Chinese Sheng Character 生 – shēng

Many characters like Chinese Sheng have a lot of meanings, and often Chinese learners feel a bit overwhelmed by this truth. But remember, if you are starting to learn from a solid foundation, additional definitions become that much easier to grasp.

The characters Primary Meaning

The primary meaning of the Chinese Sheng character is (to give birth). Thus, the character can be used by itself as a verb to refer to having children, which is 生孩子 – shēng háizi (give birth to a child). Also, 生日 (rì) directly translates to (Birthday).

Chinese has another few words we can compare that get home the point of 生 referring to bringing something into being.

Other Words and Meanings for 生 – shēng

These three words are:

生气 means (to get angry at someone) conceptualized as (giving birth to anger).  生病 means (to get sick or illness coming into being).

生产 has two meanings, but the most common is (produce products or bring products into being). The second meaning of 生产 is (to give birth to a child). Therefore it is hilarious because it is almost like they are seeing children as merely a 产(product) of the parents.

Finally, 生 Sheng in Chinese can also mean a similar “life” in specific contexts. 

Two common words in Chinese that use this version of Sheng 生 are 生活 (lit. Life + to live) and 生命 (Life + Life).

The former is like (the experience of living that shaped by your environment and the decisions you make).

The latter refers more to biological Life in and of itself that is given to you by your parents.

For example, a friend of mine said about parenting, “My children are an extension of my 生命 (Life) not an extension of my 生活 (life experience).” Therefore the child is not obligated to live by their parents 生活 (life experience). 

To further clarify this point, suppose we discovered “life” on Mars, this found “life” would be 生命, but if we wanted to ask a friend “How’s life recently?”, we would use 生活.

Learning Chinese words like (Sheng) make you think more deeply

Often Chinese words make me think more deeply about the meaning of English words. An excellent example of this is the word 卫生 (wèi)- (hygiene). It also translates as (defend Life) or (safeguard the living). Although I never articulated it that way before, that is indeed the purpose of being hygienic.

Understanding Chinese Characters 

One of my favorite Chinese characters I’ve learned is 理 – lǐ means (reason or logic). So it is unsurprising that 生理 (biology) or (life logic). What’s going on in your body has a logic to it, so why not say it directly:)

Yet another reason why understanding Chinese characters simplifies not only the study of the language but also can clarify how you look at reality.

Learning Mandarin from the level of the characters makes considerably more sense than learning from the level of the word.

Understanding is more foundational, and thus more applicable long-term, and 生 – Sheng in Chinese is no exception. Take the time to understand each character, and you’ll thank yourself later when you have a learning foundation that’s solid as a rock.

Image credits