Clerical script

The clerical script (traditional Chinese: 隸書; simplified Chinese: 隶书; pinyin: lìshū; Japanese: 隷書体, reishotai; Vietnamese: lệ thư), also formerly chancery script, is an archaic style of Chinese calligraphy which evolved from the Warring States period to the Qin dynasty, was dominant in the Han dynasty, and remained in use through the Wei-Jin periods.[1] Due to its high legibility to modern readers, it is still used for artistic flavor in a variety of functional applications such as headlines, signboards, and advertisements. This legibility stems from the highly rectilinear structure, a feature shared with modern regular script (kaishu). In structure and rectilinearity, it is generally similar to the modern script; however, in contrast with the tall to square modern script, it tends to be square to wide, and often has a pronounced, wavelike flaring of isolated major strokes, especially a dominant rightward or downward diagonal stroke. Some structures are also archaic.

Clerical script
Clerical script from the Han Dynasty
LanguagesOld Chinese
Time period
Bronze Age China, Iron Age China
Parent systems
Child systems
Simplified Chinese
Chu Nom
Khitan script
Jurchen script
Tangut script
Clerical script
Regular and clerical script eg
Chinese characters for "Clerical Script", in regular script (left) and clerical script (right).
Traditional Chinese隸書
Simplified Chinese隶书
Literal meaningslave script


Clerical script is popularly but mistakenly thought to have developed or been invented in the early Han dynasty from the small seal script. The process of change between small seal script and clerical script is referred to as the Libian (lit: Clerical Change) (隸變).[2] There are also historical traditions dating to the Hàn dynasty which mistakenly attributed the creation of clerical script to the Qín dynasty and in particular to Chéng Miǎo, who was said to have invented it at the behest of Qin Shi Huang.[3] Another traditional account is that it was invented by government scribes, in particular those involved in the justice and penal systems.[4]

However, from written materials unearthed by archaeologists, it is now known that all stages of Chinese writing underwent periods of natural evolution, and none of them were inventions by one person; this is true of clerical script as well.[5] Furthermore, rather than being established by government scribes, it has been argued that clerical script was already in popular use, and the Qín dynasty use by scribes merely reflects this trend.[6]

Archaeological discoveries now clearly show that an immature form of clerical script ("proto-clerical") was already developing in the state of Qín during the Warring States period,[7] and into the early Western Hàn; this can be seen on a number of bamboo books unearthed recently.[8] Furthermore, the writing immediately preceding clerical script was not merely seal script alone; rather, there was a coexistence of seal script (the at-first dominant and formal style) alongside an increasingly popular but secondary form of "vulgar", "popular", or "common" writing, which was very roughly executed and which was generally rectilinear.[9] The popularity of this vulgar writing grew as the use of writing itself became more widespread.[9] The structures and style of many of the characters executed in this vulgar writing were similar or even identical to their later clerical script counterparts,[10] leading some to conclude that proto-clerical (and therefore clerical) script evolved not from seal script but from the vulgar writing of Qín, which coexisted with seal script in Warring States to Qín dynasty.[11] The Qín bamboo script is a good example of this transition, having evolved from vulgar Qín writing and considered by some to constitute Qín clerical script.[12]


The etymology of the Chinese name for the script lìshū (simplified Chinese: 隶书; traditional Chinese: 隸書) is uncertain. meant a slave or prisoner serving the state, and thus, some infer that the script was used in recording the affairs related to such slaves, while others infer that it was used by prisoners conscripted as scribes.[13]

Usage and further evolution

During Warring States, proto-clerical script emerged in casual, informal usage. During the Qin dynasty it appears to have also been used in some scribal capacity, but never in formal usage. Maturing into clerical script in the early Han, it soon became the dominant script for general purposes, while seal script remained in use for the most formal purposes such as some stelae, signet seals (name chops), and especially the titles of written works and stelae; some cursive was also in use at the time.[14] At roughly the same time, the clerical script was used and inscribed onto many stelae which later influenced subsequent development of Chinese calligraphic styles.[15] Out of clerical script, a new form then emerged in the middle of the Eastern Han dynasty, which Qiu (2000, p. 113) terms "neo-clerical" script; it was from this neo-clerical and from cursive that by late in the Eastern Han semi-cursive would then evolve, out of which then emerged the modern standard script. Thus, according to Qiu, the evolution from clerical script to standard script was not a direct step as commonly supposed.[14]


