Say What? China

Map focus, China

Who? Chinese

When? Late Shang dynasty, 1300-1100 BC

Chinese Characters

Can you note the changes made from bone to seal and seal to script?

Where? The earliest Chinese writing was found in archaeological excavations in the modern Xiantun village at Anyang in Henan province.

Why? The Chinese needed a writing system for recording royal divination performances during the Shang dynasty, as well as for documenting events and activities, including hunting, warfare, the weather, and the selection of lucky days for ceremonies.

What? Displaying over 4,500 characters and symbols, ancient Chinese oracle bones ,which were used for predicting the future, are the earliest evidence of Chinese writing. Today, with over 40,000 characters, the Chinese language has various levels of literacy. You can read Chinese newspapers and magazines by knowing only about 3,000 characters.

How? Characters incised onto turtle shells, ox bones, caste in bronze vessels

System? Chinese is the oldest continuously used writing system in the world. Chinese characters are monosyllabic , and each character has a meaning. Ancient Chinese is written from top to bottom and right to left.

Chinese characters are known as hanzi. The characters were originally pictures of people, animals, or things, but over centuries, hanzi have become increasingly stylized and no longer pictorially representative. Many characters have since been combined with others to create new ones. Until the early 20th century, classical Chinese, wenyan, was the main form of writing in China.

Learn more about Ancient writing systems from different cultures.

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