Oracle Bone Script & Oracle Bone

Ever wondered how the ancient Chinese words or characters look like? Is there a formal writing system for the Chinese words in the ancient times? Do they look different as compared to today’s Chinese characters? The answer is YES; the Oracle Bone Script is the first formal writing system in Ancient China and the characters are quite different to the modern Chinese characters today! Also, the Oracle Bone Script is normally found on a Oracle Bone.  

This blog post will basically cover the 3 aspects about the Oracle Bone & it’s Script. They are:

  1. What is the Oracle Bone Script & Oracle Bone
  2. Uses of the Oracle Bone Script & Oracle Bone
  3. The characters of the Oracle Bone Script

 

  1. So what exactly is the Oracle Bone Script?

The Oracle Bone Script, also known as Jia Gu Wen (甲骨文) is the earliest form of Chinese writing in ancient China. It is the first formal form of Chinese logographic writing system that was used roughly during the 1711 BCE to 1000 BCE during the Shang dynasty’s reign.

 

Disclaimer: Nobody truly knows when the Oracle Bone Script was invented though.

 

Oracle Bone Script is actually texts carved or written on tortoise or turtle shells and animal bones. That is also how the name “Bone Script” actually came about.

Turtle

 

  1. Uses of the Oracle Bone Script & Oracle Bone?

So, what does the Oracle Bone Script and Oracle Bone function as? Obviously things don’t get "invented" or "recognised" without any “legit” reasons! They are mainly used for divination! Some surprise here for people like me! I believe people like me, living in the modern society would have imagined or understand divination to be foretelling the future through the use of tarot cards, crystal balls or even palmistry. Not even in my wildest dreams, I would have thought that the cracks on the burnt turtle shells could actually tell me something about the future! Say what?

Say What? (Image from Google)

 

 

You must be confused right now so yes, let me repeat that. The Oracle Bone Script is being carved on turtle shells or animal bones, which were then heated until cracks appeared. Then the interpretations about the future will be made JUST BY ANALYSING THE CRACKS and that my friends, is the use of it.

Let me name an example to further illustrate one of the possible use of the Oracle Bone Script and the Oracle Bone so that everyone can have a better understanding of it. Imagine a Shang Dynasty Official wanting to know whether a particular day will rain so that he can organise an event. He will then proceed to write all possible outcomes using the Oracle Bone Script system on the Oracle Bone (Turtle’s shell/ Animal bones) then he will heat it up till cracks appeared. The cracks will somehow lead him to the answer. That is an example of how Oracle Bone Script and Oracle Bone is being used in the divination, which is commonly performed during the Shang dynasty.

  1. The characters of the Oracle Bone Script

Hold and behold! You're about to attempt to understand the Oracle Bone Script! Like I mentioned previously, the Oracle Bone Script is a logographic writing system. This explains why someone who is foreign to the language might still be able to interpret certain symbols inscriptions and its meanings on the Oracle Bone Script. Check out the picture below to see how the characters looked like! P.S: THIS IS THE SIMPLEST PICTURE TO ILLUSTRATE the Oracle Bone Script and also the easiest to understand!

 

Oracle Bone Script

Stare intensely at the image. You will notice that the logos are pretty similar to real life depictions of the descriptions. The eye kind of look like an eye, fire looks like fire, ear looks like ear, heart looks like heart and so on. To be honest, the symbols looks pretty simple compared to the Chinese characters (Han Zi) today. I believed the Oracle Bone Script logos were meant to look simple so people can learn fast and readily master it. After all, it is the first formal writing system in ancient China! Most of the ancient Chinese were probably visual learners which is why they came up with a writing system that is logographic. What do you think? Feel free to let me know!

Lastly, I would like to conclude that as a Chinese living in the modern society, I still prefer my “Han Zi” to all the Oracle Bone Script logos as I seriously doubt I am “artistic” enough to replicate it perfectly, after all, everyone have different ways of writing the "Logo Art".

 

Sources:

http://www.omniglot.com/chinese/jiaguwen.htm

 

http://www.lib.cam.ac.uk/mulu/oracle.html

 

http://www.ancientscripts.com/chinese.html

 

http://yalepress.yale.edu/languages/pdf/Yin_chapter1.pdf

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Chinese_language

 

http://www.ancientchina.co.uk/writing/home_set.html