神往 (shénwǎng): what could entice the spirit to wander?

PutongWord of the Day

PutongWords Etc. is the next incarnation of #PutongWords, a daily Twitter column I wrote from late 2018 through 2019. Each day I chose a different common Mandarin Chinese word to pick apart and muse about within the constraints of 280 characters, uncovering the likes of wit, violence, tenderness, and wonder embedded within.

This newsletter expands beyond the short format so I can write about Chinese words and culture without worrying about fitting a single thought into less than one Tweet. There will be 3-5 PutongWord of the Day posts per week under a specific theme, and 1 entry per week discussing said theme. In between, I will dispatch pun-filled doodles and the occasional miscellaneous post on things such as Chinese internet slang, newly invented characters, naming conventions etc.

神往 (shénwǎng) refers to a longing that tugs the spirit, not quite a daydream, but more the pleasures of being in one. The transportive joy of imagining something wonderful you knew, or wish to know.

If you are a fantasy literature reader, you may be familiar with “astral projections”, which is when someone sends their consciousness elsewhere while their body is left behind. An astral projection has no physical presence, but is free to wander. When we look at the characters that make up 神往 “spirit travel”, it sounds rather like a good Chinese translation for this mystical power. 

If only it is possible for us to do more than just picture ourselves experiencing and enjoying something out of reach. I, for one, dearly long for the dry summer heat, a gentle breeze, and the sound of waves lapping at the sand…

— f