneer; (in the) vanguard’. The word associator with 馬 (48) ‘horse’, is 區 (277A) ‘qū’, ‘(administrative) district; ward (of a city)’, a character representing houses marked off; and commonly to be seen in Japanese postal addresses. This is now usually abbreviated to 区 in both China and Japan. As a character on its own, looking like a pile of boxes in a store, 品 (277B) ‘pǐn’ means ‘categories, qualities, classes’ of things, either material or abstract: 物品 (272C …) ‘wùpǐn’, ‘goods, commodities’; 食品 (41 …) ‘shípǐn’, ‘foodstuffs,

(274) (274A)

父 father


dear; relative



ma (275)

執 to grip, manage


丸 ball, pill


乃 your; namely; yet (276A)

部 department (277)


驅 區 to chase



品 classes, qualities, goods


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groceries’; 品行 (… 107A) ‘pǐnxíng’, ‘conduct, behaviour’; 上品 (68 …) ‘shàngpǐn’, ‘grace, elegance; a masterpiece’ (said of a work of art); 氣品 (43 …) ‘qìpǐn’, ‘grace, refinement’; symbolised in art since the T’ang Dynasty by what are known as 四 君子 (30 – 153 – 110A) ‘sìjūnzǐ’, ‘The Four Gentlemen’, namely:






梅 菊 蘭 竹

(277C: 56 + 46) ‘méi’, Plum; (277D) ‘jú’, Chrysanthemum, also symbolic with its petals radiating from a bright centre of imperial power and of the sun; (277E) ‘lán’, Orchid; and (75C) ‘zhú’, Bamboo.

Orchid (278) (278A)



to compel, command, control


寸 thumb, inch

(278C) (278D)


prize (278E)

醬 soy


韭 leeks, onions

漿 (278) ‘jiāng’ is ‘pressed juice, liquor’. With 水 (45) as meaning associator, the word associator is 將 (278A) ‘jiāng’, meaning ‘to press, force, compel; to get, take

under control, command’; or often pronounced as ‘jiàng’, meaning ‘a general’. In this in turn the word associator is 爿 as in 牀 (167) ‘chuáng’, ‘a bed’; with 月 for 肉 (118C) ‘flesh’ and 寸 (278B) ‘cùn’, ‘an inch’, a combination that suggests the Bed of Procrustes. It seems, however, likely that 爿 was word associator both for its once more similar sound and for its association with strength as in 壯 (255); whilst the right side of 將 represented juice pressed out of meat 肉 by the thumb 寸. The ‘pressing’ sense can also be seen in the characters: 槳 (278C) ‘jiǎng’, ‘an oar’, 木 (56) wood with which one presses water to move a boat; 獎 (278D) ‘jiǎng’ ‘to reward; a reward, prize’ with which the big man 大 (110G) presses, encourages; 醬 (278E) ‘jiàng’, ‘a relish, soy sauce’, 酉 as in 酌 (116B), a bottle with which one encourages taste or appetite. 醬油 (… 240B) ‘jiàngyóu’, ‘soya bean sauce, soy’, is read in Japanese as ‘shōyu’ from which the English words ‘soy’ and ‘soya’ are derived. 將軍 (278A – 153B) ‘jiàngjūn’, on the other hand, one who presses, encourages or drives armies, is read in Japanese as ‘shōgun’, also borrowed into English; which became the title of those who at different times in Japanese history gained an hereditary position in relation to the Emperor analogous to that of the ‘Duce’ to the King in Mussolini’s Italy. 將 is important further, as a grammatical word in Chinese. Developing from the sense of ‘taking hold of something and doing something with it’, it has become a sign of an object placed before a verb in a construction similar to our own ‘taking something and breaking it’ for ‘breaking something’: 將酒來 (… 116C – 143) ‘jiāng jiǔ lái’, ‘to take wine and come, to bring wine’; 將酒加 ‘jiāng jiǔ jiā’, ‘to take wine and add it, to add wine’. Directly before a verb it can make a future tense: 將來, ‘jiāng lái’, ‘will come’; but 將來, ‘jiānglái’, without a pause or a notional pause, is used as a noun or adjective for ‘future’. 將軍 ‘jiāng jūn’, with a pause or notional pause, usually means ‘to achieve mate’ in chess. The problem of placing such pauses or notional pauses (they need not be real in speech any more than the difference between the sounds of ‘I scream’ and ‘ice cream’ need be real rather than ‘heard in the meaning’) is often a major one in reading Chinese, above all in classical styles, with no word divisions in the script. 韭 (279) ‘jiǔ’, now in Northern Mandarin dialects pronounced the same as 酒 ‘jiǔ’, ‘wine’—and so always to avoid ambiguity used in the combination 韭 菜 (… 96A) ‘jiǔcài’—means vegetables of the leek, shallot and onion family; of which the character was once a picture. It occurs as meaning associator in a small number of other characters for related vegetables, and is therefore made one of the K’ang Hsi Dictionary’s 214 ‘radicals’ for looking them up.

stars and seething pots


The use of 剪 (163) in this line does not necessarily mean that the vegetables were cut rather than pulled up by the roots, for which it was also used. The 韭 vegetable and the 夜雨 night rain, as in the poem, are a proverbial symbol of hospitability; derived from an anecdote about a famous scholar, Kuo T’ai, ‘guō tài’ (AD127–169), who went out one night, when it was raining hard, to pick shallots and make soup for a friend. This may scarcely seem heroic but such scholars are in China as much a subject for trivial hero-tales, illustrating their character, as are warriors. Also, the Chinese like such simple anecdotes and attaching them to a name. 新 (280) ‘xīn’, ‘new, fresh; newly, freshly’: 新由西洋來 (… 240A – 88D – 44 – 143) ‘xīn yóu xīyáng lái’, ‘to be newly arrived from the West’; 新手(兒) (… 79B or … 79B – 110E) ‘xīnshǒu(r)’, ‘a new hand, beginner’; 新兵 (… 195B) ‘xīnbīng’, ‘a recruit’; 新華 (… 137A) ‘xīnhuá’, ‘New China’ in various names; 新聞 (… 84) ‘xīnwén’, ‘news’. In Japanese, this last is ‘shimbun’; as in 朝日新聞 (148 – 50 …) Asahi Shimbun, (The Morning Sun News), the well-known Japanese newspaper; in the title of which ‘asa’ and ‘hi’ are native Japanese words for ‘morning’ and ‘sun’ and are written with these Chinese characters. In Chinese, 新聞 can be read with a notional pause to mean ‘recently heard’, ‘we have recently heard’, or the like; but in Japanese the two characters are always welded together as something like a single Greek or Latin loanword with us, and they make only an indivisible noun meaning ‘news’ or ‘newspaper’. The character 新 has the same element on the left, for its word associator, as was met above in 親 (274A); but with 斤 (180A) ‘an axe’, suggesting ‘fresh hewn’. However, a very early example of the character was which seems possibly to suggest a newly delivered baby being turned upwards.3 This is found in an inscription reproduced in Science and Civilisation in China (Vol. 3, p. 424):

In the inscription, is 有 (157); is 大 (110G); and is not 品 (277B) but what is now written 星 (107C) ‘star’. This ancient form became the in 參 (253). The inscription thus means: “There is a new, great star.” The date of this inscription, which goes on to give the position of the star, is about 1300 BC; and it is thought to be the earliest record of a Nova. 炊 (281) ‘chuī’ is ‘to cook by steaming; to cook’ (in general): 炊事 (… 244) ‘chuīshì’, ‘cookery’. 先炊 (93J …) ‘xiānchuī’ was an appellation, ‘The Foremost Cook’, for the Goddess of Cooking; but, also by a fitting apotheosis, for one’s deceased mother.

3 The turning of into , now 亲 in these characters might possibly have been from including in the picture the navel cord.


新 new


炊 to steam, to cook

218 (281A)

吹 龡 to blow (281B)

鼔 drum


黄 yellow


帶 (282B)

belt; to take with one

橫 horizontal


廣 wide


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The character 炊 has 欠 for a gap or opening, as in 欲 (211) ‘to want’, and stands for a special use of the word 吹 (281A) ‘chuī’, ‘to blow’ (air); but with 火 (77A) fire substituted for 口 (62) ‘mouth’, in order to give it its cooking sense. The same word can also be written 龡 when it means blowing a musical instrument; in which 龠 is meaning associator, still obviously pictorial, for ‘panpipes’: 龡手 or 吹手 (… 79B) ‘chuīshǒu’, like German ‘Bläser’, is a player of a wind instrument in an orchestra. 鼔龡 or 鼔吹 (281B …) ‘gǔ chuī’, ‘to drum and fife’, is used by extension to mean ‘to incite, agitate; agitation, propaganda’. In this, 鼔 (281B) ‘gǔ’, ‘a drum, to drum’, was also a picture with, on its left, a drum on a stand; and on its right, a hand holding a drumstick. Both 龠 and 鼔 are meaning associators in other characters for appropriate wind and percussion instruments; like 玨 in 琴 (215) for stringed instruments; but 龠, the 214th of the 214 ‘radicals’, is now not much used. ‘To blow out’, for instance a candle, is 吹滅 (281A – 109) ‘chuīmiè’, ‘to extinguish by blowing’; where ‘out’ in English is little more than a gesture word, shared with ‘blow out’ (swell), ‘go out’, ‘eke out’, ‘run out of’, and so on. Chinese is often more precise in its word phrase building. 間 (227) in this line of the poem is a verb ‘to put together with’; and so must be read as ‘jiàn’, not ‘jiān’. 黄 (282) ‘huáng’, ‘yellow’: 黄金 (… 57) ‘huángjīn’, ‘gold’; 黄河 (… 161B), ‘huánghé’, the Yellow River, cradle of Chinese civilisation; 黄帝 (… 188A) ‘huángdì’, the Yellow Emperor; an ancient Chinese god, the original meaning of 黄, who is credited with the invention both of the potter’s wheel and of wheeled vehicles. The character 黄, earlier , was perhaps a representation of this god; with a wheel, as in early forms of 車 (109G) a vehicle, for his body. If so, it is odd that 土星 (78D – 107C) ‘tǔxīng’, Saturn, whose ‘wheel’ certainly could not be seen before the invention of the telescope, is his planet! (But see further, below.) 黄 has other associations with astronomy, as in 黄道 (… 125B) ‘huángdào’, the Yellow Way, which is ‘the ecliptic’. In 黄道帶十二宿 ‘huángdàodài shí-èr xiù’, ‘The Twelve Mansions of the Zodiac’, 帶 (282A) ‘dài’, which shows a belt above the same skirts as 帝 (188A), is ‘a belt, girdle, zone’; also meaning ‘to take with one, accompany’. 黄 is word associator in 橫 (282B) ‘héng’, ‘horizontal’: 橫線 (… 104H) ‘héngxiàn’, ‘horizontal lines’; 橫流 (… 224) ‘héngliú’, ‘to overflow its banks’ (of a river); 橫笛 (… 174) ‘héngdí’, ‘a transverse flute’; 橫兒 (… 110B) ‘héngr’, a horizontal leftto-right brush stroke in painting or calligraphy; 黄橫濱 (… 257B) ‘héngbīn’ in Japanese is read as Yokohama; meaning ‘Bar Strand’. 黄 is also word-associator in 廣 (282C) ‘guǎng’, ‘wide, broad’: 廣告 (… 184C) ‘guǎnggào’ ‘to advertise, advertisement’; 廣東 (… 88C) ‘guǎngdōng’, Kuangtung, Kwangtung, Canton (province): 廣西 (… 88D) ‘guǎngxī’, Kwangsi; 廣島 (… 119) ‘guǎngdǎo’, read in native Japanese, is Hiroshima: ‘Broad Island’. There may still, in these last two characters, be a connection with Saturn; which some claim to see, in very clear skies, elongated.4 粱 (283) ‘liáng’, ‘millet’, the cereal of North China. Yellow millet is coarse but said to be best for taste: the food in the poem is humble but good. 黄粱一炊夢 (… 36 – 281 – 144) ‘huángliáng yì-chuī mèng’, ‘The Dream Of The Yellow Millet

millet 4 This is mentioned in ‘Venus with the Naked Eye’, an article in Astronomy Today, v. 2, September 1969.

stars and seething pots


As Soon As It Was Cooked’ is a famous Taoist story of which there are several versions. A Taoist Sage seeks rest at a house, where his host goes to put on a pot of yellow millet, but a young man employed as servant takes the opportunity of his Master’s absence to complain to the Sage of his lot. The Sage pulls from his scrip a magic pillow and tells the youth to put his head on it; who thereupon starts a long new life, with success in the public examinations, a splendid marriage and high promotion in the Civil Service (though in some versions he is ultimately disgraced). He then awakes to find the yellow millet is not even cooked yet, but that he is enlightened and freed from ambition. In one version, the Sage is the First of the Eight Taoist Immortals and the young man becomes the Eighth. The character 粱 has as its meaning associator 米 (93F) ‘mǐ’, ‘grain’, with originally representing the damming of a river; hence a word associator probably the association with ‘millet’ as the ‘filling, bulk-giving’ food. In another direction, this word ‘liáng’ developed the meaning of ‘bar’ for any such thing ranging in size from a pin to a large girder; and then it is written with the meaning associator for wood 木 (56), without the dots, instead of 米: 梁 (283A). 橫梁 兒 (282B … 110B) ‘héngliángr’ is an everday word for a short horizontal handle, as on a casserole. 稱 (284) ‘chēng’ has had a curious development. It meant ‘to lift, weight; buy at market’ (bulky things like grain or coal); from which it developed the meaning of ‘to estimate; to value, commend’; then simply ‘to declare, say’; which last is its meaning in the poem. The character has 禾, the other character for ‘grain’ as in 秋 (94D) ‘qiū’, ‘autumn’, together with 爪 ‘a hand’ lifting 冉 ‘a sack’. With 一, one, instead of 爪, above the sack, the character 再 (284A) ‘zài’, ‘one more, once more’, is now made; but as an ‘inspired misinterpretation’ of an old character of quite different origin. 再見 (… 82) ‘zàijiàn’, ‘goodbye’, means ‘au revoir, a rivederci, auf Wiedersehen’. In the poem 主 ‘host’ can be translated simply as ‘you’. 會 (285) ‘huì’, now often abbreviated in both China and Japan to 会 (1 + 101E), is an important character of wide use meaning ‘to meet, assemble, associate; assembly, society’; and, by another sense development, ‘to meet a problem, get to grips with, learn how to do; to understand, be able to; can’ (French ‘savoir’ not ‘pouvoir’). The character which is similar to the cooking pot in 曾 (248A), but with a different lid, seems to have had a double symbolism: a chafing dish hospitably keeping the food warm, while the lid, shared with 合, 今 and other characters, also indicated ‘a good fit’. The influence of this ancient cooking pot is far-reaching and so important in Chinese characters that it deserves further digression. In 社會 ‘shèhuì’, ‘society; social’, 社 (285A: 103A + 78D) ‘shè’ is ‘a shrine’, originally to the 土 (78D) earth’s 示 (103A) divine manifestation; from which it came to be used for ‘parish, community, society’; those sharing such a shrine: 社會 主義 (… 235A – 235C) ‘shèhuìzhǔyì’ is now ‘socialism’, in Japanese ‘shakaishugi’. But 會社 ‘kaisha’ in Japanese, basically meaning something like a ‘cooperative society’, is used for a ‘company, firm’ in business, for which the Chinese use 公司 (114A – 114H) ‘gōngsī’. 日本放送會社 (50 – 156B – 260B – 260C …) ‘Nippon Hōsō Kaisha’ is the Japanese Broadcasting Company, NHK, which the Chinese would read in Mandarin as ‘rìběn fàngsòng huìshè’. The pot containing the food in both 曾 and 會 is . This seems to contain a shortened form of 米 (93F) grain, which appeared in full in some ancient forms




稱 to weigh, say (284A)

再 again (285)

會 to meet


社 shrine



黑 black


墨 ink


繪 to draw, paint (285E)

畫 畵 画 to draw, paint; a picture, plan

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of this character; and still does, though askew, in the modern form of 鹵, the meaning associator for salt. This same pot also occurs in 黑 (285B) ‘hēi’, ‘black’; earlier or with a double-banked 火 (77A) fire, but it now has 土 (78D) ‘earth’ immediately under the pot; in place of one of the fires and representing carbon. A character like this, in which ‘blackness’ is suggested by the carbon under a pot on the fire is called 會意 (285 – 15) ‘huìyì’, ‘associating the ideas’. 黑龍江 (… 135A – 100) ‘hēilóngjiāng’ the ‘Black Dragon River’, is the Amur River or the province Heilungkiang. 黑白 (… 104E) ‘hēibái’ occurs in a number of proverbial, four-character phrases, like 黑白不分 (… 10 – 92B) ‘hēibái bùfēn’, ‘unable to tell black from white’; 黑白分明 (… 51) ‘hēibái fēnmíng’, ‘seeing as clear as black and white’. From this, with a further 土 added, there is made 墨 (285C) ‘mò’, ‘Chinese ink’, for which fine carbon (‘lamp-black’) is mixed with glue and camphor oil (which probably acts against bacteria attacking the protein in the glue, besides taking away the smell); making solid ink-sticks which can then be rubbed in water on a stone, for the ink to gather in the 墨池 (… 160) ‘mòchí’, hollows made in the stone for the purpose. (It is wrongly called ‘indian ink’, or ‘india ink’ in English from a time when anything from East Asia might be so called.) This is still the finest of all drawing inks, the invention of which, centuries before Christ, has been of the most central importance to all Chinese civilisation. An early custom of inscribing important documents, in taglio, on stone and then making ‘ink-squeezes’ or rubbings of them on to pliable materials recto white-on-black, by a technique similar to that now used for making brassrubbings, was (already several centuries before Christ) the first form of printing. This was slow and paper was not invented till about AD 100, but it was of value for ensuring the exact copying of important texts. For models to copy in calligraphy the technique is still used and such rubbings can be bought in bookshops and even from street-hawkers. Printing proper began as block-printing, about the time that this poem was written; and movable types (of somewhat less importance to a non-alphabetic than to an alphabetic script) were first used about AD 1100, though not widely for another two or three centuries. Printing ink is 油墨 (240B …) ‘yóumò’. 墨繪 (… 285D: 74A + 285) ‘mòhuì’ is ‘to draw in Chinese ink with a brush; a brush-and-ink drawing’; which is read in Japanese as ‘sumi-e’, a term adopted by many Western museums and collectors. (Chinese neither assimilates foreign languages well nor is assimilated well by then: an excuse for terms like ‘Mandarin’.) 畫 or 畵 or simply 画 (285E) ‘huà’ is another word for ‘to draw or paint a picture’; also used for ‘to draw up, to plan’. 畫中有詩 (… 72 – 157 – 75) ‘huà-zhōng yǒu shī’ means ‘there is a poem in the painting’ and 詩中有畫 ‘shī-zhōng yǒu huà’, ‘there is a painting in the poem’. (Said by the famous Sung Dynasty poet, Su Tung-p’o, of Wang Wei’s painting and poems.) Because of the nature of the script, painting and writing are closely associated in the Chinese mind: the writing of poems in spaces on the surface of pictures is an example of this integration, where picture and poem are like song and words. There are ideas that cannot be expressed well by pictures alone, as there are by music alone. For their fundamental importance in Chinese and in Chinese-influenced civilisation such as Japanese, there is nothing in our own quite equivalent to the two simple instruments of the brush and the mixed glue, camphor and soot

stars and seething pots


symbolised by the cooking pot; tools of both government and art. The Chinese language therefore abounds in metaphors based on them. 畫虎不成 (… 123A – 10 – 178A) ‘huà hǔ bù chéng’ is ‘to start painting a tiger and not to finish it’, said of a daring ambition or grandiose scheme that falls. 畫蛇 添足 (… 160A – 285F – 65) ‘huà shé tiān zú’—in which 添 (285F: 45 + 101H + 80C) ‘tiān’ is ‘to add to, supplement, improve’—means ‘to add legs when drawing a snake’, already quoted: ‘trying too hard and overdoing detail’. 畫龍點睛 (… 135A – 285G – 285H) ‘huà lóng diǎn jīng’—in which 點 (285G) ‘diǎn’, with 黑 (285B) again as its meaning associator, is ‘a dot, to dot’; and 睛 (285H: 7 + 93) ‘jīng’ is the ‘pupil’ of an eye—means ‘to dot in the pupils of the eyes when drawing a dragon’. This comes from a story about a famous painter in the sixth century who painted four dragons on the wall of 安樂寺 (110I – 115F – 75A) ‘ānlèsì’, Temple of Peace and Happiness, at 金陵 (57 – 232) ‘jīnlíng’, Kinling (later Nanking). He left out the pupils of their eyes because, he said, if he were to put them in, the dragons would come to life and fly away. Someone doubted this statement and dotted in the pupils of one of the dragons. Immediately, with thunder and lightning, that part of the wall crumbled; and its dragon, riding a cloud, rose to heaven while the other dragons stayed where they were. The phrase is used of a crowning touch of great power in a poem or picture; but could also mean, as from the story it appears it should, overdoing it! 點鐵成金 (285G – 285I – 178A – 57) ‘diǎn tiě chéng jīn’ is so to apply to iron a mere dot with the brush as to transmute it to gold—said originally of this poet, Tu Fu. 鐵, now commonly written 鉄 (285I: 57+117B) ‘tiě’ is ‘iron’: 鐵路 (… 126A) ‘tiělù’, ‘railroad’. This is usually 鐵道 (… 125B) ‘tiědào’, ‘railway’ in Japan; read there as ‘tetsudō’. What was said of Tu Fu is sometimes politely transposed by editors to their authors: 點金成鐵 ‘diǎn jīn chéng tiě’; ‘I fear I have so touched your gold as to transmute it to iron’. 點 is also used for selecting: 點菜 (… 96A) ‘diǎncài’ is ‘to choose dishes from the menu’ at a restaurant—the Chinese tend to make the vegetables rather than the meat the synonym of food. And it means ‘to punctuate’ or to ‘phrase’ ideas like phrasing of music; which, for reasons already seen, has great importance to Chinese prose as well as to their verse. In all these expressions, it derives from what one may do with a dot of watered lampblack on the tip of a brush. The same 黑 is present as meaning associator in 黨 (285J) ‘dǎng’ ‘a political party’; just as in Greek ‘komma’ means a political party as well as a comma: a ‘marking off’. The word associator here is shared with 堂 (269) ‘táng’ a ‘hall’ as in ‘Tammany Hall’. 社會黨 (285A – 285 – 285J) ‘shèhuìdǎng’ is the ‘Socialist Party’; 共產黨 (114E – 235D …) ‘gòngchǎndǎng’, ‘Communist Party’; 國民黨 (78B – 171C …) ‘guómíndǎng’, ‘Kuomintang’, ‘Nationalist Party’. Always the pot over the fire, producing the lampblack, is to be seen. 面 (286) ‘miàn’ means ‘face; surface, superficial; side, aspect; to face; in person’: 人心之不同如其面焉 (1 – 80C – 20 – 10 – 114F – 89C – 89G … 267) ‘rénxīn zhī bùtóng rú qí miàn yān’, ‘people’s minds differ as much as do their faces, you know’; 面目可憎語言無味 (… 7 – 161A – 248B – 85 – 73 – 149 – 286A) ‘miànmù kězēng, yǔyán wúwèi’, ‘repulsive in appearance and uninteresting in conversation’; in which 味 (286A: 62+156) ‘wèi’ means ‘taste’ of food and drink or ‘significance’ of language: 意味 (15 …) ‘yìwèi’ is an ordinary expression for ‘meaning’.


