Thousand Character Classic

Thousand Character Classic
Thousand Character Classic
Chinese name
Chinese 千字文
Japanese name
Kanji 千字文
Kana せんじもん
Korean name
Hangul 천자문
Hanja 千字文
Vietnamese name
Quốc ngữ Thiên tự văn
Hán tự 千字文

The Thousand Character Classic (千字文) is a Chinese poem used as a primer for teaching Chinese characters to children. It contains exactly one thousand unique characters. It is said that Emperor Wu of the Liang Dynasty (r. 502-549) commissioned 周興嗣 (pinyin: Zhou Xingsi, jyutping: Zau1 Hing3 Zi6) to compose this poem for his prince to practice calligraphy. The original title of the poem was 《次韻王羲之書千字》 and it is sung in the same way in which children learning Latin alphabet writing do with the "alphabet song".



The Thousand Character Classic is composed of 250 phrases of 4 characters each from "天地玄黃" (jyutping: tin1 dei6 jyun4 wong4, pinyin: tiān dì xuán huáng) to "焉哉乎也" (jyutping: yin1 zoi1 fu1 jaa5, pinyin: yān zāi hū yě). It was selected among the calligraphies of 王羲之 (Wang Xizhi), one of the finest calligraphers in China, and composed by Zhou Xingsi, who lived from 470 to 521 in the Liang dynasty. The characters of the poem were sometimes used to represent the numbers from 1 through 1000 (as the standard numbers could more easily be altered with an extra stroke or two), as described in this link for students: Qianziwen.

Importance in Japan

Wani, a legendary Chinese scholar[1], is said to have transmitted the Thousand Character Classic to Japan along with 10 books of Analects of Confucius during the reign of Emperor Ōjin (r. 370?-410?). However, this alleged event precedes the composition of the Thousand Character Classic. This makes many assume that the event is simply fiction, but some[who?] believe it to be based in fact, perhaps using a different version of the Thousand Character Classic.

Importance in Korea

The Thousand Character Classic has been used as a primer for learning Chinese characters for many centuries. It is uncertain when the Thousand Character Classic was introduced to Korea.

The book is noted as a principal force—along with the introduction of Buddhism into Korea—behind the introduction of Chinese characters into the Korean language. Hanja was the sole means of writing Korean until the Hangul script was created under the direction of King Sejong the Great in the 15th century; however, even after the invention of Hangul, most Korean scholars continued to write in Hanja until the early 20th century.

The Thousand Character Classic's use as a writing primer for children began in 1583, when King Seonjo ordered Han Ho (1544–1605) to carve the text into wooden printing blocks.

44 legends from "Cheon" (heaven) to "Su" (water) among "Thousand Character Classic" were inscribed one by one on the reverse of "Sangpyung Tongbo" (a Joseon Dynasty Korean coin).

The Thousand Character Classic has its own form in representing the Chinese characters. For each character, the text shows its meaning (saegim or hun (訓)) and sound (eum (音)). The vocabulary to represent the saegim has remained unchanged in every edition, despite the natural evolution of the Korean language since then. However, in the editions Gwangju Thousand Character Classic and Seokbong Thousand Character Classic, both written in the 16th century, there are some number of different meanings expressed for the same character. The types of changes of saegims in Seokbong Thousand Character Classic into those in Gwangju Thousand Character Classic fall roughly under the following categories:

  1. Definitions turned more generalized or more concrete when semantic scope of each character had been changed;
  2. Former definitions were replaced by synonyms; and
  3. Parts of speech in the definitions were changed.

From these changes, replacements between native Korean and Sino-Korean, etc. can be found. Generally, "rare saegim vocabularies" are presumed to be pre-16th century, for it is thought that they may be a fossilized form of native Korean vocabulary or affected by the influence of a regional dialect in Jeolla Province.

Manchu texts

Several different Manchu texts of the Thousand Character Classic are known today. They all use the Manchu script to transcribe Chinese characters. They are utilized in research on Chinese phonology.

The 滿漢千字文 (jyutping: mun5 hon3 cin1 zi6 man4, pinyin: mǎn hàn qiān zì wén) by 沈啓亮 (jyutping: cam4 kai2 loeng6, pinyin: chén qǐ liàng) contains Chinese text and Manchu phonetic transcription. It seems that the Man han ciyan dzi wen was published during the reign of the Kangxi Emperor.[2]

Another text, the 清書千字文 (jyutping: cing1 syu1 cin1 zi6 man4, pinyin: qīng shū qiān zì wén) by 尤珍 (jyutping: jau4 zan1, pinyin: yóu zhēn), was published in 1685 as a supplement to the 百體清文 (jyutping: baak3 tai2 cing1 man4, pinyin: bǎi tǐ qīng wén). It provides Manchu transcription without original Chinese. It is known for being referred to by Japanese scholar Ogyū Sorai for Manchu studies as early as the 18th century.[3]

The undated ciyan dzi wen which is owned by the Bibliothèque nationale de France is a variant of the Qingshu Qianziwen. It is believed to have been used by the translation office of the Joseon Dynasty of Korea. It contains Hangul transcription for both Manchu and Chinese.[4] It is valuable to the study of Manchu phonology.

See also

  • Chengyu (traditional Chinese four-character parables)

Similar poems in other languages


  1. ^ Encyclopedia Nipponica [1] "王仁は高句麗(こうくり)に滅ぼされた楽浪(らくろう)郡の漢人系統の学者らしく、朝廷の文筆に従事した西文首(かわちのふみのおびと)の祖とされている。"
  2. ^ Ikegami Jirō 池上二郎: Yōroppa ni aru Manshūgo bunken ni tsuite ヨーロッパにある満洲語文献について (Manchu Materials in European Libraries), Manshūgo Kenkyū 満洲語研究 (Researches on the Manchu Language), pp. pp.361-363, 1999.
  3. ^ Kanda Nobuo 神田信夫: Ogyū Sorai no "Manbunkō" to "Shinsho Senjimon" 荻生徂徠の『満文考』と「清書千字文」 (On Ogyū Sorai's "Studies of Written Manchu" and "The Manchu Thousand-Character Classic"), Shinchōshi Ronkō 清朝史論考 (Studies on Qing-Manchu History: Selected Articles), pp. 418-431頁, 2005.
  4. ^ Kishida Fumitaka 岸田文隆: Pari Kokumin Toshokan shozō no Mankan "Senjimon" ni tsuite (I) パリ国民図書館所蔵の満漢「千字文」について (I) (On Ciyan dzi wen/Ch'ien-tzu-wen (千字文) in Bibliothèque Nationale (I)), Toyama Daigaku Jinbungakubu Kiyō 富山大学人文学部紀要 (Journal of the Faculty of Humanities Toyama University) No.21, pp.77-133, 1994.

External links

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