Chinese Writing from 5000 B.C. to Present
Writing started at the moment when phonetic elements were introduced to the pictograph. Using this criterion, it has been proposed that Chinese writing probably started at about 3000 BC (Chen, 1977)
Pottery writing 陶文 (5000 to 1600 BC): Pottery scripts are likely the precursors of Chinese writing. Fig. 1 shows Yangshao pottery wares. Fig.2 shows Incised marks on pottery from Banbo site, Xi’an, Yang-shao culture (4800-4200 BC). Fig. 3 shows pottery writings from Er-li-tou culture (c. 1600 BC).
Oracle-bone writing 甲骨文 (1600 to 1100 BC): The oracle-bone inscriptions are
the earliest body of writing we yet possess for
East Asia. They were written in a script (Shang-dynasty script) that was
ancestral to all subsequent forms of Chinese writing. The degree of
maturity of this truly archaic writing (1600 to 1100 BC) indicates that
even earlier writing in China dated before 1600 BC remains to be
discovered. Although the survived documents were all inscribed on
animal bones and turtle shells, other media such as bamboo sticks, wood
tablets and silk must be used at that time or earlier.
The most useful web site for oracle bone inscriptions 甲骨文全文影像資料庫
Bronze writing 金文 (1400 to 700 BC): Literally "Gold writing", it refers to the formal script engraved in Shang and Zhou bronze vessels. Their styles were somewhere between oracle-bone writing and Da-zhuan.
(1045 BC) (1200 BC)
小篆 (221 BC)
Da-zhuan 大篆 (1000 to 200 BC): The Chinese writing in the late Shang and early
Zhou dynasties underwent stylistic change. Most of the Da-zhuan
inscriptions were discovered in bronze vessels. Da-zhuan literally means
"greater seal" is also called Zhou.
This was the style of writing
used in the numerous inscriptions cast into the bronze vessels, both
secular and sacred, of the Late Shang and, in far greater numbers, the
Chou dynasties. Since the inscriptions are generally intaglio in the body
of the vessels, one can see that skillful carving of clay was required to
produce these results. Various methods were employed, but in general,
designs were first written with brush and ink on a clay surface; the
graphs were then cut into the clay to produce an intaglio mold; from that
mold, a negative clay cast of the inscription, in relief, was made, and
that clay, bearing the "negative" of the inscription, was inserted into
the outside of the clay model which was to form the central core about
which the outer piece molds were then placed. The calligraphy of these
greater-seal inscriptions, accordingly, as we see it in the bronze
vessels, betrays its carved, seal-like, ceramic origins, again
manifesting, as the lesser seal was to do, rather stiff and mechanical
qualities. The form was a product of the technology.
Xiao-zhuan 小篆 (200 BC to present): The development of
the Xiao-zhuanstyle of writing was attributed to Li Si, the famous and
controversial prime minister of Qin Dynasty. It literally means "lesser
seal". This style writing was used all the way to Han and later dynasties.
refers to the fact that its graphs were engraved or cast on the seals or
"chops" of wood, ceramic, or bronze by which administrators, in
particular, would sign their documents and letters. The characters look
carved, the strokes being unmodulated, of uniform width, and rather
mechanical and geometric in appearance. The austerity, dignity, balance,
and symmetry of the graphs is well captured in the traditional
appellations for the script: t'ieh hsien, "iron wires," or
yu chin, "jade muscles." The lesser-seal calligraphy reproduced
here a late copy, supposedly of the inscription on a stele, erected by
Ch'in Shih Huang Ti, the First Emperor, two years after he unified China
in 221 B. C.; the stele was one of six "propaganda posters" he erected in
various parts of China, praising his benevolent rule. Political unity was
reinforced by the unification of many aspects of culture, involving the
various regional writing systems that had flourished during the Eastern
Chou. Ch'in Shih Huang Ti's prime minister, Li Ssu 李斯, is, in fact, credited
with inventing the lesser-seal script and standardizing both the size and
the shape of its characters. The Ch'in state in general and Li Ssu in
particular relied heavily on totalitarian methods of social control, and
one can understand how critics of the Ch'in have seen these totalitarian
qualities reflected in the rigidity of its graph forms. Such retrospective
prejudices aside, hsiao chuan remained the script for formal official
writing during the Han dynasty. It continues in use to this day in
certain consciously archaicizing contexts, such as posters, greeting
cards, and even in advertisements with cultural pretensions.
Li shu 隸書 (200 BC to present): Literally "Clerkly script" or script of people of lower status. Li shu was probably started in 500 BC and became popular after Qin dynasty. The so-called li shu, "clerkly script" or script of people of low status, was characterized by its rapid, flowing strokes that were suited to the needs of the clerks who staffed the growing imperial bureaucracy of the Han dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 220). The marked differences in the width of those strokes gave the graphs a varied and aesthetically pleasing appearance and promised future calligraphers considerable freedom of expression. The li shu was not invented all at once; it probably existed in rudimentary form as far back as the time of Confucius in the sixth century B. C., if not earlier.
行書 (1000 AD)
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