Chinese Similes and Metaphors for Family

Article excerpt


A simile is a figure of speech likening one thing to another (cf. Rosenblatt, 1994, p. 13)-for example, "kindergartens are like zoos" or "therapists are like friends who ask good questions." A metaphor is a figure of speech in which words or actions that literally denote one kind of object or idea are used in place of another, suggesting a resemblance or analogy (Rosenblatt, 1994, p. l)-for example, "my family is a safe harbor." Knowing the common similes and metaphors people in a culture apply to family may help us to understand what family means to them. A simile or metaphor for family may reflect the emotional meanings of family, the values and ideals that are applied to family, common family problems, anxieties about families, and other matters that are valuable to recognize and explore in that they may illuminate aspects of the culture and of how people in the society think about family or would like family to be.

In this paper we examine common similes and metaphors that are applied to the family in contemporary Chinese culture. The topic of Chinese similes and metaphors for family is potentially important for many reasons-because increasing our understanding of cultural indicators for families anywhere may help us to understand families everywhere else, because of population size Chinese merits close attention, because China is a dominant industrial, trading, diplomatic, consuming, and cultural force in the world, because at times political propaganda in some countries (for example, the United States) has demonized Chinese culture and it would be best to understand that culture in something approximating its own terms rather than to accept a view that demonizes Chinese culture, and because Chinese culture is inherently interesting.

The analysis of similes and metaphors pertaining to families as cultural indicators at best only give a sense of aspects of culture-cultural values, ideals, conflicts, ways of thinking, and so on. The analysis of similes and metaphors could not possibly provide a comprehensive or in depth analysis of the culture and of families in the culture. Perhaps no method and no data set could provide the thorough, comprehensive, and in depth analysis we would like for Chinese culture and for Chinese families. But hopefully each method and each data set will help to illuminate Chinese cultures and families and add to the total of our knowledge. Thus, we offer this paper on Chinese similes and metaphors for family as a contribution to the already accumulated and still accumulating body of knowledge but by no means a replacement for what has already been published. So in this paper we report what we think Chinese internet similes and metaphors for family seem to suggest, and we do so both as a modest contribution to ongoing discussions about Chinese families and as a general illustration of the process, power, and limitations of the analysis of similes and metaphors for family.


To gather a group of common Chinese family similes and metaphors we entered the Chinese character for "family" [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], jia] and the Chinese words for "is," [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], shi] and "is like" [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], xiang; ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], si;, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], ru] in two major Chinese search engines, the Chinese language version of Google and the dominant Chinese search engine, Baidu. On December 18, 2009, we took the first page of hits from each search as our source of Chinese similes and metaphors for family, a total of eight pages, based on using the four different Chinese words for "is" and "is like" with each of the two search engines.

We had a total of 80 hits from the eight first pages we looked at (10 hits per page). We looked both at the similes and metaphors as they appeared on the results page itself and also went into the websites to analyze what they had to say that was relevant to the metaphors and similes. …


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