Chinese Characters

An Ideographic Approach, Volume 1
D Rajeev
The subsequent volumes of this book may be downloaded from
© 2010. Dileep Rajeev. All Rights Reserved. No part of the book may be reproduced without prior permission of the author. The book may not be redistributed or posted on another source for download.

Understanding the Chinese Language
Evolving with any civilization or a group of humans is a shared consciousness of concepts whose meaning is readily perceived by those belonging to the group. The manifested form of these concepts carry with them the characteristic of that group – the unique process of evolution the collective consciousness of theirs underwent. Hence, the manifested form of concepts, be they beauty, goodness or strength, differ from civilization to civilization. Language is a layer of symbols over such a collective consciousness. Mechanisms in this shared human psyche ascribe to concepts in it sound-symbols – sound forms capable of evoking in the consciousness the concepts they represent – the words of a spoken language. Spoken forms tend to quickly deviate from a state of symbolic purity, in which each word is a distinct soundsymbol for a concept. By phonetic decay, for instance – words spoken in quick succession coalesce together to form new words.

A phonetic script, being merely a system of transcribing the spoken form, is incapable of preserving the symbolic purity of language. As the spoken form deviates, the written form deviates as well. Chinese, on the other hand, has a script that is, in itself, symbolic in nature – its visual form directly evokes in the consciousness the meaning it symbolizes, the concept over which it forms a symbolic layer. Such a system of writing ties the language tightly with the collective consciousness, preserves the symbolic purity of language, and increases its potency as a mechanism of exchanging thought. The evolution of the language becomes directly driven by the evolution of the collective consciousness.

Visual Symbolism
Symbolic forms having layers of meaning, any interpretation of a character’s visual form can only serve as a guide to understanding it. The accurate meaning it represents has to be perceived consciously – through direct and objective experience of the meaning its visual form evokes. Layers of meaning can be consciously

uncovered, the symbol conveying a deeper meaning at each level. The meaning conveyed by a symbol depends on the context in which it occurs. The hand, appearing in its reduced form 扌, in the characters 打(dǎ,hit), 按(àn, press), 採(cǎi, gather), etc., symbolize action. The same symbol in 拜(bài, to honor) shows two hands brought together in a gesture of respect. The role the component plays in 拿(ná, take) is slightly different – in it, 手(shǒu) 'hand' is modified with 合(hé) 'combine' to symbolize the fingers closing together to take something. Just as a character is more than the sum of its parts, a phrase carries meaning beyond the individual meaning of its parts – that is, how a character lends to the meaning of a phrase depends on the context in which it occurs. The form 才, in itself, symbolizes talent, ability, activity, etc., in a purely abstract manner, depicting an active principle, symbolized by a vertical line, breaking through a hindrance. The same form , when modified by the character 剛(gāng, firm), in 剛才, conveys the meaning ‘just now’ – the energy associated with the

active principle, symbolized by 才, being firm 剛, strongly manifesting, when it has just acted.

Figure 1. The ancient form of 才, depicting an active principle, symbolized by a vertical line, breaking through a hindrance – talent, ability, etc.


Sound symbolism and phonetic

The sound-forms of Chinese characters evoke in the mind of the listener the concept or the meaning it symbolizes. The sound kōng 空, as it is intoned in Chinese, with a high level tone, produces a sound similar to one created when an empty vessel is hit, evoking in the mind a feeling of emptiness and conveying, symbolically, the meaning of the character – empty, hollow, a space, etc. The sound 安(ān), evoking a sense of tranquil stillness, conveys the character’s meaning quiet, still, peaceful. Sound symbolism of this nature exists in all Chinese characters and meditating on the sound form of a character can help fully understand its

intoned with a neutral sound as in 的(de). 才(cái) combines with 土 (tǔ) 'land' to form 在(zài). on. literal meaning: leaving tone) – as in 任 (rèn). the phonetic component is signific as a visual form as well. Fifth tone or zeroth tone (輕聲. The place 土 where the activity 才is happening – at. literal meaning: up tone) – the pitch falls a little and then rises as in 好 (hǎo). Not all characters have a phonetic component. (陰平. • • • 4 . Chinese characters are intoned in one of five different tones which make their sound form symbolic to a greater degree – allowing the meaning to evolve from the movement of intoned sound as well. Fourth tone. conversely. falling tone (去聲. and.literal meaning: yin level)– a steady. literal meaning: light tone). where the pitch descends sharply from high to low. in the majority of cases. Second tone. high sound as in 空(kōng). Third tone (上聲. . A phonetic component lends to the symbolism of the character through its sound-form.meaning. Figure 2. to accurately understand its intoned form. (陽平. • • First tone. In the ancient form of 在.literal meaning: yang level) –sound rises from mid-level to high as in 人(rén). A component of a character is called phonetic if its pronunciation hints at the pronunciation of the character – as 才(cái) does in 在(zài). in. and.

enough to read most newspapers with a reasonable level of comprehension. This completely obviates the need for rote memorization often needed when mastering the vocabulary of a new language. If taught scientifically. contrary to popular belief. each carrying an inherent visual logic which makes its meaning apparent from its written form. the words are simple ideograms. the oracle’s answer would be divined. by entering in English the pronunciation of the character. and is beyond the scope of this book. Chinese can easily be input in a word editor. Parallel rows of holes would be bored in the bone. Both the question and the 5 . its ancient forms. in two to three months time. and an understanding of how it may be leveraged as a learning tool. The author is of the opinion that learning to write is best postponed till the student has had a reasonable level of familiarity with the language. From the crack patterns formed on the shell by heat.How to use this book Chinese. The focus of this book is to help you recognize the 100 most frequent Chinese characters. Learning to write Chinese requires focused effort and practice. in the process.C. Samples of writing from this era have come down to us through engravings on tortoise shells and ox scapulas used during divination ceremonies. and the symbolic sound-forms allow for the pronunciation to be easily internalized. It has no complex grammar. and. the question would be raised to the oracle. and a heated bronze rod applied at each hole. is the simplest language to learn. Organization of each page On each page is given a character. leave you with a better appreciation of the symbolic nature of the script. through tools such as Microsoft’s IME for Chinese. its pronunciation and an explanation of how the ideogram symbolizes its meaning. the student can pick up a vocabulary of over 3000 characters. The ancient forms The three boxes on the right show the ancient forms of the character. – 1100 B.C. The top-most box shows how the character was written around 1800 B.

there is little need to try to memorize the modern written form – it 6 . remained the same. what the characters symbolize. Some changes in forms reflect enriched thought. under supervision of the minister who had instigated the king to burn the manuscripts.C. When learning a character. For this reason.C. A standardization of the script followed shortly. At the bottom-right are given samples of seal script writing dating from around 200 B.C. An interesting account of the language’s evolution can be found in Karlgren’s “Sound and Symbol in Chinese. and how the visual form evolved with time. – 200 B. paying attention to how the ideographic interpretation applies to the ancient forms. While the surface forms of characters have undergone considerable evolution.C. referred to as “the bronze script.” The box in the middle-right of the page carries samples of the character as written around 1100 B. Actively analyzing this would be sufficient to imprint the character in your memory. writing of this era is often referred to as “the oracle bone script. ironically.” Studying a character The reader is urged to actively engage himself in the learning process.C to 200 A. A major of set of corruptions occurred when a tyrant ordered a burning of all manuscripts in early 3rd century B. explore the ancient forms given. In this book the seal script forms presented are carefully chosen – and the corrupted variants are avoided. were partly successful. for most part.D. enable us to see how the characters were originally formed. Seal script forms include characters which followed the standardization of 3rd century B. start by reading its ideographic interpretation.answer would later be engraved on reverse side the bone used.. Archeological data. Samples of this writing. When learning. unless they serve a pedagogical purpose. others are the result of corruptions that set in over time. presented here among the bronze script and oracle bone script forms. has.D. Then. the most ambitious among which was the etymological dictionary ‘Shuo Wen’ of 2nd century A. Attempts at rectification in the later centuries. a lot of which emerged in the 20th century.” reached us through thousands of bronze vessels and articles with inscriptions of major events. the idea behind them.

