Since the development of the wheel, humans have been looking for a variety of alternatives to replace walking. After all, who wants to walk – it’s tiring, it’s painful, it’s slow… so why not invent new ways of travel that can be faster and less taxing to your body?
So from the very beginning, inventions were developed to allow people to travel faster – from horse-drawn carriages (e.g. chariots) at the beginning, to bicycles and vehicles in the last few centuries.
But the most important vehicle in ancient China was the horse-drawn carriage. Not only was it a mode of transport in peacetime, but it was also used in battle. Its importance over the ages is therefore proven by the evolution of its Chinese character – 车.
The earliest text that has been found comes from around 3500 years ago, when people wrote on bones (remember: there was no paper yet) – apparently, they were easy to write on. So here’s the OG 车 character:
For an original depiction, that’s very faithful to a vehicle. You can see the wheels and the body. On a scale of similarity, where a real vehicle is 0 and 车 is 10, I’d probably give it a 1.
At about the same time, the Chinese decided to start inscribing text on their bronze food and drink vessels – for some reason, this sounded like a good idea. And that’s how the bronze text (金文) was developed. Let’s call this Chinese Text 2.0. So 车 2.0 comes from here:
You can still see the wheels and what vaguely looks like the body, but it’s starting to become more vertical – similar to the modern-day character. On that scale, I’ll give it a 4.
But the Chinese written style was prone to more and more change. And centuries later, China fell apart into many states in the Spring and Autumn and Warring States Periods (770 – 221 BC), all of which had very different ways of writing.
Eventually, Qin Shi Huang from the state of Qin unified all of the states together in 221 BC, and also forced all the conquered people to adopt the way the people in Qin wrote. This way of writing lead to the seal script (篆书), which I’ll consider Chinese 3.0.
Here’s how 车 3.0 looks like:
By this point in time, the character is practically the modern-day traditional Chinese character – 車. It still has the legacy of the earlier text types, however – especially the roundness of the 田 in the middle. I’ll give it a 7.
At about the same time, the clerical script (隶书) was developed. Here’s 车 in that script:
… which looks very much like the modern-day traditional Chinese 車. That’s an 8 on my scale.
Eventually, the regular script (楷书) was developed in the first century AD, and it has remained the standard writing script in traditional Chinese over the centuries. This is 车 in the regular script:
Of course, Chinese culture is very broad, and Chinese people participate in a variety of different activities – one of them being calligraphy. This is how calligraphers wrote 车 in the cursive script (草书):
You might recognize this character – this is exactly like the simplified Chinese character – 车. Turns out 车 – when it was simplified in the 1950s – was inspired by this exact way of writing the character! That’s a 9 on my scale.
The progression of Chinese characters is one of the things that makes the Chinese language so interesting. After all, this shows that characters like 车 evolve and survive the winds of time, over thousands of years. See how special that is?
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