## Graphic forms for wú ("none; no; not") and qì ("vital energy") in ancient Chinese texts

[This is a guest post by Denis Christopher Mair]

Regular character versions of the Yijing (Classic / Book of Changes) use the character 旡 instead of 無 for wú ("none; no; not; nothing; nihility"). So 旡 is not really a simplified character. I have seen 旡 in Daoist contexts. The character 旡 evokes an atmosphere of antiquity. Some Daoist texts have two different words for qi/ch'i ("vital energy"). One is written 氣, and the other is written with 旡 over a four-dot fire radical. (Some Daoist texts use 炁 wherever the context is about internal disciplines.) This distinction is sometimes explained by saying that 氣 is "acquired" (hòutiān 後天) energy, and 炁 is "innate" (xiāntiān 先天) energy. In Tiāndì jiào 天帝教 ("Lord of Universe Church," a religious organization in Taiwan), the phrase qì qì yīnyūn 氣炁氤氳* sometimes comes up: "the intertwining of acquired and innate energies," which is something that happens in meditation. Sometimes it is fancifully likened to ground mist mingling with low clouds.

I just noticed that in the Book of Changes 旡 is used in the line statements, and 無 is used in the Image Treatise. You can find it used for the same identical phrase in these different parts of the Yijing! The Image Treatise often quotes chunks of the line statements, and when it does, it uses 無. See the line statement and IT at #14.1: "初九：旡交害，匪咎，艱則旡咎。/象曰：大有初九，無交害也。"

This is good evidence that the oracular statements are a much older layer, with different usage.

[VHM: *yīnyūn 氤氳
1. (literaryideophonicChinese mythology) Describing a state in which the qi of yin and yang intermingle and form a harmonious equilibrium.
2. (literaryideophonic, of cloudmistenshroudingthick

(source)]

===========

1. ### Chris Button said,

August 3, 2021 @ 10:51 pm

Surely 无 rather than 旡 ?

2. ### cameron said,

August 4, 2021 @ 12:05 am

I thought the simplified form of 無為 was 无为 – is 旡 ever used in that context? Or is 旡 just an alternate form of 无 ?

3. ### Jayarava Attwood said,

August 4, 2021 @ 1:27 am

The oldest dated Heart Sutra (13 March 661) has 无 for 無 throughout. It also substitutes 諦 for 帝 in the final dhāraṇī.

Attwood, J. (2019). "Xuanzang’s Relationship to the Heart Sūtra in Light of the Fangshan Stele." Journal of Chinese Buddhist Studies, 32, 1–30. http://chinesebuddhiststudies.org/previous_issues/jcbs3201_Attwood(1-30).pdf

Galambos, Imre. (2012) “Simplified Characters.” In Demystifying China: New Understandings of Chinese History, edited by Naomi Standen, 187–195. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.

4. ### John Swindle said,

August 4, 2021 @ 4:29 am

Also, while 无 (I don’t know about 旡）is not really a simplified character, it is of course one of the official Simplified Characters, representing traditional 無，and the Simplified Characters didn’t just fall from the sky in the 20th century. Older forms were one of the sources.

5. ### Victor Mair said,

August 4, 2021 @ 6:15 am

From John Lagerwey:

Another character worth exploring is zhào 兆*: I am convinced that, in texts like the Laozi Zhong jing (Central Scripture of Laozi) it means “I”. Schipper thinks it’s “you”. In either case, it would be serving to designate the human subject, which could be interpreted to mean that, as in Dylan’s recent song, “I am multitudes” or, simply, that the subject is the result of revelation. I personally think both are true.

[*VHM:

omen
(chiefly Taiwan) trillion (million million), tera-, 1012
(Mainland China) (SI prefix) million, mega-, 106

(source)]

6. ### Philip Taylor said,

August 4, 2021 @ 10:00 am

[*VHM:

omen
(chiefly Taiwan) trillion (million million), tera-, 1012
(Mainland China) (SI prefix) million, mega-, 106

(source)]

As before, copy-and-paste from Wiki<anything> requires massaging before submission, particularly if it exploits MathJax as in the present case —

[*VHM:

omen
(chiefly Taiwan) trillion (million million), tera-, $10^{12}$
(Mainland China) (SI prefix) million, mega-, $10^{6}$

E&OE, of course.

