The historical aspect of the Chinese hieroglyph

The article considers the hieroglyphic sign 馬, referring to the traditional writing. 

Chinese is the main representative of the group of so-called monosyllabic language preserved (mainly due to its writing) more archaic form than the other members of this group (Tibetan, Burmese, Korean, languages etc.). Its Mono syllabic roots words remain unchanged, without taking any inflections or suffixes. The Chinese language does not use and ca not use any alphabet, and its every word is represented in writing by a special sign (hieroglyph) [1].

Let us Refer to F.A.Brokgauz and I.A.Efrona’s Encyclopedias and see what the concept of «hieroglyph» means: Hieroglyph-a Greek name (used already by Herodotus) Egyptian inscriptions, type spread by the science and the corresponding stages of in other nation’s writing development: Hestia, Chinese, Mexican, and others. The name «sacred» these letters received from the Greeks, as opposed to the demotic. The Egyptians did not stop on expressing the concepts with drawings of objects, like the Chinese, and the representation of these figures into the signs to represent the of syllables, like the inventors of cuneiform; they managed without moving perfectly from these two steps to initiate the principle of the alphabet – and that it is their service to the world culture [2].

However, this definition specially emphasis hieroglyphic writing of the ancient Egyptians, but in our work we shall consider the characters of ancient China (Traditional Chinese characters).

Chinese writing of hieroglyphic type, built on the basis of ideographic elements syllable (morpheme-and syllabic) script. In respect of sound character corresponds tonic syllable (there are four tones in Chinese ) and indicates a single word or morpheme. The total number of Chinese characters approximately 50 thousand. But it is used 4-7 thousand practically Hieroglyphs. Mark of the character is made up of standard features (from one to 28), repeated in various combinations. Complex characters are a combination of simple characters, there are about 300 of them.

History of Chinese hieroglyphic writing begins at the era of the legendary Emperor Fu Xi and Shen Nong. It is believed that they invented divination trigrams ba-gua, nodular letter Jie-sheng and signs for the writing. Much later, at the court of Emperor Huang Di historian Cang jie streamlined and systematized written symbols. The Chinese character «wen-tzu» consists of two parts: wen is – «ornament pattern» and Tzu is an «abstract concepts». This character represents the word «writing alphabet».

In the preface to «Shovenyu» it is said that the characters (most likely Cangjie invented tadpole writing KEDO Tzu) who was an traces associate of Huendi, Shen Nong and Fu Xi, penetrating deep into the meaning of of birds and animals. He had four eyes (two eyes, one above the other) It was a symbol of special insight. For the first time the number of all existing characters was counted in the Han Dynasty Chinese scientist Xu Shenem in the work «Shoven tszetszy» and the member was 9353 hieroglyph [3].

Chinese hieroglyphic writing script is an exceptional phenomenon among modern writings . This is the only hieroglyphic writing in the world, which was invented a half millennium before BC. e. and continues to exist today. Hieroglyphic writings, which were invented practically in all centers of ancient civilizations in the Middle East, South Asia, China, Central America, disappeared, left behind few monuments. Only Chinese hieroglyphic writing has been able to adapt to the changing conditions of the Chinese civilization throughout its history and remains complicated , but acceptable to China means of script.

Sign of the Chinese writing is a complex graphic shape. Its Chinese name – Tzu which means a «written sign» .In European languages it is called character – «mark» in Russian it hieroglyph is called by analogy with other signs of hieroglyphic writing. Accordingly, in Russian traditional Chinese script is called hieroglyphic. The unusual Chinese writing has always been curious to both scientists and specialists and numerous lovers. On it there is a large body of literature about it however, the scientific study of its history began at the end of the last century after the discovery of the ancient monuments of Chinese script. Hieroglyphic writing is different from the alphabetic not only by a form or degree of complexity of the individual characters. Differences are evident in all the properties of these two types of characters scripts.

There are two kinds of hieroglyphic writing in CHinese: traditional and simplified, but we will focus only on the traditional script.

The history of traditional characters dates back to the era of the first mythical emperors Fu Xi and Shen Nong – it is nodular letter. The first sign system in the history of Chinese culture consisted of two elementary signs, one of which represents strait, and the second – strait broken line. These signs were combined into trigrams – gua with irrupted combination of strait and broken lines. There were eight trigrams. Each of them had a certain value, which could varies from depending on the purpose for which these trigrams were used. Trigrams could be combined with each other in pairs. The result of this combination of a irrupted couples were 64 hexagrams, which were the signs of a subject, but the situation described in the attached distich the meaning of which was interpreted by a soothsayer. This simple system of signs, naturally, could not be used to write messages in Chinese, but it was of fundamental importance, with it was understood by it the idea that every message can be encoded using written signs. The task was only to replace the signs having a plurality of situational values by the signs that would have one permanent meaning. There was only one step from here to create signs for individual words of Chinese. Connection trigrams with Chinese hieroglyphic writing was clear very well to early philologists. In the preface to the dictionary Shoven Tszetszy Xu Shen wrote: «When Fu Xi became the ruler of the Universe, he was the first who create the eight trigrams, and Shen Nong used knots on the cord for the needs of government and transforms order». Similar statements are also available in Ching, Lao Tzy and Chuang Tzu. There no differences in meaning between them, so we can assume that all this information is back to the same cultural tradition.

