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Chinese writing system

Subject Linguistics

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631214816.1999.x


Chinese writing appeared no later than the Shang dynasty, said to have begun in 1766 bce . The earliest inscriptions found on bronze vessels and oracle bones dating from early in the second millennium are already highly stylized, although many characters were clearly derived from naturalistic representations of objects (O racle-bone script ). It is assumed, therefore, that in China writing was present considerably earlier. China can consequently claim the longest literary tradition that still continues today. Many of the characters of the earliest inscriptions closely resemble their modern equivalents. Out of more than 2,500, some 1,400 could be identified as the original forms of present standard Chinese characters and hence interpreted unequivocally. Table 6 lists some such pairs of equivalents. Table 6 Ancient Chinese characters of the Shang period and their modern equivalents Pictures of concrete objects stood at the beginning of Chinese writing. Linearization, reduction and conventionalization set in early. Hard surfaces like bone and shell favoured an angular rather than rounded appearance of early characters, a design feature that was preserved in brush writing. Since early characters were pictographic, their numbers proliferated with little conformity in their creation. Prior to the writing reform of the Qin dynasty (221-206 bce ), there was a great deal of unsystematic ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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