Chinese is both phonographic and ideographic, and as such both the phonetic sound and the meaning of a word need to be taken into consideration to improve understanding. One clever method employed by Chinese people over time when forming new words was to add or change radicals that indicate sounds and thus create new words.

In accordance with this method, when first introduced to Chinese clover was known as 目宿. However, later it was altered to 苜蓿 ,because the radical 艹 indicates clover is a type of plant.

Lion was initially translated as 师子,but later the radical 犭for animals was added and it became 狮子.The same rule was followed when The Periodic Table of the Chemical Elements was translated into Chinese.

The radical 钅was added to the metal elements, the radical 气 was added to gases, and 石 was added to minerals. This method has been very effective in integrating these strange elements into Chinese.

During the time of Zhang Qian, many of the novel exotic goods that found their way to China had the character 胡 included in their names, to help indicate their foreign origins. Some example of these are 胡桃 (a walnut foreign to the indigenous Chinese one),胡葱(shallot) 胡麻(sesame)胡豆(legume) 胡琴(western violin) 胡瓜( cucumber) 胡荽(coriander) and 胡床(folding chair).

Gradually, however, the Chinese words for cucumber, coriander, and folding chair were changed to 黄瓜,芫荽 and 交椅,respectively, words that show no trace of their geographical origin.

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Other characters besides 胡 that indicate an item is foreign are 西,番,and 洋. Words such as 西红柿(tomato),西瓜(watermelon),番薯(sweet potato),洋火(match),洋油 (kerosene),洋烟卷 (cigarette),荷兰豆(vegetable pea),吕宋烟(Luzon cigar) are therefore not indigenous to China.

Creating new words for goods imported into China has long been a way for the Chinese to assimilate aspects of foreign cultures.

The introduction of Buddhism in the Han Dynasty was a major cultural event in the history of China. A large number of loanwords as a result of the introduction and translation of the sutra appeared, and based on these loanwords new words were coined as well.

Some expressions that evolved due to the introduction of Buddhism became expressions in daily life, such as 世界(the world) 知识(knowledge) 平等(equality) 绝对(absoluteness) 实际(practicality) 刹那(a brief moment) 超脱(transcendence) 觉悟(consciousness) 境界(ambit) 圆满(fulfillment) 方便(convenience).

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