On “Gui”

Special Focus - - Contents - Zou Xin­sheng 邹心胜

The Chi­nese char­ac­ter 贵 ( guì) con­jures up a pro­found im­age in Chi­nese peo­ple’s minds as well as in tra­di­tional Chi­nese cul­tures. Ac­tu­ally, the char­ac­ter 贵 com­bines three parts, the up­per part is 中 (zhōng), which means “within, in­side, among, in the cen­ter” in Chi­nese; the mid­dle part is 一 (yī), which means “top, above ,one, num­ber one”; the lower part is 贝 (bèi), which means “shell.” As we know, in an­cient China and some other parts of the world, the shell was once used as a mone­tary cur­rency, de­not­ing some­thing valu­able, ex­pen­sive, and pre­cious.

In a Chi­nese cul­tural con­text, the con­no­ta­tions of the char­ac­ter 贵 have been am­pli­fied with the pas­sage of the time. The most orig­i­nal and preva­lent mean­ing of 贵 is “ex­pen­sive, costly,” which was il­lus­trated in Shuowen Jiezi (ori­gin of Chi­nese Char­ac­ters), the first Chi­nese Dic­tio­nary known in his­tory. The fa­mous id­iom 洛阳纸贵 ( Luòyáng zhǐ guì) is the best ex­am­ple for the mean­ing. In the Western Jin Dynasty, an un­known poet named Zuo Si cre­ated a fa­mous lit­er­ary poem “Ode to Three Cap­i­tals” in the then cap­i­tal city Luoyang. The ode stirred up such a sen­sa­tion that peo­ple in Luoyang flocked to the sta­tion­ary shops be­cause they were afraid of the short­age of pa­pers, for ev­ery­one was copy­ing the Ode. Thus, pa­per be­came more ex­pen­sive than usual.

Many for­eign­ers are ex­tremely per­plexed about the greet­ings in China. When two Chi­nese peo­ple meet for the first time, es­pe­cially among the strangers, they ask each other’s age and name by adding the char­ac­ter 贵 . For ex­am­ple, 请问贵庚 (guìgēng)?May I know your (hon­or­able) age?请问您贵姓(guìxìng)? Would you please tell me your (hon­or­able) name? When ask­ing for one’s ill con­di­tion, they would say 贵恙 (Guìyàng), which may con­fuse the non-na­tives more. How­ever, for a Chi­nese, it is quite nor­mal to ad­dress each other in this way, for it is a kind of salu­ta­tion com­monly prac­ticed in daily life for re­spect­ing and for so­cial­iz­ing. The char­ac­ter 贵 is also ap­plied to in­di­cate a mean­ing of high so­cial sta­tus and im­mense in­flu­ence. In

China, the char­ac­ter 贵 is mainly con­nected to the royal fam­ily. For ex­am­ple,

贵族 (guìzú) no­ble­man,

贵戚 (Guìqì) King’s rel­a­tives, 权贵(quán­guì), high- rank­ing of­fi­cial,

贵妃 ( guìfēi) im­pe­rial con­cu­bine.

The fun­da­men­tal mean­ing of char­ac­ter

贵 can be re­ferred to as some­thing valu­able, which puts em­pha­sis on some­thing or cher­ishes some­thing. There are many id­ioms re­lated to the char­ac­ter 贵 in the Chi­nese lan­guage, pro­duc­ing rich and col­or­ful cul­tural con­no­ta­tions. For ex­am­ple, 人贵有志,学贵有恒 (rén guì yǒu zhì, xué guì yǒu héng; what is im­por­tant for a per­son is his am­bi­tion; what is i mpor­tant for the learn­ing is his per­sis­tence); 人贵有自知之明 (rén guì yǒu zìzhīzhīmíng, a wise man knows his own lim­i­ta­tions); 兵贵神速( bīng guì shénsù, speed is pre­cious in war); 母以子贵 (mǔ yǐ zǐ guì, the mother’s honor in­creases as her son’s po­si­tion rises).

As­ton­ish­ingly, the most rep­re­sen­ta­tive mean­ing of 贵 can be sum­ma­rized in one Chi­nese id­iom 荣华富贵(róng huá fù guì), which is a dream shared by

each in­di­vid­ual in China and a so­cial pro­to­type of am­bi­tion and suc­cess among them. Here 荣(róng), 华 (huá), 富 (fù), 贵(guì) refers re­spec­tively to glory, splen­dor, wealth and rank. If you ask some­one in the street, which one of the four do they pre­fer? They would prob­a­bly feel lit­tle hes­i­tant to re­spond with one an­swer—“all the four.”

So I wish all of you have 荣华富贵 , yet 苟富贵 勿相忘 (gǒu fùguì, wù xiāng­wàng, never for­get your old friends when you are rich), and 富贵不能淫 (fùguì bùnéng yín, never be cor­rupted by riches or hon­ors). Fur­ther­more we preach 和为贵(hé wéi guì, peace and har­mony is the most pre­cious) in the era of the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive.

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