The Profound Chinese Language (Episode 4): Bird
An opening poem recitation by a group of children:
Phoenixes fly across the sky to spread good news
Mandarin ducks are loyal and mate for life
Crows provide for their parents when they get old
Carrier pigeons deliver letters and messages for mankind
Swallows return to the north when springtime is near
Hawks fly thousands of miles in solitude
Narrator: It is a beautiful sunny morning. A light fragrance from flower blossoms permeates the air. Birds are chirping outside the classrooms.
Mr. Wang: Class, in today's Chinese language class, we will talk about the Chinese character for bird. Speaking of birds, I would like to know how much you know about them.
Ying Ying: Each bird has a pair of wings. Birds can fly.
Yuan Yuan: A bird has a sharp beak. Some birds' beaks look like hooks.
Mr. Wang: Very good. Would you like to hear a story about birds?
Narrator: Once upon a time, there was an ancient forest where many birds lived. The birds had very colorful feathers that were as beautiful as the colorful rainbow in the sky. One day they decided to hold a beauty pageant. The winner would be their ambassador of good will, responsible for making friends with other species of animals and promoting the peaceful nature of birds. Upon hearing the news of the upcoming beauty pageant, all the birds, except a crow, were happily dressing themselves up and trying to look their best. The crow was weeping sadly for its lack of beautiful feathers when suddenly it spotted many colorful feathers on the riverbank. Apparently other birds had dropped these feathers during their baths in the river. The crow was delighted with its discovery. It glued all the feathers to its body and transformed itself into a beautiful bird.
At the beauty pageant, the crow was voted the ambassador of good will. However, it lost its head in ecstasy as soon as it put on the tiara. It started to sing and dance. One by one, the feathers dropped from its body. The true appearance of the crow was revealed. The birds that had been deceived by its false appearance were astonished. The crow was overcome with embarrassment and burst into tears.
Other birds approached the crow and comforted it.
Birds: Actually, you have very beautiful shiny ebony feathers. There is no need to feel inferior!
Narrator: The crow was very touched to see that no one had criticized it. Instead, all the birds forgave and comforted it. It made a sincere apology to all the birds. Although it did not become the ambassador of good will, it became a good friend to all the birds.
Ying Ying: Crows are very cute! They don't have to borrow other birds' feathers to look pretty!
Mr. Wang: You are right! One must have a kind heart to be an ambassador of good will. Looks are relatively insignificant.
Xiao Bei: Ms. Wang, could you tell us the origin of the Chinese character for bird?
Mr. Wang: Sure. Why don't we take a look at this adorable-looking character?
Narrator: There are many different species of birds. Hence, there are many variations of characters for bird in the ancient Chinese oracle-bone scriptures. One variation showed a bird looking down for food. Another variation showed a bird looking up to the sky. Yet another variation showed a bird standing quietly. Each variation had beautiful lines. The character for bird in the "Small Seal" calligraphy still resembles a portrait of a bird. It even has a pair of eyes, a pair of wings that dominate the character, as well as a pair of feet on the bottom. Unfortunately, the feet have been transformed into four dots in the modern version of the character. The character for bird now looks less like a bird.
Xiao Bei: Oh! So that's the evolution of the character for bird!
Grandpa Brush Pen: (Facing the children from outside the classroom's windows) Okay! Children, we will teach you an even more interesting Chinese character in our next class! Don't miss it!
First published in English at http://www.pureinsight.org/pi/articles/2006/1/9/3660p.html