"Chinese: Language of God"?

One of my pet peeves happens to be when evangelists get caught up to the point that they latch upon any ‘connection’ to their particular belief system they see - no matter how flimsy it is - and latch upon it. (And very often, they see ‘connection’ all around them.) I specifically have in mind claims like this:

students.washington.edu/cbsf/cool/Chinese.swf

The main gist of their claims is that Chinese characters are actually proof that the Chinese knew and worshipped the Judaeo-Christian God before Buddhism came into China. (“Before Buddha, the Chinese people worshipped the same God described in the Bible,” so the claim goes - never mind that buddhas are not actually ‘worshipped’ as gods per se. Also, whatever happened to the Jade Emperor or the Three Pure Ones? :rolleyes:)

The ancient Chinese sky deity 上帝 (Mandarin: Shàngdì ‘Above Emperor’/‘High Sovereign’, aka Shang-Ti; Cantonese: Seungdai, etc.) is identified with the Christian God with a brief introduction:

“Shang Di was the God of China before Buddha [sic]. He was the creator God and animal sacrifice was offered to Him. During the first three dynasties of China: Hsia 夏, aka Xia, c. 2070-c. 1600 BC], Shang 商, c. 1600 BC–c. 1046 BC], Chou 周, aka Zhou, c. 1046 BC–256 BC], the Chinese people worshipped Shang Di. Worship of Buddha [sic] came to China from India in about 50 BC. The God of the Bible was reintroduced to China when foreigners came from Europe.”

It is true that Shangdi was a very important deity in ancient Chinese religion, and that one might draw (superficial) parallels between certain aspects of his worship and Israelite religion - animal sacrifice (bulls were sacrificed to Shangdi) and aniconism (at least in later ages, Shangdi was not represented with an image, but with a tablet bearing the legend 皇天上帝 ‘Ruler of Heaven, Shangdi’).

http://img.55bbs.com/2/705/lidlkxzhqkNtE.jpg
Like this one from example. From the Temple of Heaven in Beijing.

Let’s do a little history lesson here. Shangdi was an ultimate spiritual power believed to rule over a hierarchy of other lesser gods controlling nature. Victory in battle, the success of crops, even the fate of the kingdom was attributed to his agency (or rather, through the agency of the lesser gods he is working through). But the clincher is this: Shangdi was too powerful and too distant to be worshipped by ordinary mortals; only the emperor could worship Shangdi directly, with sacrifices being offered to him yearly. In turn, Shangdi made himself accessible via the spirits of the royal ancestors - so there is an intersection between Shangdi worship and ancestor worship. The ancient emperors used the shoulder blades of oxen or tortoise shells for divination, to ascertain the will of Shangdi/the ancestors. These are the so-called ‘oracle bones’.

By the later Shang and the Zhou dynasties, Shangdi became more and more abstract (well, not that he already had a concrete personality to begin with) - he was identified with/replaced by ‘Heaven’ (天). The Zhou dynasty was founded by the Duke of Zhou, who justified his clan’s usurpation of the imperial throne with the concept of the ‘Mandate of Heaven’, which proposed that the protection of Shangdi/Heaven was not connected to clan membership but by one’s just governance. It didn’t matter where one came from; Heaven is on the side of a righteous ruler, the ‘Son of Heaven’. By contrast, it is believed that Heaven’s protection will depart from an emperor if he ruled unjustly/ineffectively and transfer itself to a more worthy candidate; future aspiring claimants to the imperial throne of China thus justified their claims to kingship by saying that the Mandate of Heaven had been taken from the incumbent dynasty and transferred to them. By the time Taoism had developed (4th century BC and later) Shangdi/Heaven became conflated further with the supreme deity/deities of Taoist belief: be it the Jade Emperor or the Tao itself (of which the Jade Emperor is a manifestation).

