PureInsight | January 16, 2006
[PureInsight.org] Ying Ying: Look, Yuan Yuan! In my last essay, I wrote the Chinese character for "bandit" with two dots on the top left corner. But Mr. Wang crossed the character out and put a note saying that the character should have three dots on the top left corner. Three dots mean "water" in Chinese. How could 'bandit" have anything to do with water?
Yuan Yuan: I am confused too.
Ying Ying: Let's go and ask Mr. Wang.
Mr. Wang: Yes, many people don't know the origin of this character and therefore often write it wrong. Once you know the origin of the character, you not only won't write it wrong again, you will remember the character well and can teach it to other people in the future! Now let us take a look at the Chinese character for "bandit." The character has three dots on its upper left corner. The three dots represent water. In the ancient oracle-bone scripture, the character for water looked like flowing water in a river. It looks as if the water is moving in the character. In bronze inscription, the character for water is almost identical to that of the ancient oracle-bone scripture, except two dots are gone. In the Small Seal Calligraphy, the character still portrays an image of floating water. In Li Calligraphy, the character has lost its floating water image and has been simplified into three dots.
The upper right corner of the Chinese character for "bandit" is 欠, which means "lacking." In the ancient oracle-bone scripture, the Chinese character for "lacking" resembles a man kneeling down and yawning. It portrays an image of a man "lacking" spirit and energy. In the bronze inscription, the same idea was carried forward, except now the man is shown standing instead of kneeling down. In the Small Seal Calligraphy, the man in the character is still shown as yawning. It even shows air coming out of his mouth as he yawns, which makes the image more specific and more vivid. In the Li Calligraphy, the big mouth is gone and only the man is left.
The bottom half of the Chinese character for "bandit" is 皿, which means container. In the ancient oracle-bone scripture, the character for "container" was written as a deep plate. In the bronze inscription, the plate appears a little less deep but now there are two handles next to the plate. In the Small Seal Calligraphy, the character maintains the image of a plate. In the Li Calligraphy, the character still resembles a plate somewhat.
When the three individual Characters, "water," "lacking," and "plate" are combined together, we have the Chinese character for "bandit." It means that when someone sees good food and fun things in others' plates and he lacks those things himself, he becomes more and more envious until he starts drooling water from his mouth. Finally, he cannot resist the temptation and steals from the others. That is how the Chinese character for "bandit" comes together.
Ying Ying: Wow! So that is how it is! But if the Chinese character for "bandit" actually means stealing, doesn't it have the same meaning as 賊, the Chinese character for "thief?"
Mr. Wang: Let us take a look at the Chinese character for "thief" in the bronze inscription. It shows a spear on the upper right corner. In the ancient oracle-bone scripture, the character for "spear" contains a sharp head and a long handle, as it is an offensive weapon. The middle section of the Chinese character for "thief" is the Chinese character for "seashell." Seashells were once used as currency in ancient China. So "seashell" represents money and possession. The lower left corner of the Chinese character for "thief" contains the Chinese character for "man" shown facing the right. So three separate Chinese characters, "spear," "money" and "man" together form the Chinese character for "thief." In the Small Seal Calligraphy and Li Calligraphy, the character "man" is moved underneath the character "spear." In the Small Seal Calligraphy, "man" is shown facing the left. In Li Calligraphy, "man" has been changed into a cross. Therefore, the real meaning of the Chinese character for "thief" means a person who uses weapon to steal money and possession from others. It actually is supposed to be a person who robs things from others by force while the Chinese character "bandit" is supposed to mean someone who steals things secretly from other people, like stealing domestic animals and other things in secret. But as time went on, the two characters became mixed up.
Ying Ying: There are many bad people today. Every household puts iron bars over all the windows and doors. I think it is quite scary!
Mr. Zhang: Actually in the past people used to be very down-to-earth and kind-hearted. All the households left their windows and doors open, and they weren't afraid that there would be thieves stealing their things.
Yuan Yuan: If everybody were a good person who didn't commit robbery or steal things from other people, we wouldn't need iron bars on our windows and we wouldn't be afraid of being robbed.
Grandpa Pen: The Chinese culture is immense and profound. One can catch a glimpse from the creation and combination of Chinese characters. We will stop here today. My little friends, see you next time!
Translated from: http://big5.zhengjian.org/articles/2005/12/22/35002.html