Friday, October 8, 2010
The Small Seal Script 小篆
Before the Qin conquest of the last remaining six of the Seven Warring States of China, local styles of characters evolved independently of one another for centuries producing what are called the scripts of the Six States. At that time, different states had simplified and decorated characters in different ways for practical use, so there were several different forms for the same character.
To strengthen his reign, the first emperor Qin Shihuang took a series of measures to intensify the centralised feudal society and standardising the writing script was one of the measures. Prime Minister Li Si created small seal script on the basis of big seal script and made it the official script for the whole country.
There are two uses of the term seal script, the Large or Great Seal script and the Lesser or Small Seal Script; the latter is also simply called seal script, or Qin seal script. The Large Seal script was originally referred to writing of the Qin system similar to but earlier than the Small Seal. Later it was used to refer to Western Zhou and Shang writing, such bronze and oracle bones inscriptions. Since the term is used loosely without clearly referring to any specific historical script and is not used with any consensus in meaning, modern scholars tend to avoid it, and when referring to seal script, generally mean the (small) seal script of the Qin system.
Prime Minister Li Si systematized the seal script through elimination of most variant structures, is said to have compiled ‘Cangjie Pian’, a non-extant work of character recognition listing some 3,300 Chinese characters in small seal script.
After the collapse of Qin dynasty, the standardized seal script was still widely used for decorative engraving and seals (name chops, or signets) in the Han dynasty. Ever since, its predominant use has been in seals, hence the English name.