Translation:Does every character have a story?

April 9, 2018

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Yeah,汉字发展历史 or the developmental history of Chinese characters. I learnt some in secondary school, 甲骨文 or oracle bone script、金文、大篆、小篆、隶书、草书、楷书、行书等等。 Its fascinating to learn but we never did go too deep into it due to time constraints.
What I can remember from our classes is as follows: It started from knots of rope to distinguish an event or a day or something out of the ordinary, then when there were too many things that it became difficult to distinguish they invented a simple writing system carving symbols on turtle shells or other hard flat objects. This gradually grew more complex, and as paper was invented (in China by 蔡伦) and writing tools changed the characters began to be more rounded in the edges, from 隶书 to 草书 then to 楷书 of Chinese calligraphy fame, as in the different types such as 小楷、中楷、大楷 then to 行书 and characters more like the modern (traditional?) Chinese characters we use today.
It really brought home just how ancient the language is and I thought it was pretty cool.


Can you provide some links where to learn about that?


I wrote a comment a while ago, but strangely it has not been posted. I will try to recall what I said before. I took time to search for English sources, since mine were all in Chinese.

You can do a simple "development of Chinese characters" google search, many useful links will turn up. Here are some examples which I've proofread, at least the gist of it. The links are not meant to be 100% useable, but rather provide a guide as to where to find these sources.

  1. Brown University's introduction: similar to what I've mentioned earlier, with some history on the Kangxi dictionary. https://www.brown.edu/about/administration/international-affairs/year-of-china/language-and-cultural-resources/introduction-chinese-characters/introduction-chinese-characters

  2. Omniglot has several examples, as well as scripts of Chinese calligraphy, which I will expound on below. It also has links to other resources, none of which I clicked on but looked useful to learners. https://www.omniglot.com/chinese/evolution.htm

  3. Good ol' Encyclopaedia Britannica, which includes how writing came to be unified, as opposed by the numerous spoken dialects, under 秦始皇. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Chinese-writing/Characteristics

  4. Wikipedia. 'Nuff said. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_characters

These should be enough for a good read as a beginner with an interest in Chinese language history. I will now move on to Chinese calligraphy, or, historically, written Chinese.

A Brief Introduction to Chinese Calligraphy:

There were many scripts in which Chinese was written. These were developed for various reasons, even for top-secret military and political operations. I've listed some examples below. (Source: Omniglot)

  1. 小篆 Small seal script - the name explains the function.

  2. 隶书 Clerical script

  3. 楷书 Standard script - Still taught in schools to this day, usually the medium sized form (中楷). The Lunar Chinese Festival, or Spring Festival, 对联 uses 大楷, as far as I know. There is also 小楷.

  4. 行书 Running script

  5. 草书 Draft script

  6. 简体 Simplified form & 繁体 Traditional Form - the modern forms used today.

In the past, it was believed that your writing showcased your personality. Therefore scholars would begin learning how to write from young, when they officially started to learn how to read and write (启蒙). This would then become a lifelong practice.

People admired those who wrote with "great strength so that the ink went through the good writing paper, the strokes moving fluidly like water, the writing having already formed its own character" (笔画苍劲十足,透过宣纸,亦如行云流水,写下的字已有独子的风格). It was even more so if the calligrapher was young, this meant a great potential to do great things in the future (if you were a male).

Developing a unique 'character' to the writing was essential, and showed that the person had became a master in the field (书法家). Royal princes worked hard on this, too. The Emperor's writing, using gold ink on a special plaque, was given as a special honour to the recipient. If it was to a person, it would be placed in a place of honour in the family's ancestorial shrine; if it was to a business, it would flourish as people far and wide would come to admire the writing and trust that it was an honest business selling good products. The incident would be a mark of honour and respect on the recipient.

On the contrary, it was a mark of shame if you had bad writing. However, it had its uses. There were court and palace intrigues that used the fact that such writing would be difficult to trace, and some operations would make use of that.

Finally, Chinese calligraphy is alive and well in the modern era. It is particularly prominent during the Lunar Chinese New Year 农历新年 or the Spring Festival 春节, where every household would put up long red papers with well wished on them, one on each side of the door, for example (对联). There are also competitions for these, such as 挥春比赛.

I hope you've learnt something from this, but more than that, that this has kindled your interest in Chinese, both as a language and as an art that has withstood the test of time.


Very intersting.


is 'behind' implied in this question?

'does every chinese character have a story?' is a more literal translation?


Yes, that's correct. In this particular sentence, the Chinese translates fairly literally. There is no "behind" in the sentence; the literal translation is "Every Chinese character [all] has a story, right (question particle)?" I think the Duo translators tried to make it a bit fancy, but if "Every Chinese character tells a story, doesn't it?" isn't accepted, it should be reported.

I majored in Chinese Linguistics at university (B.A and M.A.), and the graduate classes in paleography - in which we traced the characters back to pictographs in ancient times on things like oracle bones and turtle shells, closer to their original pictorial meanings - were just so fascinating. That was one of the reasons I started studying Chinese in the first place, was to lean what the pictograms meant. So, this particular sentence has special meaning for me! Of course, the language has gone through so many changes over the millennia that sometimes, the origin of a word isn't what you would think it was.

Not surprisingly, there aren't a lot of jobs in Chinese linguistics, so I've been out of practice for quite a while. I was thrilled to recently find Duo's Chinese course so that I can brush up on my Chinese. :)


Came here to say the same thing. I would not have come up with the correct English translation had I not been using the refrigerator magnets.


Regerator magnets? Love the phrase!

I've been using Chiclets, but the term dates me.

感謝感激 ¡Abrigado! 谢谢你!


What do you mean by refrigerator magnets ?


He's referring to the word tiles in the exercise. Like the flat refrigerator magnets with words on them that you can rearrange to make sentences.


I think it is his name for the word tiles we select from on the portable devices Duolingo app.


Fascinating! Thanks for the scholarly insight.


Doesn't 每个...都 usually translate to "every single" as taught in the grammar section of a previous lesson (https://www.duolingo.com/skill/zs/Health-1/tips)? Then why is it not accepted here?


Do they ? Do they 都 ?


'Does every Chinese character have a story?' was marked wrong. Seems very strange to me.


Does every Chinese character have a story behind it?


Which character(s) (hah) would represent a character (like a person) in/from a story?


汉字means Chinese character, so the correct answer should be "Does every Chinese character have a story?"


“Do all Chinese characters have a story”, should absolutely be acceptable. Some of the things Duolingo rejects are ridiculous.


Does every chinese character have a story should be correct


"Does every Chinese character have a story?" should be more correct.

You need Chinese to make sure it is 汉字.


I have learn the developmental history of chinese characters during elementary school. It's too hard for me since chinese is not my first language


Is there any word without story ( in any language)?

  • 1287

Isnt 'every' treated as singular?

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