Below was a question about the role of 方 in 貽笑大方. I'm sure our learnéd friends correctly advised. Just as a gut reaction, I would have said 大方 meant 'everywhere'.

I would like to know about 方 in 方向。

方 seems to mean square. Its etymology is a bit uncertain I think. I read it shows two ships tied together, or it shows a plough, or it shows that ancient punishment tool, a wooden square fixed around someone's neck.

In方向,meaning 'direction, orientation' does this 方 mean 'facing'? In English we can say, "The two opponents squared off," basically meaning 'they directly faced each other.'

Is 方向 a contraction of a longer phrase? Maybe 地区,地方 + 走向?



6 Answers 6


「方」 originally meant side, surroundings > surrounding area. Before compass directions were invented, one of the ways to refer to a direction was through nearby landmarks or surrounding villages/states, and hence 「方」 also carries the meaning direction, now surviving in words like 「東方」, 「西方」, etc.

You can therefore treat 「方向」 as a word where both characters carry roughly the same meaning (as is common in Chinese).

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「方」 (Baxter-Sagart OC: /*paŋ/) is a derivative of 「亡」 (/*maŋ/, blade tip, now written as 「鋩」). Both 「方」 and 「亡」 come from an additional mark drawn on 「刀」 (picture of a knife/blade/weapon). The meaning side, surroundings is either a phonetic loan (rebus) or semantic extension; compare 「劃」, which uses a knife 「刀」 to draw boundaries 「畫」.

「方」 extensively appears in Shang Dynasty oracle bones as part of state names surrounding the Shang state, and these state mentions serve as an invaluable record of Ancient Chinese interstate relations. Collectively, these states are called 「方國」.



方 connotes side. 方, 方向 just means direction. They are not a contraction of any longer phrase.


The second definition in 规范 says:

2 名 目标所在的方位; 前进的目标

Perhaps the word you're looking for is: 方位.

方位 is defined in CC-CEDCIT as:

direction / points of the compass / bearing / position / azimuth

and 规范 defines it as:

名 物体在空间所处的方向或位置。如东、南、西、北、上、下、左、右、前、后等。

I would opt to say it means bearing more than it does facing.


the term "方向" existed in 漢 dynasty, with a difference meanings.

in 史記 汲鄭列傳


the emperor (上, 漢武帝) just (方) yearn for (向 --> 向往) confucianism

in 後漢書 蔡邕列傳下


saw (見) a manti (螳蜋 --> 螳螂) just (方) move towards (向) a chirping (鳴) cicada (蟬)

the modern usage as "directions" was appeared in 葬書 by 郭璞


the most interesting one was in 通典 禮四十三


which described the rites of the funeral of the emperor.

各 --> people in each cities, municipals

以其方 --> according to their position

向 --> facing

京師 --> the capital (長安, in 唐 dynasty)

重行序立 --> queue up in double line?

further elaborate would be: cities, municipals would have different directions.

eg in canton, 長安 is roughly in the north, so "以其方向", people would be facing north.

or, in nanking (南京), 長安 is roughly in the west, so, people would be facing west.

currently, i'm reading the search results (1100+). at this moment, i would suggest 方向 is a contraction of 方位 + 面向 (position + facing).

wait :)


I've heard that 方 either a square chinese raft or a knot holding many raafts together. 方向 might be "a way of the raft" or "a side of a square = direction - S N W E"


In this context, 方 does not stand for the shape which has equal sides and right angles. While it may represent some contracted meanings in ancient times, we don't do this now. In modern mandarin we simply use this word "方向" to mean "direction", and we do not use the single character 方 to express meaning now.

However, as modern Chinese, we would use “方”to express the meaning of “慌”, i.e. worried and nervous, which is simply a fun way to use similar pronunciation when we talk informally. This is a new trend started from the Internet.

And at last, 同乐同乐!

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