as you learn them. Correlate the meaning you perceive evolving from the sound form. That is. Attempt to consciously perceive the sense conveyed by the sound. through the method outlined here. deep shade of blue is used. the color of plants. or interact with a Chinese speaker to understand tones and the pinyin system. Each character can allow for different ideographic interpretations. are shown in a metallic silver color. the sound evokes in the mind the meaning suggested by the character. For the fourth tone. the color of fire. When the same character has multiple pronunciations. a high metallic tone. as wood does. repeatedly. The reader who is not familiar with the system is urged to avail any one of the several free multimedia resources available online. For the second tone. and try to come up with your own interpretations. Third tone characters are shown in green. with the meaning evolving from the visual form. The fifth tone or the neutral tone is colorless. Different characters having the same pinyin phoneticization often differ subtly in the way they are actually pronounced. so actively explore the ancient forms. with a clam mind. of wood – as the sound bends. and of the role played by the tones. This symbolic quality can be leveraged to effortlessly learn the pronunciation of the characters: Intone each character. in the third tone. a system for writing Chinese characters in the Roman alphabet. Visualizing the characters in their corresponding tonecolor. till you develop an intuitive feel for how the sound form brings out the character’s meaning.the sound rises in it as flames do.would be sufficient to develop an understanding of how the form symbolizes its meaning. The reader will develop a natural intuition for the right way to pronounce the characters. The same character when carrying different shades of meanings are intoned in ways that slightly differ to bring out the meaning through intoned sound. 7 . they are symbolic layers over two closely related concepts symbolized by the visual form. A system of color codes is used in the book to help you remember the tones. The sound of Chinese characters are symbolic. in factors such as the stress given to a particular sound. as he progresses in study. a heavy. The pronunciation of each character is given in Pinyin. would help retain the tone in memory. a falling tone. yellow-orange is used . and of how it evolved. Characters in the first tone.

together with Wenlin’s Stroke Box tool. the book “Teach Yourself Chinese” published by McGraw Hill is recommended. To learn to write Chinese characters. 8 . Johan Björkstén’s "Learn to Write Chinese Characters" is recommended.Recommended resources The electronic dictionary Wenlin is one of the best available resources for a student of Chinese and is highly recommended. which animates the stroke order of each character. Essential for internalizing a vocabulary is seeing the words used in various contexts. Once the reader has gained a basic vocabulary. For an introduction to the language and an outline of grammar. he is encouraged to start reading Chinese texts with Wenlin’s mouse-over translation facility.

which made lines easier to draw than circles. 9 . day. The evolution from to 日 could have been influenced by the introduction of the brush as a writing tool. The ancient form of the character resembles the Egyptian hieroglyph for the sun: (pronounced ra).Sun. represented by a dot . manifesting in space . 日 rì日 An active energy source.

’ The Shuo Wen is a traditional etymological dictionary written in the 2nd century A. single. The earliest extant copy of the work is from 987 A. 一 symbolizes the primordial unity from which emerged the Heaven. and hence the meaning ‘whole. 2 . whole. one. symbol for the number ‘1’.D. According to the Shuo Wen.D. yī一 A symbolic representation of unity. the Earth and the myriad of things.一 One.

èr二 The number of Earth(地之數). symbolizing the number 2. 一 repeated twice. according to the Shuo Wen. 3 .二 The number 2.

sān三 一 repeated three times. 4 . according to the Shuo Wen. The Way of Heaven. Earth and Man(天地人之道).三 Three. symbolizing the number 3.

A reinterpretation. Note: The form 巾(jīn. the picture of a cloth) underneath . clear. ) is said to derive from the image of a kind of cloth worn by men in ancient China as a pendant waist ornament . clear. plain and white in color. suggesting the meanings plain. is abstracted to 白. 白 bái白 The ancient form was the picture of a silkworm cocoon . etc. is that the character shows a ray emerging from the rising sun 日.clear.White. The character for silk fabric 帛(bó) was once written with 巾(jīn. based on the modern form. “佩巾也從冂|象系也凡巾之屬皆從巾” – Shuo Wen 5 . In today’s writing. a silk worm cocoon. plain.

6 . sháo勺 Picture of a spoon and something contained (indicated by the丶). ladle. Measure words are classifiers used to define the measure of a noun as in: a drop of honey. a measure word comes in between.勺 Spoon. four spoons of water. In Chinese wherever a noun is preceded by a number or a demonstrative. twenty grains of rice. three pieces of cake. 勺 is a measure word indicating a capacity of one centiliter.

and the character conveyed the sense ‘to shine light on what is contained.’ 的 de 7 . This sense evolves from a different interpretation of the same form: to give focus to or make apparent 白 the contained property of something 勺. In some older in a ladle and something contained 勺. sun). The construct ‘A 的’ carries the meaning ‘having the property A’.A grammatical particle similar to ‘s in English. To make plain 白 a relationship of subordination. the component on the left is not 白 but 日(rì.

when occurring as a component in other characters. halt. etc. stay. detain. conveying the sense: stop.止 Stop. etc. It often represents an action associated with the foot – standing. depends on the context. halt. The precise meaning conveyed by 止. not moving. zhǐ止 A foot. 8 . movement. restrain.

precisely. the heavens (represented in the modern form as 一 and in certain ancient forms through the symbol for above ). to rectify. acting to restrain 止 (or put a stop 止 to ) unrighteous elements. heaven was symbolized as the extent of space (above) and that follow. precisely at the boundary 一. 9 . ( heaven) are explained in greater detail in the pages Alternate interpretation: To stop 止.Upright. zhèng正 A superior force. without entering a forbidden region – upright. In ancient writing. correct. 正 above man . correct.

zǎo早 The vertical line represents the skies. the heavens (of yang. early.早 Dawn. sometime ago. and the horizontal line the earth (of yin. where the skies cross the earth 十. passive nature). 10 . active nature). The ideograph shows the sun breaking through the horizon.

the verb ‘to be. is. existence" --Wieger. "从日. real.. says: “實也。 太陽之精不虧。 从囗一。 象形。 凡日之屬皆从日。” “True. witnessing things being brought to light – certainty.Certainly.” 11 .’ To stand 止 facing the rising sun 早. 从正. The energy of the sun does not wane… Pictorial representation. 是 shì是 Note: An ancient variant of the character is: . for sure. right.. true. actual. is. bringing reality to light. truthfulness. Shuo Wen. reality. reality. 會意。What was 正 controlled at 日 sun's light. describing the character for sun 日. The feeling evoked when one witnesses the sun emerging out of the horizon.

which cannot be brought down (鳥飛上翔不下來也從一一猶天也象形). 不 is the picture of a bird soaring. 不 bù不 According to the traditional dictionary Shuo Wen. something not present. By extension. or a concept which cannot be captured. An alternate interpretation. conveying the sense ‘to root out. In certain seal script and bronze script forms.’ can be seen. the ancient form for the character ‘above. not.No. with the skies indicated by the horizontal line 一 above.’ 12 . is that the ideogram shows an uprooted plant. the symbol . A bird soaring in the skies. based on the oracle bone script forms. to negate a notion.

the legs are covered by swaddling clothes. son. 13 .子 Child. offspring. person. zǐ子 Picture of an infant with the head and body visible.

etc. Picture of an infant in swaddling clothes. to tie up and finish. one comprehends. ‘that what has come to birth. the character indicates a new situation or a completed action. The picture of the new born infant is symbolic of a new situation. 14 了 le liǎo了 . be able to. Pronounced liǎo. be able to.’ Liǎo carries the sense to give birth to. When a concept takes form or is given birth to in one’s mind.` When pronounced le. to create. and. Le and liǎo are sounds made by an infant. by extension. it means to comprehend.

rén人 A man bowing. a man. human. is most precious (天地之性最貴者). Man “embodies the nature of heaven and earth. In some ancient forms such as . 人 is often reduced to 亻 when occurring as a component.” says the Shuo Wen. the man is shown bowing to the heavens. seen from the side. 15 .人 A person. symbolizing how humans should be – conforming to the principles of heavens.

