Chinese Character for Figure, Likeness: Xiàng (像)

By Cindy Chan
Cindy Chan
Cindy Chan
May 22, 2014 Updated: May 7, 2022

The Chinese character 像 (xiàng) refers to a figure or an image. It also carries the meaning of likeness, resemblance, and similarity.

The character consists of two parts. On the left is 亻 (rén), the radical for a man, human being, or humankind, which suggests the meaning for 像 (xiàng) as representing a figure.

On the right is 象 (xiàng), which provides the sound and is a pictographic character that stands for elephant, image, resemblance, or phenomena.

The character 像 is used in combination with other Chinese characters to enhance or refine its meanings related to figures and likeness.

As a noun indicating figures, examples include 人像 (rén xiàng), a portrait of a human being, where 人 (rén) refers to a human being; 畫像 (huà xiàng), a portrait or figure painting, where 畫 (huà) refers to a painting; 雕像 (diāo xiàng), a statue, or literally a “carved image” or “carved figure”; and 佛像 (fó xiàng), an image or statue of Buddha, or a Buddhist image or statue, where 佛 (fó) stands for Buddha or Buddhist.

圖像 (tú xiàng) or 形像 (xíng xiàng) refers to an image in general, and 肖像 (xiào xiàng) is another term for a portrait.

Examples of the use of 像 to indicate likeness include 相像 (xiāng xiàng) or 像似 (xiāng shì), which means to resemble or to be alike, and 好像 (hǎo xiàng), which means as if or to seem like.

像樣 (xiàng yàng), or the emphatic phrase 像模像樣 (xiàng mú xiàng yàng), describes something that is presentable, decent, or up to par or up to the standard, while 像話 (xiàng huà) expresses that something is proper, improved from before, or is “more like it.”

A photograph is called 像片 (xiàng piàn), 相片 (xiàng piàn), or 照片 (zhào piàn). 像片 (xiàng piàn) literally means “a sheet of likeness,” where 片 (piàn) is the character for a sheet, piece, slice, or a film or movie.  

想像 (xiǎng xiàng), “image of a thought,” refers to imagination or to the verbs to imagine, conceive of, or visualize, where 想 (xiǎng) means to think or believe, to wish or want, to suppose, or to miss something.

The phrase 像心如意 (xiàng xīn rú yì), literally “like [what is in] one’s heart, as one desires,” describes having one’s wish fulfilled, where 心 (xīn) refers to the heart and 如意 (rú yì) means “as one wants” or “according to one’s wishes.”

Cindy Chan