The first known markings made by humans date back some 40,000 years to the Stone Age, and were numerical in character. Only later, did symbols come to represent sounds and concept.

Early scholars attempted to link Chinese writing to Cuneiform or ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, but were unable to establish a connection, and Chinese written language appears to have arisen independently of other writing forms, generally held to have begun with the evolution of cuneiform of Mesopotamia, which began its evolution around 4000 BC.

In China, however, predating cuneiform by some two thousand years, the Jiahu symbols were unearthed in Hunan province, a collection of early pictograms dated to 6000 BC which bear distinct resemblances to early Chinese characters of the Shang script, the earliest known examples of which archaeologically do not emerge for a further 5000 years.

Further discoveries at Damaidi feature 8,453 separate characters that are likewise similar to early Shang script and dated to at least 5,000 BC, but debate still surrounds the issue of whether these finds represent true written language.

Calligraphy is a western term and is known in China as Shufa, and was first formalised under China’s first unified emperor, Qin Shi Huang with a set of 3,000 characters, though even before this time, the lyrically sophisticated philosophical masterworks of Confucius and Lao Tzu had already been created centuries earlier.

Unfortunately, Qin Shi Huang also had a flair for mass book burnings throughout the empire, and who knows what other precious gems of ancient Chinese thought have been entirely lost.

The relationship of symbols to words is further complicated by the multi tonal inflections of meaning at work in spoken Chinese. Unlike many other language systems, which were condensed and simplified into phonetic alphabets, the Chinese script has since evolved to a staggering 50,000 individual characters.

Chinese written forms have widely influenced Vietnamese, Korean and Japanese styles of writing, while the Burmese, Cambodian and Thai written languages have evolved from Indian Sanskrit through Khmer influence.

The art of writing has long been held in high regard in China, and Shufa is an elevated art form, capable of immensely subtle plays of meaning both philosophic and visual.

The use of brushstrokes in Chinese script has endowed the language not only with great beauty but is also highly expressive of the nature of form itself and reflects the cultural nuances, understanding and intelligence of the calligrapher.

The practice of Shufa was from an early time closely entwined within the Chinese understanding of natural motion, exemplified by Taoist yoga and Kung Fu, and the same sense of movement and balance are evident in the writing style, particularly in the poetic accompaniments to many Chinese paintings.

Because Chinese script is a visual language, it contains conceptual notions widely used in the traditions of Chinese poetry that are inevitably simplified in translation and lose their subtle eloquence and immediacy of meaning. Indeed, the pictorial nature of expression also conveys concepts that simply have no realisable equivalent in phonetic representation systems.

Inevitably too, in the modern world, the standardisation of calligraphy for print, since it removes the essence of motion, has led to less florid interpretative subtlety, but nevertheless, a visitor to china will need to familiarise themselves with at least 3,000 characters to read a newspaper.

Likewise, the age of computing has brought a particular set of challenges, which have required innovations in keyboard input methods and software.

Many systems in use in China are adaptations of the standard QWERTY keyboard and utilise multi-function key options to get around the innate problem of the multiplicity of characters required to create usable literary work.

The evolutionary nature of Shufa characters in history, whereby characters were given meaning extensions by additional script elements also allows the overprinting of some of the basic phonetic forms, to create more complex characters.

Modern predictive software is an invaluable aid to speed of input, and can even additionally ‘learn’ the styles, dialectic and dictionary preferences of individual writers in the presentation of characters.

The complexities presented by the limitations of phone texting, while still possible in Chinese, has led to the widespread adoption of voice messaging as a more convenient alternative.

In the ever escalating integration of mobile technology with the control of vehicles, interactive tools, office systems and domestic hardware, voice recognition systems to enable the issuing of control commands are eclipsing written forms across the globe.

Again the dialectic complexity and musicality of Chinese language is a spur to innovation towards a future where all appliances will not only be able to be controlled in this manner, but in any language.

Despite the rapid absorption of modern technology in China, the original principals embodied by Shufa are still regarded as high art, and widely practiced by artists and scholars and many other individuals out of pure love and devotion to its forms.

Just as modern computing can build sophisticated and even physically unplayable music, nothing can replace the subtle beauty and emotion of a fine instrumentalist, and the art of the brush, no matter how ancient, will always represent the most wonderful achievement of poetic expression.