Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Dr. Joseph Needham's view on Chinese language

Dr. Victor Mair’s comment  “that there is probably no subject on earth concerning which more misinformation is purveyed and more misunderstandings circulated than Chinese characters ( Chinese hanzi, Japanese kanji, Korean Hanja) or sonograms”  is a bit too harsh, perhaps the result from his chi of prejudice.  On the other hand, Dr. Joseph Needham was quite friendly to Chinese culture.

On the web page ( Science and Civilisation in China, Volume 2, History of Scientific Thought, ISBN 9780521058001 at, it wrote, "The second volume of Dr. Joseph Needham's great work Science and Civilisation in China is devoted to the history of scientific thought. Beginning with ancient times, it describes the Confucian milieu in which arose the organic naturalism of the great Taoist school, the scientific philosophy of the Mohists and Logicians, and the quantitative materialism of the Legalists. Thus we are brought on to the fundamental ideas which dominated scientific thinking in the Chinese middle ages. The author opens his discussion by considering the remote and pictographic origins of words fundamental in scientific discourse, and then sets forth the influential doctrines of the Two Forces and the Five Elements. Subsequently, he writes of the important sceptical tradition, the effects of Buddhist thought, and the Neo-Confucian climax of Chinese naturalism. Last comes a discussion of the conception of Laws of Nature in China and the West." 

That is, Dr. Needham wanted to know:
a.  Externally, did the Chinese language have the capability to describe the logic of science?
b.  Internally, could the internal logic of Chinese language lead the Chinese people entering into the domain of science? 

Thus, he analyzed 82 Chinese words in that book, and 77 of them are from two sources:
  • -- the words inscribed on bones after oracle sessions.
  • -- the words inscribed on bronze vessels.
Both of these items were made before 2,000 b.c... Here, I will show only a few his analysis and compare them to mine.
1. (no, do not)
a. Needham:  pictograph of a fading flower.
b. Tienzen: is the word (below, lower) touches or hangs on (heaven) side-way. It means "will not go lower from heaven."

2.  (change, simple, easy)
a. Needham: pictograph of a lizard, as its skin can easily change colors.
b. Tienzen:   is 勿 (pictograph of a flying flag) under (Sun). A flag under Sun is flying with ease and is changing directions.
Note:  (open or opening) is (morning) over 勿 (pictograph of a flying flag), opening the day by putting up the flag in the morning.  Thus, with the DNA inheritance,
(soup) is (water) +  (open or opening).  Boiling (opening) water is soup.

3. (at the beginning)
a.  Needham:  pictograph of side-view of a human head.
b.  Tienzen:  is (heaven) over (stillness or nothingness). Heaven over the stillness is the creation, the beginning.
4.  (the seed of cause)
a.  Needham: pictograph of something on a bed sheet.
b.  Tienzen:   is 大 (something great) inside (an enclosed boundary).  Something great which is boxed up ( ) is 因, the cause.

There are 82 examples and they are available at

However friendly to Chinese culture that Dr. Needham was, he was wrong about the Chinese word system, as he believed that most of the Chinese words are pictographs. The truth is that there are only 70 pictographic words in the entire Chinese word universe which has about 60,000 words.

Tienzen (Jeh-Tween) Gong

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