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Genesis and Chinese Characters

Chinese Characters in Genesis

(Letter Published in The Creation Research Society Quarterly, Vol. 19, June, 1982)

Comment on The Discovery of Genesis: How the Truths of Genesis Were Found Hidden in the Chinese Language
by C. H. Kang and Ethel Nelson

I read The Discovery of Genesis about one and one half years ago, having borrowed it from a friend; but I was not as much impressed as Mr. Swanson was. [1] I found a great number of the proposed etymologies to be far-fetched, as, indeed, Mr. Swanson admits they might seem. To me one of the most blatant examples was the statement that the symbol for fire, which is surely a pictogram of leaping flames, was derived from a glorified man, simply because the two signs are somewhat similar. (But the early forms, as shown, were not.) [I cannot reproduce the list of pictograms that was originally printed with this letter, but the early form for “fire” looks nothing like a man, it looks more like a bowl with flames rising out of it.—Ed.]

These and other signs are shown in the adjacent chart of Chinese Character.
There “M” indicates the Mandarin pronunciation, according to the Wade-Giles romanization: “C” indicates Cantonese, according to the Yale romanization.

Another pictogram, which the book explains as an ideogram, which it is not, is that for clothes. Note the original form. [The original pictogram for “clothes” looks nothing like the later depiction.—Ed.]

Another fault of the book is that it often ignores the fact that some Chinese characters are phonetic in nature, so that every single element need not contribute to the meaning. I believe that jouh (tsao) is one of these, goru (kao) giving an approximation to the sound, while the radical “go” gives the general class of the word. Again, another meaning of the character for “create” or “make” is “go to” or “reach;” and here the force of the radical becomes apparent.

(I am giving for these Chinese words first the Cantonese pronunciation, with which I am more familiar, then in brackets the Mandarin.)

Laahm (lan), and gam (chin), based on the phonetic lahm (lin) are further examples. Other words containing this phonetic are “gonorrhea,” “elegant,” “heavy” (i.e., rain) and “gem”: and it is hard to see any connection between these and the Garden of Eden. In fact, the reduplication of “tree” does not indication specifically two trees, but a number of trees, as is shown by the character for “woods” or “forest.” In this connection, the sign with three elements means more particularly “forest,” i.e., a large number of trees.

I myself used to cite the character for “ship,” with which I have been familiar for years, as evidence of the Flood. However, Wilder and Ingram state that the character is “of modern construction, not much over 2,000 years ago—long after the deluge.” They suggest that, rather, it is a fusion of the general character for “boat” and that for “coast.” [2]

Anyone reading The Discovery of Genesis who is not already familiar with Chinese characters, or has not access to other books on etymology, should be warned that the book is overly speculative…

I do agree that the character for “righteousness” indicates the time when the sacrifice to make me (see chart) righteous was a sheep or goat. Today, at least in southern China, the pig is the large animal most commonly sacrificed. The pig, or course, is an unclean animal in the Old Testament.

I must add here, however, that Wilder and Ingram provide an alternate explanation: that I am righteous when I become lamb-like or peaceable rather than belligerent. [3}


[1] Swanson, Ralph, 1981. Review of The Discovery of Genesis. Creation Research Society Quarterly 18 (4) : 228.

[2] Wilder, G. D. and J. H. Ingram. 1974. Analysis of Chinese Characters. Dover Publications. New York. P. 119.

[3] Ibid., pp. 160-161.

Daniel D. Rees
Hong Kong
Received 17 June, 1981

Letter from a Chinese expert on “Genesis and Chinese characters”
I e-mailed someone I found on the web, Mike Wright, whose linguistic qualifications are in speaking about “Genesis and Chinese characters”. Here are Mikeʼs qualifications that I copied off of his website, followed by his response to the article at the Answers in Genesis website:

