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  • Lee-Na Ang

Understanding of the Art of Chinese Calligraphy

19th August 2014 - This blog is to provide the calligraphic beginners with some basic understanding of Chinese Calligraphy. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, the word "calligraphy" is derived from the Greek words "for good or beautiful" - an artwork or a major art, equivalent to painting.

Calligraphy is simply an art in writing the a language. It has developed through the millennia into an enduring and sophisticated tradition. Chinese calligraphy has become a distinctive feature of the Chinese civilisation. Special instruments have been invented for Chinese Calligraphic works. They include the special brush, ink, paper and ink stone. They are commonly know as the four treasures of the studio.

Chinese language is unique because it is not alphabetical. The ancient Chinese words, like the Egyptian hieroglyphs, were pictorial images or simplified images. Each character is composed of a number of differently shaped lines. Unlike Western languages which are sound symbols for pronunciation, Chinese language covers the 3 elements of thoughts, sound and physical form.

As an advanced form of fine art, Chinese calligraphy has 2 keynotes - namely, a stimulation in every stroke and a dynamic equilibrium in the structure. The work expresses the character, deposition and propensity, as well as the good and bad fortune of the calligrapher.

Chinese calligraphy has been a main feature in Chinese civilisation. Calligraphy was one of the Six Arts (六艺 liu yi) in ancient China. Confucius (551-479 BC) strongly advocated that every scholar should study the Six Arts.

In the Zhou Dynasty (1122 - 255 BC), the education system was based fundamentally on the teaching of calligraphy. Since the Tang dynasty (618 - 906 AD), the skill in calligraphy was one of the prerequisites for the civil service. Calligraphy became a compulsory for all scholars who wanted to sit for the imperial examinations which was held once in 3 years.

The Imperial exams were abolished in 1905, but calligraphy remains a main feature in China civilisation. The interest in calligraphy has attracted the attention of Chinese scholars all over the world.

In Singapore, calligraphy is not a compulsory subject in schools. It is part of an enrichment programme introduced by the Ministry of Education.

Personally, I feel that the schools, particularly the Special Assistance Plan Schools (SAP schools) should encourage their students to learn calligraphy.

The supporting factors include:

  • Encouragement for the students' interest in studying the Chinese language.

  • Enhancement of morale education or development of traditional good values.

Calligraphy is easy to learn but difficult to master. The cost in providing such training is negligible. What is needed is essentially to engage a competent teacher for the courses which are usually held over the weekend.

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