China: Empire of Living Symbols

Overview

The origins of Chinese ideographs were not known until 1899, when a scholar went to an apothecary for some medicine made of “dragon bone.” To his surprise, the bone, which had not yet been ground into powder, contained a number of carved inscriptions. Thus began the exploration of the 3000-year-old sources of the written characters still used in China today. In this unparalleled and deeply researched book, Cecilia Lindqvist tells the story of these characters and shows how their shapes and concepts have permeated...

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Overview

The origins of Chinese ideographs were not known until 1899, when a scholar went to an apothecary for some medicine made of “dragon bone.” To his surprise, the bone, which had not yet been ground into powder, contained a number of carved inscriptions. Thus began the exploration of the 3000-year-old sources of the written characters still used in China today. In this unparalleled and deeply researched book, Cecilia Lindqvist tells the story of these characters and shows how their shapes and concepts have permeated all of Chinese thought, architecture, art, and culture.

Stone Age dwellers along the Yellow River inscribed images of men, dragons, deer, sun and moon onto bone or pottery long ago. These same pictures live on the the characters used by the Chinese today. Cecilia Lindqvist traces the evolution and enduring history of Chinese characters, providing insight into their culture.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Many of the 50,000 Chinese characters in use today can be traced back to ancient, inscribed oracle bones and bronzes. Drawing on archeological finds of recent decades, Lindqvist, a Swedish scholar who studied Chinese writing in Beijing, tells the fascinating stories behind the meaning and evolution of scores of Chinese characters. She notes that the original character for ``hand'' may well have been a picture of a hand with five fingers; neolithic jars were prototypes for the character for ``wine''; the character for ``speak or word'' has a basic meaning, ``large flute.'' Other characters relate to everyday life houses, carts, clothes or to the countryside, plants and animals. A testament to the continuity of Chinese culture, this beautiful book is illustrated with ancient inscriptions, 18th-century woodcuts and photographs of contemporary life demonstrating how ideogrammatic images recur as archetypes through the centuries. Nov.
Booknews
Using the archaeological discoveries of the past few decades, Lindqvist traces the 3,000-year saga of the basic Chinese characters and the world in which they evolved. Illustrated with drawings, rubbings, paintings, and 30 pages of color photographs. Translated from the Swedish by Joan Tate. A lovely and fascinating volume. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
From the Publisher
Guardian 7/5/08
“An evocative, compelling celebration of language as a carrier of culture.”

Toronto Globe & Mail 7/5/08
“[A] delightful cultural and linguistic history.”

Boston Globe
“Deserve[s] special mention…Lavishly illustrated.”

London Review of Books
, 2008
“A fascinating introduction to Chinese language and culture. Beautifully designed and illustrated with photographs, calligraphy and drawings.”

Shelf Awareness’s “Top Ten of 2009,” 12/15/2009
“For those of us fascinated by Chinese, this offers detailed histories of many basic characters, showing their earliest forms, which often were representational, and their stylized modern versions.”

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780201570090
  • Publisher: Perseus Publishing
  • Publication date: 8/1/1991
  • Pages: 424
  • Product dimensions: 8.32 (w) x 8.65 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Cecilia Lindqvist lives in Stockholm and lectures widely. She has just published a book on Chinese music.

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