Page:Sacred Books of the East - Volume 3.djvu/26

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
xxiv
PREFACE.

lators. Could it be that my own view of Tî, as meaning God, had grown up in the heat of our controversies in China as to the proper characters to be used for the words God and Spirit, in translating the Sacred Scriptures? A reader, confronted everywhere by the word God, might be led to think more highly of the primitive religion of China than he ought to think. Should I leave the names Tî and Shang Tî untranslated? Or should I give for them, instead of God, the terms Ruler and Supreme Ruler? I could not see my way to adopt either of these courses.

The term Heaven (天, pronounced Thien) is used everywhere in the Chinese Classics for the Supreme Power, ruling and governing all the affairs of men with an omnipotent and omniscient righteousness and goodness; and this vague term is constantly interchanged in the same paragraph, not to say the same sentence, with the personal names Tî and Shang Tî. Thien and Tî in their written forms are perfectly distinct. Both of them were among the earliest characters, and enter, though not largely, as the phonetical element into other characters of later formation. According to the oldest Chinese dictionary, the Shwo Wăn (A. D. 100), Thien is formed, 'by association of ideas,' from yî (一), 'one,' and tâ (大) 'great,' meaning—what is one and undivided, and great. Tâi Thung, of our thirteenth century, in his remarkable dictionary, the Liû Shû Kû, explains the top line of it as indicating 'what is above,' so that the significance of the character is 'what is above and great.' In both these dictionaries Tî (帝) is derived from 丄 or 亠 (shang), 'above,' or 'what is above:' and they say that the whole character is of phonetical formation, in which I am not able to follow them[1];

  1. It is said in the Shwo Wăn that the phonetical element in Tî is 朿; but this is pronounced ℨhze. Neither in form nor sound is there any similitude between it and Tî. An error, probably, has crept into the text. Dr. Chalmers, in his treatise on 'the Origin of the Chinese,' attempts (p. 12) to analyse the character into its constituent parts in the following way: 'The peculiar nature of the Chinese written language has done good service in stereotyping the primi-