Essays on the Chinese Language (1889)/3
CHINESE OPINIONS ABOUT THE
ORIGIN AND EARLY HISTORY OF THE LANGUAGE.
Let us now go on to consider some of the views held by the Chinese about the first beginnings of their language. And the question of the origin and development of their own language is for most native writers that of the origin and development of human speech generally. Now it must be owned that, so far at least as their literature is known to us, Chinese philosophers have not treated this subject with any degree of full or accurate thought. Yet it were rash to say, as some have said, that the problem of the origin of speech never occurred to them, for we have reasons neither few nor slight for thinking that it did occur to them, and that they have had on it, at times at least, decided opinions. On the one hand we know that the Chinese hold their own language in very high esteem, and on the other that they have composed, as we have seen, many works treating of the history, structure, sound, and meaning of its written characters. Thus there is at least a certain amount of probability in favour of the assumption that the question of the origin of speech had also occurred to them. And not only this, but moreover we do actually find scattered here and there in Chinese literature various and independent statements of opinion on the subject, though there is not, so far as the present writer knows, any treatise devoted to it specially. It is the aim of the present chapter to bring together a few of these native statements of opinion about the birth and early growth of language spoken and written, and specially such as may be compared with the theories of western authors on the same subject.
To begin at the beginning, the theory that the first human beings who lived on this earth were speechless does not seem to have ever prevailed in China. The books and common traditions of the country generally represent those unknown creatures as a turpe, but seldom or never as a mutum pecus. They are supposed to have herded together in dens or caves, living on the natural fruits of the earth, knowing nothing and caring little about anything beyond their daily round of wants as they arose and were satisfied. They were not, however, like the beasts among which they lived and which they hunted for food and clothing, mere dumb animals. On the contrary, most native authors who have written on the subject expressly maintain that man spoke from the beginning, that speech arose when human life began in the world. Han Wên-kung, however, says that people, that is the Chinese, were at first like birds, and beasts, and barbarians. They did not know how to grow grain, and build houses, to love their parents and honour their superiors, to nourish their living and bury their dead, until sages arose to teach them. Here we find barbarians classed with birds and beasts which have not the faculty of speech. But from all time the Chinese seem to have regarded foreigners as little above the brute creatures, and some authors expressly state that barbarians — the I and Ti (夷狄) — are as birds and beasts. Hence we find the character for Dog often used as the classifier of characters which represent the names of foreign tribes. The speech of these also is compared to the shrill scream of the shrike and the calls of other birds. The people of Yang-shan in Kuangtung were said by Han Wên-kung to have the speech of birds and the faces of barbarians, and they were to him barbarians. In like manner to other nations, for example the ancient Greeks, the speech of foreigners sounded like the utterances of birds and beasts. Herodotus explains the legend of the doves at Dodona by the supposition that Egyptian women had at one time been brought over. The speech of these was unknown to the Greeks, to whom the strangers appeared to be chattering like birds — talking like doves. When the women learned to talk Greek they were said to utter human speech. The same author says of the swift-footed, reptile-eating Troglodytes, that they did not use a language like any other but cheaped like bats. So also Æschylus makes the Greek Clytemnestra say of her words to the Trojan Cassandra, "But if she has not, like a swallow, an unknown barbarous voice, I, speaking within her comprehension, persuade her by speech." We are told, moreover, that the Greeks, to whom also all foreigners were "barbarians," did not speak of the "dialects" of barbarians but only of their "tongues."
The chief reason, perhaps, why Chinese philosophers have not discussed the origin of speech in special treatises and of set purpose, is that they regard the faculty of speech as the natural result of man's existence, as inherent in his constitution. What may be considered as the orthodox and national opinion on the subject is that man speaks, just as he eats, and drinks, and sleeps, and loves, and fears, from an instinct which forms part of his nature. "That man speaks is nature's work," the Chinese would repeat. There is nothing divine or superhuman in the fact, nor anything which shews that the faculty was one attained by slow degrees and after many vague attempts. One native philosopher describes man as speaking by breathing forth the air contained in the mouth and throat by movements of the lips and tongue. The act of speaking is like playing a flute. Man's mouth and throat are the musical instrument, and the movements of the tongue are the play of the fingers on the holes. The power of speaking grows and fails with the growth and decay of man's vital powers, and these need food and drink for their maintenance. Hence it cannot be that the dead speak or that ghosts wail and cry by night. Another philosopher explains sound as the result of the violent friction of air and solids. Two kinds of air in violent collision make sounds such as echo and thunder; two solids make noises like the beating of a drum and the clapping of hands; a solid acting on the air yields a sound such as that made by a fan or an arrow; and the air working on a solid gives the human voice and the sounds of wind instruments.
Hence we find the vocal utterances of man classed with those of other animals, with the song of the bird and the cry of the wild beast; and sometimes even with the sounds yielded by lifeless matter, with the roar of the thunder, the prattle of the brook, and the ring of the struck rock. These all are the results of natural capacities moved by outward influences. They are merely the audible results of the impact of the formless essence of matter on body of definite shape; they are the call or cry of the elemental air, for the "air itself whistles and roars." Hence we find such a term as ming (鳴), for example, used for all kinds of noises. It is properly and originally, as the character indicates, the call or song of birds. But it is used for the roar of thunder, the wind's whistling, the noise of rushing water, the sough among the pines, the ring of a bell, the tones of a lyre, the cricket's chirr, the crow of the cock, the dove's coo, the ass's bray, the neigh of the horse, and the manifold voice of man.
