Chinese Characters – Oracle Bone Inscriptions

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Oracle bone inscriptions are an ancient Chinese script, also known as “Qiwen”, “Oracle bone inscriptions”, “Yinxu script” or “tortoise shell and beast bone inscriptions”. It is the earliest mature Chinese character that we can see. It mainly refers to the characters engraved on tortoise shells or animal bones by the royal family of China in the late Shang Dynasty for divination records. It is one of the earliest known systematic Shang characters in China and East Asia. Kind of carrier.

 

It was first found by villagers in Xiaotun Village, Anyang, Henan. At that time, they did not know that this was an ancient relic. It was only used as a medicinal material “dragon bone” for curing all diseases. Many tortoise shells and animal bones engraved with oracle bones were ground into powder and wasted. Many valuable cultural relics were collected. Later, when Wang Yirong, an official and epigrapher in the late Qing Dynasty, was in the 25th year of Guangxu (1899), he discovered the location of the oracle bone inscriptions on the oracle bones from Anyang, Henan. Over the past 100 years, more than 154,600 oracle bones have been unearthed locally through archaeological excavations and other means. In addition, there are also oracle bone inscriptions in Henan and other parts of Shaanxi, which lasted from the late Shang Dynasty (about 1300 BC) to the Spring and Autumn Period.

 

Oracle has a symmetrical and stable pattern. Possess the three elements of calligraphy, namely the use of pen, knots, and composition. From the perspective of the number and structure of fonts, Oracle has developed a more rigorous system of text. The principle of “six books” of Chinese characters is reflected in oracle bone inscriptions. But the traces of the original pictures and characters are still more obvious, and the pictographic meaning is also more obvious.

 

On November 24, 2017, Oracle successfully passed the review of the International Advisory Committee of the UNESCO Memory of the World Project and was successfully selected into the Memory of the World Register.

Oracle Bone Inscriptions

 

Development path

The oracle bone inscriptions are named after they were engraved and written on tortoise shells and beast bones. They are the handwritings handed down by the Yin and Shang dynasties. The content is the earliest written inscriptions that record the 270 years of Pan Geng’s move from Yin to King Zhou. Yin and Shang had three major characteristics, namely faith in history, drinking, and worship of ghosts and gods. Because of this, these tortoise shells, which determine fishing, conquests, and agriculture, can reappear in later generations and become important materials for the study of Chinese characters. In the Shang Dynasty, there have been excellent pen and ink, the body of the book is engraved by the classics, the style is thin and sharp, and has the taste of a blade. Affected by the rise and fall of the style of writing, it can be roughly divided into five periods, which are introduced separately below. In the late Shang Dynasty, it moved from Pan Geng to Yin to Shang Zhou for a total of about 273 years and experienced 12 kings in the 8th century. In this period, the oracle bone inscriptions should also be divided into early and late periods. There are many theories about the research on the stages of oracle bones in the Shang Dynasty. Nowadays, Dong Zuobin’s theory of five stages divided by ten criteria such as descent, title, and zhenren is mainly used, namely the first stage: Pan Geng, Xiao Xin, Xiao Yi , Wu Ding; second period: Zu Geng, Zu Jia; third period: Lin Xin, Kangding; fourth period: Wu Yi, Wen Ding; fifth period: Di B, Di Xin.

 

1. Majestic period

From Pan Geng to Wu Ding, about one hundred years, influenced by Wu Ding’s heyday, the calligraphy style is magnificent and majestic, which is the ultimate in oracle bone calligraphy. Generally speaking, the strokes are round and sharp, and the straight and straight are staggered, which is full of changes. No matter fat or thin, they are extremely powerful.

 

2. Sincere time

From Zu Geng to Zu Jia, about forty years. Both of them can be regarded as virtuous monarchs who kept their accomplishments. The calligraphy of this period probably inherited the style of the earlier period, abide by the conventions, and made very few new creations, but it is no longer as strong and bold as the previous period.

 

3. The depressed period

From Lin Xin to Kangding, about fourteen years. This issue can be said to be the fall of the Yin dynasty’s writing style. Although there are still a lot of neat scripts, the dislocation of the paragraphs is not so regular, and some are naive and disordered, plus the number of typos is not uncommon.

 

4. The strong period

From Wu Yi to Wen Wu Ding, about seventeen years. Wen Wu Ding is determined to restore the old, trying to restore the majesty of Wu Ding era, the calligraphy style has become strong and powerful, showing the atmosphere of Zhongxing, with a very strong style in the thinner strokes.

 

5. Strict rectification period

From Emperor Yi to Emperor Xin, about eighty-nine years. The calligraphy style tends to be more rigorous, which is slightly closer to the second issue; the length is longer, the rigor is too strict, there is no decadence, and there is no majestic posture.

 

The thin handwriting on the oracle bones was also affected by the knife cut. In divination, “yes” or “no” is often engraved on both sides of the tortoise shell’s central longitudinal line. Since then, the central line is written to the left and right, so the two sides are symmetrical and harmonious, with the beauty of symmetrical lines. And after the engraving, the small and small letters are filled with ink and ink, or the front and back are filled with ink and ink, which has a deeper meaning of art, which can be called a miracle of book history.

