Chinese Characters-1

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A couplet in Dazhuan

The Chinese characters are one of the oldest writing systems in the world, and are the most used text in the world. Chinese characters have a long history and have various forms. When and how are Chinese characters being created? There are so many Chinese characters, the latest edition (12th) of Xinhua Dictionary collects more than 13,000 characters. How many Chinese characters do people master on average? Do Chinese characters have any special functions? We'll share our thoughts about these questions with you in this Chinese character knowledge series.  

Chinese characters have a history of about 5000 years according to the estimation of scientists. The oldest Chinese characters discovered till now are Jiaguwen 甲骨文, which were already mature characters dating back about 3400 years. They were the ancient Chinese characters carved on tortoise shells or animal bones. Chinese characters originate from pictures for keeping records. From ancient to modern times, the form and structure of Chinese characters has changed and developed generation after generation. The sequence of their evolution is as follows: Jiaguwen, Jinwen, Dazhuan, Xiaozhuan, Lishu, Kaishu, Caoshu and Xingshu.

Jinwen 金文 is the ancient language used in inscriptions on ancient bronze objects. Dazhuan 大篆, the big seal, is a font commonly used in the late Western Zhou Dynasty around 900 BC. Dazhuan refers to the inscriptions that were carved on stone drums, hence it is called as shígǔwén 石鼓文. It was also named as zhòuwén 籀文 after it was recorded in the book 'Shi Zhou Pian 史籀篇'. The development of the big seal has two characteristics: one is the linearization, the lines with uneven thickness in the early days become uniform and soft, and the lines they draw with the objects are very concise and vivid; the second is the standardization, the structure of the font tends to be neat, and gradually leaves. The original shape of the picture laid the foundation of the square character fāngkuàizì 方块字, the current Chinese characters.

Xiaozhuan, the small seal, was reformed by Li Si 李斯 , the prime minister of Qin Dynasty. Qin Shihuang unified China and had a wide territory and many state affairs. The documents were proliferated. The original texts became then too complicated and inconvenient to use. Li Si reformed and simplified Dazhuan and the new form evolved, is named Xiaozhuan. Compared with the big seal, the strokes of the small seal have been simplified, and the number of characters could then be increased day by day.
The change of writing from ancient form to big seal, from big seal to small seal, has epoch making significance in the history of Chinese characters.