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Traditional Chinese釋名
Simplified Chinese释名

The Shiming (traditional Chinese: 釋名; simplified Chinese: 释名; literally: "Explanation of Names"), also known as the Yìyǎ (逸雅; I-ya; Lost Erya), is a Chinese dictionary that employed phonological glosses, and "is believed to date from c. 200 [CE]" (Miller 1980: 424).

This dictionary is linguistically invaluable, because it records the pronunciation of an Eastern Han Chinese dialect. Sinologists have used its data to approximate the dates of phonological changes, such as the loss of consonant clusters which took place between Old Chinese and Middle Chinese.


Its 1,502 definitions attempt to establish semantic connections based upon puns between the word being defined and the word defining it, which is often followed with an explanation. For instance (chapter 12: 愛哀也愛乃思念之也), "Love (ài 愛 "love; like; be fond of") is sorrow (āi "哀 sorrow; grief; lament"). If you love, then you remember fondly." The Chinese call these paronomastic glosses yīnxùn (音訓; yin-hsün; "sound teaching"), meaning "to use the pronunciation of a word to explain its meaning." This semantic association of like-sounding words goes back to the "Rectification of Names" (zhèngmíng 正名, discussed under Confucianism), which hypothesized a connection between names and reality. The Shiming preface explains this ancient Chinese theory of language.

In the correspondence of name with reality, there is in each instance that which is right and proper. The common people use names every day, but they do not know the reasons why names are what they are. Therefore I have chosen to record names for heaven and earth, yin and yang, the four seasons, states, cities, vehicles, clothing and mourning ceremonies, up to and including the vessels commonly used by the people, and have discussed these terms with a view to explaining their origin. (tr. Miller 1993: 424)

Work authorship and internal organization

There is controversy whether this dictionary's author was Liu Xi (劉熙; Liú Xī; Liu Hsi; who flourished around 200 CE) or the more-famous Liu Zhen (劉珍; Liú Zhēn; Liu Chen; who died in 126 CE). The earliest reference to the Shiming is a criticism in the late 3rd century Records of Three Kingdoms biography of Wei Zhao (韋昭; 204-273); while in prison, Wei wrote a supplement to Liu Xi's Shiming because it lacked information on official titles. The next reference is in the mid 5th century Hòu Hàn Shū biography of Liu Zhen, which notes that he wrote an otherwise unknown Shiming in 30 chapters (篇). The received text has 8 fascicles/volumes (卷) and 27 sections that the Shiming preface, written in Liu Xi's name, calls 27 chapters (篇). Bibliographies in official histories simply listed the Shiming as having eight fascicles without mentioning the number of chapters. The Ming Dynasty scholar Zheng Mingxuan (鄭明選; flourished during Wanli era 1572–1620) questioned the difference in chapters and doubted the book's authenticity. The Qing Dynasty commentator Bi Yuan (畢沅; 1730–1797), who published the 1789 Shiming shuzheng (釋名疏證; "Exegetical evidence for Shiming") critical edition, believed that the work was begun by Liu Zhen and completed by Liu Xi who added his preface. Another Qing scholar Qian Daxin (錢大昕; 1728–1804) concurred that Liu Xi was the author based upon studies of his students' biographies. Based on internal evidence, Bodman (1954: 4) concludes, "It is not impossible that Liu Zhen did compose such a work and that Liu Xi might have used some of its material in his own work, but the chance of this having happened is very small." The date of the Shiming is almost as controversial as its author. However, it is undisputed that Liu Xi lived at the end of the Eastern Han Dynasty and was a refugee (who fled to Jiaozhou, present-day Hanoi) from the turmoil between the Yellow Turban Rebellion in 184 and the dynastic collapse in 220 CE.


Chapter Chinese Pinyin Translation
01 釋天 Shi tian Explaining Heaven
02 釋地 Shi di Explaining Earth
03 釋山 Shi shan Explaining Mountains
04 釋水 Shi shui Explaining Rivers
05 釋丘 Shi qiu Explaining Hills
06 釋道 Shi dao Explaining Roads
07 釋州國 Shi zhouguo Explaining Geography
08 釋形體 Shi xingti Explaining Physical Bodies
09 釋姿容 Shi zirong Explaining Appearances
10 釋長幼 Shi changyou Explaining Age-group Terms
11 釋親屬 Shi xinshu Explaining Kinship Terms
12 釋言語 Shi yanyu Explaining Speech and Language
13 釋飲食 Shi yinshi Explaining Foods and Drinks
14 釋綵帛 Shi caibo Explaining Dyes and Silks
15 釋首飾 Shi shoushi Explaining Hair Ornaments
16 釋衣服 Shi yifu Explaining Clothing
17 釋宮室 Shi gongshi Explaining Dwellings
18 釋床帳 Shi chuangzhang Explaining Beds and Curtains
19 釋書契 Shi shuqi Explaining Writing and Documents
20 釋典藝 Shi dianyi Explaining Literature and Arts
21 釋用器 Shi yongqi Explaining Utensils and Implements
22 釋樂器 Shi yueqi Explaining Musical Instruments
23 釋兵 Shi bing Explaining Weapons
24 釋車 Shi che Explaining Wheeled Vehicles
25 釋船 Shi chuan Explaining Boats
26 釋疾病 Shi jibing Explaining Diseases and Illnesses
27 釋喪制 Shi sangzhi Explaining Mourning Rites

From this table of contents, the Shiming clearly followed the Erya's organization into semantically arranged chapters and all their titles begin with the word shì ("explain; explaining").

See also


  • Bodman, Nicholas Cleaveland (1954). A Linguistic Study of the "Shih Ming": Initials and Consonant Clusters. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
  • Miller, Roy Andrew (1993). "Shih ming". In Loewe, Michael. Early Chinese Texts: A Bibliographical Guide. pp. 424–428. ISBN 1-55729-043-1.
  • Wei Yuwen 魏宇文 (2000). "Comprehensive Summary On Shi Ming". Journal of Jiaying University. (in Chinese)

External links