The Chinese Character Dictionary (CCD) offers a quick method for locating simplified as well as traditional characters. Both are dealt with in the same way, in other words: one dictionary, two (writing) systems. To distinguish the one from the other the simplified characters are placed within square brackets.
All characters are grouped into series, and each series is headed by an identifier called the series header (or just ‘header’), which is the part that characters of a series have in common. For most characters this header is just what is commonly called the phonetic part of the character, the part that indicates the sound (the way it is pronounced). The other part that characters are made up of is called the radical part, the part that usually refers to its meaning.
For example, this is the series headed by 敬：
As you can see in this example, at the beginning of the series is the series heading, consisting of series number + header/phonetic and a short etymology explaining the origin of the header (“From” stands for “is derived from”). At the right hand side is an example of how this header used to be written in the style of the ancient small seal script, which can be helpful in understanding the origin of the character and its development.
The etymology in the above example just explains briefly that the header consists of two parts (苟 and 攴) and what their meaning is. If you want to find out more about the origin and development of these individual parts, then you can look them up in the CCD. In this way, the CCD works also as an etymological dictionary.
Looking through the rest of this series it becomes clear that all characters contain the series header/phonetic 敬, and all, except the first one, have a different radical.
In all there are about 1800 of such series in the CCD, with 1800 headers/ phonetics. These are clustered into 393 character tables (CTs), based on one of the components that headers have in common. The example above was taken from the character table of 勹, and therefore, all other headers in that CT also contain this component, such as 句, 苟, 敬, 匐, 訇 et cetera. At the beginning of each CT is a list with all headers that can be found in that particular CT. For example, the beginning of the CT of 勹 looks as follows:
In all there are 23 series headers in this CT, each of which is at the head of a series consisting of a number of characters. If you want to find a character in this CT, then you have to search the header list for the header/phonetic that forms part of the character you are looking for. In the e-book edition, you can click on the header/phonetic which will take you directly to the series with that character. In the paperback edition, you have to turn to the page with the series number found in the header list. For example, when looking for header/phonetic 敬 in the above header list we see that it can be found at position 16, and so in either edition it can be found easily by clicking or by turning to the required page.
In other words, finding a particular character is fairly easy and straightforward, if you know in which CT it can be found. In order to understand how a user can know in which CT a particular character can be found, we have to take a closer look at how characters are composed.
As stated above, headers/phonetics (and their series) are grouped into CTs based on one of the components that they have in common. But if we look at a header/phonetic like 敬 then we see that it consists of several components: 勹, 攵, 口, and 艹. Why was 敬 allocated to the CT of 勹 and not to that of one of the other components? The answer to this lies in the order of the 393 components that all define one CT. When designing the CCD it was decided that each header/phonetic with their series of characters should be present in one CT only. Therefore, all 393 components and the 393 CTs were put in a certain order. By allocating headers/phonetics (with their series) to the CT of the first component that can be found in this ordered list (called the Main Components Table, or MCT), it was possible to give each header/phonetic and each character its unique place. 敬 was allocated to the CT of 勹 because this component is a member of category 2 of the MCT, and therefore is nearer the beginning than 口, which is a member of category 16. The remaining components 攵 and 艹 are radicals, and as will be explained elsewhere, have a lower priority than regular components.
The next question to answer is: how is the MCT organized, and what is the best way to locate components in it?
Next: Introduction to the Main Components Table