16 . 手 is abbreviated to 扌 and often signifies action. As a component.手 Hand. The precise sense conveyed depends on the context in which the symbol occurs. shǒu手 The picture of a hand with five fingers.

a kind of halberd used in ancient China. The picture of a halberd.戈 A weapon. gē戈 17 .

me. wǒ我 18 . the self. A hand holding a halberd. asserting the self – I. me.我 I.

In the construct A才B.Talent. when the active principle associated with A makes a breakthrough. the ability to do work. potential. ‘better than. When occurring before a stative verb. faculty. gift. the character conveys the sense ‘only then. and. faculty.’ B occurs only when A acts. 才 conveys the sense ‘better than’ – breaking-through the state indicated. breaking through a hindrance – potential. 才 cái才 The character abstracts the notion of an active principle. hence. “艸木之初也。 从丨上貫一, 將生枝葉。一,地也。 凡才之屬皆从才。 徐鍇曰:上一,初生歧枝也。下一,地也” – Shuo Wen 19 . only then. symbolized a vertical line.’ Note: The Shuo Wen interprets the character as a sprout that has just broken through the ground.

land. clay. soil. crude. 20 . land. 土 signifies locale. and. crude. etc.. native. by extension. the precise sense depending on context. As a component. tǔ土 A mound of potter’s clay – earth. clay. place. unsophisticated. earth.土 Soil.

21 . indicating an action in progress. zài在 The place 土 of activity 才. in. where the activity is happening – at. on.在 At. be. Note that 才(cái) is both phonetic and signific in this character. in. on. A state 土 (symbol interpreted as a place in time) with activity 才 in progress.

on the other hand. in addition. Picture of a hand with three fingers shown. both. 22 .又 yòu又 Again. furthermore. in addition. 又 abstracts the idea ‘also in hand is’ – furthermore. and.

muscle. flesh. ròu肉 23 . Picture of a strip of meat.肉 Meat.

有 Have. there is. Symbol used to represent the idea in possession of. there is. yòu有 A strip of meat held in the hand – have. 24 .

etc. yě也 The picture of a container. a receptacle. either. From the notion of inclusion evolves the meanings also. conveying the sense to include. as well.也 Also. etc. as well. 25 . In classical Chinese 也 was used as a delimiter at the end of a sentence or a clause. contain. too.

In classical Chinese. The third person pronoun. ‘she’ 她. From 亻(人 rén. she. a person) and 也 (yě.他 tā他 He. also) – another person. The single sound tā is still used for ‘he’ 他. and it. the same character was used for he. and ‘it’ 它. 26 .

kǒu口 Mouth. wells. a gate. etc. an entrance. A measure word for mouthfuls.口 Pictorial representation of an opening or a mouth. 27 .

gān干 The picture of a trunk or a tree stem used as a battering ram – hence the meanings offend. attack.干 Offend. trunk. interfere. invade. 28 . stem. attack.

What occurred ‘higher’ in its course. then. over. The meaning ‘previous’ may be understood by thinking of time as a flowing river.上 Above. 29 . the notion above. is what occurred in the past. and represents the heavens. etc. top. previous. shàng上 The ancient form of the character comprised of a short line above a longer fundamental line. This form is retained as a component in modern characters.

xīn辛 Picture of an upside down man underneath the ancient form of 上(representing the heavens). The character will be explained in further detail later on. has the meanings opposition. 屰(nì). A man is in suffering when his will runs contrary to that of the Heavens. not in alignment with(不順也). suffering.辛 Acrid. . 30 . the picture of an upside down man. bitter. reverse.

Words, speech, language.


Individual will or intent (symbolized here by 辛) expressed through words 口 (the mouth). Chinese philosophy held that man must follow Heaven; that any individual intent could be against the Will of the Heavens. Hence, 辛 was chosen to represent the individual will or intent.

xíng 行 háng行

Xíng: Movement, to go, to travel, functioning, acceptable. Picture of a crossroad, indicating movement. A thing that moves is functioning, and, hence, is acceptable. Háng: A line, a row, a course. 行業(hang yè): trade, profession.



Component suggesting the meanings move, go, path, journey, movement, etc. 辵 now only occurs as a component in characters and no single syllable word currently exists. Often reduced to 辶in modern writing, the component indicates a path taken, a journey, movement, etc. – the meanings which are conveyed through the image of a foot taking a path (note that the oracle bone form of the character was composed of 止 inside 行).

this. here. 34 .這 This. zhè這 Words 言 referring to something met on a path 辶 – here.

on the dot. middle. ornate in certain ancient forms. passing through the exact center of a ring. 35 . attain.` 中 zhōng中 zhòng中 Zhōng: Center. interior. A rod. Zh òng: Hit a target. be hit by.

Man and Earth form a trinity in Chinese philosophy. The Earth is Immense. As a mnemonic: A man with arms outstretched to say “big”. vast. Man is equally Immense (天大地大人亦大). 36 . says the Shuo Wen. Heaven is Immense. great. big.大 Immense. dà大 Heaven. This is said to be the rationale in choosing the human image to symbolize ‘immense’.

arrive. Grains were believed to come from the Heavens . crop up.來 Come. Hence the meanings come. bring. lái來 Picture of an awned wheat plant. etc. crop up. bring.brought down from the Heavens through farming. 37 .

或 Perhaps. perhaps. probably.. maybe. or. either. or. Hence the association of the symbol to the meanings – probably. huò或 Stability is achieved through adherence to virtuous ways and a territory 囗 merely guarded through walls 一 and weapons 戈 is bound to be unstable. 38 . maybe.

囗(wéi) appears only as a component. Not to be confused with 口(kǒu.囗 wéi囗 Surround. encompass. The meaning is suggested by the form– to surround. 'mouth'). 39 .

firm. guó國 古 is phonetic and carries the sense ‘established. and not subject to change: obstinate.’ Something established 古. further fenced 囗 (wéi.國 Obstinate. firm. 40 . 'surround'). assuredly.

It being difficult to carve out a discshaped form on bone surfaces could explain why the oracle bone script characters show merely a vertical line. The ancient form has a disc representing expanse in all directions other than the above and the below which are symbolized by the vertical line. represents all directions. 41 .十 Ten. shí十 In Chinese cosmology. in an abstract manner. the universe is thought to be tendirectional. The symbol 十.

ten) over 口 (kǒu. That which has passed through ten 十 mouths 口 . Note:“故也。从十、口[𠙵]。識前言者也。凡古之屬皆从古。 臣鉉等曰:十口所傳是前言也。” – Shuo Wen 42 .a tradition dating back ten generations. mouth). age-old.古 Ancient. gǔ古 From 十 (shí.

固 Obstinate. firm. further fenced 囗 (wéi. not subject to change: obstinate. firm. assuredly. gù固 古 is phonetic and carries the sense ‘established. 43 . surround).’ Something established 古.

