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February 01, 2011

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Hi Peony, Derek (et al),

As Peony well knows, I feel that trying to pull semantic information from every single character stroke to be nothing more than interesting flights of the imagination. Whoever put together that dictionary at Chinese Heritage Lodge acknowledges that most people neglect the phonetics, but from what little I've seen, he does too. The myth-busting book The Chinese Language: Fact and Fantasy by John DeFrancis is an excellent book which deals with this subject, as is Qiu Xigui's Chinese Writing (文字學概要) (http://ieas.berkeley.edu/publications/ecp_qiu.html). The Wikipedia article Chinese Character Classification is surprisingly good too (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_character_classification).

Regarding the association of straightness and "virtue," I'd like to point out that Confucius clearly differntiated the words De 德 and Zhi 直, (although the two might have been somewhat related).

Lunyu 14.34
或曰:「以德報怨,何如?」
子曰:「何以報德?以直報怨,以德報德。」
Someone asked, “using De to repay resentment, what do you think of this?”
The master replied, “And how would we repay De? (We should rather) use Zhi to repay resentment and use De to repay De.”
-- I would gloss De here as "goodwill," to contrast Yuan "resentment/ill will/emnity." You may remember that "以德報怨" is to be found in the Laozi 63 (presumably being advocated). I think Zhi here is something like "justness."

Having said this, however, I can accept that "straightness" has associations with good moral conduct, but I don't think we should consider the presence of Zhi 直 in the character for De as evidence for this. I think as time went on, this became the common interpretation of the character and concept of De 德 by the Chinese (and others). In the Jiaguwen there are no examples where 直 means (morally) upright. But, I'm probably being pedantic. It wouldn't be the first time.

Conduct (彳) emanating directly (直) from one's heart (心) is especially attractive to me. (But I make no claim that this is why each part of the character for De was picked by the character's inventor.) One reason it is attractive to me is because it fits both examples where De has a connotation of "goodwill" and "virtuous conduct" but also those which speak of bad De "character/temperament" (e.g., Shujing- Li Zheng 立政: there is mention of the "violent De" 暴德 of the Xia dynasty tyrant king Jie 桀). Thus, it seems to be more generally "character." Whether it is good or bad character, the context makes clear.

Re: "I also looked up the entry on 直, which . . . derives its meaning from a property of light (viz., that it travels in straight lines). The 甲骨文 (is this what you call the Oracle Bones?) has but an eye and a straight line leading from it to represent 視線 (目光 mu4 guang1 in Chinese)."
-- I don't know what Muguang 目光 means (or 視線, for that matter), but, imo, 直 in the Jiaguwen can indeed be read as 視, but there is no necessary connection to light (光). Kaizuka Shigeki 貝塚茂樹 suggested that the the line coming out of the top of the eye component in the graphs 直 & 徝 represented a line along which the eye sights. This seems plausible to me, but far from certain.

Looking at the dictionary entry for De (that Peony shared with me), can you tell me what 目光正直 means? I get something like eye shining straight, but that can't be right. I'm also not sure about what the third meaning is: 信念?

I apologize if I am being 'contrary.'

Good health and harmony,
Bao Pu


Hi Bao Pu,

Well, like I said before, you are going to have to give me more than Defrancis and Qiu (whom I don't know)regarding 会意文字. Even in the schools, 徳 is taught as 会意文字 (5th grade) so to my mind, that is a done deal (without persuasive evidence). In particular, I wouldn't call Defrancis persuasive on technical issues (don't get me wrong, I liked two of his books quite a lot).

And, the other important point is that to say
1) the concept of "straight" informs the understanding of the meaning of "virtue" (as metaphor and/or etymologically) is NOT to say that
2) virtue= straightness

So, in that way, of course I would not be surprised of Confucius or any other philosopher differentiated between the terms as they are not equivalent. But that 直 is a central metaphor for understanding 道徳 is without a doubt true. Whether this came about etymogically (via the semantic elements of the kanji) or whether it happened historically is something I really could not say. I doubt Derek could weigh in on that either.

