Community IRL: Jiǎgǔwén (Oracle Bone Script)

Rediscover roots, learn of the origins of Chinese script

Photos courtesy of Sam Yu

Jiǎgǔwén (Chinese: 甲骨文), or oracle bone script, is the earliest form of Chinese writing.

Oracle bones are important finds relating to Chinese writing and history. The inscriptions are early Chinese script, which is recognisable as a written language. These inscriptions are priceless to historians because they record the questions and answers people had about their lives.

Oracle Bones (also known as Dragon’s Bones) were the shoulder blades of oxen or plastrons of turtles (the flat, underside of the turtle’s shell) which were used in the Shang Dynasty of China (c. 1600-1046 BCE) for divination. A fortune-teller would carve (later, paint) symbols on the bones of the ox or the turtle shell, apply a hot poker or fire until the bone or shell cracked, and then interpret the direction of the crack through their drawing to predict the future. Eventually, the symbols became words and a recognisable Chinese script developed from this practice.

In free community workshops at Manukau City Library, volunteers share about the history of oracle bone writing, and have a word of the day to discuss and practise writing with calligraphy pens (on paper and crafts). Previous words include: gratitude, benevolence, brightness, and home. These workshops are catered for people of all backgrounds. Feedback from participants are positive and they resonate with the mana in the workshops.

If you would like more information on the workshops, please contact Sam Yu (

These are the dates for the upcoming workshops:

  • Saturday 29th February, 10:30-12
  • Saturday 21st March, 10:30-12
  • Saturday 4th April, 10:30-12
  • Saturday 2nd May, 10:30-12


About the author
Sam Yu is a cis-gendered man with the preferred pronouns: he, him, and his. He was born in Hamilton and raised in a Taiwanese way. He grew up in the dichotomy of both embracing and rejecting his Taiwanese heritage and ended up not knowing which community he belongs to. Seeing communities like Oscen makes him realise how many ‘others’ like him are out there, giving him a sense of belonging.