Tag Archives: Chinese characters

Shén 神 Another choice for mysterious or mystery?

temple roofline in China 2009 July

 

 

 

 

Shén    Shen mysterious 2 in jpg

Last week I talked about the character mysterious / mystery that I am going to use in my Ming Dynasty trilogy covers. There are other characters with the definition of mystery or mysterious. Another one is shén. However, when the character shén is used it implies mystery in the sense of spiritual. One way for a non-native Chinese speaker to discover which character is best is to look up what other words use that particular character. This gives a good idea of the underlying connotation versus the character’s denotation.   For shén [using the on-line dictionary http://www.mdbg.net/chindict/] we do find the word mysterious/mystery with both   shén mì and it is defined asmysterious / mystery.” However, there are many other words which use shén and refer to the divine, to Daoism, mythology, mystical, gods, and the miraculous.

What does this imply? Well, if you are writing a mystery which centers on the supernatural and paranormal, perhaps you would want to use the character shén versus because it implies a particular kind of mystery or mysterious event. It subtly alters your readers to another layer of meaning and insight.

Xuán     Xuan mystery 2 in jpg

Another character which can mean mystery is xuán. When xuán is used as a part of a word, we find a predominance of words referring to philosophical and spiritual schools of thought—Daoism, Buddhism, Confucianism. Xuán is also used in word combinations that refer to something being abstruse, simply difficult to understand. So, again, we find that although xuán can be used to mean mystery, it has a different underlying connotation from both shén and .

When choosing a Chinese word we have so many choices because each character used in creating that particular word brings with it a strong intellectual and emotional component. So, while my Mei-hua trilogy has religious and folk traditions included, they are a part of the cultural background of the period, not the central component of the stories, therefore, the character I chose was .

秘 mì = secret, mysterious

 

Great Wall of China

Great Wall of China

I am working on getting out my first Mei-hua story. The novel is part of a YA historical/adventure trilogy set in 1380 China. Mei-hua, the biracial daughter of a magistrate, finds her world turned upside down when her father is targeted by a political enemy. I have had a lot of fun researching and writing this trilogy.

This year I will begin publishing the Mei-hua series as an indie author and one part of the indie project is creating covers. To tie the three books together, I wanted the covers to have a similar feel. Kelly Cochran, who is designing them, came up with a splendid idea: use a ribbon with a seal on it and place the ribbon on each front cover. Since the trilogy is also a mystery, the character for secret or mysterious [mì, mih ] is stamped on the seal.

In checking out this character (remember that the actual character used for Chinese words infuse the word itself with another layer of meaning), I noticed that mì, mih is a part of the word for secretary  秘書 mì shū, mih shu. The second character for secretary [shū, shu] means book.

This combination [mì+ shū] struck me as a wonderful description of the role of secretaries—keeping in mind that this word was apparently used historically for an official secretary, such as one who works in the government, which is often a powerful position.

What does this combination of characters mean when referring to the secretary’s role? I think it means that the secretary must be discrete and not spread information about what he does and learns in his job, because a secretary is privy to extremely sensitive information.

Of course, 秘書 mì shū, mih shu could also refer to written materials, such as ledgers and documents that the secretary writes and keeps track of. .

In either case, the Chinese character’s original meaning imparts a special meaning to the new word, secretary, with a connotation beyond the noun’s simple denotation. It suggests secrecy, confidentiality, and concealment. How much fun is that!

Why do Chinese characters look so complicated? Part 2 蝴 蝶

As we said in the last post (January  3, 2014) the radical makes up an essential part of a character but there often is a second part, which usually gives further information.  The word butterfly, hú dié, hur dier ( ) is a great example.  The first word in this combination is , hur ().

Its radical is chόng, chongr , which means bug. The second part is the character hú, hur, meaning foolish, reckless. Continue reading

Why do Chinese characters look so complicated? 蝴

I think Chinese characters are beautiful and elegant. In fact, historically, the script itself has often been used as art. You’ve probably seen some of these displayed  in museums and on walls of businesses and homes. They are often boldly written on long, vertical scrolls.

Chinese characters may look difficult at first, however, that’s only until you understand them. Personally I’m not an expert but with a bit of background anyone can learn about and appreciate them more fully. Continue reading