This semester, I am taking two elective courses besides my Chinese classes. I chose to take the Study of Chinese Characters and Drama Appreciation. In the Study of Chinese Characters, we study the history of Chinese characters. This means we discuss things like how characters have changed and the meaning behind characters. This is the first time I have take a deep look at the history of characters. I have discovered that I have an interest in these subject. I would like to share with you a bit about the development of Chinese characters.
Development of Chinese Characters
The oldest form of Chinese characters is called Oracle Bone Script. This script was often written on turtle shells or cow shoulder blades. This script was used during the Shang Dynasty (1600 BC – 1046 BC).
Oracle Bone Script
The next script is called Bronze Script. Bronze Script was used during the Western Zhou Dynasty (1046 BC – 771 BC). This script was often used to write family emblems and is often discovered written on bronze ware.
The next development of characters is called Large Seal Script. This script was used during the Zhou Dynasty (1046 BC – 256 BC).
Large Seal Script
During the Qin Dynasty (221 BC – 207 BC), people used Lesser Seal Script. The Qin Dynasty unified China so originally, everyone used a different script. The Qin Dynasty’s government decided to simplify Large Seal Script and then use this more simple script to standardized writing. This more simplistic script is called Lesser Seal Script.
Lesser Seal Script
During the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD), Lesser Seal Script developed into Clerical Script. Clerical Script is a simplified version of Lesser Seal Script. The change from Lesser Seal Script to Clerical Script was the biggest development in the history of Chinese characters.
The First Difference: Purposely Omitting Strokes
For the sake of convenience, Clerical Script purposely omits strokes from Lesser Seal Script characters to make characters easier to write.
The Second Difference: Curved Lines are Changed into Straight Lines
A curved line is harder to write so it is replaced by straight lines. For example, the character “已” originally was written as one curved stroke in Lesser Seal Script. However, in Clerical Script, it is written in three strokes. The change makes Clerical Script easier to write faster than Lesser Seal Script. In Lesser Seal Script, straight lines were used to describe objective things but in Clerical Script, the straight line no longer has this meaning. This is because using a straight line is no longer representative of straight objects but rather used for convenience and speed.
The Third Difference: Simplified Strokes
Clerical Script marks the first time characters have a special stroke order they are supposed to be written in. In Seal Script, characters could be written from left to write, right to left, bottom right to top left, and more ways. However, in Clerical Script, characters must be written from the right to the left. This change allowed Clerical Script to be more easily read than Seal Script. Characters also became more easy to not only write but remember how to write.
The Fourth Difference: Radicals
In Lesser Seal Script, a radical was written the same way regardless of if it was a part of a larger character or was independent. However, in Clerical Script, a radical is written differently depending on if it is a part of a larger character or standing independently. Sometimes, one radical in Lesser Seal Script was written multiple different ways in Clerical Script. For example, every time the fire radical was used in Lesser Seal Script, it was written like this: “火.” However, in Clerical Script, there are multiple ways to write the fire radical. For example,the characters “然，炙，赤，灼” all contain the fire radical but it is written differently in character. Sometimes, multiple radicals in Lesser Seal Script would become one radical in Clerical Script. For example, the radicals for “肉，月，舟，胄” were different in Lesser Seal script. However, in Clerical Script, these four radicals were merged into one: “月.”
The last development of characters is called Regular Script. This script developed during the later period of the Han Dynasty. Regular Script is the script used in Taiwan today.
Although the history of Chinese characters is a little confusing, it is incredibly interesting. I believe that studying the history of characters has allowed me to come to a deeper understanding of the importance, meaning and beauty of Chinese characters.