Chinese word radical – Hand

Hand Shadow

Hand Shadow


Come to think of it, our hands do a multitude of things for us, but most of us take them for granted. Without hands, it would be very difficult to even perform such basic tasks as putting food into one’s mouth and doing the dishes. That’s why the Chinese say, “双手万能 (huāngshǒu wànnéng)”.

The hand is called (shǒu). 双手 (huāngshǒu) means both hands. 万能 (wànnéng) means all-powerful or omnipotent.

Naturally, words like (zhǎng the palm) and (quán the fist, or boxing) take on the “hand” radical. So does the word (ná), which means to hold, to grasp or to take.

In everyday speech, we often speak of the palm as 手掌 (shǒuzhǎng). Similarly, we often refer to the fist as 拳头 (quántou). 拳击手 (quánjíshǒu) is a boxer. In this term, (shǒu hand) refers to a person who is doing a task or is good at doing a certain task, much like how the word “hand” is employed in the English term “farmhand”.

In your Chinese dictionary you will find many words containing the reduced “hand” radical. We’ve discussed a number of them in “Learn Chinese through Songs and Rhymes“, and mentioned a couple last week Following are a few more for you to look at

(mō) is to stroke, to feel with one’s hands or to feel out.

他摸到一个小瘤子.
Tā mō dào yī gè xiǎo liúzi.
He felt a small tumor.

(fú) is to support someone with one’s hands. 扶手 (fúshou) is a handrail or an armrest.

(rēng) and (pāo) both mean to throw, to toss, to discard or to abandon.

他抛弃了财产, 离开家乡.
Tā pāoqì le cáichǎn, líkāi jiāxiāng.
He adandoned his property and left his hometown.

(sī) is to tear.

他撕下一张日历.
Tā sī xià yī zhāng rìlì.
He tore off a page from the daily calendar.

As a verb, (tuō) is to hold or support something with upturned hands. 委托 (wěituō) means to entrust someone with a task. 寄托 (jìtuō) means to entrust something or someone to the care of another person. 拜托 (bàituō) is to politely ask someone to do something in your favor.

拜托, 帮个忙.
Bàituō bāng gè máng.
Please, do me a favor.

托儿所 (tuōérsuǒ) is a child-care center.

(wā) means to dig or unearth. 挖苦 (wāku) means to speak sarcastically or ironically.

(kàng) is to resist or to defy. 抵抗 (dǐkàng) is to resist, and 抵抗力 (dǐkàng lì) refers to one’s ability to ward off diseases.

(chě) is to pull apart or to pull on someones clothing. Colloquially it refers to going off a point. For example, 胡扯 (húchě) means to talk nonsense.

(pá) is to rake up or to push loose things (like dry leaves) aside to reveal what’s underneath. Doesn’t the (bā eight) character on the right-hand side look like arms spread out while pushing things away from the center? A pickpocket is called a 扒手 (páshǒu). Here again, (shǒu hand) refers to the “doer”. An easy way to remember this word is to imagine eight hands picking all your interior and exterior bellow pockets, zippered pockets, hand-warmer pocket, etc. (This reminds me of a scene in Charlie Chaplin’s movie “The Kid“.)

吃里扒外 (chīlǐbāwài) describes the treacherous behavior of living on somebody but secretly working for the benefactor’s adversary, or 对手 (duìshǒu oponent). This is a rather serious accusation.

Homework: Find out what hand shadows are called in Chinese.

Learn a classical Chinese poem

Whether your interests are in learning a new language, playing a musical instrument, backpacking or cooking, you are probably constantly challenging yourself to get better at it. You will usually need to make some effort in order to see an improvement. The Chinese adage “欲穷千里目, 更上一层楼. (Yù qióng qiānlǐ mù, gèng shàng yī céng lóu.)” advises that to get a better view, one should climb to a higher level. In other words, it encourages people to go the extra mile to get what they wish to achieve.

(lóu) is a level or story of a building or tower. 上楼 (shànglóu) means to go upstairs. In the above saying, the level of a tower is employed metaphorically to represent a superior state. In fact, 更上一层楼 (gèngshàngyīcénglóu) has become an idiom that means to take it up a notch, to make an improvement, or to attain a higher level.

This often quoted saying is actually the second half of a short classical Chinese poem written by 王之涣 (Wáng Zhīhuàn) of the Tang Dynasty. The poet received the inspiration for the poem while enjoying the grand view from a well known tower named 鹳雀楼 (Guàn Què Lóu). The Chinese word for a poem is (shī). You can see from this piece how it is often necessary to rearrange the words in a poem to fit them to a particular line length, cadence and rhyming scheme. Therefore, a peom may sound quite different from normal speech, and thus a little harder to interpret. For the blog posts at this site and in the book “Learn Chinese through Songs and Rhymes“, I’ve taken care to select mostly songs and rhymes with verses that more or less follow the normal word order in everyday speech. Nevertheless, even a beginner could enjoy a little exposure to the beauty of some excellent classical Chinese poems.

