The Chinese Scripts

Before getting into the simplification process, I would like to briefly go over the different scripts in Chinese and the evolution of 漢字.

From symbols on pottery to a written language, 漢字 have gone through many stages and many changes. I am not going to focus too much on this, as you can find more information on other websites (Wikipedia’s page). Well, let’s get into it then!

I’ll only be going over the main 7 scripts, and they are…(in chronological order):

  1. 甲骨文 (jiǎ gǔ wén) – Oracle bone script
  2. 金文 (jīn wén) – Bronze script
  3. 篆書 (zhuàn shū) – Seal script (more specifically 小篆)
  4. 隸書 (lì shū) – Clerical script
  5. 行書 (xíng shū) – Semi-cursive script
  6. 草書 (cǎo shū) – Cursive script
  7. 楷書 (kǎi shū) – Regular script

甲骨文 – Oracle bone script

This is the earliest significant corpus of Chinese writing. It was used for divination purposes, usually written on turtle shells and bones.


金文 – Bronze script

Plenty of things I could say about this, all of which you can find on Wikipedia explained far better. I’ll keep it simple. These were cast or carved in bronze and other metals.


篆書 – Seal script

篆書 became the formal script for all of China during the Qin dynasty. Today this script is mostly seen in seals, hence its English name. We will be focusing mostly on 小篆. I will be citing a lot of examples of 小篆 from the 說文解字 for etymological reasons.



隸書 – Clerical script

Developed during the Warring States period, this script was used in casual, informal writings. From this script evolved our next two scripts.

To download a 隸書 font: open this link, then click 下載字形. Lishu

行書 – Semi-cursive script

This is the script you see most Chinese/Taiwanese people use when they write. It is derived from from 隸書 and not 楷書 as most people think. You can still see the general forms of the characters, but the strokes are more fluid and melded together.


草書 – Cursive script

Another script evolved from 隸書 and not 楷書 as many think. 草書 is an abbreviation of 草率書(cǎo shuài shū) meaning “sloppy script”. 草書 is not legible by most untrained eyes, including most Sinophones. Characters are written through the omission of graphemes, merging strokes, replacing partions with abbreviated forms, and modifying stroke styles. Learning the proper stroke order and special rules are necessary to be able to read these characters. There are not many true 草書家 left. Japanese hiragana(ひらがな) was created from 草書 character forms.



楷書 – Regular script

I prefer to call it “Standard script” instead of “Regular script” as is often seen. This is the the newest and currently official script used in Chinese.

To download the official 楷書 font: open this link, then choose the appropriate version.