Introduction to Chinese Calligraphy and Top-Notch Calligraphic Works.
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Calligraphy occupies one of the highest positions in the rich and colorful treasury of Chinese art. Through the use of a brush to write Chinese characters, a calligrapher can express his or her aesthetic idea, education, thoughts and feelings, personality and temperament in a point or a line. Calligraphy has developed in China over the course of more than 3,000 years. It is a wonderful art, becoming an important part of the best tradi60nal Chinese culture.
The art of Calligraphy spread to Japan, Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, and wherever the Chinese diaspora has settled. Its popularity continues to grow.
Two aspects of Chinese calligraphy distinguish it from other calligraphic arts: the nature of Chinese characters and use of the brush. The structure of Chinese characters, each of which occupies a square space, and their rich connotations make them an ideal calligraphic medium. The softness and elasticity of ink brushes make them ideal tools to express the changing styles of calligraphy. A line made with the stroke of a brush may present different tastes of writing styles．This can be completed only with ala ink brush. Various types and sizes of characters require different kinds of brushes.
There ate three elements in Chinese calligraphy: 1. Maneuver ability. This requires the dexterous control of the brush, the scientific movement of the fingers，elbow and body and effective use of the ink．The brush must be controlled to move on the paper at the right speed with the required force，quick or slow, light or heavy, lifting up or pressing down to form various types of brush sharpness，mid-way or side cutting，or hidden or exposed point. The lines should be written with force，giving a feeling of Substance, like the veins, bones, blood and flesh of the human body. 2. Structure. This refers to the layout of the points and the execution of the brush movement．It stresses the balance，escape and supplement．capping and piercing，facing up and the reverse, siding filling a blank，covering，and increase and decrease，to make the combination of the strokes of each character full of life and animation. 3. Style．This refers to the taste，style and quality of the work．It requires the skillful expression of a combination of beauty in form and in quality of the work so as to give a vivid presentation as a result of the producer’s inspiration. The maneuverability of the brush and the structure are techniques used to produce a beauty in form and quality．But the style represents the producer’s personal accomplishments separate from achievement in calligraphy. Style is the most important, but It cannot be separated from the beauty in form and quality. A good calligraphic work is required to contain these two aspects.
Calligraphy, superficially speaking, is nothing more than writing characters. However，good Calligraphy cannot be produced with out a good educational foundation. The wonder of a calligraphic work is always based on the depth and breadth of the knowledge of its producer. This involves a process of integrating training in basic techniques with knowledge.
It is very difficult to appraise a calligraphic work．This is because the requirements of a work include the practical function of communicating information through seemingly simple points and lines, the expressive function of communicating feelings, and the aesthetic function. The simpler the expression, the richer the content, the more abstract it is, the deeper its implication. It is a medium for expressing the mood, will, feelings, ideas and the pursuit of beauty of its producer. This requires the appraisers and connoisseurs to have extensive knowledge and keen observation.
Chinese Calligraphy is the product of 5,000 years of Chinese culture. Through the ages a great number of outstanding calligraphers have emerged．Wang Xizhi(321—379)and his son Wang Xianzhi(344—386)of the Eastern Jin Dynasty(3 1 7—420)created a beautiful and flowing new style，which has remained very popular in later generations．Ouyang Xun(557—641), Chu Suiliang (596—658). Yan Zhenqing(708—784) and Liu Gongquan (778—865)of the Tang Dynasty(61 8—907)each created their own types of regular script which have also been followed by later generations．Zhang Xu and Huai Su(725—785)，also of the Tang Dynasty, invented a wonderful cursive style of writing. Su Shi (1037-1101). Huang Tingjian (1045—1105)and Mi Fei(1051—1107) of the Song Dynasty (960—1279) were all well known for their cursive hand and running hand. During the Qing period(1644—1911)，calligraphers were divided into two schools：the stone rubbing school and the model book school. Yu Youren (1879—1964)blended the two school into one to create a new school. All these calligraphers established their own unique styles: the “free and natural beauty” of Wang Xizhi, the “strong and robust beauty” of Yah Zhenqing, the “flesh and clear beauty” of Mi Fei and Huang Tingjian，the “bold and flowing beauty” of Zhang Xu and Huai Su and the “exotic and clumsy beauty” of Su Shi and Zheng Banqiao(1 693—1765)．The brilliant history of Calligraphy and the achievements of generations of calligraphers are an important part of the history of Chinese culture.
