Chinese characters- origins

chinese characters origin

Chinese characters are the oldest script in the world which is still being used today. As early as 4000 years ago Chinese characters were used on oracle bones or tortoise shell. About 1.3 billion Chinese (PRC, Taiwan, overseas Chinese in the USA, Singapore etc.) use these characters today, which means about ¼ of mankind.

Chinese symbols

Originally, the Chinese characters were an ideographic script. Each of the characters stood for a certain thing, for example a human, the sun, the moon etc. When put together the characters also represented abstract terms, for example "sun" and "moon" together meant "day", an arrow and a circle (target?) had the meaning of "centre" etc...

Each character represented one word and one syllable. Along with the development of a more complex society the characters also became more developed in order to constitute more complex words. The changes of the typeface and the development of different styles were a result of the use of different materials for writing. For writing on bones a different style had to be used than on stone or bronze tablets or paper.

Chinese characters- development

In the Qing dynasty the Chinese characters were standardized. Because of the fragmentation of the empire into many small semi- independent territories one character could be spelled in many ways. Since the unification of the empire in the Qing dynasty the script became a unifying element for China. Even though there were many different Chinese dialects and the spoken language had gone through changes over time the characters were the same in every part of the empire.

Due to the fact that the Chinese characters are independent from spoken Chinese it is possible today to read works written 2000 years ago as long as you know the characters.



4000-5000 years ago: Yang- Shao culture

possibly the first precursor of Chinese characters (not proven)

17th -11th century B.C. (Shang dynasty)

oracle script on tortoise shells and oracle bones

from 11th century B.C. onward

bronzeware script of the Shang and Zhou dynasty

476-221 B.C. Warring States period

China has collapsed into many small states, which gradually developed independent forms of Chinese characters

221- 206 B.C. Qin dynasty

Standardization of Chinese characters by emperor Qin Shi Huangdi: small seal script

Circa 200 B.C. End of the Qin dynasty

Development of the "clerk script" or "official script" as the basis for the modern "regular style".

from 2nd century A.D. End of the Han dynasty

Regular style

1949 Foundation of the PR China

Reform of the characters and implementation of modern Chinese language simplified characters used in the PRC today.

Standard Written Chinese: You don't write in vertical columns from right to left anymore but like the Roman alphabet horizontally and from left to right. On Taiwan this reform has not been implemented, which means that the traditional Chinese characters are still being used there.

Recommend this article

moreChinese Culture