“Shooting Characters” A Phonological Game and Its Uses in Late Imperial China

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Mårten Söderblom Saarela



“Shooting [or ‘guessing’] characters” (shèzì 射字) was a game, and later a communication method, based on phonological analysis of Chinese syllables. Over time, it became used in a variety of ways, including as a teaching tool, a cipher, and a phonological writing aid for the less educated. The actual and proposed applications of one phonological game show that Chinese phonology did not just exist in books, but encompassed distinct non-written practices that were essential to its proliferation. Chinese phonology is generally studied as a source for the history of the Chinese language, but it is also of interest for the history of cultural and intellectual life.

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