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A History of Chinese Writing Styles

On our page about Chinese Character Styles, we point out that Chinese characters have been undergoing a sort of stylistic evolution for centuries, illustrating the fact using one character from , the (qù), which means go.

The original pictograph, they point out, showed a man going out of his cave. Note that modern characters most resemble the fifth example below, the Exemplar style.

Left to right, these examples are:

  1. Carving found on an Oracular Bone
  2. An Inscription found on Bronze work
  3. Small Seal Style
  4. Administrative Style
  5. Exemplar Style
  6. Cursive Style ( cao shu)

On the site, you can read more about the historical development of Chinese characters. The page about Chinese characters divides the 3500 year historical evolution of Chinese writing into 4 phases, rather than the 6 listed above, and provides several examples for each. The site’s author, Larry Lo, a language enthusiast who holds down a 9-to-5 job in the software industry, provides us with insights like these:

Current theories and evidence pinpoints the first emergence of Chinese writing in the East Coasts between the Late Neolithic and the early Bronze (aka dynastic) times. The culture which occupied this area was characterized by a high degree of social organization, particularly in pottery production (parts of their pots were made separately and later assembled together). It could be that this “standardization” led to the necessity of recording dimension of pots as well as the number of pots produced, thus the impetus to create a systematic way of recording number and objects.

Larry provides us with details not just about Chinese, but about nearly 80 “Ancient Scripts” from around the world. If you’re fascinated by Chinese writing, chances are you’ll be intrigued by some of the histories and lore surrounding several other of these ancient writing systems as well.

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