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"Making Friends with the Kangxi Zidian 康熙字典"

ABSTRACT: Written as a bibliographic exercise, this occasional paper outlines the basic facts of the Kangxi imperial dictionary (1716) and provides the first translation into a European language of the emperor's preface (
御製康熙字典序).  The paper ends with a casual example of usage by examining the character you 友 (friend) in both the Kangxi dictionary and also the ancient Shuowen 說文 lexicon in order to show how the former might be useful in helping to decide whether the evocative etymology of that character that is presented in Matteo Ricci’s 1595 treatise, Jiaoyou lun 交友論 (Essay on Making Friends), may or may not be related to traditional etymologies.  (Drafted: April 2007.)  Please cite/link as follows:

Billings, Timothy: "Making Friends with the Kangxi Zidian 康熙字典: An Introduction." Unpublished occasional paper. April 2007. <https://segue.middlebury.edu/view/html/node/4226261>



Making Friends with the Kangxi Zidian 康熙字典:

An Introduction


Timothy Billings, Middlebury College

April 2007

Begun by imperial commission in 1710 and completed in 1716, the Kangxi zidian 康熙字典 (Kangxi Dictionary) was one of the great literary achievements of the Kangxi reign (1661-1722), along with the Peiwen yunfu 佩文韻府 (Rhyme Treasury of the Honoring Literature Library
[1]) completed in 1711, the Quan Tangshi 全唐詩 (Complete Tang Poems) completed in 1705, the Gujin tushu jicheng 古今圖書集成 (Collection of Old and New Illustrations and Books) completed during the following reign in 1726, and the Manchu translation of the Xiyou ji 西遊記 (Journey to the West)—all projects, writes Jonathan Spence, that “gave lucrative employment, or at least short-term commissions, to numerous scholars.”[2]   The Kangxi zidian was begun under the directorship of two eminent officials, Zhang Yushu 張玉書 (1642-1711)[3] and Chen Tingjing 陳廷敬 (1639-1712)[4], whose names are the only two listed in the work under the rubric of Zuanyue guan 總閱官 (Director General), even though both had passed away only a couple of years into the project.[5]

The dictionary contains an impressive number of 47,035[6] characters organized under 214 classifiers[7], which simultaneously expanded the scope of previous lexicons while making it easier to find characters under a reduced number of classifications.[8]  As with all comprehensive Chinese dictionaries, this reckoning of characters includes a significant percentage of graphic variants—about 20,000 in the case of the Kangxi zidian (about 40%)—as well as many hapax legomena and obsolete or rarely used characters.[9]  The oldest comprehensive dictionary and the classic of all Chinese lexicons is the Shuowen jiezi 說文解字 (An Explanation of Graphs and Analysis of Characters) by Xu Shen 許慎 (c. 55 - c. 149), probably written between 100 to 125 AD, which contains 9,353 characters (according to Xu himself in a famous postface), of which 1,163 were variant forms, and also a dizzying number of 540 classifiers.   Subsequent dictionaries—all, naturally, based on the Shuowen—had gradually swollen the numbers.[10]  The Yupian 玉篇 (Jade Leaves) of 543, by Gu Yewang 顧野王 (519-581), had increased the number of characters to 22,561 under 542 classifiers; and the Leipian 類篇 (Classified Leaves) of 1066, by Sima Guang 司馬光 (1019-1086) and others, increased the number further to 31,319 characters under 544 classifiers.[11]  Character classifiers were first reduced to a sensible number in the Zihui 字彙 (Word Compilation) by Mei Yingzuo 梅膺作 (fl. 1570-1615), published in 1615, which arranged characters under 214 classifiers, and was also the first to introduce the method used today of listing the number of strokes left after the classifier is isolated.[12]

The Kangxi zidian was printed in forty ce 冊 (volumes) and bears a preface from the red brush of the Kangxi emperor himself, as follows:

Preface to the Kangxi Dictionary, Made by Imperial Command[13]

