Monday, February 28, 2005
The Chaos Question
From reader Jeffrey Berthiaume:
"Long time fan, first time caller Just wondering what you thought about this painting Ive seen it over and over for the past few years, and have always wondered whether it was accurate [means "chaos"] or not "
I have seen this character 屯 before as well. Even though, the translation for it has always been "chaos", I never knew if it is indeed correct or not.
One thing for sure, the character was originally in the oldest Chinese classical text "Yi Jing" (or "I Ching"), the "Book of Changes" (also called "The Book of Wisdom"):
In Yi Jing, hexagram 03, depicted |:::|: is named 屯 (chún), Sprouting. Other translations: R. Wilhelm, Difficulty at the Beginning; G. Whincup, Gathering Support; E. Shaughnessy (Mawangdui), Hoarding.
The modern day meaning of 屯 is "village, hamlet; camp; station". In Japanese, the word for "chaos" is 混沌. If the character is indeed 屯, in Japanese this character has the meaning for "gather" but is mostly used nowadays as the symbol for "ton" as in "the cargo weighed in at two tons." According to the Chinese cultural section of About.com, "chaos" is 混沌 as well. (thanks Rex)
The word "chaos" originally comes from Greek and stood for "the confused unorganized state of primordial matter before the creation of distinct forms" according to Merriam Webster and is the opposite of "cosmos" which is "an orderly harmonious systematic universe".
As of right now, I still do not know if 屯 is "chaos" or not. Anyone?
Update: While trying to get more information regarding the true meaning of 屯, I had email correspondences with Larry, who sells replica painting of 屯 on his website for $25.
When I mentioned to him that I have checked in "I Ching", which states 屯 means "sprouting", that is a little far off from "chaos".
"Japanese and Chinese has many interpretations of kanji . The statement you made above is the representation of the kanji entitled chaos, "from chaos sprouts new life a new beginning . In its smallest form everything moves fast from neutron to proton... Chaos that begins life . As a forest is engufled by fire , life starts anew . As we stumble in life ... We find the good and move forward."
If that is indeed the case, wouldn't it be more appropriate to translate 屯 as "sprouting" or "birth", rather than "chaos"? Also, I asked him if he happen to have a literary source that can verify his statement.
"I guess I could explain these thoughts on my site. And no , no source. As educated in the language as you seem. Most characters for Chinese and Japanese were from a simple drawing as a start. I would guess by the way the kanji is it is representing life starting."