Calligraphy goes beyond good handwriting. It is a form of art and expression of self, culture, or religion. This art is valued by many religions and cultures, especially in Chinese culture. Chinese calligraphy is the most significant form of visual arts that sets the standard for all other Chinese paintings in China. The high status of calligraphy reflects the importance of the word to Chinese people, with an entire culture devoted to the word.
To better understand Chinese culture and the role it plays in Chinese culture, we will be looking at when it was invented, who invented it, and why. We will also cover why Chinese calligraphy is so important and some of the famous Chinese calligraphy artists.
Why Is Chinese Calligraphy Important?
Chinese calligraphy has always been more than a form or tool of communication. It carries elements of artistry where the different Chinese characters are seen as a visual art form. It is considered a significant channel used to appreciate traditions, culture, and arts education.
The Chinese consider their calligraphy with pleasure and pride as it embodies important aspects of China’s artistic and intellectual heritage. It is also important because it was the art form of China’s educated elite. That is because to be able to pass their exams intellectuals had to learn calligraphy to pass on information. It was seen as proof that they were good people. Chinese calligraphy is therefore seen as the representation of intellects and wisdom. Another reason why Chinese calligraphy is held in high esteem is that it was a written form that unified all the languages spoken in China. Chinese also believed that Chinese calligraphy was a medium of self-expression and revelation. This was based on the intrinsic way the art was mastered.
Based on Chinese calligraphy, a lot of developments were achieved, including inkstones, paperweights, and seal carvings, in China.
What Is Special About Chinese Calligraphy?
Chinese calligraphy is known as Shufa in Chinese. Over time its practice has spread far and wide across Asia. Japanese and South Korean calligraphy is heavily influenced by Chinese calligraphy. It is because the Chinese form of calligraphy has many notable benefits, which is what makes it so special. The following are some of the major benefits you get from practicing Chinese calligraphy:
Allows you to practice hand and eye coordination
Chinese calligraphy is a strict art form that requires precise brush strokes. The aesthetical finish of your work will depend on the symmetry of each character in relation to itself and other characters. That means that the thickness of each stroke should be proportionate and in line with the character’s structure. For that, you would need an excellent mastery of the brush by training your eyes and hand movement. That is why even the best calligraphy masters spend thousands of hours practicing.
It’s therapeutic, incorporating breathe work.
For thousands of years, the practice of Shufa has been considered therapeutic. To be able to position the brush, one needs to practice breathing control. It’s believed that to produce fine work, your heart needs to be still, hence the necessity of breathing. As a result, the entire practice of Chinese calligraphy is seen as a meditative practice that is good for your overall wellbeing.
Allows your mind to be at its highest performing level
According to Psychologists, the brain is at its peak performance when it’s in a state of flow. Practicing Chinese calligraphy involves rhythmic brush writing that requires you to be fully immersed in the practice. As you get lost in that practice you improve your mind’s performance level.
When Was Chinese Calligraphy Invented?
The earliest known form of Chinese calligraphy dates back to the Shang dynasty. The first form was known as Jiaguwen. They were Chinese inscriptions done on oracle bones, that is animal bones or turtle shells. This later evolved into inscriptions done on bronze vessels, art is known as jinwen, which translates to the metal script. These vessels were normally used to offer wine and food to the ancestors.
Around the reign of the Qin dynasty when China came together, the bronze script was unified, which led to the third stage of Chinese calligraphy development. The new style was called xiaozhuan which translates to a small seal. This type of script was characterized by evenly thick lines, circles, and curves. It was established to meet the demand for record-keeping, but unfortunately, it couldn’t be written fast enough. This led to the fourth stage of development, which gave rise to the official style called lishu. This type of style was characterized by squares and short straight lines that were mainly vertical or horizontal.
Lishu was an easier style which allowed more freedom with the hand. As such, it encouraged individual artistic expression, which led to the fifth stage of development. This was the final style of Chinese calligraphy which was called zheshu, or regular style. The regular script was and is seen as the proper script type for Chinese writing. Its been in use since the Tang dynasty and has been used in everything from Chinese government documents to printed books.
Why Was Chinese Calligraphy Invented?
Today, Chinese calligraphy is an ancient and reputed artistic form in oriental world history. Initially, it was invented due to the demand for record-keeping. People wanted to record ideas and information, to preserve them for the coming generations. It came about when people realized that the language could be conveyed through pictographs which later developed to the Chinese characters today. It is now seen not just as a tool of passing on information and decorative art, but also as a great form of visual art, that has influenced calligraphy in many other countries.
Who Invented Chinese Calligraphy?
It is not clear or proven as to who exactly invented or started Chinese calligraphy. But over its evolution, there have been a few notable figures who played an important role in making Shufa what it is today.
Shihuangdi, the first emperor of the Qin dynasty, for example, is said to have been the one who brought about the small seal style of writing. In an attempt to unify China, he instructed his prime minister to come up with a unified style of writing.
Cheng Miao is, however, noted to have evolved the small seal style into lishu, the official style. He did this over 10 years when he was in prison for offending the emperor Shihuangdi. This style of writing is what opened up a seemingly endless possibility for other calligraphers later on. No one is credited for coming up with what is called the regular style of Chinese writing, zhenshu. Wang Xizhi and his son Xianzhi are however considered to be the greatest exponents of Chinese calligraphy since then.
Famous Chinese Calligraphy Artists
The art of Shufa has been practiced for many years in Chinese culture. Over time there have been many famous and notable Chinese calligraphers. The following are a few of them:
Huang was from the Song dynasty. He was majorly known as a calligrapher although he was also a poet, scholar, and government official. Many people admired his work, which was mostly influenced by his older friend’s literati paintings.
Born during the Tang dynasty into a family of government officials, Ouyang was a calligrapher and cultured scholar. He was among the great calligraphers of his time, especially famous for his regular script known as Ou Style. He was also very proficient in Chinese classics.
Zhang is among the four greatest calligraphers who were born during the Han dynasty. He is said to be the pioneer of modern cursive script, as such he was honored as the sage of Cursive script.
Mi was also a calligrapher from the Song dynasty. Although he was also a poet and painter, he was most famous for his calligraphy. He was actually among the four greatest calligraphy in the Song dynasty. He was also nicknamed Madman Mi because he had the habit of collecting stones considering them his brothers.
Also known as the sage of calligraphy, Wang is considered to be the greatest calligrapher in history, who lived in the Jin dynasty. He was a master of every writing form including the running script. Even his signature was said to be priceless.
Also known as Yuanchang, Zhong was a calligrapher and government official who served in the Eastern Han dynasty during the Three Kingdoms period. He is also considered to be among the four greatest calligraphers in history.
As with all art, the fundamental inspiration for Shufa is nature. A finished piece is not simply the asymmetrical arrangement of shapes, but almost like beautifully coordinated dance movements. Although Chinese calligraphy may seem intimidating to attempt, given the seriousness, there is no big mystery to it. The art requires simple tools including a brush, inkstone, ink stick, and paper or silk. Other than that, you need your imagination and technical skill, which is what requires years of practice to master.