The Profound Chinese Language (Episode 5): Rat

Da Qiong (Colossal Firmament)

PureInsight | January 9, 2006


An opening poem recitation by a group of children:

Rats have pointed jaws and long whiskers
They gnaw and cause damage to many things throughout their lives
They have small beady eyes and fear the light
They come out at night to steal candies
They panic at the sight of black cats who hunt them down
They think it is a clever idea to hang a bell around the cat's neck so they can be alerted when the cat approaches
But since no rat dares to approach a cat to hang the bell
The rats have to choice but to hide from cats for life

Mr. Wang: Children, in today's Chinese language class, we will talk about the Chinese character for rat. Do you know any phrases that have to do with rats?

Ying Ying: Everyone wants to beat up a rat scampering in the street.

Mr. Wang: That's a good one! "Everyone wants to beat up a rat scampering in the street." The mankind has been using all available means to exterminate rats. But the rat population has never gone down. Actually its population continues to increase. They live all over the world and can be found in almost every terrestrial and freshwater habitat, from farming villages to town, from the Equator to the North Pole. The population of rats has grown so much that even cats may have given up hunting for them. Rats have the most astonishing birth rate. A female rat can give birth to a litter of up to 12 baby rats. A female rat reaches adulthood and starts mating in just two months. It is practically a birth machine. At such a rapidly rate, theoretically 27.6 billion rats can grow from just one pair of rats in just one year as their offspring keep having more and more offspring.

Children: Wow! That's incredible!

Mr. Wang: A rat has another key characteristic: It has enlarged chisel-shaped upper and lower front incisors that grow throughout their lives. It has to keep gnawing to file away the ever-growing incisors. The ancient Chinese people observed it and the four incisors became the dominant feature in the character for rat. The Chinese character for rat in oracle-bone scriptures resembled the shape of a rat a lot. It included a pointed mouth and lowered head, which resembled a rat savoring stolen food. The character for rat in ancient Chinese inscriptions on bronze included a head in order to accentuate the four large incisors. Since the incisors are forever growing, rats have to gnaw for life.

The lines in the character represent a rat's abdomen and claws. The Small Seal character for rat retained most of the strokes of the characters for rat in the ancient Chinese inscriptions on bronze. In the modern time, the lines in the character have been flattened.

Children, have you ever seen rats fishing with their tails? In the middle of the night, a group of rats would come near a fishpond. They would form a line and the rat nearest to the pond would drop its tail into the pond and wiggle its tail. The fish in the pond would think, "Wow! Here comes an earthworm!" As soon as a fish took the bait, the rat would swing its tail and pull the fish out of water. Next all the rats would close in and carry the fish back to their den. Sometimes even after all the fish in the pond are stolen, the owner still has no idea who the thief is.

Yuan Yuan: It is incredible that rats can fish with their tails!

Ying Ying: I feel bad for those fishpond owners whose fish have been stolen by rats.

Grandpa Brush Pen: Children! Did you find the story about rats interesting? Next time we will introduce an even more interesting Chinese character! Do not miss the class!

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