Grasping the essence of Chinese calligraphy
In the epic Zhang Yimou movie Hero, the great warrior Broken Sword proclaims that his swordsmanship is rooted in calligraphy. He practices writing in the sand to enhance the penetrating power of his strokes.
Calligraphy is said to reveal the identity and feelings of the writer – each individual has a particular choice of style and medium, way of handling the brush and distinctive handwriting. In the past, the Chinese used calligraphy to evaluate a person and their talents; good calligraphy in examinations could place a person in a favorable government position. “When you write, you express your feelings through the brush,” says native Beijinger Paul Wang. “It reflects people’s characteristics and different things in their consciousness.”
Wang has been a practitioner of the art since childhood after his parents enrolled him in a calligraphy and painting school, and now he teaches calligraphy at the Chinese Cultural Club. “I kept on practicing, and I came to love it; it’s part of my life,” he says. “Chinese calligraphy is a direct window to understanding Chinese culture and relaxation.” Wang’s class focuses on the meaning and evolution of specific characters, the history of significant calligraphy periods and Chinese traditional culture. During each of his eight lessons, he teaches a different style of script, allowing students to create individual calligraphy work.
In order to perform it correctly, four things are needed for Chinese calligraphy: the writing brush, paper, ink and an ink stone. The brush is often made of soft hair such as goat or weasel hair (depending on the style of calligraphy), with the shaft usually made of bamboo. Bars of solid ink, made from pine soot, are reconstituted by being ground with water on the ink stone. The most highly regarded ink stones are known as duanyan (端砚) and produced in Duanzhou, Guangdong province. The process of creating the ink by grinding the ink stick in water on the stone relaxes the calligrapher’s wrist and prepares them for the act of writing.
To begin a calligraphy work, place the brush in water, squeeze out excess water, and roll the brush in ink so it’s evenly distributed. “Wipe” the brush on the ink stone to remove extra ink and to shape the brush hairs into a sharp point. To create a flexible grip, the brush should be held with the index and middle fingers on one side of the brush, the thumb on the other. Hold the brush vertically with the wrist down and fingers up. Wang emphasizes that the moment before you start, it is important to relax. When a brush hesitates on the paper, the ink bleeds; therefore, the correct speed, agility and concentration is essential. Novices are advised to write slowly until they can develop their own rhythm.
Wang stresses that calligraphy is more than written script – it is also a form of meditation. The mind should be at ease and one’s qi, mind and body should work as one. “The right concentration is with ease,” says Wang. “A great energy of laboring is not calligraphy.”
Children can try their hand at calligraphy either at home or by participating in one of Wang’s classes. No knowledge of Mandarin is necessary. Supplies are provided during lessons, or they can be purchased at several stores on Liulichang Antiques and Culture Street (琉璃厂文化街). For more information on Wang’s eight-week calligraphy course (one lesson per week), visit www.chinesecultureclub.org or call 6432 9341.
Chinese Culture Club (CCC)
Kent Center, 29 Anjialou, Liangmaqiao Lu, Chaoyang District
朝阳区亮马桥路29号安家楼肯特中心院内 6432 9341/1041