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This question stems from some thoughts I've been having while reading Robert Kiyosaki's "Rich Dad Poor Dad".

In the book, Kiyosaki defines "asset" as something that puts money in your pocket. Many English speakers on the internet would point out that that definition is incompatible with accounting standards, where an "asset" is basically defined as "something you have, which can be liquidated if necessary". A little research suggests that the ultimate origin of the English word "asset" comes from Latin "ad satis", which roughly refers to the "thing" being used to satisfy settlement of debt.

On the Chinese (and Japanese) side, the usual translation for "asset" is 「資產」.

What I'm curious about is what the word actually means from the etymological point of view. Chinese being Chinese, each of the individual characters carries some meaning. 「資」can be a verb - "to finance"/"to fund" - and also a noun - "capital"; similarly, 「產」 can both be a verb - "to produce" - or a noun - "product" or "produce" (as in some wine being labelled "Produce of France"). Furthermore, when the characters are used in this composite way, it's not entirely clear whether the verb is meant to be active or passive.

I believe that 「資」 within the context of 「資產」 is pretty unambiguous. Whether I take it as the verb "to finance" or the noun "capital" doesn't really make a difference. After all, the purpose of "capital" is to finance something. And it makes no sense to think of 「資產」 as something that "is financed" (note the passive voice).

However, I find 「產」 to be problematic. I've tried looking up the character 「產」 in both 《現代漢語詞典》 and 《古漢語常用字字典》, the explanations in both dictionaries basically circle back to 「物產」, 「產品」, 「生產」, 「產業」, 「財產」, and 「出產」. So within the context of 「資產」, I could take 「產」 to mean either "something used to produce wealth" (because of 「產業」), or "the result of production" (because of 「出產」 and 「產品」). I believe that whether 「產」 takes one meaning or the other might make a cultural difference in the perception of "assets" by the Chinese people. If 「產」 means "something used to produce wealth", then it would really be like Kiyosaki says, "something that puts money in your pocket". It would be something to be valued and cherished, not something that one should easily handover "to satisfy the settlement of debt". On the other hand, if 「產」 is taken to mean the "result of production", then it would really be like a thing that has no other value than for settling debt.

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I think you may find this useful in understanding the original meaning of 產.

It comprises the semantogram 生, meaning 'birth', and the phonogram 彥 (abbreviated as 产). In essence it means 'to bear offspring; to give birth to', which is, in a sense, quite fleshy. 'To produce' (as a verb) and 'product; possession' (noun) are all derived from that sense.

In fact, the derived meanings are not recent. In classical Chinese, see

耕田墾草以厚民也。《韓非子·顯學》

Farming and mowing to increase the production of the people.

I believe any additional meaning, in modern Chinese, of compound words containing 產 are from the remaining character(s).

For instance, 房地產 can be interpreted as the possession (產) of land (地) as a house (房).

The 產 in 產房 on the other hand retains the original meaning of giving birth (maternity ward).

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When we say 個人資 (personal assets) we are referring to all the money and property owned by a person, in other words, 'one's worth' or 'one's wealth'

資 - 資金 (capital)

產 - 產業 (estate; property) e.g. 房地產 (real estate)

資產 - asset (all the money and property owned by someone) including 可流動資金 (liquid funds) and 不動產 (immovable property)

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  • But then why is 「房地產」 called 「房地產」? What I’m trying to get at is that 「產」 should have some intrinsic meaning that is used to contribute to vocabulary such as 「資產」 and 「房地產」, right? So what is the intrinsic meaning supposed to be?
    – Kal
    Feb 6 at 1:48
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Don't overthink.

Meaning of 资产:

现代汉语词典:

①财产。

现代汉语规范词典:

①名 财产;产业。

重編國語辭典修訂本:

相似词:產業、財產

財物、田地、房屋的總稱。

Meaning of 产 in 资产:

现代汉语词典:

⑤产业:

家产|财产|破产。

现代汉语规范词典:

⑤名 指拥有的金钱、物资、房屋、土地等。

财产 | 房地产

重編國語辭典修訂本:

房地財物。

如:「財產」、「不動產」。

Since 产业 has two meanings, I must point out that here it is not "industry", but the following:

现代汉语词典:

①土地、房屋、工厂等财产(多指私有的)。

现代汉语规范词典:

①名 指拥有的房屋、土地、店铺、厂矿等财产。

重編國語辭典修訂本:

貨財、土地、屋宅等財產的總稱。

Basically, they are all just money and things you own.

If I understand your last paragraph correctly, that seems to express something to the likes of "资产 is so valuable that one shouldn't hand it over to settle debt", does it? Well, I guess if one is in debts and has nothing else, when the creditors come pushing, one has no choice but to hand over their 资产, even if 资产 may produce more money for them later, since one has to pay their debts now.

PS: in accounting, many words have special definitions that are not the same with everyday usage. 资产 in accounting means "资产负债表所列的一方,表示资金的运用情况。参看〖资产负债表〗。" according to 现代汉语词典. My simple understanding is that 资产 is what you own and 负债 is what you owe. Straight forward, lol~

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Quote:- 產 “So what is the intrinsic meaning supposed to be?“

Without going into latter-day classification, differentiation, categorization, the word 產 has the fundamental meaning of "produce, yield, product" The compound meaning of "assets" came centuries later.

This word 產 was born on the farm, a product, if you like, of an agricultural society. Hence the word 生 is in there; (i.e. something that grows out of Mother Earth, i.e. agricultural "produce" like rice, wheat, corn, etc; or of a human mother, as in the birth of a child) So, when this word was then used it meant just that; the "intrinsic" meaning you are looking for.

However, with the introduction of and movement towards a commercialized, industrial, and thus an urban society, this word had to take on a wider, more sophisticated meaning because what is "produced" no longer just comes out of the earth, but factories, and with the universal monetization of the economy, money plays a crucial role in all aspects of life. You hold money, not 10 Tons of wheat.

So, a farmer could say that his 產 was what he produced from his farm, an urban industrialist, salaried worker, etc, couldn't say the same of his "assets" because what he produced has no bearing on whether he owns a farm or not; his 產 is different in kind and quality. So then came the necessary classification, differentiation, categorization, of this word.

We therefore arrive at all the compounds as given by other contributors here, such as 房地產, (real estate or "landed assets"), for without all these compounds, contemporary socio-commercial interaction and discourse is impossible or at least unintelligible.

The word 產 is kept in all these compounds because essentially what you have, owned or acquired, i.e. your "assets" is what is "produced", the "product" of some activity, be it agricultural or industrial; just as what a farmer had or produced was the result of his activity on his farm which produced his 產

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As you already know "產" has two different usages, the effort here is to link the meaning and vocabularies of each use, hoping, in the end, you will realize that it is just a word with different meanings and uses (雙義字,多義字).

  1. In 物產, 產品, 生產, and 出產, it has the meaning of "produce", "producing", or "produced". Usually, it is used on produced of tangible goods.

  2. In 財產, 资產 it means the thing(s) owned, whether the thing is tangible (有形) or not (無形), is either valuable in the monetary sense (tangible assets such as 不動產,現金,股票,債券... that can be exchanged for money) or invaluable such as 智慧財產, 文化遺產.

In addition, I'll add the case that "產 = to have". For example:

經過那件事她對小王產生了好感 - After that event, she started to have a positive view/feeling on/towards 小王.

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