As any translator will tell you, there are some Chinese words or terms which cannot easily be translated into English without first explaining the background or cultural context of the word. Similarly, if you are simply relying on a dictionary translation, direct or literal translations just don’t do the meaning any justice. This is a real shame as there are many Chinese concepts which are incredibly rich and insightful, and highly instructive on how to live well.
As some may know, long before the skyscrapers, monolithic shopping malls and high speed trains, ancient China boasted a wealth of Chinese poets, thinkers and philosophers. Many have heard of Confucius and his sayings, and there are many more who wrote about how to live peacefully and in harmony with oneself and one’s surroundings. Today we explore some Chinese concepts that will help you have your best 2018…
1. 无为 wúwéi
The direct English translation, ‘non-doing’ or ‘non-action’ does not mean much in isolation. However when we explore how the term originated, we see how it can actually be a powerful life principle. The Tao Te Ching, which is believed to have been written in China around 600 BC, first articulated the idea of 无为wu wei. “Do that which consists in taking no action and order will prevail”. While it is in fact an absence of action, it is conceptualized as a verb, the act of deliberately doing nothing. The Tao Te Ching recommends drawing inspiration for the art of non-action by observing the natural world. The skies don’t always storm; birds are not always in flight. Stillness preserves us for action when necessary.
What we can learn: this year, instead of constantly focusing on ‘doing’, try a bit of 无为wu wei. If your boss catches you at your desk staring into the distance, just explain you are practicing 无为wu wei…
2. 德 dé
While the term 德dé is typically translated as ‘virtue’, this Chinese character is in fact a more active and dynamic concept of goodness or moral power. Matt Stefon writes that one’s 德dé is more like “a charismatic power that influences others as if grabbing them and eliciting a response or a change of mind and heart”. In this way, your 德dé is your ability to use your inner power and ability to influence people for good.
What we can learn: in everyone there is capacity for 德dé; use your 德dé wisely and make the world a better place.
3. 幸福 xìngfú
The English translation for 幸福xìngfú is simply ‘happiness’ or ‘well-being’. However, delving a bit deeper shows how much more rich and descriptive this Chinese concept is. The Journal of Chinese Sociology published an article this year on the concept of 幸福xìngfú; the author describes how it is a concept influenced by Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism, encompassing friendship, learning, self-knowledge, virtue and living in simplicity. Rather than happiness, it is in fact a state of contentedness. The article describes how the term is used in the context of being satisfied with one’s family relationships and friendships, rather than being happy with one’s wealth or possessions.
What we can learn: instead of the constant pursuit of happiness by acquiring wealth, let’s focus on being satisfied and content with life because of the relationships we have. That is true 幸福xìngfú.
4. 气功 qìgōng
If you break this word down to its components, 气 qì means different things but in this context means ‘energy of life’ and 功 gong has various meanings but in this context is taken to mean ‘work’ or ‘cultivation’. So if you did a literal translation it would be ‘energy giving cultivation’. The concept of 气功qìgōng has its roots in Traditional Chinese medicine, and is known as a series of deep breathing energy-giving exercises. More than simply breathing though, it is understood to encompass your posture, movement, mental energy and spirituality. Regular practice of 气功qìgōng will allow you to cultivate and balance your 气qi or ‘life energy’.
What we can learn: Put down your phone. Breathe. Allow your mind to go idle. Repeat daily.
5. 缘分 yuánfèn
This is a Chinese term which doesn’t translate easily, but is a concept that is sure to warm even the coldest of hearts. The closest English concepts are ‘fate’ or ‘destiny’, but those two words still don’t do this idea justice. The idea of 缘分yuánfèn is all about a relationship between two or more people. The better translation is ‘fate or destiny bringing people together’. It is a concept more closely aligned with serendipity.
What we can learn: If you are single, or anxious about finding a partner, just relax. Trust in 缘分yuánfèn.
Try to incorporate these Chinese concepts into your daily life, and we are sure you will be set up for your best year in 2018.
HAPPY NEW YEAR!