Oracle Bone
Script - Part 2

Nonetheless some of the texts on these bones show that their creators already perfectly sensed the 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 … the 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 the conclusion that koukotsubun cannot be classified as a fully matured language transmitter.

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

Oracle bone script on a turtle plastron, late Shang dynasty, 11th century B.C., Museum of the Institute of History and Philology, Taipei.

Mastery of oracle bone script takes years of devotion. The whole calligraphic journey starts with backwards learning. Student begins with regular script (楷書, kaisho; it is used commonly today in books, internet, etc.), then moves to clerical (隷書, reisho). This phase may take up to as much as a few years. Cursive (草書, sousho) and semi-cursive (行書, gyousho) scripts come next, as they require a solid foundation of balance and the knowledge of stroke order that rules the proper way of writing characters. If the stroke order is not followed, characters will look grotesque. With easily over 60000 kanji (other sources suggest as many as 90000!), you can imagine what a task it is to achieve mastery of this art.

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 the same character written in all five styles may seem completely unrelated to each other.

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


Back to Oracle Bone Script - Part 1

Contiune to Seal Scripts

Back to Calligraphy Styles

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