This is how 目 (eye) came to be!

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Evolution of 目 (mù) eye

The eyes are undoubtedly one of the most important organs in our body. Without them, we won’t be able to see. In an era where everything we do is on screens that have to be seen, it would really be a pain in the backside to try to use our devices and live our lives without being able to see around us!

Well, imagine bumping into a wall at least 10 times a day.

In fact, our eyes are so important, that it has had a special Chinese character – 目 (mù) for thousands of years.

And you know how the way Chinese characters are written changes – like how the President changes, or your favorite TV show changes – over time? And so 目 also changes over time.

Let’s take a look:

In the beginning, there was a sort of text called the oracle bone script (甲骨文; jiǎ gǔ wén). This was used 3500 years ago on bones (because there was no paper, duh). Somehow bones were easy to write on…

Anyway, 目 was represented in oracle bone script like this:

Looks really like an eye, doesn’t it?

Then came the bronze inscriptions (金文; jīn wén), which was used 3000 years ago for writing in bronze food containers – sort of like bigger bowls and cups. 目 was represented like this:

Still looks like an eye. In fact, it looks even more like an eye than the oracle bone script version.

The next text type was the seal script (篆书; zhuàn shū), which was made the script for the whole of China when Qin Shi Huang unified the country in 221 BC – or 2000 years ago.

At this point, the character already looks more like the modern character. Still looks like an eye though – it’s just been rotated 90 degrees.

At the same time as the development of the seal script, the clerical script (隶书; lì shū) was developed. Here’s what 目 looks like:

Looks more rectangular – and closer to the modern character.

This below is the regular script. It’s regular because it’s the most common way of writing in calligraphy. 目 is portrayed this way:

Since this is the regular script, it is practically the modern character. Congratulations, we’ve arrived to the modern day!

The 目 that you see below is in the Song type (宋体; sòng tǐ), which is a typeface. This means that it isn’t used in handwriting, but only in printing books – and now in computer documents as well.

Bonus:


The following character is 目 written in 草书 (cǎo shū), which is basically the cursive script in Chinese.

In this example, by the famous calligraphy master Wang Xizhi (王羲之, 303 – 361), you can clearly see that legibility is superseded by flow. This gives us something that might be harder to read and understand, but is aesthetically much more pleasing.

Remember how your grade school teacher said that you’ll need cursive when you grow up, and realizing that that’s total BS? This is the same in Chinese. This cursive text is probably only used in calligraphy nowadays.

The progression of Chinese characters is one of the things that makes the Chinese language so interesting. After all, this shows that characters like 目 evolve and survive the winds of time, over thousands of years. See how special that is?

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