  1. ^ As discussed and referenced below, proto-clerical emerged in Warring States to Qin; it is also widely known that clerical matured in the early Han. Although popularly associated only with the Han dynasty, clerical actually remained in use alongside cursive, neo-clerical, and semi-cursive scripts until after the Wei-Jin period, when the modern standard script became dominant; see Qiu 2000, p.113
  2. ^ Definition of 隸變: 文字學上指篆書改寫成隸書的經過。隸變過的形體,往往與原篆意有明顯差異。例如:篆書「󹡨」隸定成「秊」;隸變成「年」。隸定字仍可窺測出篆體的結構,隸變字則未必。
  3. ^ Qiu 2000, p.103, esp. footnote 28. Qiu cites Caì Yōng as saying: "Cheng Miao got rid of ancient (script) and established the clerical script forms".
  4. ^ This is the version given in the Hanshu, acc. to Táng Lán (唐蘭) 1979.《中國文字學》(上海:上海古籍出版社)。Zhōnggúo Wénzìxué (Chinese Linguistics). Shànghǎi Gǔjí Publishing, p.165, and Qiu 2000, p.107
  5. ^ Qiu 2000, p.107
  6. ^ Táng Lán 1979, p.165, cited in Qiu 2000, p.107; this does not, however, preclude influence by those scribes and even Cheng Miao in the process; as Qiu notes, Cheng Miao may have played a role in systematizing the script, thus leading to the mistaken tradition of his inventing it (Qiu p.107), much as Li Si's standardization of the already extant small seal script led to misperceptions that he had invented it.
  7. ^ Qiu 2000; p.59 & p.104
  8. ^ Qiu 2000, p.108
  9. ^ a b Qiu 2000, p.104
  10. ^ Qiu 2000, p.104-5; others were similar or identical to the forms of cursive script and were instrumental in its formation -- Qiu p.108-9
  11. ^ Qiu 2000, p.107
  12. ^ Qiu 2000, p.104-6
  13. ^ Qiu 2000, p.111
  14. ^ a b Qiu 2000, p.113
  15. ^ "The Stele of Mount Hua Temple at The West Alp". Vincent's Calligraphy. Retrieved 2017-05-16.


  • Qiu Xigui (2000). Chinese Writing. Translation of 文字學概論 by Mattos and Norman. Early China Special Monograph Series No. 4. Berkeley: The Society for the Study of Early China and the Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley. ISBN 1-55729-071-7.
Chinese bronze inscriptions

Chinese bronze inscriptions, also commonly referred to as bronze script or bronzeware script, are writing in a variety of Chinese scripts on Chinese ritual bronzes such as zhōng bells and dǐng tripodal cauldrons from the Shang dynasty (2nd millennium BC) to the Zhou dynasty (11th–3rd century BC) and even later. Early bronze inscriptions were almost always cast (that is, the writing was done with a stylus in the wet clay of the piece-mold from which the bronze was then cast), while later inscriptions were often engraved after the bronze was cast. The bronze inscriptions are one of the earliest scripts in the Chinese family of scripts, preceded by the oracle bone script.

Chinese calligraphy

Chinese calligraphy is a form of pleasing writing (calligraphy), or, the artistic expression of human language in a tangible form. This type of expression has been widely practiced in China and has been generally held in high esteem across East Asia. Calligraphy is considered as one of the four best friends of ancient Chinese literati, along with playing stringed musical instrument, the board game “go”, and painting. There are some general standardizations of the various styles of calligraphy in this tradition. Chinese calligraphy and ink and wash painting are closely related: they are accomplished using similar tools and techniques, and have a long history of shared artistry. Distinguishing features of Chinese painting and calligraphy include an emphasis on motion charged with dynamic life. According to Stanley-Baker, "Calligraphy is sheer life experienced through energy in motion that is registered as traces on silk or paper, with time and rhythm in shifting space its main ingredients." Calligraphy has also led to the development of many forms of art in China, including seal carving, ornate paperweights, and inkstones.

