Chinese Character for Power, Strength: Lì (力)

By Cindy Chan, Epoch Times
August 20, 2014 Updated: August 20, 2014

The Chinese character 力 (lì) refers to power, strength, or force. It can also refer to concepts such as energy, effort, ability, or influence.

力 (lì) is a pictogram that depicts a person reaching down and using the strength of the arm to pick up an object. The 丿 stroke represents the arm and the hooked stroke around it symbolizes the hand.

It can also be seen as a picture of a plough, a heavy tool that requires strength.

Examples of terms that use 力 (lì) include 力量 (lì liàng), power, force, strength, or the capacity (量, liàng) of 力 (lì); 用力 (yòng lì), to exert oneself physically, literally “to use (用, yòng) one’s strength”; and 有力 (yǒu lì), powerful, forceful, or vigorous, literally “having (有, yǒu) power, force, or strength.”

Horsepower is called 馬力 (mǎ lì), where 馬 (mǎ) refers to horse; wind power is 風力 (fēng lì), where 風 (fēng) refers to wind; and steam power is 汽力 (qì lì), where 汽 (qì) refers to steam.

努力 (nǔ lì) means exertion, great efforts, and endeavours, or the action of making an effort, striving, or trying hard. 努 (nǔ) means to exert, strive, or endeavour.

Ability, capability, or the power or strength to act is called 能力 (néng lì). 能 (néng) means can or be able to, and also ability, talent, and skill.

精力 (jīng lì) refers to spirit and energy, conveying a sense of vigour. 精 (jīng) means essence or spirit and can also refer to being skilled, refined, or delicate.

力士 (lì shì) describes a man of great physical or muscular strength. Hercules, the hero famous for his superhuman strength, is known as 大力士 (dà lì shì) in Chinese, literally “great man of great strength.”

力學不倦 (lì xué bù juàn) praises an industrious and diligent student who untiringly studies hard. The phrase literally means “making great effort to study (學, xué), not (不, bù) being tired (倦, juàn).”

The idiom 力不從心 (lì bù cóng xīn) refers to being not as capable as one wishes to be. Sometimes translated as “the spirit is willing but the flesh [physical body] is weak,” the phrase describes one whose capability is not enough to allow one to follow or comply with (從, cóng) one’s heart (心, xīn).

自力更生 (zì lì gēng shēng), or self-reliance, literally means returning to life (更生, gēng shēng), not looking externally but relying on one’s own effort (自力, zì lì) to re-energize oneself to do things well.

群策群力 (qún cè qún lì) describes teamwork. 群 (qún) refers to the group, and 策 (cè) means to make a plan. The phrase expresses the idea of everyone working together to find ways to contribute in order for the group to manifest its collective role.

一心一力 (yī xīn yī lì), literally “one heart one effort,” describes a united, concerted effort where everyone works together with one heart. A similar phrase is 齊心合力 (qí xīn hé lì), “together [in] heart and effort.”