You’ll need to hurry to catch this character

“Time is life,” observed the renowned 20th-century writer, translator and educator Liang Shiqiu. “It is most startling to hear a watch or clock clicking away the seconds, each click indicating the shortening of one’s life little by little.” For modern people, life is much like a battle against time. It seems that an invisible power urges us to do everything quicker, hastier, faster: more “快” (kuài, quick; fast; rapid; swift).

The character is commonly used to describe speed. The frequently used term for “courier” is 快递 (kuàidì) meaning “express delivery;” 快餐 (kuàicān) is “fast food;” and 快车 (kuàichē) is an express train or bus. Meanwhile, 动作快 (dòngzuò kuài) is to “act quickly” and 说话快 (shuōhuà kuài) means “fast talking.” Based on this, a quick worker is called 快手 (kuàishǒu), literally translated as “fast hand”—it’s also the name of a popular live-streaming app (see feature). For example: Liu is such a quick and neat worker that he is known as “Fast Hand Liu.” However, when it comes to 快嘴 (kuàizuǐ, fast mouth), this isn’t describing someone’s talking speed. Instead, it refers to people who voice their thoughts too readily, or have loose lips—in other words, a gossip.

You may also have heard people say 脑子快 (nǎozi kuài, “the brain is fast”). It means “quick-witted, clever, and nimble.” The term 眼疾手快 (yǎnjíshǒukuài, literally, “quick of eye and deft of hand”) is often used to describe fast reflexes.

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On the Character: 快 is a story from our issue, “Wheel Life China.” 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 Sun Jiahui (孙佳慧)

Sun Jiahui is a freelance writer and former editor at The World of Chinese. She writes about Chinese language, society and culture, and is especially passionate about sharing stories of China's ancient past with a wider audience. She has been writing for TWOC for over six years, and pens the Choice Chengyu column.

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