I used the better part of my Chinese lesson today completely off the rails over these words: The Heart 心 Words
Our Chinese afterschool homework helper in San Francisco is an amazing woman from Dalian. She didn’t need the gig but wound up helping us out for several years because I couldn’t manage the MI homework and her real job--as a pastry chef--was baking in the mornings. She’s one of the most charismatic people I’ve met in my life and we all—two families with three kids total—fell in love with her. One of her usual phrases to the kids was “xiao xin, xiao xin.” It means “be careful” and something to be said often to three squirrely kids coming home from school every day.
I realized that the two characters that make that word are the characters for small (xiao): 小; and heart (xin): 心
So here is be careful:
心 Xin (heart) is a radical that appears in many words and is well studied. A quick google search for “Chinese words with xin” garners 11 million hits, for example.
I was talking with friends about how I love the heart words and they started saying more of them including the one for “don’t worry”. I asked my tutor about that word and it’s this:
bei dan xin
or: set your burden of a heart down. Don’t worry.
Love is “ai” so “ai xin”
means having a social conscious or doing public-good work, like say, looking after the poor or elderly. It could be just propaganda or it could be so deeply rooted in the culture it is imprinted upon their (our) souls. I get that worries about survival, about putting food on the table, about keeping our kids alive, might leave no room for ai xin. But maybe it is so well engraved that this contemporary one-generation-distance-from-subsistence's greed isn't enough to erase it. Ai xin.
Safe is “an” so “an xin”
means to feel relieved or at peace. Maybe once we have an xin, then we have the ability to express ai xin.
And then there’s this: Kai Xin. “Kai” means “open.” So while there are about a jillion ways to say happy in Chinese, there is this one. Here it is, the universe, the meaning of life, the point of it all:
Open heart = happy.