Bird-worm seal script

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Bird seal script on the Sword of Goujian and its equivalents in modern Chinese

Bird-worm seal script (Simplified Chinese: 鸟虫篆; Traditional Chinese: 鳥蟲篆; Pinyin: Niǎo Chóng Zhuàn) is a type of ancient seal script originated from China.


The Chinese character "鸟" (or "鳥" in traditional Chinese, and "Niǎo" in Pinyin) means "bird"; The Chinese character "虫" (or "蟲" in traditional Chinese, and "Chóng" in Pinyin) means any creature that looks like a "worm", including those invertebrate worms and some reptiles such as snake and lizard (and even the Chinese dragon); The character "篆" means "seal script", respectively.

The other names of this kind of seal script include:

  • Niao-Chong Script (Simplified Chinese: 鸟虫书; Traditional Chinese: 鳥蟲書; Pinyin: Niǎo Chóng Shū). The Chinese character "书" (or "書" in traditional Chinese, and "Shū" in Pinyin) here means "script".
  • Niao-Chong Characters (Simplified Chinese: 鸟虫文; Traditional Chinese: 鳥蟲文; Pinyin: Niǎo Chóng Wén ). The Chinese character "文" (or "Wén" in Pinyin) here means "character".

It has two subcategories (sub-styles), including:

  • Bird seal script (Simplified Chinese: 鸟篆; Traditional Chinese: 鳥篆; Pinyin: Niǎo Zhuàn. Or, Simplified Chinese: 鸟书; Traditional Chinese: 鳥書; Pinyin: Niǎo Shū[1]), and
    • In this style, some parts of a character have head and tail of bird's like. It's a combination of two parts: a complete seal script character and one (sometimes two) bird's shape.
  • Worm seal script (Simplified Chinese: 虫篆; Traditional Chinese: 蟲篆; Pinyin: Chóng Zhuàn. Or, Simplified Chinese: 虫书; Traditional Chinese: 蟲書; Pinyin: Chóng Shū)
    • In this style, some or all the strokes are winding, thus producing a worm's like character; but there is not additional bird's shape.

Introduction and history[edit]

Seal script evolved from Oracle Bone Script, and diverged into different forms in the Spring and Autumn Period after the power of the Zhou dynasty waned and China began to divide into different states.

This kind of seal script first appeared in the mid era of the Spring and Autumn Period. It became popular during the late Spring and Autumn Period, and most popular during the Warring States period. It was often seen in some southern kingdoms, like the Wu Kingdom (roughly today's Jiangsu Province), Yue Kingdom (roughly today's Zhejiang Province), Chu Kingdom (roughly today's Hunan and Hubei provinces), Cai Kingdom, Xu Kingdom, and Song Kingdom. Each state in China during the Warring States Period had its own variety of script.

This kinds of seal script declined after Qin Dynasty, most likely due to the unification of writing scripts by Qin Shi Huang (unified into the small seal script), after he unified all of China, although they could be also seen during the Han Dynasty.[2]


The bird seal script is quite often seen in bronze and iron antiques of Yue Kingdom (now roughly from Zhejiang Province). This script was often used in bronze and iron weapons, like swords, to indicate ownership or date of manufacture. The characters engraved on the famous Sword of Goujian provide a fine example. A few examples of the bird seal script can be seen in or on containers and jades of that period. The bird seal script was also used occasionally in Han Dynasty seals (mainly the jade seals), a few eaves tiles and bricks.[3]

The worm seal script is more common, and probably first originated from Wu Kingdom (now roughly Jiangsu Province) or Chu Kingdom (now roughly Hunan Province and Hubei Province). Examples can be seen on antique bronze weapons, containers, jades, and seals (mainly the bronze seals of Han Dynasty),[4] and even constructional or decorative parts like tile, etc.. The characters on the famous Spear of Fuchai would be a good example of this category of seal script.


  • Shuowen Jiezi, by Xu Shen. (It mentioned the bird-worn seal script was one of the eight writing scripts in Qin Dynasty ("秦书八体"), so it was still used in Qin Dynasty.)
  • 《鸟虫书通考》 (General Study of Bird-Worm Seal Script), by CAO Jinyan (曹锦炎); ISBN 978-7-80512-849-8.[5]
  • 《鸟虫篆大鉴》 (The Great Collection of Bird-Worm Seal Script), by Xu Gupu (徐谷甫); ISBN 7-80569-368-4; Shanghai Bookstore Press.[6]
  1. ^ Yutang Lin (1967). Yutang Lin, ed. The Chinese theory of art: translations from the masters of Chinese art. Putnam Sons. p. 44. Retrieved 11 October 2011. (the University of Michigan)
  2. ^ Qi Huang (2004). Gong Qi, Jerry Norman, Qi Huang, Helen Wang, ed. Chinese characters then and now. Volume 1 of Ginkgo series (illustrated ed.). Springer. p. 34. ISBN 3-211-22795-4. Retrieved 11 October 2011. 
  3. ^ 《鸟虫篆印技法解析》(The Analyses on the Techniques of Bird-Worm Script Seals), by Gu Songzhang(谷松章); ISBN 7-5366-7659-X, ChongQin Press
  4. ^ Chinese Encyclopedia: The seal of bird-worm script
  5. ^ Book information: General Study of Bird-Worm Seal Script, by CAO Jinyan; Shanghai Painting and Calligraphy Press; June 1999
  6. ^ The Great Collection of Bird-Worm Seal Script, by Xu Gupu; Shanghai Bookstore Press.

See also[edit]