On the Character: 助
A character that is always willing to lend a hand

One morning circa 300 BCE, the sage Mencius lectured his followers, “Those who advocate for justice will enjoy much support, while those who are unjust will have little (得道者多助,失道者寡助).”

Among all the Chinese characters, 助 (zhù, help, support) can always be counted on to lend a helping hand. Its form is self-explanatory: On the right side is the radical 力 (lì), meaning strength, and on the left is 且 (qiě), which was historically a synonym of 祖 (zǔ), meaning family. Together, they suggest members of a family using their combined powers to support one  another.

助 also used to have the meaning “to remove,” synonymous with 锄 (chú), as indicated by a passage in the Daoist text Zhuangzi: “Yan Buyi returned and learned from Dong Wu, got rid of his arrogant manner, abandoned degenerate pleasures, bade goodbye to luxury and his noble status. Three years later, all people in the country praised him (颜不疑归,而师董梧,以助其色,去乐辞显,三年而国人称之(Yán Bù yí guī, ér shī dǒng Wú, yǐ zhù qí sè, qù lè cí xiǎn, sānnián ér guórén chēng zhī).” The form of the character has not significantly changed from the Warring States period (475 – 221 BCE) to the present.

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On the Character: 助 is a story from our issue, “Rural Rising.” 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 Yang Tingting (杨婷婷)

Yang Tingting is a Chinese editor at The World of Chinese. Interested in telling Chinese stories, she writes mainly about culture, language, and society.

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