Page:Essays on the Chinese Language (1889).djvu/42

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The Cultivation of their Language by the Chinese.

name for the pencil in his State became the general one, and it has continued to be so down to the present.[1]

To the reign of Shi Huang Ti is referred the compilation of a work called the "Small Urh-Ya" (小爾雅 or 小雅). This is a treatise in thirteen sections, and is generally ascribed to K'ung Fu (孔鮒), a descendant of Confucius. It is only a small outline vocabulary, perhaps intended to form a supplement to the large "Urh-ya." The use of the word Kuang (廣), "expanding," at the head of ten of the sections, seems to lend support to this view. It is also strengthened by the fact that the last sections, on weights and measures, supply information on subjects left out of the larger treatise.[2]

But there does not seem to have been any thorough and methodical study of the language, any critical survey of its quantity and quality until the time of the Han dynasty. The period which bears the name of this dynasty, extending from B.C. 205 to A.D. 220, is regarded as the birth-time of China's literary greatness. The first impulse to the study of the language came from the awakened interest in the old books of song, history, social and political institutions, and philosophy. These having been hidden to escape the fires of Ch'in, were brought back into the light of day in the early part of this period. The writing on the tablets which constituted these books was now hard to make out, and there were many various readings. So at first the attention of students was given almost exclusively to the composition and meaning of the written characters. Hence arose the sayings of men in after times to the effect that the Han scholars knew the meaning but not the sounds of the characters. With them the great object was to settle a disputed reading, restore a genuine text, or give the original sense of a term or phrase in the old classics. And from their time down the study of the language in China has been intimately associated with that of the early canonical literature.

  1. "Shuo-Wên," Pref. ; 字鑑, Pref.; 文房肆攷, chap. iii.; Edkins, Int. to Ch. Chars., p. 142: "Yuan-chien-lei-han," chap. cciv. ; 日知錄, chap. xxi.; "Li-chi," 曲禮上; "Urh-ya," chap. v.; " Wên-hsien-t'ung-k'ao," chap. clxxxix.
  2. The 小爾雅 in the "Han-wei-tsung-shu."