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How did the word 舆论 come to represent the concept of Public Opinion? I know the meanings of the individual characters but I just don't quite see how the combination of these two meanings leads to the concept of Public Opinion.

舆 (Yú) : Palanquin

论 (lùn): To discuss; theory

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2 Answers 2

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Interesting question!

When I was a student, I was wondering why until I read a (Cí, a type of poery) by famous writer 辛弃疾(I really like reading his works). In that Ci, I read a sentence "百炼都成绕指,万事直须称好,人世几舆台", I got stuck with the word "舆台". The note said, "舆台“ meant "people at a lower rank". In ancient times, people were classified into 10 classes. The sixth class is 舆 and the tenth class is 台. So where does this word come from?

In the famous historical book 《左传》, in its section 《昭公七年》, it records a talk between two men, one says,

天有十日,人有十等,下所以事上,上所以共神也。故王臣公,公臣大夫,大夫臣士,士臣皂,皂臣舆,舆臣隶,隶臣僚,僚臣仆,仆臣台,马有圉,牛有牧,以待百事。

This text shows the 10 classes are: 王(king), 公(duke),大夫,士,皂,舆,隶,僚,仆,台.

So 舆 could mean people who is at a lower rank, a member of grass-root. That's why “舆论" means “public opinion".

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Great and colourful answer! Do you happen to know during which dynasties this 10-rank system was in place? –  Bjorn Dec 22 '11 at 19:06
    
@Bjorn, That section records history during the reign of the duke 昭 of state 鲁,which is 541 BC -510BC, so I think this system was in the Spring and Autumn Peroid of China. –  Huang Dec 23 '11 at 2:19
1  
@Bjorn Actually, I am not linguist and I know its origin because I have read that book. The character 舆 originally refers to che chasis of the wagon, and in Dynasty 周, the worker who makes wagons is called 舆人 according to the dictionary, however, I can't explain more that how 舆 became a name for class. –  Huang Dec 23 '11 at 2:24
    
No problem, your answer has already been very enlightening. –  Bjorn Dec 23 '11 at 12:43

Besides "palanquin", 舆 has also other meanings. One of them is:

古代奴隶中的一个等级,泛指地位低微的人,亦用以指众人的
One level in old slavery system, used to refer to people with low social level, also used to refer to the general population.

This lead to the meaning of 舆论 as "public opinion"

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