Shuowen Jiezi

Shuowen Jiezi

The "Shuōwén Jiězì" (zh-cw|c=說文解字/说文解字|w="Shuo-wen chieh-tzu"; "Explaining Simple and Analyzing Compound Characters") was an early 2nd century CE Chinese dictionary from the Han Dynasty. Although not the first comprehensive Chinese character dictionary (the "Erya" predates it), it was still the first to analyze the structure of the characters and to give the rationale behind them (sometimes also the etymology of the words represented by them), as well as the first to use the principle of organization by sections with shared components, called section headers ("bùshǒu" 部首).

Circumstances of compilation

Xu Shen, a famous Han scholar of the Five Classics, compiled the "Shuowen Jiezi". He finished editing it in 100 CE, but due to an unfavorable imperial attitude towards scholarship, he waited until 121 CE before having his son Xǔ Chōng (許沖) present it to Emperor An of Han along with a memorial.

In analyzing the structure of characters and defining the words represented by them, Xǔ Shèn strove to disambiguate the meaning of the pre-Han Classics, so as to render their usage by government unquestioned and bring about order, and in the process also deeply imbued his organization and analyses with his philosophy on characters and the universe. Xu's compilation of the "Shuowen", says Boltz (1993:430), "cannot be held to have arisen from a purely linguistic or lexicographical drive." His motives were more pragmatic and political. During the Han era, the prevalent theory of language was Confucianist Rectification of Names, the belief that using the correct names for things was essential for proper government. The postface ("xù" 敘) to the "Shuowen Jiezi" explains: "Now the written language is the foundation of classical learning, the source of kingly government." (tr. Thern 1968:17). Compare how the postface describes the legendary invention of writing for governmental rather than for communicative purposes:

Cang Jie 倉頡, scribe for the Yellow Emperor, on looking at the tracks of the feet of birds and animals, realizing that the patterns and forms were distinguishable, started to create graphs, so that all kinds of professions could be regulated, and all people could be kept under scrutiny. (tr. Thern 1966:8-9)

Pre-"Shuowen" Chinese dictionaries like the "Erya" and the "Fangyan" were limited lists of synonyms loosely organized by semantic categories, which made it difficult to look up characters. Xu Shen analytically organized characters in the comprehensive "Shuowen Jiezi" through their shared graphic components, which Boltz (1993:431) calls "a major conceptual innovation in the understanding of the Chinese writing system."

Textual organization

The title of the work draws a basic distinction between two types of characters, "wén" 文 and "zì" 字, the former being those composed of a single graphic element (such as "shān" 山 "mountain"), and the latter being those containing more than one such element (such as "hǎo" 好 "good" with 女 "woman" and 子 "child") which can be deconstructed into and analyzed in terms of their component elements. Note that the character 文 itself exemplifies the category "wén" 文, while 字 (which is composed of 宀 and 子) exemplifies "zì" 字. Thus, "Shuōwén Jiězì" means "commenting on" ("shuō" "speak; talk; comment; explain") the "wén", which cannot be deconstructed, and "analyzing" ("jiě" "untie; separate; divide; analyze; explain; deconstruct") the "zì".

Xu Shen categorized Chinese characters into 540 sections, under "section headers" ("bùshǒu", commonly called radicals); these are characters or extracted strokes or portions thereof, which also serve as components shared by all the characters in that section. The number of section headers, 540, numerologically equals 6 × 9 × 10, the product of the symbolic numbers of Yīn and Yáng and the number of the Heavenly Stems. The first section header was 一 ("yī" "one; first") and the last was 亥 ("hài" "the last character of the Earthly Branches"). Xu's choice of sections appears in large part to have been driven by the desire to create an unbroken, systematic sequence among the headers themselves, such that each had a natural, intuitive relationship (e.g., structural, semantic or phonetic) with the ones before and after, as well as by the desire to reflect cosmology. In the process, he included many section headers that are not considered ones today, such as 炎 ("yán" "flame") and 熊 ("xióng" "bear"), which modern dictionaries list under the 火 or 灬 ("huǒ" "fire") heading. He also included as section headers all the sexagenary cycle characters, that is, the ten Heavenly Stems and twelve Earthly Branches. As a result, unlike modern dictionaries which attempt to maximize the number of characters under each section header, 34 "Shuowen" headers have no characters under them, while 159 have only one each. From a modern lexicographical perspective, Xu's system of 540 headings can seem "enigmatic" and "illogical" (Thern 1966:4). For instance, he included the singular section header 409 惢 ("ruǐ" "doubt"), with only one rare character ("ruǐ" 繠 "stamen"), instead of listing it under the common header 408 心 ("xīn" "heart; mind").

