More on Zhong (but not Unicode) [totally OT now] (was RE: Decimal separator with more than one character?)

From: Allen Haaheim (
Date: Mon May 19 2003 - 21:54:02 EDT

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    I think your "妾心井*中*水" ("A spirit like water *in* a timeless well") is a
    good example of the post-position locative, which coming from a line of Tang
    poetry proves that it is not just used this way in modern Chinese. In fact
    it's common in Classical Chinese too.

    (Sorry but I just have to comment on the "translation": the above is an
    interpretation, really. A literal translation would be "MY HEART is
    within the water of the well." 妾 qie4, basically means "concubine," and
    thus came to be used as a self-deprecatory pronoun for women in reference to
    themselves. So "Your concubine's" or "Your wife's" or more generally "Your
    woman's heart is in the well's water" would be even better. I didn't look at
    the web page you quoted, but chances are "spirit," "timeless," and "like"
    have no business being there. Finally, it is interesting to note that it is
    extremely likely that the line was not written by a female poet, but by male
    poet writing in the "abandoned wife of a wandering playboy" subgenre, with
    possible allegory to a minister/ruler relationship, where the minister is
    feeling wronged.)

    On "zhong" 中 (centrality):

    The _Ci yuan_ says "zhongguo" is a name the Hua 華 (hua2; U+83EF) and/or Xia
    夏 (xia4; U+590F) peoples of high antiquity gave to their homeland, the
    Yellow River region, calling the outside the "four directions" (sifang; 四方;
    U+56DB and U+65B9). The idea of politico-cultural centrality (not
    necessarily geographic) was probably at the heart of this.

    "Middle" seems to be a good overall translation especially after consulting
    Karlgren, who gives a cognate as "zhong" 仲 (U+4EF2), "the middle one."

    Schafer has an interesting blurb on 中華 as connoting "central Hua" and
    denoting "the old northern homeland of the Chinese [ = 中夏] 'central *Hia'; .
    . . " adding "confer [zhongguo]" and some other "zhong + x" words that I
    unfortunately can't find at the moment.

    As for opposites, Yang Xiong (53 BC-AD 18) wrote of zhong 中 (centrality) as
    opposed to zhou (circumference) 周 (U+5468) in his "spherical" category, and
    zhong (centrality) as opposed to cheng (completing) 成 (U+6210) in his
    "procedural" category. The fifth century text _Shi shuo xin yu_ has the
    compound zhongwai 中外 in the meaning
    of "son of a maternal aunt" (now it means "Chinese and foreign"), so
    although nei 内 is the better opposite now, perhaps the postulation of
    zhongwai 中外 as "within/without" opposites has some truth to it. "Zhong" is
    also prefixed to many traditional official appelations, which in addition to
    "central" reinforces the morally loaded "neutral, impartial" secondary
    adjectival meaning (which also helps explain zhong4 as a verb "hit the

    Best wishes,

    Allen Haaheim
    (I proofread this one, but don't let me get away with anything)

    ----- Original Message -----
    From: "Marco Cimarosti" <>
    To: "'Andrew C. West'" <>
    Cc: <>
    Sent: Monday, May 19, 2003 12:51 PM
    Subject: [totally OT now] Zhong (was RE: Decimal separator with more than
    one character?)

    Andrew C. West wrote:
    > I'm not sure. I was consciously using the term "Middle
    > Kingdom" that is the traditional translation of
    > Zhongguo used since ... since the penetration of
    > Zhongguo by the Jesuits in the 16th century I guess
    >(no doubt someone will correct me if I'm wrong) ?

    I vaguely recall that, originally, "中" (zhong) meant "in, at" (when used as
    a postposition) and "internal" (when used as an adjective). It also had the
    modern meanings "in the middle" (postposition) and "middle" (adjective), but
    they were not the main ones.

    But I am afraid that, right now, I can't support this with anything more
    that my distant classroom memories, dating nearly 20 years ago...

    The only thing that I could find on-line with my rusty Chinese is the last
    verse of this a Tang poem (,
    where "中" cannot mean "in the middle":

    "妾心井*中*水" ("A spirit like water *in* a timeless well")

    But this is hardly a demonstration, I guess.


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