汉字与书法示范课程 Chinese Characters and Calligraphy
Is there any legend about the origin of Chinese characters?
Chinese script has at least a history of four thousand years. We are not certain of the date of its invention. There have been various stories about the origin of the Chinese characters. In remote antiquity, ancient people made records by tying knots with a rope. Another story says that there was an ancient legendary figure whose name was Cangjie (仓颉). He worked as Emperor Huangdi’s historiographer. It was said that Cangjie had four eyes, and he was good at observation. He often watched the footprints of birds and beasts as well as the appearance of stars. His long-term observation inspired him to create the earliest written characters.
Did Chinese characters come from drawings?
These legendary stories cannot be accepted as the truth. However, in ancient China, characters began as simple drawings of natural objects—trees, water, mountains, horses, and humans. The earliest characters are thus“pictographic”in quality. In Banpo Village (半坡) in Xi’an and other places, archeologists discovered symbols engraved on the unearthed potteries which date to the period of the Yangshao Culture (仰韶文化), a matriarchal culture of the early Neolithic Age. More than 4,000 years ago, ancient people in the present Tai’an (泰安) area of Shandong Province engraved symbols on pottery which belong to a late period of the Dawenkou Culture (大汶口文化). Experts believe that these pictographic symbols may be the earliest forms of Chinese written characters.
At present, philologists think that symbols engraved on the Yangshao pottery are not a written language. However, the symbols engraved on the Dawenkou pottery unearthed in the Tai’an area may be the earliest forms of Chinese written characters. In this view, Chinese characters have existed for more than 4,500 years.
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