The meaning of &#8220;happiness&#8221; (<i>x&#236;ngf&#250;</i>) and &#8220;emotional pain&#8221; (<i>t&#242;ngk&#365;</i>) in Chinese

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This chapter undertakes detailed meaning analyses of xìngfú, a concept central to contemporary Chinese discourse on “happiness,” and its opposite tòngkŭ (‘emotional anguish/suffering/pain’). Drawing data from five Chinese corpora and applying the semantic techniques developed by Natural Semantic Metalanguage (NSM) researchers, the present study reveals a conceptualization of happiness that is markedly different from that encoded in the English concept of happiness. Particularly, the analysis shows that the Chinese conception of xìngfú is relational in nature, being firmly anchored in interpersonal relationships. Loosely translatable as ‘a belief that one is loved and cared for’, xìngfú reflects the Chinese idea of love, which places emphasis on actions over words and is intrinsically related to other core cultural values, such as xiào (‘filial piety’). The chapter relates semantic discussion directly to recent research on happiness and subjective well-being involving Chinese subjects, highlighting and problematizing the role of language in the emergent and fast-growing field of happiness research and stressing the important role of culture in global “happiness studies”.


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