This dictionary is designed to help students understand, appreciate and
remember Chinese characters. It has the following features: -Every character
entry includes a brief traditional Chinese etymology. -Genealogical charts
highlight the connections between characters, showing the creation of more
than 4000 characters from less than 200 simple pictographs and ideographs.
-Mandarin standards in China and Taiwan are distinguished. -Simplified forms
for each character are given. -Character entries list all words which use
the character in any position, allowing a word to be found even if the first
character is unknown. -English definitions are referenced in an
English-Chinese index. -A word pronunciation index allows students to
directly search for an overheard word without having to guess the initial
character. -A stroke count index lists every character by number of strokes.
From the Author
This dictionary is aimed at serious beginning students who want a more
analytic approach to learning characters and at intermediate students who
want to improve their understanding of characters. Students who are only
interested in the spoken language should consider other dictionaries.
About the Author
Rick Harbaugh started the dictionary many years ago while a graduate student
in economics at National Taiwan University. He now teaches economics at
Indiana University's Kelley School of Business.
- Paperback: 550 pages
- Publisher: Zhongwen.Com; 1 edition (August 1, 1998)
- Language: English
- ISBN: 0966075005
- Product Dimensions: 7.1 x 5.1 x 1.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds.
- Average Customer Review:
based on 62 reviews.
|99 of 102 people found the following
Terrific tool for learning and memorization!, April 21, 2003
This is a review of _Chinese Characters: A Genealogy and Dictionary_
by Rick Harbaugh.
This is an excellent book for helping students to (1) learn and
memorize Chinese characters, and (2) identify characters that are
difficult to find in traditional dictionaries. However, as Harbaugh
himself makes clear, it is important not to confuse this learning tool
with a scholarly guide to the actual etymologies of Chinese characters.
In order to understand what is distinctive and especially useful
about this dictionary, you need to know a little about how Chinese
characters are composed. (If you already know this, or are not
interested, skip to the next paragraph in this review.) Traditionally,
there are five types of Chinese characters. The simplest characters are
either pictograms (which were originally pictures of something concrete)
or simple ideograms (whose structure suggests their meaning, even though
they are not pictures). So, for example, the character for "person" was
originally a drawing of a person, and the character for the number three
is three horizontal lines. Many people assume that all Chinese
characters fall into these two classes, but in fact only a small
percentage do. Most Chinese characters are semantic-phonetic compounds,
in which part of the character gives a hint about the sound, and another
part gives a hint about the meaning. The last two types of characters
are compound ideograms (in which two characters are compounded into one,
and their individual meanings contribute to the meaning of the whole)
and phonetic loans (in which a pre-existing character is borrowed to
represent a word whose sound is similar to that of the word the
character originally represented). Now, traditional dictionaries are
organized according to over 200 so-called "radicals." Every character in
Chinese has at least one radical in it somewhere. So if you want to
identify a Chinese character you haven't seen before (or can't
remember), you take an educated guess at what the radical in it is, then
look for it under that radical in the dictionary. However, one problem
is that the radicals of some characters are not obvious.
What Harbaugh has done is to organize his dictionary around 182
pictograms and simple ideograms. (Many of these overlap with the
traditional radicals, but others do not.) Then he shows (using extensive
"genealogical" charts) how about 4000 other characters are built up from
the original 182 by adding more components. Part of what makes this book
really useful is that Harbaugh builds the charts in a way that
highlights the phonetic components of characters. For example, his basic
character 175 is identified as a "pictograph of [the] interlocking
framework of a house." This character is pronounced GOU, and underneath
it in Harbaugh's dictionary you will find four characters with very
similar pronunciations (and one with a different pronunciation) that
include that character as a component. In contrast, in a traditional
dictionary, the original GOU is not a radical at all. Furthermore, in a
traditional dictionary, EACH of the similarly-pronounced characters
would be found under a different radical. Consequently, Harbaugh's
dictionary takes a lot of the mystery out of character composition and
recognition. Harbaugh also gives you mnemonics for each character. For
instance, the first character under GOU means "to construct." It has the
wood radical on the left, so Harbaugh suggests you remember it by
thinking of a "wooden framework."
Each character entry provides a wealth of additional information: the
simplified form of the character (used in Mainland China), an
identification of the components of the simplified form, the meanings of
the character (and their parts of speech), a list of common expressions
in which the character is the SECOND component (with an index number to
help you find the first character in the expression), and then a list of
common words in which the character is the first component (along with
their pronunciations, in Pinyin, part of speech, and meanings).
