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Things that crawl between lines and rhymes

Updated: 2018-08-07 14:51:15

( China Daily )

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A piece of spider-themed hair decoration from the Qing Dynasty. [Photo provided to China Daily]

For linguistic reasons, animals and insects have had a strong influence on the way Chinese see and portray life

There may be very few people who were more bent on filling their lives with auspicious cultural symbols than the Qing Dynasty Chinese. And to do so, they drew extensively from their millennia-old language, pairing two words with identical or similar pronunciations.

One prominent example is the bat, or fu, whose shared pronunciation with the Chinese word for fortune means that the animal has plenty of reason to expect more than a dark, damp cave. And the bat was indeed everywhere, from painted wooden corridors and window frames to embroidered clothing and even gold or gilt silver hair accessories.

If other animals have found the elevated status of bat enviable, then they may have long developed the same feeling for the katydid, a green grasshopper-like insect that loves to chirp by rubbing its wings. The Chinese name for this little thing, guo guo, could be easily mistaken for ge ge, or brother. This is especially true for those in southern China. Keeping in mind that 100 years ago - and even today in certain less developed parts of the country - sons were much more valued than daughters, the insect endeared itself with all who longed for an heir, even though in most cases there was next to nothing to inherit.

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