Shuōwén (說文)

This is an ancient lexicon of Chinese language. It full name is Shuōwén Jiězì (字), which means “Explaining Graphs and Analyzing Characters.” Shuōwén (文) was compiled by Xu Shen, a Han Dynasty scholar, who finished it in 100 C.E. It was the first Chinese text to systematically discuss the structure and visual imagery of characters, sometimes including their etymology. A small portion of Shuōwén (文) has long been available in English, translated by Weiger, which is now even more accessible on software resources, such as Wenlin. While information about character derived from such sources can be suggestively interesting, and even evocative, both Sabine and Elizabeth Rochat have warned me to NOT try to draw firm conclusions from it, even though my interest in Weiger and thus Shuōwén (文) was stimulated more than thirty years ago by the work of Father Larre and Elizabeth Rochat. Shuōwén (文) is not a dictionary, and should not be used like a modern one. The study of written Chinese etymology is a specialty in itself, and it requires considerable research beyond the portion of Shuōwén (文) compiled and and translated by Weiger. Yet, even with all these qualifications, material from Shuōwén (文) can inform our study of Nèijīng (內經), in part because it was compiled just a couple hundred years after the Chinese medicine classic was originally published, so it can give insight concerning the use of characters at that time. We simply need to be circumspect about reaching conclusions based on short excerpts from Shuōwén (文); rather our conclusions should be based on other scholarship and education, and our clinical and personal experience.

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