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Chinese Calligraphy A Microcosm of Culture, An Art Form par excellence. San-pao Li, Ph.D. Department of Asian and Asian American Studies California State University, Long Beach. Introduction. Chinese calligraphy is widely recognized as a bona fide “fine art”

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chinese calligraphy a microcosm of culture an art form par excellence

Chinese CalligraphyA Microcosm of Culture, An Art Form par excellence

San-pao Li, Ph.D.

Department of Asian and Asian American Studies

California State University, Long Beach

  • Chinese calligraphy is widely recognized as a bona fide “fine art”
  • Chinese calligraphy is perhaps the most culturally-rich form of direct artistic expression
  • More than fair or elegant writing or penmanship
  • Serves more than a linguistic purpose
  • It is a highly sophisticated form of art
sample calligraphy
Sample Calligraphy

Zhao Yong (Yuan)

sample calligraphy1
Sample Calligraphy

Yu Yue (Qing)



  • It adds an absorbing, visual element to the beauty of thought
  • It is a national taste, a common aesthetic instinct nourished from childhood
  • Used to express felicitations or condolences
  • An immediate expression of the character and sensibility of the artist
  • Was the passport to successful official career
  • Requires mental preparation -- quietude and serenity
  • Requires mastery of literature
  • Rigorous moral cultivation and fortitude
  • “If the mind is upright, the brush strokes will be right.”
the three forms of fine art in chinese tradition
The Three Forms of Fine Art in Chinese Tradition
  • Poetry
  • Calligraphy
  • Painting
  • vs.
  • Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture
qualities of fine calligraphy
Qualities of Fine Calligraphy
  • The “strength of bone”
  • Organic unity
  • Rhythmic vitality
qualities of fine calligraphy1
Qualities of Fine Calligraphy
  • The “strength of bone”
    • the Yin and the Yang
    • opening and closing
    • void and solidity
    • front and back
    • rising and falling
sample calligraphy2
Sample Calligraphy

Wang Shimin (Ming)

sample calligraphy3
Sample Calligraphy

Jin Shi (Ming)

sample calligraphy4
Sample Calligraphy

Emperor Huizong (Song)

sample calligraphy5
Sample Calligraphy

Huai Su (Tang)

qualities of fine calligraphy2
Qualities of Fine Calligraphy
  • Organic Unity
    • Reflects the dynamism, grandeur, and limitlessness of the art of Chinese calligraphy
sample calligraphy6
Sample Calligraphy

Zheng Banqiao

qualities of fine calligraphy3
Qualities of Fine Calligraphy
  • Rhythmic Vitality
    • is of supreme significance
    • an abundance of very fine masterpieces that exemplify this essential quality
sample calligraphy10
Sample Calligraphy

Huai Su


sample calligraphy11
Sample Calligraphy

Zhang Xu (Tang)

sample calligraphy12
Sample Calligraphy

Huang Tingjian (Song)

chinese calligraphy as a fine art
Chinese Calligraphyas a “Fine Art”
  • A spatial art form
  • Linear arrangement and composition
  • Structurally dynamic
  • Most effective and direct medium of self-expression
  • Uninhibited individual creativity
  • Supreme form of visual art
chinese calligraphy is a most culturally rich art form
Chinese Calligraphy is a MostCulturally-Rich Art Form
  • It is history
  • It is philosophy
  • It is poetry
  • It is literature
  • It reveals the deepest emotions
  • It reflects the social mores
  • It manifests the ethos and values
  • It captures the spirit of the time
appreciation of its philosophical profundity
Appreciation of ItsPhilosophical Profundity
  • It fascinates
  • It stimulates
  • It motivates
  • It inspires
  • It enlightens
  • It develops depth of character in learner
roaming leisurely in the garden of poetry
Roaming Leisurely in the Garden of Poetry
  • “Wintry River in Snow” (Jiang Xue)
  • “The Deer Park Hermitage” (Lu Zhai)
  • “Farewell to Ling Che” (Song Ling Che)
  • “The Maple Bridge” (Feng Qiao Ye Bo)
  • etc.
the notion of aesthetics
The Notion of Aesthetics
  • The Platonic notion ofthe beautifulis hardly distinguishable fromthe good.
  • In the Chinese consciousness, the good must demonstrateorder and harmony.
  • Harmonized state of contradictions, according to A. H. Muller (1779-1829), represents thehighest good.
  • Harmonyis both an intrinsic quality of art and the sine qua non ofreal freedom.
the notion of aesthetics1
The Notion of Aesthetics
  • Coincidentia Oppositorum
  • Reconciliation of the Opposites
styles of chinese calligraphy a sense of history
Styles of Chinese CalligraphyA Sense of History
  • The oracle bone style (jiaguwen)
  • The bronze and stone drum inscriptions (zhongdingwen, shiguwen, dazhuan)
  • The seal style (xiaozhuan)
  • The clerical style (lishu-Hanli, Weibei)
  • The running style (xingshu)
  • The cursive style (caoshu)
  • The modern styles (kaishu, shoujinti, tiexianzhuan, bafenshu, kuangcao, etc.)
sample calligraphy16
Sample Calligraphy