There is only, says the Confucianist philosopher, a minute difference between man and the lower animals, and even that is lost by common people. The wise man keeps that which makes the difference and so gains moral and intellectual perfection. But at birth there is only this difference between all human beings and the lower animals, that the former have a perfect and the latter an imperfect material organisation. The first vocal utterances of man are those made from instinctive feeling, and are the natural universal sounds of humanity and living beings generally. The means which man has for expressing his feelings are briefly described by an early author. Poetry, he says, is emotional thought expressed in language. The feelings are moved within man and find vent in words. The deficiencies of the latter are supplied by ejaculations and sighs, the defects of which call for utterance long drawn out in song, and, this not sufficing, the hands wave and the feet move to and fro. As we know, the cries and gesticulations of children and animals are the spontaneous expression of their emotions when stirred. From such cries arose rhythmical vocal utterances which afterwards developed into poetry. In general, writes Han Wen-kung, objects produce sound only when disturbed. Plants and trees are mute until they are agitated by the wind, when they yield sound, and so is it with water. Metal and stone are mute, but they give sound when struck, and it is the same as to man with speech. When he cannot get his own way he speaks; he sings his anxiety and weeps his sorrow. All the utterances which proceed from his mouth are the result of his being disturbed. Speech is the quintessence of human sounds, and literary composition is the quintessence of speech. It was perhaps from the perception of the emotional nature of early speech that some Chinese writers were led to the theory that their spoken language had its origin in music. By this, however, nothing more may be meant than that man's emotions expressed themselves first in inarticulate musical cadences, and that from these he gradually proceeded to articulate significant utterances. One author, at least, states the above theory without bringing forward any argument in its support, but others base it on arguments derived from tradition and probability. With it we may compare that of Darwin on the origin of spoken language, stated in his wonted clear and suggestive manner. In the "Descent of Man" he writes, "I cannot doubt that language owes its origin to the imitation and modification, aided by signs and gestures, of various natural sounds, the voice of other animals, and man's own instinctive cries. When we treat of sexual selection we shall see that primeval man, or rather some early progenitor of man, probably used his voice largely, as does one of the gibbon-apes at the present day, in producing true musical cadences, that is, in singing; we may conclude from a widely spread analogy that this power would have been especially exerted during the courtship of the sexes, serving to express various emotions, as love, jealousy, triumph, and serving as a challenge to their rivals. The imitation by articulate sounds of musical cries might have given use to words expressive of various complex emotions."
But on the other hand there are also Chinese writers who suppose that music had its origin in speech, the latter having passed from untoned to toned utterances, and thence to tunes made after laws sought out from nature. This recalls the similar theory which Mr. Spencer expounds and developes with his usual power in one of the most interesting of his Essays.
Whatever be the immediate origin of speech, however, it is in its earliest stage natural and spontaneous, the embodiment of the original tones of Heaven and Earth. The first men spoke just as the wind blows, without any conscious effort. The feelings find vent in sounds which spring from man's mind, having their source in his constitution. Articulate utterances come from man's mind, others tell us, and are natural; their form cannot be altered by any conscious exercise of an individual's power. Not even a king can change a word, and of course no one of less influence can avail to do anything whatever in this respect. The fashions in words as in other things change from age to age, but no one can by taking thought alter the fashions. For example, the people of a place may have once called a river kong whereas their descendants may now call it kiang, but the one is as good as the other, and each is right as the working of a natural law. With these statements we many compare the emphatic declaration of the great expounder of language as a natural product. Professor Max Müller tells us "that although there is a continuous change in language it is not in the power of any man either to produce or prevent it. We might think as well of changing the laws which control the circulation of our blood, or of adding an inch to our height, as of altering the laws of speech, or inventing new words according to our own pleasure. As man is the lord of nature only if he knows her laws and submits to them, the poet and philosopher become the lords of language only if they know its laws and obey them.
Chinese opinions differ as to what is the first articulate sound made by the human baby. Some tell us that it is huang-huang, but this is only an a priori theory. To each of the five elements a certain sound is assigned. Thus water has a ssŭ sound, and that of metal is  But other native writers tell us that the first sound uttered by a human being is a or ya. Hence the letter called a is said to be rightly placed at the head of Western alphabets, and some even go so far as to declare that in every sound uttered by man's opened mouth there is an a element. It is considered, however, that a sounds are natural to male, and ei or i sounds to female infants, and that the distinction continues in after years. This, according to the Chinese, is the spontaneous result of the human constitution. Our forefathers seem to have had similar notions about the distinctions made by male and female babies in their first utterances, though they accounted for the fact of the distinction in a different manner. In an old poem—Hampole's "Pricke of Conscience"—we read that a child as soon as born begins to "goule and cry." The author says that by the cry may be known(鍠). Now in man's constitution the element metal is represented by his voice, and hence an infant, as soon as it can, cries huang-huang.
"Whether it be man or weman,
For when it es born it cryes swa;
If it be man, it says 'a, a',
That the first letter es of the nam
Of our forme-fader Adam.
And if the child a woman be,
When it es born, it says 'e, e,'
E es the first letter and the hede
Of the name of Eve that began our dede."
It is a pity that the Chinese do not know the historical explanation of this interesting fact. But a different explanation is given by Webbe, who did not take notice of the sexual distinctions. He, it will be remembered, thought that Noah settled in China after the flood, and he says:—"Wherefore it is not unobservable that the very first utterance that an Infant at his birth yeeldeth is ya, ya, ya; as if the Lord had ordained, either that we should be born with his name Jah in our mouths, which name is generally ascribed to him, when some notable deliverance or benefit, according to his former promise comes to pass, because he is the beginning and Being of beings, and giveth to all, life, and breath, and all things — Acts 17. v. 25 — or else, that in our swathling clothes we should have something of the Primitive Language, till afterwards confounded, as we are taught to speak. But, by ya the Chinois intend Excellens.
