Official Script

Official (or Clerical) Script (Lì shū) began to be adopted in Chinese writing in the late Warring States Period (3rd century BC) and came into vogue in the Eastern Han dynasty (25-220). It moved the round linear turns of Chinese characters to square, thus initiating a new style of Chinese writing. The execution of heavy-down and light-up brushstrokes laid a good foundation for the later emergence of the Regular Script (kǎi shū).

Lishu Chinese Calligraphy - NTNU Building, Taiwan
Lì shū Chinese Calligraphy – In the foyer of a National Taiwan Normal University (NTNU) Building, Taipei, Taiwan

Lì shū came in the wake of small Seal Script (Xiǎo zhuànshū) in the same short-lived Qin Dynasty (221 – 207 BC). This was because Xiǎo zhuànshū, though a simplified form of script, was still too complicated for the scribes in the various government offices who had to copy an increasing amount of documents. Cheng Miao, a prison warden, made a further simplification of Xiǎo zhuànshū, changing the curly strokes into straight and angular ones and thus making writing much easier and, therefore, more accessible.

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