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Funny negation particle 罔

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I'm trying to brush up on my Chinese these days by reading news pieces and while going through an article (this one on BBC Chinese), I came across the expression 罔顧事實 / 罔顾事实 / wǎnggù shìshí used as an adjective, which I understand to mean something like "not respecting the facts". A Google search seems to indicate that this collocation is not uncommon, and there are other examples of 罔顧 / 罔顾 that seem to be quite common like 罔顧安全. After checking the dictionaries, I understand that 罔 is a negation particle, a formal counterpart of 不, and in fact 不顧 does also exist with the same meaning.


This negation particle 罔 is a bit odd though, as it doesn't seem to have been common at all in classical Chinese unlike the likes of 無 or 勿. Edwin Pulleyblank in his Outline of Classical Chinese Grammar mentions it as "preclassical" (p. 109, "Wǎng 罔 is sometimes used in the sense of  無 in the preclassical language."). It also appears in the chengyu 置若罔聞 / 置若罔闻 / zhìruòwǎngwén (turn a deaf ear), which may have an obscure origin; the oldest mention of this chengyu in online dictionaries seems to date back to the Ming dynasty in the works of a scholar called Zhū Guózhēn  朱國楨.


My questions:


1. Is this particle 罔 used in other common expressions? Is it in any way productive as a formal replacement for 不 (or 沒)? Or is it only used in a reduced set of fixed collocations?


2. How did this use of 罔 as a negation particle find its way into the modern standard vocabulary? I find it strange that a preclassical particle should reappear in Ming-dynasty writings and finally make it into the current formal language.


  • Good question! 3
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Would there be any regionalism involved in its strange survival? Perhaps it remained in use in an area that later produced a literatus whose work gained wider circulation and re-popularised the character? No idea obviously, just speculating.

  • Good question! 1
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