1902 Encyclopedia > China > Written Language (cont.) - Different Classes of Chinese Characters; Different Styles of Writing.

(Part 37)


Written Language (cont.) - Different Classes of Chinese Characters; Different Styles of Writing.

Different Classes of Characters

In tracing the growth of the latter characters we are assisted by the native philologists, who have divided them into six classes.

The first they cal Siang hing, lit. characters representing the forms of the objects meant, or, as we should say, hieroglyphics, such as those just mentioned, and about 600 more, as, for example, _____ jih, "the sun," _____ ma, "a horse," &c.; and of these are composed, with a few exceptions, the 214 determinative or radical characters, one of which enters into the composition of every character in the language.

The second class is called Chi sze, lit. characters indicating things, that is to say, characters intended to represent ideas to the mind by the position of their parts. Thus the character _____ tan, "dawn," in which the sun is represented as appearing above the horizon, belongs to it, and also such characters as _____ shang, "above," and _____ hea, "beneath," which are formed in the one case by placing a man above the medium level, and in the other below it.

The third class is made up of Hwuy i. lit. characters combining ideas, or ideographics. This class is formed by uniting two or more significant characters to give the idea of a third. Of the time when these characters were invented we know nothing ; but it is plain that their introduction must have given a very extended scope to the language, and they offer an interesting study, as, in many instances, giving us an insight into the moral and social conditions of those who framed them. Form instance, if we analyze the character _____ sin, "sincere," we find that it if formed by the combination of the characters _____ jin, "a man" and _____, yen, "words," a collocation of ideas which speaks well for the honourable truthfulness of the ancient Chinese, and which, when the unfortunate failing in this respect of their descendants is borne in mind, is decidedly opposed to the Darwinian theory as applied to language. The character _____ Hwang, "Emperor," is another belonging to this class, which gives anything but a contemptible notion of the moral standard of the people. This symbol was originally written thus _____, and was composed of the characters meaning "oneself" and "ruler ;" the emperor was therefore to be ruler of himself, or autocrat in the true sense of the term ; for how can a man, said the ancient sages rule other unless he first learn to be master of himself?

Curiously enough, by the omission of a stroke, this character of parts signifying "white" and "ruler," and this, as was mentioned in a recent letter from the St Petersburg correspondent of the Times, has been literally translated by the Mongols into Tchagau Khan, and then by the Russians into Biely Tsar, or White Tsar, the name by which the emperor of Russia is now known throughout all Asia.

Another character in this class is _____ ming, "brightness," which is composed of a combination of the sun and moon to indicate brilliancy. Altogether, of these ideographics there are said to be about 700 in the language, although some writers have held that this class is a very much larger one, and have justified their belief by analyses which, to say to least, are far-fetched. Callery quotes a Jesuit work, in which it is stated the character _____ chuen, "a ship," contains to the eye of faith—and we should imagine to that eye alone—a reference to the Flood, since it consists of _____ chow, "a ship," _____, pa, "eight," and _____ kow, "a mouth," plainly pointing, adds the writer, to Noah’s ark with its eight inhabitants ; and that _____ lan, "to covet and desire," bears traces of Eve’s guilt in its component parts, which are _____ neu, "a woman," and _____ muh, " a tree," twice repeated, illustrating the longing desire which overcame our first parent when between the trees of life and of good and evil.

The fourth class is the Chuen choo, or characters which, being inverted, either in form or sound, assumed different meanings. These number about 372, and are formed in two,—either by some slight alteration of the character, as the turning of a stroked or of strokes to the left instead of the right, as, for instance, the character for the hand pointing to the left in this way _____ means "left," and when turned thus _____ means "right ;" or by changing the sound of the character, and with the sound the meaning. Of this kind are such characters as _____, which when pronounced yo means "music," and when lo, ‘delight," and _____, which as i means "easy as yih means to "change."

