What’s “Good” in Chinese? A Daughter Plus a Son.
by Min Xiong
Mandarin Chinese is made up of characters instead of an alphabet. It is estimated that there are more than 50,000 characters. However, only about 500 to 3,000 of them are regularly used, according to several linguistic studies.
Unlike in English or other alphabetic languages, Chinese grammar is very simple. It does not have verb tenses, plural nouns, singular forms, or masculine and feminine elements.
Therefore, learning Chinese may be a unique experience for speakers of Western languages, but it is possible.
Today I want to introduce you to the Chinese character 好 (pinyin: hǎo), meaning good.
This character’s most well-known use is perhaps in 你好 (nǐ hǎo), a greeting equivalent to hello in English. Literally, nǐ hǎo means you good.
好 is written in six strokes and has two parts, left and right. It is a combined character, meaning it is made up of other existing characters.
The left part, 女 (nǚ), means woman or daughter. The right part, 子 (zǐ), means, among other things, man or son.
Therefore, the Chinese word for good is the combination of woman plus man or daughter plus son, whichever suits you.
Because of the way the character 好 is formed, Chinese people like to say that families with a son and a daughter are blessed, because a son and a daughter are (quite literally) good!
Now for your Chinese challenge. Use an online Chinese dictionary to find more expressions using the character 好 and post them in the comments below. We can’t wait to see what you find! 再见.
Min Xiong is a journalist, Chinese teacher, and cultural ambassador in Washington DC. Get more of her insights at Yangguang Consulting, including why China’s capital city is called Beijing and not Peking.