top of page

About Chinese Calligraphy

by Ang Hoon Seng



Chinese calligraphy is a most distinctive form of art, due primarily to the etymology of the Chinese characters which are basically different from other languages. It is pictographic, indicative and phonetic.

Calligraphy is unique and abstract because of the pictorial nature of the Chinese characters, which remain unchanged for some two thousand years. It has become one of the distinctive features of Chinese civilisation and an integrated part of Chinese life.

Calligraphy has been considered the highest form of Chinese art because of its abstract nature.

In the past, every student must learn calligraphy as part of the study curriculum. The Imperial examinations required a reasonably high standard of calligraphy from all scholars. Even today, the Chinese leaders are highly respected if they are able to use the brush to convey a message.

Chinese calligraphy has expanded beyond the boundaries of China. The art of calligraphy today is practiced by the overseas Chinese, Japanese and Koreans, because of their traditionally close ties with China.

The strokes must be forceful and appropriately controlled like music while the words, lines, and layout must be well coordinated.

Calligraphy is music without sound. It is like a human with skeleton, flesh, blood and tendon. Moreover, a good calligraphy should be alive spiritually.

Apart form the artistic value, calligraphy has practices usage and form an integral part of the Chinese way of life. Calligraphy has been widely used fir various purposes ranging from signboards of shops, restaurants, to national and major institutions such as universities, museums, etc. They are written by contemporary renowned calligraphers. The Chinese believe that forceful and well balance, characters would bring good luck and prosperity. Individual characters like 福(Fu) means good luck. 寿(Shou) represents longevity, and couplets 福联(fu lian) citing quotations from great poets, respectable scholars and great philosophers are hung in the homes for celebrating the lunar new year, marriage and other auspicious occasions. Calligraphy has also been used for tombstones, temples and other memorials. They are engraved in stone by skillful craftsmen. It is apparent that different styles of writing must be used for different purposes. For example, if the signboard of a business is written in wild- cursive style or 狂草(kuang-cao) , its purpose is totally defeated because nobody could understand it.

Calligraphy is not difficult to learn; but it also not easy to master and perfect. Apart from practicing the brush, a good calligrapher must have a good knowledge of the Chinese language and culture, particularly the classical Chinese literature, poetry and prose. In addition, one must possess an upright personality.


To develop his own styles of writing, he must seriously study the many masterpieces left behind by the ancient great masters.

Ang Hoon Seng composing a piece for the Blue Mansion, Penang.

bottom of page