This may not give the true explanation of the first utterances of all babies over all the world. The Chinese own that these utterances are only cries, and of a class with those of birds and beasts. The infant has no language but a cry, and in this respect it is not better than other animals, perhaps not so well supplied as other creatures. Nor is the capacity for uttering articulate sounds the possession of man alone among mortal beings. The ape-like supposed to resemble that of a human being. Another ape-like creature supposed to be able to talk and laugh is the (狒狒 — and other ways). It also assumes various forms, appearing sometimes as a bear or an ape, and often as a man or woman. It has a wicked laugh and by this it lures unwise wayfarers into the wood, where it eats them. The wise, however, can distinguish between the Fei-fei's voice and that of a human being by the shrill squeaking character of the former. The Tortoise, ancient and mystical, which inhabits the fifth stage of the fabled Sumeru Mountain, is also credited with the possession of human speech. Among birds, the mainah, parrot, and others, are known to the Chinese as able to talk. In the country of the Tiao-chi (), near the Caspian sea, is a monstrous bird called the Chi-chio (), that is, perhaps, the Tiao-chi Magpie. This bird is said to understand human speech but, we are not told that it can talk. There is no doubt, however, that the mainah can talk, but its tongue must first be cut or pared down, and it is of great importance that this should be done on the 5th day of the 5th moon. So also the parrot should have its tongue cut in order that it may make the mimicry which our pious poet calls, "That odious libel on a human voice." The parrot can speak, it is true, without having this operation performed, but his power of speaking is not persistent, and he can be made dumb by rubbing him gently down the back.and several other animals, according to Chinese opinion, are able to talk and understand human speech. As regards the Sing-sing, the statement that it can speak is doubted by some and denied by others, while of those who agree to it not a few think that the animal has the power of speaking only when it is drunk. That it can laugh and cry, however, seems to be the opinion of all authorities. It is a creature of uncertain appearance, and is described as having a body like that of a pig, or as like a dog, a badger, or an ape. The last is the form in which it is usually represented in pictures, but the face is always
Now though the above creatures can use man's words they cannot be said to have the faculty of speech. The parrot, as one author says, can speak but he cannot carry on a conversation, because he has only the capacity to speak, not the faculty of speech; he follows the lead of others and cannot take the lead himself. As another author puts it, the parrot learns man's speech but cannot originate new expressions, because it has not any high intelligence. It learns the words which man utters, but not the
"Pen-ts'ao," chap, li., f; IS" il SE. chaps, vi. and x. In the "Poh-wu- chih " we are told that the Sing-sing is Uke a yellow dog with a man's face, and that it can speak (® ?H ^ ^ ^^j A tlQ f^ W). chap. iii. Another way of writing Sing-sing is thoughts of his mind. That is, the parrot has the physical organs and imitative faculty but not the intellectual capacity for speaking. Nor does the mere fact that they talk raise the Sing-sing and parrot, for example, from the rank of brute creatures. Birds and beasts having an inferior organisation cannot develope their nature at all points. They may in some respects shew good moral qualities, the germs of which are in them at birth by heavenly appointment, but they do not advance in moral and intellectual culture. The crow has filial piety and the wild duck is true to its mate; the fox does not forget the place of his birth, and the ant helps all of its kin. But does a crow bury his mother or a fox give way to his elders? Do the wild ducks wait for the go-between before they pair, and have the ants any form of worship? The parrot and the starling may talk but they have no sense of the fitness of time and place, and so are no better than other birds. A featherless biped, as a native writer says, may speak, but without ( ) he is not man. It is this sense of order and of doing what is right and becoming in the family and in society, and the code of obligations thence resulting, this li which lifts man above the other creatures.^ Some of these can indeed produce articulate utterances, after having learned them, by imitation, as an infant learns its first words by imitating its mother. But it is human sounds, not human speech, to borrow an expression from Dante, which these creatures imitate, and they are not "capable
Huai Nan-tzu's Works, chap, xvi.; $|" M A ^ M P5 g^, chap. ii. On the other hand we read of men in former times who understood the langfuage of the lower animals. See, e.g., the Supplement to the " Poh-wu-chih" (j^ |^ ^ jg), chap. iii. There are also instances on record in which the parrot is not merely an imitator but also initiates a conversation and shows tender feeling. So also a mainah when sold to a barbarian committed suicide, saying that he was a Chinese bird and would not go among barbarinns (^ Si ^ ^Wi^^> chap, xvii.) Some tell us that the mainah (^ "^ T or "^ T or X ^) in its wild state cannot speak, and it is only when domesticated it learns to talk.
chaps, ccccxxi. and ccccxxxii.; "Li-chi," chap, i., and Confucian writers generally. Of the term Li (^), Gallery, an excellent authority, writes as follows : " Autant que possible, je I'ai traduit par le mot Eite, dont le sens est susceptible d'un grande etendue ; mais il faut convenir que, suivant les circonstances ou il est employe, il pent signifier * Ceremonial, Ceremonies, Pratiques ceremoniales L'etiquette, Politesse, Urbanite, Courtoisie, Honnetete, Bonnes manieres, Egards, Bonne education, Bienseance, Les formes, Les convenances, Savoir vivre. Decorum, Decence, Dignite personelle, Moralite de conduite, Ordre social, Devoirs de societe, Lois sociales, Devoirs, Droit, Morale, Lois hierarchiques, Ofifrande, Usages, Coutumes.," " Li-ki," introduction, p. 16.
See his "Delia Volg. Eloq.," L. i., chap. ii. of language." As Lyell says, "It was a profound saying of William Humboldt, that 'Man is Man only by means of speech, but in order to invent speech he must be already Man.' Other animals may be able to utter sounds more articulate and as varied as the click of the Bushman, but voice alone can never enable brute intelligence to acquire language." Yet perhaps because the power of speaking is supposed to belong to the Sing-sing and parrot, these animals are also credited with the possession of other endowments, for the Sing-sing knows the past and the parrot the future. This bird can even understand and interpret dreams, and it has some notion of piety, for it has been heard to recite Buddhist prayers, and it has been seen sitting in ecstatic meditation seeking to attain that supreme supernatural intelligence which all true Buddhists seek finally to acquire.
