A palindrome is a word or sentence that reads the same backward a forward (in Dutch it’s aptly called a ‘mirror word’). English examples are ‘racecar’, or even whole sentences such as ‘was it a cat I saw?’ or ‘I did, did I?’. There are also Chinese Palindromes, in Chinese Hanzi characters!
In Chinese, Palindromes are named 回文Huí wén: ’Turn around writing’.
Ancient Chinese palindromes
The earliest forms of what could be considered as a Chinese palindrome could be the circular poem 盘中诗Pán zhōng shī (Pan poem) by 苏伯玉妻 (Su Boyu’s wife) in the Han dynasty (the year 206 to 220) — but it’s not possible to read this both ways so it’s not a real palindrome. (Start from the word 山Shān (mountain) in the middle.)
Then there’s the poem on 璇玑图Xuánjī tú (Star Gauge) by 苏蕙 (Su Hui), which can be read forward or backwards, horizontally, vertically or diagonally. (Read it here.)
Yet some of the oldest recorded (and famous) Chinese palindromes are from the sixth century, when 老子 (Laozi) wrote the lines:
- “Wéi wúwéi, shì wú shì, wèi wúwèi.”
- “Doing with no intention; working with no motive; experiencing with no emotion.”
As well as:
- “Xìn yán bù měi, měi yán bùxìn.”
- “Trustable words are not beautiful, beautiful words do not believe.”
In the 11th century, 苏轼 wrote poems that could be read backward and forwards, such as:
- Xiǎo xiàng cányuè níng tiānkōng, qīnrén gùtǔ xiāngqíng nóng.
Xiào shēng yóu zài kōng huáijiù, qiáo xīn kè chóu mǎn cāngqióng.
Qióngcāng mǎn chóu kè xīn qiáo, jiù huái kōng zài yóu shēng xiào.
Nóng qíng xiāngtǔ gùrén qīn, kōng tiān níng yuè cán xiàng xiǎo.
- The waning moon in the alleys condenses the sky, and the love of the relatives’ hometown is strong.
The laughter is still empty and nostalgic, and the sky is full of melancholy guests.
The sky is full of melancholy, and the old nostalgia is still laughing.
Passionate to the native land, old folks, and small alleys with the moon in the sky.
List of Chinese palindromes
Sometimes these palindromes ‘cheat’ a bit, sometimes the character is the same but the pronunciation different (e.g. 地 ‘de/di’), sometimes the pronunciation is the same but the character different (e.g. 百/伯).
- Zìwǒ túpò, túpò zìwǒ.
- Break through yourself, break through yourself.
- Gǎibiàn de huánjìng yǐngxiǎng rénlèi de huódòng, huódòng de rénlèi yǐngxiǎng huánjìng de gǎibiàn.
- The changed environment affects human activities, and human activities affect the changes of the environment.
- Yáshuā shuāyá
- Brush teeth (with a) toothbrush
- De tuō tuō dì
- Mop the floor (with a) mop
- Chá bāo bāo chá
- Teapot makes tea
- Guāngōng gōngguān
- Public relations (are) relations in public
- qìchuǎn chuǎnqì
- Asthma (causes) gasping for air
- kǒuzhào zhào kǒu
- Facemask covers the mouth
- Bǎilǎohuì nèi huì lǎobó
- Old man in Broadway
- Luò yǔ shí yěshí rǔlào
- Falling Rain Food and Cheese
- Wǔbǎi màichàng mài bǎi wǔ
- Five hundred sings and sells five hundred
- Cái yé shí càishí yē cài
- The wealthy lord eats vegetables
- Dàjiā lè níng lè jiā dà
- Everyone happy, lemon increases happiness
- Huángshān luòyè sōng yè luòshān huáng
- The fallen leaves on Mount Huangshan are yellow
- Tiānshàng lóngjuǎnfēng juǎn lóng shàngtiān
- The tornado in the sky waves like the dragon god
- Chuánshàng nǚzǐ jiào zǐnǚ shàng chuán
- The woman on the boat asks her children to board the boat
- Rén rén wéi wǒ, wǒ wéi rén rén
- All for me, I am for all
- Hǎoxiàng duì wǒ shuō, shuō wǒ duìxiàng hǎo
- Seems to tell me that I am a good partner
- Xiǎomíng shuō zhè shuōmíng shǎo
- Xiao Ming said that this explains little
- Xǐhuān de shàonián shì nǐ, nǐ shì niánshào de huānxǐ
- The teenager I like is you, and you are the joy of youth
- Shànghǎi zìláishuǐ láizì hǎishàng, zhōngshān zhū luō chá luō zhū shānzhōng, shāndōng luòhuāshēng huā luò dōngshān, huālián pēnshuǐchí shuǐ pēn liánhuā.
- Shanghai’s tap water comes from the sea, Zhongshan Zhuluo tea Luo Zhushan, Shandong peanut flower fall in Dongshan, Hualien fountain spray lotus.
- Guóměi sòng huò sòng měiguó
- Gome (company) delivery to the United States
- Guótài fēijī fēi tàiguó
- Cathay Pacific plane flies to Thailand
- Tóushí yòng shítou
- Sling stone uses stone
- Yú shēng xì shēng yú
- Fish raw fish
- Cáocāo kǎi cāo cáo
- Cao Cao (historical figure) is frustrated
- Shàng shuǐ jūmín jū shuǐshàng
- Residents in Sheung Shui
- 学数学 / 学化学 / 学科学 / 学哲学 / 学医学……
- Xué shùxué/ xué huàxué/ xué kēxué/ xué zhéxué/ xué yīxué……
- Study mathematics / study chemistry / study science / study philosophy / study medicine…