Chinese Calligraphy is an art based on the unique form of Chinese characters which developed from inscriptions on tortoise shells and ox bones to Dazhuan and Xiaozhuan (seal characters), official script，regular script, running hand and cursive hand. If we take writing (in any language) as the first great creation of human culture, then Calligraphy is the second great creation of Chinese culture based on Chinese characters. Calligraphy, unlike writing for the sole purpose of social communication, is an art used to express the ideas, accomplishments, and feelings of the calligrapher. It is an expression of the outlook on culture, history and life in various ages, a tangible culture parallel to ideology, and a medium for conveying cultural information of all kinds.
Throughout history, philosophy has exerted a strong influence on calligraphy. Yin and Yang in the doctrine of changes，the Confucian doctrine of the mean，the Taoist doctrine of the Way of nature, and the Chan Sect’s sudden enlightenment, meditation and self-cultivation, have all stamped a deep brand upon calligraphic aesthetics. Traditional national philosophical ideas, it may be said，have nourished Chinese calligraphy. And calligraphy, in the form of art, has embodied the meaning of traditional philosophical ideas. Good verses and compositions are copied by calligraphers. So Calligraphy involves the presentation of literary works. People can enjoy the beauty of both the Calligraphy and literature at the same time．Wang Xizhi’s “Foreword to Lanting Pavilion” written by hand is a good example. The literati of the Song Dynasty further combined poetry and calligraphy. Many of the poems and essays written by hand by Su Shi and Huang Tingjian can be admired for the art of their calligraphy．Modern master calligraphers，including Kang Youwei (1858—1927)，Guo Moruo (1892—1978)，Qi Gong，and Zhao Puchu, have produced many excellent calligraphic and literary works．
Calligraphy integrates the aesthetics of painting with those of music and dance．It boasts the rhythm of music，the posture of dance and the pattern of painting. Form，quality, posture，style and reasoning are combined, making substance abstractive to produce a lasting feeling of beauty.
The following are some examples of masterpieces of calligraphy:
1. The “Foreword to Lanting Pavilion” by Wang Xizhi
Wang Xizhi was born into a noble family．When he resigned from government office, he settled at Shanyin，Guiji (now Shaoxing of Zhejiang Province). During his early years, he learned Calligraphy from Wei Furen. Later he learned regular and cursive scripts from Zhong You and Zhang Zhi. He adopted the strengths of each of his teachers to create his own style. His works, using official script, regular characters, running hand and cursive script, surpassed those of master calligraphers before him．He led the development of Calligraphy from a natural way to a way of skill training and improved it to perfection．He was famous during his lifetime and esteemed as a “true calligrapher sage” by later generations. Wang Xianzhi, his seventh son, was also a good calligrapher, particularly famed for his running hand and cursive script. Inheriting his father’s achievements，he further improved the primitive and clumsy style of calligraphy. He wrote with elegance and boldness and his style had a great influence on later generations. The calligraphic works of the two Wangs are still widely published and the latest edition of A Complete Collection of Chinese Calligraphic Works, published by Rongbaozai Studio in Beijing, includes two volumes of their works.
The “Foreword to Lanting Pavilion” is the best—known example of Wang Xizhi’s running hand．It is regarded as the “First Running Hand Under the Sun.”
It is said that on the third day of the third month of the lunar calendar, in the year 353 (the ninth year of the reign of Emperor Mudi of the Eastern Jin Dynasty), Wang Xizhi and a group of eminent scholars gathered at Lanting Pavilion in Shanyin，Guiji，where，according to the conventions of an old sacrificial ceremony, they drank and enjoyed themselves on the bank of a river．When the wine cup flowing on the water stopped before one of them，that person would compose a poem immediately otherwise he would have to take a drink. Wang wrote a foreword to the collection of all these poems: the “Foreword to Lanting Pavilion.”
