Saturday, October 27, 2007

Hw-ay Gai

Someone once told me that learning Chinese had changed the whole shape of his brain. I think I can understand what he meant, just as I think I understand, as a functional innumerate, what people mean who speak of the beauty of mathematics. There's nothing obscure about the beauty of what follows, though. Thanks to my friend Theophilus.

The above shows the Chinese for repentance, as used in most Bibles (for example “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” - Matt 4:17). 悔改

The first character, 悔 (pron. “hui” or “hw-ay”), means to feel sorry; the second, 改 (”gai” as in the English word guy), means to change or correct. Although this is the same as English, in Chinese the meaning of the word is explicit: change and correction through remorse. Perfect.

And there is more. The character hui, 悔, has on the left the character used for the heart (心) emphasising that the remorse felt is something of the heart, just as Biblical writers understood that this is the seat of emotion and intellect. To the right, is the character meaning “every”, or “each”, (e.g. 每天, means “every[每] day[天]”). The remorse we have must be for everything we have done.

Following on from the remorse and regret, crucially, is change (改). Here again are two parts, left and right. To the left we have 已, ji, which means “oneself” or “one’s own”. The right part literally means to “whip” or “tap”, but ultimately has the meaning of change. Our own change, the correction of ourselves.

“Hw-ay Gai” - Remorse leading to correction.

What's the difference between repentance and remorse? It's the difference between Peter and Judas.


Ad Orientem said...

Thank you for an illuminating post.


Sophia said...


epsilon said...

Thank you for this post especially - I too posted in favour of your comment on the deleted post yesterday. In fact, I confessed to having been one of those cafeterians (in my case in the 80s) described with such scorn, but I believe my repentance is of the "Hw-ay Gai" kind - all things are possible when we pray to God for His will to be done!