Chinese Characters: Poetic Symbols

The numbers of Chinese language learners across the world have been on the rise in recent years. While those used to phonetic languages often find Chinese characters difficult to learn, some people may experience the gratification of discovering historical and cultural elements in the process.

Some pictographic symbols of Chinese characters express people’s keen observation and experience of the world. Take the character 旦 for example, the upper part is a sun symbol, while the lower part represents the horizon In other words, the character indeed stands for “the sun rising on the horizon”. The name of a famous university in Shanghai, Fudan, is composed of the characters  复 and 旦,which means “the sun and moon rise day after day”. These characters were chosen to encourage students to learn new knowledge every day.

A number of characters containing 日 as an element all relate to the rising or setting of the sun. For example, the traditional Chinese character for “east” 東, looks like the sun rising from a forest. The character 暮 was originally written as 莫, resembling a scene of the sun seeting into a forest. The left part of the character 明 was originally the symbol for “window”, while the right part stands for “moon”. Thus, 明 depicts a scene of the moon shining through the window. Sounds really poetic! The traditional Chinese character for “beauty” is written as 麗, resembling two deer running side by side on a mountain. A beautiful scene, isn’t it?

The 2008 Olympic Games has adopted a set of symbols to represent the beauty of Chinese calligraphy, or the “Beauty of Seal Characters”. A “seal character” is a type of Chinese calligraphy often carved on seals. By combining certain features of different traditional forms of Chinese characters, the symbols appear both lively and highly representative of the sports they stand for.

This is the symbol for “swimming”:


The upper part is a symbol for “person”, while the lower part is a symbol for “water”. The swimmer strokes the water with vigor, imparting a strong sense of motion.

This is the symbol for “track and field”:


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