What is love?

When I went onto the etymology website, many of the words were explained by the webmaster. Many of them made sense, but some didn’t have any explanations at all. Sometimes in life, something needs to get you going, something needs to get you started, and this word opened up the puzzle for me. It allowed me to look deep into the words and see for the first time what people thought, how thought was constructed and represented visually. This word unlocked the mystery of Chinese for me. By chance, this word is the word for love. 愛(T), 爱(S), ài, pronounced like “I”, is the Chinese word for love. You can probably see this word tattooed on people’s necks or arms or anywhere. It’s a beautiful word.aiis how the character looks is seal script. The website doesn’t give any explanations, but there has to be. I looked at the picture and asked myself, “What could this possibly mean?” This was the first time I tried to solve a word without assistance. I looked at the different parts. And I recognizedfoot. I recognize this radical from another word I was looking up: 舞, the word for dance. The seal script isdance. From it, I learned that footmeans footprint. And also from theaiI recognized the middle radical.xinis the picture for heart. Most people who see this might chuckle, but the drawing is of lungs on both sides with the heart in the middle.

From this point, I knew that in order to know what the word meant, I needed to figure out what each part of the word meant. As I was trying to figure this out, I thought of something from my computer class. It was a lesson on recursion. Simply put, there needs to be a terminate, something that defines the function. It’s as if a dictionary gives you the definition of 4 as one more than 3, and 3 is one more than 2, and 2 is one more than 1, and then defines what 1 is. In order to figure out what 4 is, you retrace each step. That was the approach I took to Chinese. I was going to figure out what each part meant, then rebuilt the word, putting things together.

It took me a while just looking at the word, then something opened up for me. I saw a story and it begins like this.

First, some clarification: footlooks like a foot. How?foot drawingThe cross is the ankle area. Starting with this, there are twofoot, one is turned around,inverse foot.

The story:

The very top of aiis a picture of a foot pointing to the right. I figured that it meant a person going somewhere. The semicircle thingy with the heart inside it, I figured it to be the room, the house for the heart. Under the heart is another foot, but it’s pointing the other direction. I took that to mean someone leaving

In the past, in most cultures, love was not one of the requirements for marriage. In fact most children had no choice whatsoever. Marriage was arranged for money, for politics, for convenience, etc. When someone comes into your life that you fell in love with, you most likely couldn’t marry him or her. Classes don’t match, family isn’t rich enough, birthdays aren’t fortuitous, etc. But there’s nothing that can prevent that other person from entering your heart. Very few could just pick up and run. Especially in China where family is your root, your life, you can’t cut yourself from it. So then, that love becomes a memory, a footprint in your heart.

That is the love that ancient Chinese people experienced. It wasn’t one of freedom, of happiness, but one of sacrifice, pain, and regret. Love was passing, you couldn’t keep it. It’s only a bittersweet memory, to feel your heart come alive and then to have it die. It’s a reminder of how life could be, what life should be. That was love.

But what is love now? 爱 is the simplified, and looks similar to the traditional. But by changing word, the very concept of love was changed. The bottom half of the word is 友, yǒu, meaning friend.friendis the seal script. Do you remember the right hand from the past post? This character for friend has two of them. What do friends do? They hold hands.

So with this new “love”, the Chinese people are trying to change the concept of love. Chinese people date now. Arranged marriages are fewer. Most parents don’t have much say over who their children marry. The new concept is that love is about friendship, no longer about a memory.

It was with this word that started my journey into Chinese.

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