添 to supplement, (285G) improve



睛 pupil of eye


鐵 鉄 iron


黨 political party


面 face


味 taste, meaning


chapter 8

面目 ‘miànmù’ besides ‘face, countenance, appearance’; can mean ‘dignity, honour’; 面部 (… 276A) ‘miànbù’, on the other hand, is ‘the face’ in an anatomical sense; while 上, 下面 (68,71 …) ‘shàng-, xià-miàn’ is the ‘upper, lower surface’ of anything; 方面 (260A …) ‘fāngmiàn’ is ‘face’ in the sense of ‘aspect, side, quarter, point of view’; 會面 (285) ‘huìmiàn’, as in the poem, is ‘to face, meet face to face’; 雙方會面 (111C – 260A …) ‘shuāngfāng huìmiàn’, ‘the two sides (286B)

麵 dough; noodles


形 shape, size


炒 to fry in oil

meet face to face; a direct confrontation, man-to-man’. 面 is word associator in 麵 (286B) ‘miàn’, ‘flour, dough; pasta; noodles, vermicelli’. Such a character is called 形聲 (286C – 66) ‘xíngshēng’, ‘having its sound from its form’, in which 形 (286C) ‘xíng’ means ‘to take or give shape or form; a shape, form, figure; size’. It is often difficult to know into which such category, thought of long after the characters themselves, a given character would best be placed. For example, 墨 (285C) ‘mò’, ‘ink’, though it was given earlier as an example of 會意, is probably also 形聲, despite the remoteness of the modern sound of 黑 (285B) ‘hēi’. In Cantonese, these words are ‘mak’ and ‘hak’ respectively; and the alternation of ‘m’ and ‘h’ has already been seen in 每 (46) ‘měi’ and 海 (47) ‘hǎi’. On the other hand, 麵, ‘miàn’, ‘dough’, though called 形聲 may perhaps have been thought of as a flat ‘face’ or ‘surface’ on a pastry board; and then have had 麥, meaning associator for ‘wheat’—compare 來 (143)—added later as in our own distinguishing of ‘flour’ from ‘flower’. 麵包 (… 214A) ‘miànbāo’ is (Western style) ‘bread’; 麵湯 (… 89E) ‘miàntāng’, ‘vermicelli or noodle soup’; 炒麵 (286D: 77A + 190 …) ‘chǎomiàn’ ‘fried noodles, chow mein’; in which ‘chǎo’ means ‘to fry in oil or gravy’ (not lard): 炒飯 (… 60) ‘chǎofǎn’, ‘fried rice, chow fan’. (The Chinese have always taken cooking seriously: Lao Tzu said that one should govern a great country as one would cook a small fish—not pull it about.) The character 面 itself, for ‘face’, is of the kind called 象形 (92I – 286C) ‘xiàngxíng’, implying a ‘representation’, literally ‘having its form from its appearance’. (The contrast of this term with 形聲, in the position of the 形, will be noticed.) This means no more than that the character was pictorial in origin; but the changes undergone by such a character, no longer immediately recognisable as a human face as it once was, are not just to be put down to ‘corruptions’ and ‘mistakes by careless scribes’ (as they often are) but were psychologically as well as technically essential to the evolution of a system of writing. Neither was there a gradual, linear progression from a representation with eyes, nose and mouth. , which is neither such representation nor directly ‘ancestral’ to 面, can be found standing for it in ancient inscriptions on bronzes; though can also be found among them, which seems to be both. In the modern character however, one can see, if not a picture, several reminders of symbols to do with the physiognomy which occur in other characters; such as 自 (191) for the nose; which is also part of 頁 as in 頭 (170) and of 首 (125C), each meaning ‘head’; and 囗 a bounding line as in 國 (78B). The nose is out of proportion physically, but possibly not psychologically—psychological proportions of the face, as we think of it, may differ considerably from the physical ones. There are no longer any eyes, but the story of 畫龍點睛 gives a key to that omission; and nobody, either, would want to see eyes in noodles! The characters are in fact required not for representing things seen but rather as metaphors; with applications the range of which would be uncomfortably restricted by detail. (One may see details in dreams but the detail one does not see does not exist.)

stars and seething pots


The characters evolved out of a progression from the concrete to abstraction, but never altogether losing sight of the concrete; and perhaps never directly representational. It began as far back as the early Bronze Age, if not even further, and ended by about the third or fourth century of our era; whereafter developments have been minor and stylistic, at least until the recent Chinese Communist revisions. Despite the long time that all this took, and the anonymity of the artists responsible, the result is itself an integrated work of art; much as landscape is, of a civilised country. But just as agriculture and building have undergone ‘great leaps forward’, so has Chinese writing. The most important of these was in the third century BC when the political unification of the Empire laid heavy demands on the bureaucracy and necessitated a simplification of the script for its use. This caused the first complete review and reform of the characters, and the devising of a standardised and simplified script later called 小篆 (187B – 286E) ‘xiǎozhuàn’, ‘Lesser Inscriptional’ or ‘Small Seal’; in which 篆 (286E: 75C + 92I) ‘zhuàn’, ‘a seal of office’, implies the main use to which this script and what it replaced, called 大篆 ‘dàzhuàn’, ‘Great Seal’, were put in later ages. In the new script 面 was . The new characters were thus still drawn rather than written; with too much detail and with curved lines requiring care in their execution, both these features prohibitive of much speed or creative freedom. This was at the time of the short-lived 秦 (286F) ‘qín’ Ch’in Dynasty, from which is derived our name of ‘China’—for the character compare 春 (94C) and 秋 (94D)—and ironically it was the Prisons Administration whose heavy office work under the new régime made it soon clamour for a further reform. This followed almost at once and has ever since been called after it, 隸書 (286G – 116E) ‘lìshū’, the Li script: in which 隸 (286G) ‘lì’, ‘an attached person, second-class citizen, prisoner’, was part of the title of this government department. In this character, the part on the right was earlier , a hand catching a tail; while the part on the left appears to be a shortening of 禁 (286H: 90 + 103A) ‘jìn’, ‘to prohibit, restrain, restrict’, which will often be seen now, usually in the compound 禁止 (… 196A) ‘jìnzhǐ’, in notices declaring prohibitions: 禁止吸煙 (… 286I – 21) ‘jìnzhǐ xīyān’ ‘smoking prohibited’; in which 吸 (286I: 62+ 89D) ‘xī’ means ‘to suck’; something one does by 及 ‘extending’ the 口 ‘mouth’. It was the invention of 隸書 that first liberated the hand to shape what brush and ink could most naturally do; it is in fact very near to the modern characters. Now writing ceased altogether to copy natural forms but rather was allowed to create them; and the number of ‘inspired misinterpretations’ also multiplied. The result was to have a profound influence on Chinese naturalistic art itself over the centuries; especially in one branch of painting which is believed to have evolved about the time this poem was written, 墨竹 (285C – 75C) ‘mòzhú’, ‘bamboo in ink’; in which the way things grow and move in the atmosphere is presented through the strength of the stems and the lightness of the leaves of bamboos, composed within a gamut of brush strokes evolved by the script. Besides 繪 (285D) and 畫 (285E), another word for ‘picture’, also meaning ‘a scheme, plan, map; to scheme, plan, draw up’, is 圖 (286J) ‘tú’; which, though of different origin as far as can be seen from early versions, has some resemblance to 面. Like others of these characters it will often be seen on paintings and titlepages of art books. 地圖 (160C …) ‘dìtú’ is the ordinary word for a ‘chart, map’; 天文圖 (101H – 8 …) ‘tiánwéntú’, ‘a star map’. 一舉 at the beginning of the next line of the poem means ‘in one go’, as an exaggeration for the quick succession of filling the guest’s wine-cup: 一舉兩得


篆 seal, inscription


秦 Ch’in (Dynasty) (286G)

隸 prisoner (286H) (286I)

to prohibit, restrain

to suck


圖 picture, plan, map



累 to bind, accumulate (287A)



釘 nail


chapter 8

(… 111D – 19) ‘yìjǔ liǎngdé’ is ‘getting two things in one go’, ‘killing two birds with one stone’! (This, like many four-character phrases is incorporated into Japanese; pronounced ‘ikkyo ryōtoku’.) 累 (287) ‘léi’, ‘to bind, tie together’, is often used to express accumulation: 累 石 (… 219A) ‘léishí’, ‘to heap up stones’; 累月經年 (… 52 – 94E – 238A) ‘léiyuèjīngnián’, ‘as months and years roll by’. The character has 糹 (74A) for thread as its meaning associator. The 田, as in 雷 (101F) ‘léi’, ‘thunder’, is not 田 (4) for paths between fields. The by origin but an abbreviation of the earlier whole character is the word associator in 螺 (287A) ‘luó’, ‘a spiral shell, conch’, with 虫 (115B) for an animal that is not mammal, fish nor bird as meaning associator. 螺釘 (… 287B) ‘luódīng’ is a ‘screw’; in which 釘 (287B) ‘dīng’, with the picture 丁 and 金 (57) metal, means ‘a nail’. (The screw was an invention of the West, introduced quite late to the Far East, and then given this name.) Another Western invention, the ‘screw’ or ‘propeller’ of a boat (the Chinese long had paddle-boats with manual power) was called 螺槳 (287A – 278C) ‘luójiǎng’: the two kinds of ‘screw’ thus being called ‘conch-nail’ and ‘conch-oar’ respectively. 觴 (288) ‘shāng’ is a ‘goblet, wine-cup’ of the form

觴 goblet


感 to feel


謝 to thank (289B)

and has 角 for horn as meaning associator, with the word associator discussed under 腸 (266). These are usually made of lacquer and are first found about the latest centuries BC. 感 (289) ‘gǎn’ is ‘to feel, be affected’: 感覺 (… 187) ‘gǎnjué’, ‘to feel; sensation’; 感光 (… 92F) ‘gǎnguāng’, ‘light-sensitive’, as of photographic paper; 同感 (114F …) ‘tónggǎn’, ‘sympathy’; 感化 (… 9) ‘gǎnhuà’, ‘to convert, reform’; 感情 (… 93A) ‘gǎnqíng’, ‘affection’; 感動 (… 191A) ‘gǎndòng’, ‘to be moved emotionally’. (This is, of course, tautological in English, but it will be noticed that the idiom ‘move’ is used equally in Chinese.) 易感 (140E …) ‘yìgǎn’ means ‘susceptible, sentimental’. 感, rather like ‘touched’ in English, often refers, as it is intended to do in the poem, to the particular sentiment of gratitude: 感謝 ‘gǎnxiè’ is more explicit for this; in which 謝 (289A) ‘xiè’ means ‘to express thanks’; for which one may say 謝謝 ‘xièxiè’ and 多謝 (145 …) ‘duōxiè’. With 心 (80C) heart as meaning associator, as it were for the nervous system, the word associator in 感 is 咸 which meant ‘together, under united command’; in which 戊 weapons are directed by 一 one 口 mouth. In 謝 the word associator is 射 (289B: 203A + 278B) ‘shè’ ‘to shoot’ (as with arrows); which, though it now has ‘body’ and ‘thumb’, was in the earliest a picture:

to shoot (with a bow)

射 is used of ‘shooting’ light and warmth as well as arrows: 射光 (… 92F) ‘shèguāng’, ‘rays, radiation’ of light; 太陽放射 (110H – 89F – 260B …) ‘tàiyángfàngshè’, ‘solar radiation’. 放射線學 (260E … 104H – 187A) ‘fàngshèxiànxué’ is a term for ‘radiology’. The effect of the cesura in the line with 感子 joins them in a construction like: ‘I am touched with regard to you / at the length of our old friendship’.


stars and seething pots

‘Old friendship’ here is the meaning of 故意 ‘gùyì’; with 故 ‘gù’ acronymic for 故人 ‘gùrén’, another expression for ‘old fellow, old friends’; and similar therefore to its sense in 故鄉 (… 86A) ‘gùxiāng’, ‘old home’. 故意 however has another and entirely different meaning, much commoner nowadays, when the 故 is in its causal sense. It then means ‘intentionally, on purpose’. (This meaning, of course, has no relevance here.) 隔 (290) ‘gé’ is ‘to separate, a separation, partition’: 隔日 (… 50) ‘gérì’, ‘every other day’; 隔感 (… 289) ‘gégǎn’, ‘telepathy’. In the latter, the point is the ‘separation’ rather than the ‘distance’. ‘Tele-’ words where ‘distance’ is the intention mostly begin with 遠 (181A) ‘yuán’, ‘distant, far’, which has 辶 and 袁 as in (181) ‘yuán’, ‘garden’. (Possibly Chinese and Japanese notions of landscape gardening have even been influenced by the identical sound of these two words and the likeness of their characters.) ‘Television’ on the other hand is 電視 (101G – 103B) ‘diànshì’, formed like 電話 (… 166) ‘diànhuà’ for ‘telephone’ and 電報 (… 103E) ‘diànbào’ for ‘telegram’. The character 隔 has 阝 on the left, as meaning associator for hill, mound or anything that could get in the way; with a word associator which was the very ancient Chinese type of vessel, made in Neolithic pottery and later as a ritual vessel in bronze, with three hollow legs which could be filled with water and stood over burning embers; serving as the lower part of a steamer. The top part, which was perforated underneath, was inserted into it as a separate vessel. ‘Small Seal’ character:


隔 to separate

Early (‘shell and bone’) character:

岳 (291) ‘yuè’, ‘a high mountain peak’. The character is of the 會意 kind, combining 山 (81) for a mountain with 丘 which had also been a picture representing mounds like anthills. 岳 is often used in particular of the Five Sacred Mountains. (See Hawkes, op. cit., who suggests that one of them is in mind here.) As a character on its own, 丘 ‘qiū’, ‘a hill’ was Confucius’s personal name, his full name being 孔丘 (110C …) ‘kǒng qiū, K’ung Ch’iu’—and so this character was often avoided, because of its sacredness, by such substitution as 邱 (291A) ‘qiū’ having the same sound and the same meaning. In the poem the inversion, 隔岳 for ‘peaks divide’ has an effect in Chinese as in English ‘they will divide us, the peaks’ (‘it will divide us, the Peak’). Another word for a ‘peak’ is 頂 (291B) ‘dǐng’, with 頁 for head as in 頭 (170) and 丁 as in 釘 (287B) ‘dīng’, ‘nail’: compare French ‘aiguille’. Another is 峯 (291C) ‘fēng’, as in 孤峰 (110 …) ‘gūfēng’, ‘a lone peak’. This occurred with 破 (291D: 219 + 246B) ‘pò’, ‘to break’, – which associates 波 (246C) also with breakers – and 連 (291E)‘lián’, ‘to join’, in the lines of the painter Shih T’ao quoted above on p. 38: 石


shí pò shí zhōng shí; fēng lián fēng shàng fēng 219A 291D 219A 72 219A 291C 291E 291C 68 291C Stone break stone among stone / Peak link peak above peak


岳 peak


邱 hill (291B)


頂 峯 peak




破 連 to break

to join




世 界 an age, the world



葉 leaf, blade (292C)

芥 mustard (293)

茫 vast, vague

chapter 8

世 (292) ‘shì’ is an ‘age, generation; period of thirty years; the world, worldly’. 世路羊腸 (… 126A – 42 – 266) ‘shì lù yáng cháng’, ‘the way of the world (is involved, twisted) like a sheep’s entrails’; 世人 (… 1) ‘shìrén’, ‘the public, laity’. 世 is most often combined, when it has the meaning of ‘world’, with 界 (292A) ‘jiè’, ‘limit, boundary; circles, the world (of)’: 世界是舞台 (… 17 – 149A – 94A) ‘shìjiè shì wǔtái’, ‘the world’s a stage’; 世界大戰 (… 110G – 195C) ‘shìjiè dàzhàn’, ‘world war’. 界 also occurs in such expressions as 新界 ‘xīnjiè’, ‘the new limits’, i.e. the New Territories leased by the British in Hong Kong; 學界 (187A …) ‘xuéjiè’, ‘the educational world, academic circles’; 動物界 (191A – 272C …) ‘dòngwùjiè’,

‘the animal kingdom’. The character 世 derives from , a bough with branches and twigs; which also occurs together with 木 (56) tree and 艹 for vegetation in 葉 (292B) ‘yè’, ‘leaf, blade’: 葉落知秋 (… 189 – 116K – 94D) ‘yè luò zhī qiū’, ‘when the leaves fall one knows it is autumn’; 螺槳葉 (287A – 278C …) ‘luójiǎngyè’, ‘propeller blade’. In 界 (292A), the meaning associator is 田 (4) a field, and the word associator 介 was originally a picture of a man wearing a kind of leaf armour, possibly made of strips of leather. With 艹 for grass, this is also word associator in 芥 (292C) ‘jiè’, ‘the mustard plant’: 芥子 (… 110A) ‘jièzǐ’, ‘a mustard seed’, used in Chinese as in the Bible as a symbol for something very small; 芥子園 (… 181) ‘jièzǐyuán’, The Mustard Seed Garden, a garden, or the world, in miniature; the title of a famous seventeenth century manual on painting. 茫 (293) ‘máng’ means ‘vast, unlimited, boundless; undefined, vague, obscure’: 茫然無知 (… 185 – 149 – 116K) ‘mángrán-wúzhī’ ‘confused and lacking all understanding’. 茫茫 in the poem is a typical Chinese reduplication of a kind suggesting atmosphere or condition, of which more will be said in the next chapter. The character has 艹 for grass, which is often a symbol for wildness, wilderness, confusion, randomness; with 水 (45) water, also a symbol of vastness, confusion, as well as making the grass grow high; and 亡 (136A), the man vanishing.

chapter 9

The Ballad of the Ancient Cypress by 杜 甫 gǔ bó xíng dù fǔ 139A 294 107A 251 252

From The Ballad of the Ancient Cypress by Tu Fu 孔

kǒng míng miào qián / yǒu lǎo bó 110C 51 295 163A 157 123B 294 In front of K’ung Ming Shrine / Stands an old cypress 柯

kē rú qīng tóng / gēn rú shí 296 89C 93 297 298 89C 219A With branches like green bronze / And roots like granite: 霜

四 十 圍

shuāng pí liù yǔ / sì shí wéi 101C 246B 299 101A 30 23 249A Its hoary bark far round / Glistens with raindrops 黛

二 千

dài sè cān tiān / èr qiān chǐ 300 219B 253 101H 24 28 301 And blueblack hues high up / Blend in with Heaven’s!

… 落

得 地

luò luò pán jù / suī dé dì 189 189 302 303 304 19 160C Wide wide though writhing roots / Maintain its station, 冥

孤 高

míng míng gū gāo / duō liè fēng 193A 193A 110 305 145 306 94B Far far in lonely heights / Many’s the tempest 扶

自 是

fú chí zì shì / shén míng lì 307 79A 191 17 308 51 5 Where its hold is the strength / Of Divine wisdom

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 2018 | doi:10.1163/9789004369054_012


chapter 9

zhèng zhí yuán yīn / zào huà gōng 246C 309 104 310 311 9 80E And straightness by the work / Of the Creator!

… 大

厦 如

dà xià rú qīng / yào liáng dòng 118A 283A 314 110G 312 89C 313 Yet if a crumbling Hall / Needed a rooftree 萬

wàn niú huí shǒu / qiū shān zhòng 120A 32 142A 315 125C 291A 81 Yoked herds would, turning heads, / Balk at this mountain: 不 露 文

bū lù wén zhāng / shì yǐ jīng 10 126 8 316 292 237 263 By art still unexposed / All have admired it, 未

辭 剪

wèi cí jiǎn fá / shuí néng sòng 156 13 163 317 175 256 260C But axe though not refused / Who could transport it?

… 苦 心

豈 免

kǔ xīn qǐ miǎn / róng lóu yǐ 318 80C 319 320 206 321 322 How can the bitter core / Deny ants lodging 香


xiāng yè zhōng jīng / sù luán fèng 150A 292B 323 94E 150A 324 325 All the while scented boughs / All the while give Phoenix housing? 志 士

zhì shì yōu rén / mò yuàn jiē 14 250 209 1 326 124 327 Oh, ambitious unknowns, / Sigh no more sadly: 古

來 材


gǔ lái cái dà / nán wéi yòng 139A 143 122B 110G 123D 18 252 Using timber as big / Was never easy!

柏 (294: 56+ 104E) ‘bó’, also pronounced ‘bái’, is the cypress tree. This one,


still living in Tu Fu’s day, was believed to have been planted more than five

the ballad of the ancient cypress


hundred years earlier by the hand of the great statesman, general and inventor, Chu-ko Liang (‘zhūgē liàng’), AD181–234, one of the most popular of all Chinese heroes but a special hero of Tu Fu’s, who lived at a time of civil and private warfare on the collapse of the Han Dynasty; the period known as 三國 (29 – 78B) ‘sān guó’, ‘the Three Kingdoms’, which has a part in Chinese historical novels and dramas similar to that of the War of the Roses in English. Chuko Liang, popularly known by his 字 ‘style’ of K’ung-ming, 孔明, ‘Confucian Enlightenment’, is a paragon of statesmanlike virtues and military resourcefulness. Among inventions ascribed to him is the wheelbarrow, an invention not introduced in the West till many centuries later; though the evidence is that he must only have developed certain military forms and uses for an already existing Chinese invention: his special wheelbarrows, which were most effective for the rapid transportation of military stores and equipment, were called 木牛 (56 – 142A) ‘mùniú’ and 流馬 (224 – 48) ‘liúmǎ’, ‘wooden oxen’ and ‘gliding horses’. (For a scholarly and detailed account of the subject, see Needham, op. cit.) In Chinese popular legend he has the cunning of an Odysseus: for example, on one occasion when he had orders from his Commander-inChief to manufacture a hundred thousand arrows in only three days, for the first and second days he did nothing at all except obtain large quantities of straw; then on the dark, foggy night of the third he launched ships with a few soldiers in each, beating drums—himself in one of them quietly drinking— with bales of the straw on the decks, sailing close to the enemy fleet; until he could turn about with his full complement of ammunition, as it was put, ‘borrowed’! To the scholars and poets, however, he was also one of themselves: the famous story is that he was persuaded out of his scholarly and poetic retreat in the country after Three Calls At The Thatched Cottage by the supposedly legitimate heir to the Han, who was at the time a mere adventurer but whose cause Chu-ko Liang then immediately advanced by his own virtue and genius. Tu Fu’s and Li Po’s own times seemed to bode a similar disintegration of the Empire; a background to which each reacted in a different way in his poems. During their lives in the T’ang Dynasty had even once fallen to a warlord who had briefly established himself as a new Emperor in the capital. Chu-ko Liang and his master had ultimately failed in their day, which was as remote from Tu Fu’s as the Wars of the Roses from ours, and the Empire had then remained divided for more than three hundred and fifty years; but Tu Fu nevertheless believed that the true Confucian spirit, exemplified by his hero, was what was needed to save it now. This was a spirit he himself tried to emulate but his opportunities to do so were severely limited by failure in the literary examinations for higher office! All this is expressed characteristically in the poem, with conciseness and imagination; and with his own peculiar but essentially Confucian mixture of grandeur, candour and humour. By entitling the poem a 行 ‘xíng’ which as a poetic term means a ‘lay’ or ‘ballad’, Tu Fu associated it with historic narratives in old-style, freer forms; but the poem consists in fact of three linked 律詩 (294A – 75) ‘lǜshī’, an exceedingly difficult form, still then ‘modern’, which he did much to develop and of which he remains the greatest master. It is one that has been, for the part it plays in Chinese verse, called a ‘Chinese sonnet’. The character 律 ‘lǜ’ means ‘rules, laws, statutes’, as in 法律學 (114B … 187A) ‘fǎlǜxué’, ‘the study of Law, jurisprudence’.


律 a rule


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Having ㄔ for 行, ‘a path’, with 聿 as in 筆 (116G) for a writing instrument, it represents exactly the same metaphor as ‘regula’ in Latin, originally a ruled line; whence English ‘rule’. The 律詩 is, of course, much shorter than the sonnet, as the reader would now expect from all he has already seen of Chinese: Chinese works on an intensive rather than extensive principle. It has only eight lines, equal in length and of either five or seven characters, which are strictly patterned in Tense or Relaxed ones; the whole making four couplets of which the two middle couplets must each consist of lines parallel or antithetical in their individual words and grammatical structure. This most important device of antithesis or parallelism in Chinese poetry has already been met with in poems of the short 絕句 (74 – 74B) ‘juéjù’ form which is said to have originated out of the 律詩, but as any two of its couplets. However, as in the 絕句 they can be any two, there is then no rule for placing antithesis, which can occur in either, neither or both couplets. This fact together with the differences in length make the two forms quite different in effect. By the way in which the Chinese language has evolved, antithesis, though to be found in the poetry and oratory of all languages, has a unique place and power in it. Like rhyme it has always been relatively easy in Chinese, but unlike rhyme it does not become partly erased over the centuries and it remains always fresh and clear. It is the ‘atomic’ nature of the language and of the script evolved for it that puts power so much more into associations by juxtaposition, and so much less into linear, logical paths. The tensions created by juxtaposition, whether by the device of the antithetical couplet or not, are the very essence of Chinese poetry and this device is therefore as natural to this language as extensive use of it would be artificial, and often impossible, in another. Nevertheless, such a strict form as the 律詩 could also be in Chinese, and often is, very artificial in effect. It is the art of a poet like Tu Fu always to naturalise the frame he gives himself: here using it so that it is unnoticeable; there so strikingly that it does what would seem impossible by any other means; but nowhere predictably, everywhere with a rightness that, as in good music, is also at least a little surprising—his own principle. The rhyme scheme of the whole ‘ballad’ of three 律詩 is as follows; with brackets surrounding the part of the poem here omitted; unbroken underlining marking compulsory antithesis; dotted underlining marking voluntary antithesis; and semi-colons dividing the three 律詩: A A x A, (x A x A; B B x B,) x B x.....B; C C x C, x C x C. The ‘A’ rhyme is between 柏, 石, and 尺 which were approximately ‘pak’, ‘ziak’ and ‘ts-hiak’ in Tu Fu’s day; the ‘B’ rhyme is ‘-ong’ in Tense Tones; and the ‘C’ rhyme is the same but in Relaxed Tones. (‘Feng’ that comes in each of these rhymes is a modern Northern pronunciation of ‘fong’.) The tone patterns within the lines are partly disrupted in Northern Chinese by the distribution among the others of the lost (Relaxed) Entering Tone. Many other of Tu Fu’s original sound effects, alliterations and assonances, must also be lost. Some new ones have been created like the rhyme of 地 with 力. In poetry it seems, as Velazquez said of pictures, that “time also paints”; for nobody hearing these poems now in even the furthest removed dialect from

the ballad of the ancient cypress


T’ang Dynasty pronunciation could say that the pleasure of hearing them is gone. (After all, poetry is at the heart of a language and changes in pronunciation are not random.) 廟 (295) ‘miào’ is a ‘temple, shrine’: 家廟 (114G …) ‘jiāmiào’, ‘a family shrine, ancestral temple’; 香火廟 (140A – 77A …) ‘xiānghuǒ miào’, ‘a temple full of incense, a very popular temple’. The character has 广 for a shelter with 朝 (148) ‘zhāo’ early morning, the time of worship. 柯 (296: 56+161A) ‘kē’ is an ‘axe-handle’—note the 丂 in the early form of 161A—or a ‘bough, branch’. 銅 (297: 57+114F) ‘tóng’ is ‘copper, bronze, brass’: 青銅 means specifically ‘bronze’; 紅銅 (80H …) ‘hóngtóng’, ‘copper’; 黄銅 (282 …) ‘huángtóng’, ‘brass’. 根 (298) ‘gēn’ is a ‘root, base, foundation’: 根本 (… 156B) ‘gēnběn’, ‘radical(ly), fundamental(ly)’. The word associator 艮 is shared with 銀 (107B) ‘yín’, ‘silver’. In future such a character, sharing a part with one already in the book, may be given as ‘(298: 56+p107B)’. More will be said later in the book about this particular word associator. 溜 (299) ‘liù’ is ‘to flow gently; to gather (of water); a current’; or pronounced as ‘liū’, ‘smooth, glossy; slippery; to slide’: 溜冰 (… 49) ‘liūbīng’, ‘to skate; skate(s)’. The word associator is 留 (299A) ‘liú’, ‘to detain, entertain; to keep; to leave, stay behind’. Of this in turn the meaning associator is 田 (4) a field, and the word associator is 卯 as in 柳 (102) ‘liǔ’, ‘willow’; so that this character would in future be described as ‘4+p102’. Like ‘hoary’ from ‘hoar frost’, 霜 implies ages, but there also seems to be an image of the raindrops making the bark glisten like frost. 圍 here is used as a measure which can be either a ‘span’ of outstretched fingers or a ‘fathom’ of unstretched arms. Exaggerations of the kind in both lines of this couplet cannot often be translated from any language to any other; especially such numerical exaggeration into the language of a modern, more number-conscious culture. 黛 (300) ‘dài’ is ‘eyebrow-black’, make-up for painting the eyebrows; thence a deep black or other deep colour such as ‘indigo’. 青黛 (93 …) ‘qīngdài’ is used of the deep colour of distant mountains. The character has, with 黑 (285B) black, 代 (300A) ‘dài’, ‘to take the place of, to substitute’: 代用 (… 252A) ‘dàiyòng’, ‘to substitute, use instead; ersatz’; 世代 (292 …) ‘shìdài’, literally ‘replacement of generation’, ‘a generation; (the matter of) generation (biologically)’; 朝代 (148 …) ‘cháodài’, literally ‘replacement of the Court’, ‘a dynasty’; 時代 (146 …) ‘shídài’, ‘an age, period, epoch’. The character 代 has, with 人 (1) a man, 弋 which as a character on its own had in early times a nearly similar pronunciation and meant an arrow with a cord attached to it, used for shooting birds. Perhaps there was in the meaning of 代 also a mental association, that by means of such a weapon a man projects his own presence; hence it ‘substitutes’ for him. 尺 (301) ‘chǐ’ is a (Chinese) ‘foot’, as a measurement, ten 寸 (278B) ‘cùn’, Chinese inches. These measures, as in Europe, have differed according to time and region, and there have also been such terms as a ‘standard foot’, ‘marked foot’ and so on. In the next line 落落 ‘luòluò’ is a phrase of the kind talked about above under 玲瓏 (134 – 135) ‘línglóng’, and met again in 茫茫 ‘mángmáng’ at the end of the last poem. Like onomatopoeic expressions in English, such as ‘bang, bang’, these express nature more directly than language ordinarily does, but they do not only refer to sounds. In Chinese, they are very commonly pictorial, and the


廟 shrine (296)




copper, bronze

根 root (299)


current, glossy

留 to keep stay


黛 (300A)

eyebrow black

代 to substitute


尺 a foot (measure)



盤 a dish, coiled spread


據 踞 ro rely on, to squat

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picture that each such expression suggests may allow a wide variety of interpretations according to context. 落落 depicts to the mind something standing alone amidst a scattering of things about it; but one is free, in looking mentally at this picture, to apply it both to the thing on its own, standing firm but lonely, differentiated from what is scattered about; and to the things widespread round it. Similarly in the next line 冥冥 ‘míngmíng’ pictorially suggests height and distance, but also dimness and obscurity—or metaphorically both nobility and profundity. These expressions might be described as ‘raw metaphors’; that is to say, whereas an ordinary metaphor implies a recognisable intention, with these the intention, or the focus of the picture, not consciously recognisable but seemingly at the will of the reader or hearer. With such expressions in Chinese, which are in themselves quite untranslatable, one must just ‘get the picture’, and this explains the contradictions, at first sight alarming, to be found in the range of ‘meanings’ given for any one of these expressions in a dictionary. For instance, 落落 has listed among its ‘meanings’: ‘rarity, sparseness, loneliness, desolation, firmness, obstinacy, unconventionality, eccentricity, presence in large numbers, commonness, having great and noble aims, conspicuous by standing out (as of a high tree above the forest), lacking in ambition, settled, at ease’. None of these, however, is in the ordinary sense a meaning of 落落 but all are thoughts that can be accompanied by the whole picture it conveys. Such expressions do not in fact so much give as receive meaning; which is also sometimes a function of language. 盤 (302) ‘pán’ is basically ‘a plate or dish’ and is one of the names for the early ritual vessels which play such a great part in the building of vocabulary. This one was round and shallow. The pottery form of such a dish would be made normally by the coiling method. The character is also used of trays and boards, such as 棋盤 (92K …) ‘qípán’, ‘a chessboard’, or as a verb ‘to coil, to wind’, as in 盤曲 (… 179) ‘pánqū’ used of ‘coiling’ like a snake or ‘meandering’ of a river; and it is further used in expressions for having a strong grip and for being ‘firm, stable’. The lower part of the character is meaning associator for dishes as in 盈 (194), to fill, and 盃 (210), a cup, while the top has 舟 (111), ‘a boat’, and 殳, the hand with a pole or baton which occurs in 醫 (121A), ‘to heal’; the whole top part as word associator probably having represented a flat, dishlike boat for punting—for association of boats and dishes compare ‘sauceboat’, ‘vessel’, in English. 盤古 (… 139A) ‘pángǔ’ is the name, P’an Ku, of a mythological creator of the Universe, first described in a book of the Three Kingdoms period, third century of our era, and so probably a quite late importation into Chinese mythology from abroad. He is depicted as a woodland creature in a coat of leaves or bearskin and with two short horns, like Pan. The three words ‘pan’ in English, the vessel, ‘pan-’ in ‘Pan-African’, and the god are unrelated to each other (or certainly the first two are) and it seems unlikely too that P’an Ku’s name has anything to do with Pan; but the three kinds of English ‘pan’, and the somewhat similar sounding ‘punt’, seem to have built an association of meanings resembling those of this Chinese word. 據 (303) ‘jù’ is ‘to rely on’, hence as a preposition ‘according to’; but its more basic meaning is ‘to take possession of, occupy’ (particularly in war, of hostages and territory) or ‘to squat’, both in the ‘occupying’ sense and as a particular manner of sitting. It is also written, especially in these last sense 踞 (65 + 139): 盤踞 ‘pánjù’ can mean to squat with legs doubled and knees up.

the ballad of the ancient cypress


盤踞 ‘pánjù’ in the poem is, except in its writing, the same phrase; metaphor-

ically used for being firmly based, but carrying as well implications of ‘coiling’, ‘spreading’ or ‘writhing’ in the 盤 and of ‘roots’ in the 據. The bringing out of this picture is further helped by the antithesis of 孤高 in the next line. The character 據 has, with 手 (79B) hand in its short form, 虍 as in 虎 (123A) tiger, and 豕 meaning a pig as in 家 (114G). 豦 is said to have been a wild boar. It does not occur on its own, but as word associator also in 劇 (303A) ‘jù’, ‘drama, drastic’, with the addition of 刀 (92A) a sword or knife in its short form: 劇本 (… 156B) ‘jùběn’, ‘a written play, libretto’; 劇藥 (… 115H) ‘jùyào’, ‘drastic or powerful drugs’. 雖 (304) ‘suī’, ‘although, notwithstanding’, always takes its place between what is being talked of and the supposition. 高 (305) ‘gāo’ is the ordinary word for ‘high, tall’, also ‘high’ in the sense of ‘noble’: 高山 (… 81) ‘gāoshān’, ‘high mountain’, 高大 (… 110G) ‘gāodà’, ‘great, eminent’; 高等 (… 75B) ‘gāoděng’, ‘higher’ as of education, courts of law; 高見 (… 82) ‘gāojiàn’, ‘a superior, farsighted view or opinion’; in polite language, ‘your opinion’. The character in early forms shows a tall building, perhaps with 口 (62), ‘a mouth’, for authority, inside:

高 is word associator in 敲 (305A: 305+p172) ‘qiāo’, ‘to knock’, which the 推 (305B: 79B+p79) ‘tuī’, ‘to push’, makes the phrase 推敲 ‘tuīqiāo’, derived from

the story about the poet Chia Tao mentioned earlier; and it therefore means ‘to work on, polish’ compositions. Tu Fu himself is often contrasted with Li Po for being one who worked hard on his poems and who also chose the most difficult forms; though the results are certainly not ‘laboured’ and Li Po may have done the same, more secretly. Li Po once playfully wrote him a verse: ‘Finding you, Tu Fu, stuck like a grain of boiled rice to the mountainside’ (whence an expression, ‘grain of rice mountain’, meaning stickling, painstaking work) ‘under your great bamboo hat in the high midday sun: how thin you are since we parted! Is it that you’ve been having your old poetry pain?’ 烈 (306) ‘liè’ is ‘fierce, burning, ardent, noble, heroic’. 烈火 (… 77A) ‘lièhuǒ’, ‘a fierce fire’; 烈日 (… 50) ‘lièrì’, ‘the fierce heat of the sun’; 烈士 (… 250) ‘lièshì’, ‘a hero’. 歹 in this character is the word associator for death, of which more in the next poem, but the whole word associator 列 (306A) ‘liè’ probably showed the cutting of meat, thence ‘to divide, share’, and now means ‘to arrange in order, in a row’. 扶 (307: 79B+110D) ‘fú’ is ‘to support, sustain, assist’: 扶窮 (… 203) ‘fúqióng’, ‘to assist the poor’: 扶手兒 (… 79B – 110B) ‘fúshǒur’, ‘a handrail, banister’; 扶養 (… 40) ‘fúyǎng’, ‘to support and care for’. 神 (308) ‘shén’ is ‘a spirit, a god; divine, supernatural; the soul, psyche’: 神學 (… 187A) ‘shénxué’, ‘theology’; 神州 (… 77A) ‘shénzhōu’, a name for China; 神道 (… 125B) ‘shéndào’, Shintō in Japanese, the ancient religion of Japan; 神經 (… 94E) ‘shénjīng’, ‘the nerves’, as in 視神經 (103B …) ‘shìshénjīng’, ‘the optic nerve’; 神經學 (… 187A) ‘shénjīngxué’, ‘neurology’. 直 (309) ‘zhí’ is ‘straight, perpendicular, upright’ (also morally); ‘direct’: 直行 列車 (… 107A – 306A – 109G) ‘zhíxíng lièchē’, ‘a direct train’. The character 直 is also written . A similar-looking character is 真 (309A) ‘zhēn’, ‘true, real’, also written 眞, and differing only in having 八 underneath: 真 心 (… 80C) ‘zhēnxīn’ is ‘truehearted, sincere’; 真正 ‘zhēnzhèng’, ‘real, genuine’.


劇 drama (304)

雖 although


高 high



敲 推 to knock

to push


烈 fierce ardent


列 (307)

扶 to support, assist

arrange in order (308)

神 a god, spirit


直 straight, upright


真 true, real


chapter 9

The two characters are different in origin but have become assimilated to each other through association of their meanings: much as straight, related to native English stretched, and strait, related through French to Latin to stringent, have become associated in English. In 直 there is 目 (7) an eye and a cross for the target it is looking directly at, whilst underneath represents a straight line, of which the variant 𠃊 probably represented a figure seated for steady aim. 真 on the other hand , in which is explained by the has no eye in its earliest forms such as Shuo Wên Dictionary as a seated genie rising to Heaven; whilst another early version represented the kind of ancient ritual wine-beaker or warmer known as a chüeh (‘jué’):


因 cause (311)

造 to make build


做 to do, make (311B)

作 to do, make


製 (312)

厦 mansion

to tailor, manufacture, make

This stood on three legs, with two spouts and with mushroom-like protuberances on the rim for lifting it by means of tongs from the fire. (See William Willetts, Chinese Art, for all these ritual vessels.) 因 (310) ‘yīn’, ‘a reason, cause, factor; because of; therefore’—the rhythm of the context deciding in which of the last two directions to take it. Basically it means something rested on, and the character shows a man lying outstretched on a mat. 元因 in the poem means ‘to be the prime cause’. 因子 (… 110A) ‘yīnzǐ’ is a ‘factor’ in mathematics. 造 (311: 184A + p16) ‘zào’ is ‘to initiate’—the character indicating ‘to go and announce’—whence ‘to institute, make, build, fashion, create’. 造化 in the poem, literally ‘to create and to transform’, like in other words ‘-hua’ is stressed on the first syllable in the modern language with the second toneless: ‘zàohua’; and it now usually means ‘providence, good fortune’. In the poem both syllables must be given their full tones and it means God, the Creator; or the creative energies of Nature. It would be wrong to say that there is no personification in Chinese minds, but there is none in the language itself, no equivalent of ‘He’; just as the difference between monotheism and polytheism is unreflected because the absence of a grammatical plural. 造 is always a strong word, like ‘to create, to fashion, to manufacture’ in English, as against simply ‘to make, to do’ which is 做 (311A: 1 + 172) ‘zuò’, probably a related word: 做工 (… 80E) ‘zuò gōng’ or ‘zuògōng’ ‘to do work, to work’. This, like 爲 (18) and like ‘faire’ in French, can often be translated simply as ‘to be’: 做人 ‘zuò rén’, ‘to be a human being’, in the sense of acting like one, genuinely or generously. A further word for ‘to do, make’, 作 (311B) ‘zuò’, now pronounced in Northern Mandarin exactly the same as the previous word, is neither as strong as 造 nor as weak as 做; but it is naturally now much confused with the latter in writing, being to many identical in speech. It tends however to be a bit grander: 作官 ‘zuòguān’ ‘to be an official’. Yet another word for ‘to make’ is 製 (311C) ‘zhì’ originally ‘to tailor’: 製造品 (… 311 – 277B) ‘zhìzàopǐn’, ‘manufactured goods’. This character is often seen on pottery. The 衣 (103C) in it is for the basic meaning of making clothes. 厦 (312: 232A + p104C) ‘xià’ or ‘shà’ is also written 廈 (p171A), is a large building, ‘mansion’; 大厦 as in the poem is nowadays used for a large office-block. Here there is a pun with 夏 (232A) ‘summer’, pronounced the same, but also the name

the ballad of the ancient cypress


of the Hsia dynasty and an old name for China itself; sometimes called 華夏 (137A …) ‘huáxià’. 夏門 (… 84B) ‘xiàmén’, literally ‘the Gateway to the Mansion’ (China), is the port of Amoy. 傾 (313) ‘qīng’ is ‘to incline, decline, to spill; lean over; to collapse, fall flat’: 西傾 (88D …) ‘xīqīng’, ‘(the sun) declining in the west’, ‘sunset’; 傾心 (… 80C) ‘qīngxīn’, ‘to incline one’s heart or mind’; 傾盃 (… 210) ‘qīngbēi’, ‘to empty a wineglass’. 棟 (314) ‘dòng’ is ‘a ridge-pole, roof-beam’. The combination of characters for ‘rooftree’ in the poem is usually the other way round, 棟梁, which is often used metaphorically of ‘pillars of the state’, in such an expression as 棟梁之才 (… 20 – 122A) ‘dòngliáng zhī cái’, ‘ability worthy of a pillar of the state’. This 才 sounds the same, and is indeed the same word in origin, as 材 (122B) ‘timber’; so that the whole allegory of the poem also is an elaborate but effective political pun. 迴 (315) ‘huí’ is ‘to turn round, bend round’. The word associator, 回 (315A) ‘huí’, is really the same word but used mainly for ‘to return’—though there is little tangible distinction between the two. The simple form 回 is also used for a ‘turn’ of events, and so for a ‘time’ as a counting word for occasions, just as 個 (111E) ‘gè’ is used for concrete things: 一回 ‘yìhuí’, ‘once, one time’; 一回病 (… 167A) ‘yìhuí bìng’, ‘one illness, an illness’, in the sense of ‘one occasion of being ill’; 上一回 (68 …) ‘shàng yìhuí’, ‘on the former occasion’. 上, ‘top’, is often used for ‘former’ like this on the analogy of the vertical columns of Chinese writing. All three characters in this last expression are of the diagrammatic type, rather than pictorial of anything in particular: 上, a line with something ‘above’ it, in contrast with 下, a line with something ‘below’ it; 一, just one line for ‘one’; 回, also written 囘 and earlier , indicating by a spiral that something is ‘turning’. 回 ‘huí’, is also used in the transcription of the name of the Turkish Uighur people; from this, for Turkish tribes more generally; and then for the Mohammedan religion, associated with Turks and other peoples from the West. That the Mohammedans also turn with their prayer mats, which the character looks rather like, towards Mecca; that the form of the character is curling, like their writing, and ‘arabesque’, like their art; and that as a word for ‘to return’ it is associated with 歸 (154) which also means ‘submission’, the meaning in Arabic of ‘Islam’—all these ‘accidents’ contribute to the suitability of the choice. Often the Chinese script helps to assimilate and even transmute things imported, by finding its own associations for them. There are now thought to be some ten million Moslems in China, of varying degrees of fidelity but all avoiding the favourite Chinese food of pork, as indicated by 清真 (93B – 309A) ‘qīngzhēn’ on restaurant signs to be found in every city throughout the country. This too is a reminder that the history of China is that of a cosmopolitan empire. The T’ang Dynasty in particular was an age of cosmopolitanism and tolerance, and it was probably in Tu Fu’s lifetime that Mohammedanism first came, with Arab mercenaries, to the Empire; while in the previous century the Emperor T’ai Tsung, who as 李世民 (125 – 292 – 171C) ‘lǐ shìmín’, Li Shih-min, had founded the dynasty, publicly assisted the work of a Nestorian Christian missionary from 大秦 (110G – 286E) ‘dàqín’,1 the Eastern

1 Although Ch’in was an ancient western state in the Chinese Empire, this name also suggests that Chinese meeting ‘Romans’ (probably Roman Syrians) may have thought of the ‘peach


傾 to lean (314)

棟 roof-beam



迴 回 to bend round

to turn, return



章 pattern, chapter


伐 to fell


苦 bitter


豈 how?

chapter 9

Roman Empire, by an Edict beginning: 道無常名 (125B – 149 – 162A – 140E) ‘dào wú cháng míng’, ‘the Way has no constant Name’ (a sentiment his guest would not have encountered at home). The literal meaning of this line of the poem, with 迴, is that (a team of) ten thousand oxen—another numerical exaggeration that it is improper to translate—(would just) turn (round their) heads (instead of moving) mountainous weight (behind them). Every word in the Chinese carries its image undimmed by conjunction of any kind. 章 (316) ‘zhāng’ means basically ‘an ornament, pattern’; whence a pattern to be followed, ‘a rule’, or a pattern of words, ‘a stanza, a chapter’. The Shuo Wên Dictionary explains the character as 音 (86B) for a musical note, with 十 (23) for the number ten: ten notes, but the earliest forms do not confirm this as the true origin, which is obscure. 文章 as in the poem usually means ‘literary compositions, essays’ but both characters in this phrase have also meanings of ‘patterns, ornaments, decorations’ such as would be carved in wood. The phrase thus applies equally to the physical tree, which has amazed generations even without being touched by the wood-carver’s art; and to the allegorical, political tree, which fills the world with awe but without getting the use that would lead to praise in essays and histories, or perhaps without getting its own ‘political papers’ published. These double meanings in the poem apply so perfectly to both the tree itself and to its allegorical meaning of the great and true but neglected man that they are united in a way seldom possible in any other language or script; yet giving no feeling of conscious ingenuity—the two images are again and again joined with the lightest of touches. The use of 露 ‘dew’ for ‘exposed’ is another typical touch, entirely natural and idiomatic, the ‘mot juste’. 伐 (317) ‘fá’ is ‘to cut down, fell’ a tree or to cut branches 伐柯 (… 296) ‘fákē’, ‘to cut a branch to make an axe-handle’. From this arises a saying: “You can’t cut an axe-handle without an axe, you can’t get a wife without a woman to act as a go-between”, and 伐 has therefore come to be used alone sometimes as a verb ‘to act as a go-between’. The character has 人 (1) for a man, with 戈 as in 成 (178A), 我 (185A) and 戰 (195C), for an axe. This character needs to be distinguished from 代 (300A): the two forms 弋 and 戈, now distinguished only by a stroke, represent quite different tools or weapons and would ‘convert back’ into pictures in quite different ways; but what they have in common is brought out especially by the vigorous stroke . 苦 (318: 139A + 22) ‘kǔ’ is ‘bitter’ (like old hay): 苦味 (… 286A) ‘kǔwèi’, ‘a bitter taste’. 苦心 (… 80C) can mean the bitter heart or core, rotting in the tree (心 often means ‘centre’) besides meaning ‘distress, bitterness’ in mind and heart. It also means ‘taking pains’, and implication that 苦 alone can have. 苦力 (… 5) ‘kǔlì’ was a phrase meaning ‘to take pains and make great efforts’, and was used to transcribe the Anglo-Indian word ‘coolie’ when that was introduced to China. 豈 (319) ‘qǐ’ is a rhetorical ‘how can it be? how on earth could …?’ The character, which has been borrowed for this meaning and was a picture of a kind of drum, in its original sense meant ‘drum rolls, resounding percussion’; such as rhetorically punctuates all Chinese drama.

