The earliest form of the Chinese symbol for water was a river with dots on both sides representing drops of water. The number of drops varied but gradually it was fixed as two for each side. Over time, it became the form we see today.|
Hence the Chinese symbol for water shui originally represented the river, and in general "areas of water" like the sea and lake (as opposed to land lu4).
From this meaning, shui denotes liquid in general as in "tears" lei4 shui3 and "medicinal liquid" yao4 shui3
Water in Chinese thought:Water is one of the five elements (together with fire, wood, earth, gold).
This element is associated with the North, the color black, and the moon (i.e moon's gravitational pull creates dew).
Water symbolises Yin, the female principle, which is the counterpart of Yang, the male principle (representing fire and the South).
In the old Chinese view of the cosmos, fire and water arose from the same source. The union of Yin and Yang gave birth to the five elements, which in turn brought about the "ten thousand things" in the world.
Water belongs to night and fire to day. Many Chinese expressions about the intimate relations between man and woman involve the Chinese symbol for water.
The character of water is soft, yielding and pliant, as a (traditional) Chinese woman should be. "Weak overcomes strong, soft overcomes hard" so said Laozi in the Taoist text, Dao De Jing.
According to Laozi (also spelled Laotze), water's character is the best example of proper behavior. This behaviour allows the "weak" to overcome the "strong" (and hence a woman to overcome a man). I put the words weak and strong in inverted commas because these two opposite states depend on the relative perception of others.
In business and in life being "soft, pliant and yielding" like water is a wise way to prevent and solve many interpersonal problems.
There are many expressions associated with the Chinese symbol for water. Here are a few:
"shui3 di1 shi2 chuan1" - Dripping water (shui di) wears through a rock (shi chuan) over time. As long as a person is persistent, the impossible will become possible.
"shui3 luo4 shi2 chu1" - When the water subsides (shui luo), the stone will show itself (shi chu). The truth of the matter will eventually be known.
"shui3 dao4 ju2 cheng2" - When water flows, a channel is formed.Everything will fall into place when the time comes.
"shui3 di1 lao1 yue4" - Dredge the moon out from the bottom of the water.To do something based on an illusion. Hence, there is no result.