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Chinese character for "spirit"


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I imagine there are a few forum sections where this might be posted, but this seemed the most relevant.

I believe the character for spirit is this:  

I do not speak Chinese, nor am I well educated on Chinese culture and history. I'm a beginner. I am writing a fiction story and am interested in this character, not in any religious sense, but the history and derivation of the character itself. My understanding is that this character carries the connotation of spirit or "soul" as separate from the body. I'm wondering if there is scholarship on the origination/history of this character. Does it have any pictogram elements? It does seem to have two separate elements - is this intentional? Has its origin been dated? I would imagine that it is one of the older characters (or perhaps has an old precursor), with considerable interest in spiritual matters in Chinese philosophy 2500 years ago or more, and, in Asia, broadly speaking, perhaps a millenia before that (the Vedas).


Appreciate any comments on the origins of this character, or direction on where I might research this matter.  Thank you. redwagon




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The components are 云 and 鬼.


云 yún indicates the pronunciation of the character 魂 hún.


鬼 "ghost, spirit" indicates the meaning. It originally depicted a person with the cranium emphasized. The soul was believed to exit through the fontanel or cranial sutures upon death.


Most Chinese characters contain two components (some more, some less). Usually one of the components indicates meaning and the other indicates sound, though occasionally a component can serve both functions.


The first appearance of 魂 I'm aware of is in the Shuowen Jiezi 說文解字, a character dictionary finished in 100 CE (so, quite late in history compared to most common characters). It must have existed earlier than that in order for it to appear in a dictionary at that time, but I don't know of any extant examples of it before that.

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From the "Book of Rites" (the 禮記 Lǐjì), one of the Five Classics of Confucian thought (emphasis mine), dated to the earlier (Western) Han dynasty [so about 100 BCE - 50 BCE]:





Translation from Legge:  

Ji-zi of Yan-ling had gone to Qi; and his eldest son having died, on the way back (to Wu), he buried him between Ying and Bo. Confucius (afterwards) said, 'Ji-zi was the one man in Wu most versed in the rules of propriety, so I went and saw his manner of interment. The grave was not so deep as to reach the water-springs. The grave-clothes were such as (the deceased) had ordinarily worn. After the interment, he raised a mound over the grave of dimensions sufficient to cover it, and high enough for the hand to be easily placed on it. When the mound was completed, he bared his left arm; and, moving to the right, he went round it thrice, crying out, "That the bones and flesh should return again to the earth is what is appointed. But the soul in its energy can go everywhere; it can go everywhere." And with this he went on his way.' Confucius (also) said, 'Was not Ji-zi of Yan-ling's observance of the rules of ceremony in accordance with (the idea of them)?'

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