Chinese Calligraphy - A First Glance

By Fei Gao on Jun 06, 2022

Calligraphy is a unique form of artistic expression revealing the beauty of words in China and its neighboring countries and regions deeply influenced by Chinese culture. It includes Chinese calligraphy, Mongolian calligraphy, Arabic calligraphy and English calligraphy, among which Chinese calligraphy is a distinctive traditional art form of Chinese characters.

In a broad sense, calligraphy refers to letter symbols and the rules of writing, which, in other words, is to write characters according to their styles, structures and compositions and in the light of their characteristics and implications, thus making them art works imbued with beauty. Chinese calligraphy, an ingenious form of expressive arts created by the Han nationality, enjoys good reputation.

There are five main scripts of Chinese calligraphy: seal script (including big seal script and small seal script), Yan script(including Yan Xing) of official script (including ancient and modern scripts), regular script (including Wei Bei and block letters), running script (including running regular script and running cursive script) and cursive script (including clerical cursive script, wild cursive script and standard cursive script ).

Seal script (Zhuan Shu)

Seal script is the general term for big seal script and small seal script. Oracle bone inscriptions, enjoying a history of 3,000 years, are the earliest recognizable words handed down from ancient times and mainly used for divination. The brushwork is thin, forceful and straight, with many straight lines. The first stroke of a character can be square, round or sharp, with many freehand strokes in the handwriting. The seal character refers to the Jin, Ba and six-nation characters, which preserve the obvious characteristics of ancient hieroglyphs. Xiao Zhuan (small seal script), also known as " Qin Zhuan", is the universal character of Qin State, the simplified font of Da Zhuan (big seal script) characterized by uniform and neat shape, which is easier to write compared to Zhou Wen, the majuscule seal script.

Official script (Li Shu)

Official script, also known as Han Li, is a solemn font commonly used in Chinese characters. It is slightly wide and flat, its horizontal strokes are long and vertical strokes short, taking on a rectangular shape. Official script originated in the Qin Dynasty and was compiled by Cheng Miao. Its development reached the peak in the Eastern Han Dynasty and exerted great influence on the calligraphy of later generations.

Regular script (Kai Shu)

Regular script evolved from official script created by Cheng Miao, being more simplified, horizontal and vertical. It also carries the meaning of model, as was mentioned by many distinguished Chinese scholars in their books. People in the Six Dynasties used it habitually, according to some historical records. It was not until the Northern Song Dynasty that its original name of Zheng Shu was replaced by Kai Shu. Obviously, Kai Shu bears different significance with its former name and this is an example of playing musical chairs.

Running script (Xing Shu)

A kind of font between regular script and cursive script, running script grows from official script, making up some disadvantages of both regular script and cursive script, such as slow writing speed and illegibility. However, as running script is neither as illegible as cursive script, nor as neat as regular script, it is the printed form of cursive characters.

Cursive script (Cao Shu)

Cursive script is a font of Chinese characters featuring simple structure and continuous strokes. Formed in the Han Dynasty and divided into clerical cursive, modern cursive and wild cursive, it evolved on the basis of official script, in a bid to facilitate simplicity in writing. One can appreciate its elegance from the cursive brushwork. Born at the beginning of the Han Dynasty, cursive script is characterized as follows: the outline of characters is preserved, the rules of official script are broken, and the cursive script is called " cursive script" because of the creation of freehand writing.

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