The Red Cliff in Chinese

Some of you may have watched the movie titled “Red Cliff”. This film depicts a famous battle that took place in ancient China at 赤壁 (Chìbì Red Cliff). 赤壁之战 (Chìbì zhī zhàn Battle at the Red Cliff) has been much talked about among the Chinese through the ages because it demonstrates the possibility of victory of the ill-equipped few over the poweful many. Whether Zhuge Liang actually came up with the idea of using staw-stuffed decoys to “borrow” the enemies’ arrows, and whether he was actually able to summon the winds to fan the fire in the direction of the enemies, luck and ingenuity in strategy likely played a role in bringing about the success of his campaign.

(chì) is the formal word for the red color, and (bì) is a wall, or something that looks like a wall, such as a cliff.

他请人把墙壁修理好了.
Tā qǐng rén bǎ qiángbì xiūlǐ hǎo le.
He had the wall fixed by someone.

(zhàn) means war, warfare, battle or to fight. Warfare or a war are also referred to as 战争 (zhànzhēng). 战士 (zhàshì) is a soldier or a warrior. 作战 (zuòzhàn) is to do battle.

战士们在前线勇敢地作战.
Zhàshì men zài qiánxiàn yǒnggǎn de zuòzhàn.
The soldiers fight bravely at the front line.

The location of the battle can be referred to as 战场 (zhànchǎng battlefield), 战地 (zhàndì battleground), or 战区 (zhànqū war zone).

战略 (zhànlüè) is a strategy.

战败 (zhànbài) is to be defeated, and 战胜 (zhànshèng) is to triumph or to overcome. 战利品 (zhànlìpǐn) are the spoils of war.

战斗 (zhàndòu) also means to do battle. However, 战抖 (zhàndǒu) means to tremble or to shiver. You might associate shuddering with the fear of wars. So, 冷战 (lěngzhàn) has two meanings. It may refer to a cold war, or a bout of shivering.

挑战 (tiǎozhàn) means a challenge or to challenge.

我愿意接受这个新的挑战.
Wǒ yuànyì jiēshòu zhègè xīn de tiǎozhàn.
I’m willing to accept this new challenge.

(xú) means slowly or gently. (Notice the double-person word radical on the left side?) This character also serves as a common Chinse surname.

昨天我去见了徐先生.
Zuótiān wǒ qù jiàn le Xú xiānsheng.
Yesterday I went to see Mr. Xu.

In the 11th Century, 苏轼 (Sū Shì), a statesman of the Song Dynasty who was famous for his outstanding essays, poetry, paintings and calligraphy, came to visit the Red Cliff along with a friend. He documented this excursion in a composition titled 赤壁赋 (Chìbì Fù Poetic Essay on Chibi). As the small boat carrying him and the other tourists floated by the Red Cliff, 苏轼 (Sū Shì) took in the scenery. The calm ambiance was captured in this line:

清风徐来, 水波不兴.
Qīngfēng xú lái, shuǐ bō bùxīng.
A cool and refreshing breeze gently wafts over, rousing no waves.

(bō) are waves. 水波 (shuǐ bō) are water waves, while 电波 (diànbō) are electric waves.

不兴 (bùxīng) as used here is the negation of (xīng), which means to rise, to start, or to be popular.

The author, who was also known as 苏东坡 (Sū Dōng pō), then went on to comment on the battle at the Red Cliff and the vicissitude of life. When his friend sighed and felt sorry about the transient nature of life, the author comforted him with the observation that people are actually part of nature and when we enjoy and appreciate nature, at those moments nature truly belongs to us. The friend brightened up.

One of the advantages of studying classical Chinese is being able to appreciate great literature like 赤壁赋 (Chìbì Fù) in its original form. For those of you who believe they will need another lifetime in order to embark on such an endeavor, do not despair. Much of the wellk-nown Chinese literary pieces have been translated into modern Chinese. It’s just a matter of Googling for them.

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