Any account of reading the Chinese past is enriched by the fact that Chinese writing is both ancient and current. No other writing system of antiquity enjoys this benefit. Since the emergence of the earliest discernible process of writing, in northern China around 1200 b.c., the Chinese system has been used by millions of speakers, and today more people speak a Chinese language than any other. In his accessible, straightforward book, Oliver Moore demystifies one of the world's oldest writing systems, introducing the basic principles of the language, the formation of written characters, and the ways these characters have developed. Drawing on evidence from numerous artifacts in the British Museum and elsewhere, he describes, chronologically, several of the major scripts used to write on each material, from the earliest oracle bones to calligraphic works of art.
Moore defines the Chinese language both as a member of an East Asian language family and as a broad term covering quite distinct variations in speech within the borders of modern China. He discusses how the Chinese writing system works today, demonstrating how it exerts its influence far beyond the traditional borders of China. The last chapter illustrates instances of Chinese characters borrowed to write non-Chinese languages.