On 1899, further to an access of malaria, a Chinese man of letters, Wang Yirong, had seen prescribing a prescription where represented among others medicines of the " bones of dragon ". By examining them closely, he noticed that thin and sinuous features which looked like a writing were engraved on their surface. Having led his inquiry, Wang Yirong and he's friend Liu E learnt that these " bones of dragon " were in fact plastrons of the inscriptions of tortoises and shoulder blades of buffaloes carrying old engraved inscriptions furthermore of three thousand years. They went back up to the dynasty of Shang the capital of which was in the place of the village of Anyang. The news made sensation at that time in the scientific circles of the whole world. These characters, called甲骨文 jiaguwen (literally: " inscriptions on scales and on bones "), are the most ancient shape known for Chinese writing.
Was there in China a shape of writing previous to the inscriptions on bones?
As in the other civilizations, the ancient peoples of China communicated by the language.
But the speech cannot reach the put off provinces, nor be passed on in the offspring. They imagined thus various means to register the events.
* Eight trigrammes: formed both signs - and —,
these eight figures - on the base sixty four hexagrammes of Yijing - form a system of symbolic representation which served then for drawing the oracles.
* The tied up ropes: various sorts of knots on a thread represented quantities or numbers.
These various forms of notations were used before the arriving of the writing to register or to communicate information.
Before the birth of the writing, the prehistoric men used images to retain or to pass on information. These images, the plan of which went by simplifying itself, came there to express a definite sense then to be pronounced. So was born the pictographic writing. Besides Chinese, a detailed study of the most former writings reveals their pictographic origin. The image is the common source of all the writings of the humanity.
China is a vast territory in the numerous dialects, but the specificity of the Chinese writing allows it to be red and understood in spite of the differences of language or pronunciation. It is an essential link which insures the cohesion between regions and peoples with their cultural and social disparities. The unity of China and Chinese civilization pass by this coherence of the writing which challenges the space and the time.
Cuneiform, Egyptian , and jiaguwen
|日 sun||山 mountain||水 water||男 man||女 woman|
We know that the Chinese writing has a pictographic origin, but where to find the very first Chinese characters?
On the neolithic sites of Yangshao (~5000-~7000) and of Dawenkou (~4500), the archaeologists discovered potteries carrying made an incision figures which already have the properties of the writing; on that of Jiahu ( from ~7000 to ~8000), engraved symbols which are similar to jaguwen.
We know that the Chinese writing is the collective emanation of the ancient peoples of China and that it ensues from drawings and from symbols intended to note information. These symbols were doubtless improved and systematized by the scholars of the high antiquity to establish a primitive writing which allowed to transcribe the language.
Where to find the first Chinese characters? Till this date, this enigma always remains without answer.
¤ The evolution of Chinese writing:
The most ancient registrations on bones, jiaguwen, go back up to the dynasty of Shang (~16ème-~11ème century) ; one mainly on the fronts of tortoises and the shoulder blades of buffaloes; they are of variable sizes and always engraved carefully. The jiaguwen of the time of Zhou Occidental (~11ème century-~771) is tiny and ask to be read with a magnifying glass.
There is the another shape of writing, almost also ancient as jiaguwen: the " registrations on bronze ". Engraved on the bronze ritual dishes, their name, 金文 jinwen, ensues from the ancient name of the bronze, 吉金 jijin - literally: " favourable metal ". Their strong and well proportionned aspect comes from the fact that they were made an incision on models in clay before being melted.
At the time of Warring States period (~475-~221), China was divided into seven autonomous States: on the West, Qin; in the East, the Fallen, the Qi, the Yan, the Zhao, the Wei and the Han. Their writings presented big differences: they looked like a secret language very difficult to decipher. Today still, a big number of their characters was not clarified.
¤ The structure of chinese writing:
The character 字, word, is constituted by the element roof, 宀 and of the child 子. it expresses the idea of the generations which continue. The meaning of 字 sends back thus not only to its use, it also passes on the idea that the words engender and develop according to the same principle.
How were Chinese characters created?
Doubtlessly, the unification was gradually made during the exchanges between the Chinese communities - the characters which were not allowed by some or by the others did not propagate. The creative dimension of the Chinese language thus allows us at the same moment to deepen the sense of the words and to understand the history of this society in its origin.
The 说文解字 Shuowen jiezi, Analytical dictionary of Chinese characters, written by Xu Shen (30-124) at the time of the Eastern Han (25-220), present six various existing forms of characters notably the pictograms, the ideograms and the ideo-phonograms.
