Chapter I An overview of Chinese calligraphy
China is one country of the Four Ancient Civilizations. The ancestors of the Chinese people created a rich and splendid cultural legacy amidst a long period of production and daily living. The unique art of calligraphy is an important integral part of the culture, which still sheds brilliance in the treasure of mankind culture. By using the brush pen and ink, composition of strokes, layout of lines, Chinese characters are moulded to project the quality, disposition and feelings of the calligrapher in an aesthetic way. The history of Chinese calligraphy is the longest in the world, whilist not many nations possess an art of calligraphy.
Section I   Headspring of Chinese Characters
Chinese calligraphy can not depart from Chinese characters (汉字hàn zì) and their headspring. Chinese characters are a system of language symbols created over a long period by the ancestors of the Han nationality, and it is the oldest language system of the world.
There are different stories regarding to the headspring of Chinese characters. One legend says they were invented by Cang Jie (仓颉)
A memorial platform of Cang Jie Legend
Cang Jie was an official in charge of recording events and history for Huang Di (黄帝), leader of a tribe in the central plain. As tribes were being united, activities increased, which called for some record in a written. Cang Jie was tasked to find a way of recording. One day he saw a deity with a strange face, which looked like a painted picture of characters. Cang Jie was enlightened, he imitated those images and invented characters. Some ancient books said that since the invention of characters, the secret of nature was leaked out, millets poured down from the sky and ghosts cried every night because of this leaking. Another legend went that one day a phenix was flying by and drop down a thing before Cang Jie who was thinking hard of how to find ways of recording. He took it up and found a hoof print on it, not knowing what animal’s hoof it was, he asked a hunter who happened to pass him by, “It was ‘pixiu’ the ferocious beast, its paws are different from other animals,” the hunter replied. This gave an impulse to Cang to find out unique features of things. He, thus, gradually worked out some pictorial symbols such as the characters for the sun, moon, water, cloud, mountain and animals. He presented the pictographs to Huang Di when he thought he had accumulated enough. Huang Di then called in the leaders of other tribes and asked Cang Jie to teach them these words, and the usage of these characters thus began. But these legends are not reliable. The characters were not invented by a single person, instead by numerous anonymities and being accumulated over the years.
There are three basic methods in forming a Chinese character: the first one being pictography, to put down as what things looked like, the sun was 日,the moon was 月, water was 水, cloud was 云,a mountain was 山, a goat was 羊 and an ox was 牛. Over the years of evolution, these characters were modified and became regulars. The second method is ideogrammic compound, which is putting a symbol with a pictographical character together to mean something abstract. For instance, “明” or “明” (míng),which means “brightness”, is a compound of a sun--“日” and a moon-- “月” . “旦” or “旦” (dàn), which means day-break, is a sun over the land. The third is photo-semantic compound, which puts a phonetical radical with a character to give the pronaunciation, for example, “巴” reads like “bā”, putting “父” (fù, means “father”)on its top, like “爸”,it reads still as “bā” and means still “father”; if we put a grass radical over it, like “芭”, it still reads “bā”, but means a kind of banana.
The primitive form of Chinese characters were carved symbols on potteries excavated in 1954-57 at Banpo site near Xian,which can date back 6,000 years; 10 single characters were found on the pottery excavated at the site of “Dawenkou” culture in Shandong Province, which can date back 4,500 years, and this is some 1,000 year earlier than the occurance of inscriptions on oracle bones. Undoubtedly, the formation of Chinese characters catered to the needs of production and human activities as a most important tool for exchanging ideas.
Section II   The Birth of the Art of Calligraphy
There is no clear record on the birth of the art of calligraphy in existing documents. However, the archeological findings show that as early as the later period of Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 BC) a matured language system—甲骨文 (jiǎ gū wén)i.e. inscriptions on oracle bones already existed. These inscriptions are of varied styles, some are stately, some audacious while others are refined and regular. We may thus confer that people tried to make their writing or carving beautiful. As a matter of fact, many scholars hold that the birth of the art of calligraphy was in the later period of Shang, which is 14th to 11th centuries BC.
           Three pieces of oracle bone with inscreptions
Even thought the characters were carved onto the bones, yet we can tell from the way of carving, they were written down first and carved afterwards and filled in with black or red colors. The art of calligraphy developed since Shang and Zhou dynasties, through Han and Tang, to Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties as part of China’s traditional culture with deep connotations. Aside from inscriptions on oracle bones, the forms of characters evolved from it have been inscriptions on bronze and stone in Western and Eastern Zhou dynasties, seal script in Qin Dynasty, clerical script in Han Dynasty, regular, free hand and cursive scripts in Wei, Jin, Southern and Northern, Tang and Song dynasties. The evolution of the language, on the one hand, provided an immense space for the art of calligraphy to display its beaty in various forms, and the development of the art of calligraphy enhanced the evolution of the language on the othe hand.
