Thursday, May 6, 2010

Large Seal Script: Chinese Writing before Qin 大篆:先秦文字

The development of Chinese calligraphy in the Pre-Qin period can be divided into four phases, namely the Shang dynasty, the Western Zhou dynasty, the Spring and Autumn Period and the Warring States period.
There were few historical materials about Chinese writing until oracle-bone inscriptions of the Shang dynasty appeared. It is said that there was a book of rubbings from the Yu period of the Xia dynasty (2070 BC), but its authenticity cannot be confirmed. Therefore, it is more reliable to say that the history of Chinese calligraphy stated from the Shang dynasty.
The Chinese writing characters in the Shang and Western Zhou dynasties had already involved the three basic elements in calligraphy art, namely the line strokes, word structure and composition. The earliest forms of calligraphy were mainly represented by oracle-bone inscription of the Shang dynasty and bronze inscription of the Western Zhou dynasty.
The representative writing in the Spring and Autumn Period is probably the Meng Shu (Alliance Pledge). They were found written on cloth, wood and jade. The writing was normally light and swift. The picture shown below is the famous Houma Mengshu written on jade. It is mainly a record of how the aristocrat Zhao Meng of the Jin State made use of the alliance pledge to bring the defeated adherents under control so as to consolidate his own ruling position after conquering his political opponents. The characteristic of each stroke is that the starting (head) is heavy and the ending (tail) is light, resembling a tadpole. This writing gave some hint of the creation and development of clerical (li) and cursive (cao) styles in the Han Dynasty.
It is believed that the stone drum inscription first appeared in the Warring States period, probably in the Qin state. It is considered to be a transitional form from bronze inscription in the Zhou dynasty to later small seal script in the Qin dynasty.
Large Seal script or Great Seal script is a traditional reference to all types of Chinese writing systems used before the Qin dynasty. The term is in contrast to the name of the official script of the Qin dynasty, which is often called Small or Lesser Seal Script (Xiaozhuan, also termed simply seal script). However, due to the lack of precision in the term, scholars often avoid it and instead refer more specifically to the provenance of particular examples of writing.

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