I spent most of my 20 years in the US Army as a translator of Mandarin Chinese and Japanese documents. I have also studied, to a greater or lesser extent, Taiwanese (Holo/Hokkien) Chinese, Arabic, Hebrew, Malay/Indonesian, Vietnamese, Spanish, German, and French. I attended the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center at the Presidio of Monterey, California for 47-week courses in Mandarin (1963), Japanese (1967-68), and Egyptian Arabic (1973). I also spent a year there (1979-80) on a team writing Mandarin extension courses for interrogators. I lived in Taiwan for 20 months (1964-66) and in Japan for 7.5 years (1968-72 and 1976-79). Unfortunately, I didnʼt get much chance to use my Arabic, so my skills have completely atrophied. I havenʼt worked as a translator since 1980 and Iʼm not a linguist, but Iʼm still fascinated by languages and linguistics. Iʼm very interested in learning about Chinese linguistics, especially dialectology and reconstructions of earlier stages of the language. Iʼm also interested in Japanese as it relates to the reconstruction of Chinese. The Chinese dialect that interests me most is my wifeʼs dialect, Taiwanese Holo. Iʼve put up a Web page on the missionary romanization system, which is the most common system used for Holo.
Mike Wrightʼs website

For now, here are a couple of comments on the Answers in Genesis article.
(my comments preceded by ***):

“ShangDi, the Creator-God of the Chinese, surely appears to be one and the same as the Creator-God of the Hebrews. In fact, on of the Hebrew names for God is El Shaddai, which is phonetically similar to ShangDi. Even more similar is the Early Shou pronunciation of ShangDi which is ‘djanh-tigh’ [Zhan-dai].”

*** This looks a bit garbled. Hebrew “el” means “God”, and “shaddai” means Almighty”. Therefore, “shaddai” is an epithet for God, not a name of God. On the other hand, “shangdi” is composed of two morphemes, “shang” meaning “top, up, over, above” and “di”, meaning “ruler, emperor”. “Shaddai” is a single morpheme. It cannot be broken into two morphemes to match the Chinese.

Thereʼs little phonetic similarity, even in the modern forms.

Next, itʼs early Zhou, not “Shou”. And the common reconstruction is Karlgrenʼs (_Grammata Serica Recensa_): d^iang tieg (the “d^” being palatalized). Hereʼs how the two compare using ASCII IPA for consistency across languages:

shaddai: [Saddai]
diang tieg: [d^iaN tieg]

Not much resemblance there. ([Zhan-dai] is totally absurd. It looks like an attempt to use Pinyin romanization to render ‘djanh-tigh’, but itʼs obviously nonsense. Besides, Pinyin “zh” is a retroflex affricate, [d.S.], which is nothing like the Hebrew sound represented by “sh”.)

“The associated box shows some startling realities about the written Chinese language, indicating that we are all related - and not so long ago. All people in the world, not just the Chinese, are descended from the inhabitants of Babel, the first civilization after the Flood. God first gave His promise of a coming saviour, the “eed of the Woman”, in Genesis (3:15). The foreshadowed sacrifice of the coming Lamb of God, Creator and Saviour, is as old as mankind”.

*** The imitation parchment graphic is full of errors (my quotes are from _Chinese Characters_, by Dr. L. Wieger, S.J.):

woman + trees = desire, covet
Nope. The two trees “lin” are phonetic in the compound character, “lan”.

serpent + trees = negative, no, not
Nope. Itʼs “two divergent rods which one seeks to tie together”.

mouth + tree = restrain
Nope. “To encompass a tree, here taken to mean any object; to tie; to knot.”

tree + enclosure (garden) = difficulty
Nope. The original character was a bit different from the modern form, so “Weariness, exhaustion that forces [one] to stop on the way, to sleep under a tree. The modern form represents the same idea, but not so clearly; a camping under a tree.” Note that many Southern Chinese languages have a word, also pronounced “kun”, that means “to sleep”.

hand + lance + me + sheep = righteousness
Nope. There is no hand. Rather, the word for “I” is composed of two lances. “Two weapons in conflict, two rights that oppose one another, my right, and, by extension, my Ego.” The sheep has the “Idea of sweetness, of peace, of harmony”, thus the full character is “Harmony, good, understanding, peace restored after a conflict; convention concluded after a disagreement, restoring concord and giving satisfaction to the interested parties. Hence all the derived meanings…”

noble person + lamb, sheep = beautiful
Close enough. “A man resembling to the lamb, sweet, gentle, good”.

Of course, itʼs interesting that only the Chinese knew as far back as the 18th century BC that Jesus was going to be sacrificed—which is the whole point of this little exercise.

Mike Wright

AIG deleted web address of article that questioned “Chinese Characters and Genesis”

Question: Why Did AIG delete the URL below? (Link) And why doesnʼt AIG engage the actual article itself instead of this fellowʼs brief letter?

