As 生 means life I thought 中学生 = secondary study life.

But actual meaning of 中学生 is Secondary School Student. xuésheng is student, so I remember it as student.

Why it is student rather study life?

  1. 中學生活 does mean 'secondary school life', 中學生 however must mean 'secondary school student'.

  2. 生 is a compound ideogram comprising 屮 (sprout) and 一 (ground). A sprout emerging from the ground therefore symbolises life and growth.

  3. Besides meaning life (as in 生命), living (as in 生活), growth (as in 生長) etc., 生 has a few other noteworthy derived meanings. 生 in 中學生 corresponds to the second row:

Definition Example
n. the living 養育眾生 lit. to feed everyone that is alive
n. the literati, the learned, pupil 學生, 生徒 (retained in Japanese), 諸生 (obsolete)
n. nature; fundamental character (now replaced by 性) 天性 (天生 in classical Chinese)
adj. raw 魚片 lit. raw fish slices
  1. The above is an incomplete list, only there to give you an impression of how diverse in meaning 生 can be. I also found a few remarks online that suggest pupils are like sprouts, as they 'grow' and 'absorb knowledge'; reasonable as they may seem, I however do not know how etymologically sound this justification is, as 生 has a long tradition of being a laudatory title for the literati in general (子 as well, as in 孔子 Confucius, 孟子 Mencius; surely one cannot interpret it as 'son'). But if this is good for memorisation, then by all means!

Most characters have multiple meanings, some can act as a noun, verb, or adjective. 生 is a character like this

For '生' to specifically mean 'life', it has to join another character to form a compound word like 人生(one's life/ human's life), 生命(life), 生涯(duration of one's life)

Notice: 生 in 此生(this life) is shortened form of 人生

'学生' is a compound word for 'student'

'中学生' literally means '中学(学)生' with the repeated character 学 omitted.


小學生 = 小學學生

大學生 = 大學學生

重考生 = 重考考生

重考 (takes the exam again) + 考生 (examinee) = 重考生 (examinee who takes the exam again)

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