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Chinese Literature
Liushugu 六書故 "On the Origins of the Six Types of Chinese Characters"

The Liushugu 六書故 "On the origins of the six types of Chinese characters" is a book on Chinese characters written by the Yuan period 元 (1279-1368) scholar Dai Tong 戴侗. The book is 33 juan "scrolls" long, plus one juan of explanations to the compilation. For the author, the study of Chinese characters and their construction was the basis of all learning and reading. He therefore analysed the six types of characters as described in the preface of Xu Shen's character dictionary Shuowen jiezi 說文解字 from the Han period 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE). Instead of using the 540 character radicals of the Shuowen, Dai Tong established 479 "meshes" (mu 目), 189 of which are simple characters (wen 文) and 245 compound characters (zi 字), or "children" of the simple "mother" characters. 45 characters could not be attributed to one of the two groups. He divided the "meshes" into nine groups, according to the meaning of the characters, namely numbers, Heaven, Earth, man, animals, plants, work, miscellaneous, and unknown. In this way he establishes a kind of genealogical tree. The character 月 "moon", for example, generates the character 夕 "evening", 夕 generates 多 "a lot", 多 generates 夥 "plenty". Dai Tong also changed the sequence of the six types of character and tried to define them in a new way, that is not in all cases very convincing, especially in the case of the zhuanzhu 轉注 "comment by turning" (or "mutual explanation") type of characers which he simply defines as mirroring or rotation of characters. The value of the Liushigu lies in its use of bronze inscriptions as a source for the original shape of characters. Dai Tong also stressed the importance of the pronunciation for the shape of a character, a fact that had been rather neglected by older analysts.

Source: Zhou Zumo 周祖謨 (1988). "Liushugu 六書故", in: Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Yuyan wenzi 語言文字, p. 261. Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe.

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February 27, 2011 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail