Xu Shen

Xu Shen (Chinese许慎, Pinyin Xǔ Shen, Chinese style name叔 重, Pinyin Shuzhong; * in the 1st century; † after 120 ) was a Chinese scholar who lived during the Han Dynasty. He wrote the Shuowen jiezi (说文解字), the first dictionary of the Chinese language and writing.


Xu Shen came from Luohe City in Henan Province. He served as an officer in Runan. Later he moved to the provincial administration, where he most recently worked as an official in Pei County. After his retirement he lived as a private scholar and probably died at the age of 90 years.

Xu Shen was, in the judgment of the scholar Ma Rong an excellent connoisseur of Chinese writing and literature, especially the Confucian classics. Among the five classics of Confucianism, he wrote a comment under the title Wǔjīng Yiyi (Chinese五 经 异 义/五 经 异 义, Various interpretations of the Five Classics '), provide its fragments valuable insights into the understanding of the classics in the second century.

His most famous work is the Shuowen jiezi, the first systematic dictionary of Chinese. In it are 9,353 characters listed with over 1000 variations. The order of the characters after radical turned Xu Shen at first. He led the Chinese characters back to 540 radicals. Later, this number was reduced, until it was zìdiǎn by the Kangxi in 1716 set to 214.

Xu Shen saw his lexicon as a contribution to the understanding of the Confucian classics. Although he had already completed it by 100, the work was presented only in the year 121 ( reign of Emperor An) the imperial court. Since Xu Shen was already at an advanced age and no longer able to travel, put his son Xu Chong the lexicon at court.

In Yancheng there is a Xu Shen Museum (Chinese郾城县 许慎 纪念馆).