“Self, Other, and Canine”: The “Dog” Radical in Chinese History and Its Implications for Chinese Minority Identity

“自我,他指,以及犬系”: “反犬旁”在中国历史中的发展及其对中国少 数民族身份的暗示

Author Unknown (http://www.hcs.harvard.edu/tempus/archives_files/Brown.pdf)

Translated by Maggie Li

Presented by Jennifer Ball

One of the peculiarities of the Chinese characters as they have evolved throughout the centuries is the presence of “dog” and “insect” radicals in the ideograms of ethnic minorities. While most of these characters have been greatly changed with the character simplification project and the ethnic classification project of the 1950s, one can still see the legacy of this phenomenon today in words such as “野蛮” (primitive, barbarian), which has the “insect” radical “虫” at the bottom of the second character, or “狮子” [original had “子狮”] lion, which has the “dog” radical on the side of the first character. Analyzing which characters in Chinese have traditionally been written with the “dog” radical and examining the history of where and why this method of classification arose in China can give us insight into how the Chinese have conceived of the minority peoples living within the Chinese cultural area. In reality, tracing the variations of how a particular Chinese ideogram was written within the context of Chinese history is probably the best way to determine the significance that particular name or idea had to the scribes writing it; we must therefore view individual ideograms as dictionaries and encyclopedias, replete with otherwise unknown historical and cultural information. Tracing the history of the “dog” radical demonstrates that local mythology influences the writing of a character or characters, and subsequently demonstrates how the writing of one character can indiscriminately influence others that come to be associated with it through a kind of semantic extension. Finally, we will also observe that the 20th century reform of the Chinese character set was met with a simultaneously reappraisal of Chinese minority identity and with it, a reappraisal of what it means to be Chinese.


To begin with, it may be helpful to elucidate the cases in contemporary Chinese where the “dog” radical appears, so as to have a sense what a Chinese scribe would have envisioned when he wrote this particular signifier next to an ethnic group’s name. Among the earliest methods of writing the character for dog was quan 犬. When attached to another ideogram, the signifier was simply reduced to 犭, which would have appeared to the left of the base of the ideogram. Many four legged animals such as pig (zhu 猪) , lion (shizi 狮子), wolf (lang 狼) and cat (mao 猫), take the radical on their left side. The reason for the common “dog” classifier among these animals is, like the “duck” glyph which acted like the “bird” classifier within the ancient Egyptian glyphs,1 the “dog” was representative of many mammalian quadrupeds to the early Chinese scribes. But while the “dog” radical was often used for animals, it also had other connotations in pre-modern China.


The “dog” radical is often found in words, especially adjectives, with a very negative, almost anti-social connotation. Examples of this include “crafty, cunning” ( jiao 狡) , “sly” (kuai 獪), “to violate, offend” (fan 犯), “prisoner” (fanren 犯人), “timid” (juan 狷), “arrogant, insane” (kuang 狂), “violent”( li 戾), and “lonely” (du 獨). Very early in Chinese history, sometime during the Zhou Dynasty (771-221 BC), a group of foreigners to the north of China received the name Beidi (北狄), which has subsequently been translated as “northern barbarians.” This was probably not simply one group of people, but rather collections of tangentially associated tribes. “Barbarians” therefore is not a sufficient translation for Beidi (北狄) considering how many different people were considered to be “barbarian” by different names during this period. The Zhou Dynasty formally acknowledged a total of four “barbarian” peoples that surrounded their empire: Dongyi (東夷), Xirong (西戎), Nanman (南蠻), and Beidi (北狄), which mean “Eastern barbarians,” “Western barbarians,” “Southern barbarians” and “Northern barbarians” respectively, by the conventional standards of translation. Of these four people, one of them, the “Northern barbarians” is written with the “dog” radical, and one, the “Southern barbarians” is written with the “insect” radical. The tradition of using such classifiers to write minorities continued into the Han Dynasty (202 BC – 220 AD), where the most common way of writing the characters for the northern Xiong-nu people (匈奴) involved the inclusion of the “dog” radical, though this was eliminated in the 20th century.2 From this point in Chinese history onward, the “dog” radical was appended to many of the characters for ethnic minorities; hence the “dog” radical and its negative connotations were applied to many ethnic minorities through a kind of semantic extension. While it is clear that the presence of such classifiers reflects a negative attitude towards these people, it is still essential to ask how this method of classification arose and how it developed within the context of Chinese culture and history.


In order to discern the possible origins of the presence of the “dog” radical Chinese words, we must look to the early mythology of the Yao (瑤) people, who today live in southern China in the province of Yunnan, near Laos and Vietnam. In the 116th chapter of the classic Chinese text “The History of the Later Han” (Hou Han Shu 後漢書), written in the 5th century AD, there is a famous story possibly related to these people titled the “Myth of Pan Hu.” According to the mythical story, Pan Hu was a divine dog who married an emperor’s daughter and subsequently fathered a new race of “dog-man” people. Today the Yao people still hold his story as one of the “origin-stories” of their people. Furthermore, the author of the Hou Han Shu, Fan Ye, locates the descendants of the “dog-man” people on “the southeast coast” of China – almost precisely where the Yao people live today. But according to de Groot, “the Beidi (北狄) were declared to be the offspring of dogs during the Zhou Dynasty.”3 These seemingly contradictory facts lead us to several questions: why did the Zhou Dynasty begin marking its northern barbarians with the “dog” radical? How reflective is the Hou Han Shu of the Chinese perspective of the “dog-man” people for 5th century China? And most of all, how did the “dog” radical travel from the north to the south over the course of a few centuries?

为了分辨出包含“反犬旁”汉字的可能源头,我们必须研究瑶族的早期神话传说。如今,瑶族人聚居于中国南部的云南省,毗邻老挝和越南。在中国经典著作《後漢書》(著于公元五世纪)的第一百一十六章中,记录了一个与被称为盘瓠后人的群族相关的故事。据记载,盘瓠为神犬,娶得帝喾小女儿,共同生育“犬人”后代。如今,瑶族人民仍然将盘瓠的故事作为自己的“起源传说”之一。再者,据《後漢書》的作者范晔描述,“犬人”后代聚居于中原东南沿岸,也就是今天的瑶族人所在地区。但是根据de Groot的研究,“北狄是周朝时期的犬系后代”3。这些似乎相互矛盾的研究结果不经使我们产生如下问题:为什么周朝会开始用“反犬旁”来标记北方的野蛮人?《後漢書》从多大程度上反映了中国人对五世纪时的“犬人”的态度?更重要的是,“反犬旁”的使用是如何在几个世纪的时间里从北方传到南方的?

It appears that Fan Ye’s treatment of the “dog-man” people is fairly reliable and its implications for tracing the evolution of the usage of the “dog” radical are quite significant for several reasons. First of all, David Gordan White located the origin of the Yao people to be in the north, in particular Shaanxi, Hunan, and Anhui provinces. Thus, the Yao people, or their related brethren, would have been a part of what the group that had been previously called the Beidi 北狄 barbarians during the Zhou Dynasty, centuries earlier. Similar dog-man myths existed among the Altaic and Turkic steppe peoples, which also helps to substantiate the historicity of the Yao peoples’ origin from the northern plains.4 Because most foreign invasions came from the north, many groups that were located in the north 2,000 years ago live in southern China today.

范晔对于“犬人”的研究可靠性较高,并且对“反犬旁”的使用和进化过程具起到相当重要的启示作用。首先,David Gordan White将瑶族的地理位置确定在中国北方,尤其是陕西,湖南和安徽省。因此,瑶族人及其相关族人都应该属于几个世纪前在周朝被称为“北狄”的族群。类似的“犬人”传说在说阿尔泰语和突厥语的草原族群中也存在,因此为瑶族起源于北方平原的历史性增添了实际证明4。由于大部分的外族入侵都来自北方,许多在两千年前定居北方的群族如今则生活在中国的南方地区。

