The character chai 拆- dismantle
The character chai 拆– dismantle
One of the most frequent characters in the urban scenery of the China of the development and the transformation is chai 拆- dismantle.
Any walk through the old neighborhoods of most Chinese cities continually led to being confronted with this character, usually painted in red on the white walls of a house.
Chai, literally a hand 扌 (on the left) grasping an axe 斤 with its edge marked (on the right), was not, however, one of the most used characters, as it was not even considered by the official books among the two thousand most frequently used characters, but if I start looking among the thousands of photos I have taken during these 20 years in China, I am sure this is one the most often appearing Chinese characters.
Chai is a death sentence, the death of a neighborhood, the death of ancient China (not the one of the books, but of the 20th century China to which most of the houses that are demolished belong), the death sentence of a way of life. But while to the casual observer finding the chai character leads to interesting reflections on the brevity of life and the passing of time; to the local population chai takes on a new meaning.
Rebirth. Yes, many of these axe-marked projects are houses that reflect a simple, sometimes Spartan way of life that we foreigners have grown accustomed to seeing as part of a familiar landscape. For many families, the chai character on the door of their walls means that they will finally leave their rudimentary dwellings to participate, for once, in the progress that is spreading throughout the country. For others, it means that the hammer of speculators will strike their lives.
The eternal cycle of yin and yang. To die and to be reborn, are currently conjugated in this curious character.
Pedro Ceinos is the author of Manual de Escritura de los Caracteres Chinos, and other works on China.
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