Etymology: ‘仕’ (shi4) – Scholar-Official


Chinese character: ‘仕’ (shi4)

Left-hand ideogram = 亻(ren2) – a contraction of ‘人’ – meaning ‘people’ or ‘person’.

Right-hand ideogram = 士 (shi4). The lower particle is ‘一’ (yi1) meaning ‘first’, ‘isolated’, ‘number one’, ‘alone’, ‘whole’, ‘unity’ and ‘constant’. The upper particle is ‘十’ (shi4) meaning ‘perfect’, ‘complete’, ‘extreme’ and ‘number ten’. When taken together, ‘仕’ (shi4) refers by convention, to a scholar-official who has profoundly studied and mastered the Five Classics and the Four Books (of Confucianism), as well as the martial arts of archery and long-sword, and who has passed the imperial examinations. The successful candidate must recall ‘perfectly’ any part of any text required, explain these texts, and demonstrate good sense in the political application of these texts. Within archery, the scholar-official must draw the bow and fire the arrow at the centre of the target, using both sides of his body with an unhurried state of mind and a relaxed body. The scholar-official must use the long-sword for self-defence and be able to ‘prevent’ conflict if possible. Blows should be deflected and assailants disarmed and apprehended alive. If there is no choice, then the opponent’s body must be quickly and cleanly ‘penetrated’ with the point and blade of the long-sword – which must also be cleanly retracted and replaced in its scabbard. As the scholar-official prefers ‘peace’ over ‘war’, he carries his sword in the right-hand, indicating that it cannot be easily drawn without changing hands. Confucius likened the calligraphy brush to the sword – and saw no difference in their mastery – particularly where governance was concerned. The scholar-official ‘仕’ (shi4) simultaneously serves the people, whilst leading the people – hence the inclusion of 亻(ren2) in the description of his rank and post.

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