Now, while there is certainly the idea of Shangdì as the sole god of the ancient Chinese, there are also some who interpret Shangdì as a sort of collective of the imperial ancestral spirits (hence the intersection between Shangdi and ancestor worship); others think that he is a or the high god (with his name being used as a metonymy for all deities as a whole), but not necessarily the only god; still others hold that Shangdi was conceived of as the god who ruled over the sky/heaven or is the sky (thus explaining the name 天 Tiān ‘Heaven’), while the earth is ruled over by Houtu (后土 ‘Sovereign Earth’).


A Shang dynasty oracle bone, made out of an ox’s shoulder blade. Questions to deities/ancestors (ranging from topics like future weather, crop planting or military endeavors) posed by the emperors were carved onto the bone or shell, after which intense heat was then applied with a metal rod until the bone or shell cracked. The diviner performing the ceremony for the emperor would then interpret the pattern of cracks and usually write the prognostication (the emperor’s reading on the nature of the omen) upon the piece as well.

This whole Shangdi business was actually started by 19th century Christian missionaries to China, who were trying to find a Chinese word that would fit the Christian definition of God. There was a huge controversy in Protestant circles about whether ‘God’ in the Judaeo-Christian sense could better be represented by shén, or Shangdi, especially since the former had somewhat of a pantheistic connotation (shén was often applied to supernatural entities in the general sense, usually benevolent ones), while Shangdi was, by that time, too deeply associated with Taoism. Chinese Catholics, meanwhile, were banned by Clement XI in 1704 from using either Shangdì or Tian to refer to the Christian God (perhaps because of its connotations) so that God became known in Catholic parlance as 天主 Tiānzhǔ ‘Lord of Heaven’, and the Catholic Church became known in Chinese since then as 天主教會 Tiānzhǔ Jiàohuì ‘the Tiānzhǔ Church’. (The result is that Protestantism is more often the one that is labelled as 基督教 Jīdūjiào ‘Christianity’ in China!) The end result was that different Bible translations could not even agree on how to render the word for ‘God’. In an effort to resolve these differences, there was a compromise term coined in the 1980s Today’s Chinese Version of the Bible: 上主 Shàngzhǔ.

That’s it about Shangdi for now. Next time I’ll go to the central point of this flash presentation: Chinese characters (hanzi in Mandarin, aka kanji in Japanese or hanja in Korean).

It is possible that God gave visions and messages to the Chinese long before the current religions established themselves. You may want to do a little research into the Flathead Indians and how they waited patiently for the “Black Robes” to teach and lead them to Heaven through Catholicism. What did Paul say in Philippians? “All things are possible through Christ who strengthens us”.

People say the Chinese invented everything, no matter what, they had it first.

Just ignore it.

We’re supposed to learn something new every day. I’ve learned my “something” for today; now I can go back to bed :stuck_out_tongue:

Very interesting article, Patrick; thanks.

If Shangdi was a collective, or just the creator of a part of creation and not all, etc. then it certainly was not God. But acknowledging an unknowable creator, even alongside other lesser gods, would be consistent with acknowledging the true God. This is exactly what was going on among some of the Athenians when St. Paul preached there:

Acts 17:23 For passing by, and seeing your idols, I found an altar also, on which was written: To the unknown God. What therefore you worship, without knowing it, that I preach to you:

Likewise, it is not unreasonable to conclude that the Chinese did once acknowledge God, or at least their knowledge of him is a corruption of the true knowledge of him, rather than something completely unrelated (see Rom. 1:19-21).

It seems to me, given the information you have provided, it was probably a mix–some had more light than others. The lack of consistency is probably why the Pope restricted the use of that term.

Matteo Ricci, an Italian Jesuit priest in the 16th century started it after he studied and mastered Chinese classics and saw the connection between Shangdi and the Hebrew history. His findings are intriguing. Personally I was introduced to this Shandi biz after I saw a video presentation “God in Ancient China” (available in bits and pieces on Youtube) by Pastor Kong Hee of the City Harvest Church in Singapore. Yes , he also tried to connect the Chinese language to depict Biblical happenings. Nice to know but not critical. Suggestive at best.

