About ancient Chinese Characters & calligraphy Q&A

What are ancient Chinese Characters?

They are the original calligraphic type of the characters we're using now. It means a variety of styles of the Characters belong to the Ten-sho age in a wide sense, from the origin to the second period, which is called Rei-sho. It's far over a thousand years.

What's different from those we're using?

Chinese Characters are historically classified into three styles, the first Ten-sho age in a wide sense, next Rei-sho age and the third and present stage is Kai-sho block letters. Old Chinese Characters are different in type and figure from Kai-sho, but all are on a developmental line in Characters.

When it comes to ancient Chinese Characters, are they all hieroglyphs?
It's nearest to the origin of Characters. So a high percentage of the characters are comprised of hieroglyph, but there are rather few in number, because there is apparently some limit of showing the pictographic. But there are more pictorial figures than Characters,which are the most entertaining.

What's Ten-sho both in a narrow sense and in a wide meaning?

When I'd like to explain what Ten-sho is, I usually show an example of Jitsu-in, a sort of Hanko (a seal). In order to stress how precious and authorized things are, Chinese people and later Koreans and Japanese, use a seal which is in a Ten-sho style, the Characters on these seals are Ten-sho style in a narrow sense, which is called Shoh-ten. Ordinary people think of Shoh-ten as Ten-sho, even when they start learning Calligraphy. In their mind Shoh-ten is the only kind of calligraphic style.

Then, Shoh-ten means.....

appears last in the long Ten-syo history. Well-known Shi koh-tei (whose name means First Emperor) of SHIN dynasty used, systematized and authorized. In the beginning, characters were restricted to people such as governors in Empires or those in special positions, and high-rank officials could use them. When Emperors were losing their governing power around the age of Toh-SHUH period, and above all in the Sen-goku period, many newly rising powers (warlords) used their special Characters in their own states and so the way they expressed things was getting quite different. In fact, people in one state couldn't communicate with those in another in letters. Shi koh-tei organized and unified all the use of letters in different states, which meant to manifest his power. Ironically while he was unifying Characters, the waves of Rei-sho were nearing and SHIN perished in no time. Next the KAN dynasty made the Rei-sho style the formal public letters. But the great Character-organizing deeds by Shi koh-tei was a sort of summary of the Ten-sho era and Chinese people sent down a legacy in Characters. Setsu-mon kai-ji by Kyo Shin about A.D.100 was the most beautiful product of those years.

What sort of old Chinese characters and how many are there?

In fact there are a great many, but the most representative ones are Koh-kotsu bun and Kim-bun. I mean representative as being plenty in quantity and quality or nearest to the original Characters. Others are named after the materials they are written on , for example, on China (Toh-bun), stone (Seki-bun), bamboo (Chikkan), cloth (Haku-sho) or old seals (Im-bun). People also put names from a different point of view, Ko-bun and Chuh-bun.

Could you tell me in more detail what koh-kotsu bun is?

Koh-kotsu bun
is characters which fortunately still remain on tortoise carapace or the bones of cows. They are found a hundred years ago by chance in the ruins of the capital of the IN dynasty which existed about 3.400 years ago. During the IN period people practiced divination about ordinary lives in the dynasty and for the royal families on the occasion of very important public actions. They used the carapace or the animal bones. By and by they started inscribing letters on the divinatory carapace and bones. So there remained Characters. The existence of the IN dynasty, which until then was believed to be only an imaginary Empire,was ascertained.

Then what is kim-bun. Could you explain to me in the same fashion?

are the Characters inscribed on metal (mainly copper). From their research, scholars say the time of inscription on metals is almost the same as the appearance of Koh-kotsu bun. Probably because at those ages Characters were rapidly developing. In IN , passages of Kim-bun (the inscription on sacred copper vessels) was very short, but in the Sei-SHUH period those were getting longer, the calligraphy of letters were becoming more refined. It could be said that this period was the golden age of Kim-bun. This is known as Sei-SHUH Kim-bun.

In the end could you tell me the enchantment of calligraphy in ancient Chinese Characters?

It's to make works, using the old Chinese Characters I've explained about above. Though the calligraphy of Ten-sho was practiced , almost all were Shoh-ten. My calligraphy using old Chinese Characters tries to go further beyond here and come near to the origin and enjoy olden times in terms of Characters. There are a lot of Characters because there are great many of the hieroglyphic ingredients. It's near to the present-day propensity of calligraphy in our age in that it also comes close to the pictographic form. The essence is in the intellectual joy, learning and researching the Characters and enjoying writing, not merely in writing or copying which people have done until now. Why there'd been no name of the calligraphy of old Chinese letters? Shoh-ten ,as I said above, is one phase of Ten-sho. It's because Ten-sho calligraphies are limited in Shoh-ten. The charm of Ten-sho is ,in fact, the hieroglyphic phase of Characters. But the charm itself lies in the old age going far back to Ko-bun, Chuh-bun and further back to Kim-bun, and Koh-kotsu bun. It becomes more and more conspicuous if you trace back to the original. I, Johnan-Sanjin, proposes to present a complete picture of the Ten-sho ages, using every available old Chinese Character and extend your knowledge of Chinese Characters as deeply as possible. This is Johnan-Sanjin really suggests. Calligraphy using old Characters is never and ever difficult or tough ! Everybody in the world can do this by making use of Johnan-Sanjin's old-Chinese-Character-lexicography-series and the primary.

