The evolution of Chinese calligraphy | Part 5 – Examples of the bronze script in the Zhou dynasty

In our last post we discussed how the oracle bone script evolved into bronze script. Changes in the medium, specifically the shift from shells to bronze-ware during the Shang dynasty, lead to more archaeological evidence of the bronze script surviving to present day. These discoveries allowed us to deepen our knowledge of early bronze script and the lives of the people who used it. The bronze script was also used throughout the Zhou dynasty (周朝 Zhōu cháo), and it's examples of the script's development during this long period of Chinese history that we're looking at today. 

The Zhou dynasty (1046 – 255 BCE) is China’s longest dynasty. So long in fact, that it is split into two distinct time periods: Western Zhou (1046 – 771 BCE) and Eastern Zhou (770 – 255 BCE). Western Zhou was controlled by a number of emperors and the political structure they developed was successful in ruling the dynasty for 500 years. 

The Eastern Zhou dynasty includes a period of referred to today as the “Spring and autumn period”; during this time the political structure was failing to control all the states. Consequently, towards the end of the Eastern Zhou, the 'warring states period' was defined by long wars and ultimately the formation of the new Qin dynasty.

An artists depiction of warfare during the Zhou dynasty.

An artists depiction of warfare during the Zhou dynasty.

There are few significant differences with bronze script from the Shang dynasty or early Western Zhou. There were still many irregularities with stroke length, and shape. But during the Eastern Zhou period, characters were written with increasing regularity and linearity.  

A graph showing bronze script linearisation during the Zhou dynasty 

A graph showing bronze script linearisation during the Zhou dynasty 

In the Spring and autumn period, bronze script spread to all levels of society and enjoyed mass adoption. From the picture above we can clearly see how the script’s form during the Spring and autumn period (far right column) more closely resembles modern day Chinese (far left column). This steady simplification of the characters, coupled with a mass adoption, meant written Chinese was ready to be developed further into a more standardized written script.

Next time we will talk about how the Qin dynasty that unified China after the warring states period resulted in the standardization of many aspects of life; including a standardized Chinese script. 

Bestroke