copyright © 2006 by Tienzen (Jeh-Tween) Gong

The recent history
Chinese Written Language

After May fourth movement of 1919, Chinese scholars unanimously agreed that, being a denotative solitary and non-logical language, Chinese written language was the culprit for China's demise at that time. For over five thousand years, not only was Chinese government advocated learning as the only pathway to participate in politics but the tradition of countryside also viewed that studying was the only way to a personal prosperity. Yet, by 1950, over 85% of Chinese people were still illiterate because that Chinese written language was too hard to learn even for the native Chinese. Thus, the calling for converting Chinese characters into Roman alphabets was the slogan for China's culture elite in the 1950s. By 1958, this alphabetizing of Chinese characters was not yet successful. The Chinese government launched simplified Chinese character system as an interim measure to reduce the illiteracy in the country. By 2006, the illiteracy in the country was less than 15%. Thus, the simplification of Chinese characters was viewed as the greatest achievement of Chinese government. In April 2006, Chinese government issued The law of using the Standard (simplified) Chinese Characters in public place, which encompasses all the publications (books and newspaper) and all the street signs. Any way of violating this law is prohibited and will be fined severely.

In May 2006, Chinese Etymology was published. By only learning 220 root words and 300 sound modules, one can master all (60,000) Chinese characters. The meaning of each and every (100%) Chinese word can be read out loud from its face according to this book. That is, someone who knows not a single Chinese word can master the entire Chinese written language in six months as that course can be easily scheduled as a 200 hour course. After this fact was known, a news report (on November 4, 2007 by Chinese Daily News, P.O. Box 2032, Monterey Park, CA 91754) stated that Chinese government is now contemplating of going back to the traditional Chinese characters. The graph below is the copy of that news report.

Average Chinese college graduates learned about 6,000 Chinese characters. Learning 6,000 Chinese words as 6,000 different and non-related characters is a major effort and a major investment for a young person. Yet, there are over 60,000 Chinese words in existence, that is, 99% of Chinese knows only 10% of Chinese language. One language one soul. Nowadays, almost all Chinese has only one-tenth of Chinese soul.

While learning 6,000 different characters is difficult and a major wasting of young person's youth, creating 60,000 different words as ad hoc characters is not only a gigantic mammoth work, but the stupidest undertaking in the human history. If Chinese writing system was created in such a manner, the Chinese culture can never break out the sphere of stupidity.

The purpose of a language is not just for communications between men. It must posses the ability to describe the mysteries of nature which encompass, at least, two characteristics: abstraction and limitless in quantity and in number. No amount of the number of words in a language is able to encompass the limitless quantity in nature which must be covered by an open-ended system. An open-ended system can be made of only two-codes. A set of 60,000 ad hoc characters cannot give rise to an open-ended system by itself. An open-ended language must have an open-ended system as its seed. An open-ended language system needs only a finite number of codes (the less, the better) to construct an un-limited word system.

Is Chinese language an open-ended language system? Of course, it is. That is, a finite number of root codes for this system must be identifiable. Indeed, it is. There are only 220 roots in the entire Chinese word system. Traditionally, there are six ways to construct a Chinese character. Yet, there are many sub-rules under each way. I am re-writing it in a much easier understandable way as follow:
  1. Roots (220 total): created in three ways:
  2. Radical: It is a Chinese word, a compounded word, yet often as part of other words. Theoretically, every Chinese word can be as a radical. In practice, their number is in the thousands.
  3. Chinese character (tze): it encompasses all Chinese words (including roots and radicals). Here, I define it as excluding the roots and it can be constructed in two ways. Note: There is another way to create Chinese word, called borrowing. This is more advanced. Please read Chapter 10.

The following examples show 16 Chinese word roots.

Example 5
The right hand, three fingers and one arm. Root 1

Snow, Radical (rain) + Root 1, The rain which can be held in hand.

Do things very carefully and respectfully, Root 2 + Root 3, Doing things at dangerous place must be very careful and respectful.

Holding with hand, radical (wheat stalk) + Root 1, holding wheat stalk with hand.
A dangerous place, Root 2

A deep water hole, radical (water) + Root 2.
Crafty hand, Root 1 + radical (flag), Root 3.

For or as writing, Root 3 + Root (earth).

Pen, radical (as writing) + root (bamboo)

Wife, Root 3 + Root (one, united) + Radical (woman), A woman having crafty hand who is united to become one.
4, 5
King's seal, means authority and authenticity. Root 4.

The mirror image of Root 4. Meaning is the same. Root 5.

The right proceeding. Root 5 + Root 4. When King's seal and it's image match, the order is correct. Now, it is a name of a month which is a month before all lives come alive.

Egg. A thing in a right proceeding cannot go wrong.

King's officer, Radical (who knows the right and wrong) carries root 5 and root 4.

Willow tree. Radical (tree) + radical (the right proceeding). It was a wooden post for roping the horse of King's emissary.
Union, united, together, joint. Root 6.

