Jia Pingwa and Classic Chinese
Jia Pingwa’s amazing diction in his works prompts a popular assump¬tion that he is well-versed in clas¬sic Chinese. Jia, however, insists that he benefits from his study of the Xi’an dialect. Many classic Chinese words have survived in the local dialect, and those vivid verbs, in particular, are conducive to his writing. An ancient word still in use today, the character 咥, for instance, means “to bolt or devour food”.
The Elegant Dialect
The Shaanxi dialect was once la¬beled “crude”, but Jia Pingwa, a famous writer, argues that if the spoken words are written down, they would turn out to be elegant terms in classic Chinese. To say holding a baby, one would not use “hold” but “carry”. To describe something tasteless, one would use the word “insipid”. Even when telling an¬other person to get lost, one would say “evade”.
A Refined Northern Dialect
Construed as uncouth by some out-of-towners, the Shaanxi dialect is actually imbued with classic elegance. “Duan zou” (端走), for example, means “to walk straight”, “tang kuan” (汤宽) “abundant soup”, and “chi bi” (吃毕)” “meal finished”. A scrutiny of these phrases reveals a cultural reserve of quaint senses. “This dialect sounds pleasant. Though spoken by the northerners, it is very soft, each char¬acter is followed by a measured drawl, and the diction is refined,” observed Wang Anyi, a renowned writer, upon savoring the Shaanxi dialect.
The Dialect and the Elegant Language
Ever since the Western Zhou Dynasty, the language spoken in Guanzhong has been called “elegant language”. Modeled after elegance and aesthetics, it became the national standard tongue after the Qin and Han dynasties, serving as the exemplary language across China. Modern Shaanxi dia¬lect still maintains some traits of classic Chinese, such as the phrase “嫽咋咧”(amazing) that non-locals love the most. The character “嫽”, literally, “utmost loveliness”, comes from “Moonlight”, the “Odes of Chen” in the Book of Odes: “The moon comes forth in her brightness; how lovely is that beautiful lady.”
The Philosophy in Dialect
In the dialect of Shaanxi, the word for “wo” (我 , meaning “I”) is pronounced “er”. Some linguists be¬lieve that this word should be written as “厄”, a character that signifies the winding paths and dangers down the road of life. This personal pronoun shows an open and clear view on life, which only comes after having wit¬nessed thousands of years of history and the rise and fall of dynasties. Peo¬ple, who use this word as a personal pronoun, realize that there are many risks and hurdles in life. It serves as a self-reminder.
Loafers in Xi’an
闲人 (loafer), pronounced “hán rén” in the Xi’an dialect, does not refer to a loafer in the normal sense, but someone more valorous than a “顽主” (playful guy), a term with a derogatory sense in the Beijing dialect. Jia Pingwa wrote a piece of prose to portray loafers in Xi’an. Yet when you read it over, you’d think that Jia was writing about Zhang Jiayi, a famous actor. During his years at Xi’an Studio, Zhang always clutched a briefcase under his arm, walking in a staggering and slouchy way! What a true loafer on the street. Now his image has changed, but his devotion to friendship and willingness to act out remain true characteristics of the Xi’an loafer. ■