I can see that the use of Chinese characters and symbols has become a consistent practice in my books so far. That trend started with the use of symbols for "water" (水) and its different aspects in a poem in The Colours of Heroines, my first book. It's a practice that affirms my Chinese background, although I didn't particularly warm to learning Mandarin as a child. Nowadays, I have a very modest grasp of the Chinese language, but I've come to appreciate the æsthetic beauty of these symbols.
Pronounced mai in Mandarin, this is the character for 'pulse'. In traditional Chinese medicine, each organ has its own pulse. Reading the pulse is not a simple thing; a textbook was written in 280 CE called Mai Jing (or Pulse Classic), to guide TCM doctors and acupuncturists in how to read the various pulses. In my novel Pulse, the protagonist Natalie describes the way pulse reading occurs, with the second, third and fourth fingers placed on the patient's wrist. Three kinds of pulse are read at each wrist, with three various pressures to be applied at each location. The points on each hand represent different organ systems. In addition, the different pressures allow the doctor to detect changes in the pulse condition. It's a very sophisticated system of diagnosis!
In the novel, the word 'pulse' is also used to symbolize the vitality that exists in individuals and in nature. What about a reading of humankind? How do we take the pulse of the planet and examine the afflictions that plague our world? All of which lead to the challenges of following up on the right diagnosis with the skills to heal those afflictions on a personal and collective level.
This is the ancient symbol that preceded the modern version (心). I chose it for the website because I'm partial to its integrated meaning: heart/mind. So often, there's this schism between the heart and the mind, as if they are meant to be separated. I'm interested in the mind or consciousness that's informed by compassion, and its connection to emotional integrity.
This is the symbol for contemplation. The more common connotation of this Chinese character is thought, but when I used it in This Place Called Absence, I very much wanted to evoke the nuance of reflective thinking, to echo the heart embedded within this character. I thought it was really wonderful that this symbol includes the symbol for field (田) and the symbol for heart/mind (心).
This is an early form of the present-day character for transformation (化). This was the way it was represented on oracle bones. The bones of turtles or cows would be burned through until they cracked and then the fissures deciphered in terms of an answer to the question posed. Interestingly, the two ren characters (humans) are placed head-to-toe. I find this quite a powerful image, open to many interpretations. I use this symbol in The Walking Boy for many purposes. I wanted to mark the novel with a symbol, as a way of signalling a core of meaning that I explore through both the plot and characters. I also chose to use this symbol as the tattoo that one of the primary characters in the novel is branded with.