Chinese characters evolution
Hieroglyphics ~ 5000 B.C.
Pictures of nature found on ceramics dating from this period. River is three wavy lines; horse has mane and four legs. These pictures would later be a basis for the construction of more complex ideas. In fact, many modern characters still resemble their ancestral forms, thereby connecting China's present to its past.
Preclassical 1500 to 500 B.C.
Oracle bone divination introduce d. Tortoise shells and oxen shoulder blades are engraved with important questions and their possible answers. Bones then heated by fire, and predictions made based on crack patterns. Divination process elevates Chinese characters and calligraphy to sacred status. Any paper with writing on it was not thrown away, but burned in a “Pagoda of Compassionating the Characters.”
Classical Bronze Age to Han
Transition from pictures to stylized symbols. Introduction of radicals to categorize words by pronunciation and/or meaning. Monosyllabic language becomes polysyllabic.
Postclassical 200 AD to PresentSix Kinds of Characters * 90% of modern Chinese is meaning-sound compounds
horse mă 馬, pity diào弔, shoot shè 射, omen zhăo 兆
up shàng上, down xià 下, one yī 一, sān 三, center zhōng 中
scorpion → ten-thousand wán萬
魚 (fish, yǚ) + 包 (to wrap, bāo) = 鮑 (salted fish, bào)
言 (words, yán) + 青 (green/blue, qīng) = 請 (invite, qĭng)
至 (reach, zhì) + 刀 (knife, dāo) = 到 (to arrive, dào)
羊 (sheep, yáng) + 大 (big, dà) = 美 (beautiful mĕi)
禾 (grain, hé) + 火 (fire, huò) = 秋 (autumn, qiū)
立 (stand, lì) + 女 (woman, nǚ) = 妾 (concubine, qiè)
mouth 口 + earth 一 + lance 戈 + surround 囗 = nation guó 國
More super neat ideograms: good好, hurry極, sleep睡, tired累, east東, lake 湖
廷 (tíng, front yard) → 庭(tíng, king’s front yard)
萬 (old scorpion char.) → 蠆 (chài, with bug radical)
Recent Chinese characters evolution
There are about thirteen very different Chinese dialects. If a speaker of one dialect were to write a sentence, a speaker of any other dialect will immediately understand it. Yet if the two tried to communicate orally, they wouldn't understand a thing! (So the Chinese writing system actually allows you to communicate simultaneously in 13 different languages!) To eliminate such illiteracy, a reform movement arose during the early 20th century, resulting in simplified characters, Pinyin, and the adoption of the Beijing dialect as a pronunciation standard.
Influence on Western Thinking
The poetic elegance of Chinese ideograms has inspired many great Western thinkers, from Eisenstein on montage to Leibniz on Calculus. (Leibniz developed much math notation, such as “d/dx”.) Also, after WWII, there was a proposal to have traffic signs worldwide prepared like Chinese. We can see this effect today everywhere: railroad crossing, men working, loose gravel, slippery when wet, danger of falling rocks. Computer icons are also a modern form of ideography
Sample of the evolution of Chinese characters
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Chinese characters evolution
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