Sunday, July 03, 2005


The lishu was already very close to, and led to the adoption of, kaishu 楷书 , regular script. The oldest existing example of this dates from the Wei (220-265), and the script developed under the Jin (265-420). The standard writing today is square in form, non-cursive and architectural in style. The characters are composed of a number of strokes out of a total of eight kinds-the dot, the horizontal, the vertical, the hook, the rising, the left-falling (short and long) and the right-falling strokes. Any aspirant for the status of calligrapher must start by learning to write a good hand in kaishu.

On the basis of lishu also evolved caoshu 草书(grass writing or cursive hand), which is rapid and used for making quick but rough copies. This style is subdivided into two schools: zhangcao and jincao.

The xingshu行书 or running hand is something between the regular and the cursive scripts. When carefully written with distinguishable strokes, the xingshu characters will be very close to the regular style; when swiftly executed, they will approach the caoshu or cursive hand. Chinese masters have always compared with vivid aptness the three styles of writing-kaishu, xingshu and caoshu-to people standing, walking and running.

The zhuan(篆书) script or seal character was the earliest form of writing after the oracle inscriptions, which must have caused great inconvenience because they lacked uniformity and many characters were written in variant forms. The first effort for the unification of writing, it is said, took place during the reign of King Xuan (827-782 B. C.) of the Western Zhou Dynasty, when his taishi (grand historian) Shi Zhou compiled a lexicon of 15 chapters, standardizing Chinese writing under script called zhuan. It is also known as zhouwen after the name of the author.

The lishu隶书 (official script) came in the wake of the xiaozhuan in the same short-lived Qin Dynasty (221 - 207 B. C.). This was because the xiaozhuan, though a simplified form of script, was still too complicated for the scribes in the various government offices who had to copy an increasing amount of documents. Cheng Miao, a prison warden, made a further simplification of the xiaozhuan, changing the curly strokes into straight and angular ones and thus making writing much easier. A further step away from the pictographs, it was named lishu because li in classical Chinese meant "clerk" or "scribe". Another version says that Cheng Miao, because of certain offence, became a prisoner and slave himself; as the ancients also called bound slaves "li", so the script was named lishu or the "script of a slave".


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