The Commentary on the Book of Changes[14] says: “In the earliest antiquity, they tied knots in string in order to rule, and in later generations the sages changed it into writing.  When a hundred officials use it for ruling, innumerable citizens can see it.”  The unofficial history of the Offices of the Zhou[15] spread writing and names to all corners.  When Lord Bao[16] raised a prince, he taught him the six kinds of writing and examined literature, arranging it into three ranks.  He probably did this to make a unifying rule for all things, and it was sufficient for helping disseminate his teachings on government. The small seal and the secretary scripts of ancient writing were passed down and altered with the generations, and it was only in the Han that there was first An Explanation of Graphs[17] by Master Xu.  But he emphasized meaning and somewhat neglected pronunciation, which is why people say that the Confucian scholars of the Han knew writing and characters but they did not know child and mother [i.e. finals and initials][18]; the Confucian scholars east of the Yangtze[19] knew the four tones, but did not know the seven sounds.  The diffusion of the seven sounds originated in the western regions[20] and use the thirty-six characters for their initials[21], from which came the four tones, crossed by the seven sounds, and afterward all the sounds of the world came together in this.  Often when I examine what is contained in the Book of Guanzi[22] with respect to the people of the five areas, their speech is either clear or murky, or high or low, each one similar to the valleys or high plains, springs or soil, shallow or deep, broad or narrow, where it was born.  For this reason the five sounds certainly have biases, and those who can completely master the seven sounds are few.  These past eras of mutual commentaries to get the sounds have thus never been able to ‘[establish rules] as clearly as a single stroke.’[23]

After An Explanation of Graphs, those who were excellent in characters and writing—through Jade Leaves in the Liang, through Vast Rhymes[24] in the Tang, through Collected Rhymes[25] in the Song, through Five Sounds Collection of Rhymes[26] in the Jin, through the Rhyme Gathering[27] in the Yuan, and through Correct Rhymes[28] in the Ming—all spread their knowledge in their time so that they could help later [generations] study.  Those who transmitted [their knowledge] but were never popular still number in the tens to a hundred.  Those editors all say they have not the slightest regret, but later scholars will offer criticism, and very many books agree or disagree—some that the number of included characters misses the mark by being too many or too few, some that the quotation of sources has not standard and is indiscriminate or negligent, some that there are characters that have several meanings that are not explained, and some that the pronunciation has several analyses[29] that are not provided—so that, never having had one [book] that was both excellent and beautiful, there was nothing to be presented as a standard classic that would endure.

Every time I read widely in the commentaries on the classics, the pronunciations and meanings are complex and obscure, and each person protects his own explanations according to his individual view, so that it is not likely that any will communicate everything without gaps.  Thus I have ordered the scholar officials to acquire all the old documents, then to arrange them and revise them.  [In order to] determine pronunciations and analyze meanings, they used both An Explanation of Graphs and Jade Leaves, [as well as] Vast Rhymes, Collected Rhymes, Rhyme Gathering, and Correct Rhymes, in addition to individual pronunciations and explanations from other lexicons, so that nothing would be left behind or missed.  When the quoted sources from all of these books were not enough, then from the classics, the histories, and the many offspring even of the Han, Jin, Tang, Song, Yuan, and Ming, even including what poets and literary writers had to say, they left no page unturned if it was useful to be cited. Afterward, the dissimilarities between ancient and new character forms and the differences between the sounds in dialectics were separated into parts and arranged into classes so that you could open the book and immediately understand it without a single meaning that is unexplained or a single pronunciation that is not provided.  After a total of five years, the book was finally finished.  The imperial order says:  “A dictionary is undertaken to clarify the governing [of a country] through the use of a unified writing system, to enable anyone who studies and examines antiquity to gain full knowledge of the sources of [the different kinds of] characters, and so that senior officials, minor officials, and the people have something to follow.”  Thus, the preface.

The nineteenth day of the third month of the fifty-fifth year, intercalary, of the Kangxi reign [1716].


易傳曰:「上古結繩而治,後世聖人易之以書契。百官以治,萬民以察。」周官外史掌達書名於四方。保氏養國子,教以六書,而考文列於三重。盖[蓋]以其為萬事百物之統紀,而足以助流政教也。古文篆隷,随世逓[遞] 變,至漢許氏始有說文,然重義而略於音,故世謂漢儒識文字而不識子母,江左之儒識四聲而不識七音。七音之傳,肈[肇]自西域,以三十六字為母。從為四聲,横為七音,而後天下之聲緫[總]於是焉。嘗考管子之書所載,五方之民,其聲之清濁高下,各象其川原,泉壤,淺深,廣狭而生。故于五音必有所偏得,則能全備七音者鮮矣。此厯[歷]代相傳取音者所以不能較若畫一也。



Unsurprisingly, the emperor’s preface emphasizes that this lexicographical project belongs to the long tradition of ruling well by establishing the correct terms (the Confucian zheng ming 正名), but the more modern concern (beginning in the Tang dynasty) is the correct determination of pronunciation—no small problem for a language that spans so much time and space.  It is interesting to note that Teng and Biggerstaff report that the chief sources for the Kangxi zidian were the Zihui (1615) and the Zhengzi tong (1627), whereas the emperor names the more illustrious progenitors, Xu Shen’s Shuowen (c. 100) and Sima Guang’s Leipian (1066).[30]

Despite (or perhaps because of) the many lexicographic precedents on which to base the dictionary, five years may have been too short a time for such an ambitious project—which was, according to one source, the amount of time granted by the emperor for it to be completed.[31]  The resulting haste produced a dictionary that, notwithstanding its fame, Victor Mair has described as “actually quite sloppy and full of mistakes.”[32]  These mistakes, largely misquotations of source passages, would remain for another century until the 1831 publication of a supplement, the Zidian kaozheng 字典考證 (Character Dictionary Textual Research), under the editorship of Wang Yinzhi 王引之 (1766-1834), which corrected an estimated 2,588 errors.[33]  Deng Siyu 鄧嗣禹 and Knight Biggerstaff describe the further shortcomings of the Kangxi zidian as its “inconvenient arrangement, the complicated, and occasionally inaccurate indication of pronunciation, and the frequently illogical classification of characters under certain radicals.”[34]

Such imperfections may be regrettable for scholars, but they have not lessened the iconic value of the Kangxi zidian in the popular imagination as the last great modern dictionary commissioned by an emperor (or its value among collectors of shanben 善本 “Rare Editions”), as is illustrated by periodic stories in the popular media about the unexpected discovery of early editions in unlikely places—stories whose appeal seems to be the fantasy of recovering China’s former cultural greatness combined with the fantasy of sudden and effortless wealth that pervades the new era of speculation on the Chinese stock exchange.  All of these stories stress that the first printing is rare because it was distributed only among high officials.  A story in the Renmin ribao 人民日報 (People’s Daily) tells of a book collector showing off an immaculate first edition in 40 volumes (how he acquired it is not revealed): “The paper, specially made for the emperor, is still white and glossy and the printing plate [i.e. title page] features graceful letter forms and rich decorative patterns.”[35]  Another such story includes a narrative straight out of a Romance novel recounting how one Mr. Liu came about owning an original edition of the Kangxi zidian, which was given to an ancestor who owned an inn in Qingdao 青島 during the Qianlong 乾隆 era (1736-1796):

One balmy evening, a county scholar entered the restaurant [sic] and said that he was on his way to the capital to sit the imperial examinations. But, he had been robbed of all his money and was unable to pay for meals or lodgings. The proprietor took pity on the scholar and gave him a meal and a room for free.

The next day, as the scholar was leaving the restaurant, he handed his dictionary, the Kangxi Dictionary, to the proprietor and said, "If I pass the imperial examinations, I will come back for my dictionary. If I don't, you may keep it and take it as payment for my meal and room."

The scholar never returned, and the dictionary has remained with the Liu family ever since.[36]

Just a few months ago, yet another story appeared in the Chinese press about the discovery of a woodblock edition that is believed to have been a Kangxi era knock-off for the use of “common people.”[37]  In the tradition of faux Song shanben or Rolex watches for the people, this uniquely surviving copy seems to have been a bit of Qing editorial entrepreneurship. 
According to Deng and Biggerstaff, the Kangxi zidian was printed in the following major editions:
•    1716: The first imperial edition consisting of 40 ce 冊 (volumes), in block print.  According to the reporter for the Qingdao zaobao (Qingdao Morning News) cited above, the newly discovered edition that he examined was bound in six blue cases, separated according to the topical divisions of the dictionary into the six traditional arts, each of which had a label on the front: li 禮 (rites), yue 樂 (music), she 射 (archery), yu 御 (riding), shu 書 (calligraphy), and shu 數 (mathematics).[38]  He also notes that it included 43 volumes, which may indicated that it is an exemplar from the next edition despite the fact that a specialist in the local museum believes that it is a true imperial edition from the first printing.

•    1875: The Hubei wen shuju 湖北文書局 (Hubei Literature Book House) edition consisting of 43 ce in newly cut blocks.

•    1887: The Tongwen shuju 同文書局 (Combined Literature Book House) edition consisting of 6 ce.  I have consulted the British Library copy of an early reprint of this edition with supplementary material (all 6 ce rebound into one thick volume), also published by the Tongwen shuju in Shanghai, called the Kangxi zidian / fu beikao, buyi 康熙字典/附備考, 補遺 (Kangxi Dictionary: To which is added Corrections and Supplements), which is dated Guangxu renchen 光緒壬辰年 or 1892.[39]  The blocks of this edition are identical to those of the 1887 edition, which are reproduced in the internet facsimile edition with the exception that the page numbers in the front matter of the later edition are not consecutive, but restart at the beginning of each section.[40]

•    1902: The Shanghai Baoshanzhai 上海寶善齋 (Shanghai Precious Excellence Studio) edition in 6 ce, the first lithographic printing.

