American Character

One of our major vendors is taking the top sales reps in the channel to the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. I’m working from home today, tasked with designing a poster to advertise this promotional contest to our sales team. While performing the necessary research, I learned something very interesting: China’s language actually reflects their former love of America.

Going on the vendor’s desire to have Chinese characters in the ad, I began looking for different Chinese words in hopes of finding some really snazzy cuneiform writing that was both genuine and clear enough for me to accurately emulate in high resolution. It is, of course, impossible to conduct this level of analysis without gleaning info about the meanings and origins of the characters you’re researching and while I’m sure American scholars in Mandarin will roll their eyes at the quaintness my discovery, I was sincerely moved by it.

I wanted to use just a couple really big characters as a background, as opposed to a bunch of smallish writing that I felt would clutter the poster. Since the winners would be taking a trip from the U.S. to China, I finally decided that I would use the characters for “America” and “China”.

I first searched for “chinese + character + china” and quickly came to learn that there are two characters needed to represent the name “China”. The characters are “Zhong” and “Gho”.

My next search was for “chinese + character + america”. Unlike my previous search, this one did not reveal anything useful for quite some time. I dug through a lot of textbook bullshit before finally locating the characters (again, there were two required) that represented “America” to the Chinese. What I eventually found gave me a sense of real human connection.

The characters were “Mei” and again, “Gho”. Noting that the second character was identical to that used for China, I looked into that symbol’s literal meaning and found that the character stood for “country”. Of course, I had to find out what the first character meant. I looked it up and received a very profound epiphany when I discovered that the word “Mei” in Chinese translates “beautiful”.

China’s term for America is “Beautiful Country”.

I hope you find that as inspiring as I do.

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About kirkstarr

I draw pictures for a living.
This entry was posted in Can I Say Something? and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to American Character

  1. Xeyli says:

    The thing I never quite understood… America is called "Beikoku" in Japanese. Using Chinese characters (kanji), "bei" is "rice" and "koku" is country.How is America the rice country??? I don't get it.

  2. Lauri says:

    This is really neat, Kirk!

  3. Jay says:

    In feudal Japan a town's wealth was measured in how many bales of rice it produced in a season. Maybe the kanji characters come from the impression of America as a very wealthy country?Just throwin it out there.Nice observation, Kirk.

  4. studio524 says:

    Jay would know this. But I have to agree – that's really very interesting. Thanks for sharing the info

  5. Jay says:

    Everything I need to know about feudal Japan I learned by watching Rashomon, the Shogun mini-series and reading Lone Wolf and Cub comics. :PWhich, I guess, is more than some people.

  6. Bookmole says:

    Thanks to QI, I know that the Chinese characters for England translate as Hero Country. That makes me feel pretty good!

  7. bouche says:

    Nice. I have a friend from Taiwan who would try teaching my bits and pieces of Chinese. Pronunciation was a challenge, but I enjoyed it.

  8. Little Cat says:

    Nice, Kirk! It's actually 'guo', not 'gho' in standard pinyin. I guess you found out that the 'zhong' in 'zhongguo' means middle, hence China is referred to as the Middle Kingdom? There are 3 characters to represent Canada, but it doesn't really have any collective meaning, it's just phonetically transcribed. So, lucky for you guys! 🙂

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