But the faculty of speech in its full meaning is the property of man only. It is his characteristic possession, that which makes him man. The first men spoke as they were moved, without aim and without effort, but their speech was only the air made vocal. It was, indeed, the music of an "œolian flute," the free whistling of heaven. Still it was only whistling, and, as an old philosopher says, human speech is not whistling. He who speaks says something, and though in what he says there is nothing absolute, yet there is a difference between his speech and the chirp of a chick. In man, writes a practical statesman, speech is the handle of the moral nature, the lord of action, the motive power of the mind, and the visible expression of the body, and with man alone words are capable of communicating ideas. The object of speech is to give expression to the feelings and thoughts. But that it is not a perfect instrument was long ago seen and acknowledged by the Chinese. Thus we are told that as writing does not fully represent the spoken language so this latter does not fully express the mind. Speech is, indeed, classed with seeing and hearing, but as it is not the material organ which sees or hears, so also it is not the mouth which speaks. It is the spiritual principle by some called hsing (姓) and by some li (理), which goes through all the body, seeing in the eye, hearing in the ear, and speaking in the mouth. In the Great Plan which Heaven gave to Yü, the second division was on the "Reverent use of the five faculties" (敬用五事), or, as translates, "The Reverent Practice of the Five Businesses." These were demeanour, speech, seeing, hearing, and thinking. These five, another philosopher tells us, are all natural to man, but they need education to keep them right. Without this, by which man acquires li (禮), he is little better than the beasts which want discourse of reason, and he may even be found to lack the faculty of speech. Thus we read of tribes who did not know language (不知言), and the "black slaves," once much used by rich Cantonese, are said to have understood human speech, but to have been unable to talk. This, however, probably only meant that they could not speak Chinese.
Now, though the faculty of speech developed itself in primeval man without conscious action or reflection on his part, the first language must have been poor and rude. But even in its earliest stage this language began to receive enlargement and cultivation from the higher intellects of the time. Hence human speech as we now know it has a twofold origin, in the muddy source whence man emerges into existence with all the myriad creatures of the world, and in the mind—the spiritual principle which he alone knows to cultivate and develope. From the former spring cries of fear and calls for food, shouts of joy and notes of alarm, and much of that stock of speech which is common property. From the mind proceeded such terms as those for Filial Piety, Justice, Law, Humanity. Man must have always had some idea of these virtues, for their germs existed in him from the beginning. But it was not until the germs were developed in thinking men that terms like the above were invented. These and the correct names of objects generally, say the Chinese, were fabricated by the first teachers of mankind, by those kings and sages who taught in the first uncertain twilight of human life. The Chinese theory on this subject is well expressed by Renan when he says, "It is certain that we do not understand the organisation of language without une action d'hommes d'elite, exercising a certain authority around them and capable of imposing on others what they believed best. The aristocracy of sages was the law of nascent humanity; the leaven which produced civilisation could ferment at first only in a number almost imperceptible of predestined heads." In some native treatises we find the work of "correct naming" ascribed to the semi-mythical Huang Ti, who is supposed to have lived about B.C. 2600. He is said to have observed and studied the heavens and earth and all the then-existing objects and institutions, and so elaborated the real names of things, the modes of expression which corresponded with the actualities of nature and the mind. But more usually the glory is given to old sages generally, the "enlighteners of the people." In either case the correct language thus made was produced by degrees and as the result of observation and study. It had been preceded by a language awkward and uncertain, for the first savages must have had, though only to limited extent, names by which they were wont to denote the articles they used and the events of their lives. But this language of theirs was neither correct nor fixed, and it was very meagre, for the rude forefathers of humanity had few wants and little thought. Hence the founders of social order had to seek out and communicate a fuller and more perfect phraseology; they invented, or rather discovered, set forms of language by which they could give a symbolical character to the sounds of their voice, their thoughts and feelings—"verba quibus voces sensusque notarent nominaque invenere." Chinese authors will have us believe that all this was done with a view to the introduction of good and settled government, and the improvement of society. They are not content unless they see a moral or political motive prompting all the actions of their early sages.
But if speech is nature's gift to man how comes it to vary from place to place ? That it changes from place to place has been declared to be the working of natural law. It is nature's, not man's doing that the accent and pronunciation of words alter, that one term rises and another falls out of use as generation follows generation. But how is it that not only has the language of China been always unlike the dialects of the barbarian tribes in her midst and on her frontiers, but also that this language itself varies from district to district ? The answer is that here too we have the work of nature. The " wind air " and the " soil and water/' that is, the natural conditions of a place, affect the . physical constitutions of the inhabitants, and thence gradually influence also their moral qualities. Then in course of time the character and conduct of the people react on the climatic condi- tions of a place, over which they exercise a mysterious but undoubted influence. Thus "wind air" (風氣) means not only the physical qualities of a district, but also its moral character. It is the differences in climate, physical constituents, and moral character which make the variations of dialects. " People differ in the quality of their natural dispositions and in the language they speak ; this is the spontaneous result of climate, and the product of continued practice." So writes one native author who knew by experience something about the varieties of human speech. That the inhabitants of one place, a popular writer tells us, are firm and manly while those of another place are the opposite, that people here are smart and there slow, that the language of this district is not understood by the inhabitants of that, all result from the assimilation of the local climatic influences by the people. The children of barbarous tribes (戎夷), writes another, all make the same noises when they are infants, but speak differently when they grow up, and the ■^ 1 See 六書故, chap. xi. and introduction ; 性理大全, chap. vi. ; Benan, !!L;i"De L'Origine du Lang.," preface, p. 25 (4th ed.) difference is the result of education, that is, of the circumstances in which they develope. As it is by having li (jg) that man is higher than the bird and beast, so also it is this li which distin- guishes between the Chinese and the foreigner (barbarian), and between the gentleman (g ^) and the cad ()J> A) among Chinese. This li, however, depends for its existence and develop- ment mainly on external circumstances (J55 ^ J5S ?b); ^^ *^® kind and degree of education or training which children receive.^
