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43 of 44 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Outdated, but useful
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...
Published on August 13, 2000 by Richard A. Weaver

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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Worth Having on your Bookshelf
Books published by Dover tend to have certain similarities: they tend to be books that were considered primary reference sources in their (usually eccentric) field at one time, but are now outdated and while their contents are frequently interesting, possibly useful and occasionally enlightening, they should not be considered authoritative except in the sense that they...
Published on September 26, 2001 by Thomas F. Ogara


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43 of 44 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Outdated, but useful, August 13, 2000
By 
Richard A. Weaver (lawrenceville, GA United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Chinese Characters: Their Origin, Etymology, History, Classification, and Signification: A Thorough Study from Chinese Documents (Paperback)
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So forget about his outdated etymologies, and use his information only when it's vivid and makes the character easy to remember.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 much easier.
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34 of 36 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars For Reference & Pleasure, January 1, 2002
This review is from: Chinese Characters: Their Origin, Etymology, History, Classification, and Signification: A Thorough Study from Chinese Documents (Paperback)
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.
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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 even useless.
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.
Nitty gritty:
+ 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?:
- Radicals
- Phonetics (alphabetized) - the old k'ai, hsien & chou, not kai, xian and zhou.
- 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?
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dated but Valuable, March 25, 2006
By 
Charles W. Strong (McMinnville, OR United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Chinese Characters: Their Origin, Etymology, History, Classification, and Signification: A Thorough Study from Chinese Documents (Paperback)
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 thought."

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.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Worth Having on your Bookshelf, September 26, 2001
By 
Thomas F. Ogara (Jacksonville, FL USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Chinese Characters: Their Origin, Etymology, History, Classification, and Signification: A Thorough Study from Chinese Documents (Paperback)
Books published by Dover tend to have certain similarities: they tend to be books that were considered primary reference sources in their (usually eccentric) field at one time, but are now outdated and while their contents are frequently interesting, possibly useful and occasionally enlightening, they should not be considered authoritative except in the sense that they reflect scholarly opinion of several generations past.
Fr. Wieger's book should be treated in this manner. We have a great deal more resources regarding the evolution of the Chinese writing system at our disposal now than when he wrote a hundred years ago. The book is interesting in that it reflects the accepted wisdom of Chinese scholars of the nineteenth century on the subject, and in this sense it resembles James Legge's translations of the Chinese classics - they're considered almost unreadable nowadays (as is Wieger) but Legge had the benefit of real mandarins of the old regime to consult with. Fr. Wieger's book is a reflection of the sholarship that put together the Kang Xi dictionary, which despite its drawbacks in retrospect was a monumental work in its time.
If you're looking for a dictionary don't waste your time with Wieger - in this respect he was inaccurate even when he was new, and it's doubtful that preparing a dictionary was his major concern anyway. If you're looking for a history of Chinese writing, you should look elsewhere for accuracy, but Wieger's comments are worth a read as well, for no other reason than that he goes into so much detail over every character, and provides us with the received wisdom on the derivation of so many of them.
Which is his major virtue; the level of detail he was willing to go to in the book is stultifying. The book's other virtue is the sheer fact of its existence, which is one more tribute to the Jesuit fascination with China over four centuries.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Let's set the record straight, August 9, 2009
This review is from: Chinese Characters: Their Origin, Etymology, History, Classification, and Signification: A Thorough Study from Chinese Documents (Paperback)
As Mr. Strong has already noted in greater detail, many of the reviews claiming that the etymology here is outdated are missing the point. Since Wieger wrote this book, archeology has revealed a tremendous amount about the origins of Chinese characters in remote antiquity, and to this degree the ideas presented in this book, which are based upon a consensus reached in the second century A.D., are "inaccurate". But the "personality" of each word in a language is built up over time by all the users of the word, and the ideas they had about the word's origin and nature are, to that degree, of more importance than whatever might have been in the mind of the scribe who first coined it. Here is a comparison. Suppose archeology discovered very ancient texts of Gensis, say, which differ in important respects from the canonical version. The new discoveries would, indeed, be very much worth our attention, but would the canonical Genesis suddenly become "outdated"? It is still the latter, what has been known as Genesis for three thousand or more years, that has helped shape our civilization. In fact, the traditional etymologies are even more worth knowing about even than this comparison suggests. If an authentic older text of Genesis were really discovered, this would gradually change the way we thought about the Old Testament. By contrast, the fundamental nature, idea, "character" of the Chinese characters has been pretty firmly shaped by the ideas about them, settled in the 2nd century A.D., which this book very competently presents. No discoveries about what the graphs originally meant in the Shang is likely to change that.

This book, then, pretty accurately gives the student the ideas of the characters which have shaped Chinese usage throughout history. Secondly, it is a magnificent introduction to ancient forms which, for understanding what lies behind Chinese words, are as useful as a knowledge of Greek and Latin together is for a deeper understanding of the modern European languages. I do not know of any other book, useful for a beginning student of the language, which shows so many of the old forms. Finally, while it is certainly not adequate as a stand-alone dictionary, it has been for me a very useful supplement to the other dictionaries I own. In fact, more than once a rare character which did not appear in any other dictionary turned up here.

The introduction to this book, though brief, is the most thorough, in-depth, and readable account of the nature of Chinese characters that I personally have seen in a book for the common reader. Everyone who studies Chinese should read i--not at the very outset but after a few months, when he will know what Wieger is talking about. The ten pages of that introduction contains more insight and information than DeFrancis' whole book, and far more agreeably presented.

