Chinese Calligraphy

Also named Brush calligraphy, Chinese calligraphy is not only an ancient writing art in Chinese characters, but also a unique visual art.

Chinese calligraphy is a unique visual art with Chinese characters as its principal elements. And Chinese character is a basic factor of Chinese culture, so we can say Chinese calligraphy generated and progressed within Chinese culture. Based on Chinese characters is the outstanding feature of Chinese calligraphy differing from other ones.

Chinese calligraphy is an ancient writing art in Chinese characters. From the earliest oracle bone inscriptions, stone-drum inscriptions to big-seal style, clerical script and then to cursive script, regular script and running script etc, Chinese calligraphy always diffuses an artistic charming. Up to a point, Chinese calligraphy has become a national mark, showing the broadness, profoundness and eternal charming of Chinese culture.

Writing Ways of Chinese Calligraphy

● Tracing: use a piece of thin paper or silk covering on the original works and then to write or paint based on the primary ones, such as Miao Hong (tracing in black ink over characters printed in red).
● Lin Xie: refer to the original works and then try to write or paint as like as the original one on another piece of paper.
● Bei Lin: after many times of imitation, write out the original works based on one’s memory.
● Creation: based on the continuous modified writing habit and style, choose a new writing content and create out a new works.

Chinese Calligraphy in Different Period

Pre-Qin Period (before 221BC)

Accepted by academia, the earliest ancient Chinese character data is oracle bone inscriptions (inscriptions on bones or tortoise shells of the Shang Dynasty) and Chinese Bronze inscriptions (inscriptions on ancient bronze objects) in fourteen to eleven century BC. These earliest writing has had more than one formal beauty of calligraphy, such as beauty in line, beauty of symmetry, beauty in variation etc. From the late period of Shang Dynasty to 221 BC, the general evolution trend of Chinese characters was from complex font to simplified one.

● Oracle bone inscriptions: found in 1899, it refers to inscriptions on bones or tortoise shells in the Yin and Shang Dynasty (1766BC-1122BC). It mainly recorded the divine and sacrifice activities at that time.
● Chinese bronze inscriptions: Yu Ding (an ancient vessel for holding liquid or cooking) was a famous bronze ware in the Western Zhou Period (11th century to 771 BC). There is an inscription in 291 Chinese characters on its inwall. This is a representative opus of Chinese Bronze inscriptions.
● Stone-drum inscriptions: found in Fengxiang County, Shaanxi Province, it was the inscriptions on drum-shaped stone blocks of the Warring States Period (475-221 BC). It serves as a link between the former Chinese calligraphy and following ones.

Chinese Calligraphy in Qin Dynasty (221BC-206BC)

Qin Dynasty started a new phase of Chinese calligraphy. After the unification of the whole nation, Qin Shi Huang (the first Emperor of Qin) ordered one of his ministers Li Qi to unify the writing with a new name ‘Small Seal Script’. This kind of Chinese calligraphy was still based on the former ones but in a more simple writing way. Calligraphy revolution in Qin Dynasty plays a splendid and significant role in the development of Chinese calligraphy.

Chinese Calligraphy in Han Dynasty (202 BC-220)

Han Dynasty is the critical period on the development of Chinese calligraphy. In this time, Chinese calligraphy changed from one style to the other one and till the last years of Han, Chinese calligraphy owned nearly all the writing types.

Chinese Calligraphy in Wei and Jin Dynasty (220-420)

In this period, Chinese calligraphy became more and more complete. This was a marvelous new age with the emerging of some great calligraphers, such as Wang Younjun (with an honorable title ‘a Sage in Chinese calligraphy’). They set up a perfect example on the beauty of regular script, running script and cursive script.

Chinese Calligraphy in the Northern and Southern Dynasties (420-581)

In this period, Chinese calligraphy was popular among not only the Emperor but these common people. And the most outstanding one is called ‘Tablet Inscription’ (carved Chinese characters on a tablet).

Chinese Calligraphy in Tang Dynasty (618-907)

Tang Culture was profound, extensive and splendid, reaching the peak of Chinese feudal culture; the same applies to Chinese calligraphy. In this period, Chinese calligraphy had both succession and innovation. Besides, many great calligraphers with rich works appeared, leaving a good name even till today, such as Ouyang Xun, Liu Gongquan and Yan Zhenqing and so forth.

Chinese Calligraphy in Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)

Emperors in Ming Dynasty were all fond of Chinese calligraphy. And the most popular type in this period was called ‘Tie Xue’ (a way of carving).

Chinese Calligraphy in Qing Dynasty (1644-1911)

Tie Xue reached its peak during Qing period. And at this time, a plenty of great calligraphers on Tie Xue appeared. Throughout Qing Dynasty, Chinese calligraphy changed from succession to innovation and then creation. So, Qing Dynasty can be called a reviving period of Chinese calligraphy.

Related Reading: Chinese Painting

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