“This letter comes from…a professing Christian…who…refers to an infidel web site…[which claims] Christians [are] misusing the studies of Chinese writing to show that the Chinese people had a common history with other people, right back to Creation, the Garden of Eden, the Fall and the Flood, etc…His letter is printed entire, apart from a deleted URL (our clearly stated feedback rules do not allow advertising of other web sites).”

Note: I have been searching the web for quite some time and have found many Christian websites that cite the “Chinese Characters” argument. Wouldnʼt you know that the one website that asks questions concerning that argument is one that AIG will not even publish, even if it is inside a letter sent to them. By the way, I could not find the website that AIG deleted. I will have to ask AIG, though I bet they didnʼt save it. So I will have to write the author of the original letter to AIG. *smile*

Genesis and Chinese Characters (summary)

Based on the letter I found in the Creation Research Society Quarterly, and the letter from Mike Wright (which I already posted to the group), it would appear that the ability to “discover references to Genesis” in Chinese characters is not very spectacular. It involves

  1. Ignoring the shapes of the original oldest forms of each character and instead comparing much more recent ones.
  2. Confusing the spoken marks (phonemes)with the ideograms.
  3. Sloppy research.

For those who wish to study the matter in depth, I searched Amazon and found some books on the origins of various Chinese characters, what the earliest forms were of each symbol, what they meant, what they came to mean, etc. At the end I am also including two reviews I at Amazon that question the two books that advocate the “Genesis found in Chinese Characters” hypothesis.

Analysis of Chinese Characters (Dover Language Books and Travel Guides) by G.D. Wilder and J.H. Ingram

Reviewer: (ctjb2@c…) from UK

Basically a summary of Wiegerʼs etymological dictionary with a few added proposals by other etymologists. Like “Wieger”, it is a very old book (1920s) and only deals with seal characters which sometimes do not show the true origins of characters that have been uncovered since from the bone-shell scripts etc. A good book but I would definitely buy “Wieger” first.

Chinese Characters: Their Origin, Etymology, History, Classification and Signification

(Dover Books on Language) by L. Wieger

Reviewer: (ctjb2@c…) from UK
Any serious student of Chinese character etymology must buy this book. It was a pioneering work when produced and 80 years on it is still extremely useful. Its does have a few problems in that its systems for looking up characters are poor and often time-consuming and the romanisation is wade-giles. Also bear in mind that having been written in the 1920s it only deals with seal characters and therefore it does not have some of the most up-to-date etymological research that has since been carried out on bone-shell characters etc. Apart from this it is a masterpiece.

Chinese Characters: A Genealogy and Dictionary
Rick Harbaugh (Editor)

Reviewer: A reader from Illinois
The best thing about this book is that it provides explanations that help the student make sense of the elements in each Chinese character. To the best of my knowledge, these are not made-up fantasies, but based on established Chinese etymologies. But for the student, the important point is that the etymologies assist in committing the characters to memory. Moreover, in addition to the etymologies, the book not only provides examples of the character in compounds, but also includes references to compounds where it appears as the second element, making it an excellent tool for learning new vocabulary. Although it is not primarily a dictionary, the arrangement and indexes mean that one can use it that way. I wish my teachers had taught me in accordance with the explanations in this book when I started studying Chinese 20+ years ago. I still find it useful as an aid to learning characters and their compounds.

Books Advocating the “Genesis Found in Chinese Characters” Hypothesis

Genesis and the Mystery Confucius Couldnʼt Solve
by Ethel R. Nelson, Richard E. Broadberry

Reviewer: A reader from VA USA

Hold on there, dudes. Etymology of Chinese characters does NOT prove that they independently developed a prehistory based on Adam and Eve and the Great Flood. The Chinese alphabet evolved much later than Sumerian. Historians already recognize that trade brought not only the idea of writing from Sumer to other cultures but also their prehistory. All we can accurately say is that Sumerian writing and prehistory influenced the development of Chinese writing. That is not the same thing as saying that China preserved its own memory of the same events. Please do read the book, but with a healthy context rather than a wild eyed, unsubstantiated and unsupportable conclusion.

