Chinese characters of Empress Wu

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Chinese characters of Empress Wu, or the Zetian characters (Chinese: 則天文字; pinyin: Zétiān wénzì), are Chinese characters introduced by Empress Wu Zetian, the only reigning female in the history of China, to demonstrate her power. The characters were not created by the Empress herself, but were suggested by an official named Zong Qinke, the son of one of her cousins, in December 689 AD. The number of these characters is controversial, but various sources say 12, 17, 19, or 30 characters, et cetera. They were forcibly used by people during her reign but fell into disuse immediately after her death, so they help to determine dates of printed materials.

A few of the surviving characters are preserved in the written histories of Wu Zetian, and a few have found themselves incorporated into modern-day computer standards, classified as either variant or dialect-specific characters.

The form of the characters varies depending on where they are printed. For instance Empress Wu's own name zhào 照 was replaced with 瞾, but is erroneously thought to be 曌, and looking in the Kangxi Dictionary, one finds the description of the former having two 目 ("eye") characters being the proper character rather than the word míng 明 meaning "bright". Another form replaces the 明 above 空 with two 日 characters.

History[edit]

Wu was China's only female emperor, and she exercised her power by introducing many reforms. In addition to changing the way people dressed, she wanted to change the words people used.

Empress Wu's written reforms resulted in new characters, which were not created from scratch, but borrowed elements of older characters.

When the Wu dynasty ended, the original words were recovered because people eventually forgot how to write the characters themselves. Some of the characters ended up being preserved in other countries.

Anecdotes about the reign of the Empress Wu can be read in The Book of the Tang.

Examples[edit]

Original character Pinyin & meaning New character Large version Unicode Explanation of meaning
zhào
(also means "illuminate"
and "photograph")
Zetian character 照 U+66CC The empress's name, “” is here composed of the radicals “日月当空”.
The moon and sun symbolize a harmony of yin and yang.
zhào
Zetian variant of above character U+77BE The way the first character is sometimes written, as appeared in the Kangxi dictionary.
tiān
sky, heaven
𠑺 First version of the Zetian character replacing 天 U+2047A This character is based on the seal-script version of 天.
𠀑 Second version of the Zetian character replacing 天 U+20011 Version of the above character in which some lines
are connected, as in handwritten script.
de
earth
Zetian version of the character 地 U+57CA The character for 'earth' is composed of a mountain, a water, and earth.

sun, day
𡆠 Zetian version of 日 U+211A0 Said to represent the Three-legged crow Sun deity of Chinese mythology
yuè
moon, month
Zetian version of 月 U+56DD Said to represent the rabbit or toad-shaped moon.
𠥱 Second version of the character 月 U+20971 Also said to represent the same.
xīng
star
The Zetian version of 星 U+3007 An empty circle, used to represent the word for 'star',
now used in Modern Chinese as a Chinese numeral, representing as number zero.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]