The Profound Chinese Language (Episode 13): Deer (鹿)

Da Qiong (Colossal Firmament)

PureInsight | January 23, 2006


The Chinese video is available for viewing here:

The sika deer is the national treasure of Taiwan
With tall antlers it looks very cool
Its legs are as slender as bamboo
It can eat a lot, jump very high, and is very speedy
Calling a deer a horse to deceive people is disgusting
Those who tell lies can never get their stories straight and should come to their senses

Background: a group of sika deer of various ages wandering around in a beautiful green field

Ying Ying: Wow, how beautiful the deer are!

Yuan Yuan: Teacher, look, there is a baby Bambi! How cute it is!

Ms. Wang: Let me first tell you a story about deer, all right?

Ying Ying and Yuan Yuan: All right! All right!

Ms. Wang: In the Qin Dynasty, there was a prime minister named Zhao Gao. He wanted to test how much power he carried in the royal court. One day he took a sika deer to the palace and forcefully asked the fellow officials, "This is an excellent horse that can travel a thousand miles a day. Don't you agree with that?" All the officials were afraid of offending Zhao Gao. So they all went along and said, "Yes, yes, yes. It is a horse, it is a horse." After he heard that, Zhao Gao appeared quite pleased with himself. The story has been passed down to this day. Whenever someone twists things around and turns black into white, it is called "calling a deer a horse." Do you know how to use this idiom now?

Ying Ying: So that is how it is. That Prime Minister Zhao Gao was so terrible! All the other officials were really bullied by him and so pitiful!

Yuan Yuan: That is correct. They clearly knew it wasn't a horse but they didn't dare to say anything.

Ms. Wang: That is right! You are both very intelligent. Those officials were afraid of losing their posts and therefore didn't dare to speak the truth. If you were in that situation, what would you say?

Ying Ying: I would say, "Elderly Prime Minister, here is a pair of reading glasses for you to borrow. It will help you see things more clearly."

Yuan Yuan: I would take his hands and make him touch the head of the deer and then ask him, "Is yours a stallion or a mare?"

Ying Ying and Yuan Yuan: That is so funny!

Ms. Wang: Wow, you are both very wise. Hopefully Prime Minister Zhao Gao would share your sense of humor. In that case, the story would be even more interesting. All right, let us ask Grandpa Brush Pen tell us more about how the Chinese character for deer has evolved.

Ying Ying and Yuan Yuan: That will be great!

Grandpa Brush Pen: Hello, everyone! I observed your class and it was so interesting! I, Grandpa Brush Pen, also must work harder to tell you about how the Chinese character for deer has evolved. In the ancient oracle-bone scripture, there are many different forms of "deer." They all look cute. There is no special explanation needed. One can tell what it is by just looking at it. Even foreigners can learn this character easily.

The branched-off long antlers on the head of the deer are masterpieces from the gods. No matter where it goes, the antlers are its most striking identifying marks. Along with a pair of beautiful big eyes, slender body, thin and long legs, it is filled with energy for jumping. In the bronze engraving, the character for deer looks generally the same as in the ancient oracle-bone scripture. In the Small Seal Calligraphy, the large eyes on the head still appear very striking, but the branched-off long antlers have been simplified in the shape of a mountain and no longer carry the unique characteristics of deer antlers. In the modern Li Calligraphy, the antler has been simplified as a dot. The eyes have also been changed into squares. Take a look, other than the lower half "比" that looks a little like the deer feet, it bears little resemblance to the actual animal

Grandpa Pen: My little friends, do you have any other questions about the Chinese character for deer?

Ying Ying: Grandpa Pen, a deer looks very different from a horse.

Yuan Yuan: That is correct. I've seen a photograph of a baby deer kneeing down to drink milk. When the baby deer drinks milk, it kneels down. The kneeled-down legs really do look like"比" in the lower half of the character.

Grandpa Pen: That is funny! Yuan Yuan, you have a very good imagination.

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