Page:Essays on the Chinese Language (1889).djvu/135

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121
Origin and Early History of the Language.

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 Shi Huang-shĭ (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" (契書). 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 Tsang-chie (倉頡) 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