Chinese characters

Chinese characters (simplified Chinese: 汉字; traditional Chinese: 漢字; pinyin: hànzì; literally: 'Han characters') are logograms developed for the writing of Chinese. They have been adapted to write a number of other Asian languages. They remain a key component of the Japanese writing system (where they are known as kanji) and are occasionally used in the writing of Korean (where they are known as Hanja). They were formerly used in Vietnamese (in a system known as chữ Nôm) and Zhuang (in a system known as Sawndip). Collectively, they are known as CJK characters. Vietnamese is sometimes also included, making the abbreviation CJKV.

Chinese characters constitute the oldest continuously used system of writing in the world. By virtue of their widespread current use in East Asia, and historic use throughout the Sinosphere, Chinese characters are among the most widely adopted writing systems in the world by number of users.

Chinese characters number in the tens of thousands, though most of them are minor graphic variants encountered only in historical texts. Studies in China have shown that functional literacy in written Chinese requires a knowledge of between three and four thousand characters. In Japan, 2,136 are taught through secondary school (the Jōyō kanji); hundreds more are in everyday use. Due to post-WWII simplifications of Kanji in Japan as well as the post-WWII simplifications of characters in China, the Chinese characters used in Japan today are distinct from those used in China in several respects. There are various national standard lists of characters, forms, and pronunciations. Simplified forms of certain characters are used in mainland China, Singapore, and Malaysia; the corresponding traditional characters are used in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, and to a limited extent in South Korea.

In Japan, common characters are written in post-WWII Japan-specific simplified forms (shinjitai), while uncommon characters are written in Japanese traditional forms (kyūjitai), which are virtually identical to Chinese traditional forms. In South Korea, when Chinese characters are used, they are in traditional form, essentially identical to those used in Taiwan and Hong Kong where the official writing system is traditional Chinese. Teaching of Chinese characters in South Korea starts in the 7th grade and continues until the 12th grade; a total of 1,800 characters are taught, though these characters are used only in certain cases (on names, signs, academic papers, historical writings, etc.) and are slowly declining in use as native alphabetical hangul supplanted them in most aspects of Korean society.

In Old Chinese including Classical Chinese, most words were monosyllabic and there was a close correspondence between characters and words. In modern Chinese, the majority of Chinese words today consist of two or more characters. Rather, a character almost always corresponds to a single syllable that is also a morpheme.

However, there are a few exceptions to this general correspondence, including bisyllabic morphemes (written with two characters), bimorphemic syllables (written with two characters) and cases where a single character represents a polysyllabic word or phrase.Modern Chinese has many homophones; thus the same spoken syllable may be represented by many characters, depending on meaning. A single character may also have a range of meanings, or sometimes quite distinct meanings; occasionally these correspond to different pronunciations. Cognates in the several varieties of Chinese are generally written with the same character. They typically have similar meanings, but often quite different pronunciations. In other languages, most significantly today in Japanese and sometimes in Korean, characters are used to represent Chinese loanwords, to represent native words independently of the Chinese pronunciation (e.g., kunyomi in Japanese), and as purely phonetic elements based on their pronunciation in the historical variety of Chinese from which they were acquired. These foreign adaptations of Chinese pronunciation are known as Sino-Xenic pronunciations and have been useful in the reconstruction of Middle Chinese.

Chinese family of scripts

The Chinese family of scripts are writing systems descended from the Chinese Oracle Bone Script and used for a variety of languages in East Asia. They include logosyllabic systems such as the Chinese script itself (or hanzi, now in two forms, traditional and simplified), and adaptations to other languages, such as Kanji (Japanese), Hanja (Korean), Chữ nôm (Vietnamese) and sawndip (Zhuang). More divergent are Tangut, Khitan large script, and its offspring Jurchen, as well as the Yi script and possibly Korean Hangul, which were inspired by Chinese although not directly descended from it. The partially deciphered Khitan small script may be another. In addition, various phonetic scripts descend from Chinese characters, of which the best known are the various kana syllabaries, the zhuyin semi-syllabary, nüshu, and some influence on hangul.The Chinese scripts are written in various calligraphic hands, principally seal script, clerical script, regular script, semi-cursive script, and cursive script. (See Chinese calligraphy and Chinese script styles.) Adaptations range from the conservative, as in Korean, which used Chinese characters in their standard form with only a few local coinages, and relatively conservative Japanese, which has coined a few hundred new characters and used traditional character forms until the mid-20th century, to the extensive adaptations of Zhuang and Vietnamese, each coining over 10,000 new characters by Chinese formation principles, to the highly divergent Tangut script, which formed over 5,000 new characters by its own principles.