•    N.D. [1902-1935]: The Shangwu yinshuguan 商務印書館 or “Commercial Press” edition in 6 ce (or one volume), the first movable-type edition.

•    1935: The Jingwei 經緯 Book Company edition in 1 volume (1624 pages), the first photolithographic reprint of the 1716 edition.[41]

Making Friends with Matteo Ricci and the Kangxi zidian

Okay, so I want to look up something in the Kangxi zidian, but how do I do it?  The easiest way, to be perfectly honest, is to use the Kangxi zidian wangshangban 康熙字典網上版 (Web Edition of the  Kangxi Dictionary) which links every character to its appropriate facsimile page in the Tongwen shuju edition: if you can type it, you can find it.

But, in fact, a paper copy of the Kangxi zidian is not extremely difficult to use, at least for most characters, as long as you can identify what part of the character is used as its “radical” which does not always correspond to the radical familiar from modern dictionaries.  In theory, this is clear enough, but in practice it takes a bit of flipping.  The dictionary is divided into twelve “collections” (ji 集), named after the twelve earthly branches (dizhi 地支), and then subdivided into three sections each (上/中/下), according to the number of strokes in the radical.  The division of the characters among the twelve earthly branches is a bit awkward, but it is intelligible and usable if you map it out backwards:
1-2    zi
3    chou 丑, yin
4    mao 卯, chen 辰, si
5    wu
6    wei 未, shen
7    you
8-9    xu
10+    hai 亥   
Thus, in order to find the character you 友 (friend), I went to the zi ji 子集 (first section) and flipped forward into the characters with two-stroke radicals, and then a little further into the xia 下 subdivision to the radical you 又, where I found it among the characters with two remaining strokes.  (Admittedly, searching for this character was not particularly challenging.)

My interest in this particular character comes not from a general sense of amicability, but more specifically from one of the small-character commentaries to Matteo Ricci’s 1595 Jiaoyou lun 交友論 (Essay on Making Friends), in which Ricci plays with the etymology of the character for “friend” as follows:

The Lord on High gave people two eyes, two ears, two hands, and two feet so that two friends could help each other.  Only in this way can deeds be brought successfully to completion.

[COMMENTARY] The word “friend” in the ancient seal script is written as 㕛, which is two hands [手].  Things are possible if you have them, and not possible without them.  The [other] word for “friend” [朋] in the ancient script is written as 羽, which is two wings [习].  Only because birds have them are they able to fly.   Did not the sages of antiquity thus regard friendship in the same way?


The maxim proper is closely adapted from a Latin aphorism excerpted from the epistles of Cassiodorus (a fifth-century Roman statesman and writer), but the small-character commentary is entirely Ricci’s own in what appears to be a highly original gesture of accomodation between European and East Asian antiquity.  (For the sake of brevity, I will examine only the first of the two characters for “friend” here.)  But before we look at the Kangxi zidian, let us first turn to that earliest of all extant dictionaries, the Shuowen jiezi, for which there is also an easily searchable online facsimile of the great Qing edition, the Shuowen jiezi zhu 說文解字注 (Annotated Shuowen), of 1815 by Duan Yucai 段玉裁, from which I quote the following entry and draw the attached figure.
Figure at right: The character you 友 in: Xu Shen 許慎 (ed. Duan Yucai 段玉裁): Shuowen jiezi zhu 說文解字注. 1815. <http://www.gg-art.com/imgbook/index_b.php?bookid=53>
[1st ancient char.]: [Definition:] Those who have the same will are considered friends. (The Book of Rites says: Those who have the same teacher are called companions; those who have the same will are called friends.) [Derivation:] From two hands [又] coming together. (Two hands means two people.  Excellent brothers seek [to be] a pair in order to be like right and left hands.) [Pronunciation:] Starts like yun, ends like jiu.  Three parts.) [2nd char.]: “Friend” in ancient script. [3rd char.]: Also “friend” in ancient script. Not yet explained.
[1]:同志為友。 周禮注曰:「同師曰朋,同志曰友。」從二又相交也[43]。二又、二人也。善兄弟,亦取二人而如左右手也。云九切。三部。[第2]: 古文友。[第3]: 亦古文友未詳。