Now, it is your other question about "violent de" and "bad de" that I would like to give my opinion. I think to call these things "violent de" or "bad de" are mis-translations. Here is a comment I wrote to Sam and I would like to suggest that it applies to your "violent de" as well.

regarding bad "de" I have been searching a bit online and the only instances so far that I can find of this phrase is the [四つの悪徳] ("4 vices") which are in contrast to the 五つの美徳を尊び (the five virtues)

"the 4 vices" → 四つの悪徳 ⇒『論語』堯曰第二十2

My seach was hardly exhaustive but I am wondering (just barely wondering) if this "bad de" is not really "vice" in the same way that 美徳 or "beautiful de" is "a virtue"... which is altogether different than conveying a person's "de"

This is to suggest that the 徳 in 悪徳 or 暴徳 is only being used to make a NEW WORD so that its not that a person't "de" is bad or violent but that 悪徳 is a distinct noun/word all on its own. This is just a suggestion (I am not insisting as I do not in fact know)--Manyul or Derek I am sure could weigh in one way or the other...


Peony,

Contemporary Chinese hasn't "lost" the 一 in 徳。 We still write it like this (德) in Chinese, different from the Japanese. 簡体字 notwithstanding, there are a couple of kanji which the Japanese write differently from the Chinese, and the difference is usually the additional presence or absence of one or two strokes (the addition or subtraction of which doing nothing to alter the "identifiability" of the kanji).

Bao Pu,

There is certainly nothing wrong with being contrary, but I think you've misconstrued a couple of things Peony and I have said. I am a pedant as well; allow me to try to explain better.

I agree that trying to squeeze authoritative meaning out of every line and dot can be an exercise in emptiness. Language, being dynamic and used by millions (in the case of Chinese) who don't always fully appreciate and consciously select each word they use, changes for reasons that are sometimes best called arbitrary. However, in the case of 徳, I do think the 一 has a distinct semantic existence. This is why:

I don't think there is a 直 in 徳。 直 gets its other line (the longer one at the bottom) as early as in the Bronze script -- it's a bit of a far fetch to think that this finally creeps back into 徳 in the Han period. It makes more sense to me to posit that there is a semantic unit common to both 直 and 徳, from which 直 evolves and which 徳 integrates, viz. [eye+line].

(Side note to Peony: 直 tyoku and 徳 toku vary in 音読み by just one phoneme -- uncanny!)

While I'm open to the argument that the 一 in 徳 does not mean what Gu Jianping makes it out to mean, I do think it is rash to treat it dismissively. God knows there are tons of 異体字 yitizi to be found; perhaps one made it into the mainstream. But that is beyond the scope of any study I have made or read.

***

Let me clarify that when I said the metaphor of straightness is central to the discussion of ethics in Chinese, I was referring to modern Chinese.

I also didn't mean anything profound by this. Just as it's only possible to talk extensively or colloquially about understanding in English without the seeing/sight metaphor if one makes generous use of circumlocutions, Chinese and Japanese face the same problem with regard to the ethically desirable and the straightness metaphor -- in modern language. Just as the Occidental philosophers (or should I say, epistemologists) did not think there was a direct association between actual eyesight and comprehension, I do not mean to imply that there is a similar link between 直 and 徳。I don't even know what 直 meant 2,000 years ago!

***

I agree that 直 is "just", btw -- at least in the way Confucius uses it. But the thing about philosophers and their use of language (or any use of language, really) is that we can't make any definitive conclusions without a full understanding of context. Plato is very specific about what his ἰδέα idea does and does not mean, despite how we, our predecessors or even his contemporaries use the word -- why not the same for Confucius' 直, or even his 徳?

(Much of what Confucius said was done so in an attempt to counter the ideas of Laozi, amongst others, and supplant them with his own belief system; Confucius' 徳 thus has to be considered in this context, given the central position 徳 has in Laozi's philosophy.)

Coming to the discussion late, I'm not sure whose or which 徳 we're discussing here, but I think it's important to delineate the various contexts. To forget that philosophers use words deliberately is to miss the essence of what it is they try to do, which is to alter the way we construct reality. Words are the tools with which we construct reality, and short of inventing new ones (i.e., coining new words), a philosopher can only appropriate an existing tool (word) for his own purposes. And the only way he can say something new and different with the same word is to use them to mean something unique.

