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The semantic multiplicity of symbolic signification. The evolution of classic Chinese symbols through history

In the long course of history, what kinds of human figures, physical objects, events and even concepts can develop into the symbols that can best represent China? What are some of the justifications that make them the epitomes of China? What kind of image can they project about China? How did those most representative symbols come to evolve, become highlighted, communicated and accepted? This chapter will examine some of the best-known cases in an effort to unveil the mysteries of how typical Chinese symbols are communicated.

Even for the same symbol, it produces different social significations in different historical contexts. That is, a symbol’s signified on the connotative level is not constant or unique, but would undergo changes with the changing spatial and temporal conditions. The evolution of different signifieds is what we call the semantic multiplicity of the signified. A symbol’s signified on the connota- tive level is developed in particular historical contexts, as a result of the second interpretation of meaning located on the denotative level. It is produced in the specific cultural space where a symbol is applied, that is, the symbol’s unique historical context. The process of constructing connotative significations is a process of man-made selections and interpretations, a process which is extremely covert and implicit because it seems extremely natural. Many historical symbols with strong symbolic meanings and influence were developed out of the complicated historical contexts, and they serve as mirrors that reflect the turns and twists of the evolution of history.

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