A. Dazhuan - Great Seal script
Also known as "Zhouwen", named after a historian named Zhou who lived during the Chou dynasty. Zhou contributed fifteen chapters to the making of Zhuan character.
Dazhuan also refers to the written characters used before Qin Shi Huang Di united China. Considering that Jinwen (Bronzeware Script) had already existed for 1,000 years, there were many different types of characters inscripted on these bronze wares. Dazhuan was one of the many. Dazhuan appeared complicated and heavy.
B. Xiaozhuan - Small Seal script
2,200 years ago Qin Shi Huang Di united China and ordered his Prime Minister Si LEE to unify the written characters of China. Si LEE and his team, based on Dazhuan or Zhouwen, systematically compiled a set of written language used by the Qin Dynasty and known as Xiaozhuan or Zhuanzhi. This ended the different characters used during the Spring Autumn and the Warring States periods. Although Xiaozhuan had round characteristics, it also established squared Chinese characters.
There are three major improvements from Dazhuan to Xiaozhuan:
1.There was a system of writing;
2.The structure of the characters was simpler and more squared; and
3.Each character can be explained.
The evolution of written language does not happen overnight. Before the Qin Dynasty unified the written language, the Warring States period was seen to have small portions of characters depicting Xiaozhuan characteristics. The political instability had also caused the written language to suffer the same. During this period, there were some characters that had evolved to a simpler form that resemble Lishu (clerk script).
Since the unison of Chinese characters by the Qin Dynasty, much effort was put in to provide annotation and reorganised the writings. The most prominent work was written by a learned scholar during the Han Dynasty, Shen XU. He wrote a book called "Shuowen Jiezi", also known as "Shuowen", meaning ways to understand Chinese characters. The book was written using Xiaozhuan. It was a very important book used to decipher ancient Chinese characters. It was also a dictionary of Xiaozhuan with distinctive arrangements and classifications.
Picture 1 shows the evolution of Chinese characters, clearly reveals the differences between Xiaozhuan and the characters in the early stages.
Chinese people have a tradition of using seals. In ancient times, only the people with high ranks had seals. They used it on important documents such as official data and confidential letters. This tradition has been passed down to modern times. Zhuanshu (Seal Script) was commonly used in carving seals. As a result the term "zhuanke" was used, referring to the craving of seal. "Zhuan" refers to the form of the character, whilst "ke" means the act of carving.
Picture 1: Evolution from oracle, Bronzeware, great seal, small seal, clerk, regular, to simplified
Picture 2: Zhuanke