Prelude – 4 : A history of the Chinese Scribe

The earliest examples of Chinese writing date to the late Shang period (ca. 1200 BC). These are the so-called Oracle Bone Inscriptions (jiaguwen) which were found at the site of the last Shang capital near present-day Anyang in Henan province.Later on the bronze inscriptions (jinwen) which were texts casted or carved into the surface of vessels integrated the concept of aesthetics into the design during the Eastern Zhou dynasty (ca. 1150-771 BC). Nevertheless,the language and the calligraphic style were similar to those found on the oracle bones.

A bronze inscription (jinwen) casted into the surface of a vessel depicts a harmonious calligraphic composition.
The ‘Lantingji Xu”, Preface to the Poems Composed at the Orchid Pavilion 3 is the most famous work of Chinese calligrapher Wang Xizhi, created in year 353.


The so-called “classical Chinese” (wenyan) which had remained more or less intact until the late 19th century was written on bamboo strips on ancient times. These were manuscripts, that recorded the Chinese philosophical texts, such as the Laozi, Liji, and Lunyu. They are dated from the early fifth century BC. The characters were written with a hard brush or a stick on a prepared surface of bamboos tied together with strings to form a roll. Beside bamboo, texts were also written on wooden tablets and silk cloth.


A Chinese traditional title epilogue written by Wen Zhengming in Ni Zan’s portrait by Qiu Ying.(1470–1559)


  1. Algaze, Guillermo (2005) “The Uruk World System: The Dynamics of Expansion of Early Mesopotamian Civilization”, (Second Edition, University of Chicago Press.
  2. See : R.O. Faulkner, The Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead (revised ed C. A. R. Andrews), The British Museum Press , 1985, London. R.B. Parkinson and S.Quirke, Papyrus, Egyptian Bookshelf, The British Museum Press, London ,1995. S. Quirke and A.J. Spencer, The British Museum book of anc, The British Museum Press
  3. This calligraphy describes a gathering of 42 poets including Xie An and Sun Chuo at the Orchid Pavilion near Shaoxing, Zhejiang, during the Spring Purification Festival to compose poems and enjoy the wine. The poets had agreed to participate in a drinking contest. Wine cups were floated down a small winding creek as the men sat along its banks and whenever a cup stopped the man closest to the cup was required to drink it and write a poem. In the end, twenty-six of the participants composed thirty-seven poems.Richard Kurt Kraus, Brushes with Power (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991), 27.



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