Harbaugh has done almost everything imaginable to make this
dictionary reader-friendly. Suppose you see one of Harbaugh's components
in a character, and look for it there in his dictionary. Some characters
have more than one component in them, so Harbaugh may not have put the
primary entry for a character where you are looking for it. However,
Harbaugh provides cross-references, so you can find a character under
ANY of its components. Finally, this dictionary has a number of indexes:
an index to expressions by their English translations, a Pinyin
(pronunciation) index to characters and expressions, a "Mandarin
Phonetic" (Bopomofo) index to characters and expressions, a total stroke
number index to characters, and a traditional radical index to
The only concern I have with this fine dictionary is that an
incautious student (or scholar) might innocently confuse it with an
actual etymological dictionary. Harbaugh knows better himself. As he
explains in his introductory material, his etymologies are based on
those in the 2,000 year old _Shuowen jiezi_ by Xu Shen. This is an
important work, but as a result of modern archaeology, we now have
access to earlier forms of characters than Xu Shen did. Anyone seriously
interested in historical etymology will have to go beyond Xu Shen (and
With that minor warning, I can say that Harbaugh's _Chinese
Characters: A Genealogy and Dictionary_ is a godsend to students of
|83 of 87 people found the following review
Find a character with ease, March 15, 2002
What a cleverly designed book!
-Search by pinyin (romanization)
-Search by bopomofo (zhuyinfuhao)
-Search the English word list
-Search by THE PART OF THE CHARACTER YOU RECOGNIZE (doesn't have to be
-Or, ok, search by stroke or radical
-Another way to search, not mentioned in other reviews or even in the
intro to the book itself: search by looking for a character that goes
with the target character (i.e. I have no idea what this character is,
but I just saw it printed right after the word for water. Fine, I'll
just look up water, and there's my mystery character). And the
definitions show plenty of combinations as well. After all, what is a zi
(character) by itself?
With this book, you will not be squinting through row after row of
tiny characters as with, say, the Far East brand dictionary. You can
find a word or combination in seconds, I promise.
Focuses on "traditional" characters, as used in Taiwan, Hong Kong,
etc, the same characters that have been used for the last 2000 years.
Also, includes simplified form in brackets, which have been used in
Mainland China for 50 years.
If you don't care about written Chinese, and you just want to look up
what you hear, then John DeFrancis' ABC Dictionary is surely the book
for you. (It has simplified characters searchable by pinyin
If you love Chinese writing, and long to look up every word you see,
but are tired of asking your friend to explain it to you,
then this book, 'Chinese Characters: A Genealogy and Dictionary
by Rick Harbaugh' is perfect.
One thing on the website which is missing from the book: reference
numbers linking the character to Wieger's etymology, which (correctly or
not) attempts to further explain a character's origins with samples of
gu-wen (ancient writing).
Notice that this book currently takes 1-2 weeks to ship.
Indispensable, March 17, 2006
It's really everything you need to start undestanding this
uncomprehensible writing system. No sarcasm. It's usefull to know that
the carachter for "why" (wei, ?) -- or rather it's traditional form -
derives from a pictograph of a female monkey. This is an extreme example
-- in fact, getting to know the genealogy of characters helps a lot
|3 of 3 people found the following review
An Worthy Companion in studying Chinese, February 27, 2006
Although, the same material can be found online at zhongwen.com, this
book is useful when you need to work with chinese away from a computer.
The lookup system, requires a little more hops than most dictionaries;
however, once you find the information, related words prove very useful
in conveying the alternative usages and the connation of the word.
|3 of 3 people found the following review
Incredible Book for Chinese Learners, February 18, 2006
This book is a priceless gem. How long does it take one to write such
a book? I have many books and dictionaries of Chinese, but nothing comes
close to the usefulness of this book. The cross-references and the
indexes are an invaluable aid to learning Chinese characters.
|5 of 5 people found the following review
A student's best friend, December 11, 2005
I have been studying Chinese only for the past 10 months. Thanks to
this handy reference book, my progress has been boosted significantly.
The Chinese Characters Genealogy Reference (Zhongwen Zi Pu) is written
specifically for English speakers taking on the challenge of learning to
read Chinese. The search methodology is very organized, allowing the
user to look up a word by the elements of its Chinese character, the
pinyin spelling, or its English counterpart. Looking up words by the
Chinese character can be tricky, but will become easier once you are
familiar with how characters are broken down and organized in the
genealogical chart. To get the full usage out of this book, it will take
some practice looking up new characters.
I was astonished at how many words are packed in this small, portable
book. While commuting on the train from work, I used this book as an aid
in reading and understanding a Chinese newspaper. The compactness of the
book itself really makes it easy to carry different places. In addition
to definitions, many commonly used phrases are included.
A major weakness of the Genealogy reference is that it focuses on the
traditional Chinese characters used by Taiwan. This presents a
disadvantage for students learning the simplified versions of the
characters used on mainland China. Although the simplified characters
are presented along side the definitions, there is no way to reference a
character starting with its simplified version. Nevertheless, this is a
must-have reference for anyone serious about learning the Chinese