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Discovering China

Language and Script

 
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  • Chinese typewriters
    Chinese typewriters

    The Chinese script can be traced back to the oracle bones of the Shang dynasty (16th–11th centuries BC) that were inscribed with symbols representing words and used for divination. Despite changes brought about by different writing materials, Chinese characters have remained remarkably consistent. It is said that to read a newspaper takes knowledge of at least 3,000 characters but an educated person would be expected to know over 5,000. Since 1913 the official spoken language has been Putonghua (Mandarin) but there are many regional dialects. Although people from different parts of China may not be able to understand each other, they can use a shared written script. A beautiful script

    Writing was elevated to an art form considered on a par with painting as a visual aesthetic (see Traditional Arts). As the process changed from inscribing bone, brass or stone to using a brush on silk and paper, a more fluid writing style became possible.

    The Chinese character for “Good”
    The Chinese character for “Good”

    Chinese typewriters were very difficult to use. The typist had to find each character in a tray of thousands. Computers have made typing Simplified script much easier – the user types in the Pinyin and gets a sub-menu of several possible characters.

    Chinese characters

    May be composed of pictographic, ideographic and phonetic elements. The radical (or root), an element that appears on the left or at the top of a character, usually gives a clue as to sense. Here, in the character for “good,” pronounced “hao,” the radical combines with another meaning element “child.” The concept, therefore, is that “woman” plus “child” equals “good.”

    Styles of Calligraphy

    Zhuanshu, or seal script, was developed during the Zhou era and used for engraved inscriptions.
    Lishu, or clerical script, probably evolved during the Han era and was used for stone inscriptions.
    Kaishu, or regular script, developed from Lishu after the Han era, is the basis of modern type.
    Cao shu, or cursive script, literally grass script, has strokes that are reduced to abstract curves or dots.
    Xingshu, or running script, has strokes that run together, and is a semicursive script.
    Simplified script was introduced in 1956 to make it easier for peasants to learn to read.

     

     

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