Seal script has a very complex definition. Its name is somewhat related to the purpose it serves till today.
Seal script was and is mostly used for creating inscriptions and seals, be it for official or private purposes.
Despite its name, the seal script was not always used only for seal making. Its application during the ancient Xia (夏朝, 2070 B.C.E. – 1600 B.C.E.), Shang (商朝, 1600 – 1046 B.C.E.) and Zhou dynasties (周朝, 1046 – 256 B.C.E.) of China was extremely wide, spanning from carving it on bronze ware, weapons, stelae, official use, seals, and so on. Seal script is the oldest script in the history Chinese calligraphy, and it has been in use for at least 3600 years.
Seal script can be divided into two major groups: the great seal script (篆書) and the small seal script (小篆).
Alas, it is not so simple. For example, bronze inscriptions (金文) are often classified as a part of great seal script. Until 1899, the discovery of oracle bone script (甲骨文), it was a common knowledge that there were five core calligraphy scripts. So now, we face a dilemma of how to classify the oracle bone script. Should it be a part of the seal script family? In my opinion, yes it should. Oracle bone script shares a lot of characteristic features with the bronze inscriptions. Both scripts had a different purpose.
Oracle bone was used for divinations, whereas the bronze inscriptions were more of an ornamental script, serving the purpose of emphasizing the power of rulers, incised on massive bronze artifacts.
On the other hand, both scripts have similar structure, especially in the early stages of their development. If a given oracle bone script character does not exist, it can be reconstructed from its bronze inscriptions cousins. The character radicals also have similar forms in both scripts.
Consequently, one could risk a statement that if bronze inscriptions are part of the seal script family, so should be the oracle bone script.
Serious literature on the subject separates all of those and discusses them apart from one another, for the sake of avoiding confusion. After giving the matter some consideration, I believe that I will do the same. After all, each of those scripts has a long history, and lived (or still lives) its separate life.
Characters of great seal script had multiple forms, and there were many inconsistencies.
The history of China is long, and rich in external and internal wars.
Kingdoms competing for the supremacy over the huge area were contributing to creating local great seal script forms. It was the Prime Minister Li Si (李斯) of the Qin dynasty of China (秦朝 221 – 206 B.C.E.) who unified the great seal script forms under a small seal script in 221 B.C.E.
It could be said, that seal script is still in official use. Official seals in Japan, China, or Taiwan, are still made in seal script.
It is by far one of the oldest (if not the oldest) scripts on Earth, that remained in continuous use for such an astonishing period. It does make one think about how impressive and greatly respected is the tradition and culture here in the Far East, regardless of the passing time.
Recent archaeological discoveries of bamboo slips (木簡) from the Warring Stated period (戰國時代, 475 – 221 B.C.E.) prove that clerical script in the form of ancient clerical (古隷) was in use on the territory of the state of Qin at least 200 years prior to the final unification of the great seal script in a form of small seal script, by the Prime Minister Li Si 李斯, 280 – 208 B.C.E.) in 221…
Before discussing the scripts of Chinese calligraphy we need to define what the word “script” means.First of all, it is crucial to realise that script and style are two different terms. In Chinese shuti (書體; script) literally means the “writing form (body)”, and shufeng (書風, style) stands for “writing style”. According to the definition of “script” found in The Free Dictionary (http://www.thefreedictionary.com/script) this term could be easily confused…
The broad definition includes all and any scripts that evolved prior to the unification of great seal script under the name of small seal script (小篆) in 221 B.C.E., or, in other words, the beginning of the Qin Dynasty (秦朝, 221 – 206 B.C.E.). The narrow definition, which is currently rather outdated, refers to the examples of great seals script characters dating back to the early Spring and Autumn period…