With these facts in mind, we can draw several conclusions: the various northern steppe peoples had a “dog-man” myth which demonstrated their descent from a dog, which was not considered a negative thing within their cultural context (The Chinese considered the concept of the “dog-man” negative and associated their dog radical with “negative” traits as discussed earlier; the Yao people on the other hand would have had a very different conception of it.) Second, it appears that the ancestors of the Yao people who lived in the north likewise had the same or similar “dog-myth” and carried it with them as they migrated southward towards Laos and Vietnam. Third, in the centuries-long process of this migration to the south, the Chinese scholarly elite, whose capital would have generally been based in the north, came to associate many of their non-Han subjects with myths of the “dog-man,” a practice which in turn certainly influenced the writing of the characters for the Yao people, the Xiong-nu people, and other minority groups. White delineated this phenomenon in his book Myths of the Dog Man:

在以上事实例证的基础上,我们可以得到以下几个结论:多个北方草原群族都拥有“犬人”传说,证明了他们以“犬”为祖先的起源,这在他们的文化语境中是不具有消极含义的(前文已经讨论过,中原人将“犬人”的概念归为消极,“反犬旁”也通常与消极的特征联系起来;而瑶族人则对该概念有着完全不同的反应)。另外,住在北方的瑶族祖先似乎有着一样或者相似的“犬人传说”,并且在向南方的老挝和越南迁移的过程中随之传播。最后,在长达几个世纪的南迁过程中,原本大本营在北方的学术精英们,开始将自己的许多非汉学研究课题与“犬人”的传说相联系,这一行为极有可能影响了瑶族、匈奴,以及其他少数民族的书写系统。White在他的著作《犬人传说》(Myths of the Dog Man)中详细地描述了这一现象:

We can be quite certain that the Man or Yao peoples, even though they considered themselves to be descended from a dog, nevertheless did not call themselves dogs. Only the Chinese would have done so. Once again, as was the case with the Xiong-nu and so many other peoples, the foreigner is rendered anonymous…by being even the same animal signifier as every other foreigner. (White, p. 145)


[Translator’s note: In my fact-checking, Man people do not regard the dog as their ancestors (the myth is once the dog saved their emperor), but rather the She minority has this myth.]


The implications are intriguing: we have an example of a Chinese character that may have been influenced by a non-Chinese mythology because the fact that these northern peoples held they were descended from dogs may have been the most prominent thing Chinese scribes knew about them.5 Moreover, the usage of the “dog” radical spread to the people living around the Yao by the time they settled in the south of China, so that the “Khih, Ling, Miao, Nao, Yao, Lolo, Li and Chung” were all written with “dog” radicals by the early Ming Dynasty.6

Through tracing the origins and development of the “dog” radical, we can conclude that it probably had a specific origin in northwestern China, spread to the south of China, but in the process came to be applied through semantic extension to minority peoples in general as it helped the Chinese “center” define many, but not all, foreign peoples.

这背后的含义非常引人深思:在此例中,中国汉字受到的是非中文神话的影响,因为当时的抄写员所知晓的关于北方少数民族的最重要事实,也许就是他们自称为犬系后代这件事5。再加上到了瑶族迁徙定居到南方的时候,“反犬旁”的使用也已经传播到了瑶族周围聚居的群族中,因此“契丹族,狑族,苗族,呶族,瑶族,彝族,黎族,壮族”[译者注:原文为Khih, Ling, Miao, Nao, Yao, Lolo, Li and Chung]等在明早期的时候都是带有“反犬旁”的6。通过探索该偏旁使用的起源和发展历程,我们可以得出以下结论,它应该是具体产生于中国的西北部,后来传播到南部,并且在此过程中通过语义延伸被进一步应用在所有少数民族身上,因为这能够帮助“中原”定义许多,甚至所有的外族人。

[Translator’s note: The Khih, Nao, and Chung minority groups cannot be found online. The Khih could possibly be referring to Khitay.]
[译者注:网上并不能查阅到关于Khih, Nao以及Chung少数民族的信息。但Khih有可能指代Khitay契丹族。]

