The kanji 民 “people”
The origin of the kanji 民 was closely related an eye and I could have discussed this kanji more than a year ago when we looked at “eye” in five posts (from March through April in 2014.) But the origin of the kanji 民 is so gruesome and would cast such a shadow on our values that I have avoided discussing it until now. But it is time for us to face the historical fact. So let us look at it.
The two bronze ware writings, in green, had an eye at the top and a needle piercing an eye to make one blind. It signified that people without ability to see things would follow the order of their ruler blindly. Ten style sample is in red. According to the reference I have used said that this reflected the slavery of ancient times in which captives from conquered foreign tribes were made slaves. Then it became more inclusive of newly conquered subjects to rule or just “people.” From the fact that the ancient Chinese writing originated as the writing for a ruler to communicate with a god in ruling his country, this standpoint of treating people as “those who obey blindly” is not entirely surprising. Nonetheless for us who breezily accept democracy 民主主義 (/minshushu’gi/) as a principle of governance by the people in our life, it makes us to pause to think a little about the word-formation – “those who obey the master blindly.” The kanji 民 means “people; civil; non-governmental.”
The kun-yomi 民 /ta’mi/ by itself is the word for “people; subject.” The on-yomi /mi’n/ is in 国民 (“people; nationality; citizen” /kokumin/), 民主的な (“democratic” /minshuteki-na/) and 民間 (“non-governmental; civilian; people-level” /minkan/), as contrasted to the word that has the kanji 官 /ka’n/ “governmental; bureaucratic.”
The kanji 盲 “blind”– The kanji for “blindness; blind person” is 盲. The top is 亡 “to disappear; loss; die,” and the bottom is 目 “eye,” as shown in ten style on the right. Together “loss of eye” meant “blindness.” The kun-yomi 盲 /mekura/ means “blind,” and the on-yomi /mo’o/ is in 盲目 (“blind” /moomoku/), 盲目的に (“blindly” /moomokuteki-ni/) and 文盲 (“illiterate person” /monmoo/).
The kanji 眠 “to sleep; sleepy”
The kanji 眠 contains the kanji 民. There is no ancient writing for this kanji, which suggests that it was created at a later time. But with the original making of 民 “one cannot see” and an eye, 目, together, the kanji 眠 means “to sleep.” The kun-yomi 眠る /nemuru/ means “to sleep; slumber; lie dormant,” and is in 眠い or 眠たい (“sleepy” /nemui/ or /nemutai/), and 居眠り (“doze” /ine’muri). The on-yomi /mi’n/ is in 睡眠(“sleep” /suimin/), 睡眠不足 (“lack of sleep” /suiminbu’soku/) and 仮眠を取る (“to take a nap” /kamin-o to’ru/).
The kanji 衆 “people; mass”
Another kanji for people en mass is 衆. In the three ancient styles on the left, the bottoms all had three people standing in the same direction, signifying “people following.” In kanji, two usually means “many,” so having three are really a “mass of people.” There are different interpretations for the top, however – (1) an enclosed area in oracle bone style; (2) the sun in bronze ware style; and (3) an eye in ten style. The top and the bottom together signified “many people working under watchful eyes following the order under the sun.” From that it meant “a lot of people; mass.” Like the kanji 民, in 衆 we have a glimpse of the fact that the writing was created from the standpoint of a ruler. Not surprising at all. In kanji the top became 血 “blood,” instead of a sideways eye as seen in the ten style sample. It is interesting to see how a person was represented in three different shapes in three different writing styles at the bottom. The stroke order is shown on the right.
There is no kun-yomi. The two on-yomi are /shu’u/ (and /shu/), and is in 大衆文化 (“popular culture” /taishuubu’nka/) and 群衆 (“crowd; throng” /gunshuu/).
The kanji 自 “oneself”
We have touched upon the kanji 自 in connection with the kanji 息 “to breathe.” [February 21, 2015 post] — The top of the kanji 息, was a nose, through which one breathed. The meaning of a nose as a physical feature was dropped completely in the kanji 自, and it means “oneself.” The kanji for a “nose” is 鼻.
The kun-yomi 自ら /mi’zukara/ means “oneself; personally,” used for a person, and 自ずと /onozuto/ means “spontaneously; by itself,” used for a situation. The on-yomi /ji/ is in 自分 (“oneself” /jibun/), 自由 (“liberty; freedom” /jiyu’u/), 自立 (“independence; self-supportive” /jiritsu/), 自他共に (“to everyone’s eyes; apparently” /ji’tatomoni; ji’ta tomoni/). Another on-yomi /shi/ is in 自然 (“nature” /shizen/).