44 . zhú竹 Two twigs of bamboo. As a component. 竹 is often abstracted to and symbolizes things made of bamboo. The meaning ‘to count’ derives from that twigs were used during the earliest periods to keep count.’ etc. ‘to count. and later abacuses made of bamboo were used for the purpose.竹 Bamboo.

這 個人: this person. The word ‘個人’ carries the meaning individual. 個 gè個 固 gù is phonetic and also coveys the meaning ‘a unit’. 45 . 個 gè is the measure word used with 人 rén.A measure word. 一 個人: a person.the number 竹 of individual units 固. A closely related form is 箇 (gè) which functions as a non-specific measure word . personal – meanings which directly evolve from the sense carried by 固.

darts straight towards the 一 earth. reaching up to. 46 . arrive. 一 represents the ground) . until. The arrow being at an extremity of its trajectory: extremely.至 zhì至 To. “bending up its wings. extremely. most. Alternate interpretation: Picture of an arrow that is just about to hit its target on the ground – to. to the point of. reaching up to.” 鳥飛從高下至地也從一一猶地也象形( A bird flying from a height downwards. says the Shuo Wen. The image of a bird that.

blade. dāo刀 Picture of a knife. the sense conveyed is a quality associated with the knife blade. The meaning conveyed by the component depends on context .刀 Knife. 刀 is often written 刂. In some cases. etc. sword. 47 .precision. accuracy.often being to cut. As a component. with the blade-side facing the other component.

through the imagery of a saber pointing in a direction.到 To. towards. conveys the sense “toward. dāo). dào到 至 modified by刂(刀. up until. 48 . reach.” and is phonetic as well. 刂adds a sense of precision (reach to a target).

八 Eight. signifies ‘dispersal.’ etc. Chosen to represent ‘eight’ as the number allows for multiple divisions into two. division. The symbols for even numbers up to ten bear a degree of symmetry and their forms suggest their divisibility. and. The even numbers were considered to be of yin nature and the odd numbers of yang nature. as a component. bā八 The form abstracts the idea of division. 49 .

Trigrams or the Ba Gua are eight ancient symbols which symbolize patterns of change in nature. Lake). During speech the exchange of ideas occur and good words can dispel 八 sadness. Each Gua is composed of three lines – either broken (of yin nature) or unbroken (of yang nature). bringing joy – hence the two meanings. 兌 is also the name of the trigram ☱ (Joyous.Joyous. when words emerge from a human 儿 mouth 口. 50 . breath/ vital energy) during speech. 兌 duì兌 八(bā) symbolizing the dispersal of 氣(qi. Exchange.

說 Speech. talk. shuō說 51 . Words 言 exchanging 兌 ideas. say.

門 Opening. gate. Picture of a double leaved door. door. mén門 52 .

From亻(人 rén) 'person' and 門(mén) phonetic. The two leaves of a door 門 convey the sense ‘not singular. more than one.們 men Suffix indicating plural for pronouns and human nouns.’ The character could also have symbolized two or more people 亻speaking at a door門. 53 .

by extension. appearance. and. shape. the symbol was chosen to represent a manifested form. xiàng象 The picture of an elephant. appearance. image. An elephant having a conspicuous form. form. etc. shape. 54 .象 Elephant.

guide towards. guide to. The sound “wei” resembles the trumpet of an elephant. acting as. acting as. on account of. because of. guided by. on account of. The elephant symbolizes manifested phenomenon and the hand the cause guiding it – hence: for. conveys the meaning ‘acting as’.symbolized here by the elephant. 爲 wèi爲 wéi爲 55 . Wéi: Govern. by. etc.the adjective is a hand that guides the energy of a noun . support. Now the same character is also written ‘為. by. for.Wèi: Stand for.’ with the hand omitted. govern. become. take to. in such a grammatical construct. Added before a stative verb to form an adjective and before an adjective as an intensifier –爲(wéi). Picture of a hand guiding an elephant.

56 .禾 Grain. hé禾 A rice plant upon which is depicted a pendant ripe ear with grains.

57 . with. There being a harmonious relationship between 口 and 禾. the character symbolizes togetherness. etc. hé和 Grain 禾 is consumed by the mouth 口. harmony. harmony.和 And.

Picture of roots entering the ground.入 Enter. rù入 58 .

that is done. equivalent to a ‘there now. 59 . The movement of breath when saying 尔 (ěr). at the end of a phrase.’ “從入丨八. “詞之必然也從入|八八象氣之分散皃”. 會意。八者氣之分也。” The voice is drawn in 入(rù) and the reserve of breathing丨sent forth 八.Shuo Wen.尔 ěr 尔 A final used as a full stop.

An ancient meaning of the character was . He explains the symbol as a “balance loaded equally on both sides.” If Wieger’s interpretation is correct. elegant.resplendent. On the top 尔 is phonetic.thou. majestic. fine. The character was later borrowed to symbolize ‘thou. 㸚 are the gaps between the threads through which light is shining. 爾 ěr爾 The character had the meaning “symmetry. harmony of proportions.’ 60 . the modern meaning may have evolved from the extended sense ‘one’s counterpart .” according to Wieger.’ The bronze script forms show a fine silk garment spread out on a loom.Thou.

尔 could also be indicative of the movement of sound. thou) and 尔(ěr) could once have played a phonetic role in the character.’ 61 . From亻(人 rén) 'person. of breath. involved when saying nǐ to convey the meaning ‘you.你 You.' nǐ你 你(nǐ) is considered a colloquial version of 爾 (ěr.

land. dì地 From 土 (tǔ) 'earth' and 也 (yě) symbolizing the yin (feminine) nature of earth. ground.地 Earth. 62 . field. place.

63 .出 Emit. emerge. chū出 The ideograph shows a foot stepping out of an enclosure.

Picture of a head.首 Head. chief. shǒu首 64 . leader. with hair seen on top.

path. doctrine. 65 . dào道 A path taken 辵 by the mind 首 – way. principle. doctrine. reason. path.道 Way.

Occurring as component. a little. it conveys different meanings: to measure. restraint. 66 寸 cùn寸 . Originally represented distance between the place on the wrist where the pulse is felt (indicated by the line in the seal script forms) and the palm. 寸草[寸:inch. etc. Holding the palm such was considered an expression of restraint in ancient China. a tiny bit’ and 寸 there acts as an adverb conveying the meaning ‘tiny. measure 草:grass] means ‘a straw. Another explanation is that the character shows the hand held with the last two fingers folded. small.A Chinese inch. measure.’ 分寸: Proper restraint. Remember that the meaning conveyed by a word depends on the context in which it occurs.

’ Thus. .時 Time. in fact. shí時 That which is measured 寸 by the movement 止 of the sun 日 – time. A measure 寸 of where the sun 日 is standing 止. had 之. gives forth the sense ‘in . Note: The ancient forms. movement. 之( in greater detail later on in this volume. ) is explained 67 . period. together with the image of the sun 日. the image of a foot stepping forth from a line – which. a measure of the sun’s movement.

千 Thousand. 68 . qiān千 From 十 and 人. Ten human lifetimes – a thousand years.

and. a year.年 Year. thousand) – a thousand grains. by extension. 69 . grain) over 千 (qiān. nián年 The modern form is composed of 禾 (hé. Older forms show a man harvesting grains by hand. a harvest.

Cowries were used as currency in ancient China. 70 . money. cowrie.貝 Shellfish. bèi貝 Picture of a cowrie.

de dé得 děi得

Dé: Get, reach, achieve. Děi: Should. De: A grammatical particle carrying a sense similar to reach, attain. A hand reaching for a cowrie. In later forms 彳 (the left half of 行, signifying a process, a path taken) was added. The meanings achieve, take, reach and need are directly suggested by this ideograph. 得 (děi, must, should) evolved as an extension of the meanings get, need, etc., money being regarded a necessity.
Note: When 得(děi) symbolizes ‘should’, the symbol of the cowrie conveys the sense “that which is to be achieved.” 71

The second of The Ten Heavenly Stems.


