Random Facts about Chinese Writing
It is nearly certain that the art of writing was known among the Chinese as early as 2000 B.C. The system employed is curiously cumbrous. In the absence of an alphabet, each word of the language is represented upon the written page by means of a symbol, or combination of symbols; this, of course, requires that there be as many symbols, or characters, as there are words in the language. The number sanctioned by good use is about 25,000; but counting obsolete characters, the number amounts to over 50,000. A knowledge of 5000 or 6000 characters, however, enables one to read and write without difficulty. The task of learning even this number might well be hopeless, were it not that many of the characters bear a remote resemblance to the objects for which they stand, and when once explained, readily suggest the thing or idea represented. The nature of the characters shows conclusively that the Chinese system of writing, like that of all others with which we are acquainted, was at first purely hieroglyphical, that is, the characters were originally simply rude outline pictures of material objects. Time and use have worn them to their present form. This Chinese system of representing thought, cumbrous and inconvenient as it is, is employed at the present time by one third of the human race. Printing from blocks was practised in China as early as the sixth century of our era, and printing from movable types as early as the tenth or eleventh century, that is to say, about four hundred years before the same art was invented in Europe.