Theories of Chinese Calligraphy
method of beautiful Chinese writing is called
“Shu Fa 書
Shu means writing and Fa means method.
We are not sure about how the earliest Chinese characters were written. From archaeological findings, we can see writing with brush and ink in the early civilization of China. Some scholars presume that Chinese calligraphy was started at the same time when Chinese characters were invented.
Early writing with brush and ink on pottery shows evidence of the birth of Chinese calligraphy
early Chinese people deeply loved and appreciated beauty. They made writings beautiful
when each character was invented. The innocent beauty and simplicity of
Chinese characters always attract our appreciation and adoration. From
the ancient characters, brush writings in the styles of Zuan, Li, Tsao, Hsin, and Kai
were invented and
enriched with a high level of beauty.
Chinese people deeply emphasize and respect methodology “Fa 法”
in many areas such as martial arts, calligraphy, and painting. Chinese seldom value things that are too popular or common.
highly respect the methodology derived from writing characters. Thus Chinese
calligraphy was developed and systematically practiced at large. Brush
principles, theories, esthetics, and philosophy were also introduced into
the calligraphy methodologies. The methodologies in
writing are not unchangeable. When they were changed, new methods and Chinese calligraphy
styles were introduced throughout the different dynasties
Calligraphy theories were published in each dynasty and they revealed the principles, understandings, secrets, and insight of each calligrapher. The following are a few excerpts from theories published in books and articles. They provide excellent methodologies and insights for studying Chinese calligraphy. Those articles were all written in Classical Chinese Style “Wen Yen Wen 文 言 文” and there are very few English translations available. (More English translations are listed in T2: Excerpts from Essays & Biographies.) By studying these articles, we will benefit from insights and inspiration handed down by the early artists.
The Nine Postures 九 勢: Tsai Yong (132-192) of the Han Dynasty. He emphasized that strength should be kept inside strokes by using Tsun Fong technique. He also pointed out the Ying and Yang attributes of each character’s posture.
Calligraphy Postures of Four Styles 四 體 書 勢: Wei Heng (252-291) of the Jin Dynasty
1: Creation and establishment of ancient Chinese characters
2: From Da Zuan to Tsai Yong’s Zuan Shu
(i.e. Seal Script)
(i.e. Seal Script)
3: Revolutions of characters in the Han and Wei Dynasties
Section 4: Popularization of Tsao Shu since Emperor Zhang Di ( 章 帝 ) of the Han Dynasty
Map of Strokes Disposition 筆 陣 圖: Madame Wei (272-349) of the Jin Dynasty. She was a daughter of Wei Heng and a teacher of Wang Hsi-Chih. She proposed theories about the flow of stroke sequences and fundamentals of calligraphy. She also emphasized the importance of brush, ink and inkstone. There were seven methods of holding the brush summarized in her articles and the respective effects were also discussed.
Discussion on Calligraphy 書 論: Wang Hsi-Chih (307-365) of the Jin Dynasty.
王 羲 之 書 論 (傳)
Discussion on Calligraphy (presumed to be written by Wang Hsi-Chih)
(To be translated)
夫書，不貴平正安穩。先須用筆，有偃有仰，有欹有斜，或小或大，或長或短。凡作一字，或類篆籀，或似鵠頭；或如散隸，或近八分；或如虫食木葉，或如水中蝌蚪；或如壯士佩劍，或似婦女纖麗。欲書先構筋力，然后裝束，必注意詳雅起發，綿密疏闊相間。每作一點，必須懸手作之，或作一波，抑而后曳。每作一字，須用數種意：或橫畫似八分，而發如篆籀；或豎牽如深林之喬木，而屈折如鋼鉤；或上尖如枯杆，或下細如針芒；或轉側之勢似飛鳥空墜，或棱側之形如流水激來。作一字，橫豎相向；作一行，明媚相承。第一須存筋藏鋒，滅跡隱端。用尖筆須落鋒混成，無使毫露浮怯；舉新筆爽爽若神，即不求于點畫瑕玷也。若作一紙之書，須字字意別，勿使相同。若書虛紙，用強筆； 若書強紙，用弱筆； 強弱不等，則蹉跌不入。
凡書貴乎沉靜，令意在筆前，字居心后，未作之始，結思成矣。仍下筆不用急，故須遲。何也? 筆是將軍，故須遲重。心欲急不宜遲，何也? 心是箭鋒，箭不欲遲，遲則中物不入。夫字有緩急，一字之中何者有緩急?至如“烏”字，下手一點，點須急，橫直即須遲，欲“烏”之腳急，斯乃取形勢也。每書欲十遲五急，十曲五直，十藏五出，十起五伏，方可謂書。若直筆急牽裹，此暫視似書，久味無力。仍須用筆著墨，不過三分，不得深浸，毛弱無力。墨用松節同研，久久不動彌佳矣。
王 羲 之 自 論 書 (傳)
Self Comment on Calligraphy (presumed to be written by Wang Hsi-Chih)
王 羲 之 題 衛 夫 人 筆 陣 圖 後 (傳)
Comment on Madame Wei's "Map of Strokes Disposition" (presumed to be written by Wang Hsi-Chih)
天臺紫真謂予曰“子雖至矣, 而未善也。書之氣, 必達乎道, 同混元之理。七寶齊貴, 萬古能名。陽氣明則華壁立, 陰氣太則風神生。把筆抵鋒, 肇乎本性。刀圓則潤, 勢疾則澀；緊則勁, 險則峻；內貴盈, 外貴虛；起不孤, 伏不寡；回仰非近, 背接非遠；望之惟逸, 發之惟靜。敬茲法也, 書妙盡矣。”言訖,真隱子遂鐫石以為陳跡。維永和九年三月六日右將軍王羲之記。
Article on Zhong Yao’s Calligraphy: Emperor Wu Di 粱 武 帝 (464-549) of the Liang Dynasty. Emperor Wu Di said that there were twelve stages of mind levels with extraordinary wonders within Zhong Yao's calligraphy work. He advised people to learn Chinese calligraphy with methods of higher levels. “ 取 法 乎 上 ”
Secrets & Tips of Emulation: Lu Juan of the Tang Dynasty.
Calligraphy Score 書 譜: Sun Guo-Ting (648-703) of the Tang Dynasty.
Recent Essays on Calligraphy 論 書 近 言: Wong Zeng-Yi of the Ching Dynasty.
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