No, I don’t think Matteo Ricci is so inept that the Shangdi connection to the Hebrew God can not be defended against the many opponents of his day. He almost got to get the Emperor of China to become Catholic. Watching God in Ancient China is a good start though and at certain places I sense a bit of anti-Catholicism.

catholic.com/magazine/articles/matteo-ricci-sj

I am trying to get a translated copy of Matteo Ricci’s Tianzhu shiyi (The True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven). I hope Google won’t fail me.

My main gripe with the website is really its rather selective use of Chinese characters that supposedly ‘prove’ that the ancient Chinese knew biblical events.

(Note: I do not disagree with the idea that different belief systems and pre-Christian cultures have glimpses of the truth in them. What I’m really against is the (to be frank) rather bad argumentation claims like this make. Claims like this are popular fodder for preachers who like to wax eloquent about “See? Christianity was prefigured in so-and-so,” but they don’t really hold up to close scrutiny.)

The site introduces Chinese characters (I’ll just call them 漢字 Hanzi, the Mandarin term for them) like this:

  • It is the oldest, continuously written language in the World. [Fair enough: Chinese is Greek’s contender for the title of ‘oldest continuously written language’. For the record, the oldest language for which we have a written specimen is Sumerian - ca. 3000 BC.]
  • It was first written over 4,500 years ago. [Our oldest *surviving specimens of written Chinese - the oracle bones - date from around 3,500 years ago, from the late Shang period; the site’s claim is a thousand years too early. We don’t know when Chinese writing was first invented; it was already a developed system by the time of the oracle bones so we can assume that it was invented earlier than the 1300s BC, but we don’t know exactly when. Now there are some prehistoric sites in China where archaeologists found markings that do resemble certain characters in the Shang period Chinese script, but they date from 7,000-8,000 years ago - in other words, they’re too early to be Hanzi.]
  • The inventors of the written language drew pictures to express words or ideas.
  • Simple pictures were combined to make more complex thoughts.

I’m guessing that most people who read this are ignorant of how Hanzi works so I’ll explain. Hanzi are what you call a logographic script - a writing system which uses symbols to represent words or parts of a word (morphemes). Sometimes you see them described as ‘ideograms’, but this is not totally accurate. Ideograms represent ideas directly rather than words and morphemes, and in any case, only a small portion of Hanzi are actually ideographic. (For example, the character 上 ‘up, above’, 下 ‘down, below’, or 三 ‘three’.)

Traditionally, Hanzi are classified into six categories (though only five are actually used - the sixth category being poorly understood):

  • Pictograms: Characters which are (originally) drawings of the objects they represent. They are some of the oldest Hanzi - at the same time, they are but a small fraction of the total. Characters in this category include 鳥 ‘bird’, 犬 ‘dog’, 虎 ‘tiger’, 日 ‘sun’, 月 ‘moon’, 木 ‘tree, wood’, 火 ‘fire’, 人 ‘human’, 女 ‘woman’ (originally a drawing of drawing of a human 人 with breasts), 母 ‘mother’ (a human 人 with breasts, with the nipples drawn), 目 ‘eye’, or even 言 ‘word, speech, speak, say’ (in its original form, a ‘mouth’ 口 with 辛 - interpreted variously as a man drawn upside-down or a pictorial representation of ‘words’ - drawn above it)

  • Ideograms: As mentioned, characters which represent abstract ideas through an iconic form. The characters for ‘up’ and ‘down’ for example, indicated the concept via a vertical stroke above and below a line in their original form, while the characters for ‘one’ to ‘three’ are simple strokes (一, 二, 三). A few ideograms modify pictographic characters to express a given concept: for example 本 ‘root, origin’ (a tree 木 with a line at the bottom) or 末 ‘apex, end, final, tip’ (a tree with a line above it).