"Germination; it represents the germ that strives to get out." Wieger. The Ten Heavenly Stems and The Twelve Terrestrial Branches together form a cyclic calendrical system spanning 60 years. In this system, the symbols used to represent the time periods are thought to carry the nature of the cosmic phenomenon manifesting on earth during those periods. In the oracle bones, the date on which the oracle was consulted was written in this system. The system is still used in China.

Fault, outstanding.


乙, a germ emerging, and above it is a hand attempting to restrain its growth. A man acting against principles that make him conform is either transcending them (is outstanding) or is committing a fault.


The picture of a tower.京 Capital of a country. jīng京 74 . an administrative building.

exactly. simply. right away. Suggests natural. The form 京 (a tall. 75 . spontaneously emerging. rising structure) indicates the nature of growth of the idea. jiù就 From 尤 and 京.就 Just. of the energy associated with it – rising. spontaneous emergence 尤– simply. right away.

female. nǚ女 76 .女 Women. Picture of a woman.

seek. yào要 A maiden. seek. ask for. required. ask for.要 Want. and two hands seeking her alliance – conveying the sense want. 77 . need.

xià下 The ancient form had a short line underneath a longer fundamental line and was the reverse of . the ancient symbol for 上 (above). next (that which follows). go down. 78 .下 Beneath. The modern form is 上 reversed.

. In later forms the image of a person receiving the fetus as it is being born was added on the right. in order to. to terminate…”. ‘So as to’ and ‘in order to’ are extensions of the sense ‘an object’s substantial use.Using. use.” according to the Shuo Wen. . An embryo or a fetus coming to birth . its action. use till exhaustion. "This very ancient character is supposed to represent the exhalation of the breath. finish/already) evolved from the same ancient form 已(yǐ. From 巳(sì. for a particular purpose. the picture of an embryo or fetus) turned upside down. By extension. the virtue that emanates from any object.taking on a solid. its use. 以 yǐ以 “用也。从反巳。賈侍中說:巳,意巳實也。象形. Hence value.’ The character 已(yǐ. so as to. already): that which has already taken form. substantial form.Wieger 79 .

existence. shēng生 80 . existence. life. give birth. Picture of a growing plant – life.生 Living.

which interact to make the field fertile. 81 . a farmland. The picture of a furrowed field.田 Field. tián田 The vertical and crosswise lines could also be representative of the yin and yang energies.

Note: Later. 82 . Words already spoken. Expansion and dispersal of breath as words emerge from the mouth.曾 Once. The田 got corrupted to 𡆧 and was interpreted as a phonetic component. “詞之舒也。 从八从曰, 𡆧聲。” – Shuo Wen. in the past. and speech 曰( ): . the character came to be interpreted as from: dispersal 八. céng曾 The produce of the fields 田 divided 八 and consumed 口 .an action that occurred in the past. by the time of Shuo Wen. The ancient forms more accurately convey the meaning.

order. to combine. 83 .jí Three distinct elements coming together in harmonious order – assemblage. Symbol occurs as a component in other characters. No single syllable word currently exists. union.

a gathering. say). tasty) was seal script form. assemble. such as do not have 田 but show food laid . The characters 甘 and 曰(yuē) will be explained in detail later on and the reader may ignore such details at this stage of learning. Hence the extended meaning to understand. to be able to do something is to be able to get one’s faculties to work together in harmony. understand. can. come together. able. given in the Shuo Wen. gather. of the character. When concepts gather together coherently. Note: Certain ancient forms of the character. 84 . has not form of 曰(yuē. as during a banquet – to meet over food.A but ( the ancient in a region 田 for 會 huì會 out. The ancient form of 甘(gān.Meet.) To meet discussion. an occasion. To meet. image of words emerging from a mouth. Likewise. one comprehends. for exchanging ideas. The produce of a field 田 brought together for consumption ( indicated by a mouth 口 and something contained).

evolution. Lindqvist notes that in China one points to the nose to indicate oneself. according to Chinese embryology. the nose being. zì自 Picture of a nose.自 Self. since. from. Breath.Wieger 85 . by extension. “Starting point. beginning. the starting point of bodily evolution. and.“ . the origin. oneself. the self.

-er. the one who. ‘A 者’ . By extension. Compare with 煮(zhǔ.者 One who. zhě者 A substance being burnt in a vessel. 86 . cook). ‘Zhe’ is the sound of burning. fumes emerging from it are shown on top.having the nature A. ‘–er’. The vapors released were thought to carry the nature of the substance being burnt.

was later added . 早.草 Grass. showing the rising sun. 87 . cǎo草 Originally. of the same height as the rising sun. a picture of growing plants 艸. herbs. 艸 is abbreviated to 艹 and denotes plants. etc.short plants. As a component. straw.

catch fire.著 zhe zhù著 zháo著 Zhe – Indicating continued progress of something. 88 . be affected by. Zháo – Touch. feel. come into contact with. By extension: to come into contact with or perceive the nature of something . Zhù – Manifest. Herbs 艹 being burnt 者 – a process which makes their essence manifest. burn.

Picture of a person leaving an enclosure. qù去 89 .去 Go. leave. depart.

Similar to 的. An alternate ancient form of the character is . The Shuo Wen interprets the character as a plant emerging from the ground. 止 (zhǐ) is phonetic as well. A classical pronoun . 一 (yī.之 ‘s . 90 . zhī之 The ancient forms show a feet 止 stepping forth from a line 一. “B 之” – stepping forth from or emerging from ‘B’ – hence B’s. one) also conveys the sense “whole“ from which emerges 止 a

(guō) is phonetic. to go through a process is to experience things in one’s bones. 咼(guō) is explained by Wieger as "A defect in the conformation of the bones 冎 of the mouth 口.. In the bronze-script writing. undergo a process. go by. the picture of a foot crossing a bamboo bridge is shown.Pass.. with the skull and shoulder bones shown. 91 . 冎(guǎ) is the picture of a skeleton. pass by. 過 guò過 辶 indicates a process.” Here it could symbolize an awry skeleton. depicting the idea to pass over. a wry mouth.

and indicates a roof. etc. 92 .宀 The picture of a roof. mián宀 宀 occurs as a component in characters. a covering.

boar. the belly and the paws. hog. on the left side. 而後有尾。It has many compounds. to drive or push out pigs. 足. 93 . e. The head is replaced by a line. the back and the tail. 逐 zhú. on the right side.豕 Pig. 彘也。象。頭. hog.g. to expel in general" – Wieger. shǐ豕 "Boar.

household. etc. and a child underneath a roof . by extension. domesticated. a 94 . household.家 Family. family. woman. In China. pig) are kept – a place of shelter and. Chalfant gives an early form of the character which shows a man. jiā家 The roof 宀 underneath which domesticated animals 豕(shǐ. pigs are associated with fertility and prosperity.