Finally, I would like to say a word about the comment about Wade-Giles. Until pretty much the day before yesterday everyone writing about China used it; unless you want to avoid everything that was written before 1990 or so (including, to name a few examples, Barbara Tuchman's book on China in WWII, Lau's translations of the Chinese classics, or Benjamin Schwartz's World of Thought in Ancient China) and unless you are willing to be in permanent uncertainty as to the pronunciation of many personal and place names in Taiwan, learning Wade Giles, along with learning Pinyin, is something everyone with serious interest in China simply does. It takes about ten minutes. Surely by the time someone is as deeply involved in the study of Chinese characters as to be reviewing a book about their etymology, it is a little silly to object to devoting ten minutes to learning another Romanization system.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Chinese Characters: Their Origin, Etymology, History, Classification, and Signification by Dr. L. Wieger, S.J., November 26, 2011
By 
This review is from: Chinese Characters: Their Origin, Etymology, History, Classification, and Signification: A Thorough Study from Chinese Documents (Paperback)
This is the book (820 pages) that helped me to be able to memorize Chinese characters! Many years ago I was with a Japanese friend and came across this book. I recognized the importance of this book immediately. The author breaks down the Chinese character and shows the reader how the Chinese character evolved. This is one of my most prized possessions. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to understand Chinese characters and how the written language evolved. The author is a member of the Society of Jesus better known as a Jesuit priest. Jesuits are Catholic scholars that study a subject to the fullest. The author has done just that in producing this great masterpiece. [...]
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15 of 20 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Grossly outdated, October 12, 2004
By 
This review is from: Chinese Characters (Hardcover)
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 characters.

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:

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.
Highly recommended.

For character by character etymology, these two are ok although still flawed:

Xie Guanghui's Composition of Common Chinese Characters: An Illustrated Account (Peking (sic) University Press; ISBN 7-301-03329-x; 1997) -- more accurate in content than most others, but often presents one theory as if it were the only one, which does readers a disservice. Still, probably the best on the market at the moment.

Wang Hongyuan, (1993). The Origins of Chinese Characters, Sinolingua, Beijing, ISBN 7-80052-243-1 (explanations are unsatisfactory but the broad range of historical forms given for each graph is unparalleled in mass-market books, making it worth the price)
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dated but Nonetheless Interesting and Instructive, May 6, 2000
This review is from: Chinese Characters: Their Origin, Etymology, History, Classification, and Signification: A Thorough Study from Chinese Documents (Paperback)
Translated from the French 4th edition, Wieger's 'Chinese Characters' is a excellent resource for Chinese etymology, given paucity of such works available in western languages. It basically outlines the origins, etymology, history, classification and signification of Chinese characters, based on thorough, albeit old, study from Chinese documents. It comprises an introduction, which furnishes explanations on the history, types, and analysis and classification of Chinese characters, followed by some 200 etymological 'lessons' covering the origin and derivation of particular basic characters and parts thereof. There is also a small section contain facsimile copies of the oldest specimens of Chinese writing. Finally, there are three lexicons (containing at a rough estimate some 10,000 characters each, which arrange characters grouped according to their phonetic component, their radical (semantic component) and their pronunciation respectively, each entry of which gives the character, its pronunciation and its meanings. Its coverage of Chinese characters is both comprehensive and succinct.
This book will prove to be an absorbing read for anyone interested in Chinese characters and their origin. However, without casting aspersions on the quality of the research and the accuracy of the text, I'm not sure that this text is an authoritative reference on character etymology. (I'm not saying it isn't, although I doubt a work of such scope could be without error.) Nonetheless, I find this book very useful for learning characters, particularly the lexicon listing characters according to their phonetic component, since learning lists of characters arranged in this order makes it much easier to remember than learning them arranged according to radical or pronunciation, since characters grouped this way are both similar in shape and in pronunciation. The Romanisation system used is the Wade system, which is somewhat old, and the meanings given for the characters are very brief, with no usage notes. Also, the characters described by the book are traditional characters; no mention is made of the simplified. The research upon which the book is based is almost a century old.
Notwithstanding all of the above, I find that the merits of the book far outweigh its shortcomings, and, for its price, is certainly an interesting guide to the etymology of Chinese characters as well as being a passable reference work for learning characters. I would recommend it to anyone quite curious about Chinese characters and its history. It might, however, prove quite boring to the casual reader who has only a mild curiousity and does not wish to learn about the etymologies of individual characters.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Awful, awful, awful, March 31, 2013
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This review is from: Chinese Characters: Their Origin, Etymology, History, Classification, and Signification: A Thorough Study from Chinese Documents (Paperback)
This is a reprint of an old text. That's ok. It uses only the traditional characters, because it predates the simplification of the character set, and that's ok too. But it is a photocopy of an old text, and the copy is awful. As result, the more complex characters are completely unreadable. I defy you to read any of the complex characters, like <<can / eat>> <<餐 in Chinese>>.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent!, February 1, 2014
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This review is from: Chinese Characters: Their Origin, Etymology, History, Classification, and Signification: A Thorough Study from Chinese Documents (Paperback)
I'm very happy to have purchased it! It's wonderful and very useful to help me understand and study Chinese language!
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