  • Compound ideographs: Characters made up of two or more pictographic or ideographic characters to suggest the meaning of the word to be represented. For example characters like 林 ‘woods’ (a combination of two ‘trees’ 木), 森 ‘forest’ (three ‘trees’), 休 ‘rest, shade’ (a man 人 resting on a tree 木), or 信 ‘truthful’ (人 + 言) were traditionally explained as compound ideographs. However, modern scholars argue that many of the characters which are considered to be ‘compound ideographs’ were actually mistakenly identified as such; a few even go so far as to argue that there are no actual ‘compound ideographs’. For example it would seem that the character for 信 was actually what you would call a phono-semantic compound (more on this below).

  • Rebus: Characters that are “borrowed” to write another homophonous or near-homophonous morpheme. For example, the character 來 was originally a pictogram of ‘wheat’, but since the word for ‘wheat’ and the word for ‘to come’ sounded nearly the same in Old Chinese - *mlak for ‘wheat’ vs. *lai ‘to come’ - 來 was also used to write this verb. Eventually 來 came solely to mean ‘to come’, necessitating the invention of another character for ‘wheat’ (麥 - note the 來 on top). (The modern Mandarin pronunciations for the two words are mài and lái, respectively.) Other examples of rebuses include 四 ‘four’ (originally ‘nostrils’), 東 ‘east’ (originally a pictogram of a bag tied at both ends), or 要 ‘necessary’ (originally ‘waist’ - the original meaning is now expressed by the character 腰).

(Continued)

  • Phono-semantic (aka radical-phonetic) compounds: This comprises about 90% of Hanzi. Phono-semantic characters are made up of a ‘radical’, which gives you a clue to the meaning of a character, and a phonetic component, which hints at how to pronounce the character. For example, the character 沐 ‘to wash’ has 氵(=水 ‘water’) as its radical - implying that the character has something to do with water - and the character for ‘tree’ (木), which implies that this character is pronounced nearly similarly to that one. 媽 ‘mother’ has 女 ‘woman’

But here’s the thing: Chinese had undergone a huge evolution throughout its history; to put it simply, as time went on the language spoken by the Chinese people began to increasingly diverge into regional varieties, many of which are not mutually intelligible with one another. This is the reason why you currently have different Chinese ‘languages’ spoken in different areas such as Mandarin, Cantonese, Shanghainese, Hokkien, Yue, or Hakka. They all share the same script (Hanzi), but speakers of each language read the characters differently.

The reason why I pointed this out is: due to this evolution, the phonetic component is no longer a 100% reliable way to ascertain the reading of a character. To use Mandarin as an example, while the pronunciation of some characters such as 舅 jiù ‘maternal uncle’ still reflect their phonetic components (in this case, 臼 jiù ‘mortar’), in others, the connection has become substantially obscured due to the phonetic shift. Linguists rely heavily on radical-phonetic compounds sharing the same phonetic to reconstruct Old Chinese (the oldest known form of the language, used up until the early centuries BC)the sounds of and to some extent, Middle Chinese (Chinese as it was in the first millennium).

  • Derivative cognates: The smallest and most obscure of the six traditional categories. It is either interpreted as characters that originally share the same pronunciation and possibly the same etymological root, yet now has different meanings and pronunciation (for example, 考 kǎo ‘to verify’ and 老 lǎo ‘old’ - read as *khuʔ and *C-ruʔ in Old Chinese, respectively), or something similar to rebuses.

We don’t know the total number of Hanzi (and it’s most likely that we cannot know), because for one, new ones are being made up from time to time, not to mention that existing characters can and do have different variants; plus there’s also the existence of ‘dialect characters’, which are not used in formal written Chinese but represent colloquial terms in spoken non-Mandarin Chinese (Cantonese for example). The largest Hanzi dictionary in existence, the 1994 Zhonghua Zihai, lists about 85,568 characters (topped only by the 2004 Yitizi Zidian, which lists 106,230 characters - many of these being variants). For Chinese, the average number of characters one needs to know would be around two to three thousand; educated Chinese might know up to 8,000. A similar case occurs in Japan, which still uses Hanzi (or in this case, Kanji) alongside scriptskana today.

