Libian

Summary

Libian (simplified Chinese: 隶变; traditional Chinese: 隸變; pinyin: lìbiàn; lit. 'clerical change') refers to the natural, gradual, and systematic simplification of Chinese characters over time during the 2nd Century BC, as Chinese writing transitioned from seal script character forms to clerical script characters during the early Han dynasty period, through the process of making omissions, additions, or transmutations of the graphical form of a character to make it easier to write.[1] Libian was one of two conversion processes towards the new clerical script character forms, with the other being liding, which involved the regularisation and linearisation of character shapes.

The character "horse" written in Qin dynasty seal script (left) and Han dynasty clerical script (right), compared next to each other. The clerical form more closely resembles modern Chinese writing.

ProcessEdit

The earlier seal script characters were complicated and inconvenient to write; as a result, lower-level officials and clerics (; ) gradually simplified the strokes, and transitioned from writing with bowed ink brushes to using straight ink brushes, which both improved ease of writing.

The complexity of characters can be reduced in one of four ways:[2]

  • Modulation (調變): The replacement of character components with an unrelated component. For example, the ancient bronze form of (shè; "to shoot an arrow") was written as  , however the left-side component became replaced with ("body") during the transition to clerical script writing.
  • Mutation (突變): Some characters undergo modulation so suddenly that no clue hinting at the original form can be found in the new form. For example, the transition from the seal script character   ("spring") to the clerical (and by extension, modern) form completely drops any hints of the original component, instead replacing it with 𡗗 which seemingly has zero basis in relation to the original component.
  • Omission (省變): The complete omission of a character component. For example, the clerical script form of (shū, Old Chinese: /*hlja/; "to write") completely omits the phonetic component (Old Chinese: /*tjaːʔ/) at the bottom of the seal script form  .
  • Reduction (簡變): Simplifies character components to a form with fewer strokes. For example, the ancient form of  / (xiān, Old Chinese: /*sen/; "celestial being") had the complex phonetic component (Old Chinese: /*sʰen/) simplified into (Old Chinese: /*sreːn/), creating the clerical form .

One consequence of the libian transition process is that many radicals formed as a result of simplifying complex components within seal script characters (for example, characters containing "heart"  / on the side had the component simplified into , as seen in and ), and these newly-formed radicals are still used in modern-day Chinese writing as the fundamental basis for constructing and sorting Chinese characters.

ExamplesEdit

English Ancient form Libian form Pinyin Summary
year, harvest nián Originally   () in ancient bronze forms, the character was an ideogrammic compound of a man () carrying grain () on his back, i.e. a harvest; also functioned as the phonetic marker for Old Chinese /*njin/. After the Western Zhou period, the ancient bronze form had an additional stroke added to to give , which continued to function as a phonetic marker for /*sn̥ʰiːn/, creating  , forming the basis for the seal script form   (). After libian simplification, the resulting clerical script form became   ().[3][4]
thunder léi Originally semantic ("rain") + phonetic (Old Chinese: /*ruːl/), the bottom component became reduced into during libian.[5][6]
to make offerings to the dead   diàn Originally a pictogram of an alcohol vessel () placed upon a mat (), two strokes () were added to later forms to represent overflowing alcohol, and a further two strokes () were subsequently added to the mat to form a table with two legs (). During libian, the mutated into , resulting in the clerical form.[7][8]
by, therefore, because, etc. Originally a pictogram of a person () carrying an object, the seal script form   was modulated during libian to create the clerical form .[9][10]
to obtain 𢔶 Seal script form  , the initially simplifies into during libian into earlier clerical variants; later variants further corrupt this component into , and this clerical form is inherited by the modern character form.[11][12]
to include hán Seal script form  .[13][14]
to change gèng Seal script form  , consisting of phonetic (Old Chinese: /*pqraŋʔ)/) + semantic ("to tap").[15][16]
board game Seal script form  , consisting of semantic ("tree, wood") + phonetic (Old Chinese: /*kɯ/, /*ɡɯ/). The component was relocated to the left side during libian.[17][18]
without Ancient bronze form   originally a pictogram of a man holding two objects in both hands while dancing, the seal script form became  . During libian, the components were modulated and resulted in the character becoming . This character is a phonetic borrowing for "without", while  / (consisting of phonetic /*ma/ + semantic "steps") retains the original meaning of "dance".[19][20]
thought Seal script form   consisting of phonetic (Old Chinese: /*snɯns/) + semantic ("heart"), the component corrupted into the completely unrelated character during libian.[21][22][1]
front, forward qián Seal script form   originally depicting a foot () on a boat () moving forward. During libian, was reduced to , as was to . The addition of ("knife") within was originally used to represent the meaning of "to cut" (Old Chinese: /*ʔslenʔ/), as seen in  /𣦃/𠝣; however, because became used to represent instead, an additional ("knife") was added to for the purpose of representing the character for "to cut".[23][24]
side by side, simultaneously, furthermore bìng Seal script form   was a duplication of (standing person); underwent modulation during libian transition.[25][26]
hill qiū Seal script form  ; compare with   representing ("north").[27][28]
to ascend chéng Seal script form   originally representing climbing a tree () with visible feet ( /), which was later simplified to + during libian.[29][30]
to revolve around 𠄢 xuān Seal script form   consisted of an ideogrammic compound ("two") + ("turns").[31]
fourth earthly branch mǎo Originally depicted a Shang dynasty ritual of splitting a sacrificial body in half, as seen in seal script form  .[32][33]
death 𣦸 Originally an ideogrammic compound consisting of  / (human remains) +  / (man), as seen in seal script  .[34][35]
to leave, to rid Seal script form  . Top component simplified to , bottom component simplified to . Origin highly contested; Shuowen Jiezi suggests a phono-semantic compound with semantic ("man") + phonetic 𠙴 (/*kʰaʔ/ or /*kʰas/),[36] while Schuessler (2007) suggests that it depicts an anus beneath a man, representing "to get rid of".[37] Alternate interpretations include a man departing from a cave, lips departing from one another (reborrowed from , "to open one's mouth"), or the representing a cover atop an object (reborrowed from , "to cover").
also, emphatic final particle   Shuowen Jiezi describes this character as a pictogram of a female vulva. Libian form is significantly simplified from the original shape.[38][39]
summer, Xia dynasty xià The libian form removes the 𦥑 component and the legs of ("head") from the seal script form  .[40][41]
what, exceed 𠥄 shèn, shén The libian form modulates the upper component of the seal script form  , originally an ideogrammic compound of + .[42][43]
to live, to birth, raw 𤯓 shēng Seal script form   represents a sprout () emerging from the ground.[44][45]
to use 𤰃 yòng Seal script form   (Old Chinese: /*loŋs/; variants 𠂦, 𤰆, 𠂵) originally depicted a pictogram of a water bucket; compare with (Old Chinese: /*l̥ʰoːŋʔ/; "bucket").[46][47]
alliance 𥂗 méng Seal script form  , with ("window") simplified to ("sun") during libian.[48][49] was an ancient form of (Old Chinese: /*mraŋ/; "bright").[50][51]
flower 𠌶 huā Seal script form  . The characters 𠌶 and ( /𦻏) were originally the same character, however were erroneously split into two separate entries within the Shuowen Jiezi.[52][53] (Old Chinese: /*ɡʷraː/; verb "to flower") is a derivative of 𠌶 (Old Chinese: /*hʷraː/; noun "flower").[54]
Malva verticillata, Livistona chinensis, Basella alba 𦮙 kuí Seal script form 𦮙.[55][56]
west 西 Seal script form   originally represented a pictogram of a bag or basket, which was then borrowed phonetically to mean "west".[57][58]
edge, border, side 𨘢 biān The earlier bronze inscription form   consisted of , , and ; the lower right component within the seal script form   is the result of becoming corrupted. As the clerical variant later took form, the component made a reappearance in texts.[59][60]
to eat 𠊊 shí Seal script form  . The bottom component of the modern libian form is a simplification of ( ; "food vessel"), and is not cognate to the unrelated ( ) or ( ).[61][62]
fantasy 𠄔 huàn Seal script form   was originally an inversion of ( ; "to give").[63][64]
hometown   xiāng Originally an ideogrammic compound consisting of 𠨍 ("two people facing each other") + ("food vessel") within bronze inscriptions, representing "to feast". During the transition to the seal script form, 𠨍 became corrupted into 𨙨 and ( ). Following libian simplification, became simplified into the etymologically cognate radical, 𨙨 simplified into the unrelated radical (cognate to  /), and was replaced with the unrelated component. The meaning of "hometown" was acquired via phonetic borrowing, while (Old Chinese: /*qʰaŋʔ/) was adopted to represent "feast".[65][66]
fragrant   xiāng Seal script form consisted of ("proso millet") + ("sweet"); the libian form simplifies into ("cereal plant"), and replaces the bottom component with the unrelated character ("to say").[67][68]
fish 𤋳 Seal script form  .[69][70]
night 𡖍 Seal script form   consisted of phonetic ( ; Old Chinese: /*laːɡ/) + semantic ( ; "crescent moon"); the bottom-right component of is a corruption of following libian, while the + is a reduction of .[71][72]
stomach   wèi The pictographic component   that visually represented a stomach was simplified into .[73][74]
excrement 𦳊 shǐ Seal script form   consisted of an ideogrammic compound ("grass") + ("stomach"). The form that gained widespread use in literature following the transition to clerical script is based on the bronze script form   from the Warring States period.[75][76]
to migrate   The portion of the left component was relocated to the right during libian, resulting in two on top of one another, coincidentally becoming unified with the same structure as ( ; the Shang dynasty form of , "to walk").[77][78]

ReferencesEdit

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