1. The pictograms :
It is about the representation of a thing by means of a fuguratif drawing. It is the way the most ancient and the simplest to forge a character.
人, the man, the man in profiles.
大 , big, a man with the arms wide open and the legs apart, the notion of the "big".
2. Les idéogrammes composés
从, follow, two men who follow each other.
孕, pregnant, in the belly of a woman a child.
3. The ideo-phonograms :
¤ The standardization of the Chinese writing:
Qin Shihuangdi unified China in 221 BC. At that time, the various forms of existing writings made difficult the application of political and administrative measures and slowed down the development of the economy, the culture and the education. On the authorities of Li Si, his Prime Minister, the emperor established the standardization. The big sigillary writing (大篆 dazhuan) and its use generalized on the scale of the territory. The peculiarities of Chinese characters: structure, lines, square shape, etc. were fixed from this time.
The use of the lishu (隶书) was developed under the Han dynasties (~206-220). It is during this period when were fixed the order of the lines and the straight and square shape of official characters still collectively used nowadays. For that reason, the styles of writings previous to the small sigillary writing (小篆 xiaozhuan) are said "ancient"; what appeared after the lishu are considered as "modern" - the lishu is so in the border of the former and modern writings.
At the end of the Han Oriental ( 25-220 ), a new shape of writing made its appearance, the kaishu (楷书), or regular style, the creation of which is attributed to Zhong Yao. We say that he had such a madness to write that while speaking, he practiced drawing characters on the ground with a stick. Every evening before falling asleep and in the morning awaken, he wrote on his mattress with fingers that in the end, his bedding was quite damaged. He eventually conceives a style of simplified writing, square shape, in the straight lines. His success created such a imitation within the people that it was established model of learning of the writing where from its name of zhenshu (真书 natural style), or kaishu, model writing. Until our days, it remained the standard shape of the Chinese writing.
The former Chinese invented two forms of cursive scripts: the caoshu (草书), abbreviated writing, and the xingshu (行书), common writing. There are three types of caoshu: the zhangcao, the jincao and the kuangcao. The zhangcao, is a "careless" shape of lishu. We say that the emperor Zhang, of the Han Oriental (who reigned from 76 to 88) appreciated it quite particularly and that the civil servants of that time had the special authorization to draft their reports in this writing - with which this emperor would have left his name. After the appearance of kaishu, Zhang Zhi, during the Hans Orientaux, invented the jincao, the " new abridged ". The characters are drawn by a single breath and in a single gesture, where from are nickname of writing " in a line ". The kuangcao, " abbreviated fervent ", was created by Zhang Xu under Tang ( 619-907 ).
This writing is very difficult to decipher, but of an artistic major power. The xingshu has a value at the same time practical and aesthetic. Without having the neatness of kaishu, it is less difficult to decipher than the caoshu. The great calligrapher Wang Xizhi of period Jin ( 265-420 ) excelled at this way.
¤ The Chinese calligraphy:
1. The supports of the writing:
Under Yin-Shang (from the 16th to 11th century BC), the characters were engraved on plastrons of tortoise or the bronze ritual dishes. Enter the period of Annals (Springs and Autumns) and Warring Stats (~770-~ 221), the production of written documents did not stop increasing and new supports made their appearance. These could differ according to the authors, the contents of texts and their destination. The nobility liked writing on a fine silk tissue ( jianbao ), but most of people used tablets of bamboo or wood.
The technique of the manufacture of the paper was finalized by 蔡伦 Cai Lun in 105 AD. This new material had huge consequences on the distribution of the writing the main support of which it became, both in China and in the rest of the world.
2. The various instruments:
At its birth, the Chinese writing was engraved by the awl - etymology of "written" (shuqi = to write + to chisel) give evidence of this origin. Afterward, when the other instruments made their appearance notably the paintbrush, the awl did not more serve than for erasing the faults on tablets of bamboo or wood. With the invention of the paper, it was deprived of its rank of instrument of writing. Between the time of the Spring and the Autumn and Warring Stats, the paintbrush became the main tool. In the modern time, before the broadcasting of the pencil and the pen, it was still usually used in China.
To write with the paintbrush, it is advisable first of all to prepare some ink. We obtain from some liquid ink by crushing a little dry ink which we dilute with some water in a inkwell of stone or ceramic ( yantai ). The huge flexibility of the paintbrush, constituted by hairs of animals, and the ink quantity with which it is soaked, allow to modulate the thickness of the lines. (The paintbrush, the ink, the paper and the inkwell of stone- 文房四宝 " Four treasures of the man of letters " - the fundamental instruments of the Chinese writing are.)
