The Sanchon Hunjang
(usually clicking on the photos yields an enlarged version)



On names and new coinages

Once, a long time ago, the Sanchon Hunjang met a Korean gentleman who had a unique name. I mean there are unusual names, like 박초롱초롱빛나리, and then there are singularly unique names. This man had a singularly unique name.

His name didn't sound that unique.

But it was.

You see, his grandfather had invented a brand new Chinese character for use in his name. Since this all happened in Korea, perhaps the expression "Chinese character" doesn't quite fit in this case..."Chinese-esque character"? At any rate, there it was--a new invention for him alone. Being an invented character, of course it's not included in computer character sets for Chinese characters, not even in the monstrous Unicode set, so the Sanchon Hunjang can't type it here for your perusal. But this gentleman had one. All for himself.

To a naive Sanchon Hunjang, it all sounded like cheating. Rather like cheapening the veritable institution that is Chinese characters. That was before I knew that newly minted Chinese characters have been rolling off the line since the dawn of time, and things haven't stopped in modern times.

Some characters created recently in China include those for chemical elements, such as "氩 argon," and funky contractions of multiple characters into one like "do not 不" and "need 用" come together to form "甭 do not need".

But surely the heyday of inventing wild new Chinese characters was during the extremely short-lived second Zhou dynasty, when Empress Wu 武則天, ruled the land. Court officials convinced her to come up with complex and interesting new ways to write some dozen or two words that already had serviceable ways to write them. These are called 則天文字 (측천문자). The new writing included cosmologically aligned ways to pen 國 state (☞圀), 星 star (☞ ○), 地 (☞埊) earth and her personal name 照 (☞曌), all detailed in 卷七十六 of the New History of the Tang 新唐書. Wikipedia links to an intriguing page (that could be even more interesting with more detail) which reviews these characters.

In 1991, the Korean government got wise to grandfather-made Chinese-esque characters and the like and decided to put a stop to these shenanigans once and for all. They swooped in like Superman to the rescue and drafted list of "人名用漢字 characters for use in human names," which was added to the Family Register Law (originally 2,731 characters were listed, but there have been numerous additions since then and the current tally is some 5,151 characters). If there should be some twisted individual should get it into his black heart to subvert this piece of legislation that is single-handedly keeping the forces of chaos at bay, that individual would find himself unable to register the name in question. All legal names must now be made up of only the listed characters.

Unfortunately the law was not made retroactive, so there is still at least one misguided soul out there with a name that now can't be written legally. I sure hope he comes to his senses soon and has that abomination changed. If only the Korean high court could have gotten its hands on Empress Wu--surely such brazen Chinese character madness would have called for capital punishment.



Some Cold Mountian to beat the summer heat

The poet(s?) known as Cold Mountain 寒山, but not starring Nicole Kidman, seem to have been verbally mauled by somebody who was keeping up with the latest trends in poetic styles for his failure to follow the new rules. As everyone knows, ya gotta keep up with the latest fashions.

The "latest trends" were the more and more rule-bound "modern 近體" approach to poem crafting, with some pretty picky rules governing prosody. These were laid out by Shen Yue 沈約, the man who discovered that Chinese is a language with tones. Of course artists are generally able to achieve greater creativity expression within a framework of confining rules. Although sometimes they may intentionally break the rules for effect. It is an irony of the human mind that wide open freedom without boundaries constricts creativity, while a tight structural framework that would appear to fetter creativity actually have the opposite effect, as Douglas Hofstadter explores at some length in his huge tome on translation, Le Ton beau de Marot.

How the Cold Mountain poet responded when the criticism was still hanging in the air is unknown, but it is clear that the comment on his lack of technical prowess as a poet must have stung. This is why the Sanchon Hunjang concludes that we are not seeing an intentional bending of the rules in the case of the Cold Mountain poet. Otherwise it would have been easy to dismiss the criticism: "I meant to do that," rather than stew. And stew. And stew. And then draft a reply to his tormentor, also in the form of a poem. And write it on a mountain rock or tree along with your other works for someone who comes along later to read and laugh with you at the audacity of that Mr. Wang:

有個王秀才; 有 There is 個 a 秀 super 才 talent[ed-guy surnamed] 王 Wang,
笑我詩多失. [He] 笑 laughed that 我 my 詩 poems 多 [have] many 失 mistakes.
雲不識蜂腰; [He] 雲 said1) [I] 不 don't 識 know 蜂腰2) the "wasp's waist,"
仍不會鶴膝. Moreover 仍 [I] 不 am not 會 able [to do] 鶴膝3) the "crane's knee."
平側不解壓; The 平 level and 側 deflected [tones--I] 不 cannot 解 understand 壓 their pressures,
凡言取此出. 凡 In all cases 言 [my] words 取此出 just come out like this.
我笑你作詩; [Oh, Mr. Wang] 我 I 笑 Laugh at 詩 the poems 你 you 作 write:
如盲徒詠日! [They] 如 are like 盲徒 the blind詠 singing of 日 the sun!

Way to go Cold Mountain guy, you showed Mr. Wang. How does it feel to be vindicated?

※ Incidentally, 한산's use of vernacular as opposed to pure literary Chinese is an interesting point in this poem. Like he's intentionally pushing back even more against those rules in this reply.


1) 雲: Here we see a problem with machine translation between computer encoding schemes. This text clearly means to say "云 'says'" but some computer has translated the simplified mainland character 云, which serves double duty for 云 "to say" or "and so on" as well as 雲 "clouds" back into the traditional character cloud. It's easy to say (雲 or 云)=云, but going backwards doesn't work.

2), 3) As alluded to above, Shen Yue put together a system of no-no's in the form of a list of 8 evils to avoid in the composition of poetry, which he called the "eight ills 八病." The ideas were borrowed from Buddhist chanting practices that were imported from India. They consist of tone patterns that aren't supposed to sound pleasant. I suppose it's the equivalent introducing a few stresses in the middle of some trochaic verse that goes against the prevailing pattern. Wasp's waist and a crane's knee are names that he gave to two of these eight ills.


7월 2005   8월 2005   9월 2005   10월 2005   11월 2005   12월 2005   1월 2006   2월 2006   3월 2006   7월 2006   8월 2006   10월 2006   4월 2007   5월 2007   6월 2007   7월 2007   8월 2007   9월 2007   10월 2007   11월 2007   12월 2007   1월 2008   5월 2008   8월 2008  

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?