On the use of word 子 (Son) as an honorific

A passing thought around the use of 子 as a form of honorific: In the Bible, we have the Hebrew conception of the son of man (ben-adam), often applied to Jesus in the New Testament. From a Christian theological perspective, that is used to emphasize a part of his identity as a man, with a respect. In Literary Sinitic, the character for son (子) is used as a form of honorific as in 孔子, 莊子, 荀子, 孫子, etc. There’s also the superlative honorific form 夫子 as in 孔夫子. It is usually applied to an accomplished teacher who has created a new school of thought, or to someone who has simply left a legacy or scholarly works deserving respect. Anyway, I found it interesting that in both, this word, “son,” is used to denote respect. Of course, by its very nature of the meaning of the word, there’s the sense of continuity and connection to our own early forefathers, thereby also implying another form of horizontal connection between the teacher in question and the rest — that we are all related as a big family. The emphasis on personhood seems somewhat related to the concept behind the use of the word 仁, which is often taught as the very core of Confucianism. The etymology may be related to two characters representing person as in 人人, which says a person ought to be a person, in qualitative terms. Again, the main point here is not a mere person, but a virtuous person. Even the Latin root word, vir, from which we have virtue, means a man, or a person. It’s essentially saying the same thing as 人人 is. I don’t know if we have a continuity of such understanding in the use of these words in modernity, but it’d be interesting to find any culture that may have continued in this type of tradition.


原: 史記, 呂不韋傳; 資治通鑑, 等等

奇貨可居 (기화가거,qíhuòkějū,きか-かきょ) special item [is of a] good purchase
Something that deserves an investment. A good opportunity. A worthy item to purchase for future.

During the Warring States period, even though the country of Jo (趙) was in a decline, the capital city of Handan (邯鄲) was still flourishing with a lot of trade with other countries. Yeobulwi (呂不韋), a grand merchant (豪商) of the country of Han (韓), also frequented Handan for business. One day, by chance, he found out Jacho (子楚: 異人), who was a bastard son of Prince An-guk (安國君) of Jin (秦), was being held as a hostage in that city.  At the time, Jin often invaded Jo so Jacho was despised, and he was treated badly. Yeobulwi saw this situation as an opportunity, and decided to help Jacho by first visiting his residence, which was a shabby place. Yeobulwi said, “King Soyang (昭襄王) is of old age, and your father is set to become the next king of Jin. But Queen Consort (正妃), Lady Hwa-yang (華陽夫人), has no sons, and there are over twenty sons born through concubines. Among them, who do you think would be the next Crown Prince? Surely, the confidence isn’t on your side.” Jacho wasn’t sure of the intent of this conversation and replied, “There isn’t anything anyone can do about that, is there?” Yeobulwi suggested that he would help Jacho with money, so he could send gifts to the Queen Consort to win her favor, while recruiting talented people around him. Yeobulwi promised that he would also go to the country of Jin and try to help appoint Jacho as the Crown Prince. At this, Jacho held Yeobulwi’s hands in gratitude and said, “If things work out as you’ve said, then let us rule Jin together.”

Finally, Jacho was installed as the Crown Prince with the help of Yeobulwi’s wealth and scheme. And, as Yeobulwi had strategized, Jacho succeeded as King Jangyang (莊襄王, 250-247 BC) of Jin in year 250 BC. As he had promised, Yeobulwi was appointed a minister as soon as he was enthroned, and Yeobulwi was able to gain unprecedented power and wealth.

Before all of these happened, Yeolbulwi had given one of his dancers to Jacho as a wife, and a son, named Jung (政), born to her became the Crown Prince, and later, he would become the Emperor Si (始皇帝). However, there was a report that this dancer who was wed to Jacho was already pregnant with Yeobulwi’s child, and the child who later became the Emperor Si was actually Yeobulwi’s son. 

Anyway, King Jangyang reigned only for 3 years and died. Crown Prince Jung succeeded him, and Yeobulwi was entrusted with even more power as the Chief Councillor, and he was even called uncle (仲父: next in line to one’s father) by the king. He enjoyed fame and held in one hand the power over Jin, and this was all because he discovered a precious gem in a pitiful place and paid dearly for it (奇貨可居). 

We often are affected by myopia, and miss the future opportunities that could be returned to us. A wise person knows to sacrifice little now for a greater return later. And, to do so with boldness as well. Such force of volition in decision making isn’t common among people, especially in this day and age of information overflow. So, it may take a lifetime of practice to learn to see what is not apparent in our daily transactions