Chinese Character Explained: 家

家 jiā is perhaps one of the most well-known Chinese characters. It’s basic meaning “home, family” is an important element in rich Chinese culture. Today, 家 is widely used to form other words with various meanings, its original use to indicate home or family is still fundamental. How is this word come into being? In this blog, we share with you the stories behind 家。


the character 家 jiā


The evolvement of the character 家 jiā

家 is a pictographic character. The character consists of two parts, “宀”(mián) on the top stands for roof. If you turn the character 90 degree to the left, then you see the part under the “roof” looks like a drawing of an animal, and indeed“豕”(zhì) stands for “pig”. Therefore, the original meaning of “家” is accommodation, living place or house.

You may wonder: why pig, not other animals? It is said that pig is the first animal which the Chinese ancestors domesticated and kept as livestock. Furthermore, the house structure back then was divided into two floors, the upper one lives people, and the under one is used to keep the pigs. Therefore where there is a pigpen, there are also people living. Later even though the pigpen is moved away from where the people live, “家” still means where people live, namely, house or home. From this character, we could also see how important pig is to Chinese people, because the character tells us, where there is pig, it is home.

With the time passes by and the development of society, “家” gains more meanings and is widely used as follows:

(1)  Family: 家庭 jiā tíng

(2)  Parents: 家长 jiā zhǎng

(3)  Clan: 家族 jiā zhú

(4)  Hometown or the place one comes from originally: 老家 lǎo jiā

(5)  expert, people who are specialized in a field: 专家zhuān jiā or 行家háng jiā

(6)  Academic schools: 儒家rú jiā (Confucianism),道家dào jiā (Taoism)

(7)  A polite way to address one’s own relatives: 家父 jiā fù (my father),家兄 jiā

xiōng (my elderly brother),家母 jiā mǔ (my mother)

(8)  Domesticated animals: 家畜jiā chù (livestock),家禽jiā qín (poultry)

(9)  Classifier: 一家人yì jiā rén (one family),一家店yì jiā diàn (one store)

(10) Professions related to arts: 艺术家yì shù jiā (artist), 画家 huà jiā (drawer), 作家zuò jiā (writer), 音乐家yīn yuè jiā (musician)

Today’s question: What does 家 mean to you? Make a description of 你的家 (your home). Share below with us!

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