Chinese Calligraphy Facts: Know All About Ancient Chinese Art | Kidadl


Chinese Calligraphy Facts: Know All About Ancient Chinese Art

Arts & Crafts
Learn more
Reading & Writing
Learn more
Math & Logic
Learn more
Sports & Active
Learn more
Music & Dance
Learn more
Social & Community
Learn more
Mindful & Reflective
Learn more
Outdoor & Nature
Learn more
Read these Tokyo facts to learn all about the Japanese capital.

From the diverse art history of China, Chinese calligraphy has been around for centuries and has been studied about, as well as admired and developed for ages.

Being an important part of the Chinese culture, Chinese calligraphers are held in high esteem. Such was the admiration for this visual art form in traditional China, that in East Asia, it was expected of educated men and court women to possess this fine art skill.

In China, viewing a calligraphic script is seen as almost equivalent to viewing a Chinese painting. There's a very thin line between the admiration for both these visual art forms for the Chinese. The important aspect of a calligraphic script is how it is written rather than what is written. So, merely knowing how to write Chinese isn't the requirement for calligraphy, it is how to write it by following calligraphic tradition.

Origin Of Chinese Calligraphy

While the art forms of painting and calligraphy emerged around the same time, also sharing similar tools of use (brush and ink), it was calligraphy that was first admired to a greater extent before paintings.

  • The origin of calligraphy is attributed to China, being in existence from the Shang Dynasty. Shang kings used the earliest objects with calligraphy in divine rituals.
  • The art of calligraphy itself is around 4,000-5,000 years old. Its emergence is linked to the unique style of Chinese characters.
  • In pre-modern China, the scholars with calligraphy skills were allocated superior posts in government, society, and culture.
  • Some of the earliest available examples of such writing in the days of ancient China have been recovered in the form of oracle bones (shoulder bones of large animals and turtle shells). This led to the script being named 'jiaguwen', or shell-and-bone script.
  • These early calligraphic scripts addressed the matters of ancient China like warfare, weather forecasts, hunting expeditions, and more.
  • The concept of jiaguwen led to the next form of writing called jinwen, or metal script for describing the writing forms on bronze vessels.
  • A total of seven standard strokes called the Seven Mysteries are used in Chinese calligraphy.
  • These are the horizontal line, the dot, the sweeping downward stroke, the sharp curve, and two forms of the downward stroke - one with a hook and one at a 45-degree angle.

Who Created Chinese Calligraphy

The creation of Chinese calligraphy has not been attributed to any single person, as such.

  • The evolution of Chinese calligraphy is thought to have spread over a period of the Three Kingdoms and Xi Jin.
  • It was Cangje who invented Chinese writing. He closely mimicked the visual form of the footprint of animals and claw marks of birds on the sand and similar other naturally occurring phenomena into written language form.
  • This was done as simple images, and each written character was made up of a minimum number of lines.
  • The next important turning point in the evolution of Chinese calligraphy was when the first Emperor of Qin instructed his prime minister, Li Si, to work on a new script. This was after the bronze script had been unified and regulated.
  • The next few developments in Chinese calligraphy led to the establishment of five different types of calligraphy scripts based on the script styles - Seal script, Clerical script, Semi-cursive script, Cursive script, and Regular script.
  • The popular and oldest script is the Seal script which was a formal style used for seals and official documents.
  • The seal script is formed of ancient Chinese characters, making it difficult to understand for modern Chinese. However, with uniform thickness and minimal direction changes, this script is easier to reproduce for crafters.
  • The clerical script, also known as the chancery script, was also considered a formal style and was reserved for clerks and officials. With simpler brushstrokes and heavy stroke endings, this script remains readable to date despite its origin dating back to the Han dynasty.
  • The characters of the clerical script are flat but wider than the characters of the seal script and regular script. Some of the features resemble silkworm heads and wild goose tails.
  • The regular script, which came into existence at the end of the Han dynasty, is the most commonly used script. Easier to read and with clearly drawn brushstrokes, this script is suitable to learn calligraphy.
  • The semi-cursive script is also known as the running script since it is midway between the regular script and cursive script. This script is as popular as the regular script now. With connected and simple strokes in each character, writing is much faster.
  • The cursive script in Chinese means the grass script also called mood writing. With short and linked strokes for a single character, these would be hard to recognize as the characters run into each other.
Having read some of the Chinese Calligraphy facts so far, you can understand why it could be fascinating for these kids to learn the traditional Chinese calligraphy.

Importance Of Chinese Calligraphy

For the people of China, the art of Chinese calligraphy remains a source of pride, as it depicts the rich artistic tradition of the country.

