Chinese Writing

by: S Burford

How Chinese Writing Developed Over the Years

Chinese characters have evolved from the Jiaguwen inscriptions on tortoise shells and animal bones to today’s simplified characters over a long process. The Jiaguwen of the Shang Dynasty (c. 1765-1122BC) resemble drawings. The emperor of the Qin Dynasty (221-207BC) brought China together and unified Chinese characters and introduced Xiaozhuan (lesser seal script). This was a more beautiful style of characters but was also very difficult and time consuming to write. So people of the Qin Dynasty improved the characters and created a new style, Lishu (official script). In the Han Dynasty (206BC-AD8), Lishu and two new forms, Caoshu (grass script and Xingshu (running script) became the main scripts used. Then the script broke away from the picture looking Chinese characters which started the Kaishu (regular script). Kaishu is the standard that has been used for the longest time and still today.

what are chinese characters?

Chinese characters are a logographic form of writing system. Instead of each character having its own phonetic sound, each Chinese character represents a meaning and a pronunciation. Chinese writing is not an alphabet. You cannot just sound out a character and have the same character sound the same in different uses. Chinese characters are distinct and meaningful. Most educated Chinese people know about 4,000 individual characters.

Types Of Chinese Writing

Today there are three types of Chinese writing: simplified, traditional and Romanized Pin-Yin. About 1952, the People’s Republic of China wanted to simplify written Chinese to increase literacy rate, make writing more efficient by eliminating the number of strokes per Chinese character, and make reading and writing easier to commoners. Simplified Chinese is the official day-to-day writing system for more than a billion people in China. It uses fewer pen strokes to write. While day-to-day written Chinese is simplified, traditional Chinese characters are still used in higher education, art and advertising. Romanization of the Chinese characters into familiar English Latin based letters is useful for foreign learners of Chinese by indicating the pronunciation of unfamiliar characters and clarifying pronunciation.

How To Write In Chinese

How to write with Chinese characters

There are 2 important steps to writing Chinese characters.

1. Stroke Types - There are eight basic stroke types.

· "Dian" - A simple dot.

· "Heng" - Horizontal stroke, left to right.

· "Shu" - Vertical stroke, top to bottom.

· "Gou" - Hook appended to other strokes.

· "Ti" - Diagonal stroke, rising from left to right.

· "Pie" - Diagonal stroke, falling from right to left.

· "Duan Pie" - Short diagonal stroke, falling from right to left.

· "Na" - Horizontal stroke, falling from left to right.

2. Stroke Order – This is very important for the character to look right. Two rules are followed:

· Top before bottom

· Left before right

Where Are Chinese Characters Used

Many of the written characters in both Japanese and Korean are still in Chinese even though both countries also have their own scripts and symbol combinations. Vietnam used to use Chinese characters but stopped around the late 1800’s when they began using Romanized Pinyin. Modern simplified Chinese script is used in Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, and Indonesia today.