Valenti, Federico (2018) Biological classification in Early Chinese dictionaries and glossaries: from fish to unvertebrates and Vice Versa. Doctoral Thesis.
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This dissertation problematises the classification of chong 蟲 (invertebrates) and yu 魚(fish) in Early Chinese texts. The loci classici analysed will range from the Warring States (ca. 453 – 221 BCE) to the Eastern Han period (dong Han 東漢, 25 – 220 CE). The focus is on the lexical ambiguity between these two zoological categories: despite being perceived as different, they include a more or less loose set of “dynamic” words that shift from one category to the other.
The project concentrates on two early Chinese texts: the Erya 爾雅 (III century BCE) and the Shuowen jiezi 説文解字 (100 CE). These works had a pivotal role during the development of Chinese lexicography and gave the lexical basis of later texts. They are also the first texts that deal with the problem of taxonomical classification in Early China.
By systematically applying a philological approach (Coblin 1972, Carr 1979) to a selection of zoological glosses preserved in these sources, this study aims at reformulating the way in which early Chinese “proto-zoological categories” are organised (Needham 1986, Sterckx 2002). Through the analysis of selected case studies, it aims at showing that even if there are fairly well attested categories that constitute a dichotomous system (such as “quadrupeds” versus “winged creatures” or “wild beasts” versus “domestic animals”), Early Chinese taxonomies represent a dynamic and unstable attempt at zoological classification for what we call today “fish” and “invertebrates”.
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