Of China’s many minority peoples, which ones were not written with the “dog” radical and why? Some of the characters for China’s northeastern minorities, Mongols, Uyghurs, and Tibetans, do not seem to have been regularly written with the “dog” radical. The Jie (羯) people of China’s northwest were written with a “sheep” (羊) radical, probably because they were associated with herding. The character for the Manchu (manzu 满族) people who established the last Chinese imperial dynasty, the Qing, was written with a “water” (氵) radical, possibly because their ancestral home, Manchuria, was a coastal region on China’s northwest frontier. Tibetans, known in different periods of Chinese history as fan (番) and zang (藏), never appear to haven taken a “dog” radical or any other derogatory classifier. With this in mind, we can safely conclude that certain classifiers came to be specifically associated with various ethnic minorities on the basis of special traits or characteristics. However, none of the hitherto mentioned groups bears an association with a “dog-man” myth and none of the groups is from southern China, where it appears most minority peoples who were written with “dog” classifiers lived during the past 1,000 years. More importantly, many of these peoples themselves formed powerful states which militarily and politically rivaled their Chinese counterparts. Wolfram Eberhard wrote in China’s Minorities: Yesterday and Today:

在中国众多的少数民族中,哪些没有曾经用“反犬旁”指代过,为何如此?在用来指代中国东北部部分少数民族的汉字中,例如蒙古族,维吾尔族,以及藏族,似乎就没有添加“反犬旁”的习惯。中国西北部的羯族人,使用的就是“羊”字旁,大概是因为他们的放牧习惯。满族人建立的中国最后一个王朝清朝,使用的是“氵”旁,大概是因为他们的祖籍所在地满洲里是一个位于中国西北边境的沿海地区。藏族人在不同的中国历史阶段曾被称为“番”和“藏”,但从来没有使用过“反犬旁”或其他贬义偏旁。在此基础之上,我们可以得出结论,某些偏旁之所以能够与不同的少数民族建立联系,是基于其某些特征总结。上述提及的少数民族中,没有一个是与“犬人”神话有联系的,且没有一个聚居在中国南部地区——即被用“反犬旁”指代的大部分少数民族在过去的一千年里所居住的地方。更重要的一点是,他们当中的许多建立了强大的国家组织,在军事和政治上都能够与中原对立抗衡。Wolfram Eberhard在《中国的少数民族:昨天与今天》(China’s Minorities: Yesterday and Today)中写道:

There is a significant difference between tribes in the North and West and tribes in the South of China proper. Those in the North and West who had social organizations that looked to the Chinese like a state and who were powerful were called by a term that attempted to transliterate their own names and which did not use the dog classifier.7


It is important to note that the Mongols and Manchus both conquered China and established their own dynasties within the Chinese cultural area. Further, in support of Eberhard’s claim, neither group’s Chinese character included a “dog” radical. The same is true for the Tibetans, who in 763 AD conquered the Chinese capital of Xi’an. We must therefore make an exception to our analysis of the development of the “dog” radical: the minorities were generally located in the south by the beginning of the second millennium, were associated with a “dog man” myth, and did not have a political infrastructure to rival the Chinese state. One such significance exception to this generalization however is the Chinese “Hui” Muslims, whose name at times was written with the “dog” classifier.


Hui Muslims have long been considered a minority people within the Chinese cultural area. Termed “familiar strangers” by the contemporary Hui scholar Jonathan Lipman, Hui Muslims descend from Arab, Persian, Turkish, and Mongolian Muslims who arrived in China between the Tang and Yuan Dynasties. The process by which these Muslims became Chinese is a long and largely undocumented one. Upon first reaching during the Tang Dynasty, China Muslims were known as fanke [番客], or “barbarians who stay as guests.” Several hundred years later by the Song Dynasty, Chinese Muslims became known as tusheng fanke [土生番客], or “barbarians who stay as guests, who were born here.” By the beginning of the Ming Dynasty however Muslims were given the name “Hui” (回), which in Chinese means “to return” and might signify a continuation in the “barbarian guest” idea by positing that the Hui would one day return to the “non-Chinese” land of their origin. Nevertheless, by the Ming Dynasty, it became clear that the Hui were not leaving: Persian slowly disappeared as the local Hui lingua-franca, and many Hui participated in government and took the Civil Service Examination. As Dru Gladney wrote of the Hui during this period: “Han chauvinism found its most derogatory expression in the Ming Dynasty by adding to the Chinese ideograph for Hui (回) the radical for “dog” (犭).”8 But at the same time, the early Manchu Qing emperors, in the wake of Han persecution of the Hui, were famous for repeating: “The Han and Hui are one people.” With these contradictory realities in mind, what explains the occasional usage of the “dog” radical in the context of China’s Hui Muslims?

