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Chinese Literature
Longkan shoujian 龍龕手鍳 "Hand Mirror of the Dragon Niche"

The Longkan shoujing 龍龕手鏡, also called Longkan shoujian 龍龕手鍳 (龍龕手鑑) "Hand mirror of the dragon niche", is a dictionary with words arranged in mixed system of character radicals and phonetic value. It was written by the Liao period 遼 (907-1125) Buddhist monk Xingjun 行均. The preface, written by Zhiguang 智光, dates from 997.

Figure 1. Example from the Longkan shoujian
Example from the Longkan shoujian 龍龕手鑑, beginning of the radical 人 "man", Sibu congkan xubian 四部叢刊續編 edition, reproducing a Song period pring from the collection of the family Fu 傅氏 from Jiang'an 江安, Sichuan (Shuangjian Studio 雙鑑樓). Click to enlarge.

The radicals are arranged according to 240 rhyme groups, divided into the four tone pitches level tone rhymes (pingsheng 平聲) with 97 rhyme groups, falling-rising tone rhymes (shangsheng 上聲) with 60 rhyme groups, falling tone rhymes (qusheng 去聲), with 26 rhyme groups and entering tone rhymes (rusheng 入聲) with 59 rhyme groups. This arrangement is unique among all traditional Chinese dictionaries.

Quotation 1. Example from the Longkan shoujian
[t-iao]. To teach. To pass through. To go out. To bring into disorder. To provide. A small twig.
[b-ie]. ~優 a comedy sketch.
[you]. 俳~ a comedian. To entertain.
[xun]. To follow. To obey. Good. To describe. To circumvene.
[liao]. 官~ a state official. Same as ■ (?), a surname.
■■■ all three vulgar, ■ old for ■ [q-ia?]. A fault. A mistake. 5 characters.
vulgar for 儋 [d-an]. A common personal name. Also read [tan] A surname. 2 characters.
[zh-ou]. A companion. A friend.
[k-ing]. 傾~ to incline. To rely on. To recline.
[lun]. To know clearly.
[tuo]. 逶~ to wind. Now commonly written 迤.
[g-iao]. ~遇 to encounter. To long for. 僬~ name of a country. Also read [yao].
vulgar for 傭 [?-iong]. Directly. Immediately. Also read [rong]. ~賃 to lend, to hire. 2 characters.
vulgar for 儲 [chu]. To store. To accumulate. To treat. ["to treat" is read zh-i]. 2 characters.
[j-iang]. ~仆 coarse.
■■ both vulgar, ■ old, ■ commonly used for 低 or now used 仾 [d-i]. To press down. To hang down. 6 characters.
vulgar for 儜 [n-eng]. Weak. In distress. 2 characters.
■■ , both also commonly written ■ or 傀 [n-ui]. Beautiful. Abundant. Impressive. Also, to feel strange, different. The last two variants also read [k-ui]. ~儡 a puppet. 4 characters.
[qiu]. To wear. ■ vulgar for 仇 [qiu]. A spouse. Also a surname. 3 characters (including 俅).
correct for now used ■ [d-ian]. ~倒 upside down. To fall down. 2 characters.
[chang 昌]. To entertain. To make music. Also read [chang 唱]. To lead a group.
[ng-i]. A surname.
[ch-e] or [s-e]. To dance not correctly. Also commonly read [cha].
vulgar for 侜 or now used 侜 (? identical) [zh-iu]. To conceal, or to betray someone. 2 characters.
[zhu]. ~■ short. Also read [zh-iu].
[jie]. All.
[chang]. To give back. To retribute. Also read [sh-iang] or [shang]. To prepare. To provide.
[l-ing]. A musician. The book Sancang refers to ~俜 alone, orphaned. [...]

Under the radicals, the characters are likewise arranged according to the four tone pitch system. The dictionary contains 26,430 characters, among them not only the standard chancery script types (zhengti 正體), but also alternative characters (huoyi 或體 or yiti 異體), abbreviated characters of daily use (suti 俗體), as well as a vast amount of character variants used in Buddhist writings. The compilation of the Longkan shoujian was not done very well, and therefore many writing errors, as well as inconsistencies decrease the value of it. For example, the radical 亠 includes the characters 高 and 亭, which are radicals by themselves; the character 處 is listed under the radical 几, and it is a radical by itself; the character 其 is used as a radical for the characters 基, 碁, or 纂, although it is clear that 其 is a phonetic part of these characters, and not a radical. This is the case in a large number of the Longkan radicals, so that the peculiar radical system of the Longkan shoujian is not not only geared to the meaning of the characters, but also to often-used graphemes as a part of the characters (e. g. 歲, 益, 寧, 卑, 興, and many more). Some radicals are also doubled, like 攴 and 攵, 罓 and 罒, 示 and 礻, or even several times, like 尢, 元, 凡, 九, 几, and 兀 (there are several variants of 尫 listed under the radicals 元, 九, 几 and 兀). Many characters appear under several radicals, like 冗, under 冖 and 几, or 黿, under 黽 and 元. In many cases, the radicals themselves are not explained. From this point alone it can be seen that the Longkan shoujian is not a general dictionary, but a handbook that specializes on characters used outside the common world of literates, concretely, Buddhist writings. Inspite of all these inconsistencies, the Longkan shoujian is remarkable for its simplification of the radical system, and it must be seen as a first step in the direction to the 214 radical system. It has 241 radicals (including the redundant radicals) and one category of miscellaneous characters which Xingjun could not attribute to a radical of his system, like 雜, 凹, 囪, 壺, 夊, 乇, 丰, and many more. The Longkan shoujian is mainly a collection of characters, with an indication of the pronunciations. Explanations of the meaning are very short, if provided at all. There are very few references to other dictionaries.
A Song period print of the Longkan shoujing is included in the reprint series Sibu congkan 四部叢刊 and Hanhai 函海.

See an overview of the radical system of the Longkan shoujian (PDF).

Source: Zhou Shiqi 周士琦 (1988). "Longkan shoujing 龍龕手鏡", in: Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Yuyan wenzi 語言•文字, pp. 262-263. Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe.

Chinese literature according to the four-category system

December 20, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail