Pleco lists three meanings for the character 李:

  • plum tree
  • plum
  • a surname

None seem related to luggage!

  • 2
    (1) 清郝懿行《证俗文》卷六:古者行人谓之'行李',本当作'行理'。理,治也。作’李‘者,古字假借通用。参见’行理‘。(2) 注:'行李'一词应写作'行理',其中'李'是'理'的假借字。
    – xenophōn
    May 11, 2018 at 12:22
  • 2
    Backing up Jacky above, 汉语大词典 says: that 李:6 通“ 理 ”。见“ 行李 ”。 shares the meaning of ‘organize’.
    – Mou某
    May 11, 2018 at 12:56
  • I always thought to myself that you need to take a plum to eat during your trip. May 11, 2018 at 12:58
  • 1
    @賈可Jacky So basically 李 is a 假借 used in place of 理? That makes sense to me!
    – Ludi
    May 11, 2018 at 13:06

2 Answers 2


The comments have the right idea.「行李」originally referred to a kind of messenger sent to run an errand, extended to mean the act of delivering a message/running an errand, further extended to mean to travel, and then finally the items taken along a journey; luggage.

「李」was used as a phonetic loan for「理」since the Warring States period, and for whatever reason,「行李」became more popular than「行理」, which is now restricted to meaning messenger.


the earliest one i find, "行李" was used in 春秋 襄公八年:


"李" is borrowed from another character "吏" (lower ranking official)

so "行李" meant "行吏", roughly "special envoy"

the identifier "一介" is still used nowadays, to describe "一人,一個。有卑微、謙虛之意。"


then, in 陶淵明集 卷一 贈長沙公族祖:


"行李" here meant travellers (旅客)

afterward, in 宋書 卷九十八, by 沈約:


in this text, "行李" would be interpreted as (corpses of) soliders, and /or belongings.

道賢 (the name of general) was defeated, the corpses of soldiers, and their belongings were in large quantity, that shadowed the shine of sun & moon.

last, in 周書 卷二十, by 令狐德棻


"行李" in this one should be treated as goods / products, not any humans.

quite near to the current meaning as luggage.

have fun :)

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