Chinese name
Traditional Chinese 辭源
Simplified Chinese 辞源
Literal meaning source of words
Korean name
Hangul 사원
Japanese name
Kanji 辞源
Hiragana じげん

The Ciyuan or Tz'u-yüan is the earliest modern encyclopedic Chinese phrase dictionary. The Commercial Press published the first edition Ciyuan in 1915, and reissued it in various formats, including a 1931 supplement, and a fully revised 1979-1984 edition.

Contents and significance

In terms of Chinese lexicography, the Ciyuan is a cidian (辭典 "word/phrase dictionary") for spoken expressions, as opposed to a zidian (字典, lit. "character/logograph dictionary") for written Chinese characters.

The title word ciyuan 辭源 – which combines ci 辭 "take leave; decline; diction; phrase; word" and yuan 源 "source; cause; origin" – is an old variant for ciyuan 詞源 "word origin; etymology", usually written with ci 詞 "word; term; speech".

The Ciyuan has been popular with Chinese intellectuals. For example, (Reed 2011:3), during the Chinese Civil War, Mao Zedong carried two modern dictionaries, the Ciyuan and the Cihai.

The lexicographer Reinhard Hartmann (2003:16) predicts that the revised Ciyuan "should remain a basic research tool for all students of China's pre-modern literature and history for many years to come."


The Ciyuan, which is first major Chinese dictionary of the 20th century, has been republished and revised repeatedly.

First edition

Chinese lexicographers began compiling the first edition Ciyuan in 1908, with Lu Erkui (陸爾奎, 1862-1935) as editor-in-chief. They chiefly derived material from the 1710 Kangxi Dictionary and 1798 Jingji cuangu (經籍簒詁) dictionary of characters used in the Chinese classics. In 1915, Commercial Press, a major Chinese publishing house, issued the original Ciyuan in two volumes, totaling 3,087 pages, available in large, medium, and small sizes (Teng & Biggerstaff 1971:132).

It contained approximately 100,000 entries (Hartmann 2003:165), with dictionary order by individual character head entries arranged by radical and stroke, using the traditional 214 Kangxi radicals. Phrase and compound entries are grouped under their first character, arranged firstly according to their number of characters, and secondly according to their radicals.

The Ciyuan included not only Chinese characters and phrases, but also chengyu idioms, classical references, and encyclopedic terms, such as Chinese and foreign personal and place names, book titles, and modern scientific terms. Its preface explained the lexicographical need for the Ciyuan.

In recent years new terms and new affairs have flooded into China. People from less-informed backgrounds find it hard to understand what "new learning" is about because of terms that are incomprehensible. Those who had classical knowledge often ended up giving up on new learning. On the other hand, those who went to study abroad did not understand what had already existed in their homeland when they returned. We therefore published this dictionary to indicate the history of and changes in the meanings of words, in the hopes of bridging that gap. (tr. Yue 2006:52)

Each entry was followed by its pronunciation (with fanqie spelling, a common homophone, and modern Chinese rhyme), meanings, and often with illustrative quotations from the Chinese classics. However, as Têng Ssu-yü and Knight Biggerstaff (1971:132) say, the first edition Ciyuan "is far from exhaustive, and most of its illustrative quotations were taken from secondary sources without being checked."


In 1931, Commercial Press published the Ciyuan xubian (辭源續編 "Source of words continuation/sequel"), compiled by Fang Yi (方毅, 1916-1997) and others, in two volumes, totaling 1,702 pages (Teng & Biggerstaff 1971:132). This supplementary dictionary comprises terms accidentally omitted from the 1915 edition, and new terms coined after it. Fang Yi's preface explained the reason for publishing an extended edition of the Ciyuan in 1931, "Within more than a decade and following progressive developments in the world and changes within the political scene, it is natural that in science many new words have emerged" (tr. Tsou 1990:357). The Xubian also cites sources of quotations in more detail than the core Ciyuan dictionary.

The 1939 Ciyuan Zhengxu heding ben (辭源正續合訂本) was a new extended edition, combined into one volume (Yang 1985:275). The 1931 Ciyuan had 65,555 entries and the 1939 edition has 88,074, nearly a 35% net increase in words (Tsou 1990:358).

In 1969, Commercial Press in Taiwan published a one volume edition, with a Four-Corner Method index (Yang 1985:277).

Revised edition

Plans for a second edition Ciyuan began after a 1958 conference about revising the Ciyuan and Cihai dictionaries. Hartmann (2003:16) says, "It was decided to maintain Ciyuan 's emphasis on literary, historical and classical terms and to revise and augment it as a reference work for researchers and students of pre-modern Chinese."

In 1964, a weidinggao (未定稿 "draft manuscript") Ciyuan was completed, but the anti-intellectualism of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) halted compilation. Work resumed in 1976 as a cooperative effort between the Commercial Press and language scholars in the provinces of Guangdong, Guangxi, Hunan, and Henan. The revised Volumes 1 through 4 were published in 1979, 1980, 1981, and 1984, respectively. The revised edition Ciyuan contains 12,980 head characters, under which are 84,134 definitions of phrases, totaling 11.3 million characters (Huang 1993:241). Volume 4 has a pinyin index attached.

Content of the new Ciyuan focuses on classical terms and encyclopedic items relating to Chinese literature and history up to 1840, the time of the First Opium War (Wilkinson 2000:78). The editors deleted technical terms from natural and social sciences, and international words that been appended into the original edition Ciyuan during 60 years of revisions and updates. They also added a number of important terms; for example (Hartmann 2003:16), "under the character "wei" ([委] "entrust; committee"), the original edition had 49 compounds, while the revised edition deletes 12 of these but adds 29 more." Since citations in the first edition Ciyuan were sometimes unclear as to sources, the editors of the revised edition rechecked every citation, corrected errors, and added references for authors and chapter numbers.

In 1988, Commercial Press published a reduced-size, single volume edition Ciyuan.

Third edition

The third edition (辞源(第三版)) was published in 2015 following 8 years of editing.("《辞源》出版百年 第三版全球同步首发". 2015-12-24. )("快讯︱《辞源》第三版问世——九大修订、纸电同步". 2015-12-24. )

Zengxiu Ciyuan

Zengxiu Ciyuan (增修辭源) is a version of Ciyuan published by the Taiwan-based The Commercial Press, Ltd. It maintains the vertical text flow and the use of Classical Chinese texts for explanations that had been used in Ciyuan books printed before TCP had been established in Taiwan.

Daluban Ciyuan Xiudingben

Daluban Ciyuan Xiudingben (大陸版辭源修訂本) is based on Zengxiu Ciyuan and also published by the same publisher, but with horizontal text flow and explanations in vernacular Chinese, yet still uses traditional Chinese letters for explanations despite being marketed to mainland Chinese readers. It also includes Mandarin pronunciations in pinyin for head letters that are absent in Zengxiu Ciyuan (in Zengxiu Ciyuan, pronunciations are only shown in fǎnqiè form).


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