The zhuan script was the earliest form of writing after the oracle inscription. However, it lacked uniformity and many characters were written in variant forms, so it must have caused great incovenience. The first effort for the unification of writing, it is said, was made during the reign of King Xuan(827~782 B.C.)of the Western Zhou Dynasty. The taishi (grand historian)Shi Zhou compiled a lexicon of 15 characters to standardize Chinese wrting under script called zhuan. This script, often used in seals, is translated into English as the seal character, or as the "curly script" after the shape of its strokes. When Emperor Qin Shi Huan unified the whole of China under one central Government in 221 B.C., he ordered his Prime Minister Li Si to collect and sort out all the different systems of writing used in different parts of the country in an effort to unify the written language under one system. What Li did, in effect, was to simplify the ancient chuan and create xiaochuan (small seal) script.
Today the most valuable relic of this ancient writing in the creator Li Si's own hand was engraved on a stele standing in the Temple to the God of Taishan Mountain in Shandong Province.
The lishu (officiai script) also came into existence in the Qin Dynasty(221 - 206 B.C.), in the wake of the xiaochuan. Although the xiaochuan was a simplified form of script, it was still too complicated for the scribers in the various government offices, because they had to copy an increaing amount of documents. Further simplification of the xiaozhuan was made by changing the curly strokes into straight and angular ones. A further step away from the pictographs, it was named lishu because li in classical Chinese meant "clerk" or "scriber".
The lishu was very close to, and led to the appearance of ,kaishu - reguler script. The oldest existing example of this dates back to the Wei Dynasty(220 - 265A.D.). The standard writing today is square in form, non-cursive and architectural in style. The characters consist of a number of strokes based on a total of eight kinds: the dot, the horizontal, the vertical, the hook, the rising, the left-falling, the right-falling, and the bending strokes. Any aspirant for the status of a calligrapher must start by learning to white a good hand in kaishu.
On the basis of lishu evolved caoshu (grass writing or cursive hand), which is rapid and used for making quick but rough copies. This style is subdivided into two schools: zhangcao and jincao.
It is the essence of the caoshu, especially jincao, that the characters are executed swiftly with the strokes running together. The characters are often joined up, with the last strok Of the first merging into the initial stroke of the next. They also vary in size in the same piece of writing, all Seemingly dictated by the whims of the writer.
The xingshu or running hand is something between the regular and the cursive scripts. When carefully wirtten with distinguishable strokes, the xingshu characters will be very close to the regular style; when swiftly executed, they will approximate to the caoshu. Chinese masters have always compared vividly the three styles Of writing - kaishu, xingshu, and caoshu - to people standing, Walking, and running.
One of the great masters in calligraphy in Chinese history is Wang Xizhi(321 - 379A.D.). He has exerted profound influene on Chinese calligraphers and scholars. The story about him says that when he was young he blackended all the water of a pond in front of his house by washing his whiting implements every day after practlce.