Imagine if someone runs up to you and tells you, “Yo! Give me some names of jobs!”
Weird, I know, but you never know if that ever happens.
Now, you might be able to give a few examples.
I’ll go with Lawyer, Teacher, Chef, Engineer, and Architect. And they have something in common.
In Chinese, the names for all of these professions end with the same character: 师 (shī).
On its own, 师 can mean a division of an army or a whole army in general, or even (in my opinion) a master at something. But it’s most commonly used in conjunction with some other character. Let’s take a look at some examples.
律师 (lǜ shī; lawyer)
That’s the catchphrase of the guy above, Phoenix Wright, attorney-at-law, of the Ace Attorney series. He’s a lawyer – and a reason why some of my own friends are planning to study law.
Well, whenever someone decides to take things seriously and sue you, just get one of these guys to help you out, and see what happens next. They’ve got your back.
Anyway, the Chinese for “lawyer” is 律师, which literally means “master of law”. And the law is what lawyers master in, so that’s an appropriate translation.
教师 (jiào shī; teacher)
Teachers. The people who are tasked with providing our children with basic education. The fountains of knowledge. Clearly, they deserve to be considered as masters of basic education. They deserve to be respected (well, most of them – excluding the mean ones, of course).
And of course, the Chinese are a people with a very deep respect for elders – it’s an important part of Confucian philosophy, which has been the Chinese people’s bible for thousands of years. As such, the Chinese word for teacher is 教师 (literally, master of teaching) or 老师 (literally, old master). What’s more, another meaning of 师 (though a little outdated) is “teacher”!
Talk about respect!
厨师 (chú shī; chef)
“IT’S F**KING RAW!”
You’ve probably watched Gordon Ramsay scream and swear at enough people on his cooking shows. But I assure you, it’s all to make sure the food that comes out is of the best quality (and, of course, for the exaggeration – lots of people probably watch that only for Gordon’s screaming).
And that’s a major part of being a chef – making sure your food is of the highest quality. Also, you have to experiment with so many different styles of food and use your creativity in coming up with new dishes and recipes. You’re basically an artist, a master of your craft.
And as such, the word for the chef in Chinese is 厨师 – literally “master of cooking”.
工程师 (gōng chéng shī; engineer)
Look around you. All the devices you’re using, and the software and apps inside them. The car that you drive to work and back home, or the bus or train that you take in your commute. The buildings and bridges all around you.
They all only work and stand because of the work of engineers. There are many types of engineer – structural, civil, mechanical, software, aerospace – but they all do similar things. They design, build and test things that we take for granted in order to have them always work, and do their best to save us from harm.
It’s a very important discipline – they’re not doctors, but they equally keep us alive by preventing accidents from happening. That’s why we should give them a lot of respect.
And so it’s not surprising that the Chinese word for the engineer is 工程师, which literally means “master of engineering”. That’s giving them the respect that they deserve.
建筑师 (jiàn zhù shī; architect)
Let’s go back to looking at the buildings around you again. You might find some of those buildings aesthetically pleasing. The straight lines, the curves, the edges. The way they look as you direct your eyes up towards the sky.
These are all part of the brainchildren of architects – those who design buildings, from the skyscrapers in New York and Hong Kong to the apartments in the suburbs of Seoul and the houses in the outskirts of Washington, D.C.
These men and women show off their creativity and artistic prowess in the buildings that they design and dare to be original, innovative, revolutionary – different.
And their ability as masters of design justifies the Chinese name for their profession – 建筑师, or literally “masters of structures”.
The jobs that I’ve discussed above give out a sense of mastery – no matter in the meaning of the job in society, their creativity or their handling of their profession. And it’s only worthy of this sense of mastery that the Chinese names of these professions end in the character 师.