Atsuji Tetsuji's Bushu no hanashi 部首の話 ("Talks on Radicals") mentions, as a interesting tangential remark, that the pronunciation of 卍 in Japanese is manji because it means "man (万/萬, 'myriad') character (字, ji)". I'd never actually thought about this before; I suppose this means that manji isn't actually its pronunciation, but its name.

Poking around for more information, I found this passage in the Fanyi mingyi ji xu 翻譯名義集 ("Collection of names and meanings in [Buddhist] translations"), itself quoting a document called 華嚴音義, presumably some sort of commentary on the Avataṃsaka Sūtra (I haven't been able to identify it precisely):

T2131_.54.1147a04: [...] 案卍字。本非是字。
T2131_.54.1147a05: 大周長壽二年。主上權制此文。著於天樞音
T2131_.54.1147a06: 之爲萬。謂吉祥萬徳之所集也。

Which I think means, roughly: "The character 卍 was not originally a character. In Changshou 2 [693 AD] of her Great Zhou Dynasty, the Empress [Wu Zetian] provisionally declared that this symbol would represent (? 著於 = be represented by?) Dubhe with the sound 萬, (wàn in Chinese, man in Japanese). It means 'the gathering of auspicious signs and the myriad virtues.'"

So does this make it one of Wu Zetian's characters? I should note that I wasn't able to find any evidence that she ever declared it a symbol of the sun — all the sources I found were quite clear that she associated it with Ursa Major. Does anyone know where the sun claim comes from?

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Is the book cool? I'm just finishing my personal flashcard-based study of the Kangxi classifiers, so I'm in the mood…


It was an interesting enough read - I read it instead of studying them properly though so it may be less interesting to you. Biggest downside is that it's aimed at a popular audience so virtually never cites a source.


Maybe the Chinese work at the core of this early Japanese dictionaroid 新譯華嚴經音義私記? If so, by Tang-era Huiyuan (慧苑).


Oh, the "study" I was talking about was anything but "proper" – what I did was just to read every one of the 214 ja.wikipedia pages, making flashcards along the way.

I honestly admire the way the Japanese market has all those popular books about such dry topics as kanji classifiers and Classical grammar and kanbun and whatnot. Even if the scholarship is less than stellar, I think it's cool that these things are regularly discussed in casual language.

Aime la vérité, mais pardonne à l'erreur

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