Without this li, or sense of what is right and becoming in his social relations, man could never have produced what is called a language. To invent this, to find out and fit on the due names of the objects and phenomena of nature and of the feelings and thoughts of the mind, was a great achievement. As Hobbes writes, viewing the subject from a different stand-point, but expressing in clear direct words what Chinese writers have stated though not so well : — " But the most noble and profitable invention of all other was that of Speech, consisting of names or appellations, and their connexion; whereby men register their thoughts; recall them when they are past; and also declare them one to another for mutual utility and conversation ; without which there had been amongst men, neither commonwealth, nor society, nor contract, nor peace, no more than amongst lions, bears and wolves." But spoken words are air, and live a vague, uncertain life. They fade too and die from memory like an echo in the hills or a roaring of wind in the forest. So even in very early timds mfen must Have sought for a visible lasting record and evidence of their events and transactions, a way of perpetuating spoken words and saving them from the fate of dark forgetful- ncss. And how do Chinese think men arrived at this ? Let us take for answer t^^ irords of one of their students of this branch' of learning. In the introduction to the "Liu-shu-ku" the author says : Visible representation (35^) proceeds from spoken
Yuan-tsang in "Hsi-yu-chi " chap, i.; " Sacred Edict," Art. ix. Ampin.; Kang-hsi's Diet., preface; the ^^, chap, i.; " Huai-nan-tzii," chap. xi. ; :^ llj ^ ^ ^ ^, chap, xxxiii. ; " Li-shi," etc., as above, chap. i. ; *' Li-chi," (H gg), chap.'xii. (+ - ^ ed. Yuan-yuan). sounds, that is, these precede and their delineation follows. The combination of meaning and sound is not the product of this visible representation. There is no means of investigating the origin of mankind, but we may reasonably infer that men at first were naked and unkempt. They killed wild animals, skinned them and tore up their carcases for food and clothing. Their emotional natures were fierce like those of birds and beasts, and their intellects were undeveloped like those of infants. They could only by howling and shouting then make known to each other their likings and dislikings, their joys and angers. Then as their intellects developed they gradually acquired the ability to give names to things, and so they had a supply of sounds for shouting and calling. Writing had not yet arisen, and as classes of objects increased and their arrangement became more complicated, men could not do without some evidential record. So in time there arose the institution (or arrangement) of knotted cords. Then as cunning increased and regulations became more complicated, engravings were made on bamboo and wood to form records. At the present time, barbarians (蠻夷) and rustics ignorant of characters apparently use such engravings, which are called chH (契), that is, tallies or indentures. When these proved insufficient for all the vicissitudes of affairs the forms of material objects were pictured and the essential features of immaterial objects were indicated. Thus engravings were made for the names of all objects material and immaterial, and thence arose the knife-inscribed tablets called Writings (書). The author goes on to shew how the first writing, which was only pictorial and indicative (or suggestive), came to be followed by other developments until the wealth of characters equalled human demands. The whole of this introduction, in spite of not a few faults, is interesting and worthy of perusal.
It was necessity, the Chinese own, which first struck out the art of recording, the necessity of aiding memory and keeping evidence. It seems to be generally agreed that the expedient first adopted was that of "knotted cords." The inventor of this expedient is of course unknown, but the prevailing tradition points to Sui-jen-shi (燧人氏), a fabulous ruler in the mythical past. Some writers ascribe the invention to Shen-nung (神農) and some to Fu-hsi. In the commentary on the "Yi-ching," attributed to Confucius, it is simply stated that in the earliest times cords were knotted for purposes of regulation (or government). And in other old books, such as the "Tao-t-ching," we find reference to the use of knotted cords for official and private purposes. This use prevailed also among the ancestors of the present Manchoos, and it is said to exist still among some tribes of the Miao-tz. In China it was instituted, some tell us, for purposes of Government. Hence we have such proverbial expressions as Chiesheng-cM'Cheng (結繩之政), the government of knotted cords, to denote that purely mythical time the golden age of the world's life. Others, however, suggest that the knotted cords were instituted and used for purposes of counting, and for preserving records of transactions where number was concerned, and records of dealings generally. A matter of importance is said to have been signified by a large knot (or knotted cord) and a small affair by a small one. But whatever may have been the purpose for which this expedient was invented, and whoever may have been its inventor, it is certain that the expedient did not succeed. It served only so long as people were simple and free from guile, and the requirements of society were neither numerous nor important.
It seems to have been for purposes of counting and recording matters which involved numbers that those very primitive and simple combinations called Ho-t'u (河圖) and Lo-shu (洛書) were invented. There are certain diagrams of these accepted as the orthodox arrangements and, according to some, giving the original figures. These are to be found in certain editions of the "Yi-ching," and in various other treatises. The Ho-tu, or plan from the Yellow River, as shewn in these diagrams, is an arrangement of 55 circles, of which 30 are dark and 25 blank, in numbers from one to ten, both inclusive. The Lo-shu, or writing from the river Lo, is an arrangement of 45 dark and light circles in numbers from one to nine, such that the number fifteen is made up by the circles counted in a perpendicular, a horizontal, or a diagonal manner. According to certain old testimony, the River plan and Lo writing appeared as a supernatural phenomenon to Fu-hsi, who used them as models or hints. Setting out from these he produced the mysterious wonderful Pa-kua and its combinations. By these he shadowed forth the dark influences of all heavenly and earthly powers in a manner abstruse beyond all understanding. The figure known as the Pa-kua is greatly venerated by the Chinese, who regard it as the lineal ancestor of their writing, and also as a potent Drudenfuss. What purpose it first served or was meant to serve cannot perhaps be now ascertained, for all record of its primitive use seems to have been lost long ago. It represents, according to one statement, the primitive division of creation into male and female, and gives illustrations of odd and even. In its trigrams also is the hidden spring from which writing had its origin. Some native authors think that the combination of the two kinds of lines were meant to represent a system of counting. So also the Jesuit Missionaries Bouvet and Leibnitz were convinced that the broken line represented 0 and the unbroken line I. Leibnitz says that instead of philosophic mysteries having been hidden by Fu-hsi in the combinations of these lines, "it was the Binary Arithmetic which, as it seems, the great legislator possessed, and which I have rediscovered some thousands of years afterwards." The "Yi-ching," which interprets the mystical meanings of the Pa-kua and its permutations and combinations, is regarded by the Chinese as a sort of divine inspiration and as containing the secret possibilities of all wisdom.