The calligraphy is the art to express its feelings through the lines of the paintbrush. It forges the soul and the character of the one who practises it by the wealth and the peculiarity of it's forms. This stylisation appropriate for the Chinese writing, is unanimously appreciated both in China and worldwide.
The history of the Chinese calligraphy is strictly connected to that of the writing. The various styles - zhuanshu, "sigillaria", lishu, " scribes ", caoshu, "abridged", kaishu, "regular" and xingshu, "cummon" - ensue all of a particular shape of writing. Conversely, certain types of characters result from the evolution of the calligraphy as the caoshu and the xingshu which were set up as models at the time which followed that of their invention. La calligraphie chinoise est très ancienne, elle existe depuis que l'écriture existe, mais aussi très moderne : à la suite du renouvellement des instruments d'écriture, la floraison de l'art calligraphique au pinceau dur succéda à la calligraphie traditionnelle au pinceau souple. Selon les calligraphes, les mêmes caractères deviennent tour à tour robuste, vifs ou gracieux, chacun rêvant d'un style qui fasse l'émerveillement de tous.
¤ The Chinese writing and the invention of the paper:
A Chinese expression describes the knowledge " huge as five waggons of books of rollers ". It makes reference to a scholar of the antiquity who, in every travelling, needed waggons to transport his library. In affect, tablets of bamboo or wood used at that time were very cumbersome. Except tablets, a fine silk tissue was sometimes used, but its price was too much raised. The evolution of the writing appealed the creation of new supports.
In 105 AD, Cai Lun made the synthesis of techniques employed by his predecessors to make the paper. By means of bark of tree, hemp and worn tissues, he worked out a quality of useful paper to write, the paper became from then on the main support of the writing. The broadcasting of the paper favored the development of the writing and allowed the calligraphy, but also the painting and the literature, to make big progress.
¤ The Chinese writing and the printing works:
In 175 AD, 46 steles were set up by the government of the Han Oriental ( 25-220 ). It was about the version revised by the classics, engraved in the stone in official writing. By this means, the imperial power put the reading and the transcription of these texts within the reach of all. These steles knew such a success at their time as every day the roads which led to them were blocked by thousand waggons. We apply to an engraved support a sheet of moistened paper which we tap with a rag then by means of a brush loaded with ink. The characters appear then in white on black bottom. Besides the difficulties of the transcription, we eliminated in this way every risk of error. This method still usually practised of our time is the precursor of the printing xylography.
The printing works are one of the four big inventions of ancient China. There are several forms of which the xylography which goes back up to 7th century and printing with mobile characters. The xylography is an art very appreciated in China. Most of the books printed under Song ( 960-1279 ) were engraved by the greatest calligraphers of moment. The richness of these works is attached to not only their contents but also to the beauty of their writing. The xylographers of this time created a new font: 宋体 the " Song style ". More convenient to engrave and to read, it is used always mostly in the printing works.
By the middle of the 11th century, 毕昇 Bi Sheng, a man of the people, being inspired by the carving of stamps, had the idea to create the mobile characters. His invention consisted in engraving small dices in clay which he cooked dabs of the pottery kilns. Once cooked these characters were leveled and aligned in an iron armature for the printing.
Towards the end of the 13th century, Wang Zhen invented the wooden mobile characters and worked out a technique specially adapted to the Chinese writing which allowed to compose directly the text by means of a " tray of edition of the characters ".
After the ceramic and the wood, all sort of metals, notably the copper and the tin, came to enrich the family of the mobile characters. The printing works knew a considerable development which gained bit by bit the whole world.
¤ Write in Chinese with a keyboard:
Since the invention of the first computers, by the middle of the 20th century, the world quickly undertook on the way of the computerization. The world of computers bases on the binary system; Leibnitz ( 1646-1716 ), it's first theorist, was inspired from eight trigrammes of Yijing who works according to this principle.
Nevertheless, all the software was programmed in phonetic script, the Chinese language was maintained a long time away from this computer revolution. Thanks to the Chinese researchers, the programming of the characters with a graphic, phonetic or phonetico-graphic system ends by seeing the day. Besides, because they lean on the combinatorial dimension of the Chinese writing; which is the base of the functioning of computers. The appearance and the generalization of computers simplified the study and the use of the Chinese language. The simple control of the keyboard and the mouse allows "to write" beautiful Chinese characters. The scientific and artistic value of the Chinese writing interests every day more scholars of the whole world.
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