Talk:Seal script

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Shuowen Jiezi 說文解字, Book of Small Seal Scripts 小篆

Shuowen Jiezi 說文解字 written by Xu Shen 許愼 around 100 CE, is on the web at last. It lists some 9,353 small seal scripts 小篆 and 1,163 alternate forms in the great seal 大篆, Warring States scripts 古文, contemporary scripts 今文, or odd scripts 奇字; and their etymologies and sounds as understood by the later Han dynasty scholars of the ancient classics.

[[1]] an elephant 象 [[2]] a dancing shaman(ess) with two tassels 舞 [[3]] a car 車 [[4]] to come 來 [[5]] a modern seal for "All American Teachers of Japanese Association" [[6]]

Before the discovery of the turtle shell & bone inscriptions 甲骨文字 (oracle bone inscriptions 甲骨卜辭) by Wang, Yi Rong in 1899, this was the only book to look up the oldest forms of chinese characters preserved in a complete character set.

Although there exist around 3,000 bronze inscriptions 金文 and around 5,000 oracle bone inscriptions 甲骨文, they lack authoritative interpretations to this day being a relatively young field of epigraphy. Only about 1,000 common oracle bone inscriptions are analyzed with much certainty.

For those into Japanese calligraphy or seal inscription deciphering, this is a very useful and essential reference. Full text of Shuowen Jiezi 說文解字 photographically reproduced at [7]. [8]

For accumulative definitions, see [9]

For the wikipedia Shodo 書道 article, see [[10]] (Basic reference, but tensho 篆書 and reisho 隸書 are not mentioned here.)

For a brief "visual" illustration of the evolution of scripts, see p. 11 of Wang, William [11] Liou, Joyce [12] or [13] (though the first two images "金文" and "甲骨文" should be reversed.)

For an overview of ancient Chinese characters in general, see [14]

For Zhang Yongming's Zhuanshu 篆書 Skills on VCD, [15]

Tenji 篆字 (small seal style writing in brush) for writing with brush on paper or steles, and tenkokuji 篆刻字 (seal inscription in zhuanshu) for inscription on seals are in fact only two variant applications of the small seal script zhuanshu 篆書.

For traditional seal carving, see [16]


The on-line book above is fine for looking up individual kanjis, but has the fatal inconvenience of being an image base, not in any code. As far as I know, there isn't one yet due to the difficulty of defining unusual charcter codes and a set of decent fonts. Richard S. Cook Jr. has been working on a unicode extension to accommodate all the Setsumon characters, and here is an idea of what is to come shortly.

[B][U]The Extreme of Typographic Complexity: Character Set Issues Relating to Computerization of The Eastern Han Chinese Lexicon 說文解字 Shuowenjiezi[/U][/B] discusses, in addition to coding problems, the bibliographical nature of the work, and hence serves as a nice introduction to an otherwise cryptic book of etymology. (37 pages) [17]

For detailed lessons into the character formation of the Tensho, see Part 1: [18] and Part 2: [19]

Also there are statistical surveys of all the Setsumon kanji material made public by Huadong University 華東大學, China.

1. Kaisho-to-Tensho Correspondence List 楷篆對應檢索 [20]

2. Tensho Component Frequency Data 小篆構件頻率表:1970 components [21]

3. Tensho Semantic Compound Components Frequency Data 小篆會意部件頻率表: 560 components [22]

4. Tensho Radical Frequency Data 小篆義符频率表: 410 radicals [23]

5. Tensho Phonetic Frequency Data 小篆聲符频率表: 1739 phonetics [24]

In fact you can look up similar lists in the oracle bone inscriptions 甲骨文, the bronze inscriptions 金文, the Chu bamboo scripts 楚簡文, and some Warring States scripts that has been excavated in recent years. [25]


Tensho 篆書 in Ancient Japan, arriving not later than 57 CE A Gold Seal of Friendship From Han Guangwudi 光武帝 to the King of Wa 委奴王 discovered during the Edo period, at Hakata Bay 博多灣, Shikanoshima 志賀島, in Northern Kyushu 北九洲, the supposed seat of Yamatai 耶馬臺 ruler, 57 CE height: 2.2cm (1 漢寸), weight: 108.7 g.

漢倭奴國王 [[26]] Can you make out the characters from right to left, top to bottom? [[27]] Currently on display at Fukuoka City Museum since 1978.

Seals of Japan: Ancient Period (?-Heian period, 1185) In Japanese sources of hisotry, the seal is first mentioned in the Chronicles of Emperor Sujin, Nihonshoki, 崇神天皇紀, 日本書紀. [[28]] In 692, the 6th year of Emperor 持統天皇, 神祗官 offered up a wooden seal 木印. But the use of seals was instituted only in 701, the first reign year of 大寶 of Emperor Monmu 文武天皇. [[29]]

Official seals 官印 included those of the internal offices, 內印, external affairs, 外印, of the various offices 諸司印, and of the feudal lords of states 諸國印. This practice was adaptation of the Chinese Sui-Tang seal institution, and the material was copper.