Dynasties and transition of Characters

Ten-sho : In a wide sense Ten-sho includes Koh-kotsu bun,Kim-bun and any other ancient Chinese Characters until Rei-sho appears. In a narrow sense Ten-sho is called Shoh-ten. Shoh-ten is systematized,organized and unified by Shi koh-tei of SHIN. It shows 10,000 words still now. This is the first orthodox style in history.

Rei-sho : the second orthodox style in history. The style was pictorial and flamboyant, short lived. Rei-sho originally appeared in repugnance of the complexity of lines and strokes composite of a word , but waving line of the main stroke went so far and became contradictory. Rei-sho had changed into kai-sho (cf down *7),too.

Kai-sho : the basic, block style of writing Chinese characters, the third orthodox style in history, current style. the print hand.

Gyoh-sho : the semi-cursive style of writing Chinese characters. the going style.

Soh-sho : the fully cursive style of writing Chinese characters, the glass hand style, the running style.

*1---Koh-kotsu bun is the ancient Chinese Characters left on bones and tortoise carapace.

*2---Kim-bun is the ancient Chinese Characters which is cast in a mold on the bronze vessel.

*3---Koh-ba mei-sho was the remaining words In Shin (one of the strong countries of a warlord ) at the end of Shun-juh period.

*4---Im-bun means characters especially engraved on the seals in Sen-goku era. The remains are limited only in and after this period,which is now thought of to be the origin of seals.

*5---Chuh-bun is known by the fact that fewer Chuh-bun words were compiled in the Setsu-mon Kai-ji, together with Ko-bun. Setsu-mon Kai-ji was written A.D.100, but at that age people,even the compiler,Kyo-shin, didn't know the fact there were koh-kotsu bun or kim-bun remaining. The Interest in characters before Shoh-ten was only in Ko-bun and Chuh-bun. Today some people think chuh-bun might have had the possibility of the organized,systematized words in Toh-SHUH dynasty. Chuh-bun is called Dai-ten. Shoh-ten is said to have been organized and systematized through Dai-Ten.

*6---Ko-bun was the aim of yearning of Chinese people who wanted to know characters before the age of Shoh-ten including Chuh-bun. There was a great rise of this propensity in Hoku-SOH period(A.D.979-1127). Some lexicons (about Ko-bun) were compiled in this period. Those were precious enough, but not fully reliable. In short Ko-bun is now thought of Characters contrary to the Westward in Sen-goku period (though it includes Shun-juh period) where Loyal families and subordinaries used Chuh-bun and was thought of being used in the area in those powers in the East and others except the West.

*7---The going style and the running style are the supplementary styles of hand-writing for cursives, abbreviations and copyings in contrast with the orthodox styles (people name them as Ten-sho, Rei-sho and Kai-sho). But in an ordinary sense, the going style and the running style make a contrast with the print hand, and they put the origin at about this age. But you can clearly see they contrast with Rei-sho. So I consider them not as a style but as only the Rei-hen which means a kind of omission, change and mutation of style. There has been Rei-hen since the beginning of the Characters. And the two biggest Rei-hens are those of Rei-sho from Ten-sho and also kai-sho from Rei-sho. Now Gyoh-sho, Soh-sho are thought of as independent styles because Shoh-soh and Gyoh-koh (on a list above) came up just after Rei-sho in similar writing styles, but I think they are only kinds of Rei-hen because Ten-sho had also going and running styles.

*8---The dating of the origins of the print hand differs amongst scholars. The age also goes further back according to many scholars.

*9---Seki-bun is the remains up till now inscribed on the stone. (Refer Toh-SHUH Seki-bun) There remain many kinds of characters (on the list below) which are called Sekko-bun on the surface of about ten stones like drums. They were one of the remains of Shin before the unification of Shi Koh-tei. There're many people who think typical Chuh-bun (Dai-ten). Some think in the late Shun-juh or early Sen-goku period.

*10---One of the countries of warlords in Shun-juh or Sen-goku period.

Transition of 4 Characters





Koh-kotsu bun*1


Koh-ba mei-sho*3







Toh-SHUH ki Kim-bun



Characters of So*10

Characters of Chuh-zan*10








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