Ancient Chinese writing
The earliest known examples of Chinese script were inscribed on tortoise shells and animal bones around 1300 b.c.e., the time of the Shang Dynasty (c. 1600-1066 b.c.e.). These objects are referred to as “oracle bones” because they were employed by shamans, or priests, to predict future events. Later in the Shang, inscriptions were made on bronze vessels. When the Zhou (Chou) Dynasty (1066-221 b.c.e.) succeeded the Shang, its bronzes were also inscribed. A series of hunting songs carved on boulders, erroneously termed “stone drums,” dates to around 400 b.c.e. In 219 b.c.e., by order of Shi Huangdi (Shih Huang Ti), the first emperor of the Qin (Ch’in) Dynasty (221-206 b.c.e.), the Chinese script underwent a standardization process. Two new types of script were devised: One, to be used for formal and official purposes, was called xiao juan (hsiao chüan); the other, intended for general use, was called li shu (clerk’s style). Because it was found that the speediest and most efficient way of writing li shu was with brush and ink, such writing soon developed into an art in itself, the art of calligraphy. By the time of the Han Dynasty (206 b.c.e.-220 c.e.), calligraphy had achieved equality as an art with painting and poetry. Calligraphy and painting not only were seen as twin arts of the brush but also were intimately associated with poetry. This attitude is shown in the famous remark made by Su Dongpo (Su Tung-p’o) about the great Wang Wei, who was outstanding as a calligrapher, a painter, and a poet: “In his poetry there is painting, and in his painting, poetry.”
The distinctive visual properties of...
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