The “Foreword to Lanting Pavilion” was a favorite piece of brushwork of the writer himself．It is said that Wang copied the work several times，but felt that he could not reproduce the original effect．It became a cherished family heirloom. Later, it was handed down to the Venerable Zhiyong, a seventh——generation descendent of Wang Xizhi, who was also a famous calligrapher. When Zhiyong was dying，he handed the work down to his favorite disciple Biancai who hid the work in a hole he had made in the center—beam of the hall of a temple. Li Shimin, Emperor Taizong of the Tang Dynasty( r.627—649), who was very fond of Wang’s calligraphy, sent his secret envoy Xiao Yi to get the treasured piece of brushwork from Biancai. Xiao Yi knew that he would not be able to obtain the work by force, so he disguised himself as a scholar. Xiao succeeded in his approaches to Biancai, who invited Xiao to stay with him in the temple. They soon became good friends and made frequent visits to each other. One day, they were discussing calligraphy, and Xiao said that he had studied the two Wangs’ regular script, and had collected some pieces of their works. He invited Biancai to See and enjoy them the next day. When Biancai saw the works, he said: “These are genuine works made by the Master. But they are not the best. I have a piece……”
“What is its name?” asked Xiao.
“The ‘Foreword to Lanting Pavilion.’”
“How could you get hold of the original copy after all the wars?” said Xiao with a smile. “Surely it’s a fake.”
“This was handed down, generation to generation, by my master’s ancestors. One of them gave it to me on his deathbed. Please look.”
Biancai took the work from the hole where it was hidden, showed it to Xiao and then carefully replaced it. A few days later, when Biaocai was out, Xiao stole it from the hole and then went to the prefectural yamen where he showed the emperor’s imperial edict saying that His Majesty wanted the calligraphic work. Biancai finally realized that he had been deceived, but there was nothing he could do about it now.
The Emperor treasured the work. He copied it again and again and when he died, it was buried with him as his most precious sacrificial article. Later, his tomb was robbed and the original work was never recovered. Today, only copies exist.
Of all the copies, those made by Yu Shinan (558-638), Chu Suiliang, Ouyang Xun, and Feng Chengsu were considered the most important. But since Yu, Chu and Ouyang were all famous calligraphers themselves, their copies are influenced by their own styles. The “Copy of the Model of the Genuine ‘Foreword to Lanting Pavilion’ Calligraphy by Feng Chengsu of the Tang” is now kept in the Beijing Palace Museum.
The work was naturally written from beginning to end in running hand and regular script. The characters are arranged in vertical columns. The vertical columns are almost equal in length, but they are not always straight to the bottom and not all the characters are the same size. The form of characters varies with the strokes being naturally drawn. As a whole, the brushwork is exquisite with thick strokes being robust but not awkward, while narrow strokes are delicate but not weak. The Calligraphy was completed in a rhyme with the proper use of force of the brush, light or heavy, fast or slow. Its strong and clear-cut lines and round and mellow forms present us with a fresh, clear, exquisite and closely linked work of art.
2. “Foreword to the Wild Goose Pagoda Sacred Teachings” by Chu Suiliang
Chu Suiliang (596-658 or 659) was an imperial minister and calligrapher of the Tang period. He died after he was demoted and banished from the court. He first studied the Calligraphy of Shi Ling and Ouyang Xun, and later, Yu Shinan. Finally, he studied the two Wangs and evolved a style all his own. In the remaining years of his life, he created a flowing-style regular script which greatly influenced the Calligraphy of later generations. Chu Suiliang, together with Ouyang Xun, Yu Shinan, and Xue ji (649-713), became known as the four great calligraphers of the early Tang period. His most respected work is the “Foreword to the Wild Goose Pagoda Sacred Teachings.”
The work was cut on two stone tablets inlaid in the brick shrines on either side of the south gate of the Greater Wild Goose Pagoda of the Ci’en Temple in Xi’an. It is said these tablets were laid by the master monk Xuan Zhuang in person. The tablets were written in the 10th and 12th months of the year 653 during the reign of Emperor Gaozong of the Tang Dynasty. Chu was then 58 years old. The tablets have been well protected, and are still in good condition.
