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The dictionary contains more than 47,000 characters, though some 40% of them are graphic variants. In addition, there are rare or archaic characters, some which had been attested only once. Less than a quarter of these characters are now in common use.
The Kangxi Dictionary editors, including Zhang Yushu (張玉書) and Chen Tingjing (陳廷敬), based it partly on two Ming Dynasty dictionaries: the 1615 Zihui (字彙 "Character Collection") by Mei Yingzuo (梅膺祚), and the 1627 Zhengzitong (正字通 "Correct Character Mastery") by Zhang Zilie (張自烈). Since the imperial edict required that the Kangxi Dictionary be compiled within five years, a number of errors were inevitable. The Daoguang Emperor established a review board and their 1831 Zidian kaozheng (字典考證 "Character Dictionary Textual Research") corrected 2,588 mistakes, mostly in quotations and citations. (Teng and Biggerstaff 1971:130)
The supplemented dictionary contains 47,035 character entries, plus 1,995 graphic variants, giving a total of 49,030 different characters. They are grouped under the 214 radicals and arranged by the number of additional strokes in the character. Although these 214 radicals were first used in the Zihui, due to the popularity of the Kangxi Dictionary they are known as Kangxi radicals and remain in modern usage as a method to categorize traditional Chinese characters.
The character entries give variants (if any), pronunciations in traditional fanqie spelling and in modern reading of a homophone, different meanings, and quotations from Chinese books and lexicons. The dictionary also contains rime tables with characters ordered under syllable rime classes, tones, and initial syllable onsets.