Back on topic, the site explains the character for brother 兄 as being composed of ‘mouth’ (口) and ‘man’ (ㄦ = 人), which is then connected with the (supposed?) Chinese idea of the brother being the spokesman of the family. What the site fails to tell is that Hanzi has also undergone evolution throughout its 3,000+ year history.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b4/Oracle_mu4_eye.svg

This is how the character for ‘eye’ (current form: 目) was written in oracle bone script, for example. Note how it is a more recognizable depiction of, well, an eye.

http://www.mandarintoday.com/images/chinese_evolution_000.gif

Fortunately for the site, they got it right this time - 兄 does depict a ‘man’ with a ‘mouth’.

http://www.chineseetymology.org/CharacterImages/Oracle/J20000/j20600/j20651.gif

(Continued)

(Speaking of language evolution, guess what 上帝 Shang-di was in Old Chinese: it was probably **daŋʔs-tēks - imagine something like ‘Dang-s tex’. By Middle Chinese it became pronounced as **ʒ́àŋ-tìej - ‘Dzyang tey’? - until it finally became Shang-di in Mandarin, Soeng-dai in Cantonese, Siōng-tè in Min-Nan (Hokkienese), and Song-ti in Hakka.)

The site first presents as supposed ‘evidence’ of Chinese knowledge of the Tower Babel the character 遷, meaning among other things ‘to move’, ‘to remove’, ‘to get transferred’, ‘to change’ (as in ‘change positions’). The sites get correct the part that 辶 (辵) signifies a foot(print on a road), implying something that requires use of that body part: to travel, for instance. They interpret 䙴 as being composed of 大 (‘big, great’ - incidentally this was originally a pictogram of a man facing full front with arms outstretched ;)), 西 (‘west’ - originally ‘basket’, adopted as a rebus), and what I assume is 巳 (identified in the site as ‘division’; actually the sixth of the twelve Terrestrial Branches). What I assume, because there are two other characters which are quite the similar shape with it: 己 (‘self’ - originally a depiction of the back and forth motion of the warp string in weaving), and 已 (‘to cease’, ‘to come to an end’, ‘already’, ‘very, much’).

But here’s the thing: 遷 is actually a phono-semantic character - with 䙴 (‘to soar (as a bird’, ‘to move’, ‘to climb’) indicating how the character should be read.

Next, 告 (‘to tell’, ‘to inform’, ‘to announce’) is claimed to be combination of 土 ‘earth’, 口 ‘mouth’, as well as something that resembles the Japanese katakana ノ (purportedly ‘alive’), which they try to connect with Genesis 2:7 (“And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.”) It seems that whoever made this site does not know that the original form of the character is 吿 (notice that the vertical line is quite longer, reaching to the mouth part below). There’s no connection with Genesis 2 here either: it is just a combination of 牛 ‘cow’ and ‘mouth’. (It’s either ‘a cow making a noise’ or ‘to bawl like a cow’ or something connected with the ancient Chinese sacrifice of cattle - we don’t know for sure).

http://www.chineseetymology.org/CharacterImages/Oracle/J00000/j01900/j01964.gif

告 does form part of the character 造 (‘to create’), as the site says. And in the form that we have it, we can see again the foot symbol here: 辶 (辵).** In fact, this is yet another phono-semantic character.** (In this case, the original connection is not at first obvious: 造 is read as zào, while 告 is gào in Mandarin.) For the record, there is another way of reading 造 in Bronze script: a combination of 宀 (‘roof’), 告, and 肉 (‘meat’/flesh, originally a pictogram of the ribs of an animal) - maybe in this case, ‘to create’ is implied by (the manufacturing of) ‘meat’? :stuck_out_tongue: Sometimes 宀 can be omitted, and in yet other variants other characters such as 金 (‘metal, gold’) or 貝 (‘shell, cowry’ - used as currency in ancient China, hence also ‘money’) are used in place of 辵 or 肉.

