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History of Chinese Characters

Updated: Sep 1,2014 5:34 PM

Chinese is the language with the largest number of users in the world, and the script with the longest history.

It is difficult to determine the specific time when Chinese characters emerged. The oldest characters we see today are the scripts on the tortoise shells and animal bones in the Shang Dynasty (17th- 11 the century BC) and scripts carved on bronze wares. Characters of the Shang Dynasty have been much developed, so Chinese characters might have emerged long before the dynasty, perhaps as early as in the New Stone Age about four to five thousand years ago.

We can see pictographic characters on porcelains with signs unearthed at the sites of the Erlitou Culture and Dawenkou Culture. These pictographic characters and ideographic characters gradually evolved into relatively mature characters. After scattered and individual characters accumulated to a certain number, a system of Chinese characters came into being through efforts of standardization. According to textual researches, primitive characters emerged in the middle period of the New Stone Age, and took about 2,600 years to basically form the system of Chinese characters.