Zhenzhen Lu

University of Hamburg, Germany


Thinking about orthography in early modern China


The printed lexicons of early modern China navigated an immense sea of graphic forms. While to modern eyes they contained significant proportions of ‘variants’ – graphs which resembled each other in usage but not in form – the picture of graphic abundance in their own time is hardly so neat as that. This paper takes a close look at the Compendium of characters (Zihui), a popular 17th century dictionary, and its struggles to provide the standard in an age rife with written forms. More broadly, the paper reflects on ways of thinking about Chinese scripts beyond traditional philological categories and concerns with correctness to understand the circulation of written forms from the perspective of practice – taking into account regional and local norms, scribal culture and calligraphic practice, relationships between script and speech, and the roles of genre and material medium in dictating use.


Zhenzhen Lu (PhD, East Asian Languages and Civilizations, University of Pennsylvania) is a researcher at the Centre for the Study of Manuscript Cultures at the University of Hamburg.