Thus, Ricci’s idea that the character for “friend in the ancient seal script is written as 㕛, which is two hands [手]” ultimately derives from the Shuowen which explains the graph as “two hands [又] coming together.”  Although Ricci might have intuited his subsequent interpretation from the Shuowen entirely on his own—“Things are possible if you have them [hands, like friends], and not possible without them”—the idea is nevertheless notably similar to the commentary here: “Excellent brothers become pairs like right and left hands.”  The intuitive leap in the idea is that these are not two hands coming together in a greeting between friends, but rather two hands representing two people working together.  In Duan Yucai’s edition, the text in bold represents Xu Shen’s original text of the Shuowen as handed down to us via Xu Xuan’s 徐鉉 (916-991) late 10th century critical edition, Jiaoding shuowen jiezi 校定說文解字 (Collated and Fixed Shouwen), from which all later editions of the Shuowen are derived.[44]  The remaining text is Duan’s commentary.  Of course, Ricci could not have seen that commentary, so he either inferred his interpretation from Xu Xuan’s edition of Xu Shen, or he relied on commentaries similar to Duan’s in another dictionary.  (It would be satisfying to pinpoint the immediate source for Ricci’s idea in a particular reprint of the Shuowen or some other Ming dictionary or encyclopedia, but that task must await another occasion.)

Now, let us compare this with the same entry in the Kangxi zidian in the attached figure.
Figure below: A page from the Tongwen shuju 同文書局 edition (1887) of the Kangxi zidian 康熙字典 showing the characters you 友/㕛  (friend). <http://www.kangxizidian.com/search/searchdetails.php?ID=2455&page=165>

The entry for you 友 begins with the same ancient characters found in the Shuowen with two more variants in the more regularized script, along with the seal script characters at the top of the page outside the margin.  The pronunciation is first given from the Tangyun 唐韻 (Tang Rhymes), just as we saw it in Xu Xuan’s edition of the Shuowen (“Starts like yun, ends like jiu” [云九切]), and then the Jiyun, Yunhui, and Zhengyun are all cited together as repeating the pronunciation with the addition of 聲音有: “Has the same tone and sound as you [have].”  We are thus given the tone separately, following the major rhyme dictionaries.  We are then given the first part of the definition from the Shuowen, but not all of it (“Those who have the same will are considered friends” [同志為友].  The rest of the entry then consists of a series of quotations from other sources that define the essence friendship, including the Li Ruxing 禮儒行 (the “Conduct of the Scholar” chapter of the Book of Rites), the Zhoushu 周書 (Book of Zhou), and Sima Guang. 

But we are looking for ideas about the etymology, which we find under the separate entry for the variant character you 㕛 which is conveniently located immediately afterward.  The entry reads:

㕛: Jade Leaves: The ancient word for “friend.”  See this book.  An Explanation of Graphs: From two hands mutually coming together.  Xu says: Two hands make things easy for each other. 㕛 has the meaning of “helping,” which is why it comes from two hands.

㕛 玉篇:古文友字。註見本書。說文:从二手相交。徐曰:二手相順也。㕛有左右之義,故从二手。

This supplementary entry thus cites the Yupian first (even though it does not differ from the Shuowen), then refers the reader to the entry that we just read for the definition of you 友 (friend).  The Shuowen is then cited for the second line of its entry to give the etymology of the character (the first line having already been given in the entry to which the reader was just referred).  Then, Xu Xuan’s commentary on the Shuowen is given, which clearly uses the term zuoyou 左右 not in the sense of “left and right” (though it may carry a hint of that), but chiefly in the sense of “to help.”  Thus, even if Duan’s edition of the Shuowen is the best and most accurate, the Kangxi zidian actually gives us more information in the absence of Xu’s edition.  (This information could no doubt be tracked down in the many supplements to Duan’s edition.)  What we discover here is that Xu’s comment is strikingly similar both to Ricci’s etymology (and also to Duan’s commentary) which suggests that Xu’s commentary is probably the ultimate source for Ricci’s idea (as well as Duan’s) so that even without an edition of the Shuowen that contains Xu’s commentary, recourse to the Kangxi zidian has demonstrated that Ricci did not invent this interpretation of the ancient etymology entirely on his own, in addition to providing a handful of other loci classici on friendship that might be separately pursued.


[1]  Victor Mair translates the title of the Peiwen yunfu as “Rhyme Treasury from the Studio of Pendant Literature,” whereas I follow Wilkinson who also notes that “Peiwenzhai [佩文齋] was the name of the Kangxi emperor’s library”; Victor Mair: “Zishu 字書 or Zidian 字典,” in: Nienhauser, William H., Jr., Charles Hartman, Y.W. Ma, Stephen H. West (eds.): The Indiana Companion to Traditional Chinese Literature. 2 vols. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986-1998, vol. 2, p. 170; Wilkinson, Endymion Porter: Chinese History: A Manual. Revised and Enlarged. Cambridge, Mass.  Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Asia Center for the Harvard-Yenching Institute, 2000, p. 64.  Both translations are possible—Mair seems to recognize a pun on the jade pendant of the sophisticated scholar official (also written pei 珮, with the jade radical)—but Wilkinson’s seems the clearer translation.

