Story of the Chinese Character
The Chinese characters are two dimensional and picturesque, capturing sounds and meanings in a picture-like image. Let’s start from the Chinese character “一” to explore the world of Chinese characters.
The Chinese character“一”has undergone the following changes over the ages, from left to right they are: jiaguwen, jinwen (ancient language used in inscriptions on ancient bronze objects), xiaozhuan (small seal character) and kaishu (regular script).
“一”is composed purely of abstract signs, this type of creating a word is called Indication, which refers to the way to form abstract characters with indicating signs.Standing on an endless prairie and looking at the skyline from afar, you will find it is like the Chinese
character “一” stretching infinitely;standing on the bow at a boundless sea, you will find the horizon is like the character “一” as well.
In addition, “一”is both the last stroke of “生（be born）” and the first stroke of “死（dead）”；it isboth the lowermost of “上（above）” and the most top of “下（below）”;the image of “一” is also like an axis of graph.
Chinese characters, different from the alphabetic writing, are ideographs. As the character itself does not give a clue to its pronunciation, it becomes absolutely necessary to mark a character with phonetic symbols. Shuo Wen Jie Zi, the first Chinese dictionary compiled according to radicals of characters, was written by Xu Shen of the Eastern Han Dynasty around A.D.100 and revised by Xu Xuan of Song Dynasty around A.D.986. According to Xu Xuan’s revised edition of Shuo Wen Jie Zi, the pronunciation of the character “一” was marked with “fanqiefa” as “于悉切(yuxiqie)”. Fanqiefa is method which marks the sound of a Chinese character with two other characters; it came out in the Eastern Han Dynasty and was associated with the introduction of Buddhism into China. The consonant of the first character and the vowel and tone of the second character combine to represent the pronunciation of a new character.For instance, the pronunciation of “一” (Yī) is co-indicated by the two characters 于（yu）and 悉（xī）with 于 representing the consonant and 悉the vowel and tone. Hanyu Pinyin Fang’an (put into force in 1958) is the current scheme of phonetic script to mark the pronunciation of Chinese characters and transliterate Putonghua (the standard common speech of the Han nationality). According to Hanyu Pinyin Fang ‘an, the pronunciation of the character “一”is also Yī.
“惟初太始，道立于一，道分天地，化成万物。”This sentence is from Shuo Wen Jie Zi, it could be translated into modern Chinese like this: the universe was one blurred entity like a big egg in dark chaos at the very beginning “taishi” stage. “Tao” (the basic natural law) originated from this stage and separated heaven from earth, then gave birth to everything in the world. This argument is closely associated with the legend of human ancestor Pangu.
It is said that Pangu spilt “the big egg” with one stroke of his big axe, the heaven and earth began to separate. The light and clear rose up into the heaven and the heavy and turbidity went down into the earth. The one stroke is the origin of the character “一”，so the character “一” has the meanings of “initial” and “origin”.
But the most common meaning of “一” is “one”, the smallest positive integer. “一” is always a numeral from the era of “counting with knots in ropes” to hieroglyph, even to xiaozhuan.
The annotations of Shuo Wen Jie Zi, written by Duan Yucai of Qing Dynasty and published in 1815,also proved thatthe numbers begin from “一” exactly.
The character “一”is important with special meaning in Chinese culture andit may be used in many senses. It could be “the beginning of everything “and “the most perfect outcome”. On the one hand, it is the smallest integer; on the other hand, it could be the largest number. Its many meanings are extended with the changing of language, thoughts and culture etc.