***

More clarification: Gu basically says the same thing as Kaizuka. The meaning "straightness" comes from a quality of vision, i.e., that the eye sees things which are on a straight line from it. This, we now know thanks to a branch of study under Physics called Optics, is due to the fact that light travels in straight lines, which is what I was getting at when I said 直 derives its meaning from a property of light. Forgive the literary bent in me.

目光 and 視線 basically mean "line of sight" and are also used to mean "gaze/stare/vision". (This is very simplified.) So 目光正直 doesn't have the eye shining, and is actually very hard to translate, but let me try.

First, contemplate the word "good", in English. "Good" has two opposites, "bad" and "evil". To be very simple, we can say that "bad" refers to outcomes whereas "evil" refers to intentions. In this sense, the concept of "good" in Chinese is more precisely divided into two words, 良 when referring to good outcomes (not the best word, I know) and 善 when referring to good intentions (again, not the best word, but bear with me please, my mastery of Chinese leaves much to be desired).

Similarly, the concept of "straight" in English is broken down and mapped into two words in Chinese, 正 (as in "Is that picture straight?", i.e. not inclined) and 直 (the shortest distance between two points). What these two qualities (and they are distinct qualities in Chinese, not just two aspects of "straightness") mean exactly in the context of moral and ethical behaviour would depend on the philosopher in question.

As mentioned above, 目光 is line-of-sight/vision/gaze, making 目光正直 "to have one's eyes watching the straight and narrow". Yes, the resonance with "their eyes were watching god" is intentional, and while there is no "narrow" in 正直, "straight and narrow" as a phrase captures the generic desiderata in morals and ethics in English the same way 正直 does in Chinese and sounds much better than "the uninclined, the unbending and the uncrooked". Indulge the literary translator in me.

***

In short, 信念 means belief (as in one belief, two beliefs; as opposed to belief as in the absence or presence of, which is 信仰 -- cf. 信 believe + 念 thought). To be honest, I have not encountered (in an "authentic" text) this meaning of 徳, but if I were to hazard a guess, I would say that in this meaning, 徳 has moved from being a quality (i.e., an adjective, a description of a quality, an ideal, a value) to a category (i.e. a noun, a label). I get this from the example cited, 同心同徳 same temper (heart) same values (system of beliefs/value system). Perhaps this addresses Peony's problem with 美徳 and 悪徳.

Work has been rather busy, so it's taken me a bit of time, but here are some thoughts on "bad" Integrity.

Hi Peony,

re: "Well, like I said before, you are going to have to give me more than Defrancis and Qiu (whom I don't know) regarding 会意文字. Even in the schools, 徳 is taught as 会意文字 (5th grade) so to my mind, that is a done deal (without persuasive evidence)."

-- You should check out Qiu. He's perhaps the top Chinese scholar on the Chinese script. I'm not surprised that the character for De is considered a Huiyizi. It might be, but the evidence I've looked at - ALL bronze inscriptions containing the word, many oracle bone inscriptions, and all the classical texts - makes me skeptical. The phonetic components of characters sometimes add to the meaning, but often they do not. This doesn't stop people from forcing a significant meaning out of the phonetic. All things considered, I'm not sure it makes much difference whether the phonetic Zhi was chosen with its meaning in mind or not.

re: "My seach was hardly exhaustive but I am wondering (just barely wondering) if this "bad de" is not really "vice" in the same way that 美徳 or "beautiful de" is "a virtue"... which is altogether different than conveying a person's "de." This is to suggest that the 徳 in 悪徳 or 暴徳 is only being used to make a NEW WORD so that its not that a person't "de" is bad or violent but that 悪徳 is a distinct noun/word all on its own. This is just a suggestion (I am not insisting as I do not in fact know)."

-- Well, it's a good question/suggestion. But I'd have to say no. Even though examples where De has something to do with benevolence or moral virtue or good character outnumber examples where it has a negative adjective 10 to 1, there are still more than a dozen examples in the classical Chinese sources where De has negative modifiers, (often different negative adjectives are used). Also, there are dozens of examples where De has nothing to do with a human moral quality.

