The clerical script (; Japanese: 隷書体, ''reishotai''; Vietnamese: lệ thư), also formerly chancery script, is an archaic style of Chinese calligraphy which evolved from the Warring States period to the
Qin dynasty
Qin dynasty
, was dominant in the
Han dynasty The Han dynasty () was the second Dynasties in Chinese history, imperial dynasty of China (202 BC – 220 AD), established by the rebel leader Liu Bang and ruled by the House of Liu. Preceded by the short-lived Qin dynasty (221–206 BC) and ...
, and remained in use through the Wei- Jin periods. Due to its high legibility to modern readers, it is still used for artistic flavor in a variety of functional applications such as headlines, signboards, and advertisements. This legibility stems from the highly rectilinear structure, a feature shared with modern
regular script Regular script (; Hepburn: ''kaisho''), also called (), (''zhēnshū''), (''kǎitǐ'') and (''zhèngshū''), is the newest of the Chinese script styles (appearing by the Cao Wei dynasty c. 200 AD and maturing stylistically around the 7th c ...
(kaishu). In structure and rectilinearity, it is generally similar to the modern script; however, in contrast with the tall to square modern script, it tends to be square to wide, and often has a pronounced, wavelike flaring of isolated major strokes, especially a dominant rightward or downward diagonal stroke. Some structures are also archaic.


Clerical script is popularly but mistakenly thought to have developed or been invented in the early
Han dynasty The Han dynasty () was the second Dynasties in Chinese history, imperial dynasty of China (202 BC – 220 AD), established by the rebel leader Liu Bang and ruled by the House of Liu. Preceded by the short-lived Qin dynasty (221–206 BC) and ...
from the small seal script. The process of change between small seal script and clerical script is referred to as the ''Libian'' (). There are also historical traditions dating to the Hàn dynasty which mistakenly attributed the creation of clerical script to the Qín dynasty and in particular to Chéng Miǎo, who was said to have invented it at the behest of Qin Shi Huang. Another traditional account is that it was invented by government scribes, in particular those involved in the justice and penal systems. However, from written materials unearthed by archaeologists, it is now known that ''all'' stages of Chinese writing underwent periods of natural evolution, and none of them were inventions by one person; this is true of clerical script as well.Qiu 2000, p.107 Furthermore, rather than being established by government scribes, it has been argued that clerical script was already in popular use, and the Qín dynasty use by scribes merely reflects this trend. Archaeological discoveries now clearly show that an immature form of clerical script ("proto-clerical") was already developing in the state of Qín during the Warring States period, and into the early Western Hàn; this can be seen on a number of bamboo and wooden slips, bamboo books unearthed recently. Furthermore, the writing immediately preceding clerical script was not merely seal script alone; rather, there was a coexistence of seal script (the at-first dominant and formal style) alongside an increasingly popular but secondary form of "vulgar", "popular", or "common" writing, which was very roughly executed and which was generally rectilinear.Qiu 2000, p.104 The popularity of this vulgar writing grew as the use of writing itself became more widespread. The structures and style of many of the characters executed in this vulgar writing were similar or even identical to their later clerical script counterparts, leading some to conclude that proto-clerical (and therefore clerical) script evolved not from seal script but from the vulgar writing of Qín, which coexisted with seal script in Warring States to Qín dynasty. The Qín bamboo script is a good example of this transition, having evolved from vulgar Qín writing and considered by some to constitute Qín clerical script.


The etymology of the Chinese name for the clerical script ''lìshū'' () is uncertain. In the Qin period, ''lì'' meant "state-owned slave, prisoner-in-servitude", and thus, some infer that the script was used in recording the affairs related to such slaves, while others infer that it was used by prisoners conscripted as scribes. ''Li'' correspondingly meant "low-ranking subordinate, servitor, subaltern; runner; lackey, servant; houseman; turnkey; laborer, esp. at Corvée#Imperial China, corvée". Clerical script is also known as "clerical characters" (''lìzì'' 隸字), "assistants' writing" (''zuǒshū'' 佐書), "historical writing" (''shǐshū'' 史書), and "official script".

Usage and further evolution

During Warring States, proto-clerical script emerged in casual, informal usage. During the Qin dynasty it appears to have also been used in some scribal capacity, but never in formal usage. Maturing into clerical script in the early Han, it soon became the dominant script for general purposes, while seal script remained in use for the most formal purposes such as some Stele#China, stelae, signet seals (name chops), and especially the titles of written works and stelae; some Cursive script (East Asia), cursive was also in use at the time.Qiu 2000, p.113 At roughly the same time, the clerical script was used and inscribed onto many stelae which later influenced subsequent development of Chinese calligraphic styles. Out of clerical script, a new form then emerged in the middle of the Eastern Han dynasty, which Qiu (2000, p. 113) terms "neo-clerical" script; it was from this neo-clerical and from cursive that by late in the Eastern Han Semi-cursive script, semi-cursive would then evolve, out of which then emerged the modern standard script. Thus, according to Qiu, the evolution from clerical script to standard script was not a direct step as commonly supposed.

Clerical script in computing



*Qiu Xigui (2000). Chinese Writing. Translation of 文字學概論 by Mattos and Norman. Early China Special Monograph Series No. 4. Berkeley: The Society for the Study of Early China and the Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley. . {{DEFAULTSORT:Clerical Script Writing systems Chinese script style Logographic writing systems Chinese characters