A2: Why There Were So Few Recognized Chinese Calligraphers in Each Dynasty


Some say Chinese calligraphy had passed away since the Tang Dynasty. From theoretical and strictest points of view, that's very true. But this is not saying calligraphy works after the Tang Dynasty is not worthy at all. I think one day as Chinese calligraphy practitioners are able to be mature in a way to re-realize the standards of the beauty of ancient Chinese calligraphy as set in the Jin & Tang Dynasties will we revitalize and resurrect the art of Chinese calligraphy. This awakening is based on ones self-consciousness and awareness.

The following is an excerpt from Zhu Yuen-Mings ( 允明 ) article about the fading art of Chinese calligraphy:  


Zhang Chih, Zhong Yao, Suo Jin, and Wang Hsi-Chih had reached the highest peak in calligraphy. Later calligraphers emulated them with only minor changes in appearance and they realized it was impossible to surpass their predecessors. Until the Tang Dynasty, calligraphers followed the strict rules as set before, and they created minor differences. As days passed by, the differences increased. Calligraphers in the early Sung Dynasty still followed traditional rules. However, until the middle era of the Sung Dynasty, the appearances of calligraphy changed drastically. They seemed to inherit only one tenth of the spirit of calligraphy in the Jin Dynasty. It is plausible to say that the calligraphers in the middle era of Sung still resembled earlier calligraphers. But those who followed their steps twisted even more and messed up the traditional calligraphy and degenerated day after day. They rebelled our early calligraphers and rules until they were satisfied with a new look. As the prototype set over one thousand years ago was destroyed, we no long have time to mock and we can only sigh and cry with tears.

It is not feasible to rate calligraphers in the Yuan Dynasty. Among them, Zhao Meng-Fu became a master in his generation. He was a unique and elite calligrapher since he studied calligraphies of different dynasties and traced up the spirit back to the Jin and Tang Dynasties. However, he just presented to us a fancy illusion because he could not get away from learning only the surface level of predecessors.

(Original Chinese article)

From the last sentence of this article, Zhao Meng-Fu ( 孟頫 ) was still criticized by one of his peers though he was one of greatest calligraphers after the Tang Dynasty. Chinese calligraphy is one of the highest art forms in China. And its the most difficult Chinese art to gain unanimous recognition. Even Wang Hsi-Chih was criticized for not being virile. Throughout the entire Chinese history, only few calligraphers receive perfect unblamable compliment. (Its very common for Chinese writers to demean each other in their articles throughout Chinese history.) In contrast, there might be more masters in each province of each dynasty in the fields of painting, literature, martial arts, and other skills that were widely recognized.

In most Chinese calligraphy books, we usually mention less than ten calligraphers in each dynasty. Considering the population size and length of period of each dynasty, we may imagine how strictly the Chinese people rated calligraphy!  Chinese is a group of people who deeply emphasize and respect methodologies Fa . Chinese seldom value things that are too popular or common. While most people treat Western calligraphy as a personal hobby, Chinese calligraphy is considered a "high art" embodied  with Chinese philosophy and achieved with one's high level of physical and spiritual energy.

Please dont be scared away when you are reading this. I am just revealing what I heard from most other serious calligraphers. Though I agree with them, we still have a choice to live our life and enjoy practicing Chinese calligraphy. The reason why I am writing this is to remind us not to be self-admired and self-proclaimed.

The following chart illustrates the degeneration of Chinese calligraphy. The comparisons here are not personal, just for the sake of artistic level. The chart will guide us to better discern the quality of art and not be deceived. The works are listed in terms of their respective quality.


The reasons for the deterioration of Chinese calligraphy may include: not following the Middle Way ( 庸之道 ), self-indulgence, and unduly extremities. Some calligraphers use dramatically fast speed with exaggerated facial expression to finish writing. Some calligraphers perform a public show with a huge mop or broom to entice the audience in which there is no depth of art not to mention they know the Center Tip Theory as an unsurpassed paradigm of Chinese calligraphy.

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