Imagine for one moment that you wanted to find a way to remember the history of your family or people and record it for posterity. In addition, assume you also wanted to remember in particular the most important events in an easy way that you would never forget. How would or how could you achieve that?
- Perhaps you would draw or paint some pictures? The problem with pictures though is that they are easily lost or damaged.
- Perhaps you could make an inscription or monument? The problem is that it is weathered over time or subject to destruction by other people who do not understand it or like it.
- Alternatively, maybe you could write it down as text? After all, would not all the records could be copied much more easily. The problem is that the paper or papyrus or vellum is also subject to decay.
- Therefore, as an alternative to all the above, what about embodying the description within the shape of your words? If the words are pictograms or logograms, they become a visual and readable record of the events and thoughts you wish to convey. As a result, when you or others write a particular pictogram word both you and others are reminded of what happened all those years ago when you use those particular pictograms.
A pictogram is defined as a pictorial symbol for a word or phrase. Pictographs were used as the earliest form of writing such as hieroglyphics from Egypt or Chinese characters.
“A picture is worth a thousand words”. So goes a well-known English language adage.
The sentiments are also in sayings in many other languages. For example, Napoleon Bonaparte[i] said, “A good sketch is better than a long speech”. Famous painter and inventor Leonardo da Vinci[ii] wrote that a poet would be “overcome by sleep and hunger before being able to describe with words what a painter is able to depict in an instant”.
Pictograms being the best idea, the question arises has it ever been used before? What story can we ascertain, if any from the hieroglyphs of Egypt or the Chinese characters?
This article is going to review the truth of the saying that pictures can tell such a story. In doing so we will find confirmation of the Bible record and hence must be an accurate source of records of the events written therein. Therefore, let us start in our search for pictograms that in pictures describe the major events in the Biblical records and in doing so confirm the Bible record from an unexpected source.
Chinese history stretches back unbroken for about 4,500 years to approximately 2500 BC. This includes many written and inscribed records. While some of the shaping has changed over the centuries (as with all languages including Hebrew), the written language of Chinese today is still pictogram based. Although today China is renowned for its communist ideas and atheist teachings, many may not know or may wonder what beliefs the Chinese people held before the Chinese Communist Revolution of October 1949.
Going back in Chinese history we find that Daoism started in 6th Century BC, and Confucianism started in the 5th Century BC, as did Buddhism. It is known that Christianity appeared in China in the 7th Century AD during the Tang dynasty. However, it did not take root until the 16th century AD with the arrival of Jesuit missionaries. Even today, it is estimated there are only about 30 million Christians in a country with a population approaching 1.4 billion, just 2% of the population. Therefore, the influence of Christianity on the language would be very limited, not only in percentage terms, but also in terms of only relatively recently being exposed to Christianity.
Unknown to most of the world today, before the 6th Century BC, for the first 2,000 years of their history, the Chinese worshipped Shang Dì. Written as 上帝 [iii] (Shang Dì – God (maker)), the God of Heaven. Interestingly, this God of Heaven had many characteristics in common with the God of the Bible, Jehovah. Daniel 2:18,19,37,44 all contain this same phrase “the God of Heaven”, and Genesis 24:3 records Abraham saying, “as I must have you swear by Jehovah, the God of the heavens and the God of the earth”. This same phrase “the God of the heavens” “the God of the heavens” is also repeated another 11 times in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah and another 5 times elsewhere.
This worship of the God of Heaven continued even after the spread of Daoism, Confucianism and Buddhism. Even today, the Chinese New Year celebrations often include setting up an altar and making offerings to the God of Heaven – Shang Dì.
Furthermore, at Dongcheng, Beijing (Peking), China there exists a Temple complex including a Temple named Temple of Heaven. It was constructed between 1406 AD and 1420 AD and extended and named Temple of Heaven in the 16th Century. Interestingly there are no idols of any kind inside this temple unlike temples to Buddha and most temples of other religions.
Evidence in Chinese Writings
The Chinese culture has a long tradition of philosophers and writers. It is interesting to review what some have said. The first written records dated from the Shang Dynasty which was 1776 BC – 1122 BC and can be seen in museums.
Time Period: Before Christ
In the 5th century BC, Confucius in his 5 classics confirmed that during the Shang Dynasty they worshipped Shang Dì. He also writes that they believed Shang Dì had sovereignty over the nations. Also, that Shang Dì governs the wind, the rain and all the elements. They call him the Lord of the Harvest.
The Shang dynasty was conquered by the Zhou Dynasty (1122 BC – 255 BC). The Zhou dynasty called God “tian”. 天. This is made of two characters 一, “one” and 大, “big” or “great”, so giving the meaning of “one above great”. This is very similar to the description of the God of the Bible recorded in Genesis 14:18, which states that Melchizidek “was priest of the Most High God”.
Historical Records (vol 28, Book 6, pg 621) confirms this when it says “Shang Di is another name for Tian. The spirits do not have two Lords”.
It is also interesting to note that they clearly viewed Shang Dì as Lord or master of the heavens and the other spirits (angels and demons).
In the 4th century BC, Zhuang Zhou was an influential philosopher. He wrote “- In the beginning of all things there was a void. There was nothing that could be named.”[iv] (Compare with Genesis 1:2 – “Now the earth proved to be formless and waste and there was darkness upon the surface of the watery deep”).