Chinese influence gradually lost its force, and a uniquely Japanese style of 'Old Seal of Yamato' 大和古印 was born. It was typically frugal and deep in character.


Tensho 篆書 in Modern Japan, still live and beautiful

The following (pre-)search result for 印鑑 within the popular Rakuten on-line market 楽天市場. This is a summary of seals which shows that zhuanshu 篆書 is as well part of the lives of modern Japanese as it was for the ancient Japanese.

トップ > 生活・インテリア > 文具・バラエティー雑貨 > 印鑑・ハンコ

文具・バラエティー雑貨 
  印鑑・ハンコ 
  代表印(0)  
  角印(0)  
  銀行印(法人)(0)  
  銀行印(個人)(13717)  
  認印(0)  
  スタンプ(5219)  
  朱肉(170)  
  印鑑ケース(774)  
  その他(23378) 

total: 全 43,258件 is what's listed for Feb. 12, 2005, around 11:00 pm. A sizeable portion of these seals are in fact in the zhuanshu 篆書 script.

Of the many seal sculptors listed here, I'll only quote one site, HankoWeb run by Mr. Hirayasu Ryuichi 平安 隆一. [[30]] Here are some samples of his art work; 15 out of 17 are in the tensho 篆書 script. The modern kanjis are in the footnotes for you to compare. [[31]]

The following example combines kanji and kana in wonderful harmony. [[32]] 長野冬季オリンピック審判団&#21360 Official Seal for Board of Referees, Nagano Winter Olympics

Many misconceptions about Seal Script[edit]

In my study of ancient Chinese scripts (on which there is very little accurate and recent info in English), I've had the great fortune to be taken under the wing of a paleographer at the Academia Sinica's Institute of History and Philology who did her dissertation on the Qin system of writing (that is, the writing of the Qin kingdom from the Spring and Autumn period through the Qin dynasty). In reading her work and that of authoritative modern scholars such as Qiu Xigui (see references below), I have discovered that erroneous conceptions abound about bronze script, the Shi3Zhou4Pian1 compendium and the Zhou4wen2 taken from it and preserved in Shuowen, as well as about da4zhuan4 (so-called) greater seal script, xiao3zhuan4 small seal script and the origins of clerical script. In the sections below I will try to treat each separately, and will add additional material and references shortly. Dragonbones 08:48, 24 March 2006 (UTC)

REFERENCES for the below comments:

Qiu / Qiu Xigui: 裘錫圭 Qiú Xīguī (2000). Chinese Writing. English translation of his 文字學概論 (1988 PRC ed. in simpl. Chin.; 1993 Taiwan ed. in reg. Chin.) by the late Gilbert L. Mattos (Chairman, Dept. of Asian Studies, Seton Hall University) and Jerry Norman (Professor Emeritus, Asian Languages & Literature Dept., Univ. of Washington). 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. Note: this is a fundamental, systematic, comprehensive and authoritative work on the nature, origin and history of the Chinese writing system. It has been recommended by scholars of the highest caliber.

Chen Zhaorong: 陳昭容 Chén Zhāoróng (2003) 秦系文字研究 ﹕从漢字史的角度考察 Research on the Qín (Ch'in) Lineage of Writing: An Examination from the Perspective of the History of Chinese Writing. 中央研究院歷史語言研究所專刊 Academia Sinica, Institute of History and Philology Monograph. ISBN 957-671-995-X. In traditional Chinese.

What the name 篆文 means[edit]

I saw this on the previous page version: "Note, however, that the literal translation of 篆文 (ie. seal script) means inscription script, since Chinese writing at the time was more often inscribed than written on silk; the contemporary translation seal script is a misnomer, since it is nowadays used mainly, but not exclusively, in seals."

First, the part "more often inscribed than written" is fundamentally wrong. The primary instrument for writing Chinese, from the Shang dynasty onward, has always been the brush. (For those who don't believe the Shang bit, here's a reference: Qiu, p.63 writes: “During the Shāng period the writing brush was the primary writing implement in use.” He goes on to mention the presence of the Shāng characters for writing brush (yù, forerunner ofbĭ) and bamboo or wooden codices (cè), early Zhoū (Shàngshū; Duōshì ch.) references to Shāng bamboo books and codices, as well as two other supporting facts: first, that some brush-written graphs are found on Shāng-period items, including a few oracle bones, jade, stone and pottery items, and second, that the graphs cast in bronzes also retain a style developed through brush writing, with fluctuations in stroke thickness.)

In the Qin period as well, bamboo codices (scrolls of bound bamboo or wooden slats) are widely known to be the dominant medium for writing. Of course, the numbers of extant engraved or cast items may be greater than extant perishable materials like silk or bamboo, but this reflects only the perishability of the medium, and not how common it was at the time.

