Wednesday, May 26, 2010

. . . from - 浮屠 to 佛 to 仏 -

A browse thro the bookshelves found these two books – spanning a period of 21 years odd.

The one in English - Buddhism in China – A Historical Study – by Kenneth Ch’en - bought in July 1988, not long after coming to work in Singapore at the Pearl Center next to Outram Park MRT Station.

The second book –written in Chinese by Ji Xianlin (1911.8.6-2009.7.11) – 季羡林自选集:佛 - Ji Xianlin Collection: Buddha - was a recent purchased in Nov 2009 at a Buddhist artifacts cum bookstore in Geylang East.

Among the number of books on Buddhism, and the many aspects of Buddhism – and being one interested in things historical – thro these readings – it has allowed me to gain a little insight into the spread of the religion from its cradle somewhere in Nepal to India and the rest of Asia.

Initial books were in English, and thro the years, thro self-study driven by an urge to understand one’s ‘mother tongue’ as well as to have a first hand knowledge of one/s ‘mother culture’ – it has gradually enabled me to read books in Chinese directly.

(If not directly – many of the web dictionary could help to translate the more difficult words)

The recent read by Professor Ji has an interesting article on how the Chinese word for Buddha - 佛 – fo - came about.

This single syllable word did not get into China directly from India but thro the translation of translated works of Tocharian - 吐火罗 - tuhuoluo - a defunct ancient tribe found in the Kushan Empire in NW India around 1st - 2nd CE.

Directly from India, Buddha was translated as - 浮屠 – futu – a two letter word – which is closer to its Sanskrit - 梵语- fanyu - origin. In early Chinese classics prior to adoption of the word 佛 by the literati, 浮屠 was commonly used.

Perhaps then,
释迦牟尼佛 - Shì​jiā​móu​ní​fó​ - Sakyamuni Buddha – could be written as 释迦牟尼浮屠. –Shijiamounifutu .

And his teachings the Buddhist Dharma - 佛法 - fofa - would be written as - 浮屠法 –futu fa.

Well, with - 佛 – written as 屠法 – in this new ancient context it sounds and looks - 糊涂 – hutu - indeed!

(If you do not know Chinese - you can copy this word- 糊涂 - and paste it to the web dictionary in Reference - Mother tongue is fun! )

When Buddhism spread from across the mainland from China thro Korea tto Japan, the Japanese came up with a variant for writing 佛.

Perhaps the Japanese famous for their haiku –俳句 - short stanza poems and – and a knack on minimalism – ( they being the progenitor of using simplified Chinese characters ) simplified 佛 – to -仏 - and pronounced as – butsu - ぶつ - ( on reading) . or hotoke- ほとけ (kun reading ) .

Well, the Buddhist Dharma in Japanese is written as - 仏法. How then would you pronounce it : ぶつほう?butsu ho? No, it is - ぶっぽう - buttpo .

What a cupful indeed – from 浮屠 to 佛 to 仏 .. or was it just an empty half cup.


1. Ji Xianlin - 季羡林

2. 浮屠 to 佛

- 1947年10月9日

3. Tocharian

4. Kushan Empire

5. Chinese-English Dictionary

Monday, May 17, 2010

曾经上海 - the shanghai that was

With the world expo and the focus of attention worldwide– what was the Shanghai then –

Perhaps then, thro the eyes and ears of this lass – probably in her sixteen to seventeen in the second half of 1930/s -

The rare treat to a movie to the cinema in Ipoh would be a made-in-Shanghai film. The high mandarin collar of her flower patterned Chinese dress –would have been tailored to the fashion trend in Shanghai. Her bobbed hairstyle popular in the 1930/s would have been the hairdo of the Shanghai actresses.

The latest Mandarin songs that she listened to would be from the parade of singers from Shanghai. The legendary Zhou Xuan-周璇 – popularly named the singer with the golden voice - 金嗓子 -. jin shang zhi - would come to represent the voice of the Shanghai of that era.

From the late 1920/s thro to the 1940/s – for close to two decades, the Shanghai recorded Mandarin songs crescendo to their golden age. Many of these songs would be what her children would first hear from their cradle when they grew up in the late 1940s to thro the fifties.

天上人間 - tian shang ren jian - Heaven on earth – re-rendered by the popluar Taiwan male crooner Fei Yuqing – was one song that she remembered well. She said that she learnt this song in her school days.

Many of the classic evergreen Lunar New Year songs – were written and fist sung in Shanghai. Akin to a Christmas is not one without listening to ‘White Christmas’ – the Chinese Lunar New Year - is incomplete without listening to the LNY songs like –恭喜恭喜 - Gong Xi Gong Xi - sung by the brother and sister team - 姚莉/姚敏 – Yao Li / Yao Min - and lyrics by - 陈歌辛 - Chen Gexin.

With the establishment of New China, the horses no longer galloped and the dancers no longer waltzed, and the bourgeois and the capitalist roaders took flight. Night Shanghai faded into a long slumber.

The baton of being the entertainment and cultural center of the Chinese diaspora – that is - huaren - 华人 –passed on Hong Kong and Taipei. From the 1970/s to the 1980/s came the likes of Sam Hui - 许冠杰 - and brothers and Teresa Teng - 邓丽君.

With her re-established glory and all the mega hardware - will Shanghai re-emerge as the cultural & entertainment center of the Huaren – 华人world?

Photographs / scan

1. Mum - (1922 to 1987) in her teens - probably in the mid 1930/s.

2. Book Cover -

A Short History of Shanghai -
FL Hawks pott - Kelly & Walsh, Limited

RMB 80.00 on 1999.11.10 @ Shanghai Pudong Airport -
first holiday trip to Shanghai, Hangzhou, Suzhou


1. 费玉清 - 天上人间(新茶花女电影插曲)

2. 周璇 -

3. High collar Cheong Sam of the 1930/s