95 . grasping the nature of change (indicated by the two hands around 爻). learn.學 Study. 學 shows a child studying in a house. The symbol of "mutual action and reaction.” according to Wieger. xué學 爻(yáo) – the solid and broken lines that form the eight trigrams or the Ba Gua which symbolize patterns of change in nature.

right. something that has been made proper (hence correct. etc. as regards – that which is being taken care of. and. treat. duì對 The component on the left shows plants growing in a vase and on the right is a hand taking care of them – adjust.對 Correct. by a different interpretation of the same form.). 96 . as regards. proper. adjust.

hindered by a barrier ( indicated by the 一): an exclamation. qi) or breath. when occurring as a component. exclamation. a hiccup. 丂 qiǎo丂 Note: The precise sense conveyed by the symbol. it merely symbolizes an expansion of energy and the ‘一’ above symbolizes the expanding surface.A component symbolizing breath. sigh. difficulty in breathing. The ideograph shows the flow of the vital energy (氣. “气欲舒出。ㄣ上礙於一也。丂,古文以爲亏字,又以爲巧字。凡丂之屬皆从丂。” – Shuo Wen 97 . Energy flowing up ㄣand reaching a barrier 一. depends on the context. In some characters. hiccup.

may. an idea. An alternate explanation is that 可 indicates an exclamation 丂 of approbation – can. Suggesting the idea is a possibility. 可 kě可 From 丂 and 口. a phrase. may. A possibility – can. 可 symbolizes an exclamation. a possibility.Can. be worth. is to be determined. 98 . Spoken words 口. may. When occurring as a component. reaching a hindrance ( indicated by 一) where its movement is checked. be worth. The same form allows for another interpretation with 丂 indicating ‘capable of reaching to a target’ – be worth. but whether it passes.

neighborhood.里 Village. lǐ里 From 田 (tián. earth) – the place 土 where the fields 田 are – a village. “Village of 25 or 50 families. a region. home town. half kilometer. place of residence. field) and 土 (tǔ. Places 土 within the expanse of a field 田 – a neighborhood. 99 . (the length of the side of the said village) length measure of about 600 meters” Karlgren.

衣 is sometimes reduced to 衤. When occurring is a component. 100 . clothes.衣 Clothing. yī衣 The picture of a garment. a coating. garment.

internal.裏 Inside. A region 里 within a covering 衣. interior. lǐ裏 101 .

102 . yāo么 Picture of silk cocoons with threads. tiny.么 Small. insignificant. it is often written as 幺. As a component.

and convey a very similar meaning. The ancient form seems to have been that of a foot turned backwards. suggesting hindered. when夂 occurs on top of a character. as夊 (suī). 103 . walk slowly) is distinguished from 夂 (zhǐ.Walk slowly. In dictionaries based on the Kang Xi system. it is interpreted as the radical 夂(zhǐ) and. 夊 suī夊 The traditional explanation is that it is the picture of a person 人 and suggesting restrained. As a component. In Kang Xi based dictionaries. restrained movement) for the purpose of organizing characters. was later reinterpreted. both forms are generally written夂. slow movement. at the bottom. To walk slowly. though both forms are interpreted as depicting a man whose movement is restrained. the component 夊 (suī. the legs tied. Analysis of ancient forms suggests that the form 夊 evolved from the image of an upturned foot and. slow movement. then.

After. A character used in place of 後 is 后(hòu). later in a sequence. 後 hòu後 Movement 彳(chì. the left half of 行 ) 夂 in a file (indicated by a silk thread 幺). 后 also carries the meaning “empress” and shows a queen (seen in profile on the left) issuing commands 口: .”a Confucian classic. 104 . posterior. offspring. That which follows. descendant. comes later in a sequence. A bronze script form of the character shows a woman giving birth . The convention dates back to at least the time of the “Book of Rites. later. .offspring. The empress’ position follows that of the emperor.

小 Small. xiǎo小 A tiny portion 八 divided out of an object丨that is already small by its nature. 105 . little.

106 . má麻 The character shows two bundles of hemp hanging in a shack 广.麻 Hemp.

An archaic meaning of the character is tiny. A thin 幺 bundle 麻 – indicating the particle’s use in creating a small phrase. small).as in 甚麼 (what) and 那麼 then). 107 . From 麻 má phonetic and 幺 (yāo.麼 me Suffix for interrogatives and adverbs .

As a component. feeling.心 Heart. xīn心 The picture of a heart. 心 often symbolizes the human mind. 108 . mind. Reduced to 忄when occurring as a component on the left of the character.

xī夕 109 .夕 Evening. sunset. Picture of a crescent moon.

From two 夕 – many. more than needed.多 duō多 Many. 110 . much. too much. multiplicity. more than required. more.

“[The heavens are] so high. as tall as the skies. day.” says the Shou Wen. Note: 大(dà). there is nothing above. tiān天 The extent of space(一)above man: Heavens. sky. Heavens are the planes of existence above man. according to the Shuo Wen. according to Chinese traditions. An alternate interpretation is that the character shows a divine being. immense. symbolizes the plane of Man(天大地大人亦大). sky.天 Heaven. 111 .

Hence the meanings ‘and’.’ 112 . furthermore. ‘furthermore.而 And. ér而 Picture of a beard – an extension of the face.

capable. néng能 A bear holding meat in its mouth – indicative of capability. be able.能 Can. 113 .

’ The image of a mother playing with a child conveys the sense “all is well” – a meaning the character often conveys in usage. 好 hǎo 好 hào好 A mother 女 taking care of her child 子 – an expression of goodness. to one’s content. 好好 hǎohāo: An adverb meaning in perfectly good condition. the character means ‘to like.’ ‘be fond of. etc. In the fourth tone (hào). with all one’s heart.Good. 114 .

The character shows people kneeling within the city walls – living in conformance to its laws. A city is where people live in conformance to commands issued by the ruler. City walls might as well be symbolic of a mechanism that ensures conformance. an enclosure) depicting the city walls.City. 115 . Another explanation is that the component on top derives from 囗(wéi. it is from ‘邑’ abbreviated and conveys the notion of conformance. When the symbol ‘阝’ occurs as a component on the right side of characters. 邑 yì邑 The ancient forms show a person bowing to commands 口 issued. town.

even.All. 都 is an administrative unit of 500 villages. already. Or.” an ancient work. those who 者 live within the city 邑 – all its inhabitants. Pronounced ‘dū’ the character means capital. the character originally referred to a temple for royal ancestors. According to the Shuo Wen. 116 . metropolis. The meaning “already” evolves from that 都 referred to lands which had already been brought under administrative control – as opposed to the barbarian lands. 都 dōu都 Those who 者 come under rule of the capital city 邑 – all. In the “Rites of Zhou.

火 is often abbreviated to 灬.火 Fire. when occurring at the bottom of a character. 117 . huǒ火 Fire with flames rising. as in 煮 (zhǔ. cook).

and symbolizes animal in general. the character is reduced to 犭.犬 Dog. pig). 118 . 犭 symbolizes a 豕(shǐ. cat) the component derives from 豸(zhì. pig). quǎn犬 The picture of a dog. in 猪(zhū. As a component. In 猫( māo. a beast/ a feline).

自然 nature. like that. right.natural. 虽然: although. 忽然: suddenly.然 rán然 So. like that. 當然: of course. 119 . The spontaneous change dog 犬 meat 肉 undergoes when exposed to fire 灬 .

’ 120 . shuǐ水 The picture of flowing water. As a component. 水 is often reduced to 氵. The ancient forms resemble the trigram 坎(kǎn) ☵ (water).水 Water. and referred to as the 三點水 or the ‘three-dot water.

Note: Here 回 shows an abyss of water. “回. The object disappears in a whirl . drown. dive. be no more. the character means to sink. according to the Shuo Wen. To disappear.沒 Méi: Not. 入水有所取也。从 no more. to be 121 . in order to being below. disappear. sink." --Wieger. the head 在回下。會意。By extension. to disappear.” "To get something under water. méi沒 mò沒 When pronounced mò. while 回 turning on one's self. submerge. 淵水也. The character shows a hand dropping something in water 氵.

And the form 乛 indicates the presence of an object at that instance. Alternate interpretation: Present 乛 under the roof 亼. 今 jīn今 The character conveys the notion of presence. now. 亼.Now. present. The oracle bone script forms may be interpreted as the instance of time 一 where the past. 122 . present and future meet – now. indicates where the past. present and future through the assemblage of three lines.