http://www.chineseetymology.org/CharacterImages/Bronze/B00000/b02000/b02063.gif

Next they dissect 先 (‘first, former, before, earlier’), said to be made up of 土 (‘earth’), 儿 (‘man’), and that enigmatic ノ (‘alive’). “According to the Chinese Language, is it possible that 4,500 years ago (sic) the people of China also believed the first man to be created from dust?” The site asks. Um, sorry; it’s just a drawing of a foot(print) 止/之 over a man 儿 - ‘a man going forward.’

http://www.chineseetymology.org/CharacterImages/Bronze/B00000/b01700/b01799.gif
止 (‘footprint’/‘to stop’)

http://www.chineseetymology.org/CharacterImages/Oracle/J10000/j14500/j14583.gif
之 (cursive form of 止; originally ‘to go to, to leave for, to arrive at’; more often used for third person objective case (‘it, him, her, them’) or as a possessive particle)

http://www.chineseetymology.org/CharacterImages/Oracle/J10000/j18600/j18645.gif
儿/人 (‘man’)

http://www.chineseetymology.org/CharacterImages/Bronze/B10000/b13500/b13517.gif
先 (‘first’)

(Continued)

Next comes 福 ‘fortune, happiness, blessing’, dissected as 礻’god’ + 一 ‘one’ + 口 ‘man’ (wait - isn’t this ‘mouth’?) + 田 ‘garden’ (it’s actually a cultivated field - think rice paddy). “In the beginning God and man had close fellowship. This leads to true happiness!” Maybe so, but that’s not what this character means.

Our site claims that 礻 (or rather, 示) is a character for ‘god’. They nearly got it right: 示 was actually a pictogram of an altar. (Nowadays 示 is used to mean ‘to show’ or ‘to indicate’). 畐, meanwhile, is just a picture of a pot or jar. Sometimes, especially in the oracle bones, the vessel was sometimes represented with hands carrying it - the altar was even omitted so that only the pot (with or without the hands) is represented. So while this character for ‘fortune’ or ‘blessing’ does have sacred connotations, there’s nothing about the overblown interpretations of ‘one man in a garden’.

http://www.chineseetymology.org/CharacterImages/Bronze/B00000/b00100/b00182.gif

http://www.chineseetymology.org/CharacterImages/Oracle/J00000/j00200/j00290.gif

http://www.chineseetymology.org/CharacterImages/Oracle/J00000/j00200/j00200.gif
Hands carrying the vessel

http://www.chineseetymology.org/CharacterImages/Oracle/J00000/j00100/j00173.gif

Next to be dissected is 西 ‘west’: 一 ‘one’ + 儿 ‘person’ + 口 ‘enclosed garden’ (wait, didn’t they just interpret the last supposed instance of 口 as ‘person’?) equals ‘one man in an enclosed garden’. Sorry: it’s just a pictogram of a sack/basket/package that was later adopted as a rebus for ‘west’ (西 is actually related to 卤, which represents a bag of salt).

http://www.chineseetymology.org/CharacterImages/Bronze/B10000/b16100/b16151.gif

http://www.chineseetymology.org/CharacterImages/Oracle/J20000/j25700/j25743.gif

The character for ‘necessary, important, to want’ (要) is interpreted to comprise of 西 ‘west’ + 女 ‘woman’ (hey, Eve was a woman, and Eden would have been located to the west of China, right?). Unfortunately, it originally just meant ‘waist’ - yes, this is another rebus. A look at the character’s original form shows it totally did not resemble its modern form: it depicted a woman with two hands pointing to her midsection. The 覀 in the modern form actually evolved from the hands and the woman’s head.

http://www.chineseetymology.org/CharacterImages/Bronze/B00000/b03400/b03494.gif

You might be interested in the Figurists as well as the so-called Chinese Rites controversy.