一直以来,在中国的文化领区内,回族穆斯林都被认为是少数民族。当代回文化学者Jonathan Lipman曾用“熟悉的陌生人”来称呼他们,因为他们是在唐朝至元朝时期从阿拉伯、波斯、土耳其,蒙古等地区迁来中国的穆斯林信众。这些穆斯林逐渐成为中国人的过程则十分漫长,且缺乏资料记录。唐朝时期,这些穆斯林初抵中原时,被称作“番客”——以客人身份留下的野蛮人。到了几百年以后的宋朝,其称呼变成了“土生番客”——出生在此的以客人身份留下的野蛮人。但是到了明朝初期,穆斯林们获得了“回”这个名称,这也许是对“客人身份野蛮人”概念延续:他们认为回民总有一天会回到中国以外的他们的起源地。然而,到明朝中后期,很显然回族人并没有任何打算离开的意思:作为回族人之间的交流语言的波斯语开始逐渐消失,许多回人开始参与政府事务,并参加公务员考试。Dru Gladney这样描述该时期:“明朝时的汉人在民族主义驱使下,做出了其能想到的最具贬义的表达,即在代表回族的汉字上添加了‘反犬旁’”8。但同时,清朝的前几任满族皇帝虽然同样继续着汉人对回民的迫害,却经常把“汉回一家亲”挂在嘴边。考虑到凡此种种相互矛盾的现实情况,到底该如何解释间或使用“反犬旁”来指代中国回族穆斯林这个现象呢?

It has already been established that the association of the Yao people with the “dog man” myths precipitated the association of the Chinese character for the Yao people and their immediate neighbors with the “dog” radical. While this phenomenon to a certain extent spread to other minorities within the Chinese cultural area, we have also noted that this was not done indiscriminately, as the characters of certain minority peoples who were perceived as powerful were explicitly not written with the radical. The Hui however had no connection with a “dog man” myth, nor were they located primarily in the south. But by the early Ming Dynasty, the character for the Hui people had begun to be written with the “dog” radical on at least certain occasions, often tied to local circumstances. David Atwill, in his book The Chinese Sultanate, wrote in reference to the extremely violent Hui insurrection of the 19th century, the Panthay Rebellion:

已经可以确定的是,瑶族人与“犬人”神话的关系导致了指代瑶族及其近邻的汉字带有“反犬旁”。虽然这个现象在某种程度上也影响到了中国文化领区内其他少数民族,但我们注意到,这种影响并非不加选择的,因为某些较为强大的少数民族显然没有被添加“反犬旁”。回族既与“犬人”神话无关,又并不聚居在南方地区,但到了明朝早期,用来指代回民的汉字便带上了“反犬旁”,至少在某些特定场合下是这样的,通常用在用来描述当地情况时。David Atwill在他的著作《中国苏丹》中这样描述19世纪的暴力回民叛乱(史称云南回变):

Although the Hui were not considered Yi (barbarian), they did not escape many of the derogatory characterizations employed by the Han when describing the non-Han. The clearest indication of this is that many chroniclers appended a “dog” radical to the Hui character – a practice reserved almost exclusively for ethnonyms of the Yi peoples, who were viewed as culturally inferior by the Han.9


Thus, beginning in the Ming Dynasty but continuing until the 20th century, the character for Hui at times was written with the “dog” radical during periods of political persecution or insurrection. In reality, we can only approach the question of the Hui locally because of the fact that, more than any other Chinese ethnic group, the Hui are located in nearly every province of China, unlike the Tibetans, Mongols, or Uyghurs who are located in specific areas. Chinese people, from Beijing to Chengdu were thus confronted with Hui communities speaking Chinese and adopting Chinese customs but who remained nonetheless distinct from the Han population. The particularity of the occasions when the “dog” radical was used to designate the Hui people can thus tell us something about the “dog” radical itself – that, by the 17th and 18th centuries, the “dog” radical reflected a purely “barbarian” “otherness” quality that was fundamentally mutable, unlike the “dog myth” origins of other Chinese minorities, which once associated with a group seemed to be fixed.10 In the case of the Panthay Rebellion of Yunnan that Atwill mentioned, in the face of an impending Han massacre of their people, the Hui established an independent state for over ten years until it was suppressed by the Qing. The addition of the “dog” radical during this period then underscores that while the Hui were pulling away from the Chinese cultural area, Chinese scribes reflected this “pulling away” by emphasizing Hui “otherness” in the writing of their ideogram. In short, the presence of the “dog” radical in the Hui context gives us an example where we can be sure there was absolutely no connection to a “dog man” myth – the “dog” radical, used only sporadically in the case of the Hui, nevertheless was indubitably used to reflect the “otherness,” “foreignness,” and “barbaric” qualities of the group when there was a call for these attributes to be accentuated.


