Page:Essays on the Chinese Language (1889).djvu/68

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54
The Cultivation of their Language by the Chinese.

year 744 an Imperial order was given to the Chi-hsien (集賢) College to have the "Shu-ching" transcribed in the characters in common use at the time. The Emperor, Ming Huang, disliked the li characters in which the "Shu" and other classics continued to be written. Moreover, these characters had become obsolete, hard to learn, and liable to confusion, and only professional scholars could read the canonical books. The Emperor's order was carried out by Wei Pao (衛包) and his fellow-collegians, and the editions of the classics in the vulgar writing soon superseded the others. Plays also now began to be written and performed and romances to be composed in a style often but little removed from that of everyday conversation. These, however, tended to make the dialect in which they were composed fashionable and permanent. Hence we find it stated that with them arose the Kuan-hua or standard language of the country; that which thus became the language of the empire having been previously only the dialect of Kiangnan.[1]

The invention of printing in China dates from the T'ang dynasty, though it is generally ascribed to Fêng Tao (馮道) who lived in the succeeding period, that of the Wu Tai or five short dynasties. It was apparently Fêng, however, who introduced the art of printing by cutting characters in wooden blocks, and the first books to be thus printed were the authoritative texts of the canonical works of antiquity. It was not, however, until the next dynasty that the invention led to great results.

The next dynasty was the Sung, which gives its name to the period from 960 to 1280. This was, according to general native opinion, the time of China's best literary and philosophical activity, the time of her greatest thinkers, her most thorough scholars, and her most accomplished statesmen. It was also the time in which the language is supposed to have reached its acme, to have become complete in all its formal and material equipment, having everything needful to make it an effective instrument for expressing the national mind. The invention of printing now led to a

  1. "T'ang-shu," chap. lvii.; 六書故 Int.; Ma. T. L., chap. clxxvii.; Legge, Ch. Cl., III., Prolog., p. 31.