[2]  Spence, Jonathan: “The K’ang-hsi Reign,” in: (Peterson, Williard (ed.): The Cambridge History of China. Vol. 9: Part One: The Ch’ing Empire to 1800. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002, p. 108.

[3]  Zhang Yushu 張玉書 (1642-1711), courtesy name Sucun 素存, other name Runfu 潤甫, passed the jinshi examination in 1661, lived to be 70 sui, was canonized as Wenzhen 文貞 (Cultured and Loyal), and had his name entered in the Temple of Eminent Statesmen.  He held a number of high posts over the course of his long career, from his first appointment as a bachelor in the Hanlin Academy up through Grand Secretary.  He was the director-general of the Historiographical Board (which compiled the Mingshi 明史, “Official Ming History”), chancellor of the Hanlin Academy, vice-president of the Board of Ceremonies, president of the Board of Punishments, president of the Board of Ceremonies, and also president of the Board of Revenue.  In 1698, the Kangxi emperor bestowed upon him the title of his studio, Sungyin Tang 松蔭堂 (Pine Sheltered Hall).  He was also director-general of the Peiwen yunfu.  Based on Hummel, Arthur (ed.): Eminent Chinese of the Ch’ing Period (1644-1912). Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1943, pp. 65-66 (hereafter ECCP).

[4]  Chen Tingjing 陳廷敬 (1639-1712), courtesy name Zidian 子端, other names Shuoyan 說巖 and Wuting 午亭, whose posts included senior president of the Censorate, president of the Board of Works, and director of the Historigraphical Board.  He was also director-general of the Peiwen yunfu along with Zhang Yushu, and was also canonized as Wenzhen 文貞. See ECCP, p. 101.

[5]  Kangxi zidian, 1892, f. 4r.  No doubt the 27 others listed under the rubric of Zuanxiu guan 纂修官 (Compiling and Revising Officials) did much more work on the dictionary than either of these two did; ibid., ff. 4r-4r. According to Mair, Zhang also edited the Peiwen shiyun 佩文詩韻 (Poetic Rhymes from the Honoring Literature Studio), a one-volume abridgment of the Peiwen yunfu with 10,235 characters (about the same number as the Peiwen yunfu), which became “the authoritative standard for writing poetry on the civil-service examinations”; Mair, p. 169.

[6]  The exact number varies occasionally among scholars, but 47,035 is most common, as in Mair, p. 169 and Wilkinson, p. 64.  Jerry Norman gives 47,053 (probably a slip); Norman, Jerry: Chinese. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988, p. 283; Benjamin Elman gives 47,030; Elman, Benjamin: “Social Roles of Literati in Early to Mid-Ch’ing,” in: (Peterson, Williard (ed.): The Cambridge History of China. Vol. 9: Part One: The Ch’ing Empire to 1800. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002, p. 373. Elsewhere, in a published lecture, Norman gives 47,033 (perhaps from memory), where he also gives 1710 as the publication date; Jerry Norman, “Learning Chinese in the 1990s,” ADFL Bulletin 27. 2 (Winter 1996): p. 5.

[7]  DeFrancis insists that these should be properly called “significs” and not “radicals” in order to distinguish them from modern methods of character classification; DeFrancis, John: The Chinese Language: Fact And Fantasy. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1984, p. 92.  Wilkinson among others uses the more generic term “classifier” for all dictionaries and encyclopedias; Wilkinson,  passim.

[8]  DeFrancis notes that the 214 significs are still in use, but after the introduction of simplified characters in the People’s Republic of China, “recent publications have variously classified characters under 186, 189, 191, 225, 226, 250” different classifiers; DeFrancis, p. 92.

[9]  Wilkinson, p. 64.

[10]  Boltz, p. 434.

[11]  Mair, p. 169.

[12]  Wilkinson, p. 64.

[13]  This preface has apparently never been translated into a European language before.  I have split the text into three sections to make it easier to follow.  My punctuation.  See: http://www.kangxizidian.com/org/orgpage.php?page=1.  This edition is described below.

[14]  Among the many books that bear this title, the emperor is quoting the most influential of them, the Yi zhuan 易傳 (Commentaries on the Book of Changes) by Cheng Yi 程頤 (1033-1107).

[15]  Zhouguan 周官 (Offices of the Zhou) is the old name for the Confucian classic Zhouli 周禮 (Rites of the Zhou) which was redacted during the Han and attributed to Zhou Gong 周公 (Duke of Zhou).

