4 = West = Wine

A Structural Analysis of Written Chinese

image showing the Chinese characters for "4" "west" and "wine"

The book Reading and writing Chinese: a guide to the Chinese writing system, the student’s 1,020 list, the official 2,000 list by William McNaughton and Li Ying describes si4 “four” as an “arbitrary character.” This seems odd to me considering that si4 is a square with four corners, two of which are marked. When we look at xi1 “west,” we find even more correspondences in the similarity of character structure and in the fact that directions are considered coordinates of four positions: north, south, east, west. The Chinese orient themselves differently, however, using the order of east, south, west, and north, (dong1, nan2, xi1, bei3).

= everywhere
si4 xia4

Si4 xia4, which is “four” + “down,” means “everywhere”; this implies that four directions on earth constitutes “everywhere.”

Though west is not the fourth direction in Chinese, the sun sinks in the west no matter where you are, so there is the sense of finality in the west. The pronunciation of si4 is very close to si3, which means “to die.” When the sun sinks, it is like the sun dies for the night. Sunset is a light show at a convenient time of day (as opposed to dawn, which is the signal to start working). This event seems to induce a desire for inebriates. Even the ancients appear to have had happy hour, which is why jiu3 looks a lot like “west” with the addition of a water radical on the left, a line inside the bottle to show fluid. Note that “four,” “west,” and “wine/alcohol” also have similar Pinyin spellings: si, xi, jiu.

qiu2 – chief of tribe, chieftain

you3 – 10th terrestrial branch; a wine vessel; 10th earthly branch; 5-7 p.m. According to a lunar day calendar in The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life in the Vanishing Backstreets of a City Transformed, Michael Meyer, © 2008, Walker and Company, New York: “‘Five to seven P.M. is lucky; seven to nine P.M. is unlucky,’” page 74. Ms. Lin writes, “In 12 animal signs, is cock or hen (chicken). 酉时 yǒu3  shí2  is 5:00pm – 7:00pm.shi2 = time.” Perhaps this is the time when you eat chicken.

you2 – to plan, to scheme

you2 – as if, still

you2 – ritual bonfire

you3 – ancient form of the tenth of the twelve Terrestrial Branches, a version of

liu2 liu3 – shark

Okay, so all of these characters loosely involve employing strategy: To be chief you planned, you schemed, probably helped by your superior knowledge that the best time to catch anything is as the sun goes down (5-7 p.m. generally). Notice that this bottle shape is related to the shark shape at bottom (“fish” is the radical on the left ), which is another animal that goes after what it wants. The bonfire association could be that you used alcohol to start the fire, or you use alcohol in a fire ritual (or both). Wine was often used as a drug to inebriate unwilling females, so alcohol is a tool of strategy.

Jennifer Ball

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