Philosophy About Chinese Calligraphy

P4: Oneness & Duality

The 'concept' of the One is not a concept at all, yet it is nevertheless the foundation and grandest expression of many topics in philosophy. Some philosophers point out that no words can do justice to the power of the One; even the name, 'the One,' is inadequate, for naming already implies discursive knowledge, and since discursive knowledge divides or separates its objects in order to make them intelligible, the One cannot be known through the process of discursive reasoning.

Chinese characters are made up of strokes. The simplest stroke is a dot “Dian ” or a horizontal stroke “Yi ” which means “one.” As the number of strokes increased in each character, the possibilities began to expand and numerous characters were invented. It’s said the largest and most comprehensive Chinese dictionaries would contain about one or half million of Chinese characters while the ordinary dictionaries would contain 20,000 to 100,000 characters or so. (Some people estimate that the daily conversation and writing in Chinese only involve about 5,000 Chinese characters, with about 20,000 terms made up of combinations of those 5,000 characters.) And each character in each dynasty, style, or by different calligraphers would have so many derivatives of writing. It’s like that there are hundreds of dialects in China or there are innumerous ways to say a word by different people. The possibilities are endless; nevertheless, they all start from the Oneness.  



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Various ways to write “Tao (the Great Way)” in Zuan Style


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Various ways to write “Tao (the Great Way)” in different styles  



An interesting video "Women in Art"


Knowledge of the One is achieved through the experience of its 'power' and its nature, which is to provide a 'foundation' and location for all existents.  In Chinese calligraphy, as characters and styles were invented, the way each individual stroke is positioned, rendered, and perceived became distinctive. There are five major styles in Chinese scripts – Zuan, Li, Tsao, Hsin, and Kai. Among each major style and calligraphers, the derivatives and varieties are endless. It’s not feasible to start a statistical research and numbering. As the styles developed, the number of theories and methods also drastically increased. However, if one can grasp the very one and basic Theory of Center Tip ( 鋒理論 ), all styles and methods will be self-explaining and contained within. The rest are just variations or the innumerous styles are just “illusions” – there is only One existing in the artist’s mind. The Chinese saying, “10,000 methods all come into one method ( 法歸一 ) ” can be applied in many fields besides arts.

The “power” of the One is not a power in the sense of physical or even mental action; the power of the One, is to be understood as the only adequate description of the “manifestation” of a supreme principle that, by its very nature, transcends all predication and discursive understanding. This “power,” then, is capable of being experienced or known only through contemplation or the purely intellectual “vision” of the source of all things.


“One” can be split into two different directions thus creating a “duality” effect. We usually separate the world into polarities: poor and wealthy, dark and light, female and male, self and other, beautiful and ugly, matter and spirit. Narrowly speaking, if a person renders a Chinese character stroke, the outcomes will be simply beautiful or ugly. In a broader sense, if many people render a stroke, the outcomes will be beautiful, ugly, and numerous possible so-so results falling in between the duality of “good” or “bad.” “Duality” is not an absolute concept. It has exceptions. It is based on how we define or judge. Thus determination, enthusiasm, patience, observation, and mental design are all decisive factors for our progress in practicing Chinese calligraphy. The more nuances we look into and apply, the higher level we will achieve and the more enjoyment we will experience.


The invention of ancient Chinese characters might have told the stories of the Bible. Is it coincidence or design? Please visit the following sites and find out interesting stuffs.



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