The fifth class is the Chia chieh, lit. characters having borrowed meanings, and consists of about 600 characters, which are applied, as is indicated by the name of the division, in a double sense, and hence have be called metaphorical. As an illustration of this class, Chinese writers adduce the character _____ shi, "an arrow," which, from the straight course of an arrow, has come to signify "direct," "right," "a word spoken to the point."

The sixth class, which is known as the Chieh shing, or phonetic, embraces over 20,000 characters. The adoption of these phonetics was the turning-point in the progress of Chinese writing. As was the case with the Egyptions, the Chinese found that, having exhausted their power of invention in forming hieroglyphics and ideographics, a further development of the characters was necessary ; and, like the subjects of the Pharoahs, they adopted certain characters to represent certain sounds. As to when, or by whom, this system was inaugurated, whether it was it was the product of native intelligence, history is silent ; but when it was once decided on, the language rapidly increased and multiplied. "A character," writes a well-known Chinese author, "it not sterile ; once bound to another, it gives birth to a son ; and if this be joined to another, a grandson is born, and so on." The characters, then, which belong to the class called phonetics are composed of two parts, namely, the primitive or phonetic element, that is to say, one of the characters which have been chosen to represent certain sounds, and which gives the sound to the whole character, and one of the 214 determinatives or radical characters of the language.

One or more of these determinatives enter intro the composition of every character in Chinese, and as a very large proposition of them are plainly hieroglyphics, they may be said to be the foundation of the written language. As might be expected from their nature as hieroglyphics, they include the most remarkable objects of nature, such as the sun, moon, a river, a mountain, fire water, earth, wood, stone, &c. ; the chief parts of the human body, as the head, the heart, the hand, the foot, the eye, the ear &c. ; the principal parts of a house, as the roof, the door. &c. ; domestic animals, such as the sheep, the cow, the horse, the dog, &c. ; the primary relations of society, as father, mother, son, daugther, &c. ; and actions, such as to see, to speak, to walk, to run, to stop, to enter, to follow, &c. They are thus admirably adapted to form generic terms, and this the part they play in composition with the primitives. For the instance, into the composition as a table, a chair, a club, &c.; the determinative character meaning "wood" is introduced, and it then serves much the same purpose as do the words "mat’ and steam" in the compounds "matshed" and "steamboat."

The number of the primitive has been variously estimated. Dr Marshman gives them at 3867, Callery at about 1000, and later writers have reckoned them to be from 1100 to 1200. Taking them even at the lowest of these figures, it will readily be imagined how, by combination with the 214 determinatives, they may be made to form the thirty and odd thousand distinct characters of the language, since, of course, it would be possible by combining each of the 1000 primitives every one of the 214 determinatives, to form more than seven times that number of characters.

To illustrate this system of formation, we will take the primitive _____ ngo, "I," which by combination of 27 determinatives, produces as many derivatives having the same phonetic value, in this way—combined with the determinative _____ "a mountainn," it becomes _____ ngo, "a high mountain ;" with _____ neu, "a woman _____ ngo, "fair," "beautiful ;" with _____ tsao, "grass," _____ ngo, "a certain herb ; " with _____ neaou, "a bird," _____ ngo, "a goose," and so on. From these examples it will be observed that the determinatives play the part in some instances of adjectives ; and in combination with their primitives they form an exact parallel with many Egyptian and Assyrian ideophonetics. The following examples in Egyptian shows precisely the same formation in the composition of the characters, and in the respective value of their parts, as is seen in the Chinese instance just referred to. _____ Un means in Egyptian "a hare ;" combined with this determinative _____, it becomes _____ Un, "to open ;" and with this _____ Un, "an hour." Speaking of Assyrain hieroglyphics, Sir Henry Rawlinson says, "Certain classes of words have a sign prefixed or suffixed to them, more commonly the former, by which their general character is indicated. The names of gods, of men, of cities, of tribes, of wild animals, of domestic animals, of metals, of months, of the points of the compass, and of dignities are thus accompanied. The sign prefixed or suffixed may have originally represented a word ; but when use in the way here spoken of, it is believed that it was not sounded, but served simply to indicate to the reader the sort of word which was placed before it."

