Thank you for digging into this subject. I appreciate your added thoughts and information. It’s also providing me with some good diversion from the troubling events of the day, if only briefly.
First, a few notes and comments. I think we’re consulting different “Analysis” books. The _Analytic Dictionary of Chinese and Japanese_ was compiled and originally published in 1923 by the eminent Swedish sinologist and linguist, Bernhard Karlgren. His speciality was the reconstruction of the pronunciation of archaic Chinese, but his expertise ranged well beyond that subject. His entry for the primitive jin does follow the traditional Shuowen gloss rather closely, saying it means “an underground stream,” noting the three crooked lines, which are an earlier version of “chuan,” also meaning stream (as in Sichuan ‘four streams’ —the province, and the cuisine from there). He groups it with a whole cluster of cognates and related characters, some of which appear in the Zhongwen.com breakdown. As you’ll see below, however, Karlgren evidently reconsidered the possible etymology of “jin” in later publications.
Something else in your post struck me. You wrote: ‘I also find quite dubious that Ancient Chinese would have a spoken word that would mean something as complex as “underground stream.”’ My response is, “Why?” First of all, the degree to which early Classical Chinese reflects spoken language per se is somewhat controversial. But even putting that aside, I would have to say that early Chinese texts are full of incredibly complex words and concepts—say, “yuzhou,” meaning a conjunction of time and space, and closest perhaps to what we might call “cosmos,” or “universe.” An awareness and appreciation of underground watercourses in a culture that was called a “hydraulic society” by Karl Wittfogel would not seem at all unusual or remarkable to me. In fact, the Shuowen gloss for jin, “shuimai,” means a watercourse, but can mean specifically underground streams. The “mai” (flesh radical; also pronounced ‘mo’) is the same character used for vessels and meridians in the human body. So there would seem to be some conceptual conjunction having to do with courses flowing beneath surfaces.
Now, your post got me to hunting, and I revisited a passage that had impressed me in a book by Mark Edward Lewis, _Writing and Authority in Early China_, (Suny, 1999). In his investigation into cannonicity, Lewis considers in some depth the silk-radical character “jing” and its word relatives, including the primitive we’re discussing. I’ll quote from it at some length, since he summarizes a number of complex issues of interpretation. His narrative includes the various characters in question, all pronounced “jing.” I will use an asterisk for the primitive: jing*, and add identifiers in brackets where needed.
The late Warriing States and early imperial practice of claiming authority through possession of a comprehensive wisdom was doubled by the practice of identifying texts or passages as uniquely important through their all-penetrating nature. These were identified with the character jing [silk rad.], which came to define a category of writing as canonical or classic, but which originally indicated something running throughout an area and serving to define or regulate it.
The earliest gloss on this character appears in the Shuo wen jie zi.
‘The vertical line [i.e. warp] of weaving. It is derived from si “silk” and pronounced jing*.’ [This is Lewis’ direct translation of the gloss, which is short and straightforward. It indicates jing* as the pronunciation.]
This derives the sense of the character from the silk signific, and identifies it with the warp thread that provides the structure for the fabric. It inspired [modern scholar] Zhang Binglin’s explanation that the character had originally referred to the thread that bound strips together to form texts in early China.
However, the emphasis on silk is probably mistaken, because the jing* element that [Shuo wen compiler] Xu Shen treats as a phonetic figures in a set of characters with meanings related to the idea of “running through” or “linking together.” Thus the element jing* itself is glossed in the Shuo wen as either a “subterranean channel of water” or a “vast body [of water]. This, however, seems to be a misreading based on the seal script form, and Karlgren [in his Grammata Serica Recensa] has argued that the form of the character on bronzes suggests a device used in weaving, with threads coiling around a staff. With the “stepping” radical it forms the character jing “road, direct path” which the Han Dictionary Shi ming uses as the homophone gloss for jing [silk rad.].
Jing “classic” means jing “road.” It means the “constant standard” (chang dian). Like a road, there is nothing it does not pass through, and it may be constantly employed. [Lewis’ tran. of the Shi ming gloss]
With the “grass” radical it forms jing “stalk” of grass or “trunk” of tree. Applied to the human body, it figures with the “head” radical in jing “neck,” and with the “meat” radical in jing “the calf, the part of the leg linking the knee to the ankle.” With the addition of the “strength” radical it forms jing “strong,” originally in the sense of “stiff, unbending,” as indicated by its use in the character jing [sickness radical] “convulsive contractions” in which the muscles lock up. In short, virtually all the characters containing the element jing* indicate the central element running through something or holding it together, with the associated sense of “strong” and “unbending.” Jing [silk rad.] in the sense of “warp [of a fabric]” is only a particular version of this broader, overarching meaning.
—Mark Edward Lewis, pp. 297-298
It appears, then, that there is some evidence for the etymology you have cited, Audi. I think the important feature of Lewis’ presentation is that whatever the exact origin of the jing* graph, the semantic element it lends to its constituent graphs is consistently one of “running through” or “linking together.” There may be something to the weaving device idea, but on the other hand the bronze inscription occurrences could be anomalous rather than definitive ancestors of the received jing* graph. I would just note that the graph for a loom, from a very early period, is “zhi1.” Its gloss is right next to the silk rad. “jing” in the Shuowen, saying it’s a general name for making cloth. (I know you’re interested in astronomy, and the Chinese name for Vega, in the constellation Lyra, is zhi nu xing, “Weaving Maiden.”)
Another point to keep in mind, since this discussion has to do with the specialized taiji usage of jing/jin, is that whatever the origin of the core element in the graph, the semantic understanding out of which it grew is more likely the etymology that was standardized in the Han, and which endured into late imperial times. Also, semantic understandings tended to derive, not from fixed determinatives, but from networks of associations among families of graphs, and in this case the network seems to strongly indicate shared senses of “running through,” or “linkage.”
The association Lewis notes between jing “strength” and jing4 “convulsing,” and the idea of stiffening of muscles, is for me quite dissonant with the taiji meaning, as it would be for anyone familiar with the art. I don’t know to what degree he may be extrapolating on this point. My encounters with the early use of jin as strength in Warring States military texts indicates a sense of collective or unified forces. It appears in chapter 7 of Sunzi, for example, as an adjective for “the strong” or “strongest” among troups. In the same chapter, much is made of the necessity of consolidation or unifying of men with the use of drums, gongs, flags and pennants. “Once the men have been consolidated as one body, the courageous will not have to advance alone, and the cowardly will not get to reatreat alone. This is the art of employing large numbers of troops.” (Ames, Sun-tzu: The Art of Warfare, p. 128-131). This resonates rather well with what might be the closest thing we have to a definition of the taijiquan term, jin: Li Yiyu’s “Five-Character Formula,” where he wrote that “Jin is integrated. The jin of the whole body is trained to become one family.” Isn’t it likely that Li and other early literate taiji theorists were conversant with the militarist corpus of writings?
[This message has been edited by Louis Swaim (edited 04-03-2003).]