Compared with his previous works, the brushwork here is improved from its simplicity and plainness toward richness and vari ety and the structure from simple regularity toward vividness and liveliness, without those inactive flavor prevalent in the making of tablets during the Six Dynasties period. These tablets are perfect and mature pieces produced during the last years of his life, with delicate and robust, pleasant and beautiful brushwork. The characters are written in small regular script, mixed with official script and running hand. The penmanship involves both round and square forms with good and natural execution of light and heavy, long and short, thick and thin, straight and curved, and upright and slant strokes of points and lines. Some traces of strokes can be found to link with the upper right corner of the following character, a technique belonging to running and cursive scripts, giving a flowing style of calligraphy. The structure of a character is always compact and intense with variations of strokes, spreading or unfolding, and upward or downward, all in distinct design and good execution without clumsiness. The written characters present an aesthetic feeling of thinness with strength and flowing without restraint. Once the tablets were erected, people flocked there to copy the rubbings from the stone inscriptions.
3. Yah Zhenqing: “The Yan Qinli Tablet”
Yan Zhenqing was a Tang minister and calligrapher, born into a prestigious family. He was killed by a treacherous minister of the court during the reign of Emperor Dezong.
He learned Calligraphy from his family and Zhang Xu, a well-known calligrapher. He absorbed all the strengths of past masters and created his own style in both regular script and running hand. The “fan style, robust, solemn and elegant, reflects the prosperity and strength of the Tang Dynasty.
Although he was an amateur calligrapher, he was prolific. According to historical records, he produced 138 works, but only about 70 still exist.
The stone tablet was written and dedicated to Yan’s great grandfather Yan Qinli. It is 268 cm high and 92 cm wide. The life-story on the tablet was written and cut in regular script. Today, it is kept in the Third Hall of the Forest of Steles Museum in Xi’an.
He produced this masterpiece at the age of 71, when he had firmly established his own style. His vigor can be Seen clearly in this energetic, flowing and perfect work. The tablet was buried underground for many years, protecting it from damage, and the Calligraphy is remarkably clear and fresh. It serves as a good model for beginners to copy.
The penmanship of the Calligraphy on the tablet stresses the maneuverability of the middle edge of the brush, with the use of the brush tip at first in a pressed and backward way and then unfolding it to level to the end, to make the head of the strokes hidden and the tail protected. In this way, the edges of the brushwork cannot be Seen and an effect of forceful penmanship is thus produced with characters smoothly and energetically written. Its typical strokes such as the long slanting lines and long vertical stems are unique. Its turns are mostly in the form of an inward square and an outward round. As a whole, the Yan style is solemn and great, elegant and robust, vigorous and primitive with an atmosphere of magnificence.
4. The “Xuanbi Pagada Tablet” by Liu Gongquan
Liu Gongquan was a calligrapher of the Tang period. He was famous for writing regular characters. He created his own Liu style by absorbing the compact structure of Ouyang Xun’s style and the spreading brush movement of Yan Zhenqing. His Calligraphy has a bony and energetic style with a firm and forceful framework of strokes, emphasizing a strong idea of buildup. His work is often referred to that of Yan Zhenqing. “Yan’s veins and Liu’s bones” mark the basic features of these two major types of Tang Dynasty regular script. Like Yan, Liu was also prolific.
His most famous work is the “Xuanbi Pagoda Tablet,” which tells the story of the master monk Dada who was favorably treated by the emperors of the Tang Dynasty. The tablet was established in the 12th month of the year 841. The text on the tablet was written and cut in the regular script. Now it is preserved in the Second Hall of the Forest of Steles Museum in Xi’an. The stone tablet is cracked and some of its words are blurred, but generally, the writing is complete and clear and is considered to be a good model for beginners to copy.
The penmanship of the writing on the tablet is produced mostly with the use of the middle edge of the brush, square or round and raising and pressing. Long horizontal strokes are usually thin and short strokes are thick. Vertical stems include pendent-pin like ones and the dew-dropping ones. Its slanting lines are generally produced with a heavy force when moving toward the right and with a light touch when moving to the left. The structure is compact and stiff, intense inside and relaxed outside. As a whole, the style of the work is sharp with hard and bony strokes, and vigorous as if cut with a sword.
