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Written forms of one Chinese character fill dictionary


A foreigner eager to learn Chinese might quickly give up the idea if he or she happens to see a newly published dictionary which shows 10,001 different written forms for just one Chinese character.

The dictionary, named Wan Shou Da Dian (literally translated as Dictionary of 10,000 Shou), was released by the Beijing-based Rongbaozhai Publishing House.

Shou, meaning longevity and prosperity, is a traditionally lucky Chinese character.

It can be found on inscriptions of ancient bronze objects, royal seals, paintings, books, coins, chinaware and epigraphs, editor-in-chief Wang Rongtai said.

"The earliest forms of the character date back to the Shang dynasty (1600-1050)," Wang said.

Shou is also widely used in modern decoration and art, including sculpture, calligraphy, seal cutting, miniature gardening and paper cutting.

The Shou character can be presented in numerous shapes, each one with their own meaning. For example, a round Shou suggests complete and perfect life and health.

When 100 Shou characters are written in different shapes on a piece of paper, the drawing expresses the wish to live a long life. It is an old Chinese custom to present a "Picture of a Hundred Longevity" to a prominent person as a birthday gift.

Wang said the dictionary explained the origin of each type of Shou character as well as its original author.

More than 100 pictures of Shou artworks were also included in the dictionary.

"By demonstrating the evolution of the character over the past 3,700 years, the dictionary provides a window into Chinese society, the changes of people's art tastes and the rich connotation of Chinese characters," Wang said.

Chinese characters evolved over time from hieroglyphs. The earliest Chinese characters discovered are Jiaguwen (inscriptions on tortoise shell and animal bones) from the Shang Dynasty.

Editor: Liu Fang



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