Rich analysis of 2,300 characters according to traditional systems into
primitives. Also reference lexicon of 7,000 characters.
- Paperback: 820 pages
- Publisher: Dover Publications (June 1, 1965)
- Language: English
- ISBN: 0486213218
- Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.2 x 1.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.3 pounds.
- Average Customer Review:
based on 9 reviews.
|17 of 17 people found the following review
Outdated, but useful, August 13, 2000
If you're looking for a book giving the latest information on the
history and development of Chinese characters, this is NOT the book you
want to use.
Having said that, this book can still be very useful to you in
learning Chinese characters. The vast majority of Chinese characters are
NOT the charming "sun plus moon equals bright" type of pictographs. They
are a two-part composite, with one character (the radical) carrying the
general semantic meaning of the compound, and the other character giving
an indication of the sound of the compound. (for an excellent discussion
of this, see John DeFrancis' The Chinese Language - Fact and Fantasy.)
What Wieger presents is a scheme of 858 phonetic series, and by learning
the sound(s) associated with these series you get, in essence, multiple
characters for the price of one.
So forget about his outdated etymologies, and use his information
only when it's vivid and makes the character easy to remember.
Otherwise, make up your own mnemonics. But the sound-carrying parts of
characters - his "phonetic series" - repeat themselves over and over
again in different compound characters. And being familiar with the more
prolific phonetic series will make the memorization of new characters
|19 of 29 people found the following review
Why is this still being published?, May 29, 2000
I am amazed to see that this decrepit old book is still polluting the
study of Chinese etymology. The work is shot through with errors that
should be obvious to anyone with the slightest inkling of the Chinese
scholarly contributions in this field over the last several centuries.
It is not enough to say the book is out of date. When Wieger was
writing, serious study of the oracle bones was well under way. Why did
he show no familiarity with the work of the earlier Ching etymologists
and the contemporary turtle bone scholars? Is ignorance an excuse? Since
I began my study of Chinese etymology almost thirty years ago,I have
been asked several times (always by Westerners) what I think of this
book. My reply: open it at almost any page and you can find some
ridiculous error. No wonder only Westerners consider Wieger an
etymologist; he has no standing among Chinese scholars.
Of course the book is not totally without merit. The entire layout is
visually pleasing, the kai calligraphy is excellent, and in particular
the seal characters are very well done. But his discussion of the "old
graphies" borders on the ludicrous. His approach reminds me of the early
"Egyptologists" who claimed that hieroglyphics apprehended truth
directly, and could be deciphered independently of orthographic
convention. Wieger does score a few hits on simple characters. He
provides workable descriptions of some later inscriptions, the kind you
see in Pots and Pans 101, and that any first semester student should be
able to read. Some of his ideas are surreal, though, totally untenable
when held against the body of the written Chinese language. He presents
a bronze plate, "dating probably from the 20th century BC... the oldest
specimen known of Chinese writing." This statement, along with his
introductory sketch of the character chun/prince through 45 centuries,
shows that he had little of the historical sense so vital to an
If you wish to learn about the origin, etymology, history,
classification, and signification of Chinese characters, look elsewhere.
Dated but Valuable, March 25, 2006
Some of the reviews of Wieger's book are unfair. Of course it is out
of date: the second edition was published in 1927, the same year that
the Academia Sinica began to protect the Shang sites at Anyang! Serious
study of oracle bones had barely begun, and no-one can reasonably deride
Wieger's failure to mention it as "ignorance."
About the year 200 CE, the Shuo-Wen was published, the great dictionary
that dominated Chinese etymological thinking until the early 20th
century. This was a remarkable intellectual achievement. Chalmers' 1881
book, "The Structure of Chinese Characters," introduces this Chinese
etymology to English speakers, but it is extremely concise. Wieger is
much more detailed, and in 1923 no less a person than Bernhard Karlgren
said, "his work is up to now the best European work on the subject." A
popular extension of Wieger's work "Analysis of Chinese Characters" by
Wilder and Ingram was published in 1922. The authors make an
illuminating remark, "[these etymologies] are the products of Chinese
fancy and imagination and to some extent show the workings of the
Chinese mind. Therefore they interest us who are students of Chinese
As Karlgren notes, "the small seal of Li Si is in many cases an entirely
new script." My point is simple: the etymologies derived from shells and
bones are frequently irrelevant to the modern characters. The Shuo Wen's
may often be erroneous guesses, but they were a part of the Chinese
appreciation of their script for more than 1700 years, witness F.C.
Hsu's "Chinese Words," published in 1976 and based primarily on the
Shuo-Wen. So, buy Wieger and enjoy it. The mnemonic help it gives you in
remembering the characters is deeply Chinese, and far more relevant than
anything you can contrive for yourself.