5. The “Su Ben Autobiography Scroll” by Huai Su
Huai Su was a monk and calligrapher, who had loved Calligraphy from childhood and was famous for his cursive hand. He wrote so much that he wore out numerous brushes and ink-slabs, so he began to use the leaves of banana trees, which he grew himself, instead of paper. He called his studio the “House of Green Skies.” At first he studied the Calligraphy of Zhong You and the two Wangs. Later he learned the cursive script of Zhang Xu from Yan Zhenqing and created his own style of cursive hand, becoming a famous cursive-hand calligrapher like Zhang Xu, one known as “wild Zhang” and the other as “drunken Su.” The wild cursive hand (kuang cao) is a style that is written completely freely. The producer expresses his feeling and will through the brushwork, which is extremely concise and often links several words in a single stroke. It is the most extreme form of the cursive hand. Huai Su's style has more variations than that of Zhang, without violating the traditional rules. It is also more recognizable and so had a greater influence than Zhang on the following generations. The “Su Ben Autobiography Scroll” is considered to be his best work.
The scroll had been written in several copies. And this one is generally regarded as the typical one. It is written in ink on paper. The original is now kept in the Taipei Palace Museum, Taiwan Province.
According to the author's note at the end of the scroll, it was produced when he was 41, in the prime of his life. The text describes his studies of Calligraphy and experiences in creation. The latter part records praise for him by Yan Zhenqing and others.
His cursive hand is sometimes mixed with seal characters, and the brushwork is done mostly with the middle edge of the brush, round and turning inwardly, presenting a feeling of strength, flows and change. The spaces are well distributed and the size of the characters, large and small, spreading out and confined, seems to be produced at will freely but the space between them, the form, the size and the bulkiness and dryness of characters are well coordinated and laid out. A balanced beauty is thus achieved in the dynamic characters. This work is clearly modeled on Zhang Xu's style, but it is less wild than Zhang's works. Huai's style was greatly influenced by Wang Xianzhi.
“Lord Su praises himself in the autobiography” said Su Shi, “but no one criticizes him since his Calligraphy is so good.”
6. Su Ski's “Book of Handwritten Poems Written in April at Huangzhou”
Su Shi (1037-1101) was a writer, calligrapher and painter of the Northern Song Dynasty. Although he tried to pursue a career as an official, he was often frustrated and demoted. He was a man of many gifts in poetry, literature, and calligraphy, making a strong contribution to all these fields. He was well known for his running hand and regular script, following the styles of Li Yong (678-747), Xu Hao (703-782), Yan Zhenqing, and Yang Ningshi (873-954). He also established his own style, with a sense of fullness and charm, becoming the typical style of implied meaning during the Song and Yuan periods. Su Shi, Huang Tingjian, Mi Fei, and Cai Xiang (1012-1067) were known as the “four master calligraphers” of the time. The poems written in April at Huangzhou are his representative running hand works.
The work was written on paper, and consists of two of the writer's poems, each written with five characters per line. It is now kept in the Taipei Palace Museum.
When he was 42 years of age, Su Shi was the prefectureal magistrate of Huzhou. Whenever he discovered some malpractice of the government and harm caused to ordinary people, he would write about it in his poems. Some imperial censors found about this, charged him with slandering the court, and had him sent to prison. On his release, he was given a post at Huangzhou (now Huanggang County, Hubei Province). Su often wandered along rivers and in the mountains with the local people. It was here that he wrote these two famous poems, in which he expressed his indignation and described his hard life and sorrows in the three years since he had arrived in Huangzhou. The drizzling weather before and during the Pure Brightness Festival (an occasion for mourning one's ancestors, usually falling in early April) made him particularly sad.
