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The Profound Chinese Language (Episode 1): Cangjie's Tears

January 07, 2006 |   By Da Qiong (Great Universe) Culture Preservation Work Group


An opening poem:

When the sky above the yellow earth was dark and the universe was barren,
Pangu created the universe, and, thus, the sky and the earth were born.
Nuwa created mankind, starting with women.
Cangjie invented the Chinese characters, giving the light of wisdom to the Chinese people.
Since then, the Chinese culture has blossomed for tens of thousands of years in history.

Narrator: Once upon a time, the deities held a grand banquet on top of Mount Hua in China. The banquet was held only once every hundred years, and deities came from everywhere to enjoy the banquet. On the other side of Mount Hua, Cangjie and his student, Wentong, were enjoying a cool breeze sitting under a divine tree.

(After a while...)

Wentong: Teacher, I heard you are the one who invented the Chinese characters!

Cangjie: I would not dare to say so. Actually I brought the characters from heaven down to China. The Chinese characters have profound and intricate meanings. Because they carry very profound meanings, they serve as an excellent vehicle to spread and preserve the Chinese culture.

Wentong: The Chinese characters are truly something! By the way, Teacher, there is a divine banquet on Mount Hua today. Are you or are you not going to attend the banquet?

Cangjie: I prefer to stay here for a little while. You go ahead without me. If there is something special going on, come back and tell me about it.

Narrator: Thus Wentong went to the banquet alone. There, many deities were enjoying the lively party. Immortals greeted and chatted with one other. After a while, an immortal handed his name card to Wentong. Wentong looked at it and asked him curiously,

Wentong: Immortal, you have such a special name.

Immortal: Ha, Ha... Did you mean it's a remarkable name?

Wentong: Oh, no. It's just so odd.

Immortal: How come?

Wentong: See? It says, "The Weird One of the North."

Immortal: Oh, you have made a mistake! It says, "The Sage of the North.")
[In the simplified Chinese characters recently developed by the Chinese Communist Party, the word "sage" resembles the word for "weird".]

Wentong: But it still looks like the word "weird" no matter how I look at it.

Immortal: You are probably not familiar with these simplified Chinese characters that are becoming popular in the human world now.

Narrator: Wentong looked very confused. He brought the name card back to his teacher. Cangjie looked at the characters on the card. He could identify some of the mutated Chinese characters, but some of the Chinese characters have been so completely changed that he could not make out what they were supposed to be. Cangjie became very upset.

Wentong: Teacher, the characters on the card may look strange, but they are simpler in form. It should be easier to write. Oh, I like it.

(As Wentong was grinning, Cangjie hit him on the head.)

Cangjie: Forget about convenience or speed. There is a Chinese saying, "Haste makes waste." Every stroke in a Chinese character carries a special meaning. When you change a Chinese character's form, you will alter its meaning. The consequences will be very severe. We absolutely must not modify or damage the Chinese characters' forms at will only to make it easier to write them.

Wentong: Oh, I see.

Cangjie: Wentong, I think we must descend to the human realm and assess the damage to the Chinese characters in the human world.

Narrator: So they rode on the breeze and descended to earth. They arrived in China. They traveled all over China and went through all the major streets and small alleys. What they saw everywhere was the simplified Chinese. Cangjie couldn't hold back his tears upon seeing the Chinese characters he had worked so hard to teach the ancient Chinese people in the old days being ruined.

(Suddenly, Wentong thought of something.)

Wentong: Teacher, Confucius once said, "If the Tao goes bad, I'd rather live on the sea." Why don't we go to the other side of the sea?

Cangjie: Hmm, Okay.

Narrator: So they rode on the cool breeze towards the other side of sea. Before long, Wentong exclaimed with joy:

Wentong: Teacher, look! There is a piece of banana leaf on the sea.

Cangjie: That's not a piece of banana leaf. It's an island called Formosa, the other name for Taiwan. I heard that the traditional Chinese culture and arts are flourishing there.

Wentong: Let's go take a look. Maybe this is the place we are looking for.

Narrator: Cangjie and Wentong went to the island.

Cangjie: I hear someone reciting aloud. Let's go take a look!

Narrator: Cangjie and Wentong came to a grand building. On the gate it said, "Minghui School." In a classroom, a schoolteacher was having a discussion with the class on the Chinese characters. Cangjie and Wentong listened carefully outside the window.

(On the blackboard the schoolteacher wrote, "A sage values kindness and loyalty.")

Student: Teacher! Some characters have so many strokes. It's a chore to practice writing them.

Teacher: Every stroke of a Chinese character has its origin. Sometimes, a character may be a challenge to write at first; however, if you know its meaning based on its word root, you will never forget it once you learn it.

Teacher: Let's take the character "sage" as an example. The top portion is made of two word roots: ear and mouth. It means that a sage must be able to listen wisely to be able to distinguish right from wrong and that he must also be eloquent so he can spread the Tao and address his students' questions. Only when a person is able to attain these virtuous qualities, will he qualify to be a sage. If you alter or omit any of these strokes for convenience, this person would probably not be able to listen or speak wisely. Then he cannot be called a sage.

As Cangjie was listening to the schoolteacher's lecture outside the window, he kept nodding his head and felt immensely grateful to witness that the Chinese characters are being preserved and passed down to the next generations in Taiwan. Once again, he was moved to tears.

First published in English at http://www.pureinsight.org/pi/articles/2006/1/2/3640.html