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In Lao She's novel Rickshaw Boy, the protagonist works at place called "人和厂“. To be very literal that is people's unity shop, in contrast to the protagonist's individualism. But two thirds of the way through he notices the shop has changed its name to the homophone "仁和厂“ and "he wondered why that was." .The new name could be rendered humane unity shop.

Would most people in China who are not thinking about this particular book say the two names mean about the same thing? Is there a striking difference between them? Or would the contrast be up to the author to describe?

Following Wang Dingwei's suggestion I see baike.baidu.com/view/581178.htm just says 天时地利人和 means "opportune" as the necessary time place and people come together. It seems to me that 仁和 cannot share that meaning, but I am not sure.

Commentators say that when Lao She wrote this novel he rejected his earlier support of Confucian ideals, which he now considered badly individualistic. The novel also condemns capitalism as individualistic.

Do 人和 and 仁和 relate to political slogans of the 1930s?

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    I don’t know whether Lao She was aware of this and was deliberately playing on it, but it is worth noting that 人 and 仁 are in fact not only homophones, but etymologically cognate as well: it is the same word historically, with a certain subset of its many meanings having at some point been relegated to the newly created character 仁 that emphasised the multiplicity (二) of behaviour between people (人). – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 25 '16 at 14:06
  • 峻峰 徐 , this is the most important name to me : ) – Abe Shudug Jul 22 '17 at 23:05
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They are not quite the same.

人和 is a reference to 天时地利人和, where 和 means "harmony" rather than "unity". So it means "people in harmony".

仁和 is "humane and harmonious", both are good social and personal qualities.

The difference isn't that important if we take it out of context. They are all positive words that fit well for a company name.


Update. In answer to your last question: No.

The naming style is quite common in 1930s. It might serve as a sarcastic device -- A company bearing such a beautiful name are acting so evil. But even this would be an over-interpretation. Every company wants a good name. If I am writing a 1930s novel, no matter what I believe, I would use the same naming styles.

  • I do not think it is not over interpreting. There were many normal style names Lao She could choose. But this book is all about condemning individualism 个人主义, (which word-for-word says single-person-ism). And Lao She writes an entire paragraph at the end of chapter 16 telling us that illiterate Xiangzi knows the character 人 and does not know 仁 and so does not understand the principle (道理) behind the name change. Lao She chose these words to show how important the difference between "person" and "humane" is -- even though they are pronounced exactly alike. – Colin McLarty Dec 26 '14 at 12:29
  • @ColinMcLarty Xiangzi haven't had a formal education, and he doesn't understand 仁. That's it. Lao She do have his own opinions, but they are already well sold. He doesn't need to hide them in such details. But then again, I've been submerged in this over-interpreting culture for quite some years and grown tired of it. I tend to see many things as over-interpretation. One fun aspect of literature is that everyone can interpret in his own way :) – Wang Dingwei Dec 26 '14 at 13:39
  • Yes, I know something about you since I have learned from many of your answers here. But I fear the over interpretation must be Lao She's when he discusses the characters at length near the end of Ch. 16. Maybe it is my over interpretation, though, to suggest he shows a trace of his old Confucian ideals in the word 仁 which he uses only one other time in the book, to describe the truly good 福子 after her suicide. – Colin McLarty Dec 26 '14 at 18:29
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The answer contains spoilers.

In the novel when Xiangzi saw the new name, the shop had been sold by its former owner Four Liu("刘四爷").


The meanings of "仁(benevolence)" and "人(a man, a person)" are different while they share the same pronunciation. The author use the two different characters to show the shop has changed hands. Actually it has little to do with the different meanings.

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