Command, order. Root 6 + root 4. When the king's seal is matched (united), it is an order.

Giving order, Radical (mouth) + radical (order), Using the mouth to give the order. Who giving order with mouth is alive. Now, it also means life.

Meeting, Root 6 + radical (camp fire) + radical (speaking), Speaking around camp fire together is a meeting.
Color of not dyed silk. It means plain or beautiful. Root 7.

Plain, not contaminated. Root 7 + radical (silk)

Bluish color, Root 7 + radical (red color).

Poison, This is one example of the supreme ingenuity of the Chinese word system. Poison means to kill without seeing blood, and the victim does not know who is the killer. When a child's life is in danger, mother often puts up a beautiful face (root 7) while killing the threat, and the victim is often not knowing that he is killed. Chinese word "Poison" is written as mother with a beautiful face. Root 7 + radical (mother).

Example 6
Field of grass. Root 8.

Spring. Root 8 + radical (sun). Great sunshine on a field of grass is Spring.

Plenty, large (amount), tranquility. Root 8 + radical (water). Water in the field of grass will produce plenty and get tranquility.

Name of an ancient State. Root 8 + radical (wheat). A place produces wheat.
Lifting a thing with two hands. Root 9.

Manipulate. Root 9 + radical (King). King's hands can manipulate.

Guarding. Root 9 + radical (spear). Carrying spear is guarding.

Playing chess. Root 9 + root (pieces). Note: some font of root 9 looks like radical (large).
A variant of root 9. Root 9a.

Up-lifting. Root 9a + root (two hands) + radical (together). Two hands held together and up-lifted is happy and high.

The same word as the left word, in simplified version. Simplified words do not change the framework of the root word system.

Public opinion or a cart. Root 9a + root (two hands) + radical (cart). Many hands push and carry a cart.
Chi, a Chinese concept of energy flow. Root 10.

Energy flow.

Every, ceaseless. Root 10 + radical (mother). Mother's loving chi on her child is ceaseless.

Beg. Root 10 + radical (still weak, not yet number one). The energy is still weak and must beg.
Flag pole. Root 11.

A flag draped with an ox tail. Root 11 + radical (hail).

A flag decorated with feather. Root 11 + radical (birth).

Ethnic group. Root 11 + radical (arrow). It was a target for bundles of arrows. So, it means bundle.
The rising sun. Root 12.

Mediation or an axis. Root 12 + radical (measuring cup). Using measuring cup in the morning market can settle any dispute.

A big bird. Root 12 + radical (feather). Wing and feather in the morning sky is a big bird.

Diligence. Root 12 + radical (force). Using force in the morning sun is diligence.

With these examples, I have proved that Chinese word system is a root word system. But, why is there no Chinese, not a single one for the past two thousand years, learning Chinese writing with a root word system? Please read Chapter 10 for a complete answer. Here, I will only point out a simple reason, that is, no one knew the difference between a root and a radical. So, the concept of ROOT was dead before its birth.

The radical system is different from a root word system. Enzymes are the alphabets of a protein language. This is Enzymology or Biochemistry. The elements (atoms) are the alphabets of all chemical compounds, and it is called Chemistry. The elementary particles (proton, neutron, electron and quarks) are the alphabets for atoms, and this is Elementary particle physics. The radical system of Chinese language is as the enzyme to the science while the root word system of Chinese language is as the Elementary particle physics to the science. The radical system is a few steps removed from a root word system. The difference between them is significant and obvious. The following examples show the difference between a root and a radical.

Example 7
a word root,
not a word

a word,
also a radical for the words below.
a word root,
not a word

a word,
also a radical for the words below.
a word root,
not a word

a word,
also a radical for the words below.

Another reason for not knowing Chinese word system as a root word system is because that many roots are not words and not recognized as radicals. All roots ( 1 to 15) above are not words and not recognized as radicals. That is, those roots were never recognized as stand alone entities. Furthermore, many descendants of roots (as compound roots) were also not recognized as stand alone entities. The example below shows such a case.

Example 8
Making imprint on ground by animal's (bird's) feet, root 16

Disperse, scatter, Root 16 + root (bird's head), a scene of birds running around. it is a word and a radical for words below. Root 16a.

A scene of catching birds, root (top hand) + root 16 + root (lower hand), not a stand alone word. Root 16b

depart, leave, root 16a + root (small bird), Small bird is easier to escape.

Chaos, Root 16b + root (still weak). Before the birds were caught, it is a sight of chaos.

Name of all birds, root 16a + root (sky), Scattered in the sky.

Phrase, Root 16b + radical (harsh). Why? Try to explain it yourself before reading the explanation below.

Why does the word phrase share the same root with the word chaos? It changes the root (still weak), which is the cause for chaos, to the radical (harsh). This word's original meaning is a judgement sentence (harsh) for a chaotic situation. Later, every phrase (no longer needs to be a judgement sentence) is called with this word. Not knowing the word roots, we will never know of why a word is written as it is, not otherwise.