An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Kangxi zidian 康熙字典

Jul 17, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald

Kangxi zidian 康熙字典 "Dictionary of the Kangxi reign (1662-1722)" is the largest character dictionary of traditional China. It was compiled on imperial order by Zhang Yushu 張玉書 (1642-1711) and Chen Yanjing 陳延敬 (1638-1712), but was only finished in 1716.

Figure 1. Beginning of the Kangxi zidian
Beginning of the Kangxi zidian, reprint (Hong Kong: Huaqiao cidian chubanshe, no year) of the original in the imperial collection of the Wenyuange Studio 文淵閣 (so-called "palace edition" (dianban 殿版 produced with copper plates), but enriched by large seal script characters).

The Qing-period 清 (1644-1911) compilers made use of older dictionaries, expecially the Ming-period 明 (1368-1644) dictionaries Zihui 字彙 by Mei Yingzuo 梅膺祚 (fl. 1615) and Zhengzitong 正字通 by Zhang Zilie 張自烈 (1597-1673). It consists of 12 "collections" (ji 集) of which each is divided into three parts. It makes use of the 214 radicals system established in the Zhengzitong.

Each character is attributed to a radical. The radicals are arranged according to the number of brush brush strokes. Below the radical levels characters are arranged according to the residual stroke number left after subtracting the radical. The Kangxi zidian contains 47,035 characters in total and was the largest dictionary before the compilation of the Zhonghua da zidian 中華大字典 in 1915. This large number comes into being because all character variants from ancient times on are recorded. For each individual character, the locus classicus is provided.

A long introductory part explains the use of the traditional rhymes (Zimu qieyun yaofa 字母切韻要法). There is also an index for characters whose radical is not easy to determine (Jianzi 檢字) and a chapter comparing characters that are very similar to each other and not easy to discern (Biansi 辨似).

For each character the pronunciation according to the fanqie system 反切 is given first, as it is explained in older dictionaries, like the Guangyun 廣韻, Jiyun 集韻 or Gujin yunhui 古今韻會, and then the direct pronunciation (zhiyin 直音) via a homophonous character.

The pronunciation paragraph is followed by an explanatory part in which quotations from all kinds of literature is given to explain the different meanings of the character, in first place often from the oldest character dictionary of China, the Shuowen jiezi 說文解字, followed by the Confucian classics, historiographic writings, and on to belles-lettres. This part is often followed by a section rendering alternative readings, alternative meanings, and alternative writings of the character.

Quotation 1. Kangxi zidian 康熙字典 entry of the lemma 七 "seven"
【唐韻】親吉切【集韻】【韻會】【正韻】𠀤(=並)戚悉切,音桼。 Guangyun reading /tsʰĭĕt/; reading in Jiyun, [Gujin] yunhui, Zhengyun /tsʰiĕt/, pronounced like 桼 /tsʰǐět/ [modern: tʂʰi].
少陽數也。 The number of Lesser Yang.
【說文】陽之正也,从一,微陰从中衺出也。【書·舜典】在璿璣玉衡,以齊七政。【註】七政,日月五星也。【詩·唐風】豈曰無衣七兮。【註】侯伯七命,車服皆以七爲節。 Shuowen [jiezi]: "The correction of Yang. From 'level/the surface of the earth', from which a portion of Yin is protruding." Shang[shu], ch. Yaodian: "[Yao] examined the pearl-adorned turning sphere, with its transverse tube of jade, and reduced to a harmonious system [the movements of] the Seven Directors (transl. Legge 1865)." Commentary: "The seven directors are sun, moon, and the five planets." Shi[jing], ch. Tangfeng: "How can it be said that he is without robes? He has those of the seven orders." Commentary: "The regional rulers and earls dispose of seven [types] of ordinances, for which reason their chariots and robes are [equipped] with the number seven as a tally."
又詞家以七名篇,雖八首,問對凡七。七者,問對之別名,始枚乗七發,後傅毅七激,崔駰七依,曹植七啓,張協七命,繼之凡十餘家。 Also: The number seven is used as chapter title by poets. Even if [a collection] includes eight poems, there are commonly seven question-and-answer steps. "Seven" is thus a designation for "question and answer", [a custom] begun with Mei Cheng's "Seven openings", and continued with Fu Yi's "Seven incitements", Cui Yin's "Seven consents", Cao Zhi's "Seven beginning", Zhang Xie's "Seven orders", all in all a dozen writers.
又三七,藥名。【本草綱目】言葉左三右四,故名。一說本名山桼。 Also: "Three-seven" is the name of a medical herb. Bengao gangmu: "The name is derived from [the shape of] their [pinnate] leaves, with three leaflets on the left, and four to the right." One author says, its original name was "mountain sap".
又姓。明七希賢。 Also: A family name, like Qi Xixian from the Ming period.
又人名。【續仙傳】殷七七,名文祥。【蘇軾詩】安得道人殷七七,不論時節遣花開。 Also: Personal name. Xuxianzhuan: "Yin Qiqi, [actual] name Wenxiang." Poems of Su Shi: "The immortal Yin Qiqi from Ande was able to cause flowers to open in every season."
【正字通】或通作㭍桼漆柒。 Zhengzitong: "Also commonly written 㭍, 桼, 漆, or 柒."

The quality of the entries is very high compared to older dictionaries, as the Kangxi zidian is very critically engaging its sources. There were, nevertheless, errors in the quotations, for which reason Wang Yinzhi 王引之 (1766.1834) compiled a critial appendix to the dictionary, Zidian kaozheng 字典考證, in 12 juan. It contains 2,588 paragraphs of corrected mistakes.

Another critical appendix to the Kangxi zidian was written by the Japanese scholar Watanabe Atsushi 渡部温 (1837-1898), Kangxi zidian kaoyi zhengwu 康熙字典考異正誤, which contains 11,700 entries.

Table 1. The 214 Kangxi Radicals
One Stroke
1 yi one; a horizontal stroke
2 gun a vertical stroke (also read xin or tui)
3 zhu a dot
4 丿 pie a stroke curved to the left
5 yi a bent stroke; the second of the celestial stems
6 jue a hook
Two brush strokes
7 er two; two horizontal brush strokes
8 tou head, above
9 ren man, a person
10 ren man, a person (at the bottom of a character)
11 ru to enter, to start, to include
12 ba eight; to part, to divide
13 jiong wilderness
14 mi cover
15 bing two dots; ice, cold
16 ji small table
17 qu widely opened mouth
18 dao knife, sword, to cut, to separate
19 li strength, force
20 bao to embrace
21 bi spoon, ladle
22 fang square box
23 xi round box
24 shi ten; two crossed brush strokes
25 bu to divine, to prognosticate
26 jie seal, stamp
27 han cliff
28 si self, private
29 you to grasp; further, again
Three brush strokes
30 kou mouth, opening, sounding
31 wei enclosure
32 tu earth, soil
33 shi official, scholar
34 sui to walk slowly (at the bottom of a character)
35 zhi to overtake (at the top of a character)
36 xi evening
37 da big, large
38 woman, female
39 zi child, son; the first of the terrestrial branches
40 mian roof, cover
41 cun inch
42 xiao small
43 wang broken or curved leg
44 shi corpse, body
45 che sprout
46 shan mountain, cliff
47 chuan river, stream
48 gong work
49 ji self, own; the sixth of the celestial stems
50 jin towel, napkin, cloth
51 gan shield
52 yao small, young
53 广 yan house built at a slope
54 yin to walk a long distance
55 gong two hands (at bottom of character)
56 yi to shoot
57 gong crossbow
58 ji pig head
59 shan hair, feather
60 chi to walk slowly
Four brush strokes
61 xin heart, feeling, emotions
62 ge axe, halberd
63 hu house, door
64 shou hand, actions
65 zhi branch
66 pu whip
67 wen word, literature; pattern, structure
68 dou a kind of volume measure
69 jin a kind of weight measure; axe
70 fang square, direction, locality
71 wu do not, no
72 ri sun, clear
73 yue to say
74 yue moon, month
75 mu tree, wood
76 qian to be missing, to be void of, gap
77 zhi to stop, to end
78 dai evil
79 shu halberd
80 mu mother (or 毋 wu do not)
81 bi side by side, to compare
82 mao hair, feather
83 shi clan, family
84 qi air, breath
85 shui water
86 huo fire
87 zhao claw, hand
88 fu father
89 yao to cross two times
90 qiang bed
91 pian slice, piece
92 ya teeth
93 niu cow, ox
94 quan dog, dog-like animals
Five brush strokes
95 xuan black, dark
96 yu jade, stone
97 gua pumpkin, melon
98 wa tile, earthenware
99 gan sweet
100 sheng to give birth, to live
101 yong to use
102 tian field
103 pi roll, bolt
104 chuang sick
105 bo two hands above
106 bai white
107 pi leather, skin
108 min plate
109 mu eye
110 mao spear
111 shi arrow
112 shi stone, rock
113 shi spirits, ancestor, to pray
114 rou animal stamping the earth
115 he ear of grain
116 xue hollow, hole, hidden
117 li to stand, to erect, to build
Six brush strokes
118 zhu bamboo
119 mi rice
120 mi thread, fabric
121 fou crock, vessel
122 wang net
123 yang sheep, goat
124 yu wings
125 lao old
126 er mustache; but, and
127 lei handle of a plough
128 er ear
129 yu brush
130 rou meat, organs of the body
131 chen servant, subject
132 zi nose, self
133 zhi to arrive, to go to
134 jiu mortar
135 she tongue
136 chuan to lye side by side
137 zhou boat, ship
138 gen simple, honest, straight
139 se color, outlook
140 cao grass, herb, plant
141 hu tiger
142 hui (chong) insect, creeping animal
143 xue (xie) blood
144 xing (hang) walk, row, line, lane
145 yi clothing
146 襾覀 ya cover
Seven brush strokes
147 jian to see, to observe
148 jue horn; a kind of volume measure
149 yan to speak, words
150 gu valley
151 dou bean; a kind of vessel
152 shi pig
153 zhi small hairy animals
154 bei cowry shell
155 chi red
156 zou to walk
157 zu foot, leg
158 shen body
159 che cart
160 xin bitter, pepper, sad; the eighth of the celestial stems
161 chen morning; the fifth of the terrestrial branches
162 chuo to stamp on the earth, to go, to walk
163 yi village
164 you wine, jar; the tenth of the terrestrial branches
165 bian to distinguish, to separate
166 li mile, hamlet
Eight brush strokes
167 jin metal, gold
168 chang long, hair
169 men door, gate
170 fu hill, dam
171 dai to reach, to catch
172 zhui small bird
173 yu rain
174 qing bluegreen
175 fei wings; not
Nine brush strokes
176 mian face
177 ge skin, leather, to change
178 wei tanned leather
179 jiu chives, scallion
180 yin sound
181 ye page, face
182 feng wind
183 fei to fly
184 shi to eat
185 shou head
186 xiang odor, perfume
Ten brush strokes
187 ma horse
188 gu bone
189 gao high, aloft
190 biao hair
191 dou battle, to fight
192 chang sacrificial wine
193 li a kind of vessel
194 gui ghost, spirit, demon
Eleven brush strokes
195 yu fish
196 niao bird
197 lu salt
198 鹿 lu deer
199 mai grain
200 ma hemp
Twelve brush strokes
201 huang yellow
202 shu millet
203 hei black
204 zhi needlework
Thirteen brush strokes
205 min frog, amphibian
206 ding tripod
207 gu drum
208 shu mouse, rat and similar animals
Fourteen brush strokes
209 bi nose, self
210 qi equal, all
Fifteen brush strokes
211 chi teeth
Sixteen brush strokes
212 long dragon
213 gui turtle, tortoise
Seventeen brush strokes
214 yue flute
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