These words of Sir Henry Rawlinson may be illustrated by the following examples. _____ means in Assyrian "wood," and is used as the determinative for things made of wood. Thus is combination with the primitive _____ it becomes _____ "a sceptre ;" and when combined with the primitive _____ we have _____ "a bow." Again, _____ is used in the same way as the determinative for all carnivorous animals. Thus, for instances, _____ is "a dog," and _____ is "a lion." It will be seen that both the Egyptian and Assyrian characters here quoted are constructed on exactly the same principle as that to be observed in the formation of the majority of Chinese characters, but it is noticeable that in Assyrian the primitives do not retain in composition their phonetic values, as they generally do in Chinese, and as they often do in Egyptian.

Marketing, then, the forces of the two parts of the characters, it is easy to imagine the way in which new characters have from time to time been formed. Supposing, for instance, that a tree for which a Chinaman wishes to give a name on paper is known to him colloquially as ma. The coiner of the new character would then in the first place choose a common phonetic or primitive possessing the sound ma ; very possibly he would take the hieroglyphic _____ ma "a horse" and would combine with it the determinative _____ muh, meaning "wood." The new character would then stand thus _____, and might be understood to signify " t the ma tree ;" but, unless previously informed, the reader would be left in complete ignorance as to the sort of tree meant, as the part of the character would only supply the information that it was either a tree or something made of wood, and that it was to be pronounced ma. This is equally that case, speaking generally, with all the characters. By a careful study of the phonetics it is possible to arrive at the sounds or approximate sounds—for certain variations constantly occur—of the characters of the language ; but the only hint at their meanings is to be derived from the determinatives, which point only to the general nature of the objects or actions signified.

As has already been said, the determinatives are 214 in number, and these have been considered by many of the native dictionary-marker to furnish convenient headings under which to arrange the characters of the language. Again, others have chosen to classify the characters according to their final sounds. Both systems have their advantages. By adopting the first, the headings are comparatively few, and the characters are, roughly speaking, classified according to the generic meanings they have in common ; and the second gives constant practice to students in remembering the tones and correct rhyming pronunciation of the characters. But in both the phonetic relationship between the primitives is entirely lost sight of. And this is much to be regretted , since, Callery and others have pointed out, the scientific way of arranging the characters would be by placing them under their primitives by which means the respective values of both the primitives and determinates would be brought out in prominent relief. Only in two Chinese dictionaries that we have met with have any attempts been made thus to arrange the characters, and the older of these, on which the later work was probably framed, owes the system on which it is composed to the experience imported from Japan by the co-compiler, who was a native of that country.

Different Styles of Writing

In the course of the above remarks a few instances have been given of the original and modern forms of the same characters, as, for example, _____. But, as may readily be supposed, the change from one to the other was not made all at once, and _____ books afford instances of six distinct styles of writing, varying in clearness from the square character used in the books at the present day to the Seal and Grass or cursive characters, which are noted for their obsecurity. These styles are described as the Chuen shoo or "seal character," the Le shoo or "official character," the Keae shoo or "model character," the Hing shoo or "running character," the Tsaou shoo or "grass character," and the Sung shoo or "Sung-dynasty character," and may be illustrated by the following example, in which the character _____ tsaou "herbs" is shown written in al the six styles just specified :—seal character _____ ; official character _____ ; model character _____ ; running character _____ ; grass character _____ ; and Sung character _____. But above and beyond these six styles of writing. Chinese penmen not unfrequently allow their imaginations to run riot when engaged in fanciful or ornamental pieces of caligraphy. An extraordinary specimen of this quaint taste is to be seen in the Chinese Library of the British Museum, where there is a copy of the Emperor keen-lung’s poem on Moukden, printed both in Chinese and Manchoo in 32 kinds of strangely fanciful characters.

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