(Continued)

元 ‘beginning, first, origin’ is interpreted as ‘two people’ (二 ‘two’ + 儿) - of course they try to connect it with Adam and Eve. What it is in reality is a figure of a man with two lines for a ‘head’ - or, as another possibility, a combination of 人’man’ and 上 ‘up’ - ‘that which is above/before a man.’

http://www.chineseetymology.org/CharacterImages/Oracle/J10000/j18600/j18649.gif

http://www.chineseetymology.org/CharacterImages/Oracle/J00000/j00000/j00025.gif
‘Above’ (上)

http://www.chineseetymology.org/CharacterImages/Oracle/J00000/j00000/j00007.gif

Without their rather forced connection between it and Genesis, they get the components of 禁 ‘to restrict, to prohibit, to forbid’ 90% right in that it is composed of 林 (two 木 trees, hence ‘a grove’) and 示 (according to them, ‘to command’ - it’s really an altar). This is actually a phono-semantic compound: 林 originally gave a hint on how to pronounce 禁 (in Mandarin, 禁 is now jìn while 林 is lín - they look the same on paper but have different tones).

The next character they produce - 婪 ‘covetuous, greedy, avarice; to covet’ (which they try to link with Eve and the two trees in Eden) is still another phono-semantic character. Now 婪 happens to be one of those characters where the original phonetic connection to 林 is lost in Mandarin, since it is now read as lán. (The connection is still slightly present in Cantonese: 婪 laam4 and 林 lam4).

The next character they dissect is 鬼 ‘ghost, spirit, ogre, demon’. Once again they try to dissect the character in order to make it appear as if it is a reference to the serpent who tempted Eve. Once again the problematic ノ (again interpreted as ‘life’) makes an appearance. It is true that 厶 now means ‘secret’ or ‘private’, but this character is actually a rebus. In reality, this character has multiple origins - a corrupted /cursive form of 口, a pictograph of a bent arm (evolving into 厷 ‘forearm’), a pictograph of a cocoon, or a variant of 已 ‘already, finished’. But in this case, 厶 is actually a stylized tail/leg. The original form of the character seems to represents a sitting/squatting humanoid with an ugly face (represented by 田), sometimes with what may be a tail. (Compare the character 異 ‘different, strange’ - an ideogram of a man wearing a mask - a ‘different’/‘strange’ face - with hands outstretched.)

http://www.chineseetymology.org/CharacterImages/Oracle/J20000/j21300/j21343.gif

http://www.chineseetymology.org/CharacterImages/Bronze/B00000/b03400/b03474.gif

As for the character 魔 ‘magic/supernatural power/a kind of demon or familiar or evil spirit or evil power’, you may have guessed it - it is a phono-semantic character (麻 being the phonetic component, and 鬼 being the radical giving the clue to the character’s meaning). No need to dissect it into ‘cover + two threes + devil’.

倮 ‘naked’ needs no further explanation - it’s also a phono-semantic character, just like the other character for naked, 裸 (this time with 衣 ‘garment’ as the radical). They’re reading too much between the lines.

楚 can mean ‘pain, suffering’, mainly when it occurs in compound words (such as 凄楚 qī chǔ ‘sad, wretched’ or 苦楚 kǔ chǔ ‘pain, suffering, misery’), but by itself, it is a (surprise!) a phono-semantic character, with 疋 (= 足 ‘foot’) being its phonetic component. Originally meaning something like ‘thistle’ or ‘shrubs’ or ‘brushwood/firewood’ (or a place with a lot of trees), the character also denoted the name of a state that existed in eastern China between the 11th century BC up to 223 BC.

Yet another phono-semantic character is 苦 ‘bitter’ (by extension, ‘hardship, suffering’) - 古 being the phonetic compound. (Do you notice a pattern in their interpretation here?)

(Continue)

I think you probably know well by now just how many phono-semantic Hanzi there are. :smiley:

The site then tries to link the superficial similarity between 兄 ‘elder brother’ 兇 ‘atrocious, ferocious, brutal’ (‘man’ 儿 + 凶 ‘fierce/evil/bad’) by invoking the story of Cain. It claims: “The First Older Brother in the Bible was violent. The words for “elder son” and “violent” are both pronounced “SHUN.”” It’s partly right: the two characters are homophonic in Mandarin (xiōng in Pinyin), but not in other Chinese languages like Cantonese (兄 hing1 vs. 兇 hung1). In Old Chinese, **both are reconstructed as hmraŋ (兄 - ‘hmrang’) and qʰoŋ (兇 - ‘khong’?) - as you can see, there’s only a little similarity.