The Discovery of Genesis: How the Truths of Genesis Were Found Hidden in the Chinese Language
by C. H. Kang, Ethel Nelson

Reviewer: A reader from USA
The basic idea, that Chinese characters reflect influence from a source that also inspired Genesis, is interesting. However, one of the writers insists upon couching that idea within the absurdity that everything in Genesis is literally true. She assumes that Babel occurred in 2218 BC. This is sheer nonsense, since Sumer, Egypt, India and cultures of western Europe all had thriving civilizations and separate languages (all of them written) long before that, in some cases more than 1000 years earlier. Another flaw stems from the admittance that one of the words for God entails a triune character set, indicative of the Holy Trinity. Without batting an eye, she claims that this predates Christianity by more than 2000 years. It seems far more reasonable to conclude that it reflects additional characters added to the original Chinese writing during the Christian era, especially since it is one among many words that mean God. Although she claims that the earliest Christian contact with China was in the 7th century AD, that character symbol alone is evidence of an earlier, unrecorded contact. This writer is a close minded creationist who tries to force evidence that doesnʼt fit into a pet contention. Then she accuses anyone who refuses to accept that heavily disproven idea of being close minded!

Letter from a Chinese expert on “Genesis and Chinese characters”

Hi Edward,

I have Rick Harbaughʼs book He has a Web page at where you can look up character origins—if you can figure out how to use it, since itʼs designed for students of the language. He tried out his ideas there before writing the book. We corresponded for a while before the book came out, and he asked me to create a list of Buddhist terminology for him, but my wifeʼs stroke came at about that time, and it put everything else out of my mind for many months.

For those with a more general interest in the nature of Chinese writing and its relationship to the language(s), I recommend _The Chinese Language: Fact and Fantasy_, by John DeFrancis, ISBN 0-8248-1068-6. This reinforces very strongly that there is a strong phonetic component to the characters. DeFrancis shows that while only about one-third of the character inventory had phonetic components during the time of the Oracle Bones (Shang Dynasty, 1766-1154 BC), this had grown to include 97 percent of the characters by the 12th century AD. Itʼs also worth noting that the Oracle Bones used only 977 characters. This number grew over time:

Shang Dynasty: 977
2nd Century AD: 9,000-10,000
12th Century AD: 23,000-24,000
18th Century AD: 48,000-49,000

As the letter you quoted pointed out, it is necessary to know when a character was invented before making up stories about where it came from.

For an idea of how the pronunciation of earlier stages of the language can be reconstructed, thereʼs a great pair of books by E.G. Pulleyblank, _Middle Chinese: A Study in Historical Phonology_ (ISBN 0-7748-0192-1) and _Lexicon of Reconstructed Pronunciation in Early Middle Chinese, Late Middle Chinese, and Early Mandarin_ (ISBN 0-7747-0366-5). Being textbooks, these arenʼt cheap. I got mine “used” (but actually brand new) at a great savings through.

Regarding the last book review you mentioned, do you know the details of the following?

“Another flaw stems from the admittance that one of the words for God entails a triune character set, indicative of the Holy Trinity.”

I donʼt get what that means. Any idea?

Mike Wright

I found the URL that AIG deleted—on “Genesis and Chinese Characters”
I contacted Peter Seebach (known as “Seebs” on the web) He is the one who questioned Answers in Genesis concerning their “Genesis and Chinese Characters Hypothesis,” and he informed me:

“I admit to not being exactly an expert, but frankly, the AIG stuff (and everything else dating back to that one horribly ill-considered book) shows a great and consistent lack of comprehension of Chinese etymology; they never once address the question of phonetic radicals, and they have to stretch and insert and remove… Itʼs 50,000 words, of *course* thereʼs a few near-misses.”

“I was very disappointed by their response; up until then, Iʼd been under the impression that AIG were sincere in their interest in pursuing the facts of the case, and using only arguments that hadnʼt been debunked.”

“One point: They are half-right about the ‘ba’ in the character for ‘hip’ depending on who draws the character, it may or may not get drawn that way - but this doesnʼt matter, since the entire right-hand side of the character is a phonetic radical.”

“I wrote a brief summary of this issue at the Internet Infidels Forum.

It was also discussed in the Science, Creation and Evolution FORUM at Christian Forums
[AiG responds to Seebs—21st August 2002]

[Analyzing crazy eights for seebs—30th August 2002]

And in the Talk Origins Newsgroup:

Creationism and the etymology of Chinese characters” Date: 2002-05-25

[Below is the same as above, but with the threads of the discussion visible to the left of the screen}
Creationism and etymology Chinese characters Date: 2002-05-25

More bogus Chinese character analysis

Hi Edward,

While searching on “Chinese characters” and trinity, I found the following:
Chinese Characters, The Genesis Site

This site is also based on Kang and Nelson, and there are several pages (click the right arrow button at the bottom of each page).

