Chinese Character Nan - South

Meaning: South
Sound: /nán/

In its early form, the Chinese pictograph for "South" is shaped like the following:


People have different interpretations on what the original pictogram stands for. Some scholars say it depicts the woods in the southern part of the country; others say it represents a bronze bell that can be hung up with a rope. Whatever it was, the basic shape of this particular character has remained roughly the same over the millenniums. 

Nán miàn, "facing south," is an important concept in traditional Chinese culture. Residential quadrangles were almost always built to face south, with the northern rooms typically occupied by the most senior members of a given family. When an emperor received his ministers in the audience hall, he sat in his throne facing south.

There is the Chinese city Nán Jīng, "Southern Capital." This is relative to Běi Jīng, "Northern Capital."

The compass is called zhǐ nán zhēn, "Pointing South Needle." Why not "Pointing North Needle"? Not sure. It has been so called since ancient times. Possibly, south is where the sun is, so it was viewed as the important direction, more appealing than night-time sky with the Big Dipper.