Chinese Character for Very, Highest: Tài (太)

By Cindy Chan, Epoch Times
October 29, 2014 Updated: October 29, 2014

The Chinese character 太 (tài) is used to describe the quality of being the highest, greatest, grandest, or the most senior.

It is also used to add emphasis to adjectives, such as to indicate the concepts of “very,” “too,” “overly,” or “extremely.”

Some believe that 太 (tài) is created by adding the “dot” radical, 丶, to the character/radical that means big, 大 (dà, dài), as if to add emphasis to the idea of big.

Examples of terms that use 太 (tài) to indicate the concept of “too” include 太多 (tài duō), too many or too much; 太少 (tài shǎo), too few or too little; 太長 (tài zhǎng), too long; 太短 (tài duǎn), too short; 太高 (tài gāo), too tall or too high; 太低 (tài dī), too low; and 太忙 (tài máng), too busy.

Outer space is called 太空 (tài kōng) in Chinese. 空 (kōng) refers to sky or air, and 太 (tài) serves to indicate the space that is beyond, or above, the sky as seen from and experienced on earth.

The sun is called 太陽(tài kōng), where 陽 (yáng) is the Chinese character associated with what is masculine, positive, and bright.

The respectful title of 太太 (tài tai) is used to refer to one’s wife or married women in general. It is also the equivalent of the English honorific Mrs. For example, Mrs. Lee is 李太太 (lǐ tài tài) in Chinese, which can also be shortened to 李太 (lǐ tài).

In traditional Chinese culture, 太公 (tài gōng) refers to great-grandfather, an old grandfather, or a male ancestor, and 太婆 (tài pó) refers to great-grandmother. 公 (gōng) stands for a male, father-in-law, or elderly man, and婆 (pó) stands for an elderly woman, grandmother, or mother-in-law.

While 古 (gǔ) means ancient, 太古 (tài gǔ) adds a greater touch of emphasis in reference to antiquity, indicating a very old and remote age.

In ancient China, 太祖(tài zǔ) referred to the oldest ancestor of a clan and also the founder, or first emperor, of an imperial dynasty, while a dynasty’s second emperor was often called 太宗(tài zōng), and the crown prince was called 太子(tài zǐ).

太上 (tài shàng), where 上 (shàng) means on top, above, or upper, was a title of highest honour in ancient China, meaning “the most supreme and one who cannot be surpassed.”

The ancient Chinese people referred to the emperor as 太上 (tài shàng), and the emperor’s father as 太上皇 (tài shàng huáng), where 皇 (huáng) stands for emperor.

The idiom 太上忘情 (tài shàng wàng qíng), literally “one at the highest level (太上, tài shàng) forgets (忘, wàng) emotions (情, qíng),” describes one whose mind and heart are completely pure and upright, who no longer holds on to any trace of bias, preconceived idea, emotion, or pursuit.

The idiom 天下太平 (tiān​ xià ​tài​ píng) expresses the idea of having “the whole world at peace,” with 天下 (tiān​ xià) referring to “under the sky” and 太平 (​tài​ píng) referring to a state of peace, harmony, security, and prosperity.