Hmmmm..... it never occurred to me that Dhamma in Chinese is
. That's very interesting. I've only known of Buddhism in Chinese as --- the first character signifies 'Buddha' or 'Bodhi' whilst the second character signifies 'teaching' or 'religion'. So
really connotes something like 'Bodhi teaching' or the 'Buddha religion'. Read in this manner, has a certain specificity--and some might say, an institutionalism--about it.
on the other hand is much broader, like the word Dhamma (as opposed to Buddhism). The first character
signifies: 'just (right); main; upright; straight; correct; principle'.
The Chinese script is pictorial in nature, and uses ideograms. So unlike English and other alphabet-based languages, ideograms are often combinations of different characters and can convey multiple meanings, often in poetic ways.
So looking at the character
we can speculate on why it signifies 'just, upright, principle,' and so forth. It is is composed of five straight lines, each at a right angle to one another. There is a certain symmetry to the character. It reminds me of mandala patterns.
The second character
signifies: 'law; method; way'.
is made up of two components. On the left are three strokes. These three strokes do not stand alone as a character themselves. But they are usually added to other characters as a kind of 'modification' to shift the meaning. The three strokes signify an association with water (although the three strokes themselves do not form the character for 'water'). When added to characters they suggest connotations of fluidity or smoothness.
To the right of the three strokes is which signifies: 'to go; to leave; to remove'. I'm trying to speculate on why this character signifies 'to go' and so forth. It occurred to me that it looks like the outline of a boat: it has a broad base and with a vertical line at the top that resembles a mast. So
might connote a sense of being 'ferried across water' or 'that which moves fluidly'.
But this character when combined with other characters signify things as diverse as 'sleeve opening', 'to exercise', 'a pen (that which surrounds)'. So my reading of it as symbolizing a boat could be totally wrong.
Therefore we could say that
means something like 'the upright/principled/correct way (or law or method)'. And following my speculations about the character
as connoting 'fluid ferrying',
then coincides with the Buddha's simile of the raft, which describes the Dhamma as the 'right teaching that takes one across the river, and which removes one from the shore of suffering and brings them to the shore of awakening.'
India and China are both ancient civilizations. It is likely that the word Dhamma and the Chinese characters that are later used to express Dhamma developed separately. If so, it is fascinating how when the Buddha's teaching eventually reached China, the languages (and thus modes of thinking) so readily support one another.
(BTW, I'm not an expert with the Chinese language. I am, in fact, pretty bad at it. But it is my cultural ancestry and I do have a decent grasp of these basic words. I am NOT trained in Chinese linguistics; these are just speculations on what little I know. Because of my interest in Chan/Zen, I've been curious about how Chinese characters can uniquely express the Dhamma in ways that the English language is unable to. Hopefully, you find this interesting too.
EDIT: Just realised this is the Pali forum. This is not quite Pali... sorry.