  • Learning the Chinese language is in itself a difficult task. With each Chinese word represented by a character, there are about 50,000 characters in all, the majority of which are rarely used.
  • In the Chinese writing system of calligraphy, importance is placed on the numerous dots/specks, lines, and spacing between the characters as well as the lines.
  • Each Chinese character in the calligraphic script is turned into an image by varying the pressure and speed of the pointed Chinese brush. The result expected at the end is a beautifully and perfectly written script.
  • From the earliest days in China, calligraphy was not just a form of decorative art, it was considered as one of the supreme visual art forms, more than paintings and sculptures.
  • Apart from being just a tool for communication, Chinese calligraphy embraces the artistic expression and skills of the calligrapher. The influence of this visual art form can also be seen in modern art, architecture, and design.
  • The focus of this Chinese art is not just on the written word, it also works on refining one's character, while also being taught for recreation.
  • In ancient China, emperors displayed their authority by engraving their pronouncements on mountainsides or outdoor stone structures.
  • While calligraphy is not as widely used as in the ancient days, this art form has now become a hobby or an interest of some well-trained artisans and enthusiastic amateurs.
  • Of late, apart from the ones interested to develop fine calligraphy skills, calligraphy is also being taught at schools in both China and Japan.
  • With kids using tabs and computers more often these days, promoting Chinese calligraphy in Chinese schools works to counter character amnesia (forgetting how to write the well-known Chinese characters) brought about due to increased technology usage.
  • In an experimental trial, calligraphy writing has proven to augment the working memory and attention control for older adults or people with mild cognitive impairment (the mental process of gaining knowledge and understanding through experience and the senses).
  • Calligraphy has had an impact on the development of several other art forms in China, such as seal carving, ornate paperweights, and ink-stones.
  • Just like any other highly regarded artwork, the monetary worth of calligraphy got a boost in recent times. The newly rich Chinese look at calligraphy as one of the safe investments for their wealth.
  • Matching in artistic significance to poetry, calligraphy writing is considered as a channel of free expression in Chinese culture.
  • In China, a lot of ceremonies conducted for national celebrations or religious practices include the use of Chinese calligraphy.
  • Calligraphy is considered as a medium to convey the artist's emotion through self-expression and reveals something of the individual, more than all other Chinese visual arts.
  • Metaphorically, the brush is considered as an extension of the calligrapher's arm, and perhaps, his entire body.
  • The wielding of the brush displays the writer's elegance, impulse, restraint, and rebelliousness.
  • In modern-day China, calligraphy is a profession of a few practitioners. An artist's work is priced based on the length of the paper on which it is written.
  • The work of a famous calligrapher could fetch several thousands of Yuan per chi (a measurement unit, almost equal to a foot) of artwork.

Materials Needed For Chinese Calligraphy

The creation of a Chinese calligraphic script requires the four most important tools, otherwise called The Four Treasures of the Study.

  • The Four Treasure of Study are the ink brushes, the ink, the paper, and the ink-stone. Along with these, water-droppers and paperweights are also commonly used by many calligraphers.
  • The pen (or brush in this case) is mightier than the sword indeed. This art form depicts the true power of the word.
  • While records show that brushes were known in China a long time ago, the extensive use of brushes happen during the Han dynasty.
  • The brushes used for Chinese calligraphy are typically made of animal hair (weasel, rabbit, deer, goat, tiger, or other), or quite rarely of feathers.
  • The body of the brush is made either from bamboo, or other materials such as wood, porcelain, or horn.
  • An interesting fact is that in China and Japan, there's a tradition of making a brush with the hair of a newborn child, as they consider this to be a souvenir to be cherished.
  • Yet another amusing fact about the five major styles of Chinese calligraphy is that the palm may not touch the brush, which is held vertically to the paper.
  • These days, there are special pens that are used particularly for calligraphy.
  • The unique feature of a hairbrush is that the width of the strokes can be varied.
  • Depending on whether the tip or side of the brush is being used, two-dimensional as well as three-dimensional images can be created.
  • The ink was produced by rubbing a dried cake of animal or vegetable matter against a wet stone in times of the earliest writing.
  • Nowadays, using ink from a bottle appears more convenient and easier.
  • Calligraphic scripts were written on wood, bamboo, and silk around the time of 300 BC. The use of paper came in around 100 AD.
  • A special kind of paper called Xuan paper is commonly used by calligraphers. The name of the paper was derived during the Tang dynasty going by its native region. The Xuan paper hardly deteriorates or ages, promoting its long-term use.
  • The last of The Four Treasures of Study is the ink-stone. It's usually a flat, hard slab made of stone or pottery.
  • Also available for calligraphic purposes is the ink stick that is beautifully decorated. The ink sticks are made from pinewood soot, mixed with gum resin. These ink sticks are hard as stone, flat, and are dabbed with water for use.
  • Black ink, in the form of solid sticks or cakes, is ground in water on a stone surface to produce a liquid.
  • The thickness of the ink produced can be controlled by the calligrapher by differing the quantity of water and the amount of solid ink that is ground.
  • The brush is loaded with more or less ink, such that the ink almost runs out before the brush needs to be dipped in the ink again.
Written By
Lydia Samson

<p>A diligent and driven mass communications graduate from Caleb University, Lydia has experience in media and a passion for digital marketing and communications. She is an effective communicator and team-builder with strong analytical, management, and organizational skills. She is a self-starter with a positive, can-do attitude.</p>

Read The Disclaimer

Was this article helpful?