Because of the jigsaw puzzle nature of Chinese characters, we love playing with words. The modular form (think Lego) makes it ideal for making up cryptic clues for word guessing games. Here’s an example:
This is a couplet that describes a Chinese character (word); it acts as the clue to that word. I have translated it into English and hi lighted the hints:
The bright moon is half hidden at the foot of the cloud
Faded flowers fell together before the horse’s hooves
This is the answer to the puzzle:
熊 (‘bear’ as in the animal)
Let me explain:
We start at the top left corner of the character. The first part of the word ‘bear’ 熊 is at the foot of the word ‘cloud’ 雲 – see it?
Below that is half of the word ‘bright’ 明 which happens to be the character ‘moon’ 月 – therefore ‘The bright moon is half hidden at the foot of the cloud’.
OK; the next bit is the beginning of the second line of the couplet: the character for ‘flower’ is 花 and the hint mentioned ‘together’ so therefore more than one; faded flowers is the hint that as petals fall from faded blooms, we only use part of the word flower: two of those made up the part of the word we want. So far we have 能 –
Next and last: ‘horse’ is 馬 and so take the ‘hooves’ (the four dots ) and put that at the end of our word and we have 熊 and solved the puzzle!!
This is a good challenge for your Chinese friends, teachers and students; now you know the answer and how to break the code :)
People say that Chinese writing is difficult to learn but if they can see it as a modular system, then they will realise that it is not as complicated as it seems. Or have I made it look even harder? :)