Characters & Calligraphy

Chinese Characters

Chinese people invented unique characters to record their language thousands of years ago. When using these complicated symbols, they made the characters a perfect combination with aesthetics and invented unparalleled fine art - Chinese calligraphy. To enjoy this marvelous art you can visit the Forest of Steles during your Xi'an tours, where many classical calligraphy works by the famous ancient calligraphers were engraved on a great number of steles. Read the following, you will find some joy and know that the Chinese characters are so interesting that you may intend to study Chinese. 


The origin of Chinese characters was found in the archaeological excavations of the Yangshao village, in Henan Province, situated in the middle reaches of the Yellow River, where the archeologists found a lot of symbols on the potteries. At the same time, in 1954, many potteries with different symbols were dug up at the Banpo Village Site of Xi'an. In 1959, similar symbols were also found in Dawenkou, Shandong Province. These symbols were all invented about 5,000-6,000 years ago, they are known as the origin of Chinese characters. 

Inscriptions on bones or tortoise shells

Chinese character is one of the four ancient writing systems in the world, such as the Egyptian hieroglyphics, the Sumerian cuneiform, and the Mayan alphabet. But today, only Chinese characters are still in use, and their shapes are not very like those of the present day. They were inscribed on the bones or tortoise shells for divining at the beginning of the Shang Dynasty (1675-1029). About 100 years ago, most of these inscriptions were found in Anyang City, Henan Province, the ruins of the ancient capital.

Enigmatical ideographs

There are three types of characters (or letters) in the world of written language, i.e., pictograph, ideogram, and phonogram. The Chinese characters belong to the ideogram, which originated from the pictograph. The oldest characters are more pictographs - they look like the objects they denote. What we use today are usually phonetic complexes, which consist of one part (called the radicals) demonstrating the semantic category of the character and the other part indicating its pronunciation. For example, the character "妈"/mother/ma is composed of "女," meaning the female identity of the mother, and "马"/ma, indicating its pronunciation. 

Number of Characters

It is estimated that only 3,000-5,000 characters are in common usage albeit there are about 110,000 characters in the Chinese writing system.

Aesthetical Calligraphy

As one of the most ancient writing systems, besides undertaking the recordation of resplendent Chinese civilization, the Chinese characters also evolved into the art of calligraphy in ancient times. This art looks so beautiful and graceful that it has had a strong impact on some countries since ancient times, for example, Japan, South Korea, and North Korea. Currently, many foreigners who are interested in Chinese culture begin to learn this ancient art.

Tools for Chinese Calligraphy

Tools for Chinese calligraphy are not the common pens or paper but the unique writing brush, rice paper (Xuan paper), Chinese ink, and inkstone. They are called the "four treasures" of Chinese calligraphy and traditional Chinese painting. 

Five Scripts of Chinese Calligraphy

The imaginative fine art has gradually evolved into five major scripts since about 213 B.C. when the Chin Shih Huang emperor (China's first emperor) unified the written form from the different states that were conquered by him. These scripts are Zuanshu (seal script), Lishu (official or clerical script), Caoshu (cursive script), Xingshu (semi-cursive script), and Kaishu (regular script).

A Minor Try!

After reading the above, you can have a minor try to practice Chinese calligraphy in regular script.  The character "永" (which means "eternal" or "eternity") is a classic example of a character to practice. To write this character well, you must follow the indication of the number and arrows.

Do you find something interesting in this practice? Indeed, if you can write this character really nicely, then you will probably be able to write all Chinese characters well.

Start tailor-making your own China tours with us.

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