Chinese Characters: 碑 (Stele)

March 25, 2014 Updated: July 18, 2015

The character 碑 (bēi) is a noun, and means “stele.” The left side is the stone radical 石, shi1, which indicates its material composition. The right side 卑 (bēi) indicates the pronunciation of the character and is also a variation of 牌 (pái), which means tablet.

When combined, the shape of the character reveals its full meaning, an upright stone tablet or stele. The character’s meaning and composition are outlined in the famous classical book of Chinese characters “Explaining and Analyzing Characters,” which was compiled by Xu Shen, a renowned scholar of the Eastern Han Dynasty over 2,000 years ago.

With adjectival use, 碑 can be combined with other characters to form words related to stele, such as 碑文 (bēi wén), inscription on a tablet, and 碑林 (bēi lín), the Forest of Steles.

Additionally, the character 碑 is used in combinations to imply achievement such as in 丰碑 (fēng bēi), a great achievement or monumental work; 口碑 (kǒu bēi), public reputation; or in 里程碑 (lǐ chéng bēi), milestone.

Many important Chinese calligraphic works, like the Jiucheng Palace “Sweet Wine Spring” masterpiece by Ouyang Xun, have been inscribed on steles.