One example where "vice" would be appropriate is found in the Chunqiu Zuozhuan 左傳: 孝敬、忠信為吉德,盜賊、藏姦為凶德。 But De could equally be glossed as "characteristics" here, or, as James Legge translates, "conduct": "Filial reverence and loyal faith are virtues of good conduct (吉德); theft and villainy, and harbouring (the thief) and (accepting the gifts of) the traitor, are vices of evil conduct (凶德)."

Derek,

Thanks for tolerating my contrariness.

re: "直 tyoku and 徳 toku vary in 音読み by just one phoneme -- uncanny!"

-- You may be interested to know that in Old Chinese (上古漢語) De has been reconstructed as *tək and Zhi as *drək. This is why it's believed that Zhi was the phonetic. Mu 目 itself is similar: *muk or *miək.

re: "While I'm open to the argument that the 一 in 徳 does not mean what Gu Jianping makes it out to mean, I do think it is rash to treat it dismissively. God knows there are tons of 異体字 yitizi to be found; perhaps one made it into the mainstream."

-- Yes, I've not read any persuasive explanations as to why that line is there. It's not on any Zhou bronzes. It's not on the Mawangdui silk texts from the early Han Dynasty. It's not on most of the graphs seen on bamboo strips found lately (e.g., Guodian), but it is on a few - but it is not a straight line, but 乚 : 悳. Even on the Dunhuang manuscripts it is only found on some.

Thanks for explaining Muguang and Xinnian.

re: "同心同徳 same temper (heart) same values (system of beliefs/value system)"

-- I agree. I translate that as "same heart, same character," (I think character involves values) or "same heart, same ethos."

Gotta run now. Thanks for the discussion.

Good health and happiness,
Bao Pu

Hi Bao Pu!

I will check out Qiu... though I've gotta tell you, I am a bit hesitant about talking about kanji in english. I bet the book has been translated into Japanese, so I will look for it. Also regarding 会意文字, you know out of the total how many thousands of characters, 会意文字 are rare. But the schools here teach 徳 as one of those rare types of kanji which are composed of semantic elements.

Regarding the other issue, 美徳 and 悪徳 I am going to respond at Sam's place. By the way, I did another Shirakawa Special kanji deconstruction in my latest post Dream Journey Part 2. It's about 遊-- hope you like it! :)

PS
Derek, I don't know if you feel the same about such matters, but when you pointed out that extra 一 in 徳 I felt very shocked!!! Whenever I see any variations in kanji, for some reason I feel so incredibly resistent. How about you? In Hong Kong and Taiwan, the nonsimplified characters drove me up the wall.... but the simplified ones are even worse! I just think the Japanese one's are "just right" :)
They aren't too complicated but they also aren't too 省略された...

I must admit, I think that 一 in 徳 makes a huge and very positive improvment to the kanji-- and yet, I wish you had never told me!!

Anyway, check out the new post where I explain Shirakawa's "deconstruction" 解字 of 遊び :)

Bao Pu,

Now I'm being contrary. I hope you don't mind.

-- Well, it's a good question/suggestion. But I'd have to say no.

I'm curious. Why would you say that?

...there are still more than a dozen examples in the classical Chinese sources where De has negative modifiers, (often different negative adjectives are used).

Um...I'm going to be rather controversial here, but I have a pet theory that the Chinese language has no grammar. By which I mean that how we think of grammar in English, with words like "adjective", "modifier", "verb", "noun", etc, presupposes a way of thinking and a set of rules which are not at all useful when working with the Chinese language because there are too many *systematic* exceptions. Last I heard, a Taiwanese professor was working on a similar hypothesis, but unfortunately, I'm unable to provide any references, so it'll just have to be my pet theory for now.

I know this is not the mainstream view in academic circles, nor is it a popular one. First, it brings into question why we talk about the Chinese language, in Chinese, using words like 名词 (nouns) and 形容词 (adjectives) if they don't really help, and suggests that there are, indeed, things which academic rigour, for all the sympathy Western culture has for it, fails to help us understand -- which is something no one likes to admit.

