Essays on the Chinese Language (1889)

Essays on the Chinese Language  (1889) 
by Thomas Watters







Presbyterian Mission Press.



The first beginning of this book was made in Peking more than a quarter of a century ago. It was at the suggestion of the lamented Sir Frederick Bruce, then H. M.'s Minister to China, that the study of the word Tao was taken up, and at the same time the survey of the Chinese language in general was begun. It was originally intended to take in a number of subjects not treated of in the pages which follow. But as the work proceeded it was found impossible to carry out the original design. Still the author ventures to hope that what is here given will help or interest students of the Chinese language and form a basis for further researches.

Imperfect drafts of part of the book have already appeared in the Chinese Recorder and the China Review.

It affords the author much pleasure to acknowledge openly his deep gratitude to his friend, W. R. Carles, Esq., H. M.'s Consul for Chinkiang. The hard and irksome task of correcting the proofs was undertaken by Mr. Carles and carried out by him during the whole time the work was going through the press. The Superintendent of the Mission Press also has done all in his power to diminish the number of printer's errors. These, however, are still too many, and the author regrets that the book has to appear marred by these and other errors for which the printers are not responsible.

Newchwang, September, 1889.



Number of those who use the Chinese language, p. 1; sphere of the language, 1; Chinese little known to Western scholars, 2; different opinions, 3; some theories as to origin and family relationship, 4; Golius, Leibniz, Farrar, 4; John Webb, 5; early Roman Catholic missionaries, 7; Edkins, Marshman, Chalmers, 8; Logan, G. von der Gabelenz, 9; de Lacouperie, 11; Fried Müller, 12; some opinions on Chinese from the morphological point of view, F. von Schlegel, 12; Bopp, W. von Humboldt, 13; Schleicher, Pott, L. Adam, Max Müller, 14; Grube, 15; some opinions on the contents and general character of the language, 15; Semedo, 16; Premare, Amyot, 16; W. von Humboldt, Steinthal, Whitney, Renan, 17; materials for correct general judgment not yet ready, 19.


This chapter does not pretend to give a full account of the cultivation of their language by native authors, p. 20; early use of writing, 21; the state interpreters in Chow period, 22; cultivation of the language in this period, 23; Ch'in Shi Huang Ti's action, 26; the scholars of the Han dynasty, 28; the Buddhist missionaries from India, 36; the scholars of the Three Kingdoms period, 38; the works on the language in the Chin period, 39; the North and South dynasties, 42; the Sin dynasty, 46; the T'ang dynasty, 48; Buddhist monks on the language, 51; invention of printing,[1] 54; writers under the Sung dynasty, 55; the Mongol or Yuan dynasty, 73; works on the language during the Ming period, 78; those of the present dynasty, 84; treatises to teach natives of Kuangtung and Fuhkeen the Mandarin language, 97.


Chinese opinions as to first men, they were not mute, p. 103; they and barbarians generally chattered like birds, 103; Chinese regard speech as natural, 104; man speaks when moved, 106; speech before or after music, 106; the growth and changes in speech not arbitrary, 107; earliest articulate utterances of baby, 108; sing-sing, parrot and other creatures can utter words, 109; man alone has faculty of speech, 110; two fold source of speech material and mental, 113; climatic conditions affect speech, 115; speech not enough and visible record needed, 116; precursors of writing, the Ho-t'u, and Lo-shu, and Pa-kua, 118; written characters invented by Tsang Chie but made according to reason, 121; history of writing, 123; Chinese appreciation of value of writing, 125; comparison of written languages of China and India, 126.


Man's conscious control does not extend to the use of emotional and imitative expressions, p. 128; treatment of these by grammarians and philologists, 128; by native scholars in China, 129; Farrar's "elements of articulate speech," 130; Chinese use of interjections such as ai-ya, 131; uses of ai, 133; vocal gestures, 135; in some cases such expressions are real words or their ruins, 136; blowing of wind, rain, 137; imitations of animal cries, 139; of involuntary human sounds as coughing and sneezing, 142; defects and peculiarities of utterance, 145; child's language, 147; expressions metaphorically imitative, 149.


Neither foreign nor native opinions as to the resources of the Chinese language to be trusted, p. 152; the word Tao to be investigated, 152; cautions with reference to what is stated in this chapter, 153; Tao does not give fair specimen of uses of a word, 153; writing and pronunciation of the word, 153; synonyms, 154; combinations with sense of road, 154; special phrases connected with meaning of road, 160; to travel, 161; right of way, 161; from, district, 162; orbit, course, 164; ray, band, line, time, 166; Tao as a numerative or classifier, 167; in the sense of means and manner, 168; expedient, 169; attainments, characteristics, 170; course of conduct, 172; state or condition, 175; to lead or guide, 177; doctrine, religion, 180; truth, wisdom, 181; principles, 183; to rule, government, institutions, 186; good government, order, 189; law, standard, &c., 190; to talk, discourse, &c., 192; the Ultimate Principle, 197; nature or law of creatures, 201; T'ien-tao's meanings, 202; man's moral constitution, 206; conscience, 208; Tao-hsin and Jen-hsin, 209; Reason, 211; duty, 214; relationship, 217; essentials, sum, 219; Tao as title of person, 221; source or cause, reason, 222; type, emblem, 223; ideal moral perfection, 225; ideal state of society, 228; Nature, 229; Miscellaneous, 232; Taoist use of the word, 235 Mahometan, 239; Christian, 240.