Oracle Bone Inscriptions development

 

Record content

Oracle on Bone Bone

There are four main items:

(1) The tortoise shells and animal bones that have been processed and scraped shall be kept by a special commissioner. The official engraved notes on the edges of the oracle bones to describe the origin and storage of these oracle bones, which is called “Notes inscriptions”;

 

(2) During the divination, the divination officer burned and drilled the nest trough with burning redbud wood pillars, causing cracks in the shape of “divination” to be formed on the front of the bone. Ask the basis for good and bad things. Under the earlier oracle bone divination signs, engrave the numbers of the divination sequence. This kind of number is also called “precision sequence”;

 

(3) The main part of the oracle bone inscriptions is the inscriptions, that is, the inscriptions that record the progress and results of the fortune-telling activity after the divination activity is over. Most of them are engraved on the front of the oracle bones, and some are engraved on the reverse;

 

(4) Tiangan (A, B, C, D, E, Ji, G, Xin, Ren, Gui) and Earthly Branches (Zi, Chou, Yin, Mao, Chen, Si, Wu, Wei, Shen, You, Xu) The table of sixty stems and branches composed of matching names, can be said to be the earliest calendar in our country.

 

In addition, there are some works in the oracle bone inscriptions practiced by people who learned to write inscriptions at that time, called “Xi Ke” or “Xi Qi”.

 

Engraved deer skull

Most of the content of the oracle bone inscriptions are records of the divination of the Yin and Shang royal families. Most people in the Shang Dynasty were superstitious about ghosts and gods, and they had to ask questions about big and small things. Some of the content of divination was about the weather, some were about the harvest of farming, and some were about sickness and early birth of precious children. Hunting, fighting, and sacrificial offerings required divination. Up. Therefore, the content of the oracle bone inscriptions can provide a vague understanding of the life of the Shang people, as well as the historical development of the Shang Dynasty.

 

At the same time, the shape of oracle bone inscriptions is very close to that of ancient buildings. It can be said that architectural records are also a major origin of oracle bone inscriptions. From many architectural glyphs in oracle bone inscriptions, we can understand the structural form and development context of ancient Chinese architecture.

 

The word “high” in oracle bone inscriptions. From its glyph, it can be inferred that there was a building built on earthen platform in the Shang Dynasty. The lower part should be regarded as a cellar dug in the earth platform, which is a construction method after the rise of private ownership and the emergence of families. The upper part can be seen as a building with both a roof and walls. The appearance of the wall was a remarkable creation in ancient China. The indoor space enclosed by walls is much taller than the roof only, which also fits the meaning of “the taller, the Chongye”.

 

The word “gong” in oracle bone inscriptions. It can be seen as a house with two (or more than two) indoor spaces covered under a large roof. This is a very exquisite tall building exclusively for the ruling class.

Record content

 

Characteristic

Bu Jia Shang Wang Wu Ding period

Oracle bone inscriptions are words engraved or written on tortoise shells and animal bones. It was unearthed in Xiaotun Village, Anyang, Henan Province, because it was the capital of Pan Geng to Emperor Xin in the late Shang Dynasty. It was called “Yin” in history. After the Shang Dynasty destroyed the country, it became a ruin, and later generations named it “Yin Ruins”. Therefore, the oracle bone inscriptions are also called “Yinxu script”. The vast majority of its content is royal divination speech, so it is also called “divine divination” or “zhen divination text”. This kind of writing is basically carved by Qi, also known as “Qi Wen” or “Yin Qi” and so on.

 

Oracle is more than 3,000 years old. It is not only the earliest and systematic data for studying the origin of Chinese characters, but also an important asset for studying Oracle calligraphy. From the perspective of calligraphy, oracle bone inscriptions have already possessed the three basic elements of calligraphy, including the use of pens, the formation of characters, and the method of composition.

 

Text

From the text on the oracle bones, they already have the three elements of Chinese calligraphy: With pen, End word, and Constitution. Its With pen lines are strict and thin, with both straight and thick lines, and multiple strokes, which have an impact on the With pen knife used in later generations of seal carving. From the perspective of structural fonts, Text not only has changes, although the size is different, it is more balanced and symmetrical, and it also shows a stable pattern. Therefore, from the perspective of the Constitution, although affected by the size and shape of the bone fragments, it still shows the skills of engraving and the artistic characteristics of writing. “Oracle Bone Calligraphy” has become popular among some calligraphers and calligraphy lovers, which proves its charm.

Characteristic

 

With pen

From the With pen, the oracle bone inscriptions are carved on the hard tortoise shells or animal bones with a knife, so straight lines are often used at the moment, and the curves are also formed by engraving short straight lines. The thickness of the strokes is also mostly uniform; because the knife is raised and closed straight down, most of the lines show the characteristics of a thicker middle and thinner ends, which are thin and firm, straight and sharp, and full of three-dimensional feeling.

 

End word

As far as End word is concerned, the shape of oracle bone inscriptions is mostly rectangular or a few squares, with the beauty of symmetry or polymorphism. In addition, the oracle bone inscriptions on the End word also have the structure of combining squares and circles, opening and closing, and some characters have more or less traces of pictograms, which are naive and vivid in the initial development stage of Text.

 

Constitution

Judging from the Constitution, the whole inscription is clear and the text size is uneven. Although there are changes in density, up and down, left and right in each line, the whole article can be in a lively situation of continuity of qi, the interdependence of size, corresponding left and right, and echoing back and forth. Moreover, those with a large number of words are arranged tightly throughout the article, giving people a sense of lushness, and those with a small number of words appear sparse and ethereal, in short, they all present a simple and brilliant taste.

 

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