登鹳雀楼 (Dēng Guàn Què Lóu Scaling the Guanque Tower)

白日依山尽,
Bái rì yī shān jìn,
Sunlight stops at the mountain peak;

黄河入海流.
Huánghé rù hǎi liú.
The River ends at the sea.

欲穷千里目,
Yù qióng qiānlǐ mù,
Why not set your eyesight free?

更上一层楼.
Gèng shàng yī céng lóu.
A hike grants more to see.

(dēng) means to climb, to mount or to ascend, as in 登山 (dēngshān mountaineering). This word also means to enter into a record, such as in 登记 (dēngjì).

The river referred to in this poem is the Yellow River, or 黄河 (Huánghé).

(liú) means to flow. As it describes the motion of a liquid, it takes on the “water” word radical. You might want to review a previous blog post that talks about the water radical.

As a noun, (yù) means desire. In classical Chinese, it means wanting to do something. This word is also means “on the point of”, as in 欣喜欲狂 (xīnxǐ yù kuáng so happy as if one were on the verge of going out of one’s mind).

As an adjective, (qióng) means poor or at the limit of one’s resources. In classical Chinese, this word is also used as a verb that means to do or to explore to the full extent.

(mù) is the formal Chinese word for eyes. It is a part of many other words pertaining to eyes or eyesight.

This poem follows the standard form of a Chinese poem containing five characters per line. Notice the perfect parllelism in each of the two pairs of verses. For example, 白日 (bái rì white sun) matches 黄河 (Huánghé Yellow River). 依山 (yī shān by the mountain) and 入海 (rù hǎi into the sea) are adverbial phrases, and (jìn to end) and (liú to flow) are both verbs. The rhyming scheme employed is ABCB. Next time you come across another classical Chinese poem, try to analyze and appreciate the care and thoughts put into the verses by the poets.

Pinyin or Bo Po Mo Fo?

I grew up learning how to read Chinese using the Zhuyin phonetic system.  This system consists of thirtysix consonant sounds and vowel sounds, each represented by a special symbol. The first 4 symbols are pronounced Bo, Po, Mo, and Fo. Therefore, the Zhuyin system is often referred to as the Bo Po Mo Fo system. It is still used by the schools in Taiwan.

No, we did not have a tune like the “ABCDEFG” song to help us learn the “alphabet”. The Bo Po Mo Fo sounds and symbols were simply crammed into us. The phonetic symbols and tone marks were placed alongside the Chinese characters in our textbooks so we would be able to sound out those even more complicated word symbols. It has been standard in Taiwan to print children’s story books and magazines with the Bo Po Mo Fo notation accompanying the Chinese characters.

I believe some Chinese instructors in the USA, who came from Taiwan, are using the Zhuyin phonetic system in their classes for the simple fact that the textbooks they have on hand employ the Bo Po Mo Fo notations.

Whereas the Zhuyin system involves special symbols, pinyin is made up entirely of letters from the English alphabet plus the tone marks. It’s a no-brainer that it will be a more intuitive phonetic system for the English-speaking students. It is also a natural for entering Chinese text using  the QWERTY keyboard – There is no need to remember which keys represent which special symbol, or to paste the Bo Po Mo Fo symbols on the keys as some of my friends do.

My vote goes to pinyin.

What’s the best way to learn Chinese?

Chinese is a difficult language to learn. For one thing, the Chinese characters bear no resemblance to written English. Secondly, whereas you might be able to correctly guess a few Spanish or German words even if you don’t speak the language, it is nearly impossible to do that with Chinese. (Benny Lewis disagrees with this point.) And yet, many Westerners have climbed the steep slope and successfully mastered Chinese as a second language.

To the beginner, this is often the first question that comes to mind: What’s the best way to learn Chinese? Of course. the answer is different for different people in different situations. Ideally, you are in an environment in which you interact with Chinese-speaking folks during all of your waking hours. In addition, you have a couple dedicated teachers to guide you in speaking, reading and writing Chinese. That would be unrealistic for most people. So, let’s look for the next best solution. In financial terms, what’s the least expensive way to learn the language in a short time?

Following are a few suggestions. Please feel free to add a comment based on your own experience in learning Chinese.

1. Learn the “pinyin” phonetic aid. This is equivalent to learning your “ABC” for English. Please see the article on the page titled “Pinyin Guide”.

2. Add a few words at a time to your Chinese vocabulary. There are now apps for mobile devices that help you learn a few Chinese words any time wherever you are.

3. Use a step-by-step Chinese language instruction book or electronic learning program as your main “textbook”. Also get a couple helpful supplemental books and DVDs. With “Learn Chinese through Songs and Rhymes”, I made it a point to include the Chinese characters, the pinyin as well as the English translation.

4. Get free instructions on the Internet. However, watch out for malicious sites.

5. If possible, attend a Chinese instruction class, such as those offered at community colleges.

6. Take every opportunity you have to talk or communicate with a Chinese-speaking person. Also, you will likely pick up new words and expressions by watching Chinese videos and movies.

7. Read about other people’s journey on the road to mastering Chinese as a foreign language. Here is an example.

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