[16]  The emperor is alluding to a passage about Baoshi 保氏 (Lord Bao) in the Diguan situ 地官司徒 (Earth Officers, Education) chapter of the Zhouguan which has apparently become a locus classicus for the liu shu 六書 (six kinds of writing or characters), classified as one of the traditional liu yi 六藝 (six arts): 周禮,地官司徒 113 : 保氏:掌諫王惡,而養國子以道。乃教之六藝:一曰五禮,二曰六樂,三曰五射,四曰五馭,五曰六書,六曰九數; see Zhongguo zhexue dianzihua jihua 中國哲學書電子化計劃 (The Chinese Philosophy Digitized Book Project) [http://chinese.dsturgeon.net/ text.pl?node=36699&if=gb].  The six kinds of characters are: zhishi 指事 (indicatives), xiangxing 象形 (pictographs), xingsheng 形聲 (phonetic compounds), huiyi 會意 (combined meanings), zhuanzhu 轉注 (related pairs), and jiajie 假借 (phonetic loans); see Boltz, William G.: "Shuo wen chieh tzu," in Loewe, Michael (ed.): Early Chinese Texts: A Bibliographical Guide.  Berkeley: University of California, Berkeley, 1993, p. 432.

[17]  I.e., the Shuowen.  See above.

[18]  The words zi 子 (child) and mu 母 (mother) here refer to the linguistic terms ziyin 子音 (initials) and muyin 母音 (finals); but see also note 21 below.

[19]  Literally “left of the river,” referring roughly to modern day eastern region of southern Jiangsu 江蘇 province and the adjacent areas.

[20]  This is difficult to construe, but it probably does not refer to Europe, but rather to Gansu 甘肅, Xinjiang 新疆, or Turkistan.

[21]  Chinese has 36 initials known as ziyin, but also known as shengmu 聲母 (sound mothers), as first described in the late Tang dynasty Yunjing 韻鏡 (Rhyme Mirror).

[22]  The Guanzi 官子 (Book of Master Guan) is a collection of legalist teachings from the Spring and Autumn period (722-481 BC) by Guan Zhong 管仲 (d. 645 BCE), an eminent statesman in the state of Qi 齊.  

[23]  A chengyu 成語 (set phrase).

[24]  The Guangyun 廣韻 or Da Song chongxiu guangyun 大宋重修廣韻 (Great Song Revision of the Vast Rhymes), by Chen Pengnian 陳彭年 (961-1017), was completed in 1011 CE.  It is an enlarged and revised version of the Tang Qieyun 切韻 (Cutting Rhymes), a rhyme dictionary compiled in 601 by Lu Fayan 陸法言 and others, which was the first to use the qie 切 or “cutting” system of representing the pronunciation of a word by ‘cutting’ it into two characters, one of which has the same initial and the other the same final of the character to be defined.  An intermediate revision, known as the Tangyun 唐韻 (Tang Rhymes) was published in 751; Teng and Biggerstaff, p. 203.

[25]  The Jiyun 集韻 was compiled in 1039 on imperial commission by Ding Du 丁度 and others, and “possibly completed by” Sima Guang 司馬光 in 1067.  It was essentially a revision of the Guangyun almost twice its size and heavily influenced by the definitions in the Shuowen jiezi; Teng and Biggerstaff, p. 204.

[26]  Wuyun jiyun 五音集韻 (Five Sound Collection of Rhymes) in Jin 金 Dynasty (1115-1234), by Han Daozhao 韓道昭 (c. 1170- c. 1230), courtesy name Bohui 伯暉, with a preface 1212.

[27]  The Yunhui 韻會 or Gujin yunhui 古今韻會 (Ancient and Modern Collection of Rhymes) was an influential rhyme dictionary completed in 1292 by the Song scholar Huang Gongshao 黃公紹 (jinshi 1265), then rewritten for simplication by his friend Xiongzhong 熊忠 in 1297 as the Gujin yunhui juyao xiaobu 古今韻會舉要小補, and later revised during the Ming by Fang Risheng 方日升 and Li Weizhen 李維楨 (1606).

[28]  The Zhengyun 正韻 or Hongwu zhengyun 洪武正韻 (The Hongwu Correct Rhymes) was a rhyming dictionary completed in 1375 that was commissioned by the first emperor of the Ming dynasty Ming Taizu Zhu Yuanzhang, 明太祖朱元璋 (1328-1398). 

[29]  The term here translated as “analyses” is qie 切 (cutting).  See note 24 above.

[30]  Teng Ssu-yü and Biggerstaff, Knight: An Annotated Bibliography of Selected Chinese Reference Works. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1950, p. 181.

