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Many Chinese characters have a lot of meanings, and often Chinese learners feel a bit overwhelmed by this truth, but remember, if you starting to learn from a solid foundation, secondary and tertiary meanings become that much easier to grasp.
The primary meaning of this character is “to give birth”. Thus, the character can be used by itself as a verb to refer to having children, which is 生孩子（shēng háizi– literally translated “give birth to child”). Also, your “birthday” is a direct translation: 生日 (rì)– Birthday.
Chinese has another few words we can compare that really get home the point of 生 referring to “bringing something into being”. These three words are:
▷生气 means to get angry at someone, which could be conceptualized as “giving birth to anger (气)”.
▷生病 means to get sick, or illness (病) “coming into being”.
▷生产 has two meanings, but the most common is “to produce products”, aka “bring products (产) into being”. The second meaning of 生产 is “to give birth to a child”, which is kind of hilarious because it is almost like they are seeing children as simply a “product” (产) of the mother and father.
As well as “to give birth”, 生 can also mean a similar word: “life” in certain contexts. Two common words in Chinese that use this version of 生 are 生活 (lit. Life + to live) and 生命 (Life + Life).
The former could literally be thought of as the experience of living that is shaped by your environment and the decisions you make. The latter refers more to biological life in and of itself that is given to you by your parents.
For example, one time a friend of mine said about parenting “My children are an extension of my 生命, but not an extension of my 生活, which is trying to express the idea that the child is biologically related to the parent, but is not obligated to live their “life experience” in the same way as the parent.
To further clarify this point, suppose we discovered “life” on Mars, this discovered “life” would be 生命, but if we wanted to ask a friend “How’s life recently?”, we’d be asking about said friend’s 生活.
I’m often struck by how many Chinese words make me think more about the original English word that I knew how to use, but never thought that deeply about the meaning. A good example of this is the word 卫生 (wèi)- “hygiene”. It literally translates as “defend life” or “safeguard the living”. Although I never articulated it that way before in the past, that is indeed the purpose of being hygienic.
One of my favorite Chinese characters I’ve learned is 理 (lǐ), which means reason or logic. So it is unsurprising that “biology” is translated as “生理”， or “life logic”. What’s going on in your body has a logic to it, so why not just say so directly in the word? Yet another reason why understanding Chinese characters simplifies not only the study of the language, but also can simplify how you look at reality.
Learning Mandarin from the level of the characters makes considerably more sense than learning from the level of the word, because the understanding is more foundational, and thus more applicable long-term, and 生 is no exception. Take the time to understand each character, and you’ll thank yourself later when you have a learning foundation that’s solid as a rock.