Master the Art of Chinese Calligraphy

Just when I thought I couldn’t love China anymorestumbled upon calligraphy, and it seemed to be more interesting and fascinating than I expected. Understood to be so much more than a mere method of communication, calligraphy is revered in China (and in our hearts as well) for its beautiful form of artistic expression. Holding greater value than Chinese painting and sculpture, this style of writing is as highly admired as poetry.

What makes calligraphy so special?

First thing’s first, even plain, unadorned writing is viewed as a precious commodity and practice in China. In its earliest recorded form, back when it was called a “graph,” writing was very basic in its design. Although far from ornate, it was still appreciated.

Famous Chinese calligraphy

These archaic pictograms/graphs were engraved with a sharp but primitive instrument, which prevented them from being more intricate in design. They were made on the surface of tortoise shells and animal bones. These were the days of the Shang Dynasty, meaning the 17th to the 11th century BC. Since then, calligraphy has evolved tremendously and has only become more appreciated as time has passed. Its evolution is owed primarily to the more sophisticated nature of materials that are available to calligraphists today—including brushes, paper, and ink. Now, each communicative symbol has become a work of art, detailed, distinctive, and reflective of the individual who drew it.

Lanterns in China

Because of the inevitable personal touches embedded in each calligraphist’s work, it is believed that the way in which one writes is as important as the topic on which one writes. Essentially, the visual component of one’s handwriting is considered to reveal a great deal about the hand who crafts it.

Materials

As mentioned, the materials that the calligraphists use, make all the difference. Significant tools include:

Brush pen

The quality varies greatly as it can be made with a variety of materials. Its body can be crafted with either bamboo, red sandalwood, glass, ivory, silver and even gold, while its head can be made from either the hair of weasels, rabbits, deer, goats, pigs, tigers or wolves. Traditionally, a child is presented a very special brush pen crafted from their own hair, taken from when they were a newborn. Today, some calligraphists do not use such a highly artisanal instrument, but merely use regular pens in their craft.

Paper

In China’s Anhui region, the preferred paper is that which is crafted from rice, bamboo, hemp or paper mulberry. In Japan, the most sought-after paper is often that which is made with wheat. However, again, today, any paper can and is often used.

Chinese writing

Ink

The best and oldest is always black in color and made from soot and binders. This comes in the form of ink sticks that are rubbed with water on an inkstone to achieve the right consistency. Cheaper forms have since emerged, coming in pre-mixed bottles, and of varying colors.

Seal

As a final mark of the calligraphist’s unique work, (s)he will utilize a red, inky seal that is distinctly his/her own. It is a way of signing one’s name and claiming it.

Where to learn the art in China

Beijing Calligraphy School

Founded in 2005, this school has been credited for having high-quality classes and kind, passionate teachers who work really hard to encourage their students and show them how they can master this skill and bring it back to share with their hometown. The focus of Beijing Calligraphy School is specifically on Hutong calligraphy. Students typically sign up for a one-time, two-hour session, in which they learn the basics, including the mechanics of the brush strokes and how to formulate simple words. One of the best parts about this school? It’s open to not only adults but children too! So if you happen to be traveling with your little ones, rest assured that they too can have a fun, educational experience here—alongside you no less!

Chinese kids painting

Address: 1F, Sunworld Dynasty Hotel Beijing. 50 Wangfujing Avenue, Beijing 100006, China

Phone Number: +86 134 3966 4959

Yunying Calligraphy School in Tianjin

Offered here is a more comprehensive program than the aforementioned drop-in workshop for tourists. This school, part of the Nankai Primary School, teaches its students how to create regular, running and grass scripts. Its highly regarded teachers have built their lessons based on the works of reputable calligraphers Zhang Tian Yun and Zhang Tian Ying.

Address: 22 Nankai 4th Rd, Nankai Qu, Tianjin Shi, China, 300121

Phone:+86 22 2748 3391

Yangshuo Mountain Retreat

If you’re looking for a private lesson that covers both calligraphy and the Chinese language, look no further. Taking place along the banks of the picturesque Yu Long River, or its nearby gardens, it is up to the student to determine the amount of time spent on each subject. With the lessons being one on one, you have the ability to learn at an accelerated pace.

Chinese writing

Lessons include how to use the paper, grind the ink, hold your brush and make brushstrokes elegantly, plus the vital basics of writing in Chinese characters. Bonus? The teacher, Gary, is fluent in English, so there will be no need for you to have to deal with the awkward language barrier as you try to hone your new-found craft.

Again due to their private nature, you may choose to take regular lessons for him or have one extended workshop.

Address: Yulong River Road, Gaotian Town, Yangshuo County, Guangxi Zhuang, 541907, China

Phone: + 86 773 8777 091

The art that is calligraphy

A writing practice that not only conveys one’s thoughts to others but simultaneously carries the ability to make something as abstract as a drawn line look beautiful. This achievement is unique to China’s favorite form of communication.

Chinese letters
So, if you have the time while you’re visiting its land of origin, we highly suggest diving into this practice of calligraphy at one of the aforementioned schools. The art has made a recent comeback in modern day social media as well. And hey, if you master it, consider yourself officially a triple threat: a writer, drawer, and calligraphist.

Let me know, what do you think of calligraphy? Does it intrigue you?

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Cez Krol

Travel blogger at eTramping
Cez lives in China like a local for the past 4 years. Apart from speaking the language, he loves to discover more about this unique country of extreme contrasts. He shares his China experiences here at Sublime China and on his blog eTramping, so go and check out what's out there for you in China.
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