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Art as language: How nature and life helped form the Chinese language

Drawing inspiration from nature and everyday objects, like the flow of water, pictographs formed the interesting origins of the Chinese written language.

Chinese is one of the world’s oldest written languages, but before its written characters were invented, ropes and symbols were used to count and tell stories. As China’s society became more complex, the need for efficient communication ushered the use of written script, which was also known as Hanzi (漢字). Though many other ancient languages faded as modern civilisation grew, the Chinese language intriguingly continued to evolve, and it has emerged as one of the most widely recognised written scripts in the world. Art as a language How nature and life formed the Chinese language pictograph

Origin of Chinese characters

Writing initially began with pictographs that symbolise and help describe nature, objects and life. Its initial form was a beautiful and appropriate representation of reality. Cases in point are the words Sun () and Moon ().

Art as a language How nature and life formed the Chinese language evolution radicals and compounds

The formation of Chinese characters

Characters were formed according to a set of rules established by ancient scholars. Characters were classified into six categories: pictographs, ideograms, compound ideographs, as well as phonetic loan, phono-semantic compound and derivative characters. Explaining ideas and concepts, for instance, entails the combination of two or more characters to form a new meaning. 

Art as a language How nature and life formed the Chinese language oracle bone writing

The evolution of Chinese Characters

Written characters, known today as simplified and traditional characters, originated from ancient Oracle bone script. The Oracle bone script inscribed on animal bones and tortoise shells evolved into different forms of writing throughout the centuries as society grew more sophisticated and ideas became more complex. The written language gradually developed from complicated drawings into simple strokes as a means to standardise and simplify for easier writing. 

Art as a language How nature and life formed the Chinese language evolution chinese calligraphy by Yun Hai Fa Shi

Chinese calligraphy by Yun Hai Fa Shi

Chinese as an art form

The ancient writing undoubtedly grew from drawings to form logic and purpose, but aside from serving as a language, it also functioned as an art form. Calligraphy was highly regarded as fine art long before painting was associated with calligraphy and it was valued more than many other forms of art. Interestingly enough, Chinese written in brush strokes uniquely convey the artist’s mind in the form of rhythm, movement and flow and can be observed by anyone without the ability to read the characters. 

This explains why Chinese characters are admired across the world as art, whether it is ink on paper, neon signs suspended on old buildings across the city, or even ink on skin, like in the case of the growing trend of Chinese characters used as symbolic tattoos. How ancient glyphs were inspired by nature and life as a means to visually reproduce reality has more association to the meaning of art than any other language. 

2020-11-17T20:44:44+00:00 November 17, 2020|Art|