Send in this character to the rescue
“The alarm comes at dawn/ At night, we reinforce the Great Wall (朝来羽书急，夜救长城窟),” wrote the poet Zhangsun Zuofu (长孙佐辅) in the eighth century of the high-strung border defenses of the Great Tang empire (618 – 907).
The character 救, meaning “rescue” or “save,” is formed by the radical 求 (qiú) meaning “to ask for” on its left side and the radical 攵 (pū), on the right, meaning “to tap.” This combination literally implies insistently asking for help from others. It appears as in bronze inscriptions, using the older forms of 求 and 攵 (primitively written as 攴). This combination has remained unchanged for thousands of years.
One of the earliest appearances of the character is in the Book of Songs (《诗经》), a collection of poetry from the eleventh to sixth century BCE: “Whenever my neighbors are in need, I’ll offer help in word and deed (凡邻有丧，匍匐救之).”
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On the Character: 救 is a story from our issue, “Disaster Warning.” To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the App Store.