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Why does 義 (as a noun) mean both "righteousness, justice" and "meaning, purport, interpretation"?


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Please see the red side lines below. How did "Be right, righteous, proper" shift to mean "true sense; meaning"? How do they semantically appertain each other?


I cite Axel Schuessler, ABC Etymological Dictionary of Old Chinese (2007). First I pinpointed 義 on p 572, but it backs you to p 566.


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On p. xviii (19 of 679), the author defines the abbreviation KN as Kuki-Chin-Naga languages (Tibeto-Burman).

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I don't have that dictionary (and so I can't look up the references), but if I've understood your question properly, hopefully this response isn't too far off the mark? (Although, if you want etymological roots, someone else will have to chime in, as I don't have the answer).


義 is considered a bound word/bound form (黏著詞素), i.e. while it can exist by itself (and can have meaning on its own), in contemporary Chinese, it's best understood (and used) when attached to another character (and this may also change the meaning of the character compared to if it was by itself). So, that's why the definitions of 義 seem a little esoteric or vague, as they kind of relate to the character itself, but also the bound form.


So for the definitions that you questioned, they make far more sense if you pair it with the character it should be bound with:

- 'Be right, righteous, proper' --> 正義

- 'True sense, meaning' --> 意義

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