Ancient Chinese writing progressed from the exercise of divination during the Shang empire (1600-1046 BCE). Part theories indicate that images and also markings on ceramic shards found at half Po town are proof of an early writing system but this insurance claim has been challenged repeatedly.

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Ban Po was populated c. 4500-3750 BCE and also was discovered by workmen digging a foundation for a factory in 1953 CE. Ceramic shards uncovered in ~ the site have been classified into 27 distinctive categories that image/sign which imply to some scholars an early language. The opposing check out is that these pictures are merely marks of ownership, comparable to make an X top top a record to sign one"s name, and cannot be considered an actual composed language. The majority of current scholarship agrees that composing evolved throughout the Shang Dynasty and also developed from there. Scholar Patricia Buckley Ebrey expresses the consensus on this:

Exactly once writing was very first used in China is not known due to the fact that most composing would have actually been excellent on perishable materials like wood, bamboo, or silk. Symbols or emblems inscribed on late neolithic pots might be early forms the Chinese graphs. Beforehand Shang bronzes occasionally have similar symbols cast into them. The earliest evidence of full sentences is discovered on the oracle skeleton of the late Shang. From this divinatory inscriptions, there can be no doubt the the Shang offered a language directly ancestral to contemporary Chinese and also moreover offered a written manuscript that evolved into the traditional Chinese logographic writing device still in usage today. (26-27)

Once writing was occurred by the Chinese it had actually a far-ranging impact ~ above the culture. Ebrey writes, "In China, together elsewhere, composing once adopted has profound effects on social and cultural processes(26)." The administration of China involved rely on written records and, culturally, expression of an individual thoughts and also feelings to be made possible through poetry and prose, creating some the the greatest literature in the world.

Oracle Bones

Oracle bones were the shoulder blades of cow or the plastrons the turtles, scraped and cleaned, which to be inscribed v marks for divination. The old Chinese were really concerned with discovering the future and also would go to diviners for guidance on making decisions. The diviner (someone who this particular day would be called a "psychic" or a "medium") would carve the person"s question into the bone and then heat it with a hot poker or place it near a fire. As soon as the bone would certainly crack, the lines formed would be understood to prize the person"s question.

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Oracle Bone

An example of this can be even if it is the king have to go hunting on a details day. The diviner would carve the surname of the king asking the question and also the date it to be asked. They would certainly then carve the object of the concern (Hunting) and also the specific question (Should king ___ go searching tomorrow). The bone would then it is in heated, crack, and also interpreted. Afterward, the prognostication would be inscribed (Yes, the king should go hunting tomorrow) and, later, the confirmation that the prediction to be correct (King go hunting and was successful). Oracle bones were consulted by everyone in the Shang period from the lowest class to the highest.

Oracle bones ongoing in use with the Zhou dynasty (1046-226 BCE) as soon as they were changed by another form of divination well-known as the I-Ching (The book of Changes) i beg your pardon relied top top a written text of hexagrams to translate the an interpretation of a pattern made by the questioner throwing yarrow sticks ~ above a table. V both oracle bones and also the I-Ching, the soul of one"s ancestors were assumed to be influencing the divination and communicating straight with the diviner.

Evolution the Script

From these beforehand beginnings, Chinese manuscript evolved. These scripts were:

Jiaguwen - the earliest form of composing on Oracle bones supplied c. 1600-1000 BCE. This script was pictographic, definition the engraving represented an object linked come a concept. Example: if one wanted to write "Should the king go hunting tomorrow?" one would carve an image of the king through his bow and sunrise.

Dazhuan - well-known as better Seal script, occurred c. 1000-700 BCE. This was additionally a pictographic script yet had many more characters and also was more refined. The pictures were inscriptions on bronze and also probably wood.

Xiaozhuan - recognized as Lesser Seal script, occurred c. 700 BCE and also is tho in use today. This manuscript was less pictographic and more logographic, an interpretation the signs represented concepts themselves, no objects. Example: if one currently wanted to write "Should the king go searching tomorrow?" one would inscribe the photo for the king and the sign which stood for "hunting" and also "tomorrow".

Lishu - known as Clerky Script, was emerged c. 500 BCE and used during the Qin dynasty (221 - 206 BCE) and also Han dynasty (206 BCE - 220 CE) extensively. Lishu thrived out of the need for complete documentation of federal government affairs and, as the name indicates, was provided by clerks in their occupational in government bureaucracy. Sentences were written on bamboo scrolls tied along with string. When one reads about emperor Shi Huangti (259-210 BCE) of the Qin empire burning books, these space the kinds of publications he destroyed. Record was not developed until the Han dynasty in 105 CE.

In enhancement to this scripts there likewise developed the cursive scripts supplied in poetry and also calligraphy. These are: Kaishu (Standard Script) Xingshu (Running Script), and also Caoshu (Grass Script). Caoshu occurred during the Qin empire while Kaishu and Xing throughout the Han period.


As one have the right to see, Chinese writing developed from pictures of objects which represented concepts to indicators representing the principles themselves. This development adjusted Chinese society and society dramatically and also also impacted the way it would construct in the future. Ebrey explains:

It is basically accidental the the Shang arisen a logographic script rather than a phonetic manuscript like most of those that ended up being dominant elsewhere in Eurasia. This accident, however, had actually momentous after-effects for the means Chinese civilization developed. It shame the nature the the elite: the an obstacle of mastering this script made those skilled in the an elite possessed the rare yet essential skills. (28)

On the positive side, this intended that as Chinese composing became an ext and an ext a component of Chinese trade, the society spread to bordering regions. Together Ebrey notes:

Because the Chinese logographic manuscript did not change to reflect differences in pronunciation, the literate elite easily figured out with others whose writings they might read, consisting of predecessors who lived numerous centuries earlier and contemporaries whose talked languages they could not comprehend. Simply as crucially, this manuscript also influenced the processes of social expansion and assimilation. People on the fringes of Chinese culture who learned to read Chinese because that pragmatic factors of proceeding or defending their interests were an ext effectively drawn into Chinese culture than castle would have actually been if China had actually had a voice script. Reading and writing because that them might not be easily detached native the human body of Chinese messages imbued with Chinese values, do it complicated for lock to usage their literacy to articulate the vision that a local population defined in opposition come China. (28)

The logographic script made a much much more dramatic impression ~ above readers than a voice script because people to be not simply reading indigenous on a page but taking in concepts directly as lock read. Top top the an adverse side, the production of a literate upstream meant class divisions whereby those who might read and also write to be considered an ext valuable members of society than those who might not. This class difference characterized Chinese society and history up till 1949 CE once Mao Tse Tung established the People"s Republic the China mostly in an effort to remedy society inequality.

Chinese script was adopted by Japan, Korea, Vietnam, came to be the basis for Khitan script (Mongolia), Jurchen script (of the Manchus), and also the Yi script of the indigenous civilization of Yunnan province which differs from timeless Chinese script. It additional influenced other nations of the region as watched in the Tangut script of Tibet. Script enabled the Chinese, and also then those of various other nations, not just to communicate and keep documents but also to produce some the the many memorable functions in world literature.

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Editorial ReviewThis article has been reviewed for accuracy, reliability and adherence to scholastic standards before publication.


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Emily note studied history and viewpoint at Tianjin University, China and English in ~ SUNY new Paltz, NY. She has actually published historical essays and poetry. Her take trip writing debuts in Timeless travel Magazine. She i graduated from SUNY Delhi in 2018.