The Sanchon Hunjang
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Mutually transitive

There's that fun Chinese word 相. They sure manage to get a lot of mileage out of that one word. Just come along with the Sanchon Hunjang and explore the lexicographic space demarcated by that one word.

Early philologist Xu Shen, makes nothing of these constituent graphs. He just glosses the sound as 息良切 (식: []ㅣㄱ + 양:ㅇ[ㅑ ㅇ] = [])and then goes on with definitions. Rick Harbaugh, however, points out that it's made up of the sub-graphs tree 木 and eye 目 (both of which are pronounced "목," but the combination is not, interestingly enough). Speaking of which, when you look this one up in your 옥편, you've gotta be careful because it's made up of two of the Kangxi radicals. Which is it gonna be, eye? Or tree? (Give 龠, 鼻 and 率 a try if you have a lot of spare time and enjoy this brand of fun).

It looks like this when it's hand written:

Now everyone knows that Chinese words are written in ideographs that directly encode meaning into the written word without the need for an intermediary sonory mapping (unlike some inferior scripts), 相 clearly means....let's see...um...an eye by a tree...an eye behind a tree...it clearly must refer to somebody closing their eyes while leaning against a tree...um...while...uh...counting! Yes! That's it, it refers to playing hide-and-go-seek!

We can see how all the meanings applied to this word really do come from its ancient root meaning of playing hide-and-go-seek:

In modern usage, far and away the most common meaning is "mutual" or "together," which clearly stems from the fact that you can't play children's games like hide-and-go-seek alone. Browse any dictionary to find grundles of examples: 상호, 상응, 상이, 상관, etc., etc.

You can also see it in 한문 texts. But it's an interesting word usage-wise because it's placed in front of the verb where objects normally fall after the verb. In this respect, 相 is like that word "自 self." A quick example is that poem on meetings that weren't working out by the recently 다시 movified 황진이.

相思相見只憑夢, [For] thinking of 思 each other 相 or seeing 見 each other 相, [we can] only只 rely on 憑 dreams 夢;
儂訪歡時歡訪儂 When 時 I 儂 go to your house to visit 訪 you 歡, you 歡 have come to my house to visit 訪 me 儂. ...

In older sources, we find meanings like "look closely at," "examine closely"--clearly from seeking those hiding comrades. Also, "appearance," or "form," which comes from (?) what the 술래 is trying see in order to 잡아(?). It's only a baby step from these to the other biggie meaning: fortune telling on the basis of appearance, or physiognomy. For this specialty, I'd recommend you visit a practicing professional, who can be easily identified by the drawing of a face on their tent.

No sense in trying to do it yourself, 'cause this is not a do-it-yourself job. Unless, that is, you can make heads or tails out of handy reference graphs like this one:

As can be seen, this science goes hand-in-hand with palmistry and the bumps-on-the-head-istry of Bugs Bunny fame.

Then we get 相 = high official of state. Surely there is no arena more like a game of hide-and-go-seek than politics, so I suppose it is only natural that this extension of meaning should have happened. We can see this in use in the title of the collected works of 이규보, titled 東 國李相國集 (Collected [writings] 集 of Mr. Lee 李 [Kyu-bo], Minister 相 of State 國 [in the] State 國 to the East 東). And we get into a chicken-and-the-egg thing with this reading and the others of "help/helper" and "the one who oversees rites." Round out the laundry list of definitions with an odd dictionary find: "alternative name for the seventh month," which is undoubtedly when young Chinese must have played the most hide and go seek.

So that's what the dictionaries say. And examples abound. But that's in the wading-end of the pool. Once you get out beyond the waist-deep section you've gotta be careful. Because beyond here there be dragons.

Professor Pulleyblank, in his Outline of Classical Chinese Grammar indicates that, even in the classical age, "Xiang 相 is sometimes used when the action is not strictly reciprocal, but there is a mutual bond of some kind between subject and object. Examples, though rare, do occur in pre-Han literature, for instance xiang cong 相從 meaning '(you) follow me.' Later it became much more common." (p. 137) "Following each other" would be something to behold.

But things become curiouser and curiouser.

In that song by ultra-famous poet Grand White 이태백 李太白, his meditative Sitting Alone at Mount Jingting 獨坐敬亭山:
가운데 맞춤

衆鳥高飛盡 Masses 衆 of birds 鳥 flying 飛 high 高 are all gone 盡,
孤雲獨去閑 An orphan 孤 cloud 雲 alone 獨 departs 去 at leisure 閑.
相看兩不厭 Gazing at 看 each other 相, both 兩 do not 不 tire 厭--
只有敬亭山 There is 有 only 只 Mount Jingting 敬亭山

Which is to say that, of all the things in the world that our poet could gaze upon at length, the only thing that he never tires of looking at is Mount Jingting. Kinda like that old song "사랑" by 나 훈아, "보고 또 보고 또 쳐다봐도 싫지 않는 내 사랑아." Doesn't sound like a rave review of Mr. Na's sweetie to the Sanchon Hunjang, but it appears to work for the local fans. Coming back to the word of the day, surely it is an odd thing if a man and a mountain can mutually gaze for a time. At each other, no less! Not only that, but they don't get tired of doing it. Maybe he's anthropomorphizing the mountain and positing its feelings about himself, you argue?


But then how you gonna explain this one, by the Tang poet who somehow managed to fuse more detachment from the mundane world into his poetry than any other and thereby became the "Buddha of poetry." 王維 Wang Wei's "Lodge Among the Bamboo 竹裏館":

獨坐幽篁裏 Alone 獨, sitting 坐 within 裏 a deep 幽 bamboo grove 篁,
彈琴復長嘯 [I] pluck 彈 [my] lute 琴 again 復 whistle 嘯 long 長.
深林人不知 Deep深 in the forest 林, men 人 are not 不 known 知,
明月來相照 The bright 明 moon 月 comes 來 and mutually 相 shines 照.

"Mutually shine"? "Shine on each other"? So, Mr Wang, you are shining back at the moon? How does that work?

Turns out that, after the classical age, there was a further step taken in the same direction indicated by Professor Pulleyblank above, whereby 相 comes to be used in the place of an object that is not specified. In the words of another scholar, "A basic meaning of [xiang 相] is 'mutually, each other,' but frequently this meaning is weakened to something like 'transitively,' merely calling attention to the fact that the following verb is transitive" (p. 25). James Liu also mentions this in his Art of Chinese Poetry, where he mentions that he likes to translate it as "one." But the Sanchon Hunjang is not sure that "The bright moon comes and shines on one" is so clear either.

Maybe it's time to play hide-and-seek with an all-purpose English translation that does some sort of justice to this aspect of the word 相.


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