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China Calligraphy

2018/7/19 11:04:562084 People viewed this article

China Calligraphy is usually considered as old as China itself. In the past, a person’s character was judged by his handwriting. A scholar could not pass his examination to become an official if he was a poor calligrapher. Now calligraphy is the most popular visual art in China. For example, shops have signs or plaques inscribed with calligraphy by famous masters. 


Traveling in China, you will note that mountains eye-catching inscriptions of huge Chinese characters carved on rocks in good calligraphy are very common. In classical Chinese gardens, you can find poetic names of buildings in the handwriting of well-known calligraphers. When Chinese New Year approaches, every household pastes antithetical couplets written on red slips of paper on gate posts or door panels, hoping they will bring good luck to the family in the coming new year. 


The earliest character is Dazhuan (大篆, Great Seal characters) usually inscribed on the bronze wares. In 213 BC, Li Si (李斯) for the first time standardized the official script. This was called Xiaozhuan (小篆, Lesser Seal characters). It is meticulous and laborious to write.


In the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD), Official Script (隶书 Lishu) which is simplified from Lesser Seal characters (Xiaozhuan) were widely used. Lishu was made a standard script then. It was easier to be written and read. Calligraphers in the Lishu style attach more importance to the beauty of the shapes of the characters. The curved strokes in Xiaozhuan become square angles in Lishu, giving it a more regular appearance.


The Regular Script (楷书 Kaishu) of Chinese characters which is most widely used now created around 1800 years ago. Kai means model. It is square in form, non-cursive and architectural in style. In this style, strokes are mostly either horizontal or vertical. It is considered the regular script, or model style. Wang Xizhi, a famous calligrapher around 1700 years ago, was a master of Kaishu.


Only around one or two hundreds later, evolved from Lishu, Cursive Script (草书 Caoshu) were created. Caoshu is rapid and used for making quick but rough copies. The characters are written swiftly with the strokes running together. The characters are often joined up, with the last stroke of the first merging into the initial stroke of the next. They also vary in size in the same piece of writing. Even some educated Chinese can’t read Caoshu entirely.


Developed from Regular Script, Running Script (行书 Xingshu) emphasizes delicate beauty and smoothness. As its name indicates, Xing means running. So in writing Xingshu one must make one’s brush run quickly with semi-cursive strokes. Xingshu is used most commonly in daily life. Now it is adopted by most calligraphers. 


Practicing calligraphy is also a method of keeping fit and cultivating one’s moral character.