Ancient Chinese scripts are unique as it comprised thousands of very complex characters or signs representing words. Conceived many thousands of years ago, the characters still serve as a system of writing for hundreds of millions of people. Chinese writing has been traced back to more than 3500 years ago and it is still considered as the oldest and widely used writing system prevalent anywhere in the world.
Oracle bone script during Shang dynasty
Leaving aside the earliest form of ancient Chinese scripts, the ones used during the Shang dynasty have revealed a very complex writing system. Chinese used the oracle bone script from 1500 to 1000 BC and the script was engraved in turtle shells and bones of animals. Cracks would eventually appear and the patterns were interpreted by court officials for making predictions about future events that were divine in nature.
Linguists the world over unanimously believe that the writing system originated in China during the 2nd millennium BC. It was around 1889 that Wang Yirong, a scholar from Beijing, found ancient Chinese scripts on dragon bones. Oracle bones were spotted in the ruins of Anyang close to the Shang capital which was located in the northern henna province of China. It was common for the Chinese to use dragon bones for traditional medicine.
Ancient Chinese scripts on oracle bones were referred to as writings on shell bone. The writings were primarily divine in nature and by heating, the cracks in the bones determined answers to many complex questions. One had to inspect them to get an answer or a solution for many of the complex and intriguing problems faced in life. Questions were also posed for warfare, hunting, weather and for identifying auspicious days of the year.
Pictograms became logograms
The priests in the olden times identified both positive as well as negative outcomes from the divine bones. Historians who have studied the origin of ancient Chinese scripts have said that close to the 3rd millennium BC, at the time of the late Neolithic period, pictograms were incised on jades and potteries. They identified ownership by a family or clan.
The symbols in ancient Chinese scripts became logograms and acquired linguistic value in course of time. Some time in the history of ancient China, the symbols which denominated objects, ceased to be so and ultimately became words for determining the objects. Historians are unsure when this change over happened in the history of Chinese language.