petal floating stream’ and of the fisherman who found, through the cave, people in the ancient dress of the Ch’in Dynasty.

the ballad of the ancient cypress


免 (320) ‘miǎn’ is ‘to avoid, evade, to escape, to be free of, to decline, to refuse,

to dismiss’. The top, as in a number of other characters having it, is a variant of 人 (1) man, but is also written 刀 (92A), a sword; whilst the rest of the characfor his cheeks blown out: 免害 (… 12) ter is ㄦ, another variant of 人, with ‘miǎnhài’, ‘to escape from harm’. 免 is word associator, with 日 (50) for time, in the important character 晚 (320A) ‘wǎn’, ‘late’, which is also used for ‘late in the day, evening’: 晚報 (… 103E) ‘wǎnbào’, ‘an evening newspaper’. The character 免 is closely similar to 兔 (320B) ‘tù’, ‘a rabbit or hare’; an animal that always appears to have its cheeks puffed out. (Readers of Lewis Carrol will think of the White Rabbit late for his appointment.) This is also often written 兎. The dot is for the scut. 螻 (321) ‘lóu’ is a burrowing insect, ‘a mole-cricket’. The character has 虫 (115B) with the same word associator as 樓 (116D) ‘lóu’, a storied house. This 婁 seems to represent 女 (3) a woman holding , ‘a distaff’; and it is word associator, with 糹 (74A) for thread, in 縷 (321A) ‘lǚ’, ‘spun thread’: 縷金 (… 57) ‘lǚjīn’, ‘spun gold, gold thread’. With 攵 as in 故 (172), it makes the character 數 (321B) ‘shù’, ‘a number, to number, to count; fate’, which was anciently pronounced something like ‘sliu’: 頭髮數縷 (170 – 258 – 321B – 321A) ‘tóufà shùlǚ’, ‘several strands of hair’; 數學 (321B – 187A) ‘shùxué’, ‘mathematics’; 代數學 ‘dàishùxué’, ‘algebra’; 對數 (91A …) ‘duìshù’, ‘logarithm’. 蟻 (322: 115B+235C) ‘yǐ’ is an ‘ant’; an insect, as the character shows, with social virtues. The phrase 螻蟻 ‘lóuyǐ’, ‘mole-crickets and ants’, occurs in several places in early literature, particularly in a saying: ‘The great leviathan that swallows boats—when it lacks water, it is shared by mole-crickets and ants’. 終 (323) ‘zhōng’ means ‘the end; in the end, to the end, utterly, always’. It is a character that will be seen, The End, at the close of Japanese films. Here in the poem 經 (94E) is in its sense of ‘throughout’ and also a sign of the perfect tense: ‘When all-through the scented leaves have …’. The character 終 has 糹 (74A) for thread, the usual meaning associator in characters to do with continuity or discontinuity, with 冬 (323A) ‘dōng’, ‘winter’; the end of the year when things are brought to an end. The top, 攵, of this character in its earliest form is which Karlgren suggests represented a locust; to which 冫 for ice, as in 冰 (49) has been added. The four seasons are thus: 春 (94C) ‘chūn’, 夏 (232A) ‘xià’, 秋 (94D) ‘qiū’, and 冬 ‘dōng’. 鸞 (324) ‘luán’ is a glorious fabulous bird with all five colours in its long sweeping tail and all five notes of the pentatonic scale in its melodious voice. Above 鳥 (105) for a bird is 䜌 which shows 言 (73), from its original sense of a flute, between two 糹 which like its shorter form 幺 (also used), stood for bells as in 樂 (115F), music; though now these two elements suggest words and silken threads. With 弓 (159B) for a bow added instead of a bird there is made the character 彎 (324A) ‘wān’, ‘to curve, to arch’ like the sweep of the fabulous bird’s tail. This, with 蛾 (324B: 115B+185A) ‘é’, ‘a moth’, makes the expression 彎蛾 ‘wān’é’, for a beautiful girl’s eyebrows, also simply called 蛾眉 (… 266B) ‘éméi’, ‘moth eyebrows’; which in turn is the name of a beautiful and sacred mountain—then often written 蛾嵋山—‘éméishān’, Mount Omei. With 水, 氵 (45) for water added to 彎 there is made the character 灣 (324C) ‘wān’ for ‘a bay’: 臺灣 (94A …) ‘táiwān’ is Taiwan, Formosa.


免 to escape (320A)

晚 (320B)


兔 hare, rabbit


螻 (321A)



spun thread

to count, number


蟻 ant (323)

終 end (323A)

冬 winter


鸞 phoenix (324A)

彎 to curve



灣 a bay



chapter 9

With 心 (80C) heart there is made 戀 (324D) ‘liàn’, ‘to love’ (as between sexes), one’s heart’s inclination; of which the Phoenix, 鸞鳳 ‘luánfèng’ in the poem, is also a symbol. All these characters with ‘words and two silks’ have a large number of strokes and are slow to write if not to be abbreviated. In print, though now disapproved of, however they really have very little disadvantage, being taken in at a glance and giving variety to the page; and for looking up in dictionaries they are particularly easy: there is seldom need to count the strokes as each character will then be found at or near the end of the section for its ‘radical’! The abbreviation of the right side of 灣, derived from cursive writing, is 亦 (199): thus 臺灣, Taiwan, can be written simply 台湾. The wider sense of ‘to love’ is expressed by 愛 (324E) ‘ài’ and both together by 戀愛 ‘liàn’ài’. (This is an ‘impersonal’ verb, like all verbs in Chinese: something that happens. The apostrophe in ‘lian’ai’ is used in the romanisation to show that the division ‘lia-nai’ is not intended.) In the character 愛, both 爫 and 攵 are hands as in 友 (261A), but one on each side of 心 the heart, which is crowned with 冖, the meaning associator in characters for coverings, both of secrecy as in 冥 (193A) and of glory as in a royal crown, 冠 (324F: p324E + 104 + 278B) ‘guān’. This symbolism would seem identical with that found today in the Irish fingerring known as the ‘claddagh’ from the place in Galway where they are made:


戀 to love


愛 to love


冠 crown


鳳 (325) ‘fèng’ is a fabulous bird of similar attributes to the 鸞 in colour and song. It nests in the wu-t’ung, 梧桐 (325A – 325B) ‘wútóng’, tree (Firmiana

鳳 phoenix (325A)


梧 桐 wu

t’ung (325C)

凰 phoenix (hen)


皇 sublime, majesty

Platanifolia), eats the fruit of the bamboo and drinks from fountains of nectar. According to the Shuo Wên Dictionary, the front of its body is like a unicorn’s, its back is like a hind’s, its neck is a serpent and its tail like a fish’s, its markings are like a dragon’s but it has a carapace like a tortoise’s. It is the paramount symbol of the male principle in the universe, the Yang 陽 (89F). Nevertheless there is a hen called 凰 (325C) ‘huáng’ and the most usual way of referring to the bird is 鳳凰 ‘fènghuáng’. (This kind of compound in Chinese simply creates a class and implies nothing about single or plural membership of it.) In each of these characters the 𠘨 is shared with 風 (94B) ‘fēng’, ‘wind’; which seems also to depict a kind of reptilian phoenix having 虫 (115B) as its meaning associator. An early form of the male phoenix 鳳 was:

In the female 凰, the word associator is 皇 (325D: 104E + 78) ‘huáng’ ‘sublime, exalted’: 皇帝 (… 188A) ‘huángdì’, ‘His Majesty the Emperor’. For Tu Fu especially, the phoenix symbolises inspiration. Hawkes (op. cit.) observes: “As a matter of interest, Tu Fu’s very first childish attempt at verse was a little poem about a phoenix and in the course of his life he frequently used the phoenix as his symbol.”

the ballad of the ancient cypress


This little poem was: 七 齡

qī líng / sī jí zhuàng 34 325E 115G 325F 255 開

kāi kǒu / yǒng fèng huáng 118E 62 325G 325 325C ‘Now I am six’—‘seven’ 七 means being in one’s seventh year, the Chinese way of reckoning—‘and feel that I’m strong, I open my mouth with a phoenix song!’2 It was number one in the first of his poetry notebooks which he kept all his life and which amounted to over a thousand before he was forty. (He was fifty-four when he wrote ‘The Ballad of the Ancient Cypress’.) In this little poem, 齡 (325E) ‘líng’ means ‘age’ of a person, consisting of 令 (134A) ‘lìng’ with 齒 (325H) ‘chǐ’, ‘(front) teeth’; 即 (325F) ‘jí’ means ‘and now, accordingly, and so …’; and 詠 (325G) ‘yǒng’ means ‘to sing, to hum, to chant’: 詠詩 (… 75) ‘yǒngshī’, ‘to chant, intone poems’. The word associator in this last is 永 (325I) ‘yǒng’ ‘long in duration, eternal, everlasting’, a character to be distinguished from 氷 (49), one of the forms of ‘ice’, by the position of the dot as well as by the top line running from the left before starting the 水 ‘water’. Early forms of this character seem simply to show a man on a road, but the meaning ‘eternal’ cause its transformation to 水 (45) water by ‘inspired misinterpretation’. Water is a favourite Chinese symbol of Eternity, being the ever-changing, never-changing element; a symbolism it has in gardens and paintings. The character 永 is regarded as particularly important to calligraphers, because of what are called 永字八法 (… 110E – 27 – 114B) ‘yǒng zì bā fǎ’, ‘The Eight Rules According to the Character Yung’; for although it is written with only five separate brushstrokes, it contains eight vital movements of the brush. These were called the basis of calligraphy by the author of the Eight Rules, Wang Hsi-chih (‘wáng xīzhī’) AD321–379, the most famous of all calligraphers; of whose writing it was said that it was ‘as light as a floating cloud, as vigorous as a startled dragon’: (The Roman numbers indicate the separate strokes; the Arabic numbers, the eight different ‘dance-steps’ of the brush)

2 The original Phoenix Song was sung by the Madman of Ch’u to Confucius (Analects: XVIII, v) warning him against ambition. Little Tu Fu may have caught the phrase in grown-up talk.



age (of someone) (325H)

and now

(front) teeth



詠 to chant




啄 to peck


莫 do not! there is not


暮 evening, sunset





to desire, long for

模 model


沙 sand


漠 desert

chapter 9

Wang Hsi-chih gave each of these movements its name, for instance No. 7 he called 啄 (325J) ‘zhuó’, ‘the peck; to peck’. 莫 (326) ‘mò’ means ‘do not’ as a negative command, like 勿 (272A); or sometimes ‘there is not’, like 無 (149). The character originally meant ‘evening’, but probably a particular time and atmosphere in the evening, depicted by the sun sunk among the grasses, earlier ; which is similar to the image forming the lefthand side of 朝 (148) for a particular time and atmosphere in the dawn. People living close to nature and without clocks, like all our ancestors and many country people today, may be most precise about such ‘natural’ time: the Zulus, for example, have many ‘morning’ words, one of which means ‘the time when cattle’s horns pierce the ground-mist’. The sun sunk among grasses, or rising through grasses with beside it the image of a boat, may therefore have meant something like evening or morning stillness respectively; and the former have developed the meaning of a verb ‘to still’, and thence the negative senses it has now: ‘still (your) grieved sighing’. But in another direction the same ‘natural’ time also suggested, as features in the landscape vanished, the vastness of the sky; so that 莫大 (… 110G) ‘mòdà’ means ‘very great’. The unwary might suppose this to mean ‘not great’, even as he might suppose ‘invaluable’ in English to mean ‘worthless’, if he consulted neither etymology nor a dictionary; or if the latter alone, at least feel Chinese and English to be inexplicable as human languages! These senses of 莫 were, however, all derivatives (or so regarded) of the ‘evening’ sense which was itself always slightly differently pronounced; now as ‘mù’ in Mandarin and reading distinguished by the addition of a further 日 (50) for the sun or time, as meaning associator: 暮 (326A) ‘mù’, ‘evening, sunset; late’. Other meanings have grown out of this visualisation of a time: for instance 幕 (326B: 326 + 200B) ‘mù’, ‘a tent’, is both what the sky resembles and what one goes to. Sometimes, as in 慕 (326C: 326 + 80C) ‘mù’, ‘to desire, long for, think fondly of’, and 模 (326D: 56+ 326) ‘mú’ or ‘mó’, ‘a pattern for consideration, model’, one might well think that the association must be accepted as merely phonetic; until noticing that after all both ‘desire’ and ‘consider’ relate to the Latin ‘sidera’ for ‘stars’! The Gobi Desert is 沙漠 ‘shāmò’, in which 沙 (326E: 45 + 190) ‘shā’ means ‘sand’ and 漠 (326F: 45 + 326) ‘mò’ means ‘a (sandy) desert’. In the former, the 少 had originally nothing to do with this element but the whole character was a picture of grains of sand at the water’s edge; while in the latter, the 氵 watersign does not stand for water itself but, as in so many characters, for the notion of lack of limit or of fixed-form; here as the particular meaning associator for 莫, which was felt to be the ‘etymon’ of this ‘desert’ word: the desert time of day when features vanish. The naturalness of the association can be seen from a different world possessing deserts: Over the cold desert sand Alone at night I wander: Now is lost the northern land, Now have I home nowhere! Icelandic quatrain: Kristján Jónsson, 1842–1869

which seems to carry many of the associations crystallised in 莫 and its derivative 漠!

the ballad of the ancient cypress


嗟 (327) ‘jiē’ means ‘to sigh’, or as an exclamation, ‘alas!’ The word associator, with 口 (62) mouth, is 差 (327A) ‘chā’, ‘to differ; difference’; which, in turn, has 左 (80F) as its word associator; but the top part, which now looks like 羊 (42) sheep, is unexplained. 差不多 (… 10 – 145) ‘chàbuduō’ is now a very common

colloquial expression for ‘(it is) not much different; all right, it will do’. There is a lightness and wit at the end of the poem, after its antithetical tensions and grandeurs, that is typical of the poet.


嗟 to sigh


差 to differ

chapter 10

On Releasing a Wild Goose by 白 居 易 fàng lǚ yàn bái jū yì 260B 260D 328 104E 139 140

On Releasing a Wild Goose by Po Chü-I (AD 772–846) I (i) 九

十 年

jiǔ jiāng shí nián / dōng dà xuě 33 100 23 268A 323A 110G 101 At Kiukiang the Year Ten, / That winter’s blizzard, 江

jiāng shuǐ shēng bīng / shù zhī zhé 100 45 93I 49 329 330 180 The Yangtse waters froze / And branches splintered:

… 百 鳥

無 食


bǎi niǎo wú shí / dōng xī fēi 25 105 149 41 88C 88D 106 Birds without food had flown / Eastward and westward, 中

最 飢

zhōng yǒu lǚ yàn / shēng zuì jī 72 157 260D 328 66 331 332 But one, a vagrant goose, / Cried the hungriest!

… I (ii) 雪


xuě zhōng zhuó cǎo / bīng shàng sù 101 72 325I 22 49 68 150A In snow it pecked for grass, / On ice it rested, 翅

chì lěng téng kōng / fēi dòng chí 333 334 335 80 106 191A 336 With frozen wings aspired, / Then rose too slowly—

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 2018 | doi:10.1163/9789004369054_013


on releasing a wild goose 江

jiāng tóng chí wǎng / bǔ jiāng qù 100 120 79A 337 338 278A 69 A river boy with net / Caught it and took it, 手

入 市

shǒu xié rù shì / shēng mài zhī 79B 339 70 340 93I 341 20 Clutching it in his hands, / Alive to market!

… II (i) 我

wǒ běn běi rén / jīn qiǎn zhé 185A 156B 88B 1 215A 342 343 I was a Northern man, / Now I am banished: 人

是 客

rén niǎo suī shū / tóng shì kè 1 105 304 344 114F 17 243 Though man and bird unlike, / Alike we’re strangers;

… 見

jiàn cǐ kè niǎo / shāng kè rén 82 77B 243 105 345 243 1 Seeing this stranger bird / Wounds a man stranger, 贖

入 雲

shú rǔ fàng rǔ / fēi rù yún 346 347 260B 347 106 70 101D I’ll ransom, set you free, / Fly into clouds, bird—

… 雁

何 處

yàn yàn rǔ fēi / xiàng hé chù 328 328 347 106 348 161 123 Wild goose, wild goose, you fly / In what direction? 第 一 莫


dì yī mò fēi / xī běi qù 37 36 326 106 88D 88B 69 Now above all don’t fly / Westward and northward!


chapter 10

II (ii) 淮


討 未

huái xī yǒu zéi / tǎo wèi píng 349 88D 157 350 351 156 67 The Rebels west of Huai / Are unsubdued yet, 百 萬

久 屯

bǎi wàn jiǎ bīng / jiǔ tún jù 25 32 226B 195B 128 352 353 A million armoured men / Long concentrated,

… 官

guān jūn zéi jūn / xiāng shǒu lǎo 263C 153B 350 153B 92G 354 123B Both Crown and Rebel troops, / Grow old in stalemate— 食 盡

shí jìn bīng qióng / jiāng jí rǔ 41 355 195B 203 278A 89D 347 Food gone, our wretched men / Are sure to get you;

… 健

jiàn ér jī è / shè rǔ chī 356 110B 332 262A 289B 347 61 Our ‘sturdy lads’, who starve, / Will shoot to eat you, 抜

bá rǔ líng chì / wéi jiàn yǔ 357 347 358 333 18 359 114J Pluck feathers from your wings / And fletch their arrows! Po Chü-i had been banished from the capital, Ch’ang-an, to a minor post at Kiukiang, about five hundred miles away on the Yangtse, earlier in the year 815; which was the tenth year of the Emperor Hsien Tsung. From 808–810 he had served as a critic of government, in the post of ‘Omissioner’ described later in the chapter; and he had made dangerous enemies for himself. He had opposed the conduct of certain campaigns, like the one ‘West of Huai’ in the poem, which were mounted by the Imperial Government against the chronic disease of provincial autonomy seized by powerful individuals and their families— ‘warlordism’. His opposition was therefore not in principle, but it was based on mistrust of the Imperial generals, the vast expense to the Imperial treasury and what he believed to be realistic assessments of the military possibilities. He was to be proved wrong in this, when a good general was at last appointed, who ended the campaign quickly and dramatically. Memorials which he addressed to the Emperor on the subject during his term as an ‘Omissioner’ together with others on other subjects, survive amongst his Collected Works; and their courage and outspokenness—even though in the accepted tradition of that office—are striking.

on releasing a wild goose


Po Chü-i believed in the Confucian tradition of the political and moral function of poetry and therefore in the value of his satires like this; which he regarded as most important among his extensive works. And, as already remarked earlier, part of his poetic creed was in the strength of simple language such as could be understood by everyone. The form of the poem is a 古詩 (139A – 75) ‘gǔshī’, ‘old-style poem’, in contrast to the ‘Ballad of the Ancient Cypress’ with its regular tonal metre and structure based on the antithetical couplets. These are wholly absent, though there is informal antithesis, common to all poetry, such as ‘Seeing this bird/Wounds a man stranger’. The dramatic action of the poem nevertheless is organised into miniature Acts and Scenes by its rhyme scheme; as usual, partly obscured in modern Pekinese pronunciation though less so to a Chinese who from wide reading of poetry recognises it. In Po Chü-i’s pronunciation there were five rhymes in all, approximately: ‘-et’ for 雪 and 折; ‘-ei’ in Tense Tones for 飛, 飢, 遲 and 之; ‘-ak’ for 謫 and 客; ‘-en’ in Tense Tones for 人 and 雲; and finally ‘-ywo’ in Relaxed Tones for 處, 去, 守, 汝 and 羽. The whole rhyme scheme is thus: AABB, xBxB; CCDDEE, xExExE. This scheme divides the poem into two Acts of unequal length, as divided by the semicolon, eight lines and twelve lines respectively, but each containing two Scenes, as divided by the commas, of equal length: Act I, Scene I (rhyming couplets): Cold Landscape, Enter Wild Goose; Act I, Scene II (carry-over rhyme from last couplet, but only to alternate lines): Close-Up of Goose, its Fate; Act II, Scene I (rhyming couplets): Goose at the Market, the Poet Compares its Fate with His, Releases It; Act II, Scene II (carry-over rhyme): War Landscape, Finale. At the end of Act II, Scene I, the poet thinks belatedly of warning the goose, imagined as lost in the clouds, against flying in what in China would be the coldest direction as well as the direction of the capital, from which he himself had been banished1—then the surprise ending and the thrust of the satire: the War would bring a Fate worse than either the cold of disapproval! 雁 (328) ‘yàn’ is a ‘wild goose’ which must be an almost universal symbol of freedom: in Ireland, for example, the Catholic aristocracy who fled to the continent after the Battle of the Boyne are called ‘the Wild Geese’. The character which can also be written 鴈, incorporates 仄 which is perhaps derived from a picture of the bird in flight. As a character on its own, however, this element has a different meaning and origin: 仄 (328A) ‘zè’, ‘oblique, slanting’; which is used in contrast with 平 (67) ‘píng’, ‘Even’, for the Relaxed Tones in versification.


雁 wild goose (328A)

仄 slanting, oblique

1 It also so happens too that the northwest and power are associated by being amongst the meanings given for the first of the mysterious hexagrams, , in the Book of Changes, 易經 (140 – 94E) ‘yìjīng’.


