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As I read the Bible, 偶像 means the idols made by man and being worshiped. As I know there are 3 meaning of the word 偶像:

  1. 木偶 & 雕像, used in different proposes such as decoration art performance
  2. the items made and worshiped by man
  3. the celebrities followed by fans

The 3rd meaning is definitely an extension of the 2nd meaning, but the 1st meaning seems to have no relation with the 2nd one: I don't see the direct causal relationship in art and worship. Because the 1st meaning is the closest to the literal meaning, I guess it is the original meaning.

The reason makes me more curious about this word is that the English word "idol" has exactly these 3 meanings. Is that coincident? But the English language is influenced a lot by the Bible, so I guess it makes sense the English word "idol" has these 3 meanings. However, I don't think the Chinese Language has such an influence.

My hypotheses:

  1. There are some intrinsic relations between the 1st meaning and the 2nd meaning, so the English word and the Chinese evolved in the same way.
  2. Some ancient Christian like 景教 in the Tang dynasty created the relation between statues and worship.
  3. The English language directly influenced the Chinese language, so the result is the Chinese word 偶像 just copied all the meanings from the English word “idol”.

I think the key to this question is when the word 偶像 began to have worship related meaning. However, that is something I failed to find after searching online.

  • This question is better suited for Christianity SE. The general idea is that Abrahamic religions like Christianity emphasise a point of difference with other religions that the thing they worship does not have a physical image form ("idol"). This concept is foreign to other cultures and religions, which may not care whether or not something has a physical image form, and may not even have the same idea of what "worship" means. – dROOOze Aug 15 at 15:39
  • @dROOOze ,I am not asking a religious question. I want to know about the word meaning. Accidentally, it is probably a meaning influenced by some religion, but it will be more interesting to me if it is not. – River Aug 15 at 15:59
  • But 偶像 is not related to "worship" in the Chinese language - it was never generally used with that kind of meaning historically, and not generally used with that meaning in modern times. Only certain religious people would associate 偶像 with "worship". – dROOOze Aug 15 at 16:08
  • @dROOOze Suppose you are right, can you give an reason for the fact that the 3rd meaning is wildly used, if it is not an extension of the 2nd which you say does not exist. – River Aug 15 at 16:24
  • I tend to go for your 3rd hypothesis. You of course require context to separate out the various meanings of both 偶像 & Idol to arrive at the intended meaning. BTW, I once asked why did / do people have religious idols for worship, and the answer was in the olden days illiteracy was 99%, (only priests, royalty and court officials were literate), and so in order to indicate, (to people who can't read), the supernatural powers of gods, you need to put wings, (power of flight), thunderbolt weapons, (victory in war), etc, on physical objects, (statues / idols), for illiterate to appreciate. – Wayne Cheah Aug 16 at 5:27
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My understanding is, early people made wooden or stone figures/statues to represent the gods they worshiped.

The meaning of 偶像 (木偶 & 雕像) extended from [figures/ statues] --> [item for worshiping] --> [individual to be worshiped]

The difference between '神像' and '雕像' is '雕像' is just a statue but '神像' is a statue that represents a god (2.the items made and worshiped by man)

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  • So can I understand your answer as: that 2nd is the original meaning and 1st is the plained version of it. – River Aug 15 at 16:02
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    I meant a 雕像 (statue) became 神像 ( idol ) when people make it a stand-in for a god. When people worshiping an idol, they are in fact worshiping a statue. -- [statue --> idol] ; [idol --> statue] – Tang Ho Aug 15 at 16:07

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