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What is Chinese calligraphy?

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The Chinese symbol for daughter
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Chinese calligraphy is a revered art form that dates back thousands of years

Chinese calligraphy art is considered an emotive form of art because it carries with it the feelings and thoughts of the specific artist that is making the design.

Calligraphy means good writing, which many of us don’t have. However, calling Chinese calligraphy “writing” is simplifying what has been an integral part of the Chinese culture for 4,000 years. Understanding these complexities is part of knowing what is Chinese calligraphy.

The Chinese have always had a great appreciation for written characters and how they look. As time passed, the Chinese began to see the characters as more than just nice looking symbols. When the brush was invented and used to write this was when calligraphy was first recognized as a form of art.

In the West, when we create calligraphy we use dry brush strokes that are seen as natural and unprompted expressions instead of a mistake and we also use diffuse ink blots. Western calligraphy is considered by some as a craft rather than an art. The goal in Western calligraphy is to make uniform characters.

Chinese calligraphers are highly disciplined and focused. It is considered an exercise of the mind. When doing calligraphy, the Chinese artist combines and coordinates his soul and body into the exercise so that he can select the best way to express the content that he is writing but also as a way to improve and maintain his spiritual and physical welfare.

An art form

Chinese calligraphy, which is also called brush calligraphy, is an art form distinctive of Asian cultures and is revered as the most awe-inspiring form of art in China. There are four important standards for Chinese literati including the four skills: Calligraphy or shut; painting or hua; playing a stringed musical instrument (Qin) and a strategic board game (Qi).

Chinese calligraphers can choose between various styles including official or clerical, seal, cursive, regular, running or semi-cursive although each style has a very specific purpose and features. The seven basic brush strokes are called the seven mysteries and the basic strokes must have a dot, a vertical line, a horizontal line, a sharp curve, a sweeping downward stroke and a downward stroke.

Every time a Chinese calligrapher makes a stroke this requires detailed planning and the ability to execute the stroke with a steady hand. When you make a stroke, it is permanent. It’s a done deal.
The variety of forms, shapes and styles are nearly endless but execution of them depends on the flexibility of the brush that is used, concentration of the ink, absorptive capacity of the paper and the thickness of the paper.

Calligraphy tools

One way in which Chinese calligraphy differs from other calligraphy techniques is the paper that is used, which is called Xuan paper. It is kind of absorbent and special inks and brushes must be used. The ink is made from oil smoke or the soot of pinewood oil to which gum substance is added. The ink is solid and is shaped like a stick. The ink is put into an ink stone that has been pottery-baked. Ink stones are flat and hard and are used by the calligrapher in which to mix the ink with water. He grinds the ink stick on the ink stone.

A seasoned calligrapher can accurately predict how much ink he is going to need for a project. If he comes up short and has to grind the ink twice there is a chance that he is going to come up with a different color.

The Chinese calligrapher uses brushes that are made from bamboo and a bundle of deer hair, rabbit hair, sheep hair or wolf hair. Rabbit hair is thin hair and is used when a subtle design is desired. The brush is held straight up or down and the palm of the calligrapher’s hand never comes into contact with the brush.

Fun Fact

The Chinese hypothesize that calligraphy reveals a person’s personality. Consequently, a person’s “writing” was studied when a person was considered for an executive position for the Imperial Court.

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