The Profound Chinese Language (Episode 15): Tiger (虎)

Da Qiong (Colossal Firmament)

PureInsight | January 30, 2006


Watch Online (4:59) | Download (7,674KB)
Chinese version (English captions not yet added)

An opening poem recitation by a group of children:

The tiger is the king of the jungle.
It has three stripes on its forehead that make it look like a king wearing a crown.
It has two large and long canine teeth.
With its orange fur coat, it looks as though it is wearing a costume.
All other animals flee or hide at the sight of a tiger.
The tiger has a powerful presence and a tiger's roar will cause a wind to develop.
Only when it is locked in a cage and feels very sorry for itself
Does it realize that the weak can sometimes prevail over the strong

Teacher Wang: Children, have you ever touched a tiger?

Ying Ying and Yuan Yuan: We dare not to! We have only watched tigers from a safe distance!

Ying Ying: On the other hand, the tiger in the TV cartoon is so cute!

Yuan Yuan: I once watched two tigers fighting each other in the zoo! Oh, it was frightening!

Teacher Wang: Actually, tigers may not be as fierce as you think. Would you believe it if I told you a man once lived with a tiger?

Ying Ying: Really? Was it Wu Song (武松)? I remember in Chinese history a hero named Wu Song knocked a tiger to the ground with bare hands! He was tough! Who else would have the courage to live with a tiger but Wu Song?

Teacher Wang: There was a very famous traditional Chinese brush-painting master named Zhang Daqian. His second eldest brother, Zhang Shanzai, was also a renowned painter. Zhang Shanzai was so attracted to tigers that he even had a pet tiger at home in order to observe it and paint it to perfection. Every day he watched the tiger's facial expression and movements. He would stroke its body gently and speak to it. One day he was finally able to paint very vivid tiger portraits. He became well known as the master of tiger portraits. His contemporary painters even gave him a nickname "Tiger Addict." In order to protect itself and its territory, tigers roar once in a while to warn other tigers and animals. As a result, tigers are mistaken as very hard to get along with. However, from the above story, we have learned that tigers are not always fierce. Sometimes it depends on how they are treated.

Ying Ying: Why are tigers called the king of all beasts?

Teacher Wang: Tigers are the fiercest carnivore on land. The largest member of the cat family is the Amur Tiger or Siberian Tiger. They live in the Russian Far East while a few are found across the border in northern China and Korea. The size of these cats ranges from 4.5 feet to 9 feet long from head to tail, not including the tail. An adult male Amur Tiger can weigh up to 800 lbs. The three horizontal and one vertical black stripes on its forehead together resemble the Chinese character for king (王). There is a Chinese saying: "Tigers roar with the rise of wind." It means the tigers' roar is as powerful as stout wind or true heroes rise to the call of the times. In addition, tigers' roar sends chills to other animals. This is why tiger is regarded as king of all beasts.

Yuan Yuan: Ms. Wang, why does the character for tiger not look like a tiger at all?

Teacher Wang: As I have told you before, "We must not make judgment on any Chinese character based on its modern form alone just like we shouldn't pass judgment on anyone based on his one-time behavior." The Chinese character for tiger in the oracle-bone scriptures looked very much like a tiger. Why don't we ask Grandpa Brush Pen to give us a lecture on the character?

Grandpa Brush Pen: The character for tiger in oracle-bone scriptures consisted of a tiger's head, body, feet and tail. It included all the major features of a tiger. There was a large opening on the head to represent a tiger's mouth. It even included two large canines and stripes on the forehead. Even in the oracle-bone scripture, the character looked frightening. That's not all the details in this character! The design included stripes on its body, a long tail and paws with sharp claws. It actually resembled a powerful walking tiger. In bronze inscriptions, the character for tiger stressed the tiger's forehead and represented the tiger's body with a simple line. In Small Seal, the character had a dramatized mouth and showed only one foot instead of a pair. The tiger's whiskers replaced its canine. The modern version of the character was simplified version of Small Seal. Although the character for tiger in the modern form has only eight strokes, it still delivers an impression of a strong tiger.

Teacher Wang: We are very thankful for Grandpa Brush Pen's detailed explanation for this character. I believe you will not have any problem remembering this character.

Teacher Wang: That's all, class! We now conclude our lesson on the character for tiger! When you go home tonight, please practice writing the character!

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