All I need this holiday season is to buy, buy, buy
It’s the holiday season again and that can only mean one thing: rampant consumerism. In urban China, people learn Christmas carols primarily in shopping malls and celebrate the New Year by taking advantage of holiday discounts on Taobao. In keeping with this modernday ritual, our character this time is 买 (mǎi, purchase, buy).
The traditional version for 买 is 買, on which you can still find traces of its pictographic past. On top of the character is the 罒 (wǎng, net) radical, and on the bottom, the 贝 (bèi, cowry shells) radical. As cowry shells were used as an early form of currency in China and many parts of the world, together, they form the image of goods exchanged with currency and put into a net.
By the same logic, the character for “sell” is a slight variation of “buy”—adding an “out” radical on top of the character, indicating the reverse flow of goods from the net. Originally created based on the image of grass growing out of the earth, the “out” radical evolved into the “十” radical. Put this simplified radical on top of 买, you get 卖 (mài) or “sell”.
On the Character: 买 is a story from our issue, “Taobao Town.” To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the App Store.