Chinese Scripts - Part 2

Oracle bone script is stunningly beautiful in its raw simplicity. It is secluded deep under a veil of primordial aura, untouchable and proud, yet plain brilliant. Due to primitive tools used for “writing” (knives as carving tools, and low quality brushes made of rather dull and non-responsive hairs) lines forming the characters resemble composition made of wooden splinters. Strokes are canoe shaped, narrowing gradually to the sharp and pointy endings. Even curved lines are made of series of straight cuts.

Nonetheless some of the texts on bones show that their creators already perfectly sensed balance of the whole composition or strokes within given character. Some of the bones bear well executed characters aside rather clumsy ones, suggesting examples written by a master for students to follow. Picture this … first documented Chinese calligraphy schools are 3500 years old.

It is important to point out, that oracle bone script was not a linguistically advanced writing system. Numerous inconsistencies, and irregularities of forms and meanings would lead to a conclusion that koukotsubun cannot be classified as fully matured language transmitter.

In a broad sense of the word, oracle bone script is included into the seal script family, and precisely great seal script ? the first mature style of Chinese calligraphy. Bone inscriptions were in official use for some 800 years, until early period of Western Zhou dynasty (1046 - 771 B.C.).

Mastery of oracle bone script takes years of devotion. The whole calligraphic journey starts with backwards learning. Student begins with regular script (in broad it is used today in books, internet, etc), then moves to clerical one. This phase may take even up to few years. Cursive scripts come next, as they require solid foundation of balance and knowledge of stroke order that rules proper way of writing characters. If the stroke order is not followed, characters will look grotesque. Now with easily over 60,000 kanji (some scholars suggest as many as 90,000), you can imagine that it is quite a task.

After cursive scripts, student moves to seal scripts, of which oracle bone script is the last one to be learned. Differences between characters and their construction can be so significant that the forms of same character written in all five styles may seem completely unrelated one to another.

Oracle bone script is usually introduced after at least a decade of diligent studies of Chinese or Japanese calligraphy. The paradox of is, that even though it looks so primitive and simple, it is insanely difficult to execute by means of single strokes in a way to preserve its antiquity and yet imbue it with calligrapher’s unique personality and style.

Back to Chinese Scripts part 1

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