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2015-03-19
提示导航123
2015-03-19
tishidaohang
2015-03-01
 
THE CHARACTER 法
发布时间:2015-08-10 浏览次数:1325

Don’t fight the law because the law will win. But, well, we do like to watch interesting criminals—your Walter Whites and your Dexter Morgans—get away with flouting the law. Our character today is 法 (fǎ), or law. Every aspect of our life is governed by it; you have 婚姻法 (hūnyīnfǎ, marriage law), 劳动法 (láodòngfǎ, labor law), 刑法 (xíngfǎ, criminal law), and so on ad infinitum. While today law is based on a strict, codified system, our ancestors put their trust in supernatural powers to determine right from wrong.

Philosopher Micius recorded a case in the Spring and Autumn Period (770 BCE – 476 BCE) in the state of Qi that stumped its lord. Two court officials were involved in a lawsuit for three years, yielding no clear results. The lord was on the verge of killing them both just to get a moment’s peace, but with his last shred of patience, he decided to let the gods decide. The two officials were asked to state their case at a shrine and slaughter a goat as a sacrifice; the first official stated his case undisturbed, but the second wasn’t so lucky. Before finishing his statement, the dead goat jumped to its feet and charged at the official, breaking his leg. The god of the shrine then apparently descended from the heavens and executed the liar.

Actually, magical goats make cameo appearances in plenty of stories of judgment. It was said that Gao Yao (皋陶), the semi- mythical creator of the judicial system in ancient China, had a goat with a single horn on its head that helped him judge difficult cases. The one-horned goat would gore the guilty party. The magical beast was called zhi (廌) or xiezhi (獬豸), constituting the base for our character 法.

The early form of 法 was 灋. On the left, the water radical “氵” symbolized the idea that law should be balanced, much like the surface of a lake. The top right radical was zhi, our one-horned goat judge, and on the bottom right was the radical 去 (qù, leave), implying that the guilty party should be driven away. Together, they formed the concept of law in ancient times. Though rich in symbolism, the character 灋 wasn’t exactly easy to write; as such, its simplified form 法 was more popular and later became the standard. The mythical zhi also transformed over time, later depicted as an awesome beast with an ox’s body covered with black fur. The image was commonly used on judges’ uniforms and for courthouse decorations.

The 法 character constituted a wide range of words, such as 法律 (fǎlǜ, law, legislation), 法院 (fǎyuàn, court) and 法官 (fǎguǎn, judge). Legal is 合法 (héfǎ), literally “in accordance with the law”, and illegal is 非法 (fēifǎ), “disagree with the law”. People who cross the line are called 不法分子 (bùfǎ fènzǐ), or “lawless person”. We can also use the phrase 违法乱纪 (wéifǎ luànjì) to describe them, which means “to commit malfeasance”. Along the same lines, 目无法纪 (mù wú fǎjì) means to “defy law and discipline”. Corrupt officials are described as 贪赃枉法 (tānzāng wǎngfǎ) which means “perverting justice for bribery”.

Law demands crime be punished, hence the phrase 绳之以法 (shéng zhī yǐ fǎ), meaning “prosecute and punish according to the law”. For instance, you have: 对贪污受贿官员要 绳之以法。(Duì tānwū shòuhuì guānyuán yào shéng zhī yǐ fǎ. Corrupt officials must be brought to justice.) If you are an upright citizen, 奉公守 法 (fènggōng shǒufǎ) is the phrase for you, which means “law-abiding”.

Legalist philosopher Han Feizi emphasized that the law is impartial by saying 法不阿贵 (fǎ bù ē guó), which means “the law does not take the side of the powerful people”. The modern code of law in China went through major changes over the past half century and is still in the process of evolving and reforming. A buzzword you frequently see on news is 依法治国 (yī fǎ zhì guó) which means “ruling the country by law”, which is a on-going project that still requires a great deal of effort. Since law is the social standard by which proper behavior is measured, 法 also means “acting according to a certain standard”, as in 效法 (xiàofǎ).

In addition to legal and moral standards, 法 also means method and modality. Grammar is 语法 (yǔfǎ), literally “law of language”, while algorithms are 算法 (suànfǎ), “mathematical law”. One’s behavior is 做法 (zuòfǎ) and skill or technique is 手法 (shǒufǎ), as in “cooking techniques”, or 烹饪手法 (pēngrèn shǒufǎ), and “writing skills”, or 写作手法 (xiězuò shǒufǎ). Doctors have 疗法 (liáofǎ), or “therapy”, while teachers have 教学法 (jiàoxuéfǎ), or “teaching methods”.

In Buddhism, 佛法 (fófǎ), or “the way of the Buddha”, refers to dharma. The phrase 现身说法 (xiànshēn shuōfǎ) also comes from Buddhism. Originally meaning, “Buddha appears in different forms to different people to spread dharma”, it now means “to draw a moral from one’s own experience”.

法 has also kept a bit of its supernatural side by taking on the meaning of “spell” or “sorcery”, as in 法术 (fǎshù). A fight between Harry Potter and Voldemort would be called 斗法 (dòufǎ), “a contest of magical arts”. But in a more realistic setting, the word can mean artifice or trickery, for instance: 为了争夺议会席位, 各党派正在那里斗法。(Wèile zhēngduó yìhuì xíwèi, gè dǎngpài zhèngzài nàli dòufǎ. The political parties are covertly fighting for seats in parliament.)

We may wish for absolute justice or a universal law to give us some sense of order in an otherwise chaotic world, but in reality, it takes more than a magical beast to decipher the character of 法.


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