Second, I am not sure there is sufficient consensus to make the statement that "the literal translation of 篆文 (i.e. seal script) means inscription script". Qiu p.100-101, for example, argues that 篆 was interchangeable with 瑑 zhuan4, meaning "to make decorative by engraving", from which I would argue for a translation as "decorative engraving script". However, this may be splitting hairs.

Furthermore, I don't think we need to call the English name "seal" script an incorrect translation of zhuan4; it is a long-standing, dominant English term for the script due to the predominant modern application of the script, and is not necessarily a translation of zhuan4 per se. Dragonbones 09:08, 24 March 2006 (UTC)

Despite the misnomer, it has widely become known as seal script, which was the point of creating the article or any article on wiki. A note should be made to the effect that the real name ought to be inscription script, but out of longstanding use, seal script is being used currently which you've already done. Dylanwhs 09:29, 24 March 2006 (UTC)
I think the article Xiaozhuan should be renamed to "Small Seal Script". That is the correct name. Seal script is not identical to "Small Seal Script" right off the bat as the first sentence proposed. This should be changed. Benjwong 20:54, 13 April 2007 (UTC)
It's all set. Now seal script is the main page, small seal script goes to small, and large go to large. Benjwong 01:09, 14 April 2007 (UTC)

Huh?[edit]

In the history of Chinese characters, the Small Seal script is often considered to be the ancestor of the clerical script 隷書, which in turn gave rise to all of the other scripts in use today. However, this is not quite accurate. Instead, it was a vulgar or popular script of the late Warring States to Qin period, rather than its formal seal counterpart, which evolved into the clerical script.

What is "it"?

Is "it" clerical script? Then the sentence says that Clerical was a vulgar script, in contrast to the more formal seal script, which evolved into clerical script. This contradicts the initial refutation that clerical did not quite evolve from seal. It also suggests that clerical was contemporous with seal, which makes the sentence kind of self-contradicting.

I'm as confused as heck and I have no idea how to fix this sentence. Kelvinc 01:12, 27 January 2007 (UTC)

"It" is the small seal script. The formal seal script referred to is the great seal script. 86.8.141.80 (talk) 17:28, 12 May 2008 (UTC)
No, its formal seal counterpart means small seal script, which in the late Warring States and Qin (and occasionally all the way into the Han and later) was used for formal writing such as on ritual bronzes and stelae; for less formal, more functional situations they used a vulgar, roughly executed form of writing called vulgar or common writing (not a coherent 'script' per se) which most Westerners have never heard of, but if you study recent archaeology or books like Qiu Xigui and Chen Zhaorong you will understand this better. It's often chiselled onto weapons, scratched on pottery, and so on. I have rewritten the confusing paragraph in the hopes of making it clearer. Dragonbones (talk) 06:59, 14 May 2008 (UTC)
Kelvinc, this may be moot since I've rewritten the paragraph so it will be clearer, but by way of explanation, first of all, it is abundantly clear to modern scholars that the evolution of the Chinese script did not occur in a linear fashion, with each script being suddenly invented and completely replacing the preceding script. You have to get rid of that archaic and simplistic notion to understand the situation. In the late Warring States to Qin, small seal, vulgar (or common) writing and proto-clerical were all in use, and proto-clerical evolved from vulgar writing (not from small seal as was once thought and as most English sources still blindly parrot). As for the above quote, I believe you have misunderstood the grammar of the quoted sentence, and therefore have misunderstood the content. In "it was a vulgar or popular script of the late Warring States to Qin period, rather than its formal seal counterpart, which evolved into the clerical script", the "it" is empty, not a reference to clerical script. "It was John, not Bob, who hit Sally" simply means "Bob didn't hit Sally; rather, John was the person who hit Sally". Parallel to this example, the quoted sentence is saying "Seal wasn't the direct ancestor of clerical script; rather, vulgar script (a little-known script which coexisted with small seal script) is now understood to have developed into proto-clerical and then clerical script. This kind of information has not yet been widely disseminated in English writing on the topic, as much of it builds upon the last 40 years or so of archaeology and research, and what most will encounter is merely blind repetition of outdated explanations. This is why I strongly encourage people to get ahold of and read more up-to-date stuff like Qiu Xigui's book (he's one of the most widely respected scholars in Chinese philology, btw, really at the top of his field). It is such an important book that two top Western scholars, Norman and Mattos, took the time to translate it to make its content available to the Western world. Hopefully some more information on this will become available in English before long. Dragonbones (talk) 06:45, 14 May 2008 (UTC)

Merge them 3 : [[Talk:Small_Seal_Script#I also support the merge [Great Seal + Small seal] into Seal script]][edit]

It is a talk encouraging to merge the 3 articles. Your opinion is welcome. 210.203.61.15 (talk) 06:54, 24 February 2008 (UTC)