7. ### Victor Mair said,

August 4, 2021 @ 10:10 am

Colleagues,

Thanks for asking all your good questions about 无 and 旡. They indeed point to some difficult problems in the history of these two characters and their relationship to 無. I have to say that there is more to all of this than meets the eye if we are only relying on modern editions of ancient texts. Even modern dictionaries and websites devoted to the history of the Chinese characters are full of confusion about them.

I also have to say that I trust what Denis Christopher Mair says about these matters more than I do what such reference works present, not because he is my brother, but simply because he knows the Yijing / I ching better than anyone I have ever met. He knows it inside out, backwards and forwards, from top to bottom, and from bottom to top. He knows every word of every line of the hexagram and trigram texts, plus what all of the Ten Wings say about them, as well as possessing intimate familiarity with the commentarial tradition for the past two millennia and more. Denis has somehow managed to make the entire sweep of the history of the Yijing / I ching from its beginning to the present time into a living document. When he talks about the Yijing / I ching, it is as though he were having an animated conversation with scholars and savants from the Song, Ming, and Qing, as well as earlier periods.

Denis has a similar vital engagement with the Daoist tradition from his decades of close association with Tiāndì jiào 天帝教 ("Lord of Universe Church"). His is not an academic encounter with scriptures and practices, but deep, active involvement and commitment. To show that I am not being fraternally partial to Denis' way of learning and being, I can point to the example of Red Pine (Bill Porter) who displays a similar masterful apprehension and appreciation of Chan / Zen and eremitism, not to mention his transcendent translation of Qu Yuan's (ca. 340-278 BC) Li sao 離騷 ("Beset by Sorrow") (in A Shaman's Lament [2021]). My students in classes on Middle Vernacular Sinitic (MVS) know well how highly I praise Red Pine's grasp of the language of Hanshan ("Cold Mountain") — see Journal of the American Oriental Society, 112.2 (April-June, 1992), 269-278.

Since this comment has already grown quite long, I would just strongly urge you to read carefully and take to heart what Denis wrote in the o.p. I will post another amplifying note from him in the following comment.

8. ### Victor Mair said,

August 4, 2021 @ 10:11 am

From Denis Christopher Mair:

All through my regular-character text of the Yijing, the archaic form of wu is 旡 and the newer form of wu is 無. As I mentioned in my note, both forms of wu occur in the received Yijing text. It's pretty clear to me that 旡 is the archaic character and 无 is the simplified character. Please reply to Chris Button and tell him 旡 is not a mistake for 无.

You can tell that 旡 is a legitimate archaic form by looking at 炁, which is an old alternate character for 氣 qi ("energy"). Note that 炁 is an ideograph in which fire is shown returning to nothingness. The fact that 炁 is written with 旡 shows that 旡 is a legitimate archaic form of 無. (I think 旡 and 无 were alternate archaic forms, the only difference being that 无 was placed on the Simplified Character list )

It would be interesting to see how old woodblock-printed versions of the《易經註疏》handle the 旡 – 無 distinction.

VHM: As a student of Song, Yuan, Ming, and Qing popular literature, I am certain that texts from those periods often write 旡 for 無.

9. ### Richard Futrell said,

August 4, 2021 @ 12:15 pm

Furthering the mystery, in excavated documents like the Shanghai Museum Yijing you get 亡 for 无, for example 亡咎 instead of 无咎.

10. ### Denis Christopher Mair said,

August 4, 2021 @ 12:50 pm

This is a bit baffling.
I just checked the Harvard-Yenjing Index Series version of the Zhouyi here:
https://www.biroco.com/yijing/zhouyi.htm
It uses 无 in the line statements.
As I recall, the Harvard-Yenjing version is taken from 孔穎達 Kong Yingda's 《易經注疏》. That's what I thought my electronic version is based on. Now I have to figure out why my electronic version uses 旡 all the way through in the line statements.

In the past I never really noticed the difference between 旡 and 无, because I saw both a lot, and they mean the same thing.

炁 is a well-known variant for 氣. You can find 炁 easily in Daoist texts. Wouldn't that go to show that the graphic variant 旡 should be fairly well established? But I looked up graphic variants of 無 on this site:
https://chardb.iis.sinica.edu.tw/variants.jsp?cid=15709
Only the variant at the upper right is close to 旡, but the "pie" stroke does not go through the "shu-zhe" stroke as it does in 旡。

Having seen 旡 so many times in the past, I thought for sure that it would appear in a list of variants for 無. My brother’s former student Matthew Anderson kindly weighed in on this matter: “旡 has generally been considered an error for 无, but if it is an error, it’s a very longstanding one. And not one made by Denis. A later comment to the Yuan period Zi jian 字鑑, for example, writes (in the entry for 無), “俗作旡非旡” (vulgarly written 旡, it is not 旡).”

My 中華書局 printed version of the Yijing with Zhu Xi's commentary uses 无 in both the line statements and Image Treatise. It mostly uses 无 in the "Treatise on Appended Phrases" (繫辭傳), but 無 sometimes creeps in: it has "上下無常" in Pt. 2, Ch.8 but "喪期无數" in Pt.2, Ch.2. In Zhu Xi's comments to the same "Treatise" it mostly uses 无 but also has "望，無方反" (Pt.2, Ch.5).

I checked the “eee-learning” online version of Zhu Xi's commentary
( https://www.eee-learning.com/book/juicy01 ). In Zhu Xi's comments on the Qian and Kun hexagrams, use of 无 and 無 is inconsistent, with 无 appearing over 50 times, but 無 also appearing six times.

My electronic file of the Yijing always has 旡 in the line statements and always has 無 in the Image Treatise. Why does it differ from other online versions based on 易經王弼註？Perhaps the Daozang 道藏 version of the 王弼註 text uses 旡, and I downloaded that.

I’m not sure why my electronic version differs from the online Harvard-Yenjing version based on 王弼註. I must have downloaded it from somewhere else, perhaps from an electronic 道藏 version. I've been using it for quite some time now, and have forgotten where I got it..

11. ### Victor Mair said,

August 4, 2021 @ 1:10 pm

All of which goes to show what I've said countless times: the morphemes and words matter far more than the graphic forms used to write them.

In early manuscripts (e.g., Dunhuang, Dao de jing, etc.), we often find the same morpheme / word written with different characters in the same chapter or line.

12. ### AntC said,

August 4, 2021 @ 5:19 pm

In early manuscripts (e.g., Dunhuang, Dao de jing, etc.), we often find the same morpheme / word written with different characters in the same chapter or line.

Aargh! That seems orders-of-magnitude more confusing than the various ways Shakespeare wrote his name in different manuscripts. Since the graphic forms in Chinese texts denote meanings not sounds, how could there be different characters denoting the same morpheme/word within the one text? (I can see that texts from different authors/different times might vary.)

Are there special forms used to denote sentence-final (say)? Or some other syntactic marking?

13. ### John Swindle said,

August 4, 2021 @ 6:55 pm

@AntC: The question is whether "the graphic forms in Chinese texts" really do "denote meanings not sounds."

The alphabet as used for English is based on sound and especially phonemes (and words), but in writing we use some symbols that tell us more about meaning than sound. For example, we often use parentheses in writing but seldom say "open parentheses" and "close parentheses" in normal speech, and we have words that sound the same but are written differently according to meaning.

The Chinese writing system, on the other hand, is a huge, in principle open-ended syllabary in which each character is supposed to represent a certain syllable when that syllable is used with a certain range of meanings. How much, then, does it reflect sound and how much does it reflect meaning?

14. ### Matthias Richter said,

August 4, 2021 @ 8:58 pm

I read with much interest your blog posts on 旡, 无, and 無 as well as a possible relation to 氣. I believe it’s worth considering 旡 as the phonophoric in old characters for the word qì {氣}, whether it’s written as 既 on top of 火 or as 炁.

15. ### Chris Button said,

August 4, 2021 @ 9:29 pm

Please reply to Chris Button and tell him 旡 is not a mistake for 无.

Understood. I consider myself told. Apologies for rather missing the point!

Having seen 旡 so many times in the past, I thought for sure that it would appear in a list of variants for 無. My brother’s former student Matthew Anderson kindly weighed in on this matter: “旡 has generally been considered an error for 无, but if it is an error, it’s a very longstanding one. And not one made by Denis. A later comment to the Yuan period Zi jian 字鑑, for example, writes (in the entry for 無), “俗作旡非旡” (vulgarly written 旡, it is not 旡).”

This is really interesting. I wonder if it might provide a solution to the graphic origin of 无, which seems to have popped out of nowhere.

Rather than 旡 being sometimes used in error for 无, I wonder if 旡 was actually the source that was used for 無 purely for its meaning; the pronunciation wú was simply appropriated. The graphic form 无 then emerged from 旡.

16. ### Chris Button said,

August 4, 2021 @ 9:39 pm

I forgot to add one crucial point. The meaning of 旡 that is being used to represent 無 is the sense of 欠 (缺) since 欠 and 旡 seem to simply be graphic inversions.

17. ### David Marjanović said,

August 5, 2021 @ 10:25 am

Since the graphic forms in Chinese texts denote meanings not sounds, how could there be different characters denoting the same morpheme/word within the one text?

In exactly the same way that Shakespeare spelled his name different ways, just on steroids. Because nobody knows all the characters, sometimes people created characters for morphemes that already had a character, and then you end up with two or three or more. In really early times, it seems (at least to Baxter & Sagart) that the Chinese script was more of a syllabary, and the radicals were to some degree optional and interchangeable. Because some of the most common syllables had several characters to begin with, the phonophores were to some degree interchangeable, too. On top of that, when words with similar or overlapping meanings become homophones by ordinary language change, their meanings often merge, too, or they replace each other in fixed phrases: I've recently read a discussion on whether something happened in sight of or in site of something else.

Incidentally, in the 15th/16th-century Narrenschiff (in various southwestern forms of Early Modern High German), whenever a word occurs twice in a line, it is spelled in different ways.

I see the character 作 above. Sometimes it is pronounced zuò and means "do", and in that function it is, as far understand, interchangeable with 做, which is also pronounced zuò and also means "do" – and that's in current usage in Modern Standard Mandarin, not in remote antiquity.

(Wiktionary informs me 作 can also have two other tones and a range of meanings, and the character 做 is historically derived from an earlier form of 作.)

18. ### Jerry Packard said,

August 5, 2021 @ 11:26 am

In the modern language, 作 and 做 are becoming interchangeable, because their pronunciations are identical (zuò) and their meanings are often similar and often overlap completely. For pedantic scholarly folks they remain distinct. An oversimplified rendering would be: 做 means 'to do, to engage in', 'to author', 'to become' and 'to act as', while 作 means 'to make', 'to portray, to pretend to be, to affect.' 作 often means 'works' (of literature or art).

An interesting compound is 做 作, which means 'to do (something 做) in an affected (作) way.'

19. ### Antonio L. Banderas said,

August 5, 2021 @ 11:41 am

@Jerry Packard

Why did you include a space between the characters 做作?
https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%E5%81%9A%E4%BD%9C

20. ### Jerry Packard said,

August 5, 2021 @ 12:48 pm

Typo.

21. ### AntC said,

August 5, 2021 @ 5:21 pm

Then how did the reader know what the created character denoted? Indeed how did the author themself when reading the text back later? Did every text come with a private dictionary? What set of characters gave the definitions?/how did they become commonly-agreed? And why not just use the commonly-agreed rather than creating new characters?

Shakespeare's spellings at least relied on a commonly agreed sound-denotation for each character (or cluster of characters).

Or is the situation with these Chinese texts that nobody has a secure grip on their meaning? Later scholars are forced to just make stuff up? The wisdom of the ancients is actually the guesses/presumptions of the moderns?

22. ### Matt Anderson said,

August 5, 2021 @ 5:52 pm

Shakespeare's spellings at least relied on a commonly agreed sound-denotation for each character (or cluster of characters).

Exactly – the same was true of the phonophores in early Chinese writing. You might need to figure it out from context, just as you need context to distinguish between "lead" and "lead" or whatever. This is more difficult with Chinese characters than with an alphabet, but the principle is the same.

This makes it quite difficult today, when pronunciations have to be reconstructed… but the authors and readers of these early texts knew better how to pronounce them (though the fact that some of them were speakers of different varieties made things a little more complicated).

23. ### Chris Button said,

August 7, 2021 @ 8:06 am

So Shima in his Sōrui seems to treat the forms distinguished by some as 欠 (with the mouth facing forward) as the same as 旡 (with the mouth facing backward). It's worth noting that the distinction being made by others only concerns the direction of the mouth relative to the body, since a complete inversion of the character would not make any difference.

Since we have apparent cases of interchange between the forward and backward facing heads when used in compound graphs, Shima's decision not to make a distinction seems fairly sound.