Aid to the Eyes and Ears of Western Scholars


This work was compiled by Jesuit missionary Nicolas Trigault (1577–1628), edited by Han Yun of Jinjiang, and published by Wang Zheng of Jingyang, Shaanxi (1571−1644). It contains characters, phonetics, and definitions, and uses roman letters to transliterate Chinese characters, serving as an aid to the eyes and ears of Westerners who wished to learn Chinese. It is a vocabulary of Chinese characters with romanization that occupied an important place in the history of phonology. The author acknowledged that he followed an earlier work by Matteo Ricci (1552–1610), who used a 25-letter alphabet to form a transliteration system. The alphabet system consisted of five vowels, 20 consonants, and five tone marks to spell Chinese syllables. Based on the Ricci work, Trigault created a revised system, which was then called the Ricci−Trigault System. The work took five months and three revisions to complete and was printed in the sixth year (1626) of the Tianqi reign of the Ming. It was funded by Zhang Wenda (died 1625), who wrote a preface to the work, which was followed by prefaces by Wang Zheng, Han Yun, and Trigault. It is also a work of philology, containing three chapters on the shape, sound, and meaning of Chinese characters. Chapter 1, Yi yin shou pu (General introduction to phonology), includes a discussion on philology and the translator’s main idea. Chapter 2, Lie yin yun pu (Chinese characters according to the rhymes), lists Chinese characters according to the phonetic sounds, using the Latin alphabet to reference Chinese characters. Chapter 3, Lie bian zheng pu (List of Chinese characters according to radicals), lists their equivalent sounds spelled in Latin letters. The title clearly indicates that it was written primarily for Western scholars. It was to help them to hear the sounds of the characters, see the roman letter spellings, and pronounce Chinese characters. Trigault, Chinese courtesy name Sibiao, was born in Douai, now in France. He joined the Jesuit order in 1594, left for China in 1609, and arrived in Macao in 1610. The following year he went to Nanjing. He later was sent to Nanchang, Jianchang, and Shaozhou to conduct missionary work. In 1622, due to political upheaval and the persecution of Christians, he took refuge in Hangzhou. In 1623 he went to Kaifeng, in the following year to Shanxi, and then Shaanxi. He founded a number of presses in Jiangzhou, Si’an, and Hangzhou and printed many books. Later he returned to Hangzhou, where he devoted himself to writing, mostly in Latin. This is his only published Chinese-language work.

Last updated: June 25, 2015