Chinese script styles

In Chinese calligraphy, Chinese characters can be written according to five major styles. These styles are intrinsically linked to the history of Chinese script.


Clerical may refer to:

Pertaining to the clergy

Pertaining to a clerical worker

Clerical script, a style of Chinese calligraphy

Clerical People's Party

Cursive script (East Asia)

Cursive script (simplified Chinese: 草书; traditional Chinese: 草書; pinyin: cǎoshū), often mistranslated as grass script, is a script style used in Chinese and East Asian calligraphy. Cursive script is faster to write than other styles, but difficult to read for those unfamiliar with it. It functions primarily as a kind of shorthand script or calligraphic style. People who can read standard or printed forms of Chinese or related scripts may not be able to comprehend this script.

Flat brush script

The Flat Brush script (simplified Chinese: 漆书; traditional Chinese: 漆書 pinyin: qī shū) is a writing style in Chinese calligraphy that was created by Jin Nong (simplified Chinese: 金农; traditional Chinese: 金農) during the Qing dynasty. The writing style is a mix of the clerical script of the Han dynasty and the regular script of the Wei dynasty; these two writing styles make the Flat Brush script a unique writing style in Chinese calligraphy. The technique used to write in the flat brush script is very different from the other writing styles. It has to be written using a flat brush and not the regular East Asian writing brush.[1]

Japanese typefaces

Shotai (書体) is the Japanese word for writing style and typeface. Shotai covers the calligraphic writing styles, such as

regular script,

seal script,

clerical script,

running script, and

cursive scriptas well as Japanese styles like

EdomojiIt also includes Japanese typefaces such as

Minchō and


Large seal script

Large Seal script or Great Seal script (Chinese: 大篆; pinyin: Dàzhuàn) is a traditional reference to Chinese writing from before the Qin dynasty (i.e. before 221 BCE), and is now popularly understood to refer narrowly to the writing of the Western and early Eastern Zhou dynasties (i.e. 1046–403 BCE), and more broadly to also include the oracle bone script (c.1250–1000 BCE). The term is in contrast to the name of the official script of the Qin dynasty, which is often called Small or Lesser Seal Script (小篆 Xiǎozhuàn, also termed simply seal script). However, due to the lack of precision in the term, scholars often avoid it and instead refer more specifically to the provenance of particular examples of writing.

In the Han dynasty (202 BCE – 220 CE), when clerical script became the popular form of writing and (small) seal script was relegated to more formal usage such as on signet seals and for the titles of stelae (inscribed stone memorial tablets which were popular at the time), the people began to refer to the earlier Qin dynasty script as 'seal' script (due to the continued use on signet seals, or name chops). At that time, there was still knowledge of even older, often more complex graphs (dating to the middle to late Zhou dynasty, and directly ancestral to the Qin forms) which differed from the Qin seal script forms, but which resembled them in their rounded, seal-script-like style (as opposed to the squared, rectilinear clerical script style). As a result, two terms emerged to describe them: 'greater seal script' for the more complex, earlier forms, and 'small seal script' for the Qin dynasty forms.

It is only more recently that the term 'greater seal script' has been extended to refer to Western Zhou forms or even oracle bone script, of which the Han dynasty coiners of this term were unaware. The term 'large seal script' is also sometimes traditionally identified with a group of characters from a book c. 800 BCE entitled Shizhoupian, preserved by their inclusion in the Han dynasty lexicon, the Shuowen Jiezi. Xu Shen, the author of Shuowen, included these when they differed from the structures of the Qin (small) seal script, and labelled the examples Zhòuwén (籀文) or Zhòu graphs. This name comes from the name of the book and not the name of a script. Thus, it is not correct to refer to the c. 800 BCE Zhoū (周) dynasty script as Zhòuwén. Similarly, the Zhòu graphs are merely examples of large seal script when that term is used in a broad sense.


