Many Chinese people believe that if a baby was born deficient in one of the five elements in his or her fate (as determined by a fortuneteller), the parents could try to make up for it by naming the baby with characters containing that element. Therefore, when you see a name like 金枝 (Jīnzhī golden branch), 金钏 (Jīnchuàn golden bracelet), or 宝钗 (Bǎochāi precious hairpin), you might surmise that it wasn’t solely given to wish for the riches.
金 (jīn), or 金属 (jīnshǔ), stands for metals in general. 金 (jīn) is also the word for gold. To remove the ambiguity, you could say 黄金 (huángjīn) or 金子 (jīnzi) when you are referring specifically to gold. And, of course, there is no question that you are talking about gold rather than a miscellaneous metal element, when you say 金戒指 (jīn jièzhi golden ring), 金婚 (jīnhūn golden wedding aniversary), 金牛座 (jīnniúzuò Taurus, the golden bull constellation), or 金发美女 (jīnfǎ měinǚ a blond beauty).
When talking about one’s integrity or strength of character, you could borrow this Chinese saying:
真金不怕火炼. (or 真金不怕火.)
Zhēn jīn bù pà huǒ liàn. (Zhēn jīn bù pà huǒ.)
True gold does not fear the refiner’s fire.
(True gold is proofed by fire.)
You have probably heard of a few Chinese people with the lastname, 金 (Jīn), and know many more Korean people with the surname Kim, which is the Korean pronunciation for 金 (Jīn). This is because at one time China was invaded and ruled by the descendents of the Jin Dynasty, founded around the 12th Century by Manchurians in northern Korea. The government established in China by these invadors was called the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), or 清朝 (Qīng Cháo).
I’d say the most popular character that takes on the 金 (jīn) word root is 钱 (qián copper coin, money). 钱 (qián) is also used as a Chinese unit of weight, but 金钱 jiīnqián) specifically refers to money.
In fact, 金 (iīnqián) appears in many words as a shortened form of 金钱 (jīnqián), as shown in the following sentences:
Miyuè zūjīn duōshao?
How much is the monthly rent?
(Each month’s rent, how much?)
Bǎozhèngjīn shì sānbǎi měi jīn.
The earnest money is US$300.
钞 (chāo) is paper money. 美钞 (měi chāo), 美金 (měi jīn) and 美元 (měiyuán) all refer to the U.S. doallar.
银 (yín) is silver. It is also associated with money. 银行 (yínháng) is a bank.
Wǒ yào qù yínháng tíkuǎn.
I want to go to the bank to withdraw some money.
锈 (xiù) is the result of oxidation of a metallic product. 铁锈 (tiě xiù) is rust in a product made from iron. 锈 (xiù) can also be used as a verb.
Tiě dīng xiù le.
The iron nail has rusted.
铜 (tóng) is copper. 铜锈 (xiù) is the bluish copper oxide that is often seen on bronze statues.
To the Chinese, the five basic metals, 五金 (wǔjīn), are: gold, silver, copper, iron and tin. 五金 (wǔjīn) also refers to hardware in general.
Wǒ yào qù wǔjīnháng mǎi yīxiē tiě dīng.
I want to go to the hardware store to get a few nails.
Have you ever eaten a kind of dried day lily flowers in a Chinese dish? Those are called “golden needles”, or 金针 (jīnzhēn), because of the golden color and slender shape of the flowers in their fresh state.
The needles used in acupuncture are also called 金针 (jīnzhēn gold needles) although nowadays these are made of stainless steel, or 不锈钢 (bùxiùgāng).
钢 (gāng) is steel. Pianos are called 钢琴 (gāngqín) because the piano strings are made from high-carbon steel.
刚强 (gāngqiáng) means strong as steel, or firm and unyielding. Some dietary minerals, such as 钙 (gài calcium) and 镁 (měi magnesium), are believed to help us maintain strong bones.
To see the names of all the metallic elements, consult a periodic table printed in Chinese.