Freedom and Compassion

On this great day, we gladly take a break from work and enjoy a barbecue with family or friends. We may even shoot off some fireworks. But, most importantly, this is the day to remind ourselves how fortunate we are to live in such a free, independent country.

Qīyuè sì rì shì Měiguó dúlì jìniànrì.
The Fourth of July is the American Independence Day.

Qīyuè sì rì shì Měiguó guóqìng rì.
The Fourth of July is the American National Holiday.

On this day, the Americans declared themselves an independent democracy, or 独立的民主國家. (dúlì de mínzhǔ guójiā). This day is about freedom, or 自由 (zìyóu freedom, liberty).

不自由, 毋寧死.
Bù zìyóu, wúnìng sǐ.
Give me Libery, or give me Death. (Patrick Henry)

Of course, Independence and Freedom for everyone can be possible only if we value Equality and have Compassion towards fellow human beings.

The Chinese word for equality is 平等 (píngděng). Just as you desire freedom, so do all the other people. One person’s freedom cannot infringe upon another person’s freedom and rights.

Compassion can be translated as 同情心 (tóngqíng xīn sympathy) or 怜悯心 (liánmǐn xīn pity, compassion). This is the virtue of (rén benevolence, humanity) that 孟子 (mèngzǐ Mencius) advocated. When we are compassionate towards other people, we will respect their independence and free choice, and are less likely to want to oppress or enslave them.

A story comes to mind about an ant repaying favor to a man who showed compassion toward it:

A young man from the Qing Dynasty on his way to take the imperial exam at the county level to become a 秀才 (xiùcái entry-level scholar). While taking a rest by a brook, he saw an ant struggling in the water, about to drown. The man took pity on the ant and shoved a leaf over to the ant. The ant crawled onto the leaf, and the man lifted the leaf and placed it on dry ground.

At the imperial exam, the young man wielded his calligraphy brush and quickly provided the correct answer to all the questions. However, in the hurry, he missed one of the four small marks in the Traditional Chinese Character for horse, (mǎ). At that time, there was no such thing as Simplified Chinese characters. The Traditional Chinese character for “horse” still contained four small tear-drop shaped marks to indicate the four legs of a horse. In the modern Simplified character, (mǎ), these four marks have been replaced by one horizontal stroke. After returning home, the young man reviewed the exam in his mind and was quite chagrined when he realized the error he had made. He knew that that one minor error like that would cost him his chance of passing the exam.

The examiner graded the papers. When he was working on the exam sheet of the young man, he saw an ant on it and tried to wave it way. However, that ant would not budge. The examiner let it be and continued reading the paper. The young man passed the exam because the ant happened to squat on the missing brush stroke on the “horse” character.

清朝 (Qīng Cháo) is the Qing Dynasty, which ended in 1911.

考试 (kǎoshì) is an examination or a test. This word also serves as a verb.

Wǒ míngtiān yào kǎoshì.
Tomorrow I have an exam to take.

考官 (kǎo guān) is a (government) examiner, and 考生 (kǎo shēng) is a student taking an exam.

通过 (tōngguò) means to pass through or to pass an examination. 考中 (kǎo zhòng) means having passed an exam and gained entry to the desired school or attained the desired position.

Niánqīngrén zài hé biān xiūxī.
The young man took a rest by the river.

Mǎyǐ zài shuǐ lǐ zhēngzhá.
The ant was struggling in the water.

Niánqīngrén jiù le Mǎyǐ.
The young man saved the ant.

Mǎyǐ bāngzhù Niánqīngrén kǎo zhòng xiùcái.
The ant helped the young man attain the entry-level scholar status.

Měiguó guóqìng rì kuàilè!
Happy Fourth of July!
(Happy American National Holiday!)

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Anthony B.
    Jul 07, 2012 @ 12:36:30

    Dear Ms. Lin,
    Your latest lesson is beautiful and the anectode is quite moving. So many things to learn.

    I have also seen the following. Would you please re-check whether they are correct.
    1. at one point you have: Compassion can be translated as tong1 qing2 xin1.
    My dictionary uses the 2nd tone for tong2 (ie. tong2 qing2 xin1)

    2. About half-way through the story about the young man and the ant I see the spelling “… to al lthe … .
    I guess it should be: … to all the ….

    With kind regards and thanks,
    A bee.


    • likeabridge
      Jul 07, 2012 @ 13:54:34

      Hi Anthony,

      Thank you very much for pointing out the correct pinyin for compassion. It is tóngqíng xīn. By the way, tóngqíng can be used as the phrase, “to sympathize with”.

      I have spotted and corrected “al lthe” a couple days ago. I also saw “Fredom” in the title of this article. Yikes!

      Have a great weekend!
      Lydia Lin


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