Lim Daphne

The Beauty of Idioms 成语的力与美

Idea Generation:

This project first started off with the 成语chengyu: 饮水思源 where I discovered how certain Chinese Idioms are closely linked to Water. 成语chengyu are mostly derived from ancient literature and the meaning of a these 成语chengyu usually surpasses the sum of the meanings carried by the four characters, as they are often intimately linked with the myth, story or historical fact from which they were derived.

Not only do majority of the characters in the 成语chengyu belong to the Water category, these characters are also made up of Water radicals. In addition, the myth,story or literal meaning are closed linked to Water.

Selection of 成语chengyu:

饮水思源 |  yin shui si yuan

The three characters namely 饮 水 源 belongs to the Water Category. The literal meaning of this 成语chengyu is closely linked to Water:  This 成语chengyu reminds us that when we are drinking water, the water you are enjoying to sustain our body should not be forgotten or ignored.

In addition, looking at the Oracle Bone Writing of the four characters in 饮水思源 closely related to Water: 饮 is composed of a pictorial of the wine bottle which indicates to savour, 水 is composed of the pictorial of flowing water i.e. three rippled lines indicating flowing water, 源 is composed of pictorials of cliff and flowing water which indicates the source of water.

血浓于水 |  xie nong yu shui

The characters 浓 水 belongs to the Water Category.The expression 血浓于水 literally means that compared to water, blood is thicker.

The myth behind this 成语chengyu is closely linked to Water:  In ancient China, people often identified their lost families by checking if their blood could blend together in water, so the idiom is used to indicate a deep connection. The connection or relationship between people are akin to water and the kinship between parents and their child are akin to blood.

水滴石穿 |  shui di shi chuan

The characters 水 滴 belongs to the Water Category. The expression水滴石穿 literally means constant dripping of water wears away a stone.

The concept:

Appreciating the beauty of these 成语chengyu which consists four characters yet these four simple modern looking writing carries a wealth of meaning and values. In today’s society where the passion and interest in understanding the Chinese language is depleting among the youths, I’m using a soft and subtle approach of storytelling and an interactive manner to promote interest in learning these 成语chengyu and at the same time instil in the youths’ values associated with these 成语chengyu.

The deliverables: 
Illustration Book | Installation | Postcards


This installation aims to look into the four characters in these 成语chengyu and how the characters have evolved in the Chinese writing system. 

The Chinese written language is largely, though not exclusively, pictorial. By looking the type character dated back to the Oracle Bone Writing, it pictures ideas, objects, activities before transforming into today’s modern Chinese characters. They are combinations of basic elements that describe what the initial type character is intended.

For example, the word 饮(meaning:To drink/savour in Chinese) was created using a pictorial graphical representation of wine bottle, hands serving the wine bottle in the Oracle Bone Writing system, literally picturing the meaning of the word. The word 水(meaning: Water) was created using the picture of water droplets, composing of three rippled lines indicating flowing water and then transformation into today’s modern character.

Therefore, by looking at these graphical representations, one is able to picture ideas of what each Chinese character Hanzu is trying to convey. And through this understanding and summing up all the understandings of the four Hanzu characters in the 成语chengyu, one can make sense of what each 成语chengyu is trying to convey.




This installation is made interactive, the viewers can remove the different characters from the light box and have fun with it, creating various overlaps and contrasts.


The postcards is accompanied with the installation and is also a takeaway for the viewers of the installation. It consists of the detailed explanation of the evolution of the Chinese characters in the Chinese writing system in general. In addition, it also tells the audience what each basic elements,radicals or pictorials in the character represents and is trying to convey.

For better view: Deliverable 3


Post card3

Illustration Book

The Bilingual Illustration book is a fully illustrated collection of 成语chengyu stories from the 3 chosen 成语chengyu ,namely: 饮水思源 | 水滴石穿 | 血浓于水. Illustrated stories serve as a subtle yet powerful way to instil the values that each 成语chengyu is trying to convey while reading the short stories.The approach I’ve taken to create the graphics is through the use of the different radicals in the four Chinese characters in the 成语chengyu itself.

The Bilingual Illustration book is made interactive as it comes together with a Light box. Every page of the Illustration Book consist of 3 layers with a slight change in graphics in each of the layer. The change of the graphics is in line with how the different radicals have evolved in the writing system in the installation.

Illustration BookIllustration Book 2


Viewers can read the 成语chengyu stories over the light box and learn how the different radicals have evolved in the writing system while reading the short stories.

Full graphics available