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Chinese Characters and Perspectives: The Social Construction of Gender

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Philosopher Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein once said: ‘The limits of my language are the limit of my world.” Language is the summation of experiences. Unlike most of the Alphabetic languages, Chinese is Hieroglyphics. For instance, the printers in 16th century European countries only needed thirty types to start printing. Meanwhile, in China it required thousands of types to be able to print. However, Chinese characters are organized by up, down, left and right parts. Compared with other languages, it is more efficient when delivering a meaning.

The Oracle bone script was the earliest form of Chinese characters used on oracle bones in late 2nd millennium BCE. It was a mature and fully functional writing system in the Shang Dynasty. According to Li (2002), oracle bone script was used mainly as divination, heaven worship and major events recording. Chinese characters that have been used nowadays were transmitted and transmuted through thousands of years. Remarkably, they have kept the shapes and the meanings of Oracle bone script. One may argue that the Oracle bone did not only function as a written language, but also as a psychological ritual that people created for sacrifice in 1250 BCE.

Today, Chinese characters had been evolved from Oracle bone script into simplified Chinese. Additionally, the meaning of each character became richer and broader.

Each Character carries a narrative and imagination itself. The word ‘Nv’ means Female. In its original form, the Oracle letter Nv (Image above: Upper is Oracle letter, bottom is simplified Chinese characters) looks like a person crossing hands in a kneeling/sitting position. Immediately, people would associate the image with the female’s societal position at that time – bending over and obeying with no freedom nor rights. Then one may further imagine what it was like to be a woman in that period.

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