The Chinese began developing their writing system around 2000 b.c.e. It began with pictograms and developed into a logographic system. It was codified by about 1500 b.c.e., and the earliest samples were written with a brush in ink on bone and tortoiseshell. At this time, a single language was in use by all the Chinese peoples. Over the next two thousand years, many dialects developed, often mutually unintelligible. Because Chinese writing remained logographic, all Chinese, regardless of dialect, could read it. People who could not converse verbally could still communicate in writing.
The logographic system also worked well for the Chinese because their language was made up of many homophones, which were distinguished verbally by pitch and context. The script could handle this easily because it used symbols to provide context. In addition, Chinese grammar worked by rearranging whole words, and a logographic system suited it well. The Chinese script used thousands of signs.
Brush and ink were used on a variety of mediums, such as stone and wood tablets, metal, and most commonly, bamboo and silk. Writing was from top to bottom, with columns progressing from left to right. Calligraphy was from early on an artform.
The first paper was systematically produced by the Chinese during the Han Dynasty, about 105 c.e. Paper was made from tree bark, rags, fishnets, and hemp. These fibrous substances were crushed and pressed into a mold. As they dried, they resulted in a thin sheet of paper. The Chinese guarded their papermaking techniques for six hundred years and exported it to the Middle East and the Mediterranean.