The kanji 面 “face; mask”
For the kanji 面 in oracle bone style, in the center was an eye placed diagonally, with an outline. The outline was the outline of a face. It meant “face.” In ten style the inside was the same shape as the kanji 自, which originally was a nose, rather than an eye, and the line was extended at the top, signifying a face. A square shape that surrounded the face was a mask. The kanji 面 meant “face; mask.” If you have to choose only one feature to signify a face in an ultimate minimal way, which one of the two, “an eye” or “nose,” would you choose? A tough choice, isn’t it.
The kun-yomi /tsura’/ by itself means “face” and is in rough male speech. It is in 面当て (“out of spite” /tsuraate/) and 上っ面 (“exterior; surface” /uwattsura/). Another kun-yomi 面 /omote’/ means “face; mask,” and /omo/ is in 面白い (“interesting” /omoshiro’i/). The on-yomi /me’n/ is in 仮面 (“mask” /kamen/) and 面目をつぶす (“to be disgraced; lose one’s face” /menboku-o-tsubusu/) and 面食らう (“to be bewildered; be taken aback” /menkurau/). It is also in 面倒な (“troublesome” /mendo’o-na/), and 面倒くさい (“very troublesome” /mendookusa’i/) (Colloquially we say めんどくさい /mendokusa’i/). The stroke order is rather difficult to figure out. The sixth stroke is the key as shown on the right.
The kanji 首 “neck; head”
For the kanji 首, in oracle bone style, (a), it was a face with an eye inside and the hair on top. In bronze ware style in (b, c, d) the hair got detached from the face. It meant “head; chief.” In (d) and (e) inside the face appeared to be the shape that signified a nose, instead of an eye. In ten style (e) the top three wavy lines were the hair. So the transition from “eye” to “nose” that we saw in the kanji 面 above is evident here too. Even though it originally came from “head,” when it is used by itself, the kanji 首 /kubi/ means a “neck,” not a “head.” For “a head” as in a physical feature, /atama’/, we use the kanji 頭.
The kun-yomi 首 /kubi/ is used in 首になる (“to be fired” /kubi-ni-na’ru/) and if you are an employer it would be 首にする (”to fire” /kubi-ni-suru/). Either act is not a pleasant experience for the both parties. The on-yomi /shu/ is in 首都 (“capital of a country” /shu’to), 首相 (“prime minister” /shushoo/) and 自首する (“to surrender oneself to the police”/jishu-suru”).
The kanji 道 “road; way”
In the bronze ware style for the kanji 道 (a), inside a crossroad there was a head with hair sticking out, as we have just seen above in 首, and a footprint at the bottom. Together they signified that one stopped his feet at the crossroad with his head facing the way to go – thus it meant “road; way.” The sample (b) had a hand at the bottom, instead of a footprint. There are a few more samples in the reference that I use that had a hand at the bottom like this. The kanji 道 and a hand,寸, make up another kanji 導 “to guide,” as we are about to look at next. So, in the beginning the kanji 道 was inclusive of the meaning “to guide.” (c) was a later sample in bronze ware style and had a crossroad on the left side and a head on the right and a footstep at the bottom. In ten style (d) it was more in line with the components in (c). In shinjitai kanji the left side becomes a bushu shinnyoo “to move forward.”
The kun-yomi 道 /michi/ “road” is also in 近道 (“short cut” /chika’michi/) and 道草を食う (“to loiter on the way; waste time” /michikusa-o-ku’u/). The on-yomi /do’o/ is in 道路 (“road” /do’oro/), 歩道 (“pedestrian’s walk; side-walk” /hodoo/) and 道理で (“it is no wonder” /dooride/). Many Japanese traditional art forms have the kanji 道, such as 茶道 (“tea ceremony” /sa’doo/), 柔道 (“judo” /ju’udoo/), 剣道 (“Japanese swordsmanship” /ke’ndoo/), 華道 (“flower arrangement” /ka’doo/), 武道 (“marshall arts” /bu’doo/) and 書道 (“calligraphy; brush writing art” /sho’doo/). Well, whatever the traditional art form is, if it has 道 at the end, a student is expected to have years of practice, often with disciplined devotion with no particular end in sight! So, it requires spiritualism and means a way of living a life.
The kanji 導 “to lead the way; guide”
The kanji 導 has a hand (寸) at the bottom of the kanji 道. A hand showing the way to move forward meant “to lead the way; guide.” As mentioned above in 道, 道 and 導 were one writing originally, then later on the two meanings came to have different kanji.
The kun-yomi 導く /michibi’ku/ means “to lead the way.” The on-yomi /do’o/ is in 指導する (“to guide; teach someone” /shi’doo-suru/) and 導入する (“to introduce or bring in something new” /doonyuu-suru/).
Since the posts in March, 2014, we have focused on kanji that originated from a physical feature of a person and a posture. Undoubtedly there are other points we could take up, but it is time for us to move onto other origins. I am planning to start to discuss the kanji that originated from human habitats in the next post. [June 6, 2015]