I've read an article discussing transition of pictographs for Sun and Moon to hanzi. It raised following questions, but left them unanswered:

  1. Original pictographs for Sun is a circle with point in the center. What is the meaning of the point?
  2. There were added two horizontal lines (splitting it approximately in thirds) during the transition of Moon pictograph to hanzi. What is the meaning of those two lines?

I've searched through web and I have found some explanations, but they don't seem authoritative enough to me (not to mention doubts I have). For the Sun, the only explanation I've found is that the point means sun spot. As for the Moon, explanation stated that those lines mean cloud covering the Moon.

Could someone give me an explanation or recommend a book covering this problems?


1 Answer 1


I'm afraid that an explanation in any book is probably just speculation. The two characters in question have probably been around as long as Chinese characters themselves.

This site (chineseetymology.org) is a very useful resource for tracing the history of Chinese characters. In particular, it appears that both 日 and 月 were sometimes also written without the extra line, as one would expect from a pictogram:

http://www.chineseetymology.org/CharacterImages/Oracle/J10000/j15800/j15869.gif http://www.chineseetymology.org/CharacterImages/Oracle/J10000/j15800/j15887.gif

with line http://www.chineseetymology.org/CharacterImages/Oracle/J10000/j16400/j16449.gif without line http://www.chineseetymology.org/CharacterImages/Oracle/J10000/j16400/j16459.gif

although 日 without the line is rare. (Check the entries of and for many more pictures. The history of these characters starts at least some 3000 years ago with the oracle bone script found at the bottom of the page.)

As for interpreting these pictures, 新漢和大辞典 writes the following

Pictogram. A drawing of a crescent moon, waning as though being hollowed out.

Pictogram. A drawing of the shape of the sun.

In particular, no word about the line in 日.

  • 1
    I had a look at the site and it is great resource, but it seems to me, that it just lists the character variants, but it doesn't provide any detailed descriptions. Or am I missing something?
    – Petr Hrehorovsky
    Commented Jul 15, 2014 at 13:46
  • 3
    What kind of description are you looking for? Something that tells you that the dot in 日 is a sun spot? The point of my answer is that, in particular with respect to these two characters, any detailed description is very likely just speculation. By looking at 65 (resp. 231) instances of 月 (resp. 日) in its oldest form, you can speculate yourself. I'll add some speculation from 新漢和大辞典.
    – Earthliŋ
    Commented Jul 15, 2014 at 13:56
  • 4
    In fact, there're concrete and convincing (and authoritative, to some extent) answers to OP's questions in 甲骨文字典. Let's focus on oracle scripts: 1. the symbol inside the sun is used to distinguish it from other "square or circle"-shaped characters (like 口 and 丁). 2. the stroke inside the moon is to distinguish 月 and 夕. The one with that stroke gradually evolved to two bars (one edge of the moon character plus that stroke).
    – Stan
    Commented Jul 16, 2014 at 6:30
  • @Stan Looking at 甲骨文字 for 口, however, I have to say that they don't really look like 日 with the dot removed. The argument is much better for 丁, though.
    – Earthliŋ
    Commented Jul 16, 2014 at 11:48
  • I understand. J02111 on that webpage is one example. Though most of them had two "antennae" above, considering the characters were carved on bones, it was easy to miss such a detail, so I included 口 besides the much better evidence 丁. BTW I didn't down vote your answer :)
    – Stan
    Commented Jul 16, 2014 at 13:09

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