The Evolution of Chinese Calligraphy

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The Evolution of Chinese Calligraphy

China is known for its beauty and intellectual prestige but the one thing that mostly stands out when speaking of Chinese art is the form of calligraphy. It is known to be one of the earliest forms of writing that can be translated, which began thousands of years ago and is still used today. Chinese calligraphy was invented and developed by the ancient Chinese who used the innovation as a method of written communication. Throughout the years, the Chinese calligraphy would evolve as the characters continue to change and later expand greater than the previous generations. To obtain a better understanding of Chinese calligraphy, it is imperative to understand the history of Chinese writing and how it evolved over time. The oldest known written language discovered was Jiǎ Gǔ Wén (Oracle Bone Inscription). Soon after came the Jīn Wén (Bronze Inscription), then Dà Zhuàn (Large Seal Script), then Xiăo Zhuàn (Small Seal Script), then Lì Shū (Official Script), then Kăi Shū (Standard Script), then Xíng Shū (Running Script) and finally, Căo Shū (Grass Script). This timeline represents the change of style in calligraphy over time.[1] [2]

The Oracle Bone Inscription (甲 骨 文) is the oldest and earliest form of Chinese calligraphy dated from the fourteenth to eleventh century B.C. during the Shang dynasty. The characters at this period of time closely relate to the appearances of the objects. For example, the character for man consisted of a curved line representing the head, body and leg of a person with another line joined to it which represented the arms.[3] Most of the characters were carved onto tortoise shells or animal bones, hence the name Oracle Bone Inscription, and the strokes consist of a straight line and with equal width. The average size of a character was relatively a quarter of an inch indicating that the brush must have been quite small. The characters were written in vertical columns, usually from right to left, but can also be written from left to right. The inscriptions that were discovered are likely to be a representation of a highly selective record of some of the concerns and events that were relevant to the elite class of the Shang kingdom.

Soon after the discovery of the Oracle Bone Inscription, the Chinese discovered another way of writing calligraphy. This led to the invention of the Bronze Inscription where the characters were cast mostly on a bronze tripod instead of an animal bone or a tortoise shell. This new change was dated from the fourteenth century to the third century B.C. during the Shang and Zhou periods. The reason for this new change is because the ancient people thought that bronze was quite firm so that the inscriptions could imperishably be passed down. Most of the bronze inscriptions had records of the name of clan ancestors or the war, politics, and other important historical facts at that time.[4] Unlike the characters on oracle bone, the characters on the bronzes show more of the variation of the stroke’s width indicating of the use of a soft brush.[5] However, the characters of the bronze inscription are still written in a way base on the appearances of the objects.

By the seventh century, the Chinese had undergone a stylistic change in their writing and called it the Greater Zhuan inscription. Just like the bronze inscription, this new style of writing was used in the numerous inscriptions and was also casted onto the bronze vessels. The only difference between these two inscriptions is that the Greater Zhuan represents both the bronze and the oracle bone inscription.[6] The Greater Zhuan and the Oracle Bone might have been the same script but they were inscribed on different materials their visual styles differ due to the quality of the surfaces.

In the year 219 B.C., the Qin-Shi-Huang-Di unified the whole of China and became its first emperor. His prime minister, Li Si, had helped him unify a standardized...
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