Lishu may refer to:

Clerical script or lishu, style of Chinese calligraphy

Lishu County, in Jilin, China

Lishu District, in Jixi, Heilongjiang, China

List of CJK fonts

This is a list of notable CJK fonts (computer fonts which contain a large range of Chinese/Japanese/Korean characters). These fonts are primarily sorted by their typeface, the main classes being "with serif", "without serif" and "script". In this article, the two first classes are named Ming and sans-serif (gothic) while the "script" is further divided into several Chinese script styles.

The fonts are then sorted by their target writing system:

Chinese: Chinese character

Japanese: kanji, hiragana and katakana

Korean: Hangul, hanja, etc.

Vietnamese: for the Nom script formerly used

Zhuang: for Sawndip

Pan-Unicode: intended to globally support the majority of Unicode's characters, and not specifically designed for one or a few writing systems (note that Pan-Unicode font ≠ Unicode font)

Pan-CJK: intended to support the majority of Chinese/Japanese/Korean characters, and not specifically designed for any one of these writing systems[F] means this font is free and open-source software (FOSS); [F] means it was formerly seen as FOSS but has been involved in a legal controversy.

Nagasaki trade coins

Nagasaki trade coins (Japanese: 長崎貿易銭), also known as Nagasaki export coins refer to Japanese mon coins specifically cast for export by the Tokugawa government between 1659 and 1685 during the Sakoku era. Though the inscriptions on the coins often match Chinese coins from the Song dynasty they’re often cast with different typefaces such as the fact that the Genpō Tsūhō (元豊通寳) produced at Nagasaki was in Clerical script while the Song dynasty’s versions were in Seal script and Running script. Due to the success of these coins they’re often still found in modern day Vietnam and Java, and were copied by contemporary Vietnamese mints as they had become the de facto standard coinage in Vietnam as native production had declined in the 17th century. As the export of gold and silver was banned by the Qing dynasty Japanese merchants were most likely to go to Hanoi and Hội An to gain access to Chinese products causing these coins to start circulating en masse on the Vietnamese market. A special “5 elements” series of Nagasaki trade coins were also cast for export to Taiwan.

Old Texts

In Chinese philology, the Old Texts (Chinese: 古文經; pinyin: Gǔwén Jīng; Wade–Giles: Kuwen Ching) refer to some versions of the Five Classics discovered during the Han Dynasty, written in archaic characters and supposedly produced before the burning of the books, as opposed to the Modern Texts or New Texts (今文經) in the new orthography.

The last half of the 2nd century BC was the period when new versions of the Confucian classics were discovered. Most of these new versions were found in the walls of Confucius’s old residence in Qufu, the old capital of State of Lu, when Prince Liu Yu (d. 127 BC) attempted to expand it into a palace upon taking the throne there. In the course of taking the old wall apart, the restorers found old versions of the Classic of History, Rites of Zhou, Yili, Analects of Confucius and Classic of Filial Piety, all written in the old orthography used prior to the reforms of the Clerical script. Hence they were called “old texts”. These newly discovered editions had an effect on later Confucianism.

Regular script

Regular script (traditional Chinese: 楷書; simplified Chinese: 楷书; pinyin: kǎishū; Hepburn: kaisho), also called 正楷 (pinyin: zhèngkǎi), 真書 (zhēnshū), 楷體 (kǎitǐ) and 正書 (zhèngshū), is the newest of the Chinese script styles (appearing by the Cao Wei dynasty ca. 200 CE and maturing stylistically around the 7th century), hence most common in modern writings and publications (after the Ming and gothic styles, used exclusively in print).

Seal script

Seal script (Chinese: 篆書; pinyin: zhuànshū) is an ancient style of writing Chinese characters that was common throughout the latter half of the 1st millennium BCE. It evolved organically out of the Zhou dynasty script. The Qin variant of seal script eventually became the standard, and was adopted as the formal script for all of China during the Qin dynasty. It was still widely used for decorative engraving and seals (name chops, or signets) in the Han dynasty. The literal translation of the Chinese name for seal script, 篆書 (zhuànshū), is decorative engraving script, a name coined during the Han dynasty, which reflects the then-reduced role of the script for the writing of ceremonial inscriptions.

