- An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art
About [Location: HOME > Literature > Confucian Classics > Erya]

Chinese Literature
Erya 爾雅

The Four Categories of Literature
The Erya 爾雅 "Approaching the correct" is a glossary dictionary from the Han period 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE). It is one of the thirteen Confucian Classics. The author is not known. Traditionally it is attributed so some of Confucius’s disciples who compiled the Erya in order to make elucidate terms appearing in the classical texts. There are also statements that the Duke of Zhou 周公 (11th cent. BCE) had begun to compile such a book which was later expanded by Confucius, his disciple Zixia 子夏 and the early Han period scholar Shusun Tong 叔孫通. In fact the Erya must have been compiled during the Former Han period 前漢 (206 BCE-8 CE) by members of the National University (taixue 太學) entrusted with the teaching of the Confucian classics. The meaning of the title is "Approaching the correct", signifying that the book provides the proper meaning of terms, as Confucius stressed it in his concept of rectifying names (zhengming 正名) in order to achieve a well-functioning political and social system.
The lexemes are arranged according to 19 semantic fields or chapters, in 3 juan "scrolls".
The earliest commentaries to the Erya were written by the Later Han Confucian scholars Liu Xin 劉歆, Mao Guang 樊光 and Liu Xunji 劉巡幾 and the Wei period 曹魏 (220-265) scholar Sun Yan 孫炎. All of these early commentaries are lost. The earliest surviving commentary, the Erya zhu 爾雅注 in 3 juan was written by the Eastern Jin period 東晉 (317-420) scholar Guo Pu 郭璞. Guo Pu had also compiled phonetic glosses, the Erya yinyi 爾雅音義, which is lost. Lu Deming 陸德明, the famous Tang period 唐 (618-907) commentator, has compiled a phonetical exegesis, the Erya yinyi 爾雅音義. The Song period 宋 (960-1279) scholar Xing Bing 郉昺 has expanded this commentary to the 10 juan long Erya shu 爾雅疏. His contemporarian Zheng Qiao 鄭樵 has written a new Erya zhu in which he stresses that the older commentators did not go to the point directly and were too ambigous in their explanations. Luo Yuan 羅願 wrote a kind of supplement to the Erya, the Eryayi 爾雅翼 "Wings to the Erya", which focuses on plants and animals. There were a lot of commentaries in the subsequent centuries with different purposes. Some were text-critical amendations of earlier writings, like the commentaries of Ruan Yuan 阮元 (Erya zhushu jiaokanji 爾雅注疏校勘記) and Yan Yuanzhao 嚴元照 (Erya kuangming 爾雅匡名), some were supplements, like Zhou Chun’s 周春 Erya buzhu 爾雅補注, some were real commentaries, like Shao Jinhan’s 邵晉涵 Erya zhengyi 爾雅正義 or Hao Yixing’s 郝懿行 Erya Guozhu zhengyi 爾雅郭注正義, and some books were interpretations of the basic principles or the structure of the Erya, like Chen Yushu’s 陳玉澍 Erya shili 爾雅釋例 or Wang Guowei’s 王國維 explanation on the plants and animals chapters of the Erya.
The Erya and its glossary style has founded a whole type of glossary dictionaries compiled with similar principles. Some of them were explicitly written as supplements to the Erya, like Zhang Yi's 張揖 Guangya 廣雅, others only took the Erya as a model, like Zhu Mouhan's 朱謀㙔 Pianya 駢雅.

1. 釋詁 Shi Gu Explaining adjective verbs
2. 釋言 Shi Yan Explaining verbs
3. 釋訓 Shi Xun Explaining binome verbs
4. 釋親 Shi Qin Explaining kinship
5. 釋宮 Shi Gong Explaining architecture
6. 釋器 Shi Qi Explaining utensils
7. 釋樂 Shi Yue Explaining music
8. 釋天 Shi Tian Explaining astronomy
9. 釋地 Shi Di Explaining geography
10. 釋丘 Shi Qiu Explaining hills
11. 釋山 Shi Shan Explaining mountains
12. 釋水 Shi Shui Explaining rivers
13. 釋草 Shi Cao Explaining smaller plants
14. 釋木 Shi Mu Explaining trees
15. 釋蟲 Shi Chong Explaining scaly animals
16. 釋魚 Shi Yu Explaining fishes
17. 釋鳥 Shi Niao Explaining birds
18. 釋獸 Shi Shou Explaining beasts
19. 釋畜 Shi Chu Explaining domestic animals

Source: Zhou Zumo 周祖謨 (1988), "Erya 爾雅", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Yuyan wenzi 語言文字 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), pp. 65-66.

July 24, 2010 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail
Chinese Literature over time