樹 (329) ‘shù’ or 樹木 (… 56) ‘shùmù’ is the ordinary word for a growing, standing ‘tree’; 木 on its own having gradually come to mean generally the


樹 tree



枝 branch

支 branch

(331) (331A)


to take


娶 to marry (a wife) (332)

飢 hungry

chapter 10


翅 wings, fins

material ‘wood’. 枝 (330) ‘zhī’ means a ‘branch’ of a tree; the word associator 支 (330A) ‘zhī’, showing a hand holding a branch, is the original character but became used more for metaphorical than for physical, arboreal branches. The Twelve Terrestrial Branches, 十二地支 (23 – 24 – 160C …) ‘shí-èr dìzhī’ combine with the 十天干 (23 – 101H – 233A) ‘shí tiān-gān’, Ten Heavenly Stems, to make the Sexagenary Cycle for dating. In this first couplet, the time and scene are set: 大雪, like 白露 in the ‘Jade Stairs’, besides having its direct meaning of ‘heavy snow’, is one of the 二十四 氣 (24 – 23 – 30 – 43) ‘èrshísì qì’, ‘Twenty-four Weathers’ of half a lunar month each, into which the year is divided. As such it is the third fortnight of winter. Winter begins about the second week of November in our calendar with 立 冬 (113A – 323A) ‘lìdōng’ ‘Establishing Winter’ followed by 小雪 (187B – 101) ‘xiǎoxuě’, ‘Lesser Snow’; and then comes, about the second week of December, 大雪. In the poem, of course, the question “whether it should be taken as” heavy snow or the name of a time of year does not arise; any more than a picture of a room at night with a clock on the mantelpiece pointing to a time need raise the question whether it is a picture of a room or of a time. The absence of compulsory joining-words and particles in Chinese often makes it work in a similar pictorial way, so that one should not ask questions of it that would be irrelevant of a picture. It can be difficult sometimes to grasp, and impossible to translate into a Western language, this simultaneous, pictorial quality of Chinese whereby it need not always sequentially include and exclude particular intentions in the way we are used to. 最 (331) ‘zuì’ is ‘most’ as a sign of the superlative: 最新 (… 280) ‘zuìxīn’, ‘most recent, latest’. The character has 曰 (116F) to speak, with 取 (331A) ‘qǔ’, ‘to take hold of, get’, which had 又 for a hand seizing by the 耳 (84A) ear (according to some, relating once to rituals of animal sacrifice). It should perhaps be stressed again however, of such a vigorous ‘etymology’ of a character, that the character itself represents no more than a word: 取妻 (… 218A) ‘qǔqī’ for instance implies no more brutality than its English equivalent ‘to take a wife’. This also affords a further example of the way in which the script extends the vocabulary of the language by discriminating between usages, like the English case of ‘flower’ and ‘flour’ several times quoted. Because 取 on its own, ‘acronymically’ as it were, came sometimes to mean ‘to take a wife, marry’, as if one might say “Have you taken yet?”, there has been made a character 娶 (331B: 3 + 330A) ‘qǔ’ for that particular meaning. This custom helps to liberate a writer wishing to be as brief and compact as possible from the necessity of making his composition audibly immediately comprehensible; which helped in turn to develop the relative independence of Chinese writing from speech. 飢 (332: 41 + p106D) ‘jī’ means ‘famine, famished, hungry’. It can also be written 饑 (41 + p106A). 翅 (333: 330 + 114J) ‘chì’ means ‘wings’ of a bird or ‘fins’ of a fish: 魚翅湯 (148B … 89E) ‘yúchìtāng’, ‘shark’s fin soup’. One can think of wings or fins as a creature’s ‘branches’; and, while whether or not the words themselves in Chinese were related in origin is impossible to tell, the resemblance in sound was sufficient to associate them in the script in just the same way as 取 and 娶 above.

on releasing a wild goose


冷 (334: p49+134A) ‘lěng’ is ‘cold’ physically or metaphorically: 冷心 (… 80C) ‘lěngxīn’, ‘coldhearted, indifferent’; 冷笑 (… 220) ‘lěngxiào’, ‘to laugh coldly, unsympathetically’; 冷字 (… 110E) ‘lěngzì’, ‘a cold Chinese character’; that is to say, one that one comes across and doesn’t know; 冷風 (… 94B) ‘lěngfēng’, ‘a

cold wind, cold blasts’. 騰 (335: 48+p205) ‘téng’ means ‘to rear up, rise’ of a horse, and thence metaphorical meanings such as 飛騰 (106 …) ‘fēiténg’, or 騰空 as in the poem, meaning ‘to soar, aspire, climb to the heavens’. The association of ‘horse’ and ‘victory’ in the character suggests a posture for the unfortunate goose of a seventeenthcentury baroque statue of a monarch or general in frozen marble, something Po Chü-i of course had never seen; but, in a sense, reading a poem like this over eleven-and-a-half centuries old is itself an act of anachronism! One can never know how anachronistically one may be thinking in countless small ways, and so one may perhaps come closest to a poem’s ‘intention’ by ‘going out to meet it’ with whatever real experience it will receive. Chinese poems, too, expect imagination. For this reason, there are very few adjectives or adverbs, and those that there are define rather than describe: vividness is seen in vigour and brevity; leaving space for the guest imagination to make itself at home, not in smothering it with help. The poet shows no concern with telling the reader how vividly he imagines what he speaks of, still less (as the Chinese would put it) in ‘drawing legs on the snakes’. The characters do not impose imagination but give it a place to walk about in—and one must be careful about saying (as some scholars have said too much about Ezra Pound’s remarks on the script) that where the imagination walks is ‘wrong’. Traditional Chinese, that is, Confucian, criticism hardly analyses at all but rather sums up: poetically, as when Po Chü-i called Li Po’s work, which he admired but of which he did not entirely approve: 驚天動地文 (263 – 101H – 191A – 160C – 8), ‘writing that startled the heavens and shook the earth’; or often morally, that the man who wrote something must be a strong, humane and intelligent man, of the kind much needed to take responsible posts in the Imperial service. Self-expression without consideration of the self expressed was of much less interest. 遲 (336) ‘chí’ is ‘slow, tardy, late’: 遲一日 (… 36 – 50) ‘chí yírì’, ‘a day late’; 遲遲, (…) ‘chíchí’, ‘slowly, taking it easy’. With 辶 as meaning associator for progress, the word associator is 犀 (336A) ‘xī’, ‘a rhinoceros’; in which 牛 (142A) for an ox is meaning associator and the rest of the character originally showed a tufted tail. 網 (337) ‘wǎng’ means ‘a net, to net’. This character can also be written 网, which occurs in the form 罒 in many characters such as 羅 (130) ‘luó’, ‘gauze, to arrange’. Nowadays the government of the Chinese People’s Republic has chosen the simpler, self-evidently pictorial character, 网, as standard. In 網, it has become altered to ; to which 亡 (136A) ‘wáng’—earlier, ‘mwang’—has been added as word associator, with 糹 (74A) for thread as a further meaning associator: 鐵路網 or 鉄路网 (285I – 126A …) ‘tiělùwǎng’, ‘a railway network’. 捕 (338: 79B+252) ‘bǔ’ is ‘to catch’ and 捕將 in the poem is a mere extension with an auxiliary 將, ‘to take and catch (it)’; a more normal word order now would be: 將之捕 ‘jiāng zhī bǔ’. 携 (339) ‘xié’ is ‘to take, bring with one’: 携手 (… 79B) ‘xiéshǒu’—that way round—is ‘to clasp by the hand, lead by the hand’. The plump bird, 隹, occurs in many characters for ‘taking, holding’.


冷 cold (335)

騰 to rear, rise



slow, late



網 a net


捕 to catch


携 to take (with one)

248 (340)

市 market

(341) (341A)

to sell

to buy


譴 to reprimand


貴 esteemed, valuable


遺 to leave


拾 to pick up

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市 (340) ‘shì’ is a ‘fair, market’; also used semi-abstractly as a business term like ‘market’ in English, especially in the phrase 市面 (… 286) ‘shìmiàn’ or 市 面兒 (… 110B) pronounced ‘shìmiàr’, literally ‘the face of the market’ for ‘the state of the market’: 市面轉機 (… 109C – 106A) ‘shìmiàn-zhuǎnjī’, ‘the turn of the market’. The character shows 巾 (200B) ‘jīn’, ‘cloth’ under 亠, earlier , for the man with outstretched arms seen in 亦 (199). 賣 (341) ‘mài’ is ‘to sell’—“he took it with him in his hands, went into the market and sold it alive”. The character 買 (341A) ‘mǎi’ means ‘to buy’, of which ‘mài’, ‘to sell’ is evidently a causative form meaning ‘to make to buy’; just as 好 (110F),

when pronounced ‘hào’ and meaning ‘to like’, is a kind of causative of ‘hǎo’, ‘good’—a vestige of ancient formal grammar. The character has 貝 for cowrieshells, as in 財 (122C) ‘cái’, ‘wealth’, perhaps a net for collecting the goods. The character 賣 adds a ‘difference’ (as would be said in heraldry): 買賣, in modern Mandarin pronounced ‘mǎimai’ with the stress on the first syllable and the second toneless, ‘buying and selling’ is an ordinary word for ‘trade, business’: 買賣人 ‘màimairén’, ‘a businessman’; 買賣家 (… 114G) ‘màimaijiā’, ‘a tradesman, professional’ (as opposed to amateur). 譴 (342) ‘qiǎn’ is ‘to reprimand’, representing only a special use of 遣 (192) ‘qiǎn’, ‘to dismiss, send away, banish’. 譴謫 here is a Civil Service term for the banishment of officials with demotion to minor posts; in which 遣 is usually thus written with 言 (73) ‘words’ as meaning associator. Early forms of the character 遣 show two hands seizing the symbol of authority; 𠂤, already met with in 師 (121) and other characters, together with the road and a foot which together became 辶: a vivid representation of ‘the sack’! The element 𠳋 needs to be distinguished from 貴 (342A) ‘guì’, with 貝 cowrie-shell instead of the symbol 𠂤. This means ‘precious, esteemed; expensive, valuable’ and is commonly used in compound expressions as an honorific, often translatable as ‘your’: 貴鄉 (… 86A) ‘guìxiāng’, ‘your home, place of origin, where (do) you come from’; 貴姓 (… 140D) ‘guìxìng’, ‘what is your name?’ It means ‘dear’ in 貴賣 (… 341) ‘guì mài’, ‘to sell dear’; 好貴 (110F …) ‘hǎo guì’, ‘very expensive’. The honorific use is particularly common in Japanese, making Sino-Japanese compound words beginning ‘ki-’: 貴官 (… 263C) ‘kikan’, ‘you’ to an official, especially in correspondence. This 貴 is word associator in 遺 (342B) ‘yí’, ‘to leave’ in the senses both of ‘to bequeath’ and ‘to leave behind, forget, omit’. 拾 (342C) ‘shí’, the character used as an unalterable figure ‘ten’ (see earlier), is only borrowed in that capacity for its sound, but properly means ‘to pick up, tidy, set right’; and 拾遺官, ‘shíyíguān’, was the name of a post in T’ang Dynasty government (though in a much older Chinese tradition) which Arthur Waley translated as an ‘Omissioner’. The resemblance of the word in English to ‘Commissioner’, for an ‘ombudsman’, in Scandinavian languages, is not altogether inappropriate; but the Omissioner’s function was self-initiatory in theory, watching critically from the centre the conduct of various government departments, tribunals and courts of justice, and of the Emperor himself, and studying also the feelings of the people. China had theories of benevolent government but none of democracy, not even of the Greek kind. Po Chü-i believed with passion that there was an ancient tradition that ought to be revived, of having popular poetry and folk-songs collected from all over the Empire to help the government hold the people’s pulse. These posts were held by still relatively junior ‘mandarins’, who having gained high places in the public service examinations had done well in early appointments, such as acting as local administrators in regions near the capital

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where an eye could be kept on their decisions. Po Chü-i was aged thirty-eight to forty during his term of duty as Omissioner, which might have been a steppingstone to higher places; giving him intimate contact with the Emperor himself, a worthy and sincere young man who was an ardent admirer of his poems. This poem may therefore be considered to have been composed in the confidence that it would reach the sympathetic hearing of the Emperor himself and indeed to have been directed to him. Here are some short extracts from long and closely reasoned memorials by Po Chü-i during his term as an Omissioner, concerning a similar expedition; quoted from Eugene Feifel, S.V.D: Po Chü-i as a Censor2 (Mouton & Co., ’s-Gravenhage, 1961): It is my humble opinion that the affair of Ho-pei did not warrant an armed intervention. Once armed intervention was set in motion, naturally it was expected that there might be an outside chance of success … When we look at the present situation we know that there is no hope left. Why? … Although […] did engage the rebel, his victories are about balanced by his defeats. Moreover, I fear that in his reports to the throne his statements about (his achievements) are not entirely reliable … We have to reckon with hunger and thirst, with sickness and exhaustion, with uniform and armour, with heat and humidity, with bows and arrows and wounds. The soldiers have the blazing sun above them, the white sword before them … Moreover, the officers and men of the … army are a very motley lot. Being an urban people they are not used to such a life. Under such circumstances they are quick to think of saving their skins … If one army disintegrates, all the other armies are bound to crumble too … I have heard that the Uighurs and Turfans have their spies … When all the soldiers of the Empire have been called together to fight against one rebel and have not been successful … does this not give the barbarians … a clear idea of the strength of our military forces and of the extent of our resources and expenses? … And at the end of a further memorial: I have now offered three memorials, each amounting to about a thousand characters. My words have been many and my language forceful. If Your Majesty thinks that my point of view is mistaken and that my words are not dictated by loyalty, and if YM feels that I constantly annoy you, then I must be found guilty right now … YM must either hold me either guilty or end this war. I humbly beg YM to read this memorial ten or twenty times to decide whether or not I am wrong … I await YM’s verdict with deepest concern, anxiety and trepidation. With reverence, I present this memorial. Opposition to these wars was not, however, the direct or anyway the open cause of Po Chü-i’s banishment, which was a trumped-up moral charge. 謫 (343) ‘zhé’, like 譴, signals with 言 (73) words a Civil Service use—though in this case also a different pronunciation—of another word: 摘 (343A) ‘zhāi’,


謫 to demote

2 This term in English is more often used for another Chinese office, related to the conduct of the officials themselves rather than to policies.


摘 to pick off



殊 (344A)

to kill, to differ (344B)

vermilion, dye

to die


傷 to wound (346)


to redeem



向 to turn towards


淮 Huai (river)


賊 brigand

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‘to pick’, for instance, fruit off a tree; ‘to take away’; for instance rank: 摘頂 (… 291B) ‘zhāidǐng’, ‘to take away the button on a mandarin’s cap’, his badge of rank. The word associator 啇 was a simplification of 啻 (188A + 62). 殊 (344) ‘shū’ has two meanings. The original meaning of the character is ‘to kill’: 殊戰 (… 195C) ‘shūzhàn’, ‘to kill in battle’; but it is also used on the ‘rebus’ principle for another word ‘shū’ meaning ‘to differentiate, distinguish; be distinguishable, different; special, especially, extremely’. The word associator is 朱 (344A) ‘zhū’, ‘vermilion’, dye obtained by tapping a tree 木 (56). The meaning associator 歹 is an abbreviation of 死 (344B) ‘sǐ’, ‘to die’: 殊死戰 ‘shūsǐzhàn’, ‘to fight to the last extreme, to fight to the death’. The character 死, a meaning associator when in its abbreviated form 歹 in many characters to do with death, was earlier

seemingly representing a figure mourning over a grave or bier. The modern character, with its 夕 (124A), may still be found suggestive of a weeping eye. 傷 (345: 1 + p288) ‘shāng’ is ‘to wound, be wounded, injured’: 傷亡 (… 136A) ‘shāngwáng’, ‘to be a casualty; casualties’ (in war); 傷風 (… 94B) ‘shāngfēng’, ‘to catch cold’. (風, besides ‘wind’, often means ‘influence’; so that ‘influenza’ is analogous.) 贖 (346: p122C + 341) ‘shú’ is ‘to redeem’ a pledge or ‘ransom’ a hostage; or ‘to redeem one’s sins, atone’. 汝 (347: 45 + 3) ‘rǔ’ is a common river name—two tributaries of the River Huai have this name—borrowed to represent a second person singular pronoun, ‘thou’, which in Chinese as in English became obsolete in favour of what was originally a plural, 你 (204A) ‘nǐ’, ‘you’. It is interesting to find so far away, the idea of politeness expressed by addressing someone in the plural; for 汝, which the poet uses to the goose, is familiar and unsuitable to formal use; as ‘thou’ became in English, or ‘tu’ is in French, or ‘du’ in German. An explanation, apart from the polite suggestion of a retinue, may also be that the singular itself comes to be felt to be too pointed. It is interesting that in making all these words the mouth points: both with the tongue at the teeth or gums, ‘nyu’ in earlier Chinese pronunciation, ‘tu’ in Latin, ‘su’ in Greek, and so on; and with the lips in the ‘-u’. 向 (348) ‘xiàng’ means ‘to turn towards, go in the direction of; direction; facing, towards’. The character, earlier , showed a house with a window— an early meaning was ‘to face North’: 二十四向 (24 – 23 – 30 …) ‘èrshísì xiàng’ are ‘the twenty-four points of the compass’. 淮 (349: 45 + p79) ‘huái’, the name of 淮河 (… 161B) ‘huáihé’, the Huai Ho or Hwai Ho, one of the most important Chinese rivers. It was formerly a tributary of the Yellow River, which has changed its course many times in Chinese history and now has its delta north of the Shantung peninsula, whilst the Huai Ho flows into the sea through part of the Yellow River’s former exit south of it. 淮 西 ‘huáixī’, ‘West of Huai’ or Huai-hsi was in T’ang times a province, though not so now; the name of which was formed in the same way as 山東, ‘shāndōng’, Shantung, and other modern provinces. It was long a thorn in the flesh to the central government. 賊 (350) ‘zéi’ is ‘a cut-purse, thief, bandit; terrorist, rebel’. The character has two strokes for 人 a man, 貝 for cowrie as a symbol of money, and 戈 the daggeraxe weapon. The righthand side of the character is thus really the same as 伐

on releasing a wild goose


(317). Enemies in civil wars in China are commonly referred to as ‘the bandits’, much like ‘terrorists’ as a term for the other side. 討 (351: 73+278B) ‘tǎo’ has two meanings, which seem to be distinct: ‘to ask for, demand’ and, as here, ‘to punish, suppress’. 討賊 ‘tǎozéi’, is ‘to suppress a rebellion, exterminate rebels’; 討伐 (… 317) ‘tǎofá’ is ‘to reduce to submission’, 討伐軍 (… 153B) ‘tǎofájūn’, ‘a punitive force’; 討平 (… 67) ‘tǎopíng’, ‘to pacify’ (by force of arms), as in the poem which does not forget that it is a phrase of two elements. These are therefore separated by the negative 未 which is felt to qualify the second only, giving the sense that the first element has not yet succeeded in reaching this result; in the same way as one says 看不見 (82A – 10 – 82) ‘kànbu-jiàn’ as the negative of 看見 ‘kànjiàn’—‘look not see’. On the other hand, in a compound word or phrase like 知道 (116K – 125B) ‘zhīdào’, ‘to know’, literally ‘to know the way, know how’, the second element is the direct object and not a later consequence of the first, and it is therefore the whole expression that must be negated: 不知道, ‘bù zhīdào’, ‘do not know’. This does not really make ‘tǎopíng’ or ‘kànjiàn’ any less equivalent to a ‘word’ than is ‘zhīdào’—a ‘word’ like a ‘syllable’ is a useful concept only within the currency of the language it belongs to. A verb with a ‘separable prefix’ in German is hardly less a ‘word’ for that. 屯 (352) ‘tún’ is ‘to assemble’; whence, as a noun, ‘a settlement, camp, village’: 屯養工人 (… 40 – 80E – 1) ‘túnyǎng gōngrén’, ‘to collect foodstuff and support workers’ (on strike); 屯蟻 (… 322) ‘túnyǐ’, ‘assembled ants, a colony of ants’; 屯 兒 (… 110B) ‘túnr’, ‘túr’, ‘a small settlement, hamlet’; 屯兵 (… 195B) ‘túnbīng’, ‘military colonists’, soldiers billeted in villages often for long terms as part-time peasants with grants of pasture or other land. This may have been the original meaning: the character appears to have had 屮 from half of 艸, the full form of 艹, for grass, vegetation; with for a camp or settlement, to be seen in early forms, such as , of the character. 聚 (353) ‘jù’ is another word for ‘to assemble, collect, amass’; usually larger collections than 屯, though one cannot say more than that, nor define any clear-cut difference in meaning (as distinct from usage) of the two words. 屯 聚 ‘túnjù’ is a compound expression of the two; of the very common type in which two words of similar meaning are united to confirm each other, as it were, like ‘collecting and forgathering’. 聚蚊成雷 (… 353A – 178A – 101F) ‘jù wén chéng léi’ means ‘massed midges make thunder’; as a political proverb, referring equally—in the manner typical of Chinese—to the thunderous noise of the midges and to the kind of still, hot weather in which they teem before a thunderstorm. 蚊 (353A: 115B+8) ‘wén’ is a ‘midge, mosquito’. The character 聚 has 乑 (众) for several 人 men, with 取 (331A) ‘qǔ’, ‘to take, gather’, as word associator. This can be written with 乑 underneath, rather like the 豕 pig in 家 (114G) but with the top stroke from right to left and with one less stroke on the left. 守 (354: p114G+278B) ‘shǒu’ is ‘to defend, keep, preserve’: 守舊黨 (… 261 – 285J) ‘shǒujiùdǎng’ is the ‘Conservative Party’. The literal translation here is that the Government Army and the Rebel Army grow old in mutual defence. 盡 (355) ‘jìn’ means ‘to use up, exhaust’; also often an adverb ‘exhaustively, absolutely, utterly’, in which sense it may be pronounced ‘jǐn’ and written 儘 (355A: 1+355). The character shows , a hand with a brush—which, it should be noted, is written with one less stroke than in characters such as 筆 (116G) ‘bǐ’, ‘a writing brush’—together with 灬, fire, and 皿 a vessel. This now suggests


討 to demand; to punish


屯 to assemble, camp


聚 to assemble


蚊 midge (354)

守 to defend (355) (355A)

to use up; wholly

儘 utterly



健 robust


建 to build


拔 to pull (358)

翎 plume (359)

箭 arrow

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cleaning ash from a brazier; but early forms such as show the four dots to have originally been part of the brush, washing up a pot. 健 (356) ‘jiàn’ means ‘robust, sturdy, strong, healthy’: 健筆 (356 – 116G) ‘jiànbǐ’, ‘vigorous brushwork’. The expression in the poem, 健兒, though translated ‘sturdy lads’, had already in fact lost such analytic meaning by becoming a phrase like ‘fine fellows’ and from that a word for athletes or warriors; something like the Modern Greek ‘pallikária’ and even a bit like French ‘poilu’ (hairychested). In English, the nearest would perhaps be ‘the boys’ or ‘the lads’. The character has 人 for man with 建 (356A) ‘jiàn’, ‘to establish, to build’: 建立 (… 113A) ‘jiànlì’, ‘to found, establish’. The 廴 was earlier , which is explained by the Shuo Wên Dictionary as an elongation of , now 彳; in order to indicate long strides. This is combined with 聿, the hand with a writing or drawing instrument. Perhaps engineers and surveyors in ancient China tended to be fast walkers on the job. The two characters 建 and 健 were not pronounced exactly the same in Po Chü-i’s day and may not even be historically related words, but had been sufficiently close in sound even much earlier to be associated in the script. Two other ‘jiàn’ words in the poem, 見 (82) ‘to see’ and 箭 (359) ‘an arrow’ at the end, had also then distinct pronunciations. It is only recently in fact, in some dialects of Mandarin including the Pekinese transcribed in this book, that the last, 箭, has fallen together with the others. In this line, the 飢 and 餓 are synonymous like ‘starved and famished’. The word order of the last three characters in the line make them mean ‘… would shoot you to eat’. In Chinese, the impulsion is from the word order alone and the concept of ‘the infinitive mood’ as in English ‘to eat’ is absent. (All verbs are infinitive.) But although the Chinese language has no knowledge of this particular apparatus, the independently operating apparatus of word order often works exactly as in English. 拔 (357) ‘bá’ means ‘to pull, pluck out; eradicate’: 拔草 (… 22) ‘bácǎo’, ‘to pull up grass, to weed’; 拔根 (… 298) ‘bágēn’, ‘to uproot, eradicate’; 拔釘 (… 287B) ‘bádìng’, ‘to pull tacks or nails out’. The character has 扌 (79B) hand; with 犮 which has already been seen as part of 髮 (258) ‘fà’, ‘hair’, where its derivation according to the old dictionaries is given. 翎 (358: 134A + 114J) ‘líng’ is a ‘plume’; a long feather suggestive of glory and authority, which is the meaning of 令 (134A) the word associator. 翎翅 in the poem is a phrase, as one might say ‘plume feathers’, for the right kind of feathers for winging arrows. 箭 (359: 75C + 163A) ‘jiàn’ is an ‘arrow’, probably originally a section of bamboo suitable for cutting, 剪 (163) ‘jiǎn’, and making into the shaft: 箭翎子 (… 110A) ‘jiànlíngz’ is the feathers on an arrow; 火箭 (77A …) ‘huǒjiàn’ is a ‘rocket’. The verb ‘to fletch’ in English, variant of ‘fledge’, is now seen most in the surname Fletcher. Po Chü-i’s friend Yüan Chên wrote the following 絕句 (74 – 74B) ‘juéjù’ on hearing the news of his exile. Yüan Chên was also a great, though more romantic poet and the author of a short story which, centuries later, became the basis of one of the most famous of all Chinese plays, The Western Chamber. At the time of Po’s banishment, Yüan himself was already in exile. He had exceeded his powers in a local administrative post—he was seven years Po Chü-i’s junior— by sacking a mayor and he had been recalled to the capital for an investigation of the matter and probably a mild dressing down. On the way he took the


on releasing a wild goose

best room at an inn from which he refused to budge on the chance arrival of the party of an important palace eunuch. Their servants brawled and the fiery Yüan himself struck the incensed eunuch, for which he was immediately disgraced and demoted to a minor post. His career however recovered later; as also did that of Po Chü-i, who ultimately became President of the Board of War. Though in many ways different in character, they shared passionate views on both poetry and politics; and their friendship is possibly the most famous in Chinese history. One of Yüan Chên’s interesting political proposals was the abolition of the literary examinations for the Government Service; which was not accepted but two examinations were recommended, one literary and one of memory. The first, which should stress original composition, would be taken as evidence of literary ability, no more; the second, of fitness for minor government posts. Promotion to higher posts would result from success on the job.

∵ 聞

九 江

馬 by 元

wén bái lè tiān qiǎn zhé jiǔ jiāng sī mǎ 84 104E 115F 101H 342 343 33 100 114H 45

yuán zhěn 104 360

On Hearing of the Banishment of Po Lo-Tien to be Sub-Prefect of Kiukiang by Yüan Chên (AD779–831) 殘

無 焰

cán dēng wú yàn / yǐng chuáng chuáng 361 254 149 362 363 364 364 A low lamp showed no flame / But looming shadow, 此

九 江

cǐ xī wén jūn / zhé jiǔ jiāng 77B 124A 84 153 343 33 100 Tonight came news of you / At Kiukiang, banished; 垂

chuí sǐ bìng zhōng / jīng zuò qǐ 263 366 109A 365 344B 167A 72 Though ill and near to death / I sat up startled: 暗

入 寒

àn fēng chuī yǔ / rù hán chuāng 86C 94B 281A 101A 70 117 164 A dark wind blew in rain / Through the cold window. Po Chü-i is called in the title Po Lo-t’ien by his ‘style’ and given his new, reduced rank of 司馬 ‘sīmǎ’. This word ‘marshal’ which had in Chou times been the title of the Minister for War stood by now for a minor regional post of ‘deputy sheriff’ or ‘sub-prefect’. 稹 (360: p94D+309A) ‘zhěn’ is an uncommon character with meanings like ‘dense, thickly growing’ and is Yüan’s personal name. 殘 (361: p344B+p106B) ‘cán’ means ‘to spoil, use up; to be spoilt, used up; to decline, wane; a remnant, left-over’: 殘賊之人 (… 350 – 20 – 1) ‘cánzéi-zhīrén’, ‘a despoiler and a thief’, evil person; 殘杯 (… 210) ‘cánbēi’, ‘a drop left in

(361) (360)

稹 luxuriant

殘 to spoil, spoilt remains



乾 dry


焰 flame (363)

影 shadow


幢 a streamer, carriagecurtain

chapter 10

the bottom of a wine-cup’. ‘Bottoms up’, in order to avoid this in toasts, is 乾杯 (361A …) ‘gānbēi’, in Japanese ‘kampai’; a well-known phrase in which 乾 (361A) ‘gān’ means ‘dry’. 殘飯 (… 60) ‘cánfàn’ is ‘left-overs of rice, or food’; 殘日 (… 50) ‘cánrì’, ‘the declining day, declining days’; 殘花 (… 137) ‘cánhuā’, ‘fading flowers, fading beauty’; 殘月 (… 52) ‘cányuè’, ‘the waning moon’. 殘燈, as in the poem, ‘an expiring lamp’ may be used metaphorically of dying: 殘燈復明 (… 91 – 51) ‘cándēng-fùmíng’, ‘the last flicker of life in the dying’. 焰 (362) ‘yàn’, also written 燄, means ‘flame, glow, blaze’: 火焰 (77A …) ‘huǒyàn’, ‘a blaze, flames of fire’, also used metaphorically of anger; 焰火 (… 77A) ‘yànhuǒ’, ‘fireworks, Chinese crackers’, 放焰火 (260B …) ‘fàng yànhuǒ’, ‘to let off fireworks’. The word associator 臽 was a man 人 (1), of which is a variant, falling into 臼 a pit: one may think of the ‘burning fiery furnace’. 影 (363: 88 + p230) ‘yǐng’ is ‘a shadow, an image, a reflection’: 電影兒 (101G … 110B) ‘diànyǐngr’, ‘cinema films, movies’; 影響 (… 86) ‘yǐngxiǎng’, literally ‘shadows and echoes’, usually means ‘influence; to influence, affect’: 有影響世界之 力 (157 … 292 – 292A – 20 – 5) ‘yǒu yǐngxiǎng shìjiè zhī lì’, ‘able to influence the whole world’. A similar-sounding and doubtless related word, but of opposite meaning, 映 (363A: 50 + p188B) ‘yìng’, ‘dazzling, glaring’ is used by the Japanese, who pronounce it ‘ei’3 in their word 映画 (… 285E) ‘eiga’ for ‘motion pictures, the cinema’. Such an association of opposites is common in all languages: for instance, English ‘black’ is related to French ‘blanc’ meaning ‘white’ in the same sort of way; the original association being ‘shining, glistening’ as in ‘blond, bleach’— so that ‘shining black’ is as common an expression as ‘shining white’. The same ‘blanc/black’ word for ‘shining’ has thus become specialised in opposing directions. This is the kind of thing that is happening all the time in human language; which is a matter of shadows and reflections, each dependent on numerous factors—sources of light, as it were—for their interpretation. To speak of shadows as if they were substance is to use about language an often indispensable fiction; but it must be remembered sometimes that it is a fiction. 幢 (364: 200B + 120) ‘chuáng’—in some of its senses also pronounced ‘chuàng’ and ‘tóng’—means on its own a long ‘pennant’ or ‘streamer’ or the (waving) ‘curtains’ of a grand carriage. Reduplicated as here, it is an expression similar in kind to 玲瓏, 落落, and 冥冥, described earlier. It suggests not only ‘waving’ like long plumes, but something ‘vague’ (a related word, of course, to ‘wave’) like an indistinctly ‘looming’ mountain. In another poem Yüan Chên uses it in that meaning: 華山高幢幢 (137A – 81 – 305 …) ‘huáshān gāo chuángchuáng’, ‘Hua Shan looming high …’ ‘Looming’ chosen in the translation, derives like ‘wave’ from the sea. In its earliest occurrences it is used of the rising and sinking in the waves of a ship according to its state of ballast; whence, from the rising part of the movement, it came to acquire its usual present meanings. In the Chinese the sight of the character and the sound, not unlike ‘looming’ in its bigness, both may suggest the other kind of ‘wave’, as done by curtains—something that seems present throughout the poem—but also a large, slow movement as of shadows on a

3 The Japanese had no ‘-ng’ sound (or no distinction between it and ‘-n’) and therefore used a gliding-off vowel for it ‘ying’ they heard as ‘yeng’ and made ‘yey’ or ‘yei’, later ‘ei’. ‘Yong’ they made ‘yow’ or ‘you’, later ‘yō’. The Chinese language they assimilated was, of course, a much older one than that of this book’s romanisation.

on releasing a wild goose


ceiling from a lamp almost out. Perhaps in English, from coincidence in sound, there is in ‘looming’ also a suggestion of ‘weaving’ cloth and of the particular weaving of the Fates. 垂 (365) ‘chuí’ means basically ‘to hang down’—and so is also a reminder of the curtains—but also means ‘to hand down’ from the past to posterity. It too has a fateful sense, as in the expression 垂死 (… 344B) ‘chuísǐ’ meaning ‘fey’ in its old meaning, ‘fated to die’. 垂老 (… 123B) ‘chuílǎo’ means ‘to be approaching old age’. 垂柳 (… 102) ‘chuíliǔ’ is a ‘weeping willow’. In its other, ‘handing down’ sense, 垂法 (… 114B) ‘chuífǎ’ is ‘a method handed down from the past’. It is also used for ‘vertical’ in 垂面 (… 286) ‘chuímiàn’, ‘the vertical plane’. The character originally showed 華 (137A) ‘huá’, ‘a flower’, drooping its head—now the slanting stroke on the top—towards 土 (78D) ‘tǔ’, ‘the ground’. 垂 occurs as an element, for reasons not clear, in 郵 (365A) ‘yóu’, ‘a posting station’, place for government couriers to change horses; with 阝 on the right for an enclosure, as in 都 (173B) ‘dū’, ‘a capital city’. But possibly the posting station was symbolised as a place where men and horses drooped with fatigue. This character is used now in terms for ‘mail’ and ‘postage’: 郵電 (… 101G) ‘yóudiàn’, ‘Posts and Telegraphs’. The construction of this line is that 中 has its sense, when suffixed to a verb or word for a state or condition, of ‘during’; and 垂死 qualifies 病: ‘in my sickness approaching death’. 坐 (366) ‘zuò’ is ‘to sit’: 坐起 (… 109A) ‘zuòqǐ’, ‘to sit up’. The character shows two 人, men, sitting on the 土 ground. 坐思 (… 115G) ‘zuòsī’ is ‘to sit in meditation’ and 坐夏 (… 232A) ‘zuòxià’ is ‘to go into summer retreat’, of Buddhists; 坐化 (… 9) ‘zuòhuà’, ‘to die’, of Buddhist priests and monks. 坐討 (… 351) ‘zuòtǎo’ is ‘to sit in someone’s house until they pay a debt’—from such uses 坐 often means ‘non-actively, passively’: 坐失 (… 117B) ‘zuòshī’, ‘to let slip, lose’, for example an opportunity. With the addition of 广 for ‘shelter’, the character 座 (366A) ‘zuò’, no different in pronunciation, means ‘a seat’; which is also used as the counting word for large constructions such as buildings, bridges, towns and mountains: 一座城 (36 … 178) ‘yízuò chéng’, ‘one city’; 兩座山 (111D … 81) ‘liǎngzuò shān’, ‘two mountains, both mountains’. This form of the character always has the sense of a concrete noun, while 坐 is used as a verb or in the abstract sense of ‘seat’ meaning ‘sitting’, as in 上坐 (68 …) ‘shàngzuò’, ‘the seat of honour’; that is, ‘the sitting (place) of honour’, not the actual chair. Metaphorical uses of the ‘chair’ itself are mostly expressed by 席 (366B) ‘xí’, ‘a mat’. Chairs were a comparatively late introduction from the West, about the fifth century of our era (and have even now not been wholly adopted in Japan): 主席 (235A …) ‘zhǔxí’, ‘chairman’, literally ‘the chief mat’; 毛主席 ‘máo zhǔxí’, Chairman Mao; in which 毛 (366C) ‘máo’, ‘hair, wool’, is a surname. Po Chü-i wrote to Yüan Chên saying how profoundly, almost unbearably in the circumstances, this little poem moved him.


垂 to hang down


郵 posts, mail


坐 to sit


座 seat, chair


席 seat, mat


毛 hair, wool, Mao

chapter 11

Ware, Ware, Snares For Hares Ware, Ware, Snares for Hares (From the 詩經 (75 – 94E) ‘shījīng’, Book of Odes, Book of Songs or Poetry Classic, Shih King, ca. eleventh—sixth century BC) 肅

sù sù / tù jū 367 367 320B 368 Ware, ware, snares for hares, 椓

zhuó zhī / dīng dīng 369 20 370 370 Peg ’em down, tack, tack: 赳 赳

jiū jiū / wǔ fū 371 371 372 110D Fair, fair, the Warriors— 公

gōng hóu / gān chéng 114A 373 233A 178 My Lord’s / Bucklers and Bastions!

… 肅

sù sù / tù jū 367 367 320B 368 Ware, ware, snares for hares, 施

shī yú / zhōng kuí 374 375 72 376 Spread ’em in the tracks: 赳 赳

jiū jiū / wǔ fū 371 371 372 110D Fair, fair, the Warriors— 公

gōng hóu / hǎo chóu 114A 373 110F 377 My Lord’s / Dearest Companions!

… © koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 2018 | doi:10.1163/9789004369054_014

ware, ware, snares for hares 肅


sù sù / tù jū 367 367 320B 368 Ware, ware, snares for hares, 施

shī yú / zhōng lín 374 375 72 90 Spread ’em in the woods: 赳 赳

jiū jiū / wǔ fū 371 371 372 110D Fair, fair, the Warriors— 公

gōng hóu / fù xīn 114A 373 378 80C My Lord’s / Soul and Opinions! This song is from the ancient anthology, traditionally believed to have been made by Confucius himself, of three hundred and five ‘songs’ or ‘odes’ out of a store of ten times as many existing in his day. The remainder he is said to have considered unworthy of preservation, because of indecency or for other lack of merit. Whether he made it or not, he attached great importance to the anthology and advised his son: 不學詩無以言 (10 – 187A – 75 – 149 – 11 – 73) ‘bù xué shī, wú yǐ yán’, ‘unless you study the Odes, you will have no means of expressing yourself’ (Analects: XVI, xiii, 2). Many of the poems, like that already given earlier, are simple folk-songs. Both that and this poem are from the first section of the anthology, which has the title 國風 (78B – 94B) ‘guófēng’; where 風, ‘winds’, has the meaning of ‘fashions, customs’. Others are country odes, hunting songs, wedding songs and songs of war, many of them great, though mostly relatively short, poems worthy of the Homeric Age in contemporary Greece. The advice Confucius gave to his son has been followed by literate Chinese, and others who share their script, for twenty-five centuries; so that a quotation from this anthology would be instantly recognised by the well-educated. Tags from the anthology, like Greek and Latin tags until recently in the West, were part of the fabric of the civilisation; as implied by 經 (94E) ‘jīng’, even if that is not its exact origin. As with other works of great antiquity and vast prestige, there is a difference between the original meaning of some of its contents and the meaning acquired as a result of frequent quotation or of the work of pious commentators. The present poem is said to celebrate the good government of the Dukedom of Chou in the twelfth or eleventh century BC, just before it seized the government of the Empire from the Shang and became the long-lasting Chou Dynasty. This good government was exemplified by the fact that two famous men of humble origin, mere trappers of hares, were able to rise to positions of the greatest power. If the poem was contemporary with these events, it would certainly be among the oldest in the anthology; which itself represents the oldest Chinese literature apart from inscriptions.



肅 care, respect


罝 snare


切 to cut

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Like Hamlet, all these poems have become ‘a mass of quotations’, and phrases from this poem now reflect this legend in contexts of courage, loyalty and nobility. But such a success story as that of the two humble trappers who became generals and royal favourites is not universally cherished in any society, especially an ancient feudal one; and it seems therefore possible that this song originally, with its whispering of the trappers at the beginning and the triumphal ending of each verse, growing ever closer to the sovereign, may not have been so pious in intent. Even if that is so, one cannot say that a satirical meaning is exclusively ‘the real one’; neither can one say that a love-song, and not an elaborate allegory of good government built upon it by the commentators and accepted for many centuries, is exclusively the ‘real meaning’ of some other poem in the anthology. The metre is the standard one of this early date, of lines of four syllables divided into two pairs, the metre of the ‘four-character phrases’. The rhyme scheme here is ABAB, ACAC, ADAD; in which A case is a two-syllable rhyme except for the tone and the lines containing it are refrains. The ‘sù sù’ and ‘jiū jiū’ at the beginnings of these refrains did not originally rhyme but there were assonances between all these words. Although the sounds of the language have changed so greatly since the time of the poem’s composition, its music is still effective; and the same is generally true of all these very ancient poems, even when they are spoken in a language of twenty-five to thirty centuries later, which their authors certainly would not recognise as their own.1 肅 (367) ‘sù’, anciently pronounced something like ‘syoke’ (in Cantonese it still has the final consonant, ‘suk’), usually means ‘circumspect, careful, respectful, awe’. As a verb it means to act in such a way. Reduplicated as here it is also used onomatopoeically for various sounds, like that made by the flight of heavy birds or by the wind in trees. The character is traditionally though improbably explained as 𦘒 for 筆 (116G) ‘bǐ’, ‘a writing brush’, with 𣶒 meaning ‘a chasm’: writing, or otherwise working as Chinese bureaucrat, very carefully as if on the edge of a chasm! The meaning in the poem gives perhaps a combination of these ideas: caution and the sound of the nets whistling through the air as they are spread. 罝 (368) ‘jū’, also pronounced ‘jiē’ but the former reading preferred for the rhyme, was a snare-net for catching animals. The character has 网 (337), for a net; simplified to 罒 as meaning associator. The word associator is 且 (213) ‘qiě’. 罝 and 且 both once ended with an ‘ee-aw’ sound, which later became ‘ya’ and then the present ‘yeh’. 罝 was a near but imperfect rhyme with 兔 which was at the time pronounced something like French ‘tuyau’. The reader may well wonder how, without the benefit of an alphabet, such ancient pronunciations are known, or indeed how pronunciation is indicated at all in a Chinese dictionary. The method is known as 反切 (59 – 368A) ‘fǎnqiè’, in which 切 (368A: 34 + 92A) ‘qiè’ is ‘to cut’; i.e. cutting off opposite ends. The opposite ends of a Chinese syllable are the initial consonant and the rest. The initial consonant of 罝 (368) ‘jū’ was the same as that of 子 (110A) ‘zǐ’, namely a ‘dz-’ sound, while the rest of the word was the same as the rest, after the initial,

1 It may be noticed that all the lines in this poem end in Tense Tones; though the ‘four tones’ were not in fact consciously ‘discovered’ by the Chinese until more than a millennium later.

ware, ware, snares for hares


of 余 (217) ‘yú’. Tone is disregarded in this exercise and 子余反切, usually just 子 余反 or 子余切, thus indicates the sound of 罝 in dictionaries. Such a pronunciation, ‘dzü’, could still be used by many Mandarin speakers but most, especially in the North, soften the initial. The ‘spelling’ done in this way is however equally valid for both pronunciations: those who habitually soften the ‘dz-’ sound in such circumstances to ‘j-’ will of course do so. In English, anyone would know how to pronounce ‘knight’ in his own dialect if it were thus spelt: ‘kn(ow)’+‘(l)ight’ and he knew how to pronounce ‘know’ and ‘light’; and he would be able to tell, if he knew the ancient pronunciations of these two words, also the ancient pronunciation of ‘knight’. Most Chinese dictionaries therefore show by this method spellings that represent a relatively old stage of the language, and so have a wider validity for the various modern dialects descended from it. In the romanisation of the Pekinese dialect romanised here, for example, 居 (139) and 罝 (368) are exactly the same, ‘jū’; but to many Chinese the former has a hard ‘g-’ (more precisely an unaspirated ‘k-’) as its initial and the rest of the words do not match either, as they did not in ancient times; so that the 反切 spellings for the two are entirely different. These then work equally well for Cantonese in which the two words are something like ‘göi’ and ‘dzü’ respectively. The term ‘rest of the word’ is used above rather than ‘rhyme’ because the two are not the same: in this system of spelling English, for example, ‘swain’ might be spelt ‘s-oon’+‘t-wain’ but be allowed also to rhyme with ‘pl-ain’. The rhyme is therefore given separately in dictionaries; and this is where the tone, which is part of it to the Chinese, is also given. Certain characters are chosen to represent the rhyme-classes and the appropriate character for the class is put in a square; often with a circle in one of the corners, of which the bottom left marks an Even Tone, the top left a Rising Tone, the top right a Departing Tone, and the bottom right an Entering Tone (obsolete in Northern Mandarin). The rhyme for 罝 (368) ‘jū’ is that of 魚 (148B) ‘yú’, ‘fish’ so tone and rhyme are represented in dictionaries thus:

In dictionaries the distinction between First and Second Tones, marked above as ¯ and ´, that is ‘High Even’ and ‘Low Even’, is unfortunately often not indicated. This is because in the older language, and still in some modern dialects, the distinction needed no marking; being determined by the quality, whether ‘unvoiced’ like ‘s’ or ‘voiced’ like ‘z’, of a word’s initial consonant. In English one is inclined to pronounce ‘said’ in a higher tone than ‘zed’. In Chinese, the distinction was lost in the pronunciation of such consonants (what are written ‘z’, ‘b’, ‘d’, ‘g’ in the romanisation are unaspirated but not really voiced); yet the difference in tone still remained after the distinction had gone, causing the division now existing between the First and Second, Even or Tense, Tones. (There can be no doubt that the distinction of Rising and Departing Tones had similar ‘speech-mechanical’ origins, but those were much more ancient and are now unknown.) The traditional Chinese dictionaries without an alphabet thus provide, as it were, algebraic equations for pronunciations; but to get values for these equations in terms of actual speech sounds gets progressively more difficult as one goes back in time, with less and less knowledge from which to start along the



椓 to knock, to peg


丁 a nail; a tee


打 to hit, activate (371)

赳 valiant(?), elegant(?)


