The saying goes a picture is worth a thousand words, forgive my tenuous link to the traditional Chinese written language. Chinese is not the oldest known written language, which is thought to be Samarian or possibly Egyptian hieroglyphs, but it is the longest continuously used written language in the history of the world. Chinese script is thought to have developed from 4-5000 years ago during what is called the “legendary period” and is still in use today. In the West we call them Chinese characters each one is a stylised pictograph which are then grouped together to express meaning called ideographs. Some are easy to distinguish, the character for mountain (shān) is like a range of mountains, a field (tián dì) a square divided into four equal portions.
My interest in language is not solely focused on the English language sublime as it can be. I speak a little Chinese, very badly, and can write a few characters which elicit near hysterical laughter or tears of anguished from my Chinese friends.
Today the script used in modern China is the Simplified script. In the 1950’s and 60’s the Chinese government, in order to make writing Chinese simpler and quicker and to encourage literacy pared down the original pictographs and also introduced ‘pin-yin’ a phonetic Chinese language using Romanised characters. These changes along with the advent of computers may possibly have sounded the death-knell for this enduring traditional written language. Very soon in the future only those who choose to learn this very difficult written form, and there are thousands of ideographs composed of radicals and strokes, will be able to read the ancient manuscripts and books of China.
In the Shen Yang Palace Museum in NE China are some of the oldest examples of traditional Chinese pictographs on bronze cylinders, oracle bones, ox bones and ceramic tiles. It takes a great deal of skill to write and Chinese calligraphy is an art form. Within the pictography of the traditional script are insights into the primeval history and culture of China and its origins.
When Ian and I first went to China in the 1990’s we had the opportunity to go to a lecture about Chinese pictographs and ideographs by some Chinese scholars. It was fascinating. Ref:1. Within Chinese folk tales are many parallels with western culture, for example the story of the whole world being overwhelmed by a ‘Flood’. Within the traditional script the ideograph for the word boat (made up of three individual pictographs vessel + eight + mouth (= people) ) is a vessel with eight people on board. The Biblical account of the Ark includes Noah, his wife, his three sons and their wives – eight people on a boat.
These Chinese scholars have some very interesting theories about the development of the origins of the Chinese peoples and Chinese script they maintain that the Book of Genesis in the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament, is depicted in traditional Chinese pictographs.
The ideographs for sacrifice and righteousness are very similar (four pictographs ram or ox + Me/I + unblemished + knife) they show the horns and head of an animal with a dagger poised over it as in Genesis 22:13 where Abraham sacrificed to God the ram in place of his son Isaac.
The ideograph for covert/desire (two pictographs two trees + one woman) depicts two trees with a woman. In Genesis 2:17 Adam and Eve were commanded by God not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil – Eve listened to the snake and the rest is history, a woman and two trees. The ideograph for forbidden is two trees and the character for God. Many people know about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil but often can forget that there were two significant trees in the Garden of Eden – the other was the tree of life.
Yes some scholars think that the origins of the Chinese people, which is expressed in their written language, originates from the Biblical dispersion Genesis 11.8 when God scattered the nations and confused their languages, after all before the emperors, before Daoism, Taoism, Confucianism or Buddhism, China had a monotheistic religion. Monotheism was not common.
Ref: 1 “The discovery of Genesis” C.H. Kang and Ethel R. Nelson ISBN 0-570-03792-1