The "Shuowen Jiezi" is often mistakenly cited as the origin of the "Six-Principles Theory of Chinese character composition" ("liùshū" 六書 "six graphs"); however (see Chinese character classification), several earlier books mention it. Xu Shen's postface describes the Six Principles and his dictionary systematizes them. He uses the first two, simple indicatives ("zhǐshì" 指事) and pictograms ("xiàngxíng" 象形) to explicitly label the dictionary's character entries, e.g., in the typical pattern of "(character) (definition) ...simple indicative" (A B 也...指事 (也)). Logographs belonging to the third principle, phono-semantic compound characters (aka picto-phonetic compounds, "xíngshēng" 形聲), are implicitly identified through the entry pattern "from A, B phonetic" (A...從 B, C 聲), meaning that element B plays a semantic role in A, while C gives the sound. The fourth type, compound indicatives ("huìyì" 會意), are sometimes identified by the pattern "A...from X from Y" (A...從 X 從 Y), meaning that the compound A is given meaning through the graphic combination and interaction of both constituent elements. The last two of the six principles, borrowed characters (aka phonetic loan, "jiǎjiè" 假借) and derived characters ("zhuǎnzhù" 轉注), are not identifiable in the character definitions, as they are not principles of structural composition.

Contents and importance

Xu Shen states in his postface that the "Shuowen" has 9,353 character entries, plus 1,163 graphic variants, with a total length of 133,441 characters. The transmitted texts vary slightly in content, owing to omissions and emendations by commentators (especially Xú Xuàn, see below), and modern editions have 9,431 characters and 1,279 variants. The "Shuowen" includes a Preface and 15 chapters. The first 14 chapters are character entries; the 15th and final chapter is divided into two parts: a postface and an index of section headers.

Xu wrote the "Shuowen Jiezi" to analyze seal script (specifically "xiǎozhuàn" 小篆 "small seal") characters that evolved slowly and organically throughout the mid to late Zhou dynasty in the state of Qin, and which were then standardized during the Qín dynasty and promulgated empire-wide. Even as copyists transcribed the main text of the book in clerical script in the late Han, and then in modern standard script in the centuries to follow, the small seal characters continued to be copied in their own (seal) script to preserve their structure, as were two kinds of variant graphs included by Xu, which he termed "ancient script" ("gǔwén" 古文) and "Zhòu script" ("Zhòuwén" 籀文). Note that the latter 'Zhou' is a different character, different meaning and different tone from the 'Zhou' for the Zhou dynasty (Zhōucháo 周朝).

The "guwen" "ancient characters" were conclusively shown by the leading scholar, Wang Guowei, to be anything but ancient; rather, they were regional variant forms from only slightly earlier, in the eastern areas during the Warring States period, thus making them contemporaneous with (not "ancient" compared to) the pre-unification Qín seal script. Note that Xu only included these "ancient" variants when they differed from standard seal. The "Zhòu" characters, now usually called large seal script ("dàzhuàn" 大篆 "large seal"), were taken from the no-longer extant "Shĭ Zhòu Piān" (史籀篇), an early copybook traditionally attributed to Shĭ Zhòu, or Historian Zhou, an official in the court of King Xuan of Zhou (r. 827 BCE- 782 BCE).

Xu Shen did not know it at the time, but this "Zhoù script" dated from the late Western Zhōu Dynasty (note that Zhòu 籀 (the script) and Zhōu 周 (the dynasty)are unrelated words), and the "Zhoù script" was thus much older than the Warring States and Qin forms that he was analyzing. Later handwritten "Shuowen" versions copied the seal and ancient graphs, but wrote the definitions in the script of the day, clerical script or later standard script.

