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Chinese Calligraphy

An Introduction to Chinese Calligraphy

Over thousands of years, the writing of Chinese characters has been evolved into a highly regarded art form, which is often called Chinese calligraphy. Regarded as the most abstract and sublime form of art in Chinese culture, "Shu Fa" (calligraphy) is often thought to be most revealing of one's personality. Ancient people paid great attention to calligraphy. During the imperial era, calligraphy was used as an important criterion for selection of executives to the Imperial court. Even emperors themselves were good at calligraphy, for example, the versatile Emperor Qianlong in the Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911) has left us many examples of his handwriting on steles in temples and palaces.

Chinese calligraphy has a long history over 4000 years. It can be considered as a unique artistic form of the treasury of Chinese culture. It is the representative of Chinese art and is reputed as the most ancient artistic form in the history of oriental world. Calligraphy has exerted wide influence world widely and has even been introduced to many neighboring countries. In the West, Picasso and Matisse are two artists who openly declared the influence by Chinese calligraphy on their works. Picasso, the world famous master of art, once expressed that "If I once lived in China, I must had become a calligrapher rather than a painter”. Koreans and Japanese equally adore calligraphy as an important treasure of their heritage. Many Japanese schools still have the tradition of having a student contest of writing big characters during beginning of a new school year.

The origin of Chinese Calligraphy is not very precise. According to a tale in ancient Chinese history, Chinese calligraphy is approximately 4000 years old and originated during the reign of the Yellow Emperor a man named Cang Jie invented the Chinese language. Calligraphy came after invention of the language.

Earlier periods of the Chinese history reveal that calligraphy was viewed as a matchless and independent visual art form rather than merely an ornamental art and was highly regarded over painting and sculpture, and paralleled alongside poetry as a means of self-expression and cultivation.  Calligraphy became an art during the reign of Qin Dynasty and started to blossom in the Han Dynasty. Jin Dynasty saw the emergence of some great calligraphers, including Wang Xizhi and Wang Xianzhi. Achievements in the field of calligraphy were also seen in the North and South Dynasty and the calligraphy works in this period were called as Wei Bei. During the rule of Tang dynasty, calligraphy was taken more seriously; hence a lot of great calligraphers appeared during their reign, including Yan Zhenqing. With the fall of the Tang Dynasty, the decline of calligraphy began. 

By controlling the concentration of ink, the thickness and adsorptivity of the paper, and the flexibility of the brush, the artist is free to produce an infinite variety of styles and forms. To the artist, calligraphy is a mental exercise that coordinates the mind and the body to choose the best styling in expressing the content of the passage. It is a most relaxing yet highly disciplined exercise indeed for one's physical and spiritual well being. Historically, many calligraphy artists were well-known for their longevity.

Four Treasures of the Study
Writing Brush
The brush may date back to at least three thousand years ago. It is made from fine, soft animal hair including three types: the white goat hair, black rabbit hair and yellow weasel hair. The brush handle can be made of bamboo, wood, lacquer, porcelain or some precious materials, mother-of-pearl inlay, ivory, and jade. Usually, painters and calligraphers have several types of brushes on hand to adapt to individual purposes and preferences.
Ink Stick
Initially, people often generally use nature ink or half-nature ink. In the Han Dynasty, the artificial ink appeared. It is made from a mixture of soot and resin and raw materials were pine, oil and lacquer.
Ink sticks can be regarded as ink in solid state. Getting ink from the hard ink stick requires some physical labor, so ancient Chinese calligraphers had young boy attendants help them with this task. The procedure is like this: firstly, the ink stick is rubbed against the ink slab to generate ink powder; secondly, water is added to the ink powder to form the ink. One advantage of doing so is that you can easily adjust the density of the ink by changing the amount of water or ink powder.
Paper is one of the most famous Chinese inventions and was invented by Cai Lun in the Eastern Han Dynasty. Then traditional bamboo slips and silk are replaced by the paper. The most famous paper used for Chinese calligraphy and Chinese painting is rice paper, also named as Xuan paper.
Ink Slab
Ink Slab is the container used in Chinese calligraphy and painting for grinding dry ink (ink stick) and mixing it with water. Most of ink slabs are made of stone, but other materials, such as, pottery, brick and tile. The stone must be relatively fine whetstone in order to protect the bristles of the brush and to facilitate the grinding of the ink stick. Thus ink and the ink slab acts as an inkwell. In ancient times, artisans would have their names or other words engraved on their ink slab that would be passed on to future generations.

Categories of Chinese characters
Great Seal Characters

The Great Seal Characters came into existence during the Chou dynasty (1122-221 B.C.). These characters have more rounded ends and have a wider variety of line thicknesses.
Small Seal Characters
The first emperor of China ordered for a standardization of writing in 221 B.C., and the style established happened to be the writing style of his native region. The style is a bit similar to the Great Seal Characters, but the characters are a little longer and the lines have a more uniform thickness.
Official Script
Official Script was developed during the Han dynasty and became more popular than the Small Seal Characters due to its ease in writing quickly and with a brush. The upward lifts at the ends of the horizontal strokes made this possible.
Formal Script
Formal Script evolved into the currently used regular style, which essentially kept the same writing but made its appearance less formal. The vertical strokes no longer lean, and the horizontal strokes no longer have as drastic of an upward tilt.
Running Script
The Running style takes each stroke that is written separately in the Regular style and combines them in a single brushstroke. As a result, the style is more fluid and easier to write more quickly.
Cursive Hand
Cursive hand is characterized by simplified and sketchy forms of characters. It was formed around the Western Han Dynasty and became prevalent in the Eastern Han Dynasty. It has concise structures with borrowed components. Although it looks irregular, cursive hand has high artistic value beyond its practical worthiness.

Chinese calligraphy is not only a means of communication, but also a means of expressing a person's inner world in an aesthetic sense. When you travel in china you can take a shot Chinese calligraphy course to know more about Chinese calligraphy.

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