What's new

Setsumon kaiji 說文解字, book of small seal scripts 小篆

Welcome to our Japan community!

A discussion forum for all Things Japanese. Join Today! It is fast, simple, and FREE!

Setsumon Kaiji 說文解字, written by Kyoshin 許愼 around 100 CE, is on the web at last. It lists some 9,353 small seal scripts 小篆 and 1,163 alternate forms in the great seal 大篆, Warring States scripts 古文, contemporary scripts 今文, or odd scripts 奇字; and their etymologies and sounds as understood by the later Han dynasty scholars of the ancient classics.


an elephant 象


a dancing shaman(ess) with two tassels 舞


a car 車


to come 來


This a modern seal for "All American Teacher's of Japanese Association." :)


Can anyone make these out? . I can tell some, but a little fuzzy on the others ... :)

Before the discovery of the turtle shell & bone inscriptions 甲骨文字 (oracle bone inscriptions 甲骨卜辭) by Wang, Yi Rong in 1899, this was the only book to look up the oldest forms of Chinese characters preserved in a complete character set.

Although there exist around 3,000 bronze inscriptions 金文 and around 5,000 oracle bone inscriptions 甲骨文, they lack authoritative interpretations to this day being a relatively young field of epigraphy. Only about 1,000 common oracle bone inscriptions are analyzed with much certainty.

For those into Japanese calligraphy or seal inscription deciphering, this is a very useful and essential reference. Full text of Setsumon Kaiji 說文解字 photographically reproduced at www.gg-art.com.
《说文解字注》 | 中华博物

For accumulative definitions, see http://redhmong.8u8.com/wy/dictionary/chinese.html

For the Wikipedia Shodo 書道 article, see Japanese calligraphy - Wikipedia
(Basic reference, but tensho 篆書 and reisho 隸書 are not mentioned here.)

For a brief "visual" illustration of the evolution of scripts,
see p. 11 of Wang, William http://www.ee.cuhk.edu.hk/~wsywang/publications/chinese_lang.pdf
Liou, Joyce Appreciation of Chinese Calligraphy
or http://www.mcps.k12.md.us/curriculum/socialstd/MWH/11042_Handout2.html
(though the first two images "金文" and "甲骨文" should be reversed.)

For an overview of ancient Chinese characters in general,
see logoi.com

For Zhang Yongming's Tensho 篆書 Skills on VCD,

Tenji 篆字 (small seal style writing in brush) for writing with a brush on paper or steles, and tenkokuji 篆刻字 (seal inscription in tensho) for inscription on seals are in fact only two variant applications of the small seal script tensho 篆書.

'Hudeji' 筆字 and 'kakuji' 角字 are only descriptive font names given by fontographer Ayumi Takeshima to distinguish between his/her(?) fonts with rounded strokes of the brush and the straight, angled carving style (sic. incidentally, not necessarily). In principle, the word hudeji 筆字 may include tenji 篆字, but it can also include all the other styles of brush strokes.




For traditional seal carving,
see http://www.vocdesign.com/help/about.php

The online book above is fine for looking up individual kanjis but has the fatal inconvenience of being an image base, not in any code. As far as I know, there isn't one yet due to the difficulty of defining unusual character codes and a set of decent fonts. Richard S. Cook Jr. has been working on a Unicode extension to accommodate all the Setsumon characters, and here is an idea of what is to come shortly.

The Extreme of Typographic Complexity: Character Set Issues Relating to Computerization of The Eastern Han Chinese Lexicon 說文解字 Shuowenjiezi discusses, in addition to coding problems, the bibliographical nature of the work, and hence serves as a nice introduction to an otherwise cryptic book of etymology. (37 pages) http://www.unicode.org/iuc/iuc18/papers/b14.pdf

For detailed lessons into the character formation of the Tensho,
see Part 1: http://www.itcn.nl/jeffrey/jjh-IC/I...1aCharForms.pdf
and Part 2: http://www.itcn.nl/jeffrey/jjh-IC/I...1bCharForms.pdf

Also there are statistical surveys of all the Setsumon kanji material made public by Huadong University 華東大學, China.

1. Kaisho-to-Tensho Correspondence List 楷篆對應檢索

2. Tensho Component Frequency Data 小篆構件頻率表:1970 components

3. Tensho Semantic Compound Components Frequency Data 小篆會意部件頻率表: 560 components

4. Tensho Radical Frequency Data 小篆義符频率表: 410 radicals

5. Tensho Phonetic Frequency Data 小篆聲符频率表: 1739 phonetics

In fact, you can look up similar lists in the oracle bone inscriptions 甲骨文, the bronze inscriptions 金文, the Chu bamboo scripts 楚簡文, and some Warring States scripts that has been excavated in recent years.


This looks very interesting. Is the book available to buy anywhere?
If you are looking for a book in English, the closest that deals with Chinese epigraphy is "Chinese Characters; their origin, etymology, history, classification, and signification. a thorough study from chinese documents, by Dr. L. Wieger, S.J., english translation from the 4th french edition, Dover Publications ISBN 0-486-21321-8. For books on 說文解字 itself, I don't know of any off hand, but I would start the search with list no. 6.

1. Google img search result for tensho 篆書.
2. Web search result for tensho 篆書

3. Google img search result for Setsumon Kaiji 說文解字
4. Web search result for Setsumon Kaiji 說文解字

5. Google web search result for 說文解字 english
6. Web search result for 說文解字 english book

A summary Chinese etymology bibliography also mentions Wieger's book.

Journal entry information

Read time
3 min read
Last update

More entries in Language

More entries from lexico

Top Bottom