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Chinese Calligraphy

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Chinese Calligraphy
In China, the style in which an individual writes has long been believed to communicate something essential about his or her personality, intellect, and abilities. Even today it is a common presumption that one can “read” the identity of the person through his or her handwriting.
The European term calligraphy means “beautiful writing”, and reflects an interest in ornamenting words on the page; most European calligraphy is highly stylized, regular, and decorated with flourishes, which in themselves are lacking in personal expression. Calligraphy in the West was always considered a minor art and tended to curb spontaneity, producing fairly static forms.
In China, however, this was far from the case; the most widely practiced writing styles favored spontaneity, and the brush was thought to act like a seismography in recording the movements of arm, wrist, and hand. East Asian calligraphy was established as a “high art” form well before the Tang Dynasty. It has continuously enjoyed a high status among the arts ever since, and is practiced today by many people, including every school-aged child.
While writing is thought by the Chinese to communicate, perhaps better than any other art form, the cultural values and circumstances of its maker, calligraphy seems to be one of the most remote and inaccessible arts to the outsider who does not read Chinese.
It was during the Tang Dynasty that calligraphy first began to flourish as an art from. By the Later Han, the basic script types had been created, and no new types developed after this time. The first writings to evaluate calligraphic style also date from this period. These texts reveal a notable shift toward seeing an expressive quality in writing that went beyond the mere ability to communicate meaning.
Written records hold a significant place in China’s history. The earliest surviving examples, from the Shang capital of Anyang, date to the 13th and 14th centuries BC. These oracle bone records were divination results inscribed on turtle shells and shoulder blades of oxen.
Many different types of regional scripts developed Warring States Period as the need for written records increased in state offices that were not centrally controlled. The Qin and Han periods were important for the standardization of script types.
Script types generally evolved toward forms that were simpler and more expedient.
The seal script, also called smaller seal, is one of the last descendants of the ancient script types used in oracle bone and bronze inscriptions.
Clerical script developed from the small seal script in the first century BC, but its peak period of usage was during the Eastern Han (25-220 AD). This script is also referred to by the term “breaking wave,” which refers to the outward flaring shape of the right and left downward slanting strokes.
Cursive script, or draft cursive, was widely practiced in the Eastern Han (25-220 AD). In later periods, cursive script was exploited for its expressive, aesthetic potential. From the fourth century onward, cursive was the vehicle in which a master calligrapher could express his or her individuality. It was also used for personal correspondence and non-official writings.
Regular or standard script was the last of the four major types to develop at the end of the Han Dynasty. Execution of regular script involves techniques of brush manipulation that were adapted from the other script types. Regular script was considered the most legible and convenient form of handwriting.
Calligraphy has remained a potent force in Chinese life up to the present. During the Song, Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties, calligraphy continued to be a central art of the literati, closely associated both with painting and with the social and cultural life of the educated elite. The Chinese landscape came to reflect the appreciation of calligraphy, as stones inscribed with the calligraphy of admired artists were erected at famous sites. Calligraphy could also be seen on temple name plaques, on shop signs, and on couplets pasted by the doors of even very modest homes. Calligraphy, thus, formed an ever-present part of China’s visual culture.
Calligraphy today is practiced by millions of Chinese. The great majority of practitioners are amateurs who find pleasure or artistic fulfillment in perfecting their script. But the number of professional calligraphers or calligrapher-artists is also substantial.

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