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Point of interest: Early kanji forms

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Early kanji forms
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Kanji have been in existence for over 4000 years, but early forms looked quite different to the modern forms in use today. Over time, kanji have passed through several distinct stages of evolution.

Oracle script / bone script  
こうこつぶん
甲骨文

The earliest forms of kanji were inscribed on bones called 'oracle bones' (actually pieces of bone from ox or turtle). Oracle script is very stylized, simple, and usually pictographic - it is often relatively easy to identify what a character represents.

Bronze script / bronzeware script  
きんぶん
金文
/
しょうていぶん
鐘鼎文

The next key stage of kanji were inscribed on bronze bells, cauldrons etc, typically by writing the characters in the clay of the casting mold (although sometimes by inscribing them on the finished product). This period spanned multiple writing styles and regional differences, so characters from this era ranged from highly pictorial to much more abstract and artistic.

Seal script  
てんしょ
篆書

The next key stage of kanji, seal script, was used for decorative engraving and for seals (ie, the stamps officials used to write their names). It was the first to be adopted as a formal script for the whole of China, and was in common use from about 500 BC. Characters written in seal script are often recognizably close to their modern equivalents, although one key difference is that they were not formed with brushes, so they tend to use curved lines and not to have the varying widths characteristic of brushstrokes.

Kanji used in this point of interest

コウ   カン    #1, first; armor   
コツ   ほね bone   
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ブン   モン    literature   ふみ a letter   
キン   コン   かね gold; money   
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ショウ   かね bell   
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テイ   three-legged stool   かなえ three legged kettle   
テン    seal-style characters   
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ショ   か to write   
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