I agree with the remarks Kent Suarez makes in his review and would also
recommend Wang Hongyuan's book, though I, too, have reservations.
|1 of 2 people found the following review
Not for beginners, July 1, 2005
I'm not an etymologist by any means, but have an interest in
understanding the poetry of the pictographs. There is a lot here to
digest, and it would help if there were no doubts about its accuracy.
How else would a beginner learn the correct things? The publisher has a
responsibility to get a new revision.
In additon, there should be an update to hanyu pinyin, which is the
official mainland China romanizaton. Wade-Giles is really out of date (I
was brought up on this) and not helpful when trying to make sense of the
new literature in China which may use HanyuPinyin together with the new
|3 of 5 people found the following review
Grossly outdated, October 12, 2004
The understanding of the origins of Chinese characters has made huge
leaps and bounds since the Anyang archaeological digs of oracle bones
right around the time this book was published. As a result, Wieger's
quaint, admittedly enjoyable work is terribly out of date and
inaccurate, as anyone who has studied the works of Guo Moruo (Kuo Mojo),
Li Xiaoding (Li Hsiaoting), Luo Zhenyu (Luo Chen-yu), Sun Haibo (Sun
Hai-po), Takashima, Keightley, Tang Lan, Wang Guowei, (Wang Kuo-wei),
etc. can tell you. Wieger's work is also badly indexed, and uses
obsolete Wade-Giles romanization. It also fails to include many common
Unfortunately, there is currently no updated version using this kind of
lesson-by-lesson layout, which is probably why Wieger is still in print.
However, I'd instead recommend that you learn about the REAL origins of
characters, starting with the following items, all of which Amazon
1. Sources of Shang History: The Oracle Bone Inscriptions of Bronze Age
China (Campus, No 335) by David N. Keightley ISBN 0-486-21321-8. THE
must-read introduction to oracle bones, the earliest significant corpus
of Chinese writing. A very interesting work by a leading, highly
esteemed scholar. Highly recommended.
2. The Ancestral Landscape: Time, Space, and Community in Late Shang
China, Ca. 1200-1045 B.C (China Research Monographs,No 53) by David N.
Keightley. An exploration of what the oracle bone divinations tell us
about the environment, weather, geography, politics, foreign relations,
religion and lives of the Shang.
3. Wang Hongyuan, (1993). The Origins of Chinese Characters, Sinolingua,
Beijing, ISBN 7-80052-243-1. (I have reviewed this separately -
recommended with caveats).
|18 of 20 people found the following review
For Reference & Pleasure, January 1, 2002
If you've heard of the excellent Zhongwen.com website, note that you
can look up a word there and often find the corresponding Wieger lesson
number in THIS book. Very helpful.
I bought this book in '96 and am still enjoying it. While I agree with
many other reviewers who say this book is not for beginners, I was
shocked to see reviews posted here that call it grossly out of date, or
If you have some experience with Chinese characters and would like to
delve into their origins, Wieger's book provides hundreds of brief
etymologies. Are they correct and accurate? Ahem, no comment. I'm not a
linguist. But they have definitely helped me to remember characters'
meanings when I see them later in a newspaper or a letter.
+ You can find ancient forms next to the modern (merely 2000 years old?)
forms here. Very interesting, and I have yet to find these forms on the
Internet. Also, you may see more than one variation of a character.
+ The etymologies: Translated from French, which was translated from - i
think - German, they have an archaic flavor. You might like that, and
you might hate it. Still, the etyms are what this book is all about.
Printing: bad, but the paper hasn't yellowed, even in my humid climate.
Indexes --How do you FIND these tasty etymologies?:
- Phonetics (alphabetized) - the old k'ai, hsien & chou, not kai, xian
- the 224 'Primitives'
Series: Aside from the indexes (indices) mentioned above, there are
also "phonetic series", lists of words that have not the radical in
common but instead...that other part. The phonetic clue. Not all the
words in each series sound exactly alike. For example, you'll find
ch'ing4, sheng1 and hsin1 together in one group. But, they all share the
same phonetic clue, and are thus placed in the same lesson as well.
Bottom line - if you fail to find a word, but then turn to a word that
merely _reminds_ you of the former, and there's a good chance of finding
the word you're actually looking for.
Final word on the etymologies: If you're a linguist, there must be
better sources out there (and you probably have them). The angry
reviewer from Wulai wants to see this book out of print, but until she
posts the title of an alternative source, these snippets are USEFUL, at
least in helping one memorize characters. They make this book one of my
favorite sources of pleasure reading. How many language books can _You_
still call pleasure reading after 5 years?