The Profound Chinese Language (Episode 20): Rice Plant (稻) and Rice (米)

Da Qiong (Colossal Firmament)

PureInsight | February 6, 2006


Watch Online (5:07) | Download (8,126 KB)
Chinese version (English captions yet to be added)

An opening poem recitation by a group of children:

Golden rice plants stoop their ears low.
The ears become rice when they are hulled.
High-gluten rice is as translucent as white jade when cooked.
It tastes great when it is steamed or made into congee.
Congee is good for children's growth and health.
Rice gives adults energy and stamina.
Farmers sweat in beads when they grow and tend to rice plants.
Each grain of rice in our bowl is the result of farmers' hard work.

Narrator: Teacher Wang is taking her class on a field trip to the countryside. They took a leisurely walk on the winding path of a farming village. On both sides of the path were beautiful green rice plants. At noon, teacher Wang and the class take a break under a tree.

Ying Ying: Look! The wind is making this large plain of grass look like the ripples of sea waves.

Teacher Wang: The large expanse of green is a feast for eye, but it is not grass. Those are rice shoots.

Ying Ying: What is a rice shoot?

Teacher Wang: A rice shoot is a rice seedling. After a rice plant blossoms and its ear ripens, the harvested and hulled grain becomes the rice we Chinese people have on our table daily.

Narrator: Everyone is having lunch under the tree.

Teacher Wang: Eh? Yuan Yuan, why didn't you finish your lunch?

Yuan Yuan: The rice is too dry. I don't feel like eating it.

Teacher Wang: Drier rice has more flavor. You can chew the rice slowly. Why don't I tell you a story about rice while you are eating? A long, long time ago, Buddha Sakyamuni and his disciples cultivated on top of a quiet, remote mountain. One day Buddha Sakyamuni took his disciples down the mountain to wander about and beg for food. When they arrived at a small village, the farmers were very poor, but they prepared white rice for Buddha Sakyamuni and his disciples out of respect. Many disciples didn't finish the rice and had leftover rice in their begging bowls. Buddha Sakyamuni noticed that and asked his disciples before they left the village, "Do you hear any sound?" All the disciples shook their heads. Buddha Sakyamuni said, "Enter tranquility and hearken." His disciples were all ears. They began to hear something but couldn't identify what it was about. Buddha Sakyamuni told them to listen to the sound with their hearts. Next all the disciples sat down on the ground in the meditation position. After a while, they did hear small voices from their begging bowls. "What a pity! We have lost the opportunity to serve Buddha Sakyamuni's disciples!" "Could it be that we are too dry for their taste?" "Or perhaps we are not fragrant or flavorful enough for them?" The rice grains kept blaming themselves, but none of them blamed Buddha Sakyamuni's disciples. The disciples felt ashamed upon hearing the rice grains' dialogues. They stopped being picky about their food from then on and began to treasure all creatures on earth. In addition, they had a better understanding and faith in the teaching that every creature on earth has a soul."

Yuan Yuan: Teacher Wang, I have finished my lunch. See? Not a grain of rice is left.

Teacher Wang: Hmm…you are a good student. You won't waste your food if you are thankful for everything you have! Let's invite Grandpa Brush Pen to explain the evolution of the Chinese characters for rice plant (稻) and rice (米).

Grandpa Brush Pen: Rice and millet were the main diet for the Chinese people in the Shang Dynasty (1600 – 1046 B.C.). But people in northern China at the time couldn't grow rice because of the cold weather. Rice arrived in the north already hulled and stored in containers. Hence, the character for rice plant (稻) in oracle-bone scriptures was represented by a pottery container and rice grains. Later in the Zhou Dynasty, the agriculture technology improved and people all over China began to grow rice plants. Therefore, the Chinese people developed a better understanding of the structure of rice plants. Hence, the character for rice plant in the bronze inscription was a good representation of the actual plant. There is a long, stooping stem of rice ear on top. In the middle there is a hand in the form of claw and a mortar to hull rice. The six dots on the bottom represent hulled rice. It presents the outcome of a ripe rice plant. Another variation in the bronze inscriptions does not include the rice ear. The rice grains on the bottom are moved to the left. The third variation in the bronze inscriptions replaces the rice grains on the left with a rice stem. A club for the mortar is inserted between the hand and the mortar, which adds a feeling of movement. The character for rice plant in Small Seal is taken from the third variation in bronze inscriptions, except that the club has been removed. The character for rice plant in the modern form is taken from that in Small Seal without any changes.

As for the character for rice (米), it is represented by six grains of rice separated by a line resembling a stem in both oracle-bone scriptures and bronze inscriptions. In Small Seal the rice grains have been connected as a straight line. It is the same in the modern form.

Teacher Wang: After Grandpa Brush Pen's lecture, you must practice writing the characters. See you next time.

Translated from:

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