Page:Essays on the Chinese Language (1889).djvu/132

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118
Origin and Early History of the Language.

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.[1]

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

  1. 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).