The Power of Chinese Characters - 正 zhèng

正- zhèng- upright, honest, correct, standard

I love this character, because it indicates the “proper” or “right” way to view a number of different things, whether it be the result of an action, the answer to a question, a method of behavior, etc. Let’s take a look at how it is used in several words to get a grasp on how its applied. First we’ll start with verbs that have a result of “正”:

修正 (xiū)

改正 (gǎi)

修正 and 改正 both translate as “to correct or rectify”. So what’s the difference? Unsurprisingly, the answer lies in the difference between the characters. 修 means “to repair” and 改 means “to change”, so the difference is in the degree to which you wish to “correct” something. If you are “repairing” something (修) until it is correct (the result of 正), it implies that the original thing you are “correcting” is fine overall, just needs some tweaking. For example, the American Constitution has “amendments”, which get translated into Chinese as 修正案 xiū zhèng àn (literally correction file). When the amendments were written, they were not rejecting the entire constitution but adding things to it to make it even more “correct” (正). 改正 on the other hand starts with “to change” (改), and of course if you are “changing” in order to “correct” something, it implies that the correction is more drastic.

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Chinese has a compound word structure called “并列式” bìng liè shì, which we refer to as “Juxtaposed”. Juxtaposed words have two characters whose meaning is either the same, similar or opposite, but the primary characteristic is that they both have equal value. Here are two of them that use 正:

正确 (què)

正常 (cháng)

正确 means “correct” (as opposed to “incorrect”). 确 means “true”, so you can see how this is combination of “correct” & “true” could create the meaning of “correct”. If we give 正 its definition of “regular”, then we can get an idea of how they came up with 正常 to mean “normal”. 常 means “ordinary”, so “regular-ordinary” combines quite nicely to get across the idea of “normal”.

It is in the interest of Chinese learners to take note of the “Biased” (偏正式 piānzhèng shì)  compound word structure. Unlike juxtaposed, the biased structure does not give both characters equal value, but instead gives the second of the two characters greater value. Let’s take a look at these words to illustrate how 正 works in these biased word structures:

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正面 (miàn)

正式 (shì)

正宗 (zōng)

正品 (pǐn)

All of these words consider the second character to be the main meaning, with 正 merely indicating that 面,式,宗,and 品 are on the “upright, correct, honest or standard” side of things. So what do they mean?

面 means “aspect or respect” in this context, so 正面 means “the upright aspect”, or more simply positive.

式 means “style or type”, so 正式 means “the proper style”, aka formal.

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宗 means “ancestor”, so 正宗 means “to the standard of the ancestors”, thus it gets translated as meaning authentic and is usually used in the context of dishes or traditions being authentic to the ancestral history.

品 means “products”, so 正品 means “up to standard products”, or certified goods.

I’m sure that your method of learning Chinese up until now has been great, but by focusing more on the individual characters and you’ll see the 正面 influence on your progress immediately.

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