Does Chinese radical 月 implicate “body part” or “moon”?

Posted by Grace Feng on November 5, 2012

Does Chinese radical 月 implicate "body parts" or "moon"I’ve been asked about why character 月 yuè (moon), while being used as a radical, should mainly correlate to “body parts”, instead of “moon”? It is referring to the post that I published in “Chinese Radical Show” series: “body” radical. This is one good question that I think it worth a whole post to answer.

As you might have known, Chinese characters have evolved from Oracle Bone Script since 5000 years ago. During the whole long evolution period, the shape of characters kept changing and changing.

If you look closely on how character “月 yuè” and “肉 ròu (meat)” have transformed over the long period of evolution (in the figure below), you’ll notice during a certain phase of the transformation, they looked almost the same. That was when Oracle script started to turn into abstract signs (real characters), which is called 篆文 zhuàn wén (the third column of the evolution table).

Charts are courtesy of vividict.com

The transformation of character 月 yuè from Oracle script:

Does Chinese radical 月 implicate "body parts" or "moon"

The transformation of character 肉 ròu from Oracle script:

Does Chinese radical 月 implicate "body parts" or "moon"

The individual character 肉 ròu there after turned into its own shape and that’s distinct from today’s  “月 yuè”. However, a character with “meat radical” eventually turned into a character with “moon radical”. You can see an example of “肝 gān” (liver) in the following chart. Why this happened? I have no idea.

Does Chinese radical 月 implicate "body parts" or "moon"

Now, the question is, how many “body part” characters have experienced this kind of transformation? The answer is almost all of them.

I listed all currently used “body part” characters and words that have radical 月 yuè in its left or bottom in the following table. See how many they are?

Simplified Chinese Traditional Chinese Mandarin Pinyin English Definition
lian3 face
肋骨 肋骨 lei4 gu3 rib
ji1 flesh; muscle;
du3 tripe; belly;
gang1 anus;
gan1 liver
chang2 intestines;
gu3 thigh
fei2 fat
fu4 abdomen; belly;
jian1 shoulder
脂肪 脂肪 zhi1 fang2 body fat
fei4 lung
shen4 kidney
肿胀 腫脹 zhong3 zhang4 swelling
mai4 arteries and veins
胳膊 胳膊 ge1 bo5 arm
胚胎 胚胎 pei1 tai1 embryo
wei4 stomach
dan3 the gall
脊背 脊背 ji3 bei4 back
nao3 brain
肚脐 肚臍 du4 qi2 navel; belly button
nong2 pus;
脏腑 臟腑 zang4 fu3 inner organs
yi2 pancreas;
膀胱 膀胱 pang2 guang1 bladder;
bo2 neck
jiao3 foot
jian4 tendon
sai1 cheek
yao1 waist
xian4 gland
tui3 leg
mo2 membrane

Then what about characters with 月 yuè radical that are actually related to “moon”? The following are all I can think of (some of them are not so obviously related to moon):

Simplified Chinese Traditional Chinese Mandarin Pinyin English Definition
明朗 明朗 ming2 lang3 clear; bright and cheerful;
期望 期望 qi1 wang4 expectation; hope;
zhao1 morning
朦胧 朦朧 meng2 long2 hazy;

That’s why in general Chinese don’t call radical 月 as “月字旁 yuè zì páng (moon radical)“. Instead, it is commonly called “月肉旁 yuè ròu páng (moon meat radical)“.

That’s why I used “body radical” to name this radical so you can relate the meaning of most characters with 月 radical to “body part”.

Feel free to contribute any currently used characters with 月 radical that is not on the list, thanks!

Update: Thanks for Dave and Ollie in providing the information on how the writing of radical 月, while being used as “meat” or “moon”,  is taught to be different in traditional Chinese, such as in Taiwan. Honestly, this is my first time to know about it. I grew up in China mainland where only simplified Chinese was taught in its education systems. There is no difference implicated in either writing or font in simplified Chinese for this radical.  That being said, the difference in traditional Chinese is definitely worth sharing here. Please look at the following picture (thanks Dave!) to see the subtle difference:

Does Chinese radical 月 implicate "body part" or "moon"?


Related posts:

Chinese radical show – “grass” radical (11)
Chinese radical show – “money” radical (23)
Chinese radical show – “cold” radical (33)


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8 Responses to “Does Chinese radical 月 implicate “body part” or “moon”?”

  1. nothing

    Dave Flynn:

    11-24-2012 3:53 am

    I was always taught that the 月 that represents 肉 was written differently. Not all fonts show this (the majority don’t), though it is very much apparent if you compare characters using the Taiwan MOE font. I made an image that shows the differences using this font:



    • nothing

      Grace Feng:

      11-24-2012 4:42 am

      Wow, good to know, Dave! I admit I never knew there’s difference in font to distinguish them.

      I checked all the fonts I have, none of them shows. Probably they are all based on simplified Chinese. :-)

      Thanks for the good tip!



      • nothing

        Grace Feng:

        11-29-2012 9:14 pm

        Actually I just noticed that the traditional character “朧” is having both type of 月 radical in itself. The bigger one is written as “moon”, the smaller one is written as “meat”. The right part of the character means “dragon”, apparently it’s closer to “meat”, not “moon”. :-) Interesting!


  2. nothing

    Olle Linge:

    11-29-2012 12:47 pm

    All through the article I was waiting for the discussion about the fact that the radicals are actually written differently in traditional Chinese, at least in the current standard dictated by Ministry of Education in Taiwan. I find it a bit ironic that an article dealing with 月 and 肉 doesn’t mention this. Still, neat article in general, but I’d like to see an added section about the radical so people don’t need to read the comments to find this out!


    • nothing

      Grace Feng:

      11-29-2012 6:03 pm

      Good point, Olle! Please see my update and let me know if there’s anything needs to be added.




  3. nothing


    03-14-2013 4:23 pm

    A radical’s meaning and application depends on the location of the radical as you have noticed.

    月 that represents 肉 is usually on the left and/or bottom.

    月 that represents 月 (moon) is usually on right.

    Menglong is only exception.

    And yes Traditional characters hold meaning better than simplified characters.

    More can be learned via the Sunrise method. We analyze all characters meaning/sound correlations via database.


    • nothing

      Grace Feng:

      03-14-2013 5:09 pm

      Roger, your sunrise method looks quite promising. Good job!!



  4. nothing

    Grace Feng:

    09-20-2015 8:45 pm

    Found a discussion thread with more in-depth on this topic:



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