Semi-cursive script

Semi-cursive script is a cursive style of Chinese characters. Because it is not as abbreviated as cursive, most people who can read regular script can read semi-cursive. It is highly useful and also artistic.

Also referred to in English both as running script and by its Mandarin Chinese name, xíngshū, it is derived from clerical script, and was for a long time after its development in the 1st centuries AD the usual style of handwriting.

Some of the best examples of semi-cursive can be found in the work of Wang Xizhi (321-379) of the Eastern Jin Dynasty.

Tenrei Banshō Meigi

The Tenrei banshō meigi or Tenrei banshō myōgi (篆隷萬象名義, "The myriad things [of the universe], pronounced, defined, in seal script and clerical script") is the oldest extant Japanese dictionary of Chinese characters. The title is also written 篆隷万象名義 with the modern graphic variant ban (万 "10,000; myriad") for ban (萬 "10,000; myriad").

The prominent Heian Period monk and scholar Kūkai, founder of the Shingon Buddhism, edited his Tenrei banshō meigi around 830-835 CE, and based it upon the (circa 543 CE) Chinese Yupian dictionary. Among the Tang Dynasty Chinese books that Kūkai brought back to Japan in 806 CE was an original edition Yupian and a copy of the (121 CE) Shuowen Jiezi. One of the National Treasures of Japan held at the Kōzan-ji temple is an 1114 copy of the Tenrei banshō meigi.

The Chinese Yupian dictionary defines 12,158 characters under a system of 542 radicals (bùshǒu 部首), which slightly modified the original 540 in the Shuowen jiezi. The Japanese Tenrei banshō meigi defines approximately 1,000 kanji (Chinese characters), under 534 radicals (bu 部), with a total of over 16,000 characters. Each entry gives the Chinese character in ancient seal script, Chinese pronunciation in fanqie, and definition, all copied from the Yupian. The American Japanologist Don Bailey writes:

At the time of its compilation, calligraphic style and the Chinese readings and meanings of the characters were probably about all that was demanded of a dictionary, so that the Tenrei banshō meigi suited the scholarly needs of the times. It was compiled in Japan by a Japanese but is in no sense a Japanese dictionary, for it contains not one Wakun (Japanese reading). (1960:3)

In modern terms, this dictionary gives borrowed on'yomi "Sino-Japanese readings" but not native kun'yomi "Japanese readings". A later Heian dictionary, the (898-901 CE) Shinsen Jikyō was the first to include Japanese readings.

Ikeda Shoju has studied the conversion of JIS encoding to Unicode in order to create an online Tenrei banshō meigi.

Traditional Chinese characters

Traditional Chinese characters (traditional Chinese: 正體字/繁體字; simplified Chinese: 正体字/繁体字; Pinyin: Zhèngtǐzì/Fántǐzì) are Chinese characters in any character set that does not contain newly created characters or character substitutions performed after 1946. They are most commonly the characters in the standardized character sets of Taiwan, of Hong Kong and Macau, and in the Kangxi Dictionary. The modern shapes of traditional Chinese characters first appeared with the emergence of the clerical script during the Han Dynasty, and have been more or less stable since the 5th century (during the Southern and Northern Dynasties).

The retronym "traditional Chinese" is used to contrast traditional characters with Simplified Chinese characters, a standardized character set introduced by the government of the People's Republic of China on Mainland China in the 1950s.

Traditional Chinese characters are currently used in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau; as well as in Overseas Chinese communities outside Southeast Asia. In contrast, Simplified Chinese characters are used in mainland China, Singapore and Malaysia in official publications. However, several countries – such as Australia, the US and Canada – are increasing their number of printed materials in Simplified Chinese, to better accommodate citizens from mainland China.

The debate on traditional and simplified Chinese characters has been a long-running issue among Chinese communities. Currently, a large number of overseas Chinese online newspapers allow users to switch between both character sets.

Standard Mandarin
Hanyu Pinyinlìshū
Bopomofoㄌㄧˋ ㄕㄨ
Script styles /
Calligraphy styles
Styles for Movable type
and computer fonts

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