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SHI: Family. The pictograph resembles a plant bobbing up and down on the water: one that grows and multiplies like the countless water lilies found in China. These start with a floating seed and grow surprisingly fast once they have found somewhere to put down roots. They bring to mind those nomadic groups that wander across the land trying to find a suitable place in which to settle, thus giving rise to the clan or family. In modern usage this character has lost its original meaning and acquired the role of a patronymic, as has happened with many other radicals. In classical language it was also used in the sense of development or multiplication.
RI: Sun. The ancient Chinese believed that the sun had a diameter of 1,000 li (500km/300miles), a circumference of 3,000 li (1,500 km/930 miles) and was suspended under the arch of the firmament at a height of 7,000 li (3,500 km/ 2,173 miles). It was round, whereas the earth was square, as can be seen in the pictograph; only later did it become square, for practical reasons, and then rectangular. This radical also means
Strokes that form the character: The strokes are in the left hand column; in the right hand column they are shown as a component of a complete character. The relevant numbers (1-24) are given in red on each page from p. 24 to p. 247, to denote the strokes employed in writing the radical (from Elementary Chinese Readers Book One Chinese Character Exercise Book, Foreign Languages Press, Beijing, 1980).
LI: Village.  A small group of houses, each of which-- in accordance with ancient law--occupied an eighth of the land, as it indicated in the upper part of the radical, albeit in reduced form. At the center was the common land occupied by the well. Apart from the meaning
HEI: Black. In huts, when a fire was lit, the smoke normally escaped through an opening above the hearth. The pictograph shows a small window blackened by the soot in the smoke: by extension it indicates the colour black. India ink is also made of soot, blended with other substances, hardened and then cut into sticks or blocks. The latter, when rubbed against special
Chinese Calligraphy
From Pictograph to Ideogram: The History of 214 Essential Chinese/Japanese Characters

By Edoardo Fazzioli

Size: 6 3/8 x 9 1/4", 252 pages
Nearly 600 two-color line drawings
Published 2005
ISBN: 978-0-7892-0870-5
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Also in cloth for $37.50

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An illuminating history of 214 Chinese/Japanese calligraphic characters.

Written Chinese can call upon about 40,000 characters, many of which originated some 6,000 years ago as little pictures of everyday objects used by the ancients to communicate with one another. To convey more abstract ideas or concepts, the Chinese stylized and combined their pictographs. For instance, the character for “man”—a straight back above two strong legs—becomes, with the addition of a head and shoulders and arms held sternly akimbo, the character for “official.” This book, modeled after a classic compilation of the Chinese language done in the 18th century, introduces readers to the 214 root pictographs or symbols upon which this writing system, whose rich complexities hold a wealth of cultural meaning, is based. These key characters, called radicals, are all delightfully presented in this volume, with their graphic development traced stage-by-stage to the present representation, where even now (in many of them) one can easily make out what was originally pictured—with the author’s guidance. Centuries ago, when the Japanese took up writing, they also adopted these symbols, though they gave them different names in their own spoken language.

Each of the 214 classic radicals is charmingly explored by the author, both for its etymology and for what it reveals about Chinese history and culture. Chinese characters are marvels of graphic design, and this book even shows the proper way to write each radical, stroke by stroke. Finally, there are also samples of each radical combined with other radicals and character elements to demonstrate how new characters are formed—some 8,000 have been added to the language since the eighteenth century. With all its expertly executed calligraphic illustrations and fascinating commentary, this book serves as an excellent introduction to Chinese writing and its milieu.

Edoardo Fazzioli was for ten years a correspondent in Hong Kong for an international agency. During that period he also studied Chinese language and culture at Hong Kong University. He is currently a member of the Italo-Chinese Institute for Economic and Cultural Exchange, for which he has edited publications and catalogs. He has also written newspaper articles and scholarly pieces on Chinese life and civilization.

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