Deciphering Seal Script - 100 Ways to Write SWORD

Other Chinese or Japanese calligraphy issues that does not seem to fit any of the categories above.
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Deciphering Seal Script - 100 Ways to Write SWORD

Post by Gary » Nov 8, 2010 2:44 pm

This post will be great for anyone interested in Seal Script, or fans of the movie Hero and the 20 ways to write "sword" as mentioned in the movie.

We get asked to translate or decipher Seal Script.
Figuring out Chinese Seal Script is a bit like dealing with Egyptian hieroglyphics. We have special dictionaries and reference books detailing over 20,000 Chinese characters (many of which are now obscure). Each single character can have upwards of 5 to 10 forms or alternate versions.

Here's the most common form of "sword" in seal script:

Here's a variant with a blood drop on the blade radical on the right side:

This one has a "blood stroke" across the blade radical on the right:

This one which incorporates a gold or metal radical on the left:

A rare one:

Another form (ancient variant, now popular in Japan) is this:

You may also see this one in Japan with a "blood stroke" on the blade radical:

Even if you compare all in the same font/style, they are quite different:

All of these are the same character with the meaning "sword" and pronounced "jian" in Chinese, "tsurugi" or "ken" in Japanese, and "geom" or "kem" (검) in Korean. I guess in English, this is like how saber can also be spelled sabre, but there are many more "spellings" in ancient Chinese.

These versions of sword are the ones that have survived to modern times. There were once about 20+ ways to write sword (more of those can be found in the reference books in our library).
Here's the modern printed versions:

And now about that radical that changes on the right...

This is the "blade" or "knife" radical. Alone, it looks like this:

Sometimes a drop of blood was added to the blade like this:

This drop can be extended and become a "blood stroke" as seen here:

As this blade/knife character became a radical it morphed into this two-stroke version:

Now lets go crazy with the styles of characters for each of these form. Here's all the styles missing from above: