From kin to kin­dred, a char­ac­ter that con­nects peo­ple and brings them to­geth­er落地为兄弟,何必骨肉亲

The World of Chinese - - On The Character - - HUANG WEIJIA (黄伟嘉) AND LIU JUE (刘珏)

If同志 ( t5ngzh#, com­rade) was the ubiq­ui­tous form of ad­dress in the rev­o­lu­tion­ary past— and has since been ap­pro­pri­ated by the LGBT com­mu­nity—then 亲 ( q~n) may be the mod­ern equiv­a­lent, at least among young ur­ban women. Of­ten used by Taobao mer­chants chat­ting with cus­tomers on­line, it is short for 亲爱的 ( q~n’3i de), or “dear, beloved, cher­ished.” In the UK or US, a sim­i­lar term might be “love” or “hon” re­spec­tively—a pla­tonic term of en­dear­ment, of­ten used by co­work­ers or new ac­quain­tances, to help close dis­tances and fa­cil­i­tate com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

The char­ac­ter’s evo­lu­tion fol­lowed a sim­i­lar path as to how we form so­cial con­nec­tions in life: We are born with blood ties and, from there, make friends, and build var­i­ous re­la­tion­ships. First and fore­most, 亲 refers to one’s par­ents, or 双亲( shu`ngqin): 母亲 ( m^q~n, mother) and 父亲 ( f&qin, father). Con­fu­cian­ism views blood kin­ship as the foun­da­tion of so­ci­ety, and over the years, var­i­ous ad­her­ents have pro­mul­gated ex­em­plars of fil­ial piety, but not all are ex­actly shin­ing mod­els to fol­low—one tale fea­tures a poverty-stricken cou­ple, who plan to kill their son in or­der to save food for the hus­band’s mother. Luck­ily, the child sur­vives, as the gods in­stead re­ward the cou­ple’s “virtue” with an urn full of gold.

An­other story, that’s thank­fully more light­hearted, con­cerns an old man in his 70s, who of­ten dressed flam­boy­antly and jaun­tily to ap­pear young for his par­ents’ sake—so they could take their minds off their own age. The story coined the term 彩衣娱亲( c2iy~ y% q~n, wear col­or­ful clothes to please par­ents, or sim­ply, “to en­ter­tain one’s par­ents”).

One’s bi­o­log­i­cal off­spring and sib­lings are def­i­nitely 亲, such as in 亲兄弟( q~nx­i4ngd#, bi­o­log­i­cal broth­ers). To stress the bi­o­log­i­cal bond, use 亲生 ( q~nsh8ng), such as in 亲生子女( q~nsh8ng z@n)), bi­o­log­i­cal chil­dren). Sim­i­larly, bi­o­log­i­cal par­ents are 亲生父母( q~nsh8ng f&m^), while adop­tive par­ents are called 养父母( y2ngf&m^).

Mostly re­fer­ring to blood re­la­tions, 亲some­times can also mean re­la­tions through mar­riage, as in 姻亲 ( y~nq~n) or “in-laws.” Though the phrase 相亲 ( xi`ngq~n) is roughly trans­lated as “blind date” to­day, it ac­tu­ally started as an ar­ranged meet­ing in which a man’s par­ents would as­sess and hope­fully ap­prove a prospec­tive wife for him.

In other phrases, 亲 also refers to rel­a­tives in gen­eral, such as 亲戚 ( q~nqi, rel­a­tives), 亲属 ( q~nsh^, kins­folk), 亲友 ( q~ny6u, fam­ily and friends). The warm and lov­ing feel­ings one share with rel­a­tives are 亲情 ( q~nq!ng). But some­times, we also say 远亲不如近邻( yu2nq~n b&r% j#nl!n, “a close neigh­bor means more than a dis­tant rel­a­tive”), since one’s neigh­bors may be better able to ex­tend a help­ing hand in times of need, com­pared to dis­tant kin.

To some, guanxi (关系, “con­nec­tions” or “re­la­tion­ships”) is re­garded as a “mys­te­ri­ous” Chi­nese cul­tural el­e­ment, though, in fact, nepo­tism or fa­voritism are hardly phe­nom­e­non unique to China or Asia. Although there are el­e­ments of guanxi that are ar­guably ex­cep­tional, the term is rarely un­der­stood that way, and nor does guanxi al­ways guar­an­tee spe­cial treat­ment, such as in the phrase 六亲不认( li& q~n b% r-n, “re­fused to ac­knowl­edge one’s clos­est rel­a­tives”), which means the per­son does not play fa­vorites with any­one.

An­other folk say­ing goes, 亲兄弟,明算账 ( q~nx­i4ngd#, m!ng su3nzh3ng, “even be­tween bi­o­log­i­cal broth­ers, fi­nan­cial mat­ters should be set­tled clearly”). A fair and im­par­tial at­ti­tude is al­ways to be en­cour­aged in mat­ters of jus­tice, as the phrase 大义灭亲( d3 y# mi- q~n, “pun­ish one’s own rel­a­tives in the cause of jus­tice”) de­scribes.

Of course, in real life, it’s of­ten the case that任人唯亲( r-n r9n w9i q~n, “ap­point peo­ple by fa­voritism”), but there also ex­ists its equal and op­po­site, at least in an­cient his­tory: Ac­cord­ing to a leg­end of the Spring and Au­tumn pe­riod (770 BCE – 476 BCE), when the lord of the Jin state asked his of­fi­cial Qi Huangyang to pro­pose a can­di­date for provin­cial chief, Qi rec­om­mended some­one who was his en­emy. The lord later asked him to find a gen­eral for the army, and Qi rec­om­mended his own son. In both cases, Qi ex­plained: “You asked for an ap­pro­pri­ate can­di­date for the po­si­tion, which has noth­ing to do with whether they are my en­emy or my son.” The tale give rise to the phrase 举贤不避亲仇( j^ xi1n b% b# q~n ch5u), which means “rec­om­mend who­ever is ca­pa­ble, fam­ily or foe.”

Later, 亲 came to mean peo­ple who are close to you, but not nec­es­sar­ily re­lated by blood, such as in 亲如手足( q~n r% sh6u z%, “as dear as a brother”), and 亲近 ( q~nj#n, “be close to”). It is also used to de­scribe sen­ti­men­tal feel­ings, as in亲热 ( q~nr-, af­fec­tion­ate) and 亲切 ( q~nqi-, warm and kindly). Along the same lines, as a verb,亲 means “kiss,” short for 亲吻 ( q~nw0n). For in­stance, 她亲了小猫一下。( T` q~n le xi2om`o y!xi3. “She gave the kitty a kiss.”)

Fi­nally, 亲 can also re­fer to one­self, mean­ing “per­son­ally, in per­son,” as in 亲自 ( q~nz#). For ex­am­ple, 这是他的亲身经历。( Zh- sh# t` de q~nsh8n j~ngl#. “This event was his per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence”).

Whether it’s fam­ily or friends, 亲 is about those who are, in some way, close to you. Hope­fully, the mean­ing of this char­ac­ter will keep ex­pand­ing, be­cause, in the end, we are all in this life to­gether.

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