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Beibiezi 碑别字

Aug 24, 2021 © Ulrich Theobald

Beibiezi 碑别字 "Alternative characters on stone slabs" is a specialized character dictionary compiled by Luo Zheyun 羅振鋆 (1862-1886) and Luo Zhenyu 羅振玉 (1866-1940) and finished in 1885. The characters are arranged according to the traditional rhyme system, with each of the five tone pitches in one juan. The book selects noteworthy character variants used in stone inscriptions from the Han 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE) to the Song period 宋 (960-1279). All characters documented were not found in dictionaries up to the time. Moreover, the two Luo brothers determine the standard form.

A shortcoming of the text is that it is very selective and cannot be used as a comprehensive dictionary for character variants. It is nevertheless useful to analyse specific forms used in ancient stone inscriptions. It was first printed in 1894 by the Shijiutang Studio 食舊堂. At that time, Luo Zhenyun had already passed away.

Luo Zhenyu soon compiled a supplement to the dictionary called Beibiezi bu 碑別字補, arranged according to the same principles. The supplement was printed in 1901. The Beibiezi is included in the series Xuxiu siku quanshu 續修四庫全書.

A modern edition was published in 1957 by the Wenzi Gaige Chubanshe 文字改革出版社 with the title Zengding Beibiezi 增訂碑別字.

Figure 1. Beginning of the Beibiezi 碑别字
Level-tone section (shangping sheng 上平聲), rhyme dong 東 /uŋ/, presenting variants of the characters dong 東, zhong 中, zhong 衷, zhong 忠, zhong 終, rong 戎, chong 崇, gong 躬, and rong 融. The variants are presented first, then the standard character, like ■■■,東也 "ABC corresponds to D". The columns set somewhat lower indicate the sources of the character variant.

A similar, much larger collection of alternative characters called Beibiezi xinbian 碑別字新編 was compiled by Qin Gong 秦公 and published in 1985 by the Wenwu Chubanshe 文物出版社. It includes character variants (modern term yitizi 異體字) from the Qin 秦 (221-206 BCE) to the Republican period. The glyphs are arranged in 5,228 standard characters as "lemmata" (zitou 字頭) for which more than 128,000 variants are presented used in stone slabs, tomb inscriptions, cliff inscriptions, statues, the Stone Classics and Buddhist inscriptions. A minor part is derived from the Luo brothers' Beibiezi. For each variant, the source is provided. Ten years later, an enlarged version was published (Beijing Guoji Wenhua Chubanshe 北京國際文化出版社) by Qin Gong and Liu Daxin 劉大新 with the title Guang beibiezi 廣碑別字. A substantial shortcoming of Qin's two dictionaries is that the characters are written by ball pen, and thus miss the details of brush stroke movements as reflected in the original stone inscriptions. The early dictionaries by the Luo brothers are much better in this respect.

Cui Feng 崔凤 (2020). "Beibiezi xinbian biezi bujian yanjiu 《碑别字新编》别字部件研究", Ankang Xueyuan xuebao 安康学院学报, 2020 (6): 57-61.
Ma Duan 马瑞, Tang Huaixing 党怀兴 (2015). "Beibeizi quanmian zhengli jingxin yanjiu de lizuo: Han-wei-Liuchao beike yitizi dian jianping 碑别字全面整理精心研究的力作——《汉魏六朝碑刻异体字典》简评", Zhongguo chuban 中国出版, 2015 (20): 66.
Pan Yinsheng 潘寅生, Guo Jiankui 郭建魁, ed. (1993). Zhonghua shehui kexue gongjushu cidian 中華社會科學工具書辭典 (Lanzhou: Gansu renmin chubanshe), 361.
Li Xueqin 李學勤, Lü Wenyu 呂文鬰, ed. (1996). Siku da cidian 四庫大辭典 (Changchun: Jilin daxue chubanshe), Vol. 1, 1510.