The Chinese Character Er - Two

Meaning: Two
Sound: /èr/

“二” is the Chinese character for the number “two”. So the Chinese word for “one” is “一”, and the character for “two” is “二”. It figures.

In Chinese culture, 二 is not as good as 一. Whereas one is the origin of all things and the unity of myriad creatures , two is division. That is, two comes into being when one breaks up. Traditionally, one is viewed as taiji or the supreme while two stands for Yin and Yang. Yin and Yang, the two fundamental forces, determine all the events and changes in the universe . Neither Yin nor Yang is good or bad in itself; the balance of the two is good and the imbalance of the two is bad.

Since二 has the meaning of division and discord, in the Chinese world it implies qualities that aren’t so desirable. Xun Kuang, a Legalist philosopher of the 3rd century B.C.E., stated: “Where power comes from one, there is strength; where power comes from two, there is weakness.”

In China’s popular culture today, 二 still carries with it some unfavorable connotations. If someone is not loyal or true, people would describe the person as “yǒu èr xīn” – “having two minds”. 二, used as an adjective, also suggests stupidity or silliness. So someone foolish or goofy is said to be “二”. Husky the dog is now known in China as “èr hā” – “two husky”, meaning that the dog, jumpy and hard to train, seems to be rather incoherent, with a mind that is divided into two.