The story of the Chinese “dog” radical ends in the 1950s with the state-sponsored simplification effort to streamline the Chinese character set. [Jennifer Ball’s note: This is not accurate as the word for “Jewish” still has the dog radical: 犹太.] According to Zhou Youguang in The Historical Evolution of Chinese Languages and Scripts, the project involved two major phases between 1955 and 1956: the “eradication of variations of individual characters” and the “simplification of complicated characters.” As the “dog” radical was considered a “variation” of the ways to write certain minority names, the use of it was eradicated by 1955, along with 1,052 other “variations” in the writing of certain ideograms. Though it has been seldom noted in academic publications, the state simplification project coincided historically with the ethnic classification project – the minzu shibie gongzuo (民族识别工作 ) and the case of the “minority problem” was an area where both projects inevitably met. With regards to the ethnic classification project, teams of ethnographers and anthropologists were sent out to various geographical regions to record and report how many “ethnic minorities” existed in a particular area. The efforts varied widely: Thomas Mullaney reported in his article “Ethnic Classification Writ Large: The 1954 Yunnan Province Ethnic Classification Project and its Foundations in Republican-Era Taxonomic Thought” that the anthropologists in Yunnan initially believed there were hundreds of minorities living in that single province. Upon hearing this, the central government demanded the number be streamlined, as Mao wanted all minorities to be represented at the 1956 People’s Congress, but certainly not hundreds of them. Ultimately, China was proclaimed to have merely fifty-five recognized ethnic minorities across the entire country and one, unified Han people. Thus, as the Chinese characters were streamlined in the 1950s, so were the ethnic minorities themselves. In terms of the character simplification project, the “dog” radical had to be eliminated because it represented a variation in the writing of the characters, but in terms of the ethnic identification project of the 1950s, the “dog” radical had to be eliminated because all ethnic groups were now considered “Chinese” even if they were not considered “Han,” a distinction that was not made historically. Two thousand years of systematic and cultural exclusion was methodically overturned in the 20th century, with the birth of the modern Chinese nation state and its concept of citizenship which held that citizens of a nation could not be considered radically differentiated from each other, let alone considered or associated with “dogs.”

关于中文里“反犬旁”的故事结束于上世纪五十年代,在政府的支持下,中国开始进行汉字简化工作。[包弫注:这一点并不准确,因为代表“犹太人”的汉字仍然包含反犬旁。]据周有光在《中国语文的时代演进》一书中所述,该工作在1955年到1956年间经历了两个主要阶段:“独立汉字变体的消除”以及“复杂汉字的简化”。由于“反犬旁”被认为是用来书写某些少数民族名称的“变体”,在1955年的时候便停止了该偏旁的使用,同时消除的还有其他汉字的1052个变体。尽管很少有发表的学术文章会提到这一点,但该汉字简化工作与当时的另一个项目的历史时间是重叠的——即民族识别工作。在处理“少数民族问题”时,这两个项目便会不可避免地产生交集。在民族识别工作中,许多人种学者和人类学家被派到各个地理区域去,记录并报告该地区有多少“少数民族”存在。然而,各地为此所做的努力普遍有所不同:Thomas Mullaney在他的文章《民族识别工作聚焦:1954年云南省民族识别工作及其在共和时期分类学思维上的基础》(Ethnic Classification Writ Large: The 1954 Yunnan Province Ethnic Classification Project and its Foundations in Republican-Era Taxonomic Thought)中指出,云南的人类学家起初认为仅在该省便生活着数百个少数民族族群。中央政府在听到这个消息后,下令精简该数字;因为毛主席希望所有少数民族都能够在1956年的全国人民代表大会上有代表出席,但数百个超出预期。最终确认的中国少数民族数量仅仅有55个,以及一个统一的汉族。因此,在二十世纪五十年代,少数民族也同样经历了汉字所经历的精简过程。在汉字简化工作中,“反犬旁”的剔除是必须的,因为它代表的是汉字书写系统中的变体;而从民族识别工作的角度来看,这一剔除同样必不可少,因为所有即使不属于“汉族”的少数民族,从当时起都将被认可为“中国人”,该举动在此前历史上并未存在过。历经两千年的文化互斥传统,在二十世纪被有系统地推翻了,因为新中国的成立所带来的公民身份意味着,同一个国家的居民不应该被区别对待,更不要说用“反犬旁”去指代他们当中的一部分人。

