Chinese Character Mu - Wood

Meaning: Wood
Sound: [mù]  

The original Chinese pictograph for “wood" was an image of a tree, shaped like this:

Chinese Character for mountain, ancient form

As you can see, the image depicts the roots, trunk, and branches of a tree. This simply drawn character changed little in the following centuries. Today it is written as 木, pronounced [mù]. 

Ancient Chinese believed that all of things in the world are made of five basic elements - wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. According to the Chinese, these five elements maintain cyclical and re-generational relationships among themselves, with wood situated between water and fire.

Wood is everywhere in the world, so not surprisingly there are many words in Chinese that refer to wood or trees. Those Chinese characters almost always contain the radical 木 in them (when a character is used as part of another word, it is called a "radical"). For example, the Chinese character for pine tree is 松. The left side of this word is 木; the right side of it indicates the pronunciation. Another example is the the character 村, "village." Again, the left side of this word is 木 and the right side of it indicates pronunciation. Why does the word "village" has "wood" in it? Apparently, Chinese peasants plant trees around where they reside. That's surely an environment-friendly practice. When you walk in Chinese countryside, mostly you see farm fields, but you see a grove of trees in distance, chance is that there is a village in the shades.

The character for a grove of trees is 林. As you can see, there are two 木 in this word, which imply a bunch of trees. Going a little further in that direction, the character for "forest" is 森, which has three 木 in it. Is there a character with four 木 in it? No. You have to stop somewhere.

Another Chinese character that contains the radical 木 is 果, "fruit." In this case, the lower part is 木, standing for a plant, and the top part is what the plant bears - hence the idea of "fruit." 

Used as an adjective, the character 木 suggests "stiff" or "stupid." This is the Chinese equivalent of the English word "wooden." There is a Chinese set phrase, 呆若木鸡, “stiff like a wooden chicken." Chicken is not particularly intelligent to begin with, so if someone "acts" like a chicken carved out of wood, you know there is not much life in there.