Mayers, Ch. R. M., No. 177; "Yi-ching," 傳下, chap, x.; 易學蒙啓; Wuttke Geschichte d. Schrift, etc., p. 247 ; Leibnitz op. vol. iv. p. 208 (ed. Dutens). With Mayers' account of the Hb-i'w and Lo-s/iw compare the state- ment of Tsai Yuan-ting in the introduction of the 周易本義. But, according to some Chinese, the next step towards writing, after knotted cords, was the use of carved sticks to serve as tallies. These do not seem to have been merely sticks notched or indented. They are described as having also some kind of inscription or engraving, even from the earliest time of their use. The expedient was, however, a rude and simple one common to the Chinese with other tribes. Thus the chiefs of the ancient Tungus gave warrant to their commands by means of such sticks, and the Man (蠻) tribes in Chinese are said to have used them in making agreements. Carving in wood seems to have been practised in China from a remote period, and to have been employed for various purposes. In the seventh century B.C. the
projecting beams of the roofs of temples and palaces were some-
times elaborately carved and coloured. The use of carved tallies also arose at some early period, but there is no record of its beginning. It too was apparently first confined to matters of numbers, and afterwards extended to business dealings and acts of government. From these ch^i (契), or carved tallies, some derive the immediate origin of writing, while others regard the chH and shu (書) as coseval. One of the eight kinds of characters — the Fa-t^ (八體) — appointed for use by Ch'in Shi Huang Ti, was that called the K'e-fu (刻符) or carved tally, noticed already.
But such rude appliances as knotted cords and carved sticks could not long suffice to meet the requirements of a growing society. The Chinese, accordingly, represent themselves as having at an early period of their history learned to cut and afterwards paint, in wood and stone and metal, figures or outlines of objects. These were practically the first beginning of writing for them. All the earliest characters seem to have been either pictorial representations or rough symbols of natural objects and phenomena. That is, they were either drawings which presented an outline of an object, or drawings which by their composition pointed to the meaning intended. In Chinese language they were Ssiang-hsing (形象), Likeness-form, or Ghi-shi (指事),
"Hou Han. shu," chap, xc; "Sui-shu," the Nan-man-chuan ; 和漢三才圖會 (also called ^ v., p. 106 ; " Kuh (also called 倭漢, etc.), chap. xv. 檢篇韻貫珠集 chap. iv. ; Legge, 0. C, ah-liang-chuan," chap. vi. (十三經) ; " Me-tzii " (墨子), chap. i. Indicating-quality. But it is scarcely correct to call them pictorial writing, for no far as surviving records of or about them shew, they did not so much reproduce as merely symbolise. They were "marks" by which the names of things could be known and remembered, and hence they were first called "names." This term, however, was applied properly only to the words or phrases denoting the objects represented. The symbols or figures were called Wên (文), a term of very wide signification.
The origin of this symbol-writing cannot perhaps be discovered. Its invention is by some ascribed to Fu-hsi, and by some to by night, and dragons went into hiding. There are also Chinese writers who regard pictorial or symbolical representation as coæval with speech. They think it was quite as natural for man to depict as to talk. This unfortunately reminds one of Dogberry's assertion that "to write and read comes by nature." The representation of objects passed gradually, such writers think, to the use of characters. Then the pictorial gave birth to the phonetic characters, as a mother gives birth to a child. These characters, strictly so called, are tzŭ (字) as if 孳, bearers of children, or as if 子, sons, begotten and begetting. Hence it may be concluded that the origin and growth of writing followed a natural course.(史皇氏), a mythical ruler who preceded Fu-hsi. Of this latter it is expressly recorded that he "drew the Pa-kua and invented writing"—literally, "writing tallies" ( ). Here, as in previous steps, the useful point of view is taken and Fu-hsi is said to have instituted writing to replace the administration by knotted cords. But it is to ( ) that the invention is most usually ascribed. This man has an uncertain personality. He has been identified with Shi Huang-shĭ, with Huang Ti, and with others. He is also said to have been one of Huang Ti's Ministers of State, and to have had four eyes. Not only did he make the first characters, but he also, according to some accounts, greatly developed the art of writing. Thus he is said to have arranged the characters under the six classes called the Liu-shu, or six writings, though this is also said to have been done by Fu-hsi, the "nose-ancestor," or first beginner of the art of writing. But there is a glamour on all Chinese writers when they attempt to describe the origin and early history of their written characters. The first artificer of these can never be known, but he must have been far above everyday men. To him, whether Tsang-chie or another, moved by the secret force of fate, appeared the mystical eternal tortoise. Its back was marked by lines which formed quaint devices to the eye of the sage, and stirred his mind to think and wonder. He took the hints, as it were, and devised a system of writing. This invention was fraught with great consequences, and put the universe in commotion. The heavens rained millet, ghosts wailed
For the Chinese will not have it that Tsang-chie, or whoever first devised their characters, invented symbols which were purely arbitrary or artificial. On the contrary, he proceeded with aim and rule throughout. He studied in the heavens above their starry clusters and all their charactery, the changing moon, the unvarying sun, and the endless succession of all the elemental phenomena. Beneath the sky he noted the bird's flight and its footprints in the sand, the tortoise's carapace, and the varied forms of nature in general. These he tried to figure forth with knife and brush; but how was he to carve or paint an outline or symbol for such words as mind, and law, and love and righteousness? There was nothing in the material world to which the ideas represented by these words could be likened. Not even in such cases, however, did the Father of Writing make arbitrary signs, for those which he instituted were the natural product of the pre-existing spiritual facts and principles. He cannot properly be said to have invented such characters, but rather to have in their discovery only given direction to the spontaneous tendency of man's genius. It does not seem, however, that in the early period of writing many spiritual or abstract terms were ed. At first only material objects and their relations, dealings of business, and affairs of government, were depicted in outline or symbol. The chief aim which the inventors and first improvers of the graphic art had in view was to make a record which could be appealed to as evidence. It was in matters of government, according to some native writers, that the use of writing began, the design of the inventors being to facilitate intercourse between the ruler and his servants, and between these and the people, and to register transactions of importance. Thus, when in old times the prince of one state invaded the. territory of another, slew the inhabitants, and carried off booty, he caused the event to be recorded. It was written (書) on bamboo or silk, and engraved in metal and stone to be inscribed on sacrificial vessels for the information of posterity. Tsang-chie, says another author, made the first writing in order that distinct instructions might be given to officials, and for the efficient regulation of general affairs, that the stupid might be able to remember and the wise extend their thoughts.