The delineation of the history of the “dog” radical within the Chinese character set reveals much about Chinese history and the place of ethnic minorities within it. It appears that originally the “dog” radical may not have held an inherently negative meaning but rather have been reflective of the myths of certain peoples, such as the Yao. Throughout the centuries, in light of migrations and new associations, the “dog” radical became applied to many minorities, particularly those living in the south of China who originated from the Northern Steppes. In this process, the “dog” radical was conceived of in a new, negative light reflecting the “otherness” and “barbarity” of these minorities within the Chinese cultural area. Among all ethnic minorities who became associated with the “dog” radical, the Hui are among the most interesting because of the fact it was applied to them only sporadically during periods of inter-ethnic civil unrest and strife. This fact reflects that, by the late Imperial period, the “dog” radical had lost most, if not all of its original significance as a classifier of origin myths or native characters but simply meant “otherness,” “foreignness,” and “non-civility.” This was changed when, in the 20th century, China reformed the traditional character set and simultaneously became a nation-state with a modern conception of citizenship, both of which contributed to the termination of the “dog” radical as a classifier for minority ideograms. The 20th century has therefore seen an expansion in what it means to be Chinese as well as a contraction in the size and complexity of its writing system – two seemingly unrelated facts which are thoroughly linked in the case of the country’s ethnic minorities. Tracing the history of the “dog” radical reminds us however that the only way to trace the notion of Chinese identity is through examining the historical perceptions of the “familiar strangers” of China – the people who, while not being Chinese lived amongst the Chinese, and whose names were marked as graphically different because of it.




  1. Atwill, David G. The Chinese Sultanate: Islam, Ethnicity, and the Panthay Rebellion in Southwest China, 1856-1873. Stanford University Press: Stanford, 2006.
  2. De Groot, J. J. M. The Religious Systems of China: Its Ancient Forms, Evolution, History and present Aspect. Literature House. Ltd: Taipei, 1964.
  3. DeFrancis, John. The Chinese Language: Fact and Fantasy. University of Hawai‘i Press: Honolulu, 1984.
  4. Gladney, Dru. Dislocating China. University of Chicago: Chicago, 2003.
  5. Gladney, Dr. Muslim Chinese: Ethnic Nationalism in the People’s Republic. Harvard University Press: Cambridge, 1991.
  6. Goldwasser, Orly, “The principles of the hieroglyphic script,” “The new theories of categorization,” Prophets, Lovers and Giraffes: Wor(l)d Classification in Ancient Egypt. Harrassowitz Verlag: Tel Aviv, 2002.
  7. Hannas, Wm. G. Asia’s Orthographic Dilemm., Honolulu: University of Hawa‘i Press, 1997.
  8. Eberhard, Wolfram. China’s Minorities: Yesterday and Today. University of California Press: Berkeley, 1982.
  9. Lipman, Jonathan. Familiar Strangers: A History of Muslims in Northwest China. Washington University Press: Seattle, 1997.
  10. Mullaney, Thomas S. “Ethnic Classification Writ Large: The 1954 Yunnan Province Ethnic Classification Project and its Foundations in Republican-Era Taxonomic Thought.” China Information. 2004; 18; 207.
  11. Ramsey, S. Robert. The Languages of China. Princeton: Princeton University. Press, 1987.
  12. Robinson, Andrew. The Story of Writing: Alphabets, Hieroglyphs and Pictograms. Thames and Hudson: London, 1995.
  13. Rogers, Henry. Writing Systems: A Linguistic Approach. Blackwell Publishing, Oxford, 2005.
  14. Taylor, Insup and David R. Olson, eds. Scripts and Literacy: Reading and Learning to Read Alphabets, Syllabaries and Characters. Kluwer Academic Publishing: Boston, 1995
  15. White, David Gordan. Myths of the Dog-Man. University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 1991.
  16. Youguang, Zhou. The Historical Evolution of Chinese Languages and Scripts. Ohio State University: Columbus, 2003.



