An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Cihai 辭海

Feb 28, 2020 © Ulrich Theobald

Cihai 辭海 "Word ocean" is one of the early modern word dictionaries of modern China, after the Ciyuan 辭源 which had appeared in 1915. The first edition – also called the "old Cihai" (jiu Cihai 舊辭海) was published in 1936 by the Zhonghua Book Company 中華書局, with a size of two volumes. It was compiled by Lu Feikui 陸費逵 (1886-1941), Shu Xincheng 舒新城 (1893-1960), Zhang Xiang 張相 (1877-1945), and others.

The lexicon of 13,000 characters and no less than 77,000 lemmata of words is arranged according to radicals (bushou 部首). In this way, it united the traditional way of sorting words by characters, with a novel way of introducing words. Compared to the Ciyuan, the lexicon of the Cihai was more modern and included many scientific terms not found yet in the older dictionary. The entries themselves were also improved by indicating chapters of courses, and not just book titles. On the other hand, the Cihai just copied some erroneous statements in the Ciyuan. A compound one-volume edition (hedingben 合訂本) of the Cihai appeared in 1947.

The appendixes include a stroke-number indes (Jianzibiao 檢字表), a traditional rhyme-head/tone pitch indes (Yunmubiao 韻目表), a list of historic events in China and the world, a list of contemporary China's administrative units, a list of large enterprises (shangbu biao 商埠表), Chinese and foreign weights, measures, and currencies, chemical elements, Chinese terms for foreign names (Yiming Xiwen suoyin 譯名西文索引), a detailed list of oft-used characters with standard pronunciation (Guoyin changyong ziyin biao 國音常用字音表, and a brush-stroke index (Wubi jianzifa danzi suoyin 五筆檢字法單字索引).

Figure 1. Page of the 1936 edition of the Cihai 辭海
While the style reminds traditional book editions, the scientific images are something thoroughly new.

The text is included in the series Xuxiu siku quanshu 續修四庫全書.

A second, revised edition – sometimes called the "new Cihai" (xin Cihai 新辭海) - was published in 1959, a third, "test" edition (shixingben 試行本) with 16 volumes in 1962, a fourth, provisional (wei ding gao 未定稿) edition appeared in 1965 in two volumes. It included 13,587 character entries with 84,336 word entries.

The 1979 edition in three volumes can be seen as the first modern edition of the Cihai. The basic index of the 3-volume edition of 1979, serving as the model for many later editions also of other dictionaries, consists of a combined brush-stroke-number and stroke-shape index (Bihua chazi biao 筆畫查字表), enriched by an overview of the modern radical system (bushou diaocha qingkuang biao 部首調整情況表), a table of modern forms and brush strokes of important characters (Xin-jiu zixing duizhao juli 新舊字形對照舉例), a table of radicals used in the Cihai, and two tables explaining the index from both sides, namely the brush-stroke number, and the stroke shape.

The appendix includes a year-table of historic events, a table of National Minorities, currencies of the world, measure units, physikalische Konstanten, basic astronomical data, chemical elements, an alphabetical-Chinese list of names of important foreigners and foreign place names, and an alphabetical Pinyin index of characters.

A downscaled version of it appeared in 1980. This fifth edition lists 14,872 characters with 91,706 words, including sayings (chengyu 成語), classical allusions (diangu 典故), names of important persons, book titles, and historic events. The edition has thus the character of an encylcopaedia. New, enlarged editions (zengbuben 增補本) appeared in 1983, 1989 and 1999. It also includes an appendix and an index. The 1989 edition lists 123,931 lemmata of words with 16,534 character heads. The 1999 edition was published in many different versions. The most widespread is the "common" three-volume version (

pujiben 普及本), but there is also a downscaled compact version, two large versions with colourplates, and a downscaled version of the latter.

The latest version from 2009 with 5 volumes contains more than 127,000 word entries.

In the same year, a large lexicon called Da cihai 大辭海 and compiled by Xia Zhengnong 夏征農 was published by the Shanghai Cishu Press 上海辭書出版社. It presents no less than 280,000 entries and 8,000 figures. The Da cihai is also featured in an online version.

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