[31]  I have not been able to locate an independent source for this claim other than Teng and Biggerstaff, p. 180.

[32]  Mair, p. 169.

[33]  Teng and Biggerstaff, p. 181. See the reprint: Wang Yinzhi 王引之 (ed.): Kangxi zidian kaozheng 康熙字典考正. Zhengzhou: Zhongzhou guji chubanshe, 1993.

[34]  Teng and Biggerstaff, p. 181.  It is now much easier to use a modern index included in reprints or the online edition that automatically locates pages.  The Trindex was originally designed for this purpose: Nash, Vernon: Trindex. An index to three dictionaries, Giles’ Chinese-English Dictionary, K’ang Hsi Tzu Tien, P’ei Wen Yun Fu, etc.  Beijing: Index Press, 1936.

[35]  [Anonymous]: “300-Year-Old Imperial Edition Dictionary Found,” in: People’s Daily. Online edition. Sunday, January 13, 2002. eng20020113_8859http://www.cq.xinhuanet.com/news/2007-01/09/content_8992142.htm8992142.htm]

[36]  Chen Linaccessed 15 April 200720, 2005). [http://www.china.org.cn/english/2005/Jun/132516.htm, accessed 15 April 2007].  The English versions (where they exist) of some of these articles are not as complete as the Chinese originals.

[37]  Lu Yuying: “Wooden /20061130/100368.shtmlvision (CCTV). 30 November 2006. [http://www.cctv.com/program/cultureexpress /20061130/100368.shtml]; 由於當時官印的康熙字典價格昂貴,普通百姓買不起,為了讓更多貧民學到知識�20040906/102152.shtml�套普通民用版字典;on CCTV. 2 September 2004 [http://big5.cctv.com/program/xbxw/ 20040906/102152.shtml]

[38]  [Anonymous]: “記者看到,這部由六個深藍色布制書套包裹的《康熙字典》總共有43冊。六個書套上按 ‘六藝’ 分類,寫著禮、樂、射、御、書、數” ; Qingdao zaobao. 12 June 2004, p. A3.

[39]  Hoang, Pierre: Concordance des chronologies néoméniques chinoise et européenne. Shanghai: Imprimerie la Mission Catholique, 1910, p. 343.  Zhang Yushu 張玉書 et al. (ed.): Kangxi zidian: fu beikao, buyi 康熙字典:附備考, 補遺.  Shanghai: Tongwen shuju, 1892.http://www.kangxizidian.com/index2.php 張玉書 et al. (ed.): Kangxi zidian wangshangban 康熙字典網上版. [http://www.kangxizidian.com/index2.php]. This edition helpfully adds modern page numbers at the bottom of each page image.

[41]  See Teng and Biggerstaff, pp. 179-180.

[42]  Ricci, Matteo (ed. Feng Yingjing 馮應京): Jiaoyou lun 交友論. Beijing: 1601, f. 5v [maxim no. 56].  See also Ricci, Matteo: Jiaoyou lun 交友論, in: Li Zhizao 李之藻 (ed.): Tianxue chuhan 天學初函. 6 vols. Hangzhou: 1629 [Facsimile reprint: Taibei: Taiwan xuesheng shuju, 1965], vol. 1, p. 306. I am currently working on the first annotated translation of Ricci's treatise on friendship in English.

[43]  The final particle ye 也 is not in Duan’s edition and has been supplied by cross-checking this text with a modern reprint: Xu Shen 許慎 (ed. Yin Yunchu 殷韻出): Shuowen jiezi / fu jianzi 說文解字/附檢字. Beijing: Zhonghua shuju, 1963, p.65. This reprint is based on the 1873 edition by Chen Changzhi 陳昌治, which reprints Xu Xuan’s small-character commentaries; Xu (ed. Yin), p. 4.  For this entry the only commentary is the pronunciation (云九切).

[44]  Xu Xuan prepared this crucial edition on a commission of 986 from the Song emperor Taizong 太宗 (939-997); the earliest known edition of Xu Xuan’s work is undated but believed to be a posthumous printing from between 998 to 1022; Boltz, p. 436.


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Boltz, William G.: The Origin and Development of the Chinese Writing System. Indiana: Eisenbrauns, 1994.

Bottéro, Françoise: Sémantisme et classification dans l’écriture chinoise: les systèmes de classement des caractères par clés du Shuowen Jiezi au Kangxi Zidian. Paris: Collèaccessed 15 April 2007> Chen Lin: “Imperial Dictionary Found in Qingdao,” in: China.org.cn (June 20, 2005). [http://www.china.org.cn/english/2005/Jun/132516.htm, accessed 15 April 2007]

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