Questions about the graphical origin and evolution of characters. Use [etymology] for the origin and history of Chinese words.
This tag is for questions about the graphical origin and history of Chinese characters, as part of the discipline of Chinese paleography.
It's related to, but distinct from etymology, which is for sounds and spoken words. More information about how to disambiguate: What's the difference between etymology and glyph origin?
How to trace the origin of a Chinese character
These are the recommend resources:
A correct general idea of the evolution sequence of a glyph can be found by picking examples in the following order (not all of them need to be present):
- Shang (商朝) oracle bone script (甲骨文)
- Western Zhou (西周) bronze inscriptions (金文)
- Warring States (戰國) bronze inscriptions (金文)
- One of the following:
- Han period's clerical script (隸書)
- Finally, the regular script (楷書), from year 600 CE onwards
Notes for answerers
Please consider that the small seal script 說文小篆 alone might not work for many, many cases as a demonstration of glyph evolution.
Prefer Qin slip script 秦系簡牘文字 when possible, and fall back on 說文小篆 when the Qin version is not recorded, or when you understand the history behind 說文小篆 and can roughly explain what's going on in those shapes.
What about Simplified Chinese?
Simplified Chinese can't be taken as evidence of glyph evolution, as it's an artificial stroke reduction effort which came about only in modern times. If your question is about character forms used in Simplified Chinese, please consider tagging it [simplified-chinese] instead.