Ancient China Writing

Chinese is considered the first language that was written in Asia.  Some of the earliest writing took place in the 20th Century CE and it was found written on bones, turtle shells and silk.

The Ancient Chinese used ink and brushes to do their writings.Writing is very important, and it was the best way of communicating and for helping to keep records.

The Ancient Chinese used different forms or writing, and one important form was calligraphy.


It was during the Shang Dynasty, a special form of writing was created, and it was called calligraphy.

Calligraphy is a very important, sometimes even considered the most important, form or art in Ancient Chinese culture.

Calligraphy was a way that people could communicate and write things down.


It was also considered an art because it was expressive and allowed the writer to be able to express their feelings.

Everyone was expected to know calligraphy, but only boys that were born in noble or prestigious families were taught calligraphy.  Prestigious means someone who is important or admired.

Emperors and their families all learned calligraphy, but it was not easy, and they had to often times practice this type of writing over and over again in order to become good at it.

The emperor could hire people to do all of his work, so, if an emperor decided that he was not very good at calligraphy, he could hire someone to do all of his writing business.

The problem with that was that being able to use calligraphy showed that you were of high status and it was also thought that calligraphy gave a person both inner peace and control, so it was important to learn.

Ancient Chinese Writing

During Ancient Chinese times, writing was not easy at first because there was no paper.  People had to write on turtle shells or bamboo sticks or bones in order to write.

People had to use ink filled brushes or tools to inscribe words on the shells or bones or to write on them.

These items were very hard to keep up with and were heavy, depending on how much a person wrote.

What Was Ancient Chinese Writing Like?

The Ancient Chinese writing had two parts for every character that was written.  The first one was called a radical symbol and the second one was called a phonetic symbol.

The radical symbol was used to show what the writing was about.  For example, if the writing was about hot things, it might show a character for fire.

The phonetic symbol helped to describe what the writing was going to sound like.

Writers sometimes were able to combine both he radical and the phonetic symbols to help explain what the writing was about.


Ancient Chinese writing did not have any type of punctuation.  The writing style was way different than what we use, and the Ancient Chinese would write their characters starting in the upper right corner of the page and they would move the writing down in a vertical line.  Vertical means up and down.

The History of Ancient Chinese Writing

Chinese writing has changed over the years and there are and were different types of writing styles.  One of the styles was called the Jiaguwen or Oracle Bone style.

This type of writing was when the writer would use pictures that would represent the object they were writing about.

These different pictures would be drawn under the character.  For example, if you wrote the character for rain, there could be raindrops drawn under the character.

These writings have spaces between them and do not flow in a single line.

Dazhuan or Great Seal Style

The Great Seal style of writing was used to form characters that were more rounded than square.

This style used thicker writing and lines and would help to make characters that would show what an object was.

Since the lines were so thick, it would cause the picture to sometimes look blurred together, but the writer could still tell what the character was supposed to be.

This writing style was used mostly during the Zhou and Chou dynasties.

Great Seal Script

Small Seal Style

Qin Shihuangdi was the founder of the Qin Dynasty and he was the first Chinese emperor.

When he thought about writing, he felt that it was only fair that writing would be the same all over the Ancient Chinese empire.

This way, everyone would have a chance to write and understand the writings.

The Small Seal style was similar to the Great Seal style, but the lines were thinner but longer.

With this type of writing, the writer used a character to show a word instead of making the character look like the object they were writing about.

This type of writing style allowed writers to be able to write things without having to spell them out completely.  The writer could use a character that showed what the words were.

Small Seal Script

Caoshu Style

The Caoshu style happened during the Qin Dynasty and it was a style that is similar to cursive writing.

This type of writing connected the lines and characters together.This type of writing was used more as art than as actual writing.

Lishu Style

The Lishu style took place during the Han Dynasty and was considered an easier form of writing.

This writing was created because people that worked in offices such as in the government, had to write a lot and so this writing was easier and faster to write.

Kaishu Style

During the Tang Dynasty, Kaishu became a popular form or writing.  This writing used a square style and used lines that were all of the same size.  Some of the characters written would still represent objects.

Xingshu Style

The Xingshu style was popular during the Jin Dynasty and it was also similar to our cursive writing.

It was called running style because it allowed the writer to write quicker and this blended some of the strokes together and made the writing look more round instead of square.

More Facts About Ancient Chinese Writing:

  • People from the Shang Dynasties are said to have written books made of wood.
  • Characters or symbols in Ancient Chinese writing can mean complete words.
  • Some characters that represented words changed over time as writing changed.
  • It is thought that the Shang people were the earliest people to learn to read and write.
  • No one knows the exact date of the first Chinese writings.
  • Oracle bones that were often times written on are the shoulder blade bones from oxen that were cleaned and dried.
  • Chinese fortune tellers used oracle bones to tell the future.
  • The pictures that the first Ancient Chinese drew were called pictographic.
  • Pictographic means pictures that are used to represent words or ideas.
  • Caoshu was the type of writing that was sometimes used to write poetry because it was considered beautiful.
  • The way someone wrote was the way that people could tell what class they were from.

What Did You Learn?

  • What was the first type of Ancient Chinese writing?  The first and oldest type of writing was found on the oracle bones.  This type of writing was called pictographic, because it was written by characters that represented an idea or a thing.
  • Caoshu Style of writing is similar to what?  The Caoshu style of writing is similar to cursive writing.
  • Why was the Lishu style of writing formed?  The Lishu style of writing was formed because it was faster and easier than other forms of writing.  Government workers needed a way to be able to write faster so this form or writing was created.
  • Why was the Small Seal style of writing created?  The Small Seal style of writing was created because the emperor wanted everyone to have the same type of writing so everyone could write and understand it.
  • What type of punctuation is used in Ancient Chinese writing?  Ancient Chinese writing does not use any type of punctuation.
  • Does Ancient Chinese writing go from left to right?  No.  Ancient Chinese writing starts in the upper right-hand corner of the page and goes vertical, meaning up and down.