The Four Winds

If you are familiar with a Chinese game called mahjong, you will know that in the boxful of at least 136 tiles there are 4 tiles marked with (dōng east), four tiles marked with (nán south), four tiles marked with 西 (xī west) and four tiles marked with (běi north). These tiles actually represent the four winds: the east wind, the south wind, the west wind and the north wind.

The wind, (fēng) is an air movement that manifests itself as a natural force or flow of energy. We can create an artificial wind by using a hand-held fan, 扇子 (shànzi), or an electric fan, 风扇 (fēngshàn).

Following are a couple ways to describe a wind:

Fēn qīngqīng de chuī.
The wind is gently blowing.

Guā dàfēng le.
A gale has started to blow.

Well, when it’s blowing outside, you might want to put on a 风衣 (fēngyī a dust-coat) to help ward off the wind.

风光 (fēngguāng) and 风景 (fēngjǐng) both refer to scenery and landscape.

Zhelǐ fēngguāng hěnhào.
The scenery here is very nice.

风度 (fēngdù) refers to one’s deportment or demeanor, while 作风 (zuòfēng) refers to one’s style of doing things.

In the word, 中风(zhòngfēng), (zhòng) takes on the fourth tone, and means “to hit on target” or “to be hit by”. When a person has a stroke (apoplexy), the Chinese say that he or she has been hit by the (evil) wind. Of course, in the scientific sense, 中风(zhòngfēng) has nothing to do with the wind at all.

Something floating in air is said to (piāo). For example,

Bái yún piāo zài kōngzhōng.
White clouds are floating in the sky.

Although the east wind is sometimes depicted as an evil force in western literature, the Chinese believe it brings favorable conditions and good luck. So, if someone mentions, “只欠东风 (zhī qiàn dōng fēng only lacking the east wind)”, it means that everything is ready but needs to wait for the right moment or a favorable condition.

南风 (nánfēng) are winds that come from the south, which usually invokes an image of a sunny place in the summer, where friendly and happy people sing and dance under the palm trees.

Let’s listen to the third song at this link, which is called “西风的话 (Xīfēng de Huà) Words of the West Wind”, with music composed by 黃自 (Huáng Zì) and lyrics written by 廖輔叔 (Liào Fǔshū). Normally this song is sung at a slow, deliberate tempo. Nevertheless, the exuberance of these cute kids is always a joy to watch. In the song there is no mention of the time of the year. Can you guess from the context what season it is describing?

Last year when I came back,
You had just donned your new gown.
Today I come to see you,
How stout and tall you have grown!
Do you perhaps remember,
The lotus in the pond will turn to pods?
Blooms will be scarce, but we won’t be without colors –
For I shall tint the leaves with red.

Most of the words in the Chinese lyrics should look familiar to you. I’ll just comment on a few new terms. As a reminder, we talked about flowers and trees in my 3/20/11 post, and I mentioned a few colors in my 7/6/11 post.

(gāng) as an adjective means firm and strong. As an adverb, it means “barely”, “just” or “a short while a go”. For example:

Tā gāng huílái.
He has just come back.

穿 (chuān) is to put on or wear clothing.

棉袍 (mián páo) is a cotton-padded quilted jacket

记得 (jìde) is to remember.

Wǒ jìde nǐ bù chī là de (dōngxi).
I rember you don’t eat spicy foods (things).

(chí) is a pond. 池里 (chí li) means in the pond.

莲蓬 (liánpeng) is the seepod of the lotus plant.

(chóu) is short for 忧愁 (yōuchóu sad, be worried).

(rǎn) means to dye.

One of the usages of the adverb, (dōu), is to help emphasize that an action is performed by all of the subjects, or that an action is applied to all of the objects. In the following line, it indicates that the action of tinting is applied to all the leaves.

Wǒ bǎ shùyè dōu rǎn hóng.
I will color all the leaves red.

北风 (běifēng) are the winds that come down from the north. It seems there is a world-wide consensus that the north wind signifies cold, harsh weather. This wind is featured in the well-known Aesop’s Fable, “The North Wind and the Sun”. I think you’ll agree that it’s often better to employ diplomacy and persuation to convince people rather than use brute force and coercion to impose compliance.

At this link there is a pattern for a four-leaf-clover origami that you could make to help you or your child learn the Chinese words for the four directions as well as a number of other terms.

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