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”.

Want to continue reading?

Log in or register now to read the full story

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.


author Huang Weijia (黄伟嘉)

Dr. Huang Weijia is a senior lecturer in Chinese language at Boston University and a distinguished research fellow at Shaanxi Normal University. He has taught courses in modern and classical Chinese and Chinese culture at Harvard University, Brown University, and the Middlebury College Summer Program. Dr. Huang has authored a series of successful textbooks and reference books in the US, Chinese mainland, and Hong Kong, including the Readings in Chinese Culture series. He has also written numerous articles on cross-cultural and Chinese studies for newspapers and magazines in the US and China.

author Liu Jue

Liu Jue is the co-managing editor of The World of Chinese Magazine. She has a Master of Arts in Communication from Middle Tennessee State University, and a Bachelor of Arts from Minzu University. She has been working for TWOC since 2012. She is interested in covering history, traditional culture, and Chinese language.

Related Articles