The typical "Shuowen" format for a character entry consists of a seal graph; a short definition (usually a single synonym, occasionally in a punning way as in the "Shiming"), pronunciation given by citing a homophone, and analysis of compound graphs into semantic and/or phonetic components. Individual entries can additionally include graphic variants, secondary definitions, information on regional usages, citations from pre-Han texts, and further phonetic information, especially in "dúruò" (度若 "read like") notations (see Coblin 1978).

Although the "Shuowen Jiezi" has incalculable value to scholars and was traditionally used as the most important Chinese etymological dictionary, since many of its analyses and definitions are unclear or incorrect, it cannot be relied upon as a single, authoritative source for definitions and graphic etymologies. Furthermore, Xu Shen lacked access to oracle bone script from the Shāng Dynasty and bronzeware script from the Shang and Western Zhou Dynasty to which scholars now have access, and these are often critical for understanding the structures and origins of logographs. For instance, he put "lǜ" (慮 "be concerned; consider") under the section heading 思 ("sī" "think") and noted it had a phonetic of "hǔ" (虍 "tiger"). However, the early bronze graphs for "lǜ" (慮) have the "xīn" (心 "heart") semantic component and a "lǚ" (呂 "a musical pitch") phonetic, also seen in early forms of "lǔ" (盧 "vessel; hut") and "lǔ" (虜 "captive").

Textual history and scholarship

Although the original Han Dynasty "Shuōwén Jiězì" text has been lost, it was transmitted through handwritten copies for centuries. The oldest extant trace of it is a six-page manuscript fragment from the Tang Dynasty, amounting to about 2% of the entire text. The fragment, now in Japan, concerns the "mù" (木) section header. The earliest post-Han scholar known to have researched and emended this dictionary, albeit badly, was Li Yangbing (Li Yang-ping, 李陽冰, fl. 765-80), who "is usually regarded as something of a "bête noire" of ["Shuowen"] studies," writes Boltz (1993:435), "owing to his idiosyncratic and somewhat capricious editing of the text."

"Shuowen" scholarship improved greatly during the Southern Tang-Song Dynasties and Qing Dynasty. The most important Southern Tang-Song scholars were the Xú brothers, Xú the Elder (Xú Xuàn, Hsü Hsüan, 徐鉉, 916-991) and Xú the Younger (Xú Kǎi, Hsü K'ai, 徐鍇, 920-74). In 986, Emperor Taizong of Song ordered the Xú Xuàn and other editors to publish an authoritative edition of the dictionary. Xu Xuan's textual criticism has been especially vital for all subsequent scholarship, since his restoration of the damage done by Li Yangbing resulted in the closest version we have to the original, and the basis for all later editions. His brother, in turn, focused on exegetical study, analyzing the meaning of Xu Shen's text, appending supplemental characters, and adding fanqie pronunciation glosses for each entry. Philology flourished during the Qing Dynasty. Some "Shuowen" scholars, like Zhū Jùnshēng (Chu Chün-sheng, 朱駿聲, 1788-1858), followed the textual criticism model of Xu Xuan. Others, like Guì Fù (Kuei Fu, 桂馥, 1736-1805) and Wáng Yún (Wang Yün, 王筠, 1784-1834), followed the analytical exegesis model of Xu Kai. One Qing scholar, Duàn Yùcái (Tuan Yü-ts'ai, 段玉裁), stands above all the others due to the quality of his research in both areas. His annotated "Shuowen" edition is the one most commonly used by students today.

