A character that will never let down its guard
“Take up arms, brandish spears/ Defend our homes, defend the Yellow River, defend North China, and defend the whole country! (端起了土枪洋枪，挥动着大刀长矛,保卫家乡，保卫黄河, 保卫华北，保卫全中国!)” composer Xian Xinghai’s Yellow River Cantata thunders in its seventh movement, “Protect the Yellow River,” which takes its lyrics from a verse by the patriotic poet Guang Weiran.
Written in 1939 to inspire patriotic resistance in the midst of China’s struggles against Japanese invasion, the renowned chorus drew on the millennia-old metaphor of 保家卫国 (bǎojiā-wèiguó, protecting homes and safeguarding the country), which is still widely regarded as an honorable mission for soldiers as well as ordinary people.
First appearing in oracle bone inscriptions over 3,000 years ago, the character 卫 was originally a pictogram depicting a city flanked by two streets. In its traditional form 衛, the top and bottom portions of the middle radical represent two guards patrolling the streets of the city. The simplified form, 卫, is derived from the upper part of the middle radical.
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On the Character: 卫 is a story from our issue, “Contagion.” To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the App Store.