This section is dedicated to Chinese characters; specifically, ideograms, pictograms, and their etymology. At this point, you can just jump to any of the interesting subsections listed below, or first read the introductory blurb below the table and then explore further.
Chinese characters are very interesting. Although at first I found them ridiculously complicated, I learned to appreciate the way in which many are constructed -- particularly those which have retained their ideogrammatic origins. Chinese characters are constructed from a set of 227 fundamental symbols, called radicals. By gluing different combinations of radicals together, we produce new words. Then we can put words next to words to make even more new words. The choice of which radicals or words are used to construct larger characters is sometimes motivated by poetic metaphor. These metaphors can be philosophical, profound, dark, and even humorous. For instance, the character for flower, ±‚ (hua1), is composed of the words "grass" (++, cao3) and "transformation" 化 (hua4). A flower is like the grass transformed. Another good one is nation: mouth 口 (kou3) + earth/village + lance 戈 (ge1) + surround 囗 (wei2) = nation 國. Interpretation: To have a nation, one requires a language, a people, a means of defense, and a boundary line.
It's also worth noting that although Chinese has evolved a lot over the millenia, it has changed relatively little when compared to most other languages. One could say the characters help keep China connected with its origins; although the simplified Chinese movement certainly isn't helping, nor is it helping my enthusiasm for the language. Although similar meaningful word constructions exist in other languages as well (for instance, in English, the word "understand" = "stand" + "under": if you understand something you can stand under it), these connections might be more rare -- at least, they are usually oblivious to me as a native speaker of English, since I no longer think about the smaller words that comprise a larger word. However, as an adult beginnning student of Chinese, the graphical nature of Chinese characters forced me to think about why the characters look the way they do. It's fun to know about.
- W.Wu, 3/16/2002 10:27AM
Note: Feel free to share more ideograms or other interesting facets of Chinese with me. E-mail wwu at ocf.berkeley.edu.
If you are unable to view the Chinese characters in the right column properly through your browser (e.g., you just see stuff like @#!*$?6ï-), then you need to download a Chinese language pack from one of the sites below.
The ideograms and pictograms pages have a lot of large, bold HeiTi GIFs that look like this:
If you want to copy these images, that's fine, but I'd appreciate it if you just cited me when using the images for whatever purpose. I made all of these characters with a tedious process involving NJStar WP, Microsoft's Global IME, screenshots, and Adobe Photoshop. I don't know if a better way exists; this is a [ridiculous] process I came up with myself.