The primitive writing, whatever it was, seems, as has been stated, to have gradually passed into a somewhat artificial system, from which the present ways of writing are descended. In the process of development it had to pass through several interme- diate phases, of which that called the Tadpole was one of the first. But some doubt whether there ever were any bond fide characters so called. Before the time of the Han dynasty (B.C. 200), we are told the old styles of writing had become practical- ly unknown. When in that dynasty the tablets of several of the Canonical and other old works were discovered, the writing was unknown to the people. So they called the strange characters of the tablets Tadpoles, and this became the name of a certain whimsical style of written characters. The specimens given in some books are not unlike imitations of tadpoles and not very like significant characters. It is also stated that the kind of
性理彙要, chap. xvi. ; " Lun-heng," chap, xviii. ; *' Huai-nan.tzii," chap. XX.; ♦' Li-shi-yin-chien," chap, i.j " Ho-han.san-ts'ai," &o., chap, xv.j "M6.tzu," ohap. ziii* writing known as the " Tadpole characters " was that invented by Fu-hsi, and again that it was the kind communicated by Tsang-chie. Of the other old styles those known as the Great and Small Seal are perhaps the most important.^ The written characters long since ceased to be in any degree pictorial, and they have become chiefly a means of denoting sounds as names of objects, sensations, or ideas. And it has been the opinion of feome that this was their original and proper intention. Writing, we are told, was born of sound, that is, it was instituted to continue and perpetuate spoken language. Again, writing is said to be the woof and speaking the warp into which the former is Woven. Elsewhere the written characters are described as the product of the reciprocal action of sound and visible representation; and another author regards "dots and strokes" as the lodging place of human speech when bodied forth in visible form. Dr. Edkins also has stated that "the phonetic characters appear to belong to the same era as those that are hieroglyphic. They are found together among the earliest remains of Chinese literature. According to the uniform national tradition, they must, therefore, be dated about B.C. 2700." But this can scarcely be set down as the prevailing opinion among native students of the language. It may be true, however, of written characters, strictly so called. The earlier transcript of language, which was called wen (3!^), is defined as the visible representation of objects attslnged according to categories (or classes). It is also stated that wen is the source of object-picturing or delineation. But whatever may have been their primitive function, all characters now merely give visible representation to man's speech. And though the spoken words may be said to have called into being the written characters, yet these latter have exercised a great and lasting influence on the former. The origin and history of Chinese writing are described at great length in the learned treatise of Wuttke on the History of Writing. The sources from which Wuttke derived his information are, of course, all Western, but he has compiled conscientiously and judiciously, 1 "Li-shd," &0'j chap, i.; "Ho (or Wo)-hon.sau.ts'ai," chap. xv. and his chapter on the present subject, notwithstanding mistakes, will repay a careful reading.
The Chinese do not yield to any in their appreciation of writing and its developments. They long ago deified the inventor, and his supposed tomb is still a place of pilgrimage for enthusiastic scholars. From the practical, beneficial point of view the invention has been the subject of much praise. Let us hear one man, a Manchoo by origin, but a Chinese scholar of rare attainments, and a man of culture and wide sympathies. Writing, says Kanghsi, is the most precious thing in the world. As to great matters, it has transmitted the philosophy which the ancient sages wished to transmit; and as to small matters, it keeps on record the miscellaneous items which man's memory cannot retain. It can bring together people separated by a long interval of time, and allow them to hold intercourse; and by it scholars of all the world, though living far apart, may take hands and talk their minds together. It makes a man's good repute, and aids him in his profession, expands his intelligence and supplies him with evidence. By it man learns without study and teaches without speaking.
With the Chinese scholar generally it is his own language only which is in his mental view when he speaks of language, and the native writing only when he speaks of writing. The Chinese, as every one knows, are very proud of their language spoken and written, but specially of the latter. Yet they are by no means insensible to the defects of the written language, especially when considered as the intended transcript of verbal utterances. It is square and insufficient, says an author already quoted, while speech is round and complete. There are also very many terms and expressions in common use for which no characters are known to exist, and this is true not only of the uncultivated dialects but also of the general language. For the
Kanghsi's Diet., Int. j " Liu-sha-ku," etc., as above j Wuttke, " Gesoh. d. Sehrift," etc., S. ocxli. to cccoxxi.
庭訓格言. most part, however, Chinese speak of their characters as sufficient for all the needs of human life and thought, as full and complete, wanting nothing. In their six-fold classification, writes one author, the written characters embrace all the topics with which man can be concerned, the visible phenomena of heaven, the unseen laws of earth, human affairs, and the rules appointed for lower nature.