武 warlike, military

chapter 11

chains the ‘spellings’ provide. The language of such a poem as this antedates by many centuries even the first of such aids, which began to be made about the second century BC. The greatest progress in the reconstruction of this ancient language has been made in the present century, aided by painstaking study of the work of past Chinese scholars but also by wider knowledge of phonetics than was available to them. In this a most outstanding part has been played by the great Swedish Sinologue, Bernhard Karlgren, using in addition to the earliest Chinese dictionaries and commentaries, the evidence of the rhymes of these earliest poems; the choice of word associators in characters; early loanwords from Chinese to neighbouring languages; words in languages known to share a common origin with Chinese; and modern methods of critical analysis which have been developed for other sciences. The modernity of the methods of the ancient Chinese scholars, though they had so much less to draw upon, is nevertheless sometimes striking: for instance in the way that they could conclude from some contemporary A and B that there must once have been a C, no longer existing, to explain them both. (Possibly grammar has everywhere been the mother of the sciences?) 椓 (369) ‘zhuó’ is ‘to knock, tap, rap, peg’. It is a merely graphic variant of 啄 (325I) which occurred in the Goose poem, line 9, in the sense of ‘to peck’. The righthand side of both is a variant of the pig met with in 家 (114G) ‘jiā’, ‘a house’; the extra stroke, some say, indicating that it is tied to a stake. The derivation of the word ‘pig’ in English is not known and it seems just a possibility that it too might be related to our word ‘peg’, from that or perhaps from the shape of a pig’s feet. ‘Peck’, a by-form of ‘pick’, is unrelated to ‘peg’, but among all these words in English, also ‘beak’ and perhaps ‘peek’, some association is likely to be felt; aided by the symbolism in the articulation, beginning with a labial plosive and ending with a ‘-k’ or ‘-g’. (The early Chinese articulation of 椓 was not greatly different, beginning with a pouting ‘tw-’ and ending in ‘-k’ like ‘tweak’.) One might therefore imagine all these English words as written with the same word associator if English were written like Chinese! 丁 (370) ‘dīng’, here the sound of the pegging, is a picture of a peg or nail and has already been met as part of the character 釘 (287B) ‘dīng’. It is used in a number of expressions, like the letter ‘T’ in English, to describe a shape: 丁字 街 (… 110E – 107D) ‘dīngzìjiē’, ‘a T-junction’; 丁字尺 (… 110E – 301) ‘dīngzìchǐ’, ‘a T-square’; 丁香 (… 140A) ‘dīngxiāng’, ‘cloves’. In Japanese, it is used in the expression 丁目 (… 7) pronounced ‘chōme’ for a ‘block’ in a city, to be seen in Japanese postal addresses. 丁 occurs with 扌 (79B), for a hand, in the important character 打 (370A) ‘dǎ’, ‘to hit, knock’, whence ‘to activate, to start, to cause; to do’: 打死 (… 344B) ‘dǎsǐ’, ‘to do to death; kill’; 打電話 (… 101G–166) ‘dǎdiànhuà’, ‘to telephone’—compare French ‘faire un coup de téléphone’. 打字機 (… 110E – 106A) ‘dǎzìjī’ is ‘a typewriter’. 赳 (371) ‘jiū’ is said by various ancient authorities to mean ‘elegant’ or, by some, ‘valiant’; but, as it occurs nowhere else but in this ancient poem or in phrases that hark back to it, neither of these meanings can be confirmed. The meaning associator 走 (109E) suggests that it may have possibly some implication of ‘swaggering’. 武 (372) ‘wǔ’ is ‘warlike, military’. The character has 止 (196A) for a foot, indicating marching; together with which in origin was not 弋 as in 代 (300A) but a variant of the weapon, 戈. 武王 (… 78) ‘wǔwáng’, Wu Wang, ‘the Warlike

ware, ware, snares for hares


King’, was the posthumous name of the first Emperor of the Chou Dynasty, in the eleventh century BC, who was the son of 文王 (8 – 78) ‘wénwáng’, the same duke who is believed to be ‘My Lord’ of this poem. It was of Wu Wang’s music, which evidently survived for half a millennium to his own day, that Confucius said: 盡美矣未盡善也 (355 – 116L – 89H – 156 – 89B – 160B) ‘jìn měi yǐ, wèi jìn shàn yě’, ‘it is absolutely beautiful but it not absolutely good’; a possibly merely diplomatic expression of his taste which has caused much speculation among commentators. He did, however, regard good music as important to good government. In later dynasties, there were several great emperors given the titles 武帝, ‘wǔdì’, and 文帝 ‘wéndì’, which might be approximately translated ‘The Conqueror’ and ‘The Wise’. 武 and 文 often have the respective meanings of ‘military’ and ‘civil’. 武力 (… 5) ‘wǔlì’ is ‘armed force’; 武力外交 (… 151B – 207A) ‘wǔlì wàijiāo’, ‘power diplomacy’—the various senses of our word ‘power’ are rendered more precisely, but still concisely, by such compound expressions in Chinese; 武士 (… 250) ‘wǔshi’, strongly stressed on the first syllable, is now ‘a (brave) warrior, a hero’; 武士道 (… 125B), in Sino-Japanese ‘bushidō’, is the code of a Japanese knight or ‘samurai’. 侯 (373) ‘hóu’ was a title of nobility in feudal times. The five ancient feudal orders, all believed as in other countries to be descended from the gods, are translated ‘duke, marquis, earl, viscount and baron’ and were 公 (114A), 侯 (373), 伯 (104F), 子 (110A) and 男 (2); the last perhaps similar in origin to the German ‘Freiherr’, while 子 may be compared with ‘childe’ in ‘Childe Harold’. 公 侯 stands for the class of the highest nobility by joining the names of its two orders together, and can then stand also for a member of the class; a common phenomenon with Chinese compound expressions, as already remarked: compare 鳳凰 (325 – 325C) for ‘phoenix’. On the right of 人 (1) in the character is 矢 (118C), an arrow, and what in early form was an open-sided building or shelter: the archery butts, where at some distant time it was probably the duty of members of what became this order or nobility to attend. A variant of the character with an extra stroke, 候 (373A) ‘hòu’, means ‘to attend, wait; a period of waiting; a while, a time, a season’: 時候 (146 …) ‘shíhòu’, ‘a period, season’: 氣候 (43 …) ‘qìhòu’, ‘weather, climate’; 等候 (75B …) ‘děnghòu’, ‘to wait, await, expect’. 干城 ‘gānchéng’, in the poem means ‘a shield and a wall’. It survives in the modern language as an expression like ‘a tower of strength’. 施 (374: p260D+160B) ‘shī’ is basically ‘to spread something out’, hence the ‘flag’ in it; thence ‘to apply; to bring about; to do, act’. It can serve now as an auxiliary verb without much real meaning but for drawing attention; just as one might say ‘to bring about the fulfilment of’, meaning simply ‘to fulfil’. 于 (375) ‘yú’, is a proposition meaning ‘to, in’. Such helping words are not a compulsory part of Chinese grammar of any age to the extent they have always been of our own; and because of its overriding concern with being concise and concrete, they are not often found in poetry like that illustrated in the book up to now. These early songs, like later popular songs, were not founded on the same conscious aesthetic, however, and sometimes put in words where they were natural even if not grammatically necessary. Not surprisingly, with the centuries’ constant rounding of the pebbles of Chinese speech, some words have become the same in sound that were already rather similar in meaning. This has also, for instance, happened to the Old English prefixes, ‘un-’ meaning ‘not’ which became confused with ‘and-’, mean-


侯 marquis


候 to wait; a while


施 to spread, bring about


于 in, to



於 in, to, by, with (etc.)


烏 crow, raven


逵 tracks(?) (376A)

軌 tracks


仇 rival; partner (378)

腹 belly

chapter 11

ing ‘opposite’, related to Greek and Latin ‘anti-’. The latter has fallen together with ‘un-’ in such words as ‘unwind’, meaning ‘to do the opposite of winding’. Similarly, in Chinese this preposition, 于, has fallen together with another preposition or ‘gesture word’, 於 (375A) ‘yú’; so that in texts after a certain date the two may be interchangeable. 于, which is distinguished from 干 (233A) by the small curl up to the left at the bottom, was originally another verb for ‘to go’, hence ‘to go to, into’ and thence used as we should use a preposition, ‘to, into, in’. 於 on the other hand seems originally to have stood for that inarticulate, hesitant ‘er …’ or ‘uh …’ or ‘ah …’ which punctuates all spoken languages and the character in its earliest forms had nothing to do with either 方 (260A) ‘region’ nor 旅 (260D) expedition, but was a picture of a crow making such a sound:

This picture developed separately into 烏 (375B) ‘wū’, ‘corvidae: crow, rook, raven’; often used, like ‘raven’ for ‘black’: 烏龍 (… 135A) ‘wūlóng’, ‘black dragon; Oolong’ (name of a famous tea; this modern form of the character is like 鳥 for ‘bird’ but without the stroke for the eye; invisible because of the bird’s blackness). The inarticulate sound serving as spoken punctuation, represented now by 於, became incorporated in the grammar of the language as a kind of allpurpose preposition (a useful word to have, which would be invaluable to lawyers of all nations) meaning ‘to, in, on, at, from, by, with’ but not specifying any of these meanings to the exclusion of the others. An example of its legal use was once to be seen on the Hong Kong ferries; translated underneath: ‘Passengers are requested not to spit in, on, from, or at any of the Company’s ferries’. One common function of 於 is to form an equivalent to our passive constructions: 雁賣於童 (328 – 341 … 120) ‘yàn mài yú tóng’, ‘the wild goose was sold by the boy’. 逵 (376) ‘kuí’—usually given in dictionaries as ‘kuí’ but ‘qiú’ is an alternative reading that here rhymes better—is said to mean a meeting of nine paths; an improbable meaning but likely to have arisen from ‘folk etymology’ because of an ancient resemblance in sound to that of the word 九 (33) ‘jiǔ’, ‘nine’. The character, which is now obsolete, probably meant no more than ‘tracks’ and is clearly related in meaning to the modern 軌 (376A: 109G + 33) ‘guǐ’, ‘ruts, tracks, rails’: 雙軌 (111C …) ‘shuāngguǐ’, ‘twin-track’ (of railways and tape-recorders). 罝 (368), 赳 (371) and 逵 (376) in this poem are all archaic words and obsolete, but this seems a small proportion in a poem of such great antiquity. (All the words would of course look archaic, and indeed be incomprehensible to modern Chinese, if spelt with an alphabet.) In this line 中逵 means properly ‘(in) mid track’, and similarly below 中林 means ‘(in) mid wood’. 仇 (377: 1 + 33) ‘chóu’ is not itself an archaic word, but it is here used in a rather archaic sense. Now it almost always means ‘an enemy, opponent, rival’, but originally it had a neutral sense of ‘one of a pair of people’, and could be ‘a partner, companion’ as here. 腹 (378: 118C + p91) ‘fù’ means ‘the belly, abdomen’: 腹水病 (… 45 – 167A) ‘fùshuǐbìng’, ‘abdominal dropsy’, and so on in medical terms. 腹大如鼔 (… 110G – 89C – 281B) ‘fù dà rú gǔ’, ‘belly as big as a drum’ is a four-character phrase for contentment, as in often seen representations of various gods of riches and happiness. 腹 is also used for the seat of the mind, especially the innermost


ware, ware, snares for hares

thoughts. The phrase 腹心, as in the poem, is now used of true and loyal friends, friends in heart and mind, and it was used in that sense, quoting this poem, by Mencius (Book IV, Part 2, chapter iii, from paragraph 1): 君

之 視

jūn zhī shì chén rú shǒu zú 153 20 103B 378A 89C 79B 65 則

zé chén shì jūn rú fù xīn 378B 378A 103B 153 89C 378 80C 君

之 視

jūn zhī shì chén rú quán mǎ 153 20 103B 378A 89C 115D 48 則

zé chén shì jūn rú guó rén 378B 378A 103B 153 89C 78B 1 ‘(When) the Prince looks on his Ministers as his hands and his feet, then the Ministers look on the Prince as their heart and mind; (but when) the Prince looks on his Ministers as his dogs and horses, then the Ministers look on the Prince as (just) an ordinary man (man of the country).’ In this 臣 (378A) ‘chén’ is ‘a servant; subject, minister’. 大臣 (110G …) ‘dàchén’ is a ‘Minister, Principal Secretary of State’ in a monarchy; in Sino-Japanese, ‘daijin’: 外務大臣 (151B – 141A …), ‘gaimudaijin’ in Japanese, is the ‘(Imperial) Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs’. The character in its earliest forms differed only in its angle from those which became 目 (7) ‘eye’. 目 was , whereas 臣 was ; showing it bowing respectfully. The ‘popping’ in the latter form then became exaggerated, perhaps partly by accident of draughtsmanship but also indicating awe on the part of the Minister as well as his attention to detail; and then, by further ‘inspired misinterpretation’, the whole came to be seen as if a paunchy figure kneeling and bowing. 則 (378B: p122C+92A) ‘zé’ means ‘accordingly, thus, thereupon, then’. It originally had a more concrete meaning of an ‘edict’, thence ‘to follow an edict’ and so simply ‘accordingly’. The cowrie-shell in the character comes, as it does in a number of characters, from a simplification of an early picture of a bronze ritual vessel, on which edicts were carved; while 刂 (92A) for knife indicates the carving. In the way that 之 (20), as a sign of the possessive, joins 君 (153) with 視 (103B) in this quotation, there may be seen a firmly linked construction similar to ‘his doing it was wrong’ in English: ‘When the Prince’s looking on his Ministers is like …’ Mencius’s language is on the whole clearer and more considerate to the reader than that of the Confucian Analects; and it became therefore one of the chief models of classical prose. The difficulties of the book are nevertheless sometimes formidable, not so much for its language as for its dependence on ancient topical references. The difficulties of the text introduced in the next chapter, now generally thought to be roughly contemporary with Mencius, are of another and more interesting kind.


臣 minister


則 thus, then

chapter 12

The Way: Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu and Lieh Tzu It would be far beyond the scope (and the ability of the author) of this book, which is concerned with the Chinese language and its script, to attempt an introduction to ancient Chinese philosophy and religion. Nevertheless a language engenders certain ways of thinking and is in turn engendered by them. The Book of Lao Tzu or the Tao Tê Ching, Book of the Way and its Virtue, is in both language and thought the most Chinese of all books and, in relation to its brief length, must be one of the most influential books ever written. And, except insofar as its arguments may reply to various Chinese schools of philosophy contemporary with its writing, it is wholly free from historical or topical references (for instance, unlike any other Chinese philosophical book, it does not contain a single proper name); which helps to give it a remarkable universal and timeless quality. Though by no means enough to illustrate its thought and its beauty, there are given in this chapter the first two short chapters of it in full; with further quotations both from it and from the dissimilar but complementary other great Taoist works of Chuang Tzu and Lieh Tzu. 老子 (123B – 110A) ‘lǎozǐ’, Lao Tzu himself, the man of the clan of Li, 李 (125) ‘lǐ’, is a shadowy figure traditionally supposed to have been born in 604 BC, half a century Confucius’s senior; but whatever his date he survives in history rather as a spiritual tradition than as an historical person like Confucius. The difficulty, and the lasting interest, of the book named after him (made by a man of genius, whether author or editor) lies in its exploitation of all the resources of the Chinese language for paradox and ambiguity, in order to stimulate thought rather than to express it. An additional and separate difficulty is that some parts of the text seem to be corrupt; while the whole has probably at sometime been rearranged, and here and there expanded, in order to make eighty-one chapters; that is (32)2, in order to please later mystical numerologists. Attempts have been made to restore the original text from such rearrangement and interpolations and so also to make it more coherent, but the game is a dangerous one. It is too easy unconsciously to impose one’s own ideas by this means on a book of which the self-declared method is not to be explicit; as it is, too, by attempting to translate it into any other language. This is doubtless a reason why it is, next to the Bible, said to be the most translated book in the world! But another reason is what the book still has to give; so that Dr Needham, in Science and Civilisation in China considers that it ‘may be regarded as without exception the most profound and beautiful work in the Chinese language’. For full translations, in which the reader will see considerable difference in interpretation (the reasons for which will soon become clear), Lin Yutang’s The Wisdom of Laotse is the most traditional, to the extent of even insisting on the sixth century origin of the book, whilst it also adds interest by attaching many passages from the Chuang Tzu; Arthur Waley’s The Way and its Power includes a history of the text and background information on contending schools of thought, relating the work very much to an age and place; D.C. Lau’s Penguin Classic Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching is perhaps the most straightforward and readily

© koninklijke brill nv, leiden, 2018 | doi:10.1163/9789004369054_015

the way: lao tzu, chuang tzu and lieh tzu


available translation, also possessing very valuable notes; and J.J.L. Duyvendak’s translation into French, Le Livre de la Voie et de la Vertu (Libraire D’ Amerique et d’Orient, 1953) results from deep study, giving the complete Chinese text both in its traditional form and as emended and rearranged by this scholar; but in places perhaps too much for safety. There are other honest and respectful interpretations in various languages, though many more that are, alas, merely enthusiastic; but the only language in which the work can really be perceived is the original. In the title of the book, which is a later addition and not original, 道德經 (125B – 379 – 94E) ‘dào dé jīng’, the Tao Tê Ching, or Tao Tê King, 德 (379) ‘dé’ is a word pronounced the same as 得 (19) ‘to get, to attain’, but meaning ‘virtue’ especially in its old Latin sense (related to ‘vir’, ‘a man’): ‘power attained’ or ‘power inherent’ in man or magical object. The two characters 德 and 得 are in fact another instance of a ‘flower/flour’ distinction; standing for what in origin was the same word. In 得 the part on the right was originally 見 (82) ‘to see’, with a hand underneath it: ‘to see and get’. To this, 彳 for 行 (107A) ‘to go’ was later added; 見 was later transformed into 貝 for a cowrie-shell, wealth; and then into its present abbreviated form; while the hand became 寸 (278B) a thumb. In 德 the part on the right was originally 直 (309) ‘straight, true’ (‘shooting straight’), with 心 (80C) ‘heart’ underneath; to which 彳 was also later added. Like 英 (188B) ‘yīng’, ‘heroic’, for ‘Eng(land)’ and 美 (116L) ‘měi’, ‘beautiful’, for ‘(A)me(rica)’, 德 ‘dé’ is used to transcribe ‘De(utschland)’, Germany: 德國 (… 78B) ‘déguó’. As for whether to translate the title ‘The Virtue of the Way’ or ‘The Way and Virtue (by it)’, there is only a grammatical difference absent in the Chinese; and for ‘understanding’ no cause to choose a link where none exists. But the distinction between the mere mechanics of language and real meaning is not always simple; and there is no better book than the Tao Tê Ching for studying its nature. This is no accident but a main part of the author’s intention. 老

lǎo zǐ dào dé jīng 123B 110A 125B 379 94E From Lao Tzu, The Way and its Virtue 一 章

yī zhāng 36 316 Chapter One 道

非 常

dào kě dào fēi cháng dào 125B 161A 125B 138 162A 125B 名

非 常

míng kě míng fēi cháng míng 140E 161A 140E 138 162A 140E


德 power, virtue


chapter 12

無 名

之 始

wú míng tiān dì zhī shǐ 149 140E 101H 160C 20 380 有

之 母

yǒu míng wàn wù zhī mǔ 157 140E 32 272C 20 6 故 常

無 欲 以 觀

gù cháng wú yù yǐ guān qí miào 172 162A 149 211 11 381 89G 382 常

欲 以 觀

cháng yǒu yù yǐ guān qí jiǎo 162A 157 211 11 381 89G 383 此

而 異

cǐ liǎng zhě tóng chū ér yì míng 77B 111D 258E 114F 207 221 384 140E 同

之 玄

tóng wèi zhī xuán 114F 258G 20 385 玄

之 又

xuán zhī yòu xuán 385 20 111G 385 衆

之 門

zhòng miào zhī mén 386 382 20 84B No ‘running translation’ will be given of this text, which the reader is invited to work through in the original; aided by the comments and partial translations given below. The text above has sixty characters, of which only seven are new to the reader. The average for all the texts in the present ‘philosophical’ chapter of The Other Greek, the reader may be encouraged to learn, is only one new character in fourteen. There are no new ones in the first two lines which have already been quoted; but despite their apparent simplicity there is, bearing in mind that 道 (125B) ‘dào’ can also be a verb ‘to tell’ and 名 (140E) ‘míng’ a verb ‘to name’, already considerable difference among scholars as to their proper interpretation. That most usually accepted is like Dr Lau’s: ‘The way that can be told is not the constant way; the name that can be named is not the constant name’. But Waley aims to be more precise by taking 常道 (162A – 125B) ‘cháng dào’ as a particular ‘unvarying way of government’, as in the thinking of what he believes to be the contemporary Realist School of political philosophy; by which every act should have its set punishment and reward. He thus believes that the book begins by saying that although there does exist an unvarying way it is not this of the Realist School, for ‘it cannot be grasped by the sense nor described in words’.

the way: lao tzu, chuang tzu and lieh tzu


Duyvendak, on the other hand, takes it quite differently: that the true Way itself, not merely what can be said of it, is not constant. He reaches this conclusion by translating 可 (161A) ‘kě’ in a different sense. This he can do because it is not necessarily in Chinese a mere ‘auxiliary’ verb like ‘can’ in English, so that it would have to be followed by another verb; but it means basically ‘to be capable of, to be fit for, to suit’; and therefore can precede a noun. For instance, 可身 (… 203A) ‘kěshēn’ means ‘to suit or fit well’ of clothes, in which 身 the body, is a noun; and 可口可樂 (… 62 … 115F) ‘kě kǒu kě lè’ is the modern advertisers’ punning transcription of ‘Coca Cola’, ‘fit for the mouth, fit for delight’ (‘taste it and rejoice’); in which 口 mouth, is equally a noun. He therefore translates it as ‘vraiment’: ‘La Voie vraiment Voie est autre qu’une voie constante: les Noms vraiment Noms sont autre que des noms constants’; and he comments: ‘De tous les paradoxes du Tao-tö-king celui-ci est le premier et le plus grand.’ What is hard at first to grasp is that often in this book a choice, on the basis that one interpretation must be right and the others wrong, cannot be made. In the third line 始 (380: 3+94A) ‘shǐ’ means ‘to begin; a beginning; (to be the) first’: 始終如一 (… 323 – 89C – 36) ‘shǐ zhōng rú yī’, ‘consistent from beginning to end’. 秦始皇帝 (286E … 325C – 188A) ‘qín shǐ huáng dì’, Ch’in Shih Huang Ti, ‘Of Ch’in, The First August Divine-Sovereign’, was the title assumed in 221 BC, the twenty-sixth of his reign, by the first Emperor of the Ch’in Dynasty and first political, not just religious, Emperor of China; and it is the name by which he is usually called, similarly to our use of ‘Augustus’ for Julius Caesar Octavianus. Curiously both these Imperial founders may have conceivably have contributed to the expression ‘The Great White Tsar’, used of the former Russian Emperors when addressing subject peoples. ‘Tsar’ certainly comes from ‘Caesar’ and possibly the rest via the Mongols who had a ‘Great White Khan’, probably from the apparent components of the Chinese 皇 (325D: 104E + 78), namely ‘white’ and ‘king’. (Earlier, in fact, this character had been: , evidently representing the morning sun rising above 土 (78D) the Earth Altar. The more obvious explanation for the Tsarist Russian expression, namely that it was ‘white’ in a racial sense, is not probable.) The composition of the character 始 (380) suggests that it was a woman, on a platform or chair, in childbirth. These third and fourth lines are translated by Lau: ‘The nameless was the beginning of heaven and earth; the named was the mother of the myriad creatures.’ The fifth and sixth lines then rhyme, and are each of seven characters except for the 故 (172) which heads them. This character, as was pointed out by Waley, seems always in the book to head a quotation. It therefore has a meaning like ‘verily as it was said’; probably, according to oral tradition, by Lao Tzu himself. 觀 (381) ‘guān’ in each of these lines means ‘to behold, look upon, observe’. The meaning associator is 見 (82) ‘jiàn’, ‘to see’, while the word associator, 雚 was earlier a picture of a heron, a watcher; of which the crest and eyes above 隹, as in 維 (79), can be seen still in the modern character. 主觀 (235A …) ‘zhǔguān’ and 客觀 (243 …) ‘kèguān’, ‘host view’ and ‘guest view’, are now used respectively for ‘subjective’ and ‘objective’; 主觀主義 (… 235A – 235C) ‘zhǔguānzhǔyì’, ‘subjectivism’. 觀音 (… 86B) ‘guānyīn’, Kuanyin, in Sino-Japanese Kannon or Kwannon, ‘the Watcher for the Cries’ (of suffering in the world) is the Chinese name for the


始 begin(ning)


觀 to look (upon)



妙 mysterious; wonderful


眇 to squint (383)

徼 lineaments, to seek

chapter 12

Buddhist saint Avalokiteśvara. He refused Paradise until every soul in the Universe had been saved. In later ages in the Far East he came to be worshipped, under Taoist influence, as a female; and is therefore also called in the West ‘The Goddess of Mercy’. 妙 (382) ‘miào’ means ‘subtle, mysterious’ or ‘wonderful’, both in its original sense, ‘causing wonderment’, and in the extended senses of ‘beautiful, admirable’. Waley has translated it here as ‘Secret Essences’. The character now has 女 (3) ‘woman’ with 少 (190) ‘small’ or ‘young’; but the latter in this case has been abbreviated from 眇 (382A: 7 + 190) ‘miǎo’ meaning ‘to screw up the eyes’, as when discerning something very small or distant. Though written with an unrelated character, the 杳 (225) ‘miǎo’ in Li Po’s poem earlier is evidently a related word. 徼 (383) ‘jiǎo’ means ‘lineaments, a boundary’. It can also be a verb meaning ‘to seek’, especially from the gods. Many translate it here as ‘manifestations’, Waley as ‘Outcomes’, Duyvendak as ‘les bornes’. The character combines 彳 (p107A) for a way or line, with 放 (260B), to release, and 白 (104E) for brightness. In this third pair of lines there is again a question of punctuation: most translators join 無欲 (149 – 211) and make it mean ‘without desire’, ‘without passion’, a meaning these two characters often have when so joined; as Waley: ‘Truly, “Only he that rids himself forever of desire can see the Secret Essences; he that has never rid himself of desire can see only the Outcomes” ’. But Duyvendak and some Chinese and Japanese commentators make a pause after 以 (11) and another after 無 (149): ‘Always ‘wú’ is wanted in order to observe the Lineaments.’ In both of these translations ‘the’ renders 其 (89G) ‘qí’. However, although 其 can often be so translated, it always requires, much more than ‘the’ does in English, an answer to the question: ‘the … of what?’ Lau alone, whose translation is otherwise similar to Waley’s, answers that question, by rendering ‘qí’ as ‘its’ and in a footnote making it refer to the Tao. An alternative seems to be that the text itself contains the antecedent of ‘qí’, as one would normally expect it to in Chinese. The only word possible for this would then be 常 (162A) ‘cháng’: ‘Of the Constant (or the Absolute or the Eternal) one must be without desire to see the (its) …’; or else ‘For the Constant, ‘wú’ is wanted in order to see the (its) Essence; for the Constant, ‘yǒu’ is wanted in order to see the (its) Lineaments.’ The latter interpretation would make 常 (162A) ‘cháng’, 無 (149) ‘wú’ and 有 (157) ‘yǒu’ in both these lines refer back to three terms already used above, instead of introducing a new subject of ‘desire’. Support may be found for such a view, as at least one of the intended meanings, in the Book of Chuang Tzu (of which more below); which says in Chapter 33 of Lao Tzu and another Sage, whom some consider the actual author of the Book of Lao Tzu: 建之於常無有 (356A – 20 – 375 – 149 – 157) ‘jiàn zhī yú cháng wú yǒu’; that is that they built their philosophy on these three characters; which seems as if it may be a sort of ‘acronymic’ reference to this first chapter. And there may be a further paraphrase, later in the same passage, in the words 以本爲精 (11 – 156B – 18 – 93E) ‘yǐ běn wéi jīng’, ‘out of Origin is made the Essence’ (using different words for ‘origin’ and ‘essence’). In his Short History of Chinese Philosophy Dr Fung Yu-lan points out that as the Taoists use them, 無 and 有 on their own are often technical terms, and simply abbreviations (or as we have called it in this book ‘acronyms’) for 無名 (149 – 140E) ‘wúmíng’ and ‘yǒumíng’: ‘without names’ and ‘having names’.

