CHINAKNOWLEDGE - a universal guide for China studies | HOME | About
Encoding: Unicode (UTF-8) [Location: HOME > Literature > Classics category > Lexicography > Liushutong]

Chinese Literature
Liushutong 六書統 "The Rules of the Six Types of Characters"


The Liushutong 六書統 "The Rules of the Six Types of Characters" is a book on Chinese characters written by the Yuan period 元 (1279-1368) scholar Yang Huan 楊桓, courtesy name Yang Wuzi 楊武子, style Xinquan 辛泉. He came from Yanzhou 兖州 (modern Yanzhou, Shandong), and was editing clerk (jiaoshu 校書) in the Astrological Commission (taishiyuan 太史院), then investigating censor (jiancha yushi 監察御史), and finally director of studies (siye 司業) in the Directorate of Education (guozijian 國子監). He has also written the books Liushu shuoyuan 六書溯源 and Shuxue zhengyun 書學正韻, both also dealing with characters and their pronunciation. In his 20 juan "scrolls" long book Liushutong Yang Huan attempts to demonstrate how characters are related (tong 統) to each other by the system of the six types of characters (liushu 六書), which he divides into smaller categories. Pictograms (xiangxing 象形) consist of 10 classes (lei 類, like words related Heaven, Earth, geography, man, clothes, animals, etc.), huiyi 會意 characters (composed of two other characters and their meaning) of 16 (movements in the sky 天運, the shape of the earth 地體, social relations 人倫, human qualities 人品, numbers 數目, colours 彩色, movements 飛走, life and reproduction 生植), zhishi 指事 type characters of 9 (directly "pointing at objects" 直指其事, "suggesting shape by shape" 以形指形, "suggesting meaning by meaning" 以意指意, "suggesting shape by meaning" 以形指意, etc.), zhuanzhu 轉注 ("mutual explanation") of 18 classes (corresponding to the classes of the earlier chapters), xingsheng 形聲 (combinations of meaning and sound) of 18 classes (idem), and jiaxie 假借 "loan" characters of 14 (loan character by sound and meaning, by meaning, by sound, by close sound, abbreviation, by character similarity etc.). The classification of the characters of the types xiangxing, huiyi, zhuanzhu and xiangxing correspond to that described in Dai Tong's 戴侗 book Liushugu 六書故, while those for the zhishi 指事 and jiajie 假借 types have been created by Yang Huan himself. Yet his method of classification is very inconsistent. For each character he provided the four writing styles of ancient characters (guwen 古文), large seal script (dazhuan 大篆), "bell-and-tripod script" (zhongdingwen 鐘鼎文) and small seal script (xiaozhuan 小篆). Yang Huan was very fascinated by large seal script characters, a style he rated as most useful to understand the meaning of a character, yet for daily use the small seal script was more comfortable, as he said. Yet this style was often corroborated in later ages. The descriptive bibliography Siku quanshu zongmu tiyao 四庫全書總目提要 criticizes Yang Huan for perpetuating the mistakes of Dai Tong's book and his chaotic handling of ancient styles. It is nevertheless included in the imperial collectaneum Siku quanshu 四庫全書. The book was presented to the throne in 1308 and was subsequently printed on imperial order and distributed throughout the empire.

Source:Li Xueqin 李學勤, Lü Wenyu 呂文鬰 (1996). Siku da cidian 四庫大辭典, Changchun: Jilin daxue chubanshe, vol. 1, p. 717.

Chinese literature according to the four-category system

October 6, 2013 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail