Books for learning characters through progression diagrams and glyph origins?

Chinese Language Asked on December 24, 2020

Just as knowing PIE and etymology can assist with learning vocabulary, I desire to learn Chinese characters from fathoming e.g. progression diagrams and their glyph origins. Your book recommendations must befit tenderfoot Anglophones who know no Chinese like me, so the book must be mostly written in English.

If you’re recommending more than one book, please stipulate the difficulty of each book. I don’t know how serviceable the following books are.

On Dec 6 2018, Furio Petrossi recommended

On May 25 2014, OneEye quipped that

Wieger’s book [Chinese Characters: Their Origin, Etymology, History, Classification, and Signification: A Thorough Study from Chinese Documents] is interesting historically, it’s a fun read, and at the time it was probably the best thing available in English/French. But it’s badly outdated now, so I don’t think anyone looking for real character etymology should bother themselves with that book. It can be a handy book for learning characters, but for that purpose I personally like Rick Harbaugh’s Chinese Characters_: A Dictionary and Genealogy_ better. As I said here, it also gets a lot wrong, but it’s the best thing in English right now. But actually, Wieger and Harbaugh would probably go together nicely.

Amazon recommended The Origins of Chinese Characters, The Origin of Chinese Characters: An Illustrated History and Word Guide.

One Answer

I suggest you try to get a sample of the books first and then decide which serves better your purpose.

I think there are mainly two type of books:

Type I: Simple learning descriptions

They are focused mainly on Chinese learners, are less about etymologically accuracy and more about memorizing characters and stroke order with simple descriptions / stories. There are a large number of these books, but most of them appear to be similar. For example, I found:

  • Matthews, Alison. Matthews, Laurence - Tuttle Learning Chinese Characters (Hsk Levels 1 -3) Revolutionary New Way To Learn And Remember The 800 Most Basic Chinese Characters (2014, Tuttle Publishing): enter image description here

  • Tan Huay Peng - Fun With Chinese Characters: enter image description here

Type II: Etymological dictionaries

(Also see: Where to look for history and etymology of Chinese characters? For example 工)

They are more about the etymological origin of the words. I also posted some useful websites:

  • A free content dictionary website from the Wikipedia group. enter image description here

  • HUMANUM by the Research Centre for Humanities Computing of the Research Institute for the Humanities (RIH), Faculty of Arts, The Chinese University of Hong Kong. In Mandarin. enter image description here

  • enter image description here

  • Wu et al - The way of Chinese characters: The origins of 670 essential words. It seems complete but with few characters. enter image description here

  • L. Wieger - Chinese Characters: Their Origin, Etymology, History, Classification, and Signification: A Thorough Study from Chinese Documents. The oldest reference (from 1965). enter image description here

In addition: probably has also some etymological description, but it is fully in Mandarin and I can not confirm it.

Note: I have not been able to access these other books:
  • Dileep Rajeev, Learning Chinese Characters : An Ideographic Approach.
  • The Origins of Chinese Characters.
  • The Origin of Chinese Characters: An Illustrated History and Word Guide.

Correct answer by Puco4 on December 24, 2020

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