His poems and Calligraphy complement each other, both strongly expressing his sorrows for his own life and his worries about the state. The work is his greatest achievement in the running hand script. The strokes are tough and full and the characters are written alternately in regular form and running hand. The words and the lines are well coordinated and executed as a whole. Each character, small or large, is laid freely at will with varied forms. The brushwork is, at times, heavy as a crouched bear, at others, as light as a flying swallow. Its composition includes a good use of space. Its rhythm is at a pace of the increased quickness of the brush, with the formation of small and large, thick and thin characters in strong and light ink. One can clearly See the writer's gloomy mood expressed in the flowing of his brush, like a torrent of water. It is a truly wonderful work. Su Shi said: “It becomes a good piece while you did not expect it.”
7. Huang Tingjian's “Book of Calligraphic Poems Written at the Pavilion of the Wind Soughing in the Pines”
Huang Tingjian (1045-1105) was a poet and calligrapher of the Northern Song Dynasty, who became famous as one of the “four master calligraphers of the Song period.” He created his own style of running hand and cursive script after studying the cursive script of Huai Su and the regular script of Yan Zhenqing.
His book of poems, written in running hand, is now in the Taipei Palace Museum.
Huang Tingjian's hardships and frustrations in life were like those of Su Shi. He, too, was frequently demoted. At the age of 57, he traveled to Mount Fanshan at Echeng in Hubei Province, where he found a pavilion called Pavilion of the Wind Soughing in the Pines standing amid the beautiful landscape. The sight moved him deeply and inspired his poems, in which he expressed the frustration of his dismissal and his yearning for freedom. He was determined, however, not to submit to the authorities. He missed his teachers and friends, and his warm and sincere feelings for them are vividly expressed in his poems.
8. Zhao Gou's “Luo Shen Fu in Running Hand”
Zhao Gou (1107-1187), Emperor Gaozong of the Southern Song, was on the throne from 1127-1162. Both he and his father were politically incompetent, but were gifted artistically. Zhao Gou's Calligraphy surpassed that of his father, inheriting more from the past and displaying a more profound insight.
He first studied the Calligraphy of Huang Tingjian, then Mi Fei, and later focused on the styles of Zhong Yao, a famous calligrapher of the Three Kingdoms Period, and Wang Xizhi. He worked very hard. “Over the past 50 years, I have never dropped my brush a single day if there were no more important things to be done,” he said. “I have learned the styles of all the calligraphers since the Wei, Jin and the Six Dynasties.” He wrote a book entitled On Calligraphy, a book full of insight.
“Luo Shen Fu (a descriptive prose interspersed with verse)” was copied in running hand style on a piece of satin. It was composed by Cao Zhi, a celebrated poet of the Three Kingdoms Period. With the threat of invasion from the north by Jin troops, who had already overrun half of the Song empire, Zhao abdicated at the age of 55 in favor of his son, hoping to live in peace in his remaining years. In copying the “Luo Shen Fu” he was expressing his desire for love, comfort and pleasure. His brushwork is a little bit thin, but in bold and vigorous strokes with a flavor of the implied meaning of the regular characters and running hand, and mostly in the styles of the "Two Wangs" (Wang Xizhi and Wang Xianzhi).
9. Zhao Mengfu's "Danba Stone Tablet"
Zhao Mengfu (1254-1322) was a calligrapher of the Yuan Dynasty. Like Su Shi, he was known for his versatility. He was well versed in poetry and literature, and had a good knowledge of Taoism and Buddhism. Skillful in painting, he was also good at calligraphy, particularly at regular script, running hand and small regular characters. He learned the style of Li Yong, based on the styles of the Two Wangs. He was said to be able to write ten thousand words in a day and his penmanship became known as the style of Zhao. Together with Yan Zhenqing, Liu Gongquan and Ouyang Xun, he was known as one of the "four master calligraphers in regular characters."
At the age of 63, Zhao was ordered by the Emperor to write the Danba Stone Tablet, in regular script, which is now stored in the Palace Museum in Beijing.
The brushwork of the stone tablet is typical of the Zhao style. Its strokes are slender, mellow and beautiful, in rigid standard with vim and vigor. His penmanship is graceful but vigorous with bony strokes at the start and end of each movement.
Zhao Mengfu was a descendent of the Song imperial family, but served the conquering Yuan, so recalling his past filled him with sadness. By immersing himself in calligraphy, he sought to alleviate the pressure of his contradictory feelings.
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