I'm willing to elaborate (with examples) if anyone is interested, but here's the bit that's relevant to this discussion: when you form a compound word in Chinese by adding a word describing a quality (what we, in English, call an adjective) to a word describing a concept (what we, in English, call a[n abstract] noun), in no way does one modify the other, in the way an adjective modifies a noun in English. What happens is more like a synthesis of meaning, in which the whole is more than the sum of its parts (usually). If you think about it, where do you draw the line between a quality and a concept anyway? "Hot" is a quality and "heat" is a concept, but they both mean the same thing and are distinguised by what, in English grammar, we call "form". Chinese words have no form. No inflexion, declension or morphing of any sort occurs. 热 is hot and 热 is heat. One semantic unit, one character/word. No separate entries in the dictionary based on it's "role" in a sentence.

Confucius (Are we still talking about him in the aforementioned "classical Chinese sources"?) isn't my cup of tea -- or philosophers, for that matter; Tang poetry agrees with me better -- so I don't think there's anything I can offer about what he purportedly says besides personal responses. It does sound like you're making a few dangerous linguistic assumptions, though, and these will affect your getting at the intended meaning behind the words.

I find the Legge more confusing than helpful. What does he mean by the "virtues of good conduct" and the "vices of bad conduct"? Does he mean "virtue"="good conduct", i.e. either term may act, in equal capacity, as a substitute for 吉德? Does "virtue" describe "good conduct", i.e. "good conduct that is virtue"? Or is "virtue" a property of "good conduct", thus implying "good conduct" has properties other than "virtue"? In the last two cases, where is this relationship between "virtue" and "good conduct" found in the text (吉德)?

In any case, I still don't see how Legge helps the case for 德 alone as "vice". Perhaps I'm missing something.

Also, there are dozens of examples where De has nothing to do with a human moral quality.

I'm curious as to what these are. What do they mean in those examples? Something akin to 同心同德?

Me: "Also, there are dozens of examples where De has nothing to do with a human moral quality."

Derek: "I'm curious as to what these are."

-- Well, we have De ascribed to the sun (日), the stars (星), alcohol (酒), oxen (牛) the seasons (春, 夏, 秋, 冬), roosters (雞), etc. Often, some sense of "power" is implied.

Hi Bao Pu,

Derek will ask the same question no doubt-- but can you give a full example? Do you mean like what I wrote about in lunar virtue?

夜光何徳 死則又育
厥利維何 而顧菟在腹
『楚辞』


The above might be an argument to keep the translation virtue, because in this case integrity might not work-- even "moral power" is iffy... but "what virtue does the moon have?" can just mean, "what does the moon teach us?" No?

In this case (above) while some "power" may perhaps be implied, it is more about human interpretation... that is to say, what "de" does the moon have could also be understood (in my opinion) as "what can the moon teach us about "de" in life?

Derek,
Are you suggesting that a "white horse" is not a "horse"?...;)

Sam,

I'm not sure if I didn't explain myself well enough, or if you're just being facetious.


Bao Pu,

Peony is right -- I am very curious as to the full sentence your examples are found in, because it is precisely how 德 is being ascribed to those items that will tell us what we need to know.

Yes, Sam was being mildly facetious
See: When is a white horse not a horse

Also, highly recommended: Bezdomny also responds to this post and Sam's Post here

Finally, Namit developed his comment that he left here a few weeks ago on my "no intestines" stance and wrote a really well done Post at 3Qs-- see here: Asian Food for Thought

Hello Peony,

I've read with great interest a post of yours back in 2009 (virtue & a little dostoevsky). Recently, I uploaded an article about 会意文字 that you may find of interest. It is at

http://www.slideshare.net/KanjiNetworks/the-phantom-category-of-chinese-characters

or

http://www.scribd.com/doc/136393595/The-Phantom-Category-of-Chinese-Characters

By the way, I loved your quote, "... you are going to have to give me more than Defrancis ..." Last year, Victor Mair launched his critique of my research with a paean to John DeFrancis for having "debunked" the so-called Ideographic Myth; I had a few things to say about that in several articles that too are uploaded at Slideshare and Scribd, if your interest extends that far.

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