Sanshipan (8th-Century B.C.

sample calligraphy17
Sample Calligraphy

Wu Changshuo

sample calligraphy18
Sample Calligraphy

Yishan Bei


sample calligraphy19
Sample Calligraphy



Lu She (Ming)

sample calligraphy20
Sample Calligraphy

Zhao Mengfu (Yuan)

sample calligraphy21
Sample Calligraphy



sample calligraphy22
Sample Calligraphy

Wang Xizhi


sample calligraphy23
Sample Calligraphy

Liu Gongquan


sample calligraphy24
Sample Calligraphy

Xuanzong (Tang)

sample calligraphy25
Sample Calligraphy

Yan Zhenqing (Tang)

sample calligraphy26
Sample Calligraphy

Mi Fei (Song)

sample calligraphy27
Sample Calligraphy

Huang Tingjian (Song)

sample calligraphy28
Sample Calligraphy

When I come to revisit, it appears to be beautifully and enigmatically quaint,

The willow branches touch the clear water of the brook by the bridge,

The sun is warm, flowers sweet, and the mountain birds are singing incessantly.

Your old residence was west of the North Bridge;

Wu Ju (Song)

sample calligraphy29
Sample Calligraphy

Su Shi (Song)

sample calligraphy30
Sample Calligraphy

Dong Qichang


sample calligraphy31
Sample Calligraphy

Zheng Banqiao


sample calligraphy32
Sample Calligraphy

Yin Bingshou (Qing)

sample calligraphy36
Sample Calligraphy

Xu Wei (Ming)

prerequisites of a serious student
Prerequisites of a Serious Student
  • Be conversant in the classics
  • Be familiar with China’s rich poetic tradition
  • Appropriate mental preparation and discipline
  • Mastery of various calligraphic skills
the approach to fine calligraphy
The Approach to Fine Calligraphy
  • Copy by tracing
  • Copy in a free manner
  • Imitation
  • Develop spontaneously one’s own style, independent from all models.
the approach to fine calligraphy1
The Approach to Fine Calligraphy
  • Proficiency is attainable only to those who undergo rigid, rigorous, tedious, and long training, including self discipline and moral cultivation.
the practice of chinese calligraphy

The Practice of Chinese Calligraphy

Is a rigorous form of self-discipline and a delightful and fulfilling experience!

chinese calligraphy
Chinese Calligraphy
  • More than any other visual art, can reveal the Chinese mind and represent its aesthetic ideal
  • The sublime and exquisite artistry displayed in Chinese calligraphy compels one to study and experience
take advantage of the latest computer technologies
Take Advantage of the Latest Computer Technologies
  • Search the internet for relevant information and vast number of fine calligraphic specimen
  • Use software (such as CyberChinese, Dabbler) to practice handwriting
  • Fully exploit the availability of various fonts for copying and practice tailored for learner’s interest
  • Explore multimedia capabilities for poem recitation and individualized instruction