Calligraphy Style Evolution

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       Oracle bone script refers to incised (or, rarely, brush-written) ancient Chinese characters found on animal bones (usually ox scapula) or tortoise plastrons used in divination in Bronze Age China. The vast majority record the pyromantic divinations of the royal house of the late Shāng dynasty at the capital of Yīn (modern Ānyáng, Hénán Province); dating of the Ānyáng examples of oracle bone script varies from ca. 14th -11th centuries BC to ca. 1200 to ca. 1050 BC. Very few oracle bone writings date to the beginning of the subsequent Zhou Dynasty, because pyromancy fell from favor and divining with milfoil became more common. The late Shāng oracle bone writings, along with a few contemporary characters in a different style cast in bronzes, constitute the earliest significant corpus of Chinese writing, which is essential for the study of Chinese etymology, as Shāng writing is directly ancestral to the modern Chinese script. It is also the oldest member and ancestor of the Chinese family of scripts.

       Chinese Bronze inscriptions are writing in a variety of Chinese scripts on Chinese bronze artifacts such as zhōng (bells) and dǐng (tripodal cauldrons) from the Shāng dynasty (1600 BC – 1046 BC) to the Zhōu dynasty (1045 BC – 256 BC) and even later. Early bronze inscriptions were almost always cast (that is, the writing was done with a stylus in the wet clay of the piece-mold from which the bronze was then cast), while later inscriptions were often engraved after the bronze was cast.

       Seal script is an ancient style of Chinese calligraphy. It evolved organically out of the Zhōu dynasty script (i.e. bronze script), arising in the Warring State of Qin. About 220 BC, the emperor Qin Shi Huang, the first to conquer the entire Chinese basin, imposed several reforms, among them Li Si's character uniformisation, which created a set of 3300 standardized Xiǎozhuàn (small engraving script) characters. The Qin variant of seal script became the standard and was adopted as the formal script for all of China in the Qin dynasty, and was still widely used for decorative engraving and seals in the Han dynasty. Ever since, its predominant use has been in seals, hence the English name. The literal translation of its Chinese name 篆书 (zhuànshū) is decorative engraving script, because by the time this name was coined in the Han dynasty, its role had been reduced to decorational inscriptions rather than as the main script of the day. Despite the fact that the main writing implement of the time was already the brush, few papers survive from this period, and the main examples of this style are on steles. Most people today cannot read the seal script, so it is generally not used outside the fields of seals and calligraphy.

       The clerical script, formerly also chancery script, is an archaic style of Chinese calligraphy which evolved in the Warring States period to Qin dynasty, was dominant in the Han dynasty, and remained in use through the Wèi-Jìn periods. Due to its high legibility to modern readers, is still used for artistic flavor in a variety of functional applications such as headlines, signboards and advertisements. This legibility stems from the highly rectilinear structure, a feature shared with modern regular script (kaishu), as well as from the fact that clerical is its nearest predecessor in time. The structure is generally similar to the modern script, but the strokes have wave-like features.

       The regular script or standard script, or in Chinese kaishu, also commonly known as standard regular, is the newest of the Chinese calligraphy styles (appearing by the Cao Wei dynasty around 200 AD and maturing stylistically around the 7th century), hence most common in modern writings and publications (after the non-calligraphic printing Song Ti). It is also occasionally known as true script. The Kaishu shape of characters one thousand years ago was very much similar to that at the end of Imperial China. Nevertheless, small changes have been made over the years.

       Kaishu simplified Chinese script is in fact a selection of long-time pre-existing easiest variants, which were unconventional or locally used for centuries, and understood but always rejected in official texts. By selecting the simplified variants, the Chinese government created in 1956 a new set of official variants to use, to ease learning and improve the literacy level. Nowadays traditional Chinese is hardly seen in mainland China, but is used in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

       Cursive styles such as Xíngshū (semi-cursive or running script) and Cǎoshū (cursive or grass script) are "high speed" calligraphic styles, where each move made by the writing tool is visible. These styles especially like to play with stroke order rules, creating new visual effects. They were invented as derivated work from Clerical script, around the same time of regular script (Han dynasty), but Xíngshū and Cǎoshū were used for personal notes only, and were never used as standard. They quickly became artistic play in calligraphy.

       There are dozens of computer generated styles. An example of the modern printed style is Songti (style of the Song Dynasty's book press). These sets are considered artistic "styles," but not calligraphic ones, as they are not hand written.