正 is a character we see a lot, and it’s one whose form mimics its uses and meanings, particularly when its rendered in a blocky san serif font such as the one I am using now, with straight lines and sharp right angles, parallel and perpendicular to the sides of the screen, the page, or wherever you are viewing it on, a neat block of a character that fits in a box.
正 can be used to refer to straightness, correctness, righteousness, properness, pureness, centralness, and getting to define which concrete qualities qualify to be considered “straight” “righteous” “proper” etc. is imperative to rule.
正红 refers to the shade of red by which all other shades are defined as cooler or warmer
正门 refers to the gate by which all other gates are defined as to the side
正版 refers to the official version, rendering all other versions unsanctioned
正常 refers to the correct and regular, imbuing normalcy with rightness, and deviations from it with wrongness
正经 originally referred to core courses for students, today it refers to all that is core, essential, serious and important, relegating that which falls beyond as trivial and frivolous
正事 refers to important, worthy endeavors, an arbitrary hierarchy that names some things more important and others less so
正确 refers to what is correct and true, and here correctness seems to have an additional sheen of positiveness, as though there are objective truths without meaning assigned by people
The thing about 正 is that it instantly creates a rigid dichotomy of what is and is not 正, essentially there is one kind of 正 and infinite kinds of 不正. When a powerful entity, be it a person or an organization or a whole demographic of people, puts forth their definition of what is “right” “just” “proper” into the world, sometimes this is mistaken for “the way things are and ought to be”.
The other day I responded to a positive Tweet asking people to brag about their accomplishments by mentioning how I feel guilty whenever I spend too much time not doing 正事, or doing what’s important.
It made me think long and hard about how when we use this word to refer to what we ought to be doing, and how it’s almost always things defined by others, by societal expectation, by those who would view us only as a set of attributes and a corresponding place in the world.
Of course all of this creates order, and when I was young I sponged up the notion that order is good, is necessary, is what we all want. But a thinking person can’t really live in this world without eventually wondering who is really benefitting from enticing everyone to arrange themselves in efficiently stackable boxes to be put in their place. Who suffers when people stop killing themselves to try to do “the right thing” and start doing what they want?
I kept looking at the rigid lines and corners of 正, and imagined trying to twist those straight strokes in different directions, I imagined taking an ax to the whole structure and hacking it up into pieces.
Something something dismantle the damn patriarchy.