GoKunming Forums

the origin of characters

bluppfisk (398 posts) • 0

I'm interested in where the individual characters come from. What are their components, what their meanings, what is the idea behind the picture.

Is there an book about this that's not in Chinese? At the Mandarin bookstore, I've found two thin books that talk about the origin of some radicals, but that's just a small selection of characters.

Also, I'm looking for the real or at least hypothetical origins, not made-up stories that serve as mnemonic devices.

bluppfisk (398 posts) • 0

Hi Alex

Though certainly not a bad book, I am rather looking for a (perhaps more scientific) work that stays clear of witty explanations for characters it doesn't know the origin of. Or at least provides an indication of the scientific correctness of the explanation.

Any other ideas? Thanks for the link by the way!

liliping (6 posts) • 0

Hi bluppfisk!
I've been studying Chinese characters for 7 years and, unfortunately, there is no book that will satisfy your request completely. If you are intersted in the origin and pronunciation of characters, you can look up in many dictionaries, such as Erya, Shouwen jiezi and the Kangxi dictionary. I think Wenlin software is very useful to understand how 汉字 changed during the centuries (it also shows how to write down some characters in different calligraphic styles and Karlgren recostrunctions). You can also visit www.zhongwen.com/, even if this website isn't the best.
If you need study materials to implement your knowledge of radicals I can give you something.

Good luck!

p.s. Hope you've already started to study traditional charachters, otherwise it's simply impossible to understand their origin.

Geezer (1947 posts) • 0

Cecilia Lindqvist, China, Empire of the Written Symbol, on amazon.cn 129Y, amazon.com - $10, Kindle version $15. I like this book.

For a few pages (80) on putting individual characters together to make new words and the 'rules': New Path Getting Over Chinese Grammar, revised edition, Zhiu Xiaogeng, Sinolingua, ISBN 978-7-80200-613-3. Think I bought one in Beijing.

tigertiger - moderator (5089 posts) • 0

There is a book that shows the morphology of some characters and with the use of pictures helps association of pictographic elements. It also shows morphology from ancient to modern charachters. And gives a description (see below)

The book is 'Learning Chinese Characters from Ms. Zhang', Beijing Language and Culture University Press
Two volumes and


The ancient written form of is like a grain of rice. Because the color of rice is white, it is use to mean 'white'

The ancient written form of is in the shape of two yolks in front of a horse drawn cart. In ancient times a cart was often drawn by two horses, thus equipped with two yolks.

The ancient form of is in the shape of the opening of a well with surrounding stone or wooden work for safety.

The ancient form of is in the shape of half , meaning a big piece chopped from the wood.

The ancient form of is in the shape of a woman going down on her knees with arms crossed her breasts.

laotou (1714 posts) • 0

On that last note - I suppose if we were in the USA, the fembots would be lobbying to change the character for <woman>?

Login to post