In classical Chinese philology, shengxun (聲訓 "voice explanation") or yinxun (音訓 "sound explanation") is the practice of explaining a character by using a homophone or near-homophone. The practice is ancient, and can be seen in pre-Qin texts. Xu Shen, author of the monumental Shuowen Jiezi, employed shengxun. For example, when Xu explained the word "ghost", he wrote:
人所歸爲鬼 (A ghost is where (the state that) human beings return to)
歸 ("to return to"; guī) and 鬼("ghost"; guǐ) are near-homophones. (A similar explanation of the word can be found in the earlier Erya.)
- Zhongguo da baike quanshu. First Edition. Beijing; Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe. 1980-1993.