ON THE CHAR­AC­TER

A char­ac­ter to brighten up your day— or night 阳光下也有偏见

The World of Chinese - - Ed­i­tor’s Let­ter - - HUANG WEIJIA (黄伟嘉) AND TAN YUNFEI (谭云飞)

魅力汉字

In the midst of the “dog days” of sum­mer, Chi­nese ne­ti­zens like to jok­ingly ex­press grat­i­tude to two fig­ures from his­tory: Wil­lis Car­rier, in­ven­tor of the mod­ern air-con­di­tion­ing unit, and mytho­log­i­cal archer Hou Yi (后羿). Ac­cord­ing to leg­end, there used to be 10 suns in the sky, but Hou Yi shot down nine of them to pro­tect the planet’s in­hab­i­tants from burn­ing to a cin­der.

In Chi­nese, the char­ac­ters 日( r#) and 阳 ( y1ng) both rep­re­sent the sun. The or­a­cle bone script of the char­ac­ter阳 de­vel­oped over 3,000 years ago, and con­sisted of a “moun­tain” rad­i­cal, 阜 ( f&), on the left, and a rep­re­sen­ta­tion

of the ris­ing sun, or 日, on the right. Its orig­i­nal mean­ing was “the side of a moun­tain ex­posed to the sun.”

In an­cient Chi­nese phi­los­o­phy, yang (阳) and yin (阴) are the op­po­site prin­ci­ples or forces co­ex­ist­ing in na­ture and hu­man af­fairs. Pairs like the sun and moon, life and death, and male and fe­male can all be rep­re­sented by yin and yang. The 阳历 ( y1ngl#, so­lar cal­en­dar, or Gre­go­rian cal­en­dar) was de­vel­oped based on the ro­ta­tion of the Earth around the sun, while the tra­di­tional 阴历 ( y~nl#, lu­nar cal­en­dar) in China cor­re­sponded to the moon’s or­bit around the globe; 阳间 ( y1ngji`n) refers to the world of flesh (or what we would call “re­al­ity”), while 阴间 ( y~nji`n) refers to the spirit world, in­clud­ing the af­ter­life.

Ac­cord­ing to Tra­di­tional Chi­nese Medicine, up­set­ting the bal­ance of these op­pos­ing na­tures, or 阴阳失调( y~ny1ng sh~ti1o), is the root of most ill­nesses in the hu­man body. Even in mod­ern medicine, the Chi­nese word for a neg­a­tive test re­sults is 阴性 ( y~nx#ng, yin-type), while a pos­i­tive re­sult is called 阳性 ( y1ngx#ng, yang-type). For ex­am­ple: 他的病毒检测结果为阴性。( T` de b#ngd% ji2nc- ji9gu6 w9i y~nx#ng. “He tested neg­a­tive for the virus.”)

Gen­er­ally, as in­di­cated by most yin and yang re­lated ex­pres­sions, 阳 rep­re­sents the pos­i­tive or bright side, whereas 阴 is neg­a­tive and dark. For ex­am­ple, a con­spir­acy or un­der­hand scheme is called a 阴谋 ( y~nm5u). Other terms in­volv­ing 阴, such as 阴暗 ( y~n’3n, dim, dark), 阴沉 ( y~nch9n, over­cast, gloomy), 阴毒 ( y~nd%, treach­er­ous and vi­cious), and 阴狠 ( y~nh0n, sly and vi­cious) de­scribe a host of un­de­sir­able traits.

Where gen­der is con­cerned, 阳 is the char­ac­ter tra­di­tion­ally as­so­ci­ated with men, and 阴 with women: 阳刚 ( y1ngg`ng) de­scribes tra­di­tional mas­cu­line qual­i­ties (strong and tough), where­as阴柔 ( y~nr5u) refers to fem­i­nine ones (gen­tle and soft). Typ­i­cal an­cient at­ti­tudes about gen­der dif­fer­ences—many of which re­main in place to­day—were re­flected in the “Fam­ily Pre­cepts to De­scen­dants”《训子孙文》( ), an es­say by Chi­nese his­to­rian, writer, and politi­cian Sima Guang (司马光) of the North­ern Song dy­nasty (960 – 1127): “The hus­band is the sky, the sun, and yang; the wife is the Earth, the moon, and yin.”

The phrase 太阳 ( t3iy1ng) refers to the sun. More specif­i­cally, 朝阳 ( zh`oy1ng) is the ris­ing sun and 夕阳 ( x~y1ng) the set­ting sun. These terms can also serve as ad­jec­tives such as 朝阳产业 ( zh`oy1ng ch2ny-, emerg­ing in­dus­tries) and 夕阳产业 ( x~y1ng ch2ny-, de­clin­ing in­dus­tries). To ex­press re­gret for all life’s ephemera, you can quote a line from poet Li Shangyin (李商隐) of the late Tang dy­nasty (618 – 907)—夕阳无限好,只是近黄昏( X~y1ng w%xi3n h2o, zh@ sh# j#n hu1ngh$n), mean­ing “The set­ting sun is un­ri­valed in splen­dor; pity that the dusk fast ap­proaches.”)

The phrase for sun­shine is 阳光 ( y1nggu`ng), the source of 太阳能 ( t3iy1ngn9ng, so­lar en­ergy). For a trip to the beach on a sunny day, you may need to pro­tect your­self with gear such as 太阳镜 ( t3iy1ngj#ng, sun­glasses) and 太阳伞 ( t3iy1ngs2n, para­sol).

The char­ac­ter 阳 can be used to de­scribe other warm, bright, or pow­er­ful sub­jects: 阳春 ( y1ngch$n) is a warm spring, and 阳光少年( y1nggu`ng sh3oni1n) are en­er­getic youths. 阳关大道 ( y1nggu`n d3d3o), orig­i­nally re­fer­ring to the an­cient Yang­guan Pass along the an­cient Silk Road in Dun­huang, Gansu prov­ince, has evolved to mean a metaphor­i­cal road to pros­per­ity. If two col­lab­o­ra­tors do not see eye-to-eye on any mat­ter, they may dis­solve the part­ner­ship by say­ing, 你走你的阳关道,我走我的独木桥( N@ z6u n@ de y1nggu`nd3o, w6 z6u w6 de d%m&qi1o. “You take the wide and easy road; I will cross the nar­row log bridge.”)

Due to their op­po­si­tion, 阴 and 阳 ap­pear to­gether in ex­pres­sions re­lated to un­ex­pected or troubled top­ics. For ex­am­ple, 阴差阳错( y~nch` y1ngcu7, yin and yang are mis­matched), refers to mis­takes aris­ing from a strange com­bi­na­tions of cir­cum­stances. A per­son who is ec­cen­tric or ab­nor­mal is called 阴阳怪气( y~ny1ng gu3iq#, yin and yang are strange).

There is even an id­iom 阴盛阳衰( y~nsh-ng y1ng­shu`i, yin rises, yang falls) for a sit­u­a­tion where women out­per­form men (but not the other way around), such as the re­cent gaokao re­sults. Tra­di­tion­al­ists in China are al­ways con­cerned that men will be emas­cu­lated by highly ed­u­cated and high-achiev­ing women. They ought to re­mem­ber, though, that as in the yin-yang sym­bol, the two seem­ingly con­trary forces ac­tu­ally com­ple­men­tary and in­ter­de­pen­dent in the nat­u­ral world. A healthy physique, a truly bal­anced so­ci­ety, and a pros­per­ous coun­try are all the prod­uct of yin and yang equally.

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