Page:Essays on the Chinese Language (1889).djvu/140

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126
Origin and Early History of the Language.

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.[1]

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,"

  1. "Liu-shu-ku," etc., as above.