I came across the word 变形金刚 in a short children's story that I read and Pleco dictionary states that it refers to either shape-shifting warriors protecting the Buddha, or Transformers (which Google displays almost exclusively if you search the term). Obviously the connection between the 2 meanings is clear.

But I'm unsure what is the meaning of 刚 in this phrase. I asked my wife but she even believed the character is 钢 so didn't have a suitable answer.

Is there a historic meaning of 刚, or a historical transformation (!) from another character to this current one, which would enlighten me as to why this character is used in this phrase?

4 Answers 4


「剛」originally meant unyielding/stubborn/strong. 金剛 is a traditional phrase which is also used to translate a Buddhist word from Sanskrit (वज्र, vajra).

Vajra (PIE root: *weǵ-, English descendants: watch, wake, vigor, vigil) is seen by Buddhists as variously a thunderbolt or diamond, symbolising extreme hardness/power/indestructibility, and by semantic extension a kind of symbol or weapon, and further extension a guardian (spirit) which holds this weapon.

As you’ve already seen, 變形金剛 is a reference to Buddhist temple guardian statues (see 四大金剛) which each hold a kind of vajra (the weapon).

  • I think a full answer must explain why 金刚 was used to refer to a warrior defending the Buddha.
    – zhanmusi
    Commented Jun 27, 2018 at 16:29
  • @JamesHill I hope I clarified what I wrote before. Let me know otherwise.
    – dROOOze
    Commented Jun 28, 2018 at 10:57

The name 变形金刚 is created / translated when the origin transformer cartoon series (トランスフォーマー) was bought from Japan. As with other answers, 金刚 is a common references from the four protector deities - 四大金剛 - that guards the gate of heaven (China) or Buddhist temple (India).

As to your question, 剛 have a implication of indestructible / unyielding. 金, as a commonly known hardest metal at the time being, is added to the phase to enhance its meaning. Thus it is widely used such as:

金剛狼 - wolverine
金剛戰士 - Power Rangers


According to baidu baike, 金刚 refers to 金刚石 diamond, which is very hard/firm/tough to break.

So, figuratively, 金刚 can refer to someone whose body is as hard/strong/firm as 金刚石, implying he is very strong and powerful. For example, 四大金刚,金刚不坏之身, etc.

变形金刚 is '金刚' whose body can shift and form different objects.


Nothing to do with "钢". Agree with @droooze, just one comment that @droooze is using traditional Chinese. 變形金剛 is just 变形金刚 in simplified Chinese. BTW, there is another translation of 金刚, in English -- King Kong. :)

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