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Museum of History explores origins and development of Chinese script

The birth of words marks mankind's transition from ignorance to enlightenment. Chinese script, one of the oldest forms of written languages in the world, is the only ancient language still in use today. It fully demonstrates itself as a lively medium in different periods of time, from being inscription on Oracle Bones (tortoise shells), which has left a precious legacy to world civilisation and propelled the course of history, to incorporation with computer bytes today, which is believed to be leading to a brand new era.

To introduce the origins, development and contribution of Chinese script, the Hong Kong Museum of History unveils the "From Bones to Bytes: Chinese Script Decoded" exhibition, which runs from tomorrow (October 25) to January 8, 2007.

Jointly presented by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) and the Bureau of Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan Cultural Affairs, Ministry of Culture of People's Republic of China, the exhibition features more than 70 exhibits in collaboration with text, photos, films and interactive programmes to offer visitors the opportunity to learn about this oldest form of written language. It will also introduce the art of writing Chinese script and examine its role in the information age.

The exhibition was opened today (October 24) by Deputy Director (Culture) of LCSD, Mr Chung Ling-hoi; Cultural Counsellor of the Bureau of Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan Cultural Affairs, Ministry of Culture of People's Republic of China, Mr Liu Dong; Head of the School of Chinese of the University of Hong Kong, Professor Sin Chow-yiu; Principal Assistant Secretary (Curriculum Development) of the Education and Manpower Bureau, Dr Catherine Chan Ka-ki; and Chief Curator of the Museum of History, Dr Joseph Ting Sun-pao.

Speaking at the ceremony, Mr Chung said that Chinese script had gone through the changes from Oracle Bone to computer bytes, and was still in use today, exercising its influence on the development of Chinese culture.

"We hope this exhibition will deepen the public's knowledge of Chinese script and allow them to experience the wisdom of our ancestors while enhancing the sense of pride towards our culture," Mr Chung said.

The exhibition is divided into nine sections - The Mystery of Chinese Characters, Breaking the Secret Codes, The Evolution of Characters, The Writing of Chinese Characters, The Art of Writing, The Contribution of Chinese Characters, The Impact of Chinese Characters on Culture, The Reform and Simplification of Chinese Characters and Chinese Characters in the Digital Age.

The Mystery of Chinese Characters introduces the earliest words found in China, the Oracle Bone Script (Jiaguwen). Highlight exhibits in this section are an Oracle Inscriptions of Wuniu Ziyong and an Oracle Inscription of Wang Qi Bi in late Shang Dynasty (14th to 12th century BC), the Dongba Scripts in Naxi language.

In the section of Breaking the Secret Codes, it elaborates the ways Chinese characters were created. One of the highlight exhibits, the Analytical Dictionary of Chinese Character written by Xu Shen in Eastern Han (AD 25 to 220) summed up the ways in which Chinese characters were formed.

The Evolution of Characters analyses the change of the outlook of Chinese characters from Oracle Bone Script and Inscribed Script to Seal Script in Qin Dynasty (221 to 207 BC). Visitors will see some exhibits which demonstrate those changes like the Dongguan's Oracle Bones from the Tang Family in late Shang Dynasty (14th to 12th century BC), a bronze basin with "Deng Bo Ji She" inscription in Spring and Autumn period (770 to 476 BC), a bronze basin with "Shi Qiang" inscription in Western Zhou Dynasty (11th century to 771 BC) and the eight-legged essay in late Qing period.

The Writing of Chinese Characters shows the various materials where Chinese characters were written in different periods. Highlight exhibit includes a Houma Covenant in Spring and Autumn period in which more than 5,000 items of the Covenant were excavated from Houma and some of them were written on jade or stone.

Calligraphy is the art of cultivating soul and expressing emotions through writing words. The section of Art of Writing explains the reason for calligraphy to become an unique art which is highly favoured by people in China and some other parts of the world. Highlight exhibits are Zuo Zongtang's couplet in Seal Script in Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), Kang Youwei's calligraphy in Running Script and Yu Youren's poems in Cursive Script.

The Contribution of Chinese Characters elaborates the spread of papermaking skills to other parts of the world which triggered a transformation in writing materials globally, resulting in major contributions to the development of civilisation. Copier figures in Jin Dynasty (AD 265 to 420) and a woodblock of Buddhist Scriptures in the 19th century are the highlight exhibits of this section.

The Impact of Chinese Characters on Culture describes the impact of Chinese characters, a symbol of Chinese culture, on ethnic minorities within China and in other countries, creating a culture sphere of Chinese characters at the core. Highlight exhibits are the coins inscribed with Han and Manchurian script.

The Reform and Simplification of Chinese Characters shows that Chinese characters are full of life. The various styles - Seal Script, Clerical Script, Standard Script, Running Script, Cursive Script illustrate the constant changes. Following the Opium War in the 19th century, a simplified script and phonetic Chinese characters were proposed. Influenced by the reform movements and Western ideas, their suggestion gave rise to the campaign for simplified characters after the emergence of the May Fourth Movement of 1919. Following the formation of People's Republic of China in 1949, the Chinese Words Reform Committee was set up to remodel Chinese characters. It laid down the Hanyu Pinyin and promoted the use of Putonghua in simplifying Chinese characters. The highlight exhibit is a textbook for Junior Primary Students in 1941.

The last section, Chinese Characters in the Digital Age Section, talks about how the world has been occupied in the digital age since the invention of computer in the mid-20th century. Visitors can see a writing machine of TK Ann in the 1980s and a personal computer in 1988.

The Museum of History is located at 100 Chatham Road South, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon. It opens from 10am to 6pm from Monday to Saturday and from 10am to 7pm on Sundays and public holidays. It is closed on Tuesdays except public holidays. Admission is $10 and a half-price concession is available to full-time students, senior citizens and people with disabilities. Admission is free on Wednesdays.

For details, please visit the Museum of History's website at or call 2724 9042.

Ends/Tuesday, October 24, 2006
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