Chinese Mandarin and the Character for Bamboo, 竹 (zhú)

Bamboo is a plant that is commonly found in many parts of China. It has a sleek circular stem that grows tall and straight with narrow leaves and tapers off at the end. Bamboo was used long ago as a building material, and even today, it is still used as scaffolding and to make lots of household items. The Chinese people have long attached great importance to bamboo. Its straight stem, for example, is symbolic of uprightness 直 (zhí).

The bamboo is divided into sections 节 (jié), which the Chinese often associate with moral integrity 气节 (qìjié). According to traditional Confucian values, a gentleman must have the moral integrity to be steadfast in his belief and unyielding in the face of oppression.

The bamboo stem is hollow 空心 (kōng xīn) in the center. It is significant because 空心 also means being modest 虚心 (xū xīn) or 谦虚 (qiān xū). Modesty and humility are considered a virtue in Confucian society.

Bamboo is an evergreen plant that can live for a long time. It is known to be tough and able to withstand the bitter cold of winter. Therefore, to the Chinese people, the bamboo symbolizes longevity. It was also famous as an ornamental plant in the gardens of scholars and noble families.

The bamboo shoots that are the main staple of pandas come from a particular type of bamboo called 箭竹 (jiàn zhú), which is grown in the south-western part of China, particularly in Sichuan province.

In the early history of China, before the paper was first made, bamboo slabs竹简 (zhú jiǎn) was used as the primary writing material.

Before the invention of firecrackers, early Chinese people used to burn bamboo, which produced a cracking sound. It was believed to bring good luck and to expel evil spirits.

Idioms and phrases using the character 竹 (zhú)

  • 竹筏 (zhú fá) – bamboo raft
  • 竹竿 (zhú gān) – bamboo pole (used for hanging washed clothing)
  • 竹笠 (zhú lì) – bamboo hat (commonly worn by fishermen in the past) 竹马 (zhú mǎ) translated as “bamboo horse” was a popular game played by children in the past who used bamboo sticks as horses. The phrase 青梅竹马 (‘green plums and bamboo horses’) refers to a couple who always played together in their childhood days.
  • 竹笋 (zhú sǔn) – bamboo shoots
  • 竹椅 (zhú yǐ) – cane chair
  • 势如破竹 (shì rú pò zhú) – literally “like a strong force splitting bamboo” is used in a military sense, describing the overpowering might of an army
  • 胸有成竹 (xiōng yǒu chéng zhú) – have a well-thought-out plan beforehand
Dr. Rhea Du

Dr. Rhea Du

International Shaolin Cultural Exchange Ambassador of Shaolin Temple Yunnan