Most helpful positive review
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
A great resource, but be forewarned
on June 27, 2004
This dictionary isn't entirely historically accurate in its geneaologies. That said, whatever is does give you in terms of the root of the characters is often very easy to remember, and it does help you remember how to write the characters, if not what they look like. For practical reasons, it's very good in that sense.
Yes, it allows you to search for characters based on pin-yin, stroke count, some sort of Mandarin pronunciation system I've never heard of, English equivalents, or by radical. You can search for characters by the part of the character that you DO recognise; obviously this builds a lot of redundancy into the dictionary, which isn't a bad thing, but it doesn't always work that way, i.e. sometimes you recognise a component of a character and want to search for it, but it just isn't there. There are simply too many bases to cover, and though it generally works, it doesn't in all cases. Another thing, I find the radical index difficult to use until you're quite a ways into studying Chinese: for example, if I see the three-dots-of-water radical, and want to find it, I can't look under 3-stroke radicals, because this radical is, in fact, listed under 4-stroke radicals in the form of the water (shui3) character. Same thing with the 3-stroke grass radical, which is actually listed under the full 6-stroke grass. Sure, the radical, when alone, is written out in 6 strokes but as part of a character, it's liposuctioned down to 3, thus, you must get used to it, which isn't a big deal after you've studied for a while, but for beginners, it's tough.
The dictionary encompasses about 4000 characters, which is quite sufficient for most students, just not for people who are very advanced, but you may still find it interesting in that case anyways.
The full text of this dictionary is available online, and as another reviewer said, search for the title of this dictionary at Google and you will get the link; Amazon doesn't let you post URLs in reviews. I think one of the big advantages of the print version is that the main entry characters are printed in calligraphy-style, whereas the computerised version contains digitised, stick-figure characters that are difficult to copy properly by hand, not to mention difficult to recognise until you're used to reading Chinese in all kinds of fonts. Likewise, with the print version, you don't need to be reading Chinese beside your computer in order to look up words, although it doesn't really matter if you're reading over the internet...
My main problem with this dictionary, which is probably one of the best and most practical for English-speaking students of Chinese, is that is uses only traditonal (aka fan3ti3zi4, complex/full characters) characters. You can't look up simplified characters, and they can only be found in small print beside the main entry traditional characters.
Now, let's set this issue straight: simplified characters are less pleasant to look at, are a slap in the face to Chinese culture and, well, just feel fake to me. The problem is, all of mainland China uses almost exclusively simplified characters, i.e. knowing how to write traditional characters might land you a job as a sign-maker or a calligrapher, but you need to be functional in simplified characters! Let's be honest; maybe 30 or 40 million people in the world, that is, Taiwan, HK and a few Chinese communities abroad use traditional characters, whereas the 1.3 billion in China all use simplified. All the literature I have available to me is in simplified characters, so this dictionary isn't all that useful in that sense. Don't buy it thinking you'll get by without a hitch: the differences between simplified and traditional characters may not be a big deal for natively literate Chinese, and you can get used to the differences, but for beginners, it can be impossible. You don't want to be in the dictionary guessing from 10 entries, which traditional character most resembles the simplified character you're looking for. Don't do that to yourself. If you buy this dictionary but want to study simplified characters, get another dictionary as well to help you w/ simplified characters. Still, this dictionary helps you learn and appreciate the characters, and less than half of all characters are simplified anyways, so it's not useless, but you'll need another dictionary as an aid.
Otherwise, the only other thing I could wish for is a larger size dictionary. This one is about the size of an old Gameboy; i.e. very portable but the indices are printed so small they give me headaches if I'm doing heavy duty work in the dictionary. I wish there were an encyclopaedia or telephone book-sized volume with bigger print for those of us who don't need to take the dictionary backpacking in the Himalayas. Other than that, a great buy, you won't regret it, but like other people say, it won't be the only dictionary you'll ever need. It also comes shrink-wrapped, which may make it more difficult to return.