The Chinese Character Dì - Earth

Meaning: Earth
Sound: [dì]

The Chinese character 地, /dì/, means "earth", "ground", or “land”. In its early evolution, the word appeared like this:

Chinese Character for Earth in Ancient Times

The left part of the pictogram is "soil". The right part, we're not sure what it is. Some people say it is a snake, standing for creatures on earth, but again we're not sure. Shuō wén jiě zì, the Chinese dictionary compiled in the second century, explains the word thus: "At the beginning when the gaseous sphere divided into two parts, what is light and pure ... rose to form heaven and what is heavy and turbid ... fell to form earth. On earth myriad creatures scatter and rest."

Not surprisingly, heaven (天) and earth (地) are often mentioned together. For example, someone who is courageous and not afraid to assume responsibility – a great man – is described as "dǐng tīan lì dì" ("standing on earth, his head reaching heaven").

Like 天 (heaven), 地 (earth) is understood in both the spiritual and the physical sense. The Chinese appeal to tīan and dì for protection and blessings. In Beijing, there is Tīan Tán  (Temple of Heaven), and there is also Dì Tán (Temple of Earth). If someone is distressed and appeals to Heaven and Earth in a particularly emotional way, people say he or she is "kū tīan qĭang dì" ("crying to Heaven and kowtowing to Earth"). 

Used in the physical sense of the word, 地means “earth”, “ground”, or “land”. Planet Earth is therefore called "dì qíu" (earthen ball); geography is "dì lĭ" (earth theories); and maps are "dì tú" (land pictures).