我 ‘I, me’ is interpreted as a hand 手 holding a lance 戈 - which to be fair is a possible interpretation, though its more likely (based on the oracle bone script form) that the ‘lance’ was actually a rake-like tool. What the site fails to say is that this character is a rebus: it originally meant ‘rake’ but was later adopted for the similar sounding word for ‘I’. (‘Rake’ was later expressed by the phono-semantic character 耙.)

http://www.chineseetymology.org/CharacterImages/Oracle/J20000/j27200/j27250.gif

義 ‘righteousness, right conduct, generosity’ is parsed as '我 ‘me’ + 羊 ‘sheep’, with them trying to connect it with lamb sacrifice (Genesis 4:4). This is where they kind of got it right: it’s possible that the character’s connotation of ‘righteousness’ is due to the representation of 我 ‘me’ offering up a 羊 ‘sheep’ as a sacrifice (alternatively, a kind of ‘blade’ 我 being used to cut up the ‘sheep’ 羊): the idea of ‘sacrificial offering’ or ‘setting apart’ (‘cutting’) the animal flesh may have given rise to the character’s meaning of ‘right conduct’, and hence, ‘righteousness’ and ‘generosity’.

http://www.chineseetymology.org/CharacterImages/Bronze/B10000/b17600/b17655.gif

We skip forward to Noah. The site claim that 船 (‘ship’) must be originally a reference to Noah’s Ark, because as the Bible says, there were eight people on the ark, and - as per their claim - 舟 ‘boat’ + 八 ‘eight’ + 口 ‘person’ (there they go again with that meaning for ‘mouth’! :eek:) equals 船. Sorry to burst any bubbles here, but 船 is just another phono-semantic character; 㕣 (‘marsh’? ‘river’? cf. the character for ‘valley/ravine’ 谷, depicting water running into a 口) forming the phonetic compound, and 舟 suggesting a relation with watercraft. “Why would the Ancient Chinese writers choose these 3 characters?” the site asks. Uh, no; it’s two characters - 舟 and 㕣.

(As for 八, it is indeed currently used as the character for ‘eight’, but this is actually a rebus: the character was originally an ideograph depicting a ‘separation’ or ‘split’.)

They try to bring up the Noah connection further by invoking 共 ‘together, common, all, to share/work together,’ which they somehow permutate into 八 ‘eight’ + 廾 ‘united’ (it actually means ‘two hands’) + 一 ‘earth’ (!). This is the original form of 共 - I don’t see anything suggesting ‘eight people in a post-deluge Earth’ here. It’s two hands 廾 holding something.

http://www.chineseetymology.org/CharacterImages/Bronze/B00000/b03400/b03468.gif

The character for ‘flood’ 洪 is just another phono-semantic character - nothing special. So is the character 沿, which the site claims means ‘to hand down, to continue’ (i.e. the eight people who survived the Flood handed down the biblical stories, which is how the Chinese supposedly knew it) but which actually means ‘a brim, an edge, to follow course (say, that of a river, to go along’.

The presentation ends by triumphantly saying that the Chinese knew the biblical God and the biblical stories all along (that is, before those nasty Buddhists came into China :rolleyes:) and invites the reader to enroll in the World Bible School (WBS). Um sorry, I think you first need to study history and Chinese first before I consider joining you.

Conclusion: I really find it unfortunate that many of the claims made by the site are really baseless and basen on superficial similarities (most often involving how Chinese characters appear today - as opposed to what they looked like 2,500-3,000 years ago), and a rather forced attempt to connect any stroke or dot, even the slightest one, with something from the Bible. Whoever made this might have had good intentions, but I don’t think truth is served by stretching the truth.

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