Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

Popular Character Forms (Suzi) and Semantic Compound (Huiyi) Characters in Medieval Chinese Manuscripts

Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

Popular Character Forms (Suzi) and Semantic Compound (Huiyi) Characters in Medieval Chinese Manuscripts

Article excerpt

Traditional Chinese scholarship visualized orthographic structure using the system of liush[u.bar] [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], a technical term explained as six principles of character formation. According to extant sources these categories were first put forth towards the end of the first century C.E. and have been in use ever since. Although individual categories had been sporadically criticized as early as the Song period, it was during the philological renaissance of the Qing dynasty when it became clear that the entire classification system had to be reconsidered. Later on, the discovery of oracle-bone inscriptions and pre-Han manuscripts provided additional material for reassessing the claims of traditional historiography on the evolution of Chinese writing and the forces behind it. Among the problematic categories within the Naha system was the principle of huiyi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], at times rendered into English as 'syssemantic characters' or simply 'semantic compounds'. (1) This traditional category proved to be often based on folk etymologies, and most examples of it can be demonstrated to contain a phonetic component, in contrast with the traditional view that saw them as purely semantic combinations.

While modern research may be justified in doubting the impact of the huiyi principle at the early stages of the writing system, one cannot fail to notice the presence of numerous hidyi-type forms in medieval manuscripts and epigraphic sources. Some of these forms commonly feature in medieval dictionaries, while others are seen only in manuscripts and inscriptions. To be sure, for the most part these are variant forms of characters with otherwise well-attested phonetic origins, yet their occurrence in the post-Han period is a phenomenon that deserves our attention. In this paper, I propose to look at some of the popular or non-standard forms (suzi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) found in medieval manuscripts and dictionaries in an attempt to reconsider the huiyi category from the point of view of the manuscript tradition. Rather than discussing the etymology and early development of established characters, I am specifically interested in non-standard character forms used in everyday writing, because these demonstrate that even if the huiyi principle did not play a major role during the early stages of the Chinese script, by medieval times it was certainly one of the key models according to which people understood orthographic structure.

THE LIUSH[U.bar] SYSTEM AND THE HUIYI PRINCIPLE

Traditional Chinese scholarship described the principles behind the evolution of characters in terms of the liush[u.bar] ('six scripts' or 'six types of writing'). Although this term appears in the Zh[o.bar]uli [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], its use with respect to character structure dates to the first century C.E. when it surfaced in three different sources. The most elaborate of these is the Shu[o.bar]wen jiezi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] by Xu Shen [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII](ca. 58-ca. 147), who explained the six categories in the "Post-face" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] in the following way:

  [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]
  According to the Zh[o.bar]uli, school begins at the age of eight.
  When the Protector teaches the sons of the state, he begins with
  the liush[u.bar]. The first of these is zhishi ('pointing at
  things') (2)  Zhishi characters are the ones that can be
  understood by looking at them, the meaning of which can be seen
  through observation. The characters [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN
  ASCII] and [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] are like this. The
  second is xiangxing ('depicting form'). Xiangxing characters
  are the ones that depict objects by reproducing their physical
  shape. The characters [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and
  [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] are like this. The third is
  xingsh[e.bar]ng ('form and sound'). … 
Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.