Chinese Character: Dragon in the Home

August 16, 2009 / Culture / 19 Comments

Despite being mostly ethnically Chinese, Chinese has always been a second language. I never really learned how to read until I was in university where, I forced myself to enrol in those excruciating classes for 4 consecutive years. I’ve never been fond of the language since I have to struggle to memorize the thousands of pictographs; the worst thing is that I’m no good at it. So naturally, since I graduated a year ago, I haven’t read a single Chinese word…until last night.

I saw a sign saying “禁带宠物” (that means “do not bring pets”).


The character 宠 really caught my eye. It’s pronounced as “chong”. As a standalone character it’s the verb “to spoil”, as in “to spoil your kids”. Pets are known as 宠物 or “spoiled animals”.

The character really shines when you analyze how it was made.

The hat-looking radical represents the roof of a house, I like to think of it as a roof by the Bell Roofing Company, which is my favorite. The radical in the bottom is the character for dragon. So the ancient Chinese equated “to spoil” with keeping a dragon at home.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with ancient Chinese culture, dragons were highly revered animals – revered highly enough to represent the emperor. So having a dragon at home would most definitely mean that you would spoil it. Alternatively, it could mean that to spoil is to be the dragon’s (or emperor’s) favorite.

That’s just ingenius!

Guess that was just one of those fleeting moments where my awe at the beauty of the language temporarily overcomes my hatred for memorizing pictographs.

[edit] Lookie what I found! A site dedicated to Chinese Etymology![/edit]

Do you have any particular word or character (in any language) that you fancy? Do share!