For many ages the Chinese knew little of other peoples and other tongues, and thought and spoke of all that was not Chinese with undisguised contempt. But intercourse with foreign nations introduced at least a partial knowledge of other languages, and the Chinese had to compare their own perfectly harmonised speech with the shrike-tongued cries of barbarians, and their own matchless characters with the mere imitations of bird and beast footprints used by the undeveloped savages who had never been blessed with divine philosophers. One of the marks whereby a barbarian is known is that he writes from left to right, another being that he takes his food without using chop-sticks. When Buddhism came into the country its missionaries taught the Chinese a new language with sages and writings which they could not despise. They could not put this new language in the same class with the rude dialects of their unlettered neighbours; and they went so far as to learn from the strangers how to cultivate and improve their own language. Thus the Buddhist scholars, whether native or foreign, taught moderation and even modesty in the comparison between Chinese and Sankrit. One author tells his readers that there are three original or primitive systems of writing. The earliest is that invented by Brahma, which proceeds from left to right; the second in antiquity is that invented by Kharoshta, which is written from right to left; and the third and latest is that invented by Tsang-chie, which goes from above downward. But one of the most interesting native opinions on this subject is that given by Morrison, taken from a treatise well written and scholarly, but defaced by blunders and marred by a spirit sometimes illiberal. "It appears to me," says the author, as translated by Morrison, "that the people of Fan (i.e., India) distinguished sounds; and with them the stress is laid on the sounds, not on the letters. Chinese distinguish the characters, and lay the stress on the characters, not on the sounds. Hence in the language of Fan there is an endless variety of sound; with the Chinese there is an endless variety of the character. In Fan, the principles of sound excite an admiration, but the letters are destitute of beauty; in Chinese, the characters are capable of ever-varying intelligible modifications, but the sounds are not possessed of nice and minute distinctions. The people of Fan prefer the sounds, and what they obtain enters by the ear; the Chinese prefer the beautiful character, what they obtain enters by the eye."
Within the last few years Western writing has received consideration from at least one native scholar. This author has given a short comparison of it with Chinese, and written of it in a liberal spirit in his little essay, A Plea for the Preservation of Foreign Writing.
- See e.g. the Preface to the 檢篇韻貫珠集; cf. also Sung Lien's Preface to the "Hung-wu-chêng-yun."
- Collected Works, chap. xx. This opinion is found also in the works of other authors and is based on semi-historical legends.
- Herod., B. ii. 55, 57; B. iv. 183; Æsch. Agam. 1. 1017-9; Clem. Alex. Str., L. i., chap. xxi., sec. 142.
- Wang Chung in the 論衡, chap. xx.
- 性理大全, chap. v.
- 六書故, introduction; 文心雕龍, chap. i.; cf. Geiger Ursprung u. Entwickelung d. Men. Sprache. Ein., p. 9.
- See 孟子集註本義匯叅, chap. viii. and chap. xi.; Legge, C. L., ii., 201.
- "Shi-ching," preface; Legge, C. L., iv., p. 34 of Prolegomena.
- Collected Works, chap. xix.
- See, e.g., the , Int.; cf. also the , Int.
- Vol. i., p. 56; see also his "Expression of the Emotions," p. 86.
- 毛詩注, the 詩疏, chap. i.; Spencer's " Essays," vol. i., pp. 210 to 238.
- 李氏音鑑, chap. i.; 庭訓格言, p. 50; "Lectures on the Science of Language," vol. i., p. 40 (9th ed.) With Professor Müller's teaching compare the criticism on it by Professor Whitney in his "Language and the Study of Language," Lecture ii.
- See, e.g., the 唱道眞言, chap. ii. The character is also 喤 with the same sounds as 鍠.
- Essay, etc., p. 62.
- "Antiquity of Man," p. 518; M. Müller, Lectures on the Sc. of Lang., vol. i., p. 394.
- Ku-liang's Commentary on the "Ch'un-ch'iu" (穀粱傳註疏), chap. ix. (人之所以爲人者言也).
- Chuang-tzŭ in the "Nan-hua-ching," chap. i.
- See "Hsin T'ang-shu," chap. cxiv.
- "Yi-ching," the 上傳, chap. xii.
- 孟子集註, etc., chap. viii. p. 25, Commentary ; 三魚堂集. chap. i.
- Chinese Classics, vol. iii. p. 323; "Fa-yen" (法言), chap. i.
- "Huai-nan-tsŭ," chap. iv.; "Kuang-tung-sin-yü" (廣東新語), chap. vii.
- "Leviathan," chap. iv.
- 六書故, introduction, p. 14. Mr. Hopkins in "the Six Scripts" has given an excellent translation of the whole of this introduction. His rendering of the text from which the above passage is taken will be found at p. 5. Mr. Hopkins will see that his remarks on the rendering given in the "China Review" have led to some alterations for the translation given in the text here.
- 鳳洲網鑑, chap. i. J " Yi.ching," 傳下; 庭訓格言, p. 54; the 字學; the "Lun-hng," chap, xviii.; Tao-t-ching, chap. Ixxx.; Preface to "Shuo- wn" (chap. xlix. in the 說文解字義證).
- 通鑑綱目, chap. i.; 通鑑外紀, chap. i.; 鑑撮, chap. i.; 檢篇韻, etc., Preface; Mayers, Ch. R. M., No. 756; 論衡, chap. iii.; 李氏音鑑, chap, i.; 試策箋註 chap. iii.; the 尙書序 (in the 十三經 ed.); Preface to "Shuo-wên;" Supplement to "Poh-wu-chih," chap, v.; "Ho-kuan-tzŭ" (鶡冠子), chap. 上, last pages.
- "Liu-shu-ku," etc., as above.
- 法苑珠林, chap. ix.; Morrison's Dict., Part i., vol. i., Int., p. vi.; 試策箋註, chap. iii. This comparison of Sanskrit and Chinese is curtailed from the 5th chap, of the "Liu-shu-liao," by Chêng Ch'iao. The passage occurs near the end of the chapter.
- The 惜洋文說, by .