A character that stays fresh through the ages

“On the Yangtze River, each wave pushes the one that came before—so would the new always push the old,” goes a Chinese idiom. The fresh faces of the post-90s generation are gradually taking the center stage of society as young workers, government officials, and parents. In their honor, our character of the day is fresh, or 鲜 (xiān).

Among today’s “artistic youths,” Yue Yun, the eldest son of the 12th century general Yue Fei, is held up as an inspiration. The young general stated that young people ought to enjoy life, but youth was also a time to strive for greater purposes, which, at his time, was to take northern China back from the Jurchen invaders. His description of youth was 鲜衣怒马 (xiānyī nùmǎ), “to be dressed in fine clothes and riding on well-groomed horses.” Tragically, the young general was falsely accused of treason and executed along with his famous father at 23, making him forever an icon to the young and idealistic.

In its original meaning 鲜 referred to a particular item, “fresh fish.” The bronze script of the character, developed 3,000 years ago, had a pictorial form consisting of a “goat” radical, 羊 (yáng), on top and a “fish” radical, 鱼 (yú), below. The goat radical stood for the meaning “delicious.”

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On the Character: 鲜 is a story from our issue, “The Noughty Nineties.” 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.

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