Further, according to the myth about the invention of the Chinese writing, the era of Emperor Huang Di follows during his reign, the court historian Cang Jie, created the current hieroglyphic writing. According to legend, to the idea of creating his characters he was guided by bird traces on the coastal sand. Looking at them, he realized that to create a graphic sign indicating the subject, it is not necessary to paint the object itself: the symbol, recognizable from other symbol is enough to identify it. Legend says that the characters made by Cangjie, were quite conventional images of the objects, and therefore he called them, i.e wen – image ornament. Further there were created more complex signs consisting of several patterns like this. These complex characters were named Tzu. In the preface to the dictionary «Shoven tszetszy» it states that «the court historiographer of Emperor Huang Di named Zahn Jie created the first script on small planks». Also there was given most likely a false etymology of the word Tzu «written sign» from the word tzu «born», i.e. derived from few characters [4].

In Chinese culture, many some legends are dedicated to many hieroglyphs and only a few characters, for example, the character 馬 (mǎ), have continued in real events.

In the culture of Chinese character 馬 (mǎ) – horse has – a special place. As the horse in the Celestial Empire has long been very honored, this character carries a lot of positive values. Longevity, health, strength, freedom of spirit, speed, persistence and talents are among them.

The Chinese character for «horse» is pronounced «ma». Expression 千 里 馬 qiān lǐmǎ, which is translated as to 1,000 verst 3500 feet horse or a very good horse – a figurative expression about capable people. On the bones, which foretellers used to predict in ancient China (14-11 centuries BC.) The character 馬 was pictogramme of this animal, and was very much like a reared horse. The Icon consisted of pieces depicting eyes, a mane, four hooves and tale of a horse.

In ancient inscriptions made on bronze («tszinven» – 13-4 centuries BC.) the character has changed: it has come to resemble a running horse with the mane flying down the wind .

Later, when calligraphers began to use a writing in the style of ancient seals Chzhuanshu (200 BC 200 AD), and the simplified character instead of four horse hooves was pictured with just four points. Since them this type of character in the traditional script did not change (in a simplified style, introduced by the Chinese Communist Party in the 20th century, instead of four points the Chinese began to depict a line, the upper part of the character was also simplified).

In ancient times, horses were often used in hostilities. Therefore, in the hieroglyph of military subjects the character «horse» is often a «key» (part of the character that defines the meaning of the whole Chinese characters). For example, the character 駐 (zhù) means to stop, maintain some (where any occupation forces, ambassadors, etc.).

馬 symbol in combination with other characters forms a lot of words for strength and movement, for example 馬 力 (mǎ lì) is a «horsepower», 馬 達 (mǎ dá) – Motor (loanword resembling Latin . Motor) and 馬 上 (mǎ shàng) means "at once", "immediately" (the second character 上, if used alone, means "up", "surge").

Character 馬 used in many idioms that reflect the traditional Chinese values. For example, 龍馬精神 (spirit a horse-dragon) originally meant «old, but full of energy». Now it is just used a strong spirit, determination.

龍 馬 (lóng mǎ are the first two characters of expression) is a legendary animal . It is a horse with a dragon scales representing the life-giving spirit of the sky and Earth. According to the legend, it is the spirit of the Yellow River (Huang He), which the Chinese consider the cradle of their civilization.

馬 到 成 功 (mǎ dào chéng gōng / ma dao cheng gong) in Chinese means horse arrived, the victory was achieved. It can be seen in some literary works of the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368 AD). However, this story is mentioned much earlier, even during the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC).

The Idiom was born because of unusual story that happened with Shihuan Di, the first emperor, who completed the conquest of the Warring States in China and in 221 BC established the Qin Dynasty.

Usually, the emperor went to the mountain to worship the rising sun. One day, in the second year of his reign, he heard that there was a special stone with a speck in the form of a flower on it on the mountain Rongcheng. They said that this stone was divine – it was thrown down to the human world, when the goddess Nuwa corrected the sky, and that he could help him to build a solid foundation of governing.

Qin Shi Huang ordered to pave the way for his trip for stone immediately. Soon the road was ready, and the emperor went to the mountain. Taking advantage of this opportunity he wanted to show the power of his army.

Qin Shi Huang led the troops to the mountain along the new roads. This attracted the attention of many people. When the emperor reached the place where the stone lay, he held a ceremony and sincerely worshiped it.

On his return from a trip, his surprise, Qin Shi Huang discovered that his ruling became stronger, and the whole country was peaceful.

The Emperor was so happy that he asked his subjects to write a solemn poems and songs in honor of the worship trip. One magician described the successful trip of the Emperor: «Thousands of horses moved on to the imperial road. The victory was achieved when Shihuang bowed to the stone».

These lines were not particularly appreciated by the emperor, then they were approved by some authors of latter dynasties .The great writers of the Yuan Dynasty, based on the story of the Emperor Qin worshiped stone, came up with the idiom «The horse arrived, the victory was achieved». People later used it when they wanted to express the instant win or a quick success.



  1. Great Soviet Encyclopedia. Ó Scientific Publishing House «Great Russian Encyclopedia». Ó JSC «GlasNet» (multimedia edition on 3 CDs).
  2. Collegiate Dictionary by F.A.Brokgauz and I.A.Efron (in 86 volumes with illustrations and supplementary materials). Ó LLC «IDDK», 2002 (multimedia edition on 4 CDs).
  3. Chinese characters // (date of handling 03/03/2015).
  4. The history of the development of writing in China // (date of handling 03/03/2015).
Magazine: Vestnik Kunaeva
Year: 2014
City: Almaty
Category: Law