the way: lao tzu, chuang tzu and lieh tzu


The Taoists’ approach to language is a destructive one, destructive of logic and of categorisation; particularly of the attitude exemplified in the passage about the ‘rectification of names’, which had great influence on the Confucians but was deplored by the Taoists. Their attack on language was part of a more general one on all materialistic and mechanistic assumptions. The Book of Lao Tzu’s own use of paradox and ambiguity was not hopeful and comfortable (the work cannot be more falsified than by being made so) but designed to be uncomfortable. One never does find in this book a certainty of meaning; and perhaps one only fails to understand the book when ceasing anxiously to search: its light is intended to make no system, but to come and go. In the seventh line 異 (384) ‘yì’ means ‘to be strange, different’. The great number of words similarly pronounced in the modern language have made it obsolete except in such compound expressions as 差異 (327A …) ‘chāyì’, ‘difference’. ‘To differ’ as a verb is now generally expressed negatively by 不同 (10 – 114F) ‘bùtóng’ or 不對 (10 – 91A) ‘búduì’, ‘not to be the same’ and ‘not to correspond’. The character 異 was earlier a strange demon:

The punctuation of this (seventh) line is given by 者 (258E) and 而 (221): ‘But these two things issue from the same and differ only in name.’ In the eighth line 玄 (385) ‘xuán’ means ‘dark, abstruse, profound’. The character 幺 a fraction of a thread, 絲 (74A), symbolising hidden things as in 幽 (209); under 亠 outstretched arms for a cover, symbolising darkness, as in 夜 (127). In the tenth line 衆 (386) ‘zhòng’ means ‘a multitude; most (things or people); everyone or everything in general’: 與衆不同 (169A … 10 – 114F) ‘yǔ zhòng bútòng’, ‘to differ from the general run’; 衆人 (… 1) ‘zhòngrén’, ‘people in general, everybody’. The bottom part of the character is the same as the bottom part of 聚 (353) ‘jù’, ‘to assemble’. The top part was originally , the same as 目 (7) ‘mú’, ‘an eye’, overlooking the multitude; and the character is therefore historically more correctly written in the form 眾, also used, without the tick above it. The form 衆 is however more usual; and in this, the element now written 血 was originally a picture of a sacred chalice:

As a character on its own this 血 (386A) ‘xuè’ now means ‘blood’ (which in English is related to ‘bless’): 血肉 (… 118C) ‘xuèròu’, ‘flesh and blood’; 熱血 (265 …) ‘rèxuè’, ‘hot-blooded, passionate, enthusiastic’; 血石 (… 219A) ‘xuèshí’, ‘haematite’, 出血 (207 …) ‘chūxuè’, ‘haemorrhage’. The remaining lines of the chapter thus mean: ‘This sameness is called the Mystery; the Mystery that is ever beyond the Mystery; the Gateway of the Manifold Essences.’ The phrase ‘the Mystery that is ever beyond the Mystery’ may relate to the concern at the time when the book is believed to have been written (especially amongst the Logicians) with various paradoxes of mathematical infinity; such as of the thing infinitely halved of which something always remains. The Taoists and the Logicians, though widely separated in many of their views, seemed to others of their time to be making common cause against common sense.


異 strange, to differ


玄 dark, profound


衆 multitude


血 blood


chapter 12

二 章

èr zhāng 24 316 Chapter Two of the Tao Tê Ching 天

下 皆

之 爲

tiān xià jiē zhī měi zhī wéi měi 101H 71 116I 116K 116L 20 18 116L 斯

sī è yǐ 387 388 237 皆

之 爲

jiē zhī shàn zhī wéi shàn 116I 116K 89B 20 18 89B 斯

不 善

sī bú shàn yǐ 387 10 89B 237 故 有

無 相

gù yǒu wú xiāng shēng 172 157 149 92H 93I 難

nán yì xiāng chéng 123D 140 92H 178A 長

cháng duǎn xiāng jiào 159A 389 92H 390 高

下 相

gāo xià xiāng qīng 305 71 92H 313 音

yīn shēng xiāng hé 86B 66 92H 101J 前

qián hòu xiāng suí 163A 202 92H 391 是 以 聖

無 爲

之 事

shì yǐ shèng rén chǔ wú wéi zhī shì 17 11 392 1 123 149 18 20 244

the way: lao tzu, chuang tzu and lieh tzu 行

不 言


之 教

xíng bù yán zhī jiào 107A 10 73 20 393 萬

而 不 辭

wàn wù zuò yān ér bù cí 32 272C 311B 267 221 10 13 生

而 不 有

shēng ér bù yǒu 221 10 157 93I 爲

而 不 恃

wéi ér bù shì 18 221 10 394 功

gōng chéng fú jū 395 178A 396 139 夫

居 是 以 不 去

fú wéi fú jū shì yǐ bú qù 110D 396A 396 139 17 11 10 69 The beginning of this second chapter has already been partly quoted earlier. 斯 (387: 89G+180A) ‘sī’ may be translated ‘this, thus, then, thereupon’ according to context. The character originally meant ‘to cleave asunder’ but was borrowed on the ‘rebus’ principle for its sound. 惡 (388) ‘è’ means ‘bad, evil, ugly’. The contrast with 美 (116L) ‘měi’, ‘beautiful’ gives it in the context the last meaning; for contrast with 善 (89B) ‘shàn’, ‘good’, the author therefore has to use 不善. 惡名 (… 140E) ‘èmíng’ is ‘ill-repute, infamy’; 惡報 (… 103E) ‘èbào’, ‘retribution’; 惡化 (… 9) ‘èhuà’, ‘to deteriorate’, 惡作劇 (… 311B – 303A) ‘èzuòjù’, ‘mischief, prank, practical joke’. Pronounced ‘wù’ it is an active verb meaning ‘to hate’; 惡 惡 ‘wù è’, ‘to hate evil’. In early Chinese, this last phrase would have been pronounced something like ‘âg âk’, two words that were mere grammatical variants of each other. They could then be written with the same character, letting their reading depend on context. The two readings now illustrate the extent to which very similar ancient syllables have become differentiated with time. With 心 (80C) for the spirit, the word associator is 亞 (388A) ‘yà’ which was in the early language also pronounced something like ‘ag’ but with a shorter vowel, and meant ‘second; secondary, inferior’. This character is unchanged from the earliest script, but what it represented is not known. It is now chiefly used to transcribe the letter ‘a’ in foreign names: 亞力山大 (… 5 – 81 – 110G) ‘yàlìshāndà’, Alexander; 亞洲 (… 177A) ‘yàzhōu’, Asia. 天下 (101H – 7) ‘tiānxià’, ‘under heaven’, at the beginning of these lines means ‘in the world’; that is, of course, the world known to the ancient Chinese and so in later times commonly used as an expression for the Chinese Empire. (Many of our own books on ‘World History’, ‘World Art’ and so on still contain little or nothing beyond the confines of the former Roman Empire.)


斯 thus, then (388)

惡 bad, ugly; to hate


亞 used for ‘a’ in transcription; Asia



短 short (390)

較 to compare


隨 to follow; according to


隋 Sui (Dynasty)


莊 Chuang (surname)


齊 equal, regular, uniform, matching

chapter 12

The 已 at the end of the second and fourth lines acts as a gesture word like ‘at all’: ‘In the world it is from all that people know about what it is in the “beautiful” that makes it to be beautiful, that there is ugliness at all; it is from all they know about what it is in the “good” that makes it to be good, that there is evil at all.’ Then follows in the fifth line 故 (172) again introducing a quotation in rhyming verse; this time in four-character lines at the end of which 生, ‘shēng’ 成 ‘chéng’ and 傾 ‘qīng’ all once rhymed perfectly; and also once 和 ‘hé’ with 隨 ‘suí’. In the seventh line 短 (389: 117C + 170A) ‘duǎn’ means ‘short’: 短少 (… 190) ‘duǎnshǎo’ is ‘to fall short, to be insufficient’; 短袜 (… 131) ‘duǎnwà’, ‘socks’; 短波 (… 246C) ‘duǎnbō’, ‘short-wave’. The long and the short of an arrow 矢 (117C) are the shaft and the head (compare 頭 170). In the same (seventh) line 較 (390: 109G + 207A) ‘jiào’ means ‘to compare, to test’: 比較 (116M …) ‘bǐjiào’ is ‘to compare’; 相較 (92G …) ‘xiāngjiào’, as in the text, is a common verb now for ‘to contrast, to collate, to balance one thing with another, to identify one thing by the aid of another, draw parallels’, and so on: 比 較語言學 (116M … 85 – 73 – 187A) ‘bǐjiào-yǔyánxué’ is ‘comparative linguistics’. The character originally meant the joinery in a carriage. 隨 (391: p89F + p16 + 80F + 118C) ‘suí’ means ‘to follow; (to act) according to’: 隨心 (… 80C) ‘suíxīn’, ‘as one will’; 隨事酌情 (… 244 – 116B – 93A) ‘suí-shì-zhuóqíng’, ‘to make decisions ad hoc, in the light of circumstances’. The word associator 隋 ‘suí’ had originally to do with a sacrificial ritual. Almost the only use now of the character 隋 (391A) ‘suí’ is as the name of the Sui Dynasty, AD 589–618; short but important in that it reunified the Empire after more than three centuries of divided rule following the end of the Han Dynasty, a period commonly known as the Six Dynasties, and made way for the golden age of the T’ang Dynasty; much as Ch’in had for Han, and with comparable rapid achievements but insupportable tyranny. 傾 (313) ‘qīng’, ‘to lean, incline’, is used in the eighth line in a technical sense that it can have of ‘assaying’, for instance precious metals. All these, evidently quoted, rhyming lines follow the thought of the opening four lines of the chapter by simply propounding the relativity of things; but the ninth line, ‘sound and voice harmonise one another’ is more difficult to understand and hardly seems to fit. The difficulty is to know what the author had in mind by the contrast of ‘sound’, which could mean anything from music to a mere noise; and ‘voice’, which itself can often also be translated by ‘sound’. To find a possible clue it is necessary to turn to other Taoist thought, and again to the Book of Chuang Tzu. Chuang Tzu, the Master Chuang, or by his name Chuang Chou, 莊周 (391B – 173A) ‘zhuāng zhōu’, in which 莊 (391B: p22+ 255) ‘zhuāng’ is a surname, lived from about 369 to 286 BC; at about the time in the view of many scholars, though there is still much dispute, that the first editor or real author of the Book of Lao Tzu lived. His book is traditionally divided into ‘Inner Chapters’, which may be as he wrote them, and ‘Outer Chapters’, which may not but seem no less to show his mind and personality. (A delightful translation of parts of the book, one of the freshest and most extraordinary to come to us from the ancient world, is to be found in Burton Watson’s Chuang Tzu: Basic Writings.) The second of the ‘Inner Chapters’—the chapters are much longer than in the Lao Tzu and in anecdotal prose, quite different from its ultra-concise mixture of prose and verse—is called 齊物論 (391C – 272C – 258B) ‘qí wù lùn’, ‘On

the way: lao tzu, chuang tzu and lieh tzu


Matching Things’; in which 齊 (391C) ‘qí’ means ‘equal, even, regular, matching; uniform(ly), all’ and is related to 妻 (218A) ‘qī’, ‘a wife, mate’, being derived from the symbolic picture of three hairpins that became the top of that character:

In this chapter, there is a passage about 籟 (391D) ‘lài’, ‘reed pipes’:


而 未

rǔ wén rén lài ér wèi wén dì lài 347 84 1 391D 221 156 84 160C 391D 汝

而 未

rǔ wén dì lài ér wèi wén tiān lài 347 84 160C 391D 221 156 84 101H 391D ‘(When) you hear the pipes of man, you do not hear yet the pipes of earth; (when) you hear the pipes of earth, you do not hear yet the pipes of heaven.’ Fung Yu-lan (op. cit.) says: ‘It is the sounds of earth and the sounds of man that together constitute “the sounds of heaven”’; which, Chuang Tzu says, 吹

不 同

而 使

chuī wàn bù tong ér shǐ qí zì jǐ 281A 32 10 114F 221 244A 89G 244A 109F ‘blow on the countless differences and make their individuality’. The pipes or sounds of earth, he has already indicated are those of the wind, made in hollows and heard by man according to their shapes; Nature as received through the senses, for which the resonances of musical stones could also be a symbol. These, hanging from a frame as in an æolian harp, would still have been visible and clearly understood in the top left of the character 聲 (66) ‘shēng’ at whatever early date the Lao Tzu was first written; and this character may therefore possibly in the passage in question have stood for the same meaning as Chuang Tzu’s pipes of earth. 音 (86B) ‘yīn’, originally (as has been seen) a picture of a flute and the same in origin as 言 (73) ‘yán’, ‘words’, may then have stood for the same meaning as Chuang Tzu’s pipes of man; Nature as expressed by man’s imagination. To Chuang Tzu and other Taoists, error arose from trying to separate these two things and from them treating one as less ‘real’ than the other. This chapter of the Book of Chuang Tzu ends with the very famous passage in which he says that he (like Caesar he speaks of himself in the third person) dreamt that he was a butterfly flitting happily about, not knowing it was Chou; then woke up and was palpably Chou but: 不 知

之 夢

bù zhī zhōu zhī mèng wéi hú dié yú 10 116K 173A 20 144 18 391E 391F 169A 胡

之 夢

hú dié zhī mèng wéi zhōu yú 391E 391F 20 144 18 173A 169A

reed pipes

274 周

chapter 12 與

zhōu yǔ hú dié zé bì yǒu fēn yǐ 173A 169A 391E 391F 378B 264B 157 92B 89H 此

之 謂

cǐ zhī wèi wù huà 77B 20 258B 272C 9



胡 蝶 how, why?



聖 holy, sage (393)

教 to teach


育 to breed

‘he did not know whether it was Chou’s dream of being a butterfly or a butterfly’s dream of being Chou. But surely (you say) there must be a difference between Chou and a butterfly? Such I call Materialisation.’ 與 (169A) at the end of the first and second lines of this quotation is to be read ‘yú’ and is then an interrogative gesture word, used much like Latin ‘nonne’, ‘it is not …?’; but in the third line it has its usual meaning and reading. 胡蝶 (391E – 391F) ‘húdié’ as a two-syllable word means a butterfly. The first of the two characters it is written with, 胡 (391E: 139A + 118C) ‘hú’, meant originally a ‘dewlap’ but is much used just for its sound, particularly for a gesture word, ‘how? why?’. 蝶 (391F) ‘dié’ on its own means a ‘butterfly’ and has 虫 (115B) as meaning associator for an animal that is not mammal, bird nor fish; with 枼 as in 葉 (292B) ‘leaf’. Returning from Chuang Tzu to Lao Tzu’s series of ‘relativities’, the last in the tenth line, ‘before and after follow one another’, may also seem odd; but the paradox is undoubtedly deliberate. In the eleventh line 聖 (392: 84A + 62 + p136) ‘shèng’ means ‘enlightened, holy, sacred; saint, sage’: 聖經 (… 94E) ‘shèngjīng’, ‘holy scripture’; 聖廟 (… 295) ‘shèngmiào’ or 聖堂 (… 269) ‘shèngtáng’ is a Confucian shrine or temple (the latter expression used also for a Christian church); 聖馬太 (… 48 – 110H) ‘shèng mǎtài’ is Saint Matthew. At the end of the twelfth line, 教 (393) ‘jiào’ means ‘teaching’ in general, and in the special sense of a ‘religion, sect’: 道教 (125B …) ‘dàojiào’, ‘the Taoist Religion’ is to be distinguished from 道家 (125B – 114G) ‘dàojiā’, ‘the Taoist School’ of philosophy, which, though ancestor of the former, is in many ways profoundly different in its outlook. 教員 (… 104B) ‘jiàoyuán’ or 教師 (… 121) ‘jiàoshī’ is a ‘teacher, schoolteacher’; 教育 (… 393A) ‘jiàoyù’ is ‘education’, as in 教育部 (… 276A) ‘jiàoyùbù’, ‘Department of Education, Ministry of Education’; 教育學 (… 187A) ‘jiàoyùxué’, ‘paedagogics’. In these expressions 育 (393A) ‘yù’ means ‘to give birth, breed, foster’. The character 教 (393) has which was originally 爻 for writing, as in 學 (187A); with 子 (110A), a child, and 攵 as in 故 (172); but there has come also, in the way the character is now written, to be an association with 老 (123B), an elder person. The character 育 (393A) has 𠫓 for a baby being born, which was 子 (110A) upside-down; with 月 for 肉 (118C) flesh. This is also found in the righthand side of 流 (224) ‘liú’, which has been described above, according to one explanation, as a tassel; but which is also explained as a depiction of childbirth. Possibly two different early drawings have coincided in form; typically of the way, called here ‘inspired misinterpretation’, in which many Chinese characters have taken shape. There is therefore not necessarily a ‘right answer’ in such cases, of which one might even say 前後相隨 as in the text. At the beginning of this (eleventh and twelfth) pair of lines, 是以 (17 – 11) ‘shì yǐ’ means ‘therefore’; literally ‘this being used’. 處 (123), read as ‘chǔ’, is here a verb, ‘to arrange, manage,’ not ‘chù’, ‘a place’.

the way: lao tzu, chuang tzu and lieh tzu


無爲 (149 – 18) ‘wúwéi’ in the eleventh line represents an idea of funda-

mental importance not only to Taoism but to other Chinese thought, that ‘the Sage manages affairs without action’. All early Chinese philosophy of whatever School is by conscious intent political and springs from an axiom that a 聖人 (392 – 1) ‘shèngrén’, Sage, possessing 德 (379) ‘dé’, Virtue, should convey it to an hereditary ruler for him to govern a state; and that thus ideal government will be achieved, which must be 無爲 ‘wúwéi’, inactive. This axiom doubtless dates from prehistory, when 聖人 might be read as ‘magician’, 德 as ‘magic’ and 無爲 as ‘magical forms of achievement’. The Book of Changes 易經 (140 – 94E) ‘yìjīng’ (which, whatever the date of the book itself, probably has foundations going back well into the second millennium BC) says: 易無思也, 無爲也 (… 115G … 160B) ‘yì wú sī yě, wú wéi yě’, ‘the Changes are [brought about] without thought, without action’. In the Analaects (XV, iv) Confucius is reported as saying of 舜 (393B) ‘shùn’, Shun, the successor Sage-King to 堯 (182A) ‘yáo’, Yao: 無 爲

而 治

wú wéi ér zhì zhě qí shùn yě yú 149 18 221 393C 358H 89G 393B 160B 169A 夫

何 爲


舜 Shun (a name)

fú hé wéi zāi 110D 161 18 393E 恭

而 已

gōng jǐ zhèng nán miàn ér yǐ yǐ 393F 109F 264C 88E 286 221 237 118C 治 (393C: 45+94A) ‘zhì’ means ‘to govern’; a word that in English might also have ‘water’ as its meaning associator being, like ‘cybernetics’, derived from the Greek for ‘to steer a ship’: 政治 (393D …) ‘zhèngzhì’, now usually toneless on the second syllable is the ordinary word for ‘government’, ‘administration; politics’: 政治家 (… 114G) ‘zhèngzhijiā’, ‘a politician’. In this 政 (393D: 264C + p172) ‘zhèng’ means also ‘to govern, administer’: 政界 (… 292A) ‘zhèngjiè’, ‘the world of politics, political circles’. 夫 (110D), read as ‘fú’ instead of ‘fū’, is here used for a gesture word that has the effect of emphasising the next or may mean ‘and so’; and 哉 (393E) ‘zāi’ is also a getsure word, completing a rhetorical question; while 恭 (393F: 114E+80C) ‘gōng’ means ‘to be respectful’; or as an active verb, ‘to compose (oneself) respectfully’. The meaning of this whole quotation from Confucius is thus ‘Governing Without Action, was not Shun (an example) of that? And how did he do it? He composed himself respectfully and adjusted his face towards the South, and that is all.’ To the modern mind this at first seems strange nonsense of a distant and superstitious age; but these ancient and revered axioms can be and were rationalised. This quotation from the Master, for example, was taken by the Confucians in later times as meaning that the ruler should have so good a bureaucracy that he would have no cause to do anything but set an example by his dignity and propriety. (According to the legend, Shun’s only qualification for the sake of which, though not of royal blood, he had been chosen as heir


治 to govern


政 to govern


哉 (gestureword)


恭 respectful


chapter 12

by Yao was his filial patience towards a most disagreeable old father; indicating that he would put propriety before all else.) Throughout the Empire, till AD1911 in fact, the throne faced South and above it were the two characters 無 爲. Though quite different in its nature and evolution, the British Constitutional Monarchy would thus be recognised at once by a Confucian as embodying the principle of ‘wúwéi’; which may also be found, quite differently again, in the Marxist theory of the ultimate ‘withering away of the state’. In Chinese history there were many disparate theories about what ‘wúwéi’ should mean in practice and how it should be achieved. It was possible even for it to be used in support of the most detailed and coherent of ancient Chinese political theories, and the only one ever fully adopted in government, the totalitarianism of Han Fei (died 233BC) by which the Empire-making but short-lived Ch’in Dynasty conquered and ruled. According to this, called the Legalist, theory a rigid code of punishments and rewards relating to every kind of human conduct would replace active government, and thus achieve the universally accepted political objective of ‘wúwéi’; whilst the people would at the same time be starved of goods, on good Taoist grounds that the more one has the more one wants, and so 無欲 (149 – 211) ‘wúyù’, ‘Without Desire’, would be attained. To Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu and the other Taoist philosophers, however ‘wúwéi’ and ‘wúyù’ were especially novel guidance, seemingly contradicting commonsense and expressed with avant-garde paradox, to the individual seeking 德 (379) ‘dé’, power or virtue. Unfortunately, because of the tradition that philosophy must be political, this distinction was not clearly made even in the Taoists’ own minds. What may be a profoundly beneficial inspiration for an individual or for small groups can, when institutionalised and imposed on others, change its character altogether; so that Han Fei was able to use pacifist Taoist principles in support of a brutal military dictatorship. What to the author of the Book of Lao Tzu is the Way that cannot be told is the mysterious way of Nature which must be yielded to and not interfered with in order that its Virtue may be used; and his whole doctrine is one of using by yielding, avoiding any form of pushing and always making space. His philosophy is not altruistic and he never speaks of ‘benevolence’ except to sa