In the 2nd Century BC, Dong Zhongshu was a Han dynasty philosopher. He favoured the worship of heaven over the tradition of cults of the five elements. He wrote, “The origin is like the source. Its significance lies in its permeation of heaven and the earth from beginning to the end.” [v] (Compare Revelation 1:8 – “I am the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end”).
Time Period: 14th Century AD
Later in the Ming Dynasty (14th to 17th Century AD) the following song was written:
“Of old in the beginning, there was great chaos, without form and dark. The five planets[vi] had not yet begun to revolve nor the two lights to shine.[vii] In the midst of it, there existed neither form nor sound.
You, O spiritual sovereign, came forth in your sovereignty, and first did separate the impure from the pure. You made heaven; You made earth, you made man. All things became alive with reproducing power.” [viii] (Compare Genesis 1:1-5, 11, 24-28).
Also, in part of the Border Sacrifice Ceremony:
“All the numerous tribes of animated beings are indebted to Thy favour for their beginnings. Men and things are all emparadised in Thy love, O Te [Di]. All living things are indebted to Your goodness, but who knows from whom his blessings come to him? You alone, O Lord, are the true parent of all things.”[ix]
“He [ShangDi] sets fast forever the high heaven and establishes the solid earth. His government is everlasting.”[x]
“Your sovereign goodness cannot be measured. As a potter, You have made all living things.”
What stories can we find in the pictograms of the Chinese Language?
Evidence in Chinese Pictograms
If you wanted to remember the important parts of your history and culture by writing them down, what events would you document just as the Bible does? Would it not be such things as?
- the account of Creation,
- the fall of man into sin,
- Cain and Abel,
- the worldwide Flood,
- the Tower of Babel,
- the confusion of languages
Is there any trace then of these events in Chinese characters which are pictograms rather than an alphabet as common in European languages?
As many words are a combination of one or more pictograms making up another more complex pictogram we will start off with a small dictionary of basic words and add to them as necessary. Some constituent pictograms in more complex ones may be only a part of their own pictogram. These often exist as radicals. An example is the normal character used for “walking” is more than 辶 (chou – walking), but only this portion is added to other pictograms. (See KangXi radical 162.)
Basic Chinese Words/Pictograms for Reference
The Chinese words/pictograms were copied from https://www.mdbg.net/chinese/dictionary? and the radicals from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kangxi_radical#Table_of_radicals. The mdbg.net site has also been very helpful as it will breakdown almost all complex characters / pictograms into its constituent parts with their individual meanings.[xi] This enables anyone to verify the understanding of the complex character parts. Please also note when looking up a character using the English transliteration of the pronunciation that it is sometimes without its accent(s)[xii]. Hence there may be a number of words associated with “tu” for example, each with different accents on the “u”.
土 (tǔ – soil, earth or dust) , 口 (kǒu – mouth, breathe) , 囗(wéi – enclosure), 一 (yī – one) , 人 (rén – man, people), 女 (nǚ – female), 木 (mù – tree), 儿 (ér – man, son, child, legs), 辶 (chou – walking), 田 (tián – field, arable land, cultivated), 子 (zǐ – offspring, seed, child)
More complex Characters
天 (tiān- heaven), 帝 (dì – God), 神 or 礻 abbrev. (shen, shì, – god).
A good example of a complex character is 果 (guǒ – fruit). You can see this is a combination of a tree 木 and a cultivated, arable land, i.e. food producing 田(tián). Hence, this character of “fruit” is a picture description of “the produce of a tree”.
果园 (guǒ yuán – orchard). This is a combination of two characters: that of fruit (guǒ) and the other character = one + son / child + enclosure = (yuán).
困 (kùn – surround) – tree in enclosure
告 (gao – report, declare, announce, tell)
生 (sheng – life, birth)
To be continued …………
[i] “Un bon croquis vaut mieux qu’un long discours” in French. Lived from 1769-1821.
[ii] Lived from 1452-1519.
[iv] Online Library of Liberty: The Sacred Books of China. The Texts of Taoism PatI: the Tao Teh King. The Writings of Kwang Ze books I-XVII. Pdf version page 174, para 8.
[vi] Referring to the 5 visible planets of Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.
[vii] Referring to the Sun and the Moon.
[viii] The collected Statutes of the Ming Dynasty, James Legge, The Doctrine of the Mean XIX, 6. The Chinese Classics Vol. I, p404. (Oxford:Clarendon Press 1893, [Reprinted Taipei, SMC Publ. Inc. 1994])
[ix] James Legge, The Shu Jing (Book of Historical Documents): The Books of Yu, 1,6, The Chinese Classics Vol III, p33-34 (Oxford:Clarendon Press 1893, [Reprinted Taipei, SMC Publ. Inc. 1994])
[x] James Legge, The Notions of the Chinese Concerning God and Spirits (Hong Kong: Hong King Register Office 1852) p.52.
[xi] Google Translate is not recommended, at least for translating an English word into Chinese. For example, the character for field give field in English, but reverse field and you get a different set of Chinese characters.
[xii] This is because not all sources used are easily copied and pasted, and it is extremely time consuming to do. However, every effort has been made to use transliterated words with the accent mark(s).