The first Web page isnʼt bad, but the next five are full of errors. The most obvious error, of course, is analyzing radical-phonetic compounds as though they were ideographic.

However, many components of ideographic compounds are also misidentified. And unitary pictographs are also incorrectly analyzed as ideographic compounds. These last two kinds of errors are made easy by the use of modern character forms, rather than going back to the old seal styles.

One example is the character for “spirit”, that includes what Nelson takes to be three “mouth” characters, representing the “three persons” of the Christian Trinity. The character, pronounced “ling”, consists of the “rain” radical on top, the three “mouths” in a row below that, and an element referring to magicians/sorcerors at the bottom. Unfortunately, there is an older character, consisting of “rain” at the top, with three circles (not the typical “mouth” character shape) representing raindrops below it. This character is also pronounced “ling”, and it is actually the phonetic element in the character “ling” for “spirit. Kinda pathetic, isnʼt it? You can see this one at the very bottom of:
Part II, Creation

There seems to be a sort of desperation in this grasping for support—only the most desperate would resort to such patent sophistry.

Another page by Nelson includes a footnote that says, “Until 1911, the Chinese emperors celebrated a sacrificial rite very similar to that of the Hebrews. Analysis of the early character forms indicates that the ancient Chinese worshiped the same Creator-God as the Hebrews.”

Of course, the sacrifice was to the emperorʼs ancestors (and the emperor was not the only one to make such sacrifices). Wiegerʼs _Chinese Characters_ has a section on this.

Mike Wright

AIG, “other peopleʼ” motives, The Tower of Babel, Chinese Characters and Genesis

Why Did AIG delete the URL below? Itʼs always been there.

My fault, poor English, I meant that AIG had deleted the URL in that personʼs response to them, a URL that dealt with specific arguments employed by AIG but from the angle of asking obvious questions about them. There is no intellectual reasons for doing so. Even the Internet Infidels and the Talk Origins Archive feature links to specific creationist and Christian sites that critique their articles.

How do you expect Rom. 1:18 would be manifested in academic circles? Wouldnʼt you expect that academic naturalists would resist interpretations of the data that support the biblical worldview?

I have found that people waste far too much time analyzing each otherʼs motives, of course such analyses always result in a conclusion that satisfies each critic but never the person whose motives they are criticizing. (People who do not accept either young-earth creationism or the universal revelatory truth of Rev. 1:18 would of course reply that Evangelical Christians who knew little about the origins and meaning of Chinese characters were drawing “faces in the clouds” with their various hypotheses concerning their origins. Speaking of which have you ran across any of the Moslem websites that feature stores of “discovering” the names of Allah and Mohammad in a line of trees, or in a sliced tomato, or on the side of an Angel fish? And of course Catholics see Jesus and Mary and crosses in window pane reflections, billboards, even oil spills. Believers see what believers see. I am not going to argue with you that non-believers also see what they see. I am however, going to ask you to examine the evidence as I did in all of my posts on this subject so far. The Genesis/Chinese-character hypothesis is far from proven. It is highly disputed and clearly disputable.

I would hardly expect Establishment ethnologists or linguists or etymologists to support an interpretation of Chinese linguistic history that supports Genesis.

As I said above, I am not going to discuss motives. I will discuss particular interpretations of particular Chinese characters. You can of course read the works that were cited to check the history of particular Chinese terms, the evolution of their forms. And you can study the way Chinese characters are composed of both spoken and pictoral characters.

A corollary expectation is that multiple societies *should* have group memories of Genesis events up to Babel. They should, and we find that they do.

If you want to find out about the evolution of languages there are some fine books out there. Languages keep evolving you know. Just compare Old English with modern English.

So far as the story of Babel goes I do not understand why building a great city and tower led to a visit from Yahweh who “came down” to see it, and then decided to “confuse manʼs language” because of it. If that was the case, then what about all the skyscrapers built since then, or the satellites and spacecraft sent up far higher than any tower, all done even WITH our languages being “confused.”

I find it both intriguing and sad that so many Christians who claim to honour Godʼs word end up taking the side of naturalists against it.

Interpretation: You find it sad that people do not believe as you do. (Donʼt we all?) So learn how to communicate with others on their own level. Study Chinese character etymologies, and go ahead and debate the issue, character by character, with someone with whom you disagree, using the same basic textbooks on such matters.

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