Scholarship in the 20th century offered new understandings and accessibility. Ding Fubao (Ting Fu-pao, 丁福保, 1874-1952) collected all available "Shuowen" materials, clipped and arranged them in the original dictionary order, and photolithographically printed a colossal edition. Notable advances in "Shuowen" research have been made by Chinese and Western scholars like Ma Zonghuo ( Ma Tsung-huo, 馬宗霍), Ma Xulun (Ma Hsü-lun, 馬敘倫), William G. Boltz, W. South Coblin, Thomas B.I. Creamer, Paul L.M. Serruys, Roy A. Miller, and K.L. Thern.

ee also

Other important ancient Chinese dictionaries:

External links

*zh [ 《說文解字》] , electronic edition - Donald Sturgeon
*zh [ 《说文解字注》 全文检索 - 许慎撰 段玉裁注] , facsimile edition
*zh [ 《說文解字》全文檢索測試版]
* [ Chinese Etymology] , online dictionary with "Shuowen"'s definitions - Richard Sears
*ja [ 「説文解字」の540部首系統図 - がらんどう文字講座] , "Shuōwén Jiězì" radical chart
* [ Shuowen jiezi 說文解字] – Chinaknowledge
* en [] Shuowen online dictionary with Duàn Yùcái "說文解字注", "釋名 Shiming", "爾雅 Erya", "方言 Fangyan", "廣韻 Guangyun" définitions and glosses - Alain Lucas and Jean-Louis Schott


*Atsuji Tetsuji 阿辻哲次. Kanjigaku: Setsumon kanji no sekai 漢字学―説文解字の世界. Tôkyô: Tôkai daigaku shuppankai, 1985. ISBN-10: 4486008413, ISBN-13: 978-4486008415
*Boltz, William G. (1993). "Shuo wen chieh tzu", p.429-442 in Loewe, Michael (ed.). "Early Chinese Texts: A Bibliographical Guide", (Early China Special Monograph Series No. 2), Society for the Study of Early China, and the Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley, ISBN 1-55729-043-1.)
*zh icon Chén Zhāoróng 陳昭容. (2003). 秦系文字研究 ﹕从漢字史的角度考察 [Research on the Qín (Ch'in) Lineage of Writing: An Examination from the Perspective of the History of Chinese Writing] . 中央研究院歷史語言研究所專刊 Academia Sinica, Institute of History and Philology Monograph.
*Coblin, W. South. (1978), "The initials of Xu Shen's language as reflected in the "Shuowen" duruo glosses," "Journal of Chinese Linguistics" 6, pp. 27-75.
*Creamer, Thomas B.I. (1989) "Shuowen Jiezi and Textual Criticism in China," "International Journal of Lexicography" 2:3, pp. 176-187.
*Ding Fubao (丁福保). 1932. "Shuowen Jiezi Gulin" (說文解字詁林 "A Forest of Glosses on the "Shuowen Jiezi"). 16 vols. Repr. Taipei: Commercial Press. 1959. 12 vols.
*Duàn Yùcái (段玉裁). (1815). "說文解字注" ("Shuōwén Jĭezì Zhù," commentary on the "Shuōwén Jíezì"), compiled 1776-1807. This classic edition of "Shuowen" is still reproduced in facsimile by various publishers, e.g., in Taipei by Li-ming Wen-hua Co Tiangong Books (1980, 1998), which edition conveniently highlights the main entry seal characters in red ink, and adds the modern "kǎi" 楷 standard script versions of them at the tops of the columns, with ㄅㄆㄇㄈ bopomofo phoneticization alongside.
*Serruys, Paul L-M. (1984) "On the System of the "Pu Shou" 部首 in the "Shuo-wen chieh-tzu" 說文解字", "Zhōngyāng yánjiùyuàn lìshĭ yǔyán yánjiùsuǒ jíkān" (中央研究院歷史語言研究所集刊, Journal of the Institute of History and Philology, Academia Sinica), v.55:4, pp.651-754.
*Thern, K.L. (1966). "Postface of the" Shuo wen chieh tzu, "The First Comprehensive Chinese Dictionary". Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin.
*zh icon Wáng Gúowéi 王國維. (1979). "史籀篇敘錄" [Commentary on the Shĭ Zhoù Piān] and "史籀篇疏證序" [Preface to a Study of the "Shĭ Zhòu Piān"] , in 海寧王靜安先生遺書‧觀堂集林 [The Collected works of Mr. Wáng Jìng-Ān of Hǎiníng (Guan Tang Ji Lin)] . Taibei: 商務印書館 Commercial Press reprint, pp. 239-295.

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