Writing in Ancient China: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Leila Brollosy Pullum

Leila has taught a variety of elementary school grade levels over the last four years and has her master's degree in educational studies.

The exact date of when the Chinese began writing is a mystery. However, scholars have found evidence of early Chinese writing from the 10th century BCE. This lesson will uncover the history about writing in ancient China and its impact on the modern world.

The Earliest Ancient Writings

In 1953, men digging out the foundation for a factory in a Chinese village came across an amazing discovery. They found pottery with symbols and markings that were anywhere from 4,000 to 5,000 years old. This sparked a debate: were those markings just symbols or did they represent real writing? While most scholars don't know what the markings were, they do agree the first evidence of full sentences was found on oracle bones from the Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 BCE).

Oracle bones were often the shoulder blades of oxen scraped clean and dried. These bones with written carvings engraved on them would be used by Chinese fortune tellers to tell the future. A fortune teller would write a question on it and heat the bones up until they cracked. The crack would indicate a secret message that the fortune teller would then decode.

Oracle bones show the earliest evidence of Chinese writing.
shang

Development of Writing

The script on the bones is the first type of writing the Chinese used. The script is pictographic, meaning pictures are used to represent concepts and words. If a person wanted to write about a royal feast they might draw a picture of a palace or a king and an animal roasting. Another type of script, called lishu, was developed in 500 BCE and used in the Qin and Han Dynasties for all types of government documentation. The Chinese also developed cursive scripts for poetry and calligraphy. The development of writing would characterize Chinese culture and art.

The Chinese writing system is one of the most complex in the world. It requires memorization and an understanding of how to combine characters that describe concepts, not just words, to the reader. Since learning how to read and write Chinese is so difficult, it became a way to tell the difference between the elite class from the lower class in Chinese society up until the mid 20th century. The people who could read and write had valuable skills, and because the ability was rare, they became the elite members of society.

The written language also spread as Chinese culture spread. The written languages of Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese were all inspired by Chinese characters at one time. The only country to still use some Chinese characters in their writing is Japan.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about Study.com
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account
Support