RE: on U+7384 (was Re: Synthetic scripts (was: Re: Private Use Agreements)

From: Richard Kunst (
Date: Mon May 13 2002 - 14:25:22 EDT

> On Friday, May 10, 2002, at 06:29 PM, John Cowan wrote:
> > What is this about Qing taboo characters? Can someone point me to an
> > explanation (in English)? Thanks.

One source is Charles S. Gardner _Chinese Traditional Historiography_,
(Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1938, 2nd printing, 1961), pp.

I don't know how easy this book is to come by, so I put the relevant pages
on the Web here:

Gardner (p.84, n.12) refers to other published works in Chinese, French, and
German. In case you are curious, the odd romanization Gardner uses is a sui
generis Wade-Giles, modified according to his own proposals back in the

He specifically discusses the case of xuán U+7384/U+248E5, which Thomas Chan
cited, since it is the tabooed character with by far the most far-reaching
impact, since it is a very common character, especially, as Gardner notes,
in Daoist texts. More often than substituting U+248E5, Qing texts are likely
to use yuán U+5143 instead.

An odd convention in China arose, perhaps as early as the late Han-early
Tang period (ca. 0-700 C.E.), in which as a general courtesy to the literate
public, emperors were given personal names which used relatively rare
characters, so that common characters didn't have to be tabooed by millions
of people. The problem with xuán U+7384 was that, maybe because they were
not-completely sinified Manchus, the Kangxi emperor's parents (or whoever
chose his personal name), didn't adhere to this courtesy, and to further the
inconvenience, the Qing dynasty in general and Kangxi's reign in particular
were a period of tremendous activity in book publishing. Someone once
observed that well over half of all extant texts published in the world
before 1700(?) are in Chinese.

On Saturday, May 11, 2002 7:27 PM, John H. Jenkins wrote:

> The whole idea of "taboo" forms stems from the fact that there
> are certain
> ideographs one could not use because, typically, they're part of
> personal
> name of someone important. So one deliberately distorts them
> when writing
> them.

"Someone important" includes your own lineal ancestors too. E.g., you would
not write, or sometimes even speak, the personal given name of your father,
or grandfather.

> Such a thing is very much time-bound. Using a character from the
> personal
> name of the *current* emperor is a big deal, but using one from the
> personal name of an emperor five hundred years dead from an entirely
> different dynasty is no biggie. So the Qing dictionary, the
> KangXi, would
> have some taboo forms which would later become untaboo
> (especially now, of
> course, since nobody does that kind of thing anymore).

The taboo on Confucius's given name had enough currency during the May 4th
period (1920's) and the Cultural Revolution (late 1960's), that people
relished breaking it by referring to him as Kong Qiu.

I think it is likely that even today, especially in rural areas, there are
people who honor the taboo on writing and speaking personal names
of ancestors.

Rick Kunst

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