Yet others derive from the image of boats tied together to form a square or rectangular pontoon – with a boat which forms a side of such a pontoon. 方知: Discover. A boat docking with another. method. was to be followed when boats dock with one another or at a harbor. Some ancient forms show the image of a boat docking at a jetty. given prominence in the pictograph. to ensure safety.derives from the sense ‘to meet with’something met or encountered – note how the imagery of a boat docking with a harbor conveys the sense. “併船也。象兩舟省、緫頭形。凡方之屬皆从方。” – Shuo Wen 123 方 fāng方 . The meaning method. The boats’ heads are shown in the pictograph.’ The adverbial usage . prescription follows from that a particular procedure.Side. on its side. just then. just then . As an adverb: then.then. square. The various symbols are now abstracted to the same form ‘方. a method.

於 From. out of. to. indicates a wave of energy emerging. symbolizes a source. yú於 方. and are the objects carried along with it. a carrier. 124 . the picture of a pontoon. by.

From. emerging from. The form 亏 which gives forth the meaning “expansion” is closely related to this form and symbolizes an upward expansion of energy. out of. “於也。象气之舒亏。从丂从一。一者,其气平之也。凡亏之 屬皆从亏。 今變隸作于。” – Shuo Wen 125 . The horizontal lines 一 indicate uniform. level expansion.于 yú于 A character with meaning similar to 於. Shows 氣 qi emerging from a source and expanding upwards.

when swaddled. 子.巳 A fetus. the child is 巳 or 包. a fetus…In the maternal womb. sì巳 "The figure of an embryo. 兒" – Wieger. at birth. 126 . when it begins to walk. or .

move.走 Go. swinging his arms. a process underway. etc. zǒu走 Picture of a person walking briskly. . 127 . As a component.meanings that are conveyed through the imagery of a person on a journey. it indicates the meanings to walk. walk.

qǐ起 The same character is often written 起 with 巳(sì) replaced by 己(jǐ. rising. start. raise. self) which is of phonetic significance.起 Rise. A process 走 in its infancy 巳 – starting. build. 128 .

as opposed to the feet in ancient forms of 還.Huán: Come back. Hái: Still. 129 還 huán還 hái還 . under a watchful eye 目 – return. Continued movement within a region – still. return. Note that the ancient form of 睘(huán) carried the picture of a hand. is phonetic. The meaning of 睘(timid) is conveyed through the picture of an eye seeing through a veil . repayment. Shows movement 辶 in a circle. yet. . yet. timid). repay. 睘 (huán. within in a region 衣 . in the modern form.

分 Divide. distinguish. separate. a part. fēn分 Picture of a sword or a knife 刀 dividing 八 or separating something. 130 .

殳 Component meaning beat. hit. shū殳 A hand holding a weapon. 131 . Indicates an action that involves use of force. etc..

弓 A bow. 132 . bend. with its handle in the middle. gōng弓 Picture of a Chinese bow.

發 Send out. means “move forward.” The bottom half of the character shows a bow 弓 shooting 殳 out arrows. advance. expand. emit. 133 . an ideograph showing two feet . fā發 癶(bò). develop.

as seen from above. 134 . Picture of a nail. fourth in a series. The ancient forms show the head of a nail.丁 dīng丁 Fourth of the 10 Heavenly Stems. metal) added. Now nail is written as 釘(dīng) with 金 (jīn.

accomplish. 戊(wù. chéng成 A handled instrument 戊 driving in a nail 丁– a work completed. finish. Chéng is the sound made when a nail is driven into a wooden surface. the 5 th of the Heavenly Stems) was the picture of a kind of . Its modern form derives from 戈 135 .成 Complete. weapon: modified.

event). The work of an officer includes recording major events. 史 (shǐ. work. a task. history). 136 . affair.事 shì事 A matter. an occupation. official) share the same ancient form. 事 (shì. A hand holding a pen writing what is said 口 . and 吏 (lì. event.

隹 Picture of a short tailed bird. no single syllable word currently exists. zhuī隹 A bird with a short tail. Symbol occurs as a component in other characters. 137 .

Compare with 雙 (shuāng. a measure word for animals and birds. alone. A single bird held in the hand. one of a pair. double). 138 .隻 zhī隻 Single.

only. 只 derives from 口 (kǒu. merely. mouth) and 八 representing the qi 氣 or vital breath drawing downwards (氣下引之形) . The expansion of energy here being simple in nature. 139 . The visual form of 只 abstracts the nature of movement of thought when the concept merely is perceived by the mind. zhǐ只 According to the Shuo Wen. and also the movement of sound when 只(zhǐ) is intoned .只 Only. etc. comes the extended meaning merely.

and where they meet being the horizon. originally written 兦. etc. the horizontal the earth. perish. disappear. 亡. As a component. suggests the meaning ‘to enter 入 and disappear into the horizon’.亡 Flee. flee. fade away. wáng亡 represents a region – the vertical line representing the skies. Hence the meanings perish. etc. it conveys the meanings. 140 .

unexpected.乍 Abrupt. sudden. 141 . Attempting to flee 兦. zhà乍 The modern form derives from 兦 and 一. but unexpectedly hindered by a barrier 一.

zuò作 A man 亻working to overcome a hindrance encountered 乍 – work.作 Do. to do. work. make. 142 .

xiàng向 143 . face.向 Towards. to. A window facing a particular direction.

value. noble. which dispels 八 the wind – lofty. high. shàng尚 The ridge pole on the roof of a house. 144 . honor. noble. superior. lofty.尚 Esteem.

Within a particular field 田, in terms of value 尚.

dāng當 dàng當

Dāng: serve as, be equal, be just as. Dàng: proper, appropriate, regard as. From 尚(shàng, lofty) and 田 (field) – the sense conveyed is value, worth, of the same value as, to attribute a similar value to .


Tree, wood, timber.


Picture of a tree with the branches, trunk and roots shown.


Eye, look. The picture of an eye, turned sideways.



each other . xiāng相 An eye observing a tree.相 Appearance . The character conveys the notion of reciprocity: the object and the eye interacting to make vision possible. mutual . 148 .

To reflect 相 in the mind 心.


To think, to consider, suppose, hope, would like to.


Kàn: See, look at, watch, read.

kàn看 kān看

An eye with a hand held above it as when observing something. “One shades the eyes in order to see better, cutting off the rays of the sun, and gathering the light,” says the Shuo Wen. Pronounced kān, the character means look after, tend, keep under surveillance.

Civilized, cultured, literary, literature, writing.


A man with a tattoo on his chest – cultured, civilized. The symbol conveys the sense civilized when occurring as a component.


not have. Symbol shows a thick forest. myriad. all that exists. has a meaning similar to myriad. the character .abundant) is used to describe wú無 the picture of a dancer. From 大 immense. Dance is written 舞( Note: The Shuo Wen says 豐(fēng.wǔ). A thick forest. according to the Shuo Wen. represented nothingness.symbol made of two 十(ten)s ) combined with 木 tree on each side. without. etc. From 亡 and to exist 亡 – nothingness. is nothingness. 152 . In ancient writing. twenty .無 Nothingness. abundant. with two feet underneath. by extension. and 廿( niàn. by itself. An idea which seems rooted in the Daoist thought that the myriad of phenomenon. the symbol . to indicate movement . The myriad of things ceasing .

begin. start.開 Open. 153 . kāi開 Two hands (reduced to 廾) removing the bolt 一 of a door 門 –to open.

154 . to divine. 卜 shows the shape of the cracks that appear on the shell.卜 Foretell. consult an oracle. bǔ卜 Divination was done by exposing tortoise shells to heat and reading the cracks formed. predict.

Of use. that which can be employed for a purpose. yòng用 A divination卜 that has hit the mark 中.用 Use. 155 . apply. “可施行也從卜從中” – Shuo Wen. employ.

zhǔ主 A lamp with a flame giving light. principal. main. That which guides. master. 156 . main.主 Lord.

in accordance with. Hence the meanings ‘to follow’. ‘in accordance with.如 Be like. rú如 It’s the nature of a woman 女 to follow directions given 口 – by her father when she is young.’ etc. following. and by her husband after marriage. 157 .

zhōu舟 158 . ship. The picture of a boat.舟 Boat.

etc.” in the context of flow of time. The ‘止’ in front of ‘舟’suggests forward movement. former. is before. The sense “in front of. qián前 A boat 舟 on water . moving forward 止 –front. preceding. 159 . former. forward. Alternate explanation: A person standing with his leg on the prow of a boat that is moving forward. advance. forward.前 Front. previous.

160 . the symbol showed an axe working on a surface . Some interpret as an abstract form indicating the movement of the axe head when chopping wood.斤 Half a kilogram. jīn斤 Earliest forms were the picture of an axe-head. By bronze script writing. The symbol is also used to represent a weight approximately equal to that of an axe-head. an axe. according to the Shuo Wen. The image of an axe chopping wood (斫木也象形凡斤之屬皆從斤).

place. ‘Suǒ’ is the sound of the axe swing.所 That which. office. The meaning ‘place’ derives from the sense ‘an abode 戶. etc. by. by.’ 161 . suǒ所 Shows an axe 斤 carving a door 戶 – ‘that which is doing the work’( as the axe 斤 is in this symbolic instance) .’ and the sense ‘office’ from ‘the place where work is being done. carved out 斤.

volume. of a tree 木 – basis. stem. root. 162 . More ancient forms depict a tree with the roots and the lower trunk prominently shown. stem. běn本 The foundation.本 Basis. indicated by 一 in seal script forms. root. origin.

view. opinion. catch sight of.見 See. view. etc. jiàn見 A person with a big eye observing something – to see. 163 .

jade). as in 現. beautiful. 164 . When 王 occurs as a component. gems. yù玉 Rings of jade on a stand 丨. king).玉 Jade. it usually derives from 玉 (yù. The 丶 dot in the modern form symbolizes a round stone of jade and serves to distinguish the character from 王(wáng.

xiàn現 From 玉 (yù. jade) and 見 (jiàn. conspicuously manifesting itself to the eye 見. 165 . see) – the luster of a gem 玉.現 Manifest. appear. display.

The modern character for silk 絲(sī) from 糹doubled. etc. twisted at the end. logic. As a component. connection.糸 A silk thread. 166 . reason. it is written 糹and indicates ordering. sī糸 Picture of fine threads of silk.

rén壬 The picture of a carry pole with a weight attached to each end. 聽. A character which has come to be written the same as 壬 is (tǐng.壬 Ninth of the ten heavenly stems. 167 . a person 人 seated on the ground 土). serve in a position). etc. it conveys the meaning to shoulder. as in 任 (rèn. as a component. occurs as a component in 呈. to bear. Hence.

gōng工 Picture of a tool used for pounding or a carpenter’s square. By extension: work. 168 .工 Work.

’ The 一 above shows the ground. and unbroken. The 巠 were thought to flow perpetually. work) but the ancient form of 壬 (rén.巠 Underground water courses. 9th of the 10 heavenly stems).’ 169 . jīng巠 Underground streams of water 川. ‘水脈也從川在一下一地也. Below川 is not 工(gōng. of great importance in Chinese geomancy. conveying the sense ‘to hold up.

when the character represents a classic or a scripture – a work from which emerges an a never ending flow or principles 糸. channels in Chinese medicine. longitude. 170 . principles. a continuous.經 jīng經 Scripture. manage. The fundamental sense is unbroken. continuous flow 巠. With other meanings such as channels. 糸 serves to convey the sense a line. 糸 conveys logic. constant. classics. constant.. pass through. unbroken channel. reason. longitude. a connection. ordering. etc. and so on.

’ 171 .頁 A page in a book. The original meaning was ‘head’. a sheet of paper. yè頁 Picture of a man with a prominent head. The character was later borrowed for the meaning ‘a leaf of a book.

leading.頭 Head. a vessel) and 頁(yè. head). main. top/end of something. chief. From ( dòu. tóu頭 172 .

八 shows division. Ancient forms show a region 囗 divided 八 – public. To divide 八 or dispel a thing’s cocooned nature– to make public. collective. 173 . gōng公 The 厶(sī) in the modern form is the picture of a cocoon .公 Public.

tóng同 An orifice and a lid that fits– similar. similar.同 Same. concord. concordance. modern form may be interpreted as an orifice which go together as one . harmony. The and a lid 174 . same.

it is often reduced to 匕. person who has “turned around. etc. 匕 bǐ匕 175 . in others it is a man turning around.” completely changed.” 倒人為𠤎. Some ancient forms of the character seem to show the picture of a man seated in meditation ( ). “The primitive sense. it is the picture of a spoon.” The character𠤎 (huà) means “change” and is traditionally interpreted as the picture of a man overturned.” Wieger says. 死也. it being a modern abstraction for a range of symbols.An ancient type of spoon. When occurring as a component. Wieger cites the Shuo Wen when he explains the character as a man “tumbled head over heels(從倒人)”. In some characters. 匕 conveys various meanings. was “to die. In modern writing. transforming himself. a component indicating transformation or change. Others show an upside down man. 匕 traditionally had the meaning “a man turning around (從反人). when 𠤎 occurs as a component.

feather. The picture of a feather. máo毛 176 . down.毛 Hair. wool.

” “考也。七十曰老。从人、毛、匕。言須髮變白也。凡老之屬 皆从老。” A 70 year old is referred to as 老. of long standing.Old. venerable.” which evolves as an extension of the sense “of long standing. 老 is also used to convey the meaning “always. according to the Shuo Wen. 老 lǎo老 The hair 毛 changing 匕 color: old. Or. always. the hair 毛 turning 匕 grey. 177 .

attend to. to comply with. to dedicate oneself to. from A. “隨行也。 从辵、 从, 从亦聲。” – Shuo Wen cóng從 A man following another 从 on a journey 辵 – to follow.從 From. Note: 从 is often used as a convenient substitute for 從. 从 is described by the Shuo Wen as “相聽也。从二人。” 178 . follow. join. obey. etc. to move along with(“隨行也”). ‘從 A’ also evokes the sense following A. to yield to.

lì力 The picture of a strongly muscled arm exerting itself – strength. force. 179 .力 Strength. force.

dōng東 “從日在木中.東 East. 180 .” The rising sun 日 seen through the trees 木.

weighty. Wieger points out an old [seal script] variant of the character which resembles a weighing machine. 181 . are extensions of this sense. east). important. The eastern side was considered the place of honor at a court and the important people were always seated on the east. with weights piled on each other: . Heavy. weighty. a person seated at a place) and 東(dōng. zhòng重 From (tǐng. etc.重 Heavy.

動 Move. 182 . dòng動 Force applied 力 on something of weight 重 – move.

50 grams. both. 183 .兩 Two. liǎng兩 Picture of a balance with equal weights on each arm.

Zhǎng: grow. The ancient forms show a person with long hair. increase. a chief.長 Cháng: long. cháng長 zhǎng長 184 .

矢 An arrow. Picture of an arrow. shǐ矢 185 .

sense. To speak as if to hit the mark.知 Know. 186 . realize. zhī知 Words 口 like arrows 矢.

187 .

Master your semester with Scribd & The New York Times

Special offer for students: Only $4.99/month.

Master your semester with Scribd & The New York Times

Cancel anytime.