Section III   The Development of the Art of Calligraphy
The development of the art of calligraphy went through three phases:
The initial phase from Yin and Shang dynasties (16th to 11th centuries BC) to Western Han (206 BC-8), during which inscriptions on oracle bones, bronze and stone and seal script occurred. Despite efforts to make characters more presentable, calligraphy was mainly a practical tool in daily and political life. The characters were more complicately composed and the lines were simple without much variabilities.
The mature phase, from Eastern Han (25-220) to early Tang (618-907) , produced the calligraphy saint Wang Xizhi (王羲之 Wāng Xīzhī 303-361) and saw occasional occurrence of “pure art” inclinations.
A portrait of Wang Xizhi
The booming phase was from prime Tang onwards, during which the development of characters had been finalized and the art of calligraphy took on varied forms and styles that lead to a flourishing scene of arts.
The introduction of ethic concepts into calligraphy made by calligraphers in the Song Dynasty (960-1279)bore a far-reaching influence on artists of later generations.
Section IV   Relations between Calligraphy
and Other Forms of Art
Calligraphy is closely related to other forms of art.
It is a music without sound, as there are also ups and downs, stretches and shrinks, strength and weakness, firmness and softness, quick and slow tempo in dots, strokes and lines. There are rhythm and melody in calligraphy as well.
Painting and calligraphy are of the same roots. As a popular saying goes: you paint as if you are writing characters and you write characters as if you are painting. The tools are the same, the only difference is that you don’t use as many colors for calligraphy. Traditional painting pays as much attention to the variation of lines and spaccing as calligraphy. Painter used to draw nutrition from calligraphy. Zhao Mengfu (1254-1322 赵孟頫 Zhào Mèngfǔ), a well known artist of Yuan Dynasty said that it was like leaving white space when paint a rock, like writing a seal script when paint a wood, like writing clerical script when paint bamboo. Therefore, in China, to paint is sometimes referred to as to write a painting.
Calligraphy and dancing have been regarded as sisters. A short span of balancing among arms, legs and head in dancing is similar to the balancing of horizontal, vertical, left and right stretching strokes. In dancing, the four limbs and the body of a dancer keep moving to beat the rhythm; it is quite the same when compose a character and deciding how to write a dot or a stroke, whether they should be higher     or lower instead of longer or shorter. To mark out the trace of a          dancer’s smooth steps, it would seem like lines in the cursive script that are rhythmatic and co-related to each other. People described Zhang Xu’s ( dates of birth and death unavailable, 张旭 zháng Xù)
A sample of Zhang Xu’s calligraphy
cursive script as projecting a power like a dragon shooting up to the sky and an energy like a storm. It was said that Zhang Xu was enlightened by Mme Gongsun’s sword dance and formed his own way of writing.
Mr. Shen Yinmo (1883-1971 沈尹默 Shěn Yǐnmò), the famous poet and calligrapher, remarked on calligraphy thus: people have all recognized that calligraphy is the hightest form of art, because it works wonders, it is so refreshing and pleasing to see that it produces a splendid picture without colors, it gives out symphonic music without sound.
Section V   Genres of Chinese Calligraphy
There are basically five categories in Chinese calligraphy, they are
1.   Seal script: (篆书in Chinese characters that read “zhuàn shū”) It includes greater seal script and minor seal script. Those used prior to Qin Dynasty is greater seal script and those popularized to the entire country as a standard system after Qin Shihuang unified the nation is minor seal script. There are more pictographical characters in it, there are no sharp elbows when executing strokes, start and finish are done with tip-in and the middle part of the brush is used for executing strokes.
2.   Clerical script: (隶书 in Chinese characters that read “lì shū) It was first created by Cheng Miao (dates of birth and death not available, 程邈 chéng Miǎo) of Qin Dynasty and become pupolar in Han dynasties. There are curves in horizontal strokes, which start like the head of a silkworm and finish like the tail of a wild goose.
3.   Regular script: (楷书 in Chinese characters that read “Kǎi shū”) It came into being at late Han and formalized in Wei and Jin dynasties. Its strokes are even and upright, its structure is orderly; there are set rules for strokes; each stroke is composed of a start, an execution and a finish.
4.   Cursive script: (草书in Chinese characters that read “cǎo shū”) It breaks into clerical cursive (章草 in Chinese characters that read “zhāng cǎo”) and contemporary cursive (今草 in Chinese characters that read “jīn cǎo”) scripts; contemporary cursive script breaks futher into minor, greater and free hand cursive scripts.
5.   Free hand: (行书in Chinese characters that read “xíng shū”) It evolved from regular script. It is in between regular and cursive scripts.

Next >Chapter II The embryo of Chinese characters—