The Chinese language is rich in some respects and poor in others, p. 245; words and phrases connected with Pig, 246; names for year, 249; for periods of human life, 252; terms for death, 257; for dying, 259; to die, 262; to die prematurely, 274; to die ill, 279; the dead, 282; terms for ceremonies on behalf of the dead, 292; terms for customs to be observed by mourners, 297; terms for the coffin and its parts, 299; the bier, 303; the site for the grave, 305; terms for burial, 307; for temporary resting of coffin, 309; the grave and tomb, 310; the cemetery, 318; terms for mourning, 321.


Foreign words in Chinese not numerous, 328; Barbarians, 329; commodities known by names of countries, 329; An-hsi, Chiam-pi, Ho-lan, 330; Greek and Roman terms, 331; Spanish and Portuguese, 333; Dutch and German, 334; French, 334; English, 335; Malay, 341; Persian, 347; Arabic, 352; Turkish, 356; Manchu, 362; Mongolian, 369; Tibetan, 375.


The influence of Buddhism on Chinese only sketched in outline, p. 379; intercourse with India before the Han period asserted but not proven, 379; Chang Ch'ien gives report of India, 380; first missionaries from India, 380; effects of Buddhism on Chinese like those of Christianity and Mahometanism on other languages, 380; the Chinese were taught Sanskrit by the missionaries, 381; books were written, 382; the Chinese were also taught how to study their own language, 383; astronomy and other sciences taught, 383; the foreign missionaries were not all from India, 384; different dialects, Indian and Chinese, 385; Indian words introduced at different periods, 385; words relating to the Buddhist religion: the objects of worship and reverence—Buddhas, P'usas, Disciples and Patriarchs, 387; Indian gods, Brahmā and Indra, 394; Yama and Māra, 395; other supernatural beings, Rakshas, Yakshas, Gandharvas, Asurs, 396; Chaṇḍi, 399; Buddhist heavens and hells, 400; names for professed Buddhists and lay members, 401; Brahmans, 406; terms relating to sacred buildings, 407; monks' robes and bowl, 412; alms and alms givers, 413; cremation, 415; Nirvāṇa, 416; relics, 417; technical terms such as Prajnā-Pāramita, Bodhi, 418; Yü-lan-hui, 421; Nan-wu, 422; T'o-lo-ni, 423; Buddhist sacred books and the material and way of chanting, 424; grammatical geographical terms and names of places, 425; names of numbers and measures, 430; names of minerals and precious stones, 432; names for trees, flowers and vegetable medicines and other products, 435; names of animals, 442.


New Chinese terms added by translation from the Sanskrit, p. 445; mode of proceeding adopted by early translators, 445; names of Buddhas and P'usas, Sākyamuni, Jan-têng, Kuan-yin, 446; Kei-ku-tu, 449; Lun-wang and Fa-lun, 449; Buddhist clergy, 450; geographical and topographical names, 450; objects associated with Buddhist monks, 452; San-tsang, 453; Chin-kang, 454; San-shêng, 454; other technical terms as Tao-pi-an, Mie-tu, 456; new expressions which are not translations, 458; Ch'u-chia and similar terms, 458; transmit robe and bowl, 460; transmit lamp, 450; sitting cross-legged, 461; wood-fish, 461; Name for monastery, 462; terms for saluting, 462; terms for begging, 463; terms relating to transmigration, 464; terms for services on behalf of the dead, 464; other terms from Buddhist religious teaching, 466; sea of misery and ship of mercy, 466.; terms for death, 466; Sui-hsi and Fang-hao-kuang, 467; miscellaneous terms which include name of Buddha, 468; some which have Kuan-yin, 469; Lo-han, 471; the Ho-shang, 471; Mâra, 471; Sêng-lu, 472; new meanings given to old expressions, 472; Confucianists complain of Buddhist misuse of hsing, hsin, &c., 473; new meanings for fa, 473; chiao, 474; Buddhist uses of Tao, 475; Hao-shi, 478; Kung-te, 479 ; pu-shi, 479; terms about mortal life, new meanings to shêng and shi, 480; Wu-ch'ang, 482; belief in Karma affected some words, 483; wandering ghosts, 484; names of sacred places, 485; various instances, 486; la, a year; t'ien, heaven, 487; Ch'u, to feel, 488; Hsiang, Fang-pien, 489; Ju-i, 490; effects of Buddhism illustrated by proverbs and common sayings, 491; proverbs in which Buddha's name occurs, 492; some in which that of Kuan-yin occurs, 493; P'usa, 494; Ho-shang, 494; monasteries and the monk's garb, 495; Karma, 495; the king of the dead, 495; heaven and hell, 495; the maṇi, 496; universal sovereign, 496.

  1. See Errata.