Don’t let go of this slippery character
“She bathed in the glassy warm water of a fountain pool/ Which cleansed her creamy skin in the spring early and cool (春寒赐浴华清池, 温泉水滑洗凝脂),” poet Bai Juyi (白居易) wrote of Imperial Concubine Yang, one of the “Four Renowned Beauties” of ancient China.
In Bai’s imagination, it was the legendary beauty’s smooth skin that first endeared her to Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang dynasty (618 – 907)—who retained his affection for Yang for over a decade, even after her tragic death during the An Lushan Rebellion: “Borne up by her attendants/ She rose too faint to move/ And this was when she first received the monarch’s love.”
Originating over 2,000 years ago, the character 滑 (huá, smooth) got its meaning from the “water” (水 shuǐ) radical on the left and its sound from the “bone” (骨 gǔ) radical on the right. Though its pronunciation has changed, its form and basic meaning have remained consistent throughout history.
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On the Character: 滑 is a story from our issue, “Alpine Ambitions.” To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the App Store.