Some Chinese expressions involving the moon

上弦月 shàngxián yuè First-quarter Moon

上弦月 (shàngxián yuè) First-quarter Moon

It is a Chinese tradition for family to gather together and enjoy the harvest of the year when the moon is at its fullest in the middle of autumn. After a scrumptious feast, it is customary for the party to move outdoors to observe the bright moon, chat, drink some tea and eat 月饼 (yuèbǐng moon cakes).

The moon is commonly referred to as 月亮 (yuèliang). In astronomical science, it is called 月球 (yuèqiú). In literature, one might speak of 月宫 (yuègōng), the palace on the moon where the moon fairly lives. In a moon-lit night, or 月夜 (yuèyè), you will likely see a half-moon shape, 半月形 (bànyuèxíng), or a crescent moon, 月牙 (yuèyá). A lunar eclipse is called 月蚀 (yuèshí).

The word (yuè) also represents the time period of one month. 正月 (zhēngyuè) is the first month of the lunar year. The Moon Festival takes place on the 15th day of the eighth month of the lunar year, i.e. 八月十五 (bāyuè shíwǔ).

岁月 (suìyuè) means years. 经年累月 (jīngniánlěiyuè) means year in year out.

他经年累月努力学习, 终于学会了中文.
Tā jīngniánlěiyuè nǔlì xuéxí, zhōngyú xuéhuì le zhōngwén.
After years of endeavoring in the study, he finally mastered the Chinese language.

蜜月 (mìyuè) is a honeymoon.

他们要去哪儿度蜜月?
Tāmen yào qù nǎr dù mìyuè?
Where are they going for their honeymoon?

The word 满月 (mǎnyuè) can refer to a full moon, or it can refer to a baby’s completion of its first month of life, which calls for a joyous celebration. After giving birth to a baby, a woman in the traditional Chinese society would be confined at home for the entire first month and eat nutritious foods and drink herbal soups so as to recuperate quickly and produce ample milk for the newborn. This is called 坐月子 (zuòyuèzi).

When you see (yuè) in front of another word, it often refers to a monthly occurrence. Following are a few examples:

月历 (yuèlì) is a montly calendar.
月刊 (yuèkān) is a monthly magazine.
月票 (yuèpiào) is a monthly ticket.
月息 (yuéxī) is the monthly interest.
月薪 (yuèxīn) is the monthly salary.

Have you ever heard of 月下老人 (yuèxiàlǎorén)? An ancient Chinese story goes like this: One night, a traveling young man happened on an old man who was reading a book under the moonlight. Out of curiosity the young man ask the old what the book was about. The old man replied, “This is the book of marriages. See that woman who is peddling vegetables over there? Her daughter is only three now. In fourteen years, that girl will become your wife.” The young man did not take to the homeliness of that little girl. He paid a local to stab her to death. Fourteen years later, the young man got married. As was the custom at that time, one would see his bride for the first time on the wedding night. When the young man lifted the veil that covered the face of his bride, he saw a scar on her eyebrow. It turned out that girl was the same one he had previously attempted to get rid of. 月下老人 (yuèxiàlǎorén), the old man under the moon, is believed to be the god who unites persons in marriage. Consequently this term is often used to refer to a matchmaker. Chapter 10 of “Learn Chinese through Songs and Rhymes” discusses the song “Lift Your Veil”, which you can learn to sing by following the demo in the associated audio file.

累积 (lěijī) means to accumulate. 日积月累 (rìjīyuèlěi) means accumulated over a long period of time.

(xīn) means new. (yì) is the classical Chinese word for being different. Therefore 日新月异 (rìxīnyuèyì) means changing with each passing day (and month).

The phrase 风花雪月 (fēnghuāxuěyuè) contains the Chinese words for wind, flowers, snow and moon, which was the subject matter of certain types of feudal literature. Nowadays this idiom refers to shallow sentimental writing that is devoid of content. It is also used to describe decadence and indulgence in wine and women.

海底捞月 (hǎidǐlāoyuè) means to attempt to scoop up the moon from the bottom of the sea, i.e. striving in vain for the impossible or the illusory.

这像是海底捞月.
Zhè xiàng shì hǎidǐlāoyuè.
This is a hopeless illusion.

When people gather for the Moon Festival, some may play the game of mahjong, which involves completing a winning hand of tiles by forming sets of three tiles (melds). You could form a meld using a tile that you picked up or by using a tile discarded by another player. In the rare instance where no one has won when the tiles almost run out and you pick up the last available tile to complete a winning hand, you are said to have accomplished 海底捞月 (hǎidǐlāoyuè).

中秋节快乐!
Zhōngqiūjié kuàilè!
Happy Moon Festival!

The sun radical


As the Chinese saying goes,

一年之计在于春.
Yīniánzhiqjìzàiyúchūn.
The whole year’s planning hinges on a good beginning in spring.

This adage is particularly applicable to farmers and gardeners. You must first sow before you can reap. If you expect to harvest fresh vine-ripened tomatoes in late August, 八月 (bā yuè), or early September, 九月 (jiǔ yuè), then this is a good time to get a few tomato starts going. Tomatoes are called 番茄 (fānqié) in Chinese.

You’ll notice that there is a sun in the character (chūn). Let’s talk about the sun radical, (rì), in hopes of coaxing the sun out of its hiding.

The word (rì) can mean the sun, the day, daytime, or daily, while 太阳 (tàiyáng) specifically refers to the sun or sunshine. Solar energy is called 太阳能 (tàiyáng néng), while luorescent lamps are called 日光灯 (rìguāngdēng sunlight lamp).

(zǎo) and 早晨 (zǎochén) mean early morning.
(xiǎo) is day-break. It also means to know, as in 晓得 (xiǎodé).

我晓得了.
Wǒ xiǎodé le.
Got it. (I see.)

时间 (shíjiān) is the time, a duration of time, or a point in time.

(wǎn) means evening, night, late, or junior. (xīng) refers to stars or heavenly bodies.

晚上星星亮晶晶.
Wǎnshàng xīngxīng liàngjīngjīng.
At night the stars shine brilliantly.

(chāng) means flourishing. No wonder this character is found in the names of many places and localities. The word 昌盛 (chāngshèng) means prosperous.

(wàng) also means flourishing, but more vigorously than (chāng). You can use the word 旺盛 (wàngshèng) to describe a booming business or the vigor of an athlet.

(yì) has multiple meanings. 容易 (róngyìì) means easy. 交易 (jiāoyì) is a business transaction. 平易 (píngyì) means easy-going or amiable. In classical Chinese, (yì) also means to change or to exchange. 易经 (yìjīng) is The Book of Changes

(nuǎn) and 温暖 (wēnnuǎn) both mean warm.

(zhào) is to shine or to illuminate.

阳光照在我脸上.
Yángguāng zhào zài wǒ liǎn shàng.
Sunlight is shining on my face.

照相 (zhàoxiàng) is to take a photograph. (xiàng) has multiple meanings. Here, it refers to one’s looks.

晴天 (qíngtiān) is fine, clear, sunny day. Too much of a good thing is not necessarily beneficial. Too much sunshine will result in 旱地 (hàndì dry land).

Try to make sentences using some of the above Chinese words. You have truly learned a word when you are able to incorporate it in a dialog or in your writing.

%d bloggers like this: