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Look at this mural from Chinatown, San Francisco:

American flag in Chinatown San Francisco

Attribution: American flag in Chinatown San Francisco by Pedro Lozano. License: CC BY 2.0

It says「天佑美國」, but is that correct? Shouldn't it be「天祐美國」instead? Isn't god supposed to be a divine being?

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According to Wiktionary, 保祐 is a variant of 保佑. Google Ngram Viewer also consider 天祐 to be the same as 天佑: Ngram

Actually, here in mainland China, I think 佑 is much more prevalent than 祐 (I have not been to other Chinese-speaking areas so I cannot give you a definitive answer). You can witness it from the Wikipedia translation of similar subjects, all of them use 佑 instead of 祐:

So if you have to choose between them, I'd say 佑 is actually a safer choice.

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Please remember that the purpose of Chinese characters is to represent Chinese morphemes and words; 天佑美國 consists of the same words as 天祐美國, so it cannot be a wrong translation - 「佑」, in this context, represents the same word as 「祐」.

To put it another way: would you question the correctness of Tiān yòu Měiguó as translation of God Bless America? Tiān yòu Měiguó consists of the same words as both 天佑美國 and 天祐美國, no?


I'm slightly confused at the number of answers pointing towards Mainland Chinese dictionaries and usage, when the character choice in the banner is clearly not Mainland Chinese. It's trivial to do some extra research and open up a Taiwanese or Hong Kong dictionary to find that 「佑」 is also standard in those places.

Anyway, the crux of the question is character choice. Character choice is heavily tied with disambiguation purposes. Why do we even have both 「佑」 and 「祐」 being defined with the meaning bless, protect? In ancient times,

  • 「佑」 was also used as a phonetic loan for 「有」 (to own land and resources) or 「右」 (a kind of senior official in Ancient China). In these situations, one might not use 「佑」 for the meaning bless, protect.
  • 「祐」 was also used as a phonetic loan for 「侑」, to make offerings. In these situations, one might not use 「祐」 for the meaning bless, protect.

The take home message is that both 「佑」 and 「祐」 were widely (but not exclusively) used, for the meaning bless, protect. Modern Chinese usage across all regions has standardised the use of 「佑」 in modern vocabulary, but Chinese orthography is not set by any particular agency, and 「祐」 has plenty of historical precedence.

As long as there is plenty of precedence for the character to represent the morphemes and words used in the text, it doesn't make sense for the character choice to be "wrong".

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In 《现代汉语词典》(商务印书馆,1996年7月第三版),"祐" is listed as a variant form of "佑", and "佑" is a standard form.


Note: 《现代汉语词典》 is an authoritative dictionary published in mainland China.

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According to 【现代汉语词典】,"祐" is the same as "佑". You can use any one of both of them.

But according to 【说文解字】, "佑" is not included in it, but "祐" is. It means that "佑" didn't exist in ancient Chinese. "佑" is listed as a variant form of "祐". enter image description here

"祐"'s radical is “示”. The Chinese characters with “示” usually related to religion or God in Chinese culture. enter image description here

So strictly speaking, God bless America is 「天祐美國」.

But According to 【现代汉语词典】,"祐" is the same as "佑". You can use any one of both of them.

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Given the present President, I would say, 美国 could use all the help it can get!

Have a look here.

祐,本作佑。
yòu, originally written yòu

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It's 「天佑美國」. As for 佑 vs 祐, take a look here

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  • Would it be possible to edit this answer to give an explanation at this site? As it stands it's a link-only answer. I'm also unsure if Reddit is reliable. – Becky 李蓓 Mar 17 at 1:29

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