  1. See Goldwasser, Orly, “The Principles of the hieroglyphic script,” “The new theories of categorization,” Prophets, Lovers, and Giraffes: World Classification in Ancient Egypt, p.20.


  2. The eradication process of these “dog” radical-characters was so successful, it is today impossible to find the name Xiong-nu, among other ethnic minority “ethnonyms,” with the “dog-radical” on most Chinese character producing software, hence its absence here. Today, many Chinese people are unaware that the ethnic minorities which today are celebrated in China as examples of the diversity of “Chinese” culture, were once written with the “dog” radical.


  3. deGroot, p. 168.


  4. See White, David Gordan. Myths of the Dog-Man, p. 145.

    见White, David Gordan的《犬人传说》,第145页。

  5. There is a certain amount of academic debate around whether the Chinese believed their minorities were descended from dogs, and over the centuries the minorities simply adopted the legends as their own or whether the “man dog” legends informed Chinese scholars about the origins of the peoples. Some scholars, such as J. J. M. de Groot cite the fact that many of these “canine origin” stories are recorded in Chinese texts, which draws suspicion upon a theoretical non-Chinese origin. Nevertheless, more recently some scholars, such as David Gordan White, using Joseph Campbell’s methodology, have found similar “dog man” origin stories across Central Asia and have thus supported in their academic work the non-Chinese origins of the stories.

    至于是中国人先相信其少数民族是犬系后代且后者在几个世纪的时间里逐渐接受这一起源传说,还是“犬人”传说让中国的学者们了解到这些族群的起源,在学术界仍然存在许多争议。一些包含J.J. M de Groot在内的学者引用了这样一个事实,许多“犬系起源”的故事都被记录在中文写成的文本中,这就使人不经对非中国起源论产生怀疑。然而,近来包含David Gordan White在内的学者使用Joseph Campbell的方法论,在中亚地区也找到了类似的“犬人”起源传说,并借此来支持他们在非中国起源方面的学术研究。

  6. See White, David Gordan. Myths of the Dog-Man, p. 157.

    见White, David Gordan的《犬人传说》,第157页。

  7. Eberhard, p. 103).


  8. Gladney, p. 300).


  9. Atwill, p. 36.


  10. In the context of Chinese history and the Confucian tradition, it was possible for minority, non-Han groups to “receive, accept culture” laihua來化.


    [Translator’s note: the term “laihua”来化 cannot be found anywhere online.]


Jennifer Ball

Jennifer Ball


  1. Haku Yuki on 11/23/2019 at 1:21 am

    “Radical” is not a good translation of “旁”. 旁 is short for 偏旁 which means “component” or “functional component”. “Radical” in Chinese is “部首” which is used to describe the way dictionaries organize characters.
    “表意符号” doesn’t mean “ideogram”, it means the component which has semantic value in the character. Also called 義符 meaning component. Furthermore, Chinese characters aren’t ideograms, they are logograms.

    • Jennifer Ball Jennifer Ball on 11/23/2019 at 7:06 pm

      Florian Coulmas writes in The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Writing Systems, “The Chinese writing system is often cited as an example of logography, but it is better described as a morphosyllabic system.” Wikipedia concurs, “A purely logographic script would be impractical for most languages, and none is known, except for one devised…”

      I will speak to the translator, Maggie Li, about your translation issues.

      Thanks for being my first real comment out of an approximate 534 comments. It is much appreciated!

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