Common Knowledge of Chinese Culture

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The Chinese divide their writing into six classes. The first class, "imitative symbols", include about 600 characters, amongst them some of the first characters invented, but they have been modified by the exigencies of time and convenience in writing, the metal stylus having been replaced by the modern pencil,or brush, so that angular strokes have given place to curves, and circles to squares and oblongs, while parts of the original character have dropped out as the writing became more contracted. Examples are child, hill, and eye.

The second class, which only contains about 100 characters, is called "symbols indicating thought." For example, the sun appearing above a line indicates the morning.

The third class contained about 700 characters, called "combined ideas." These ideographs are built up of two or three of the other symbols. For examples, "sun" and "moon" are put in juxtaposition to represent brightness.

The fifth class is called "uniting sound symbols," containing about 22,000 characters; nearly all words, it will thus be seen,belong to this class. They are formed of two distinct parts: one called the phonetic, giving the sound to the complex character thus formed, while the other component part of the character is formed of an imitative symbol.

The sixth class contains about 600 characters, and is styled "borrowed uses," including "metaphoric symbols and combinations, in which the meaning is deducted by a fanciful accommodation. As an example of this, there is the word for character, or work (zi), which is a child under a shelter - characters being considered as the well-nurtured offspring of hieroglyphics.

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