Thursday, September 11, 2008

Small Seal Script

Lesser or Small Seal Script , or Hsiao-chuan is associated with the work on Chinese characters compiled by Li Si during the Qin Dynasty under the First Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang.

Before the conquest of the last remaining six of the Seven Warring States of China, local styles of eveloved independent of one another for centuries producing what are called the Six States Scripts 六國文字. Under one unified government however, the diversity was not deemed desirable for mainly two reasons; first it hindered timely communication, trade, taxing, and transportation, and second independent scripts represented possibly dissenting political ideas especially in areas where the Confucian tradition remained strong.

Hence coaches, roads, currency, laws, weights, measures and writing were to be systematised. Thus, the characters which were different from those found in Qin were discarded, and ''xiaozhuan'' characters as defined by Li Si became the standard for all regions within the empire. The systemizing came at about 220 BC, and was introduced by Li Si and two ministers. The small cursive form clerical script came after the small script.

Li Si's compilation is known only through Chinese commentaries through the centuries. It is purported to contain 3,300 characters. Several hundred characters from fragmentary commentaries have been collected during the Qing period, and recent archeological excavations in Anhui, China, have uncovered several hundred more on bamboo strips to show the order of the characters; unfortunately, the script employed is not the small seal script as the discovery dates from Han times.