But the zealous labours of Kuo P'o and other editors have made the "Fang-yen" a standard authority on the language in the time of the Former Han dynasty.
The next work to be noticed is the "Shuo-wên-chie-tsŭ" (說文解字), best known by its short title "Shuo-wên." The author of this was Hsü Shên (許慎), with the second name Shu-chung (叔重), who was a native of Shao-ling (劭陵) in the south of Honan. He lived about the end of the first and the beginning of the second century of our era, but the precise dates of his birth and death do not seem to be recorded. He held office for some time, but he had retired from public life and was living at home when his death took place, which was apparently about A.D. 121. The "Shuo-wên" was finished in A.D. 99, and in the next year Hsü composed the preface. But the work was not published until A.D. 121, when the author's son Ch'ung (沖) put it in order and presented it with a memorial to the Emperor An.
Hsü Shên was a devoted student of the orthodox literature of his country, and was famous among his contemporaries for his great learning. The old texts of the canonical books which had been brought from their graves in the early period of this dynasty had, as has been stated, given rise to much controversy. It was to help in settling doubts and difficulties about these that Hsü composed his first treatise, the "Discussions of Variations in the Five Ching" (五經異議), on which Chêng Hsüan animadverted. It was with a like end in view that Hsü prepared his "Shuo-wên," the long labour of his last years. For the making of this he studied, with the help of Chia K'uei (賈逵), one of the greatest of the Han scholars, all the accessible literature in the old characters and in those invented in later times. He compared the texts of the recovered tablets, collected inscriptions on ancient vases, and examined the writings of his predecessors, such as Shi Chow, Li Ssŭ, and Yang Hsiung.
- 輶軒使者絕代語釋別國方言 ("wu-ying-tien" edition); 風俗通義, Preface; "Han-shu," chaps. xxx., lxxxvii.; "Wen-hsien-t'ung-k'ao," chap. clxxxix.; Edkins, Int. Ch. Characters, Appendix; "Shuo-wên," Preface.