Theories of Chinese Calligraphy

T10: The Ultimate Source

A famous painter of the Sung Dynasty, Fan Kuan, once said, Its better to learn from the Nature than from ancient masters; its even better to learn from the source of heart than from the Nature. (  古人不如師造化, 造化不如師心源 ) Nowadays as Chinese calligraphy is fading in terms of artistic level, many students have various excuses not to focusing on the Lin Mo process. If we do not even want to humble ourselves in emulating ancient masterpieces, then how can we learn from the Nature or even the sources of our hearts?

Then one might argue why should I spend decades in Lin Mo to be good at Chinese calligraphy? or What did the first generations of great Chinese calligraphers learn from? Did they have Form Books or masterpieces of earlier masters for Lin Mo?

At the very beginning, the early artists had very direct sources from the Nature and their hearts. There were fewer distractions like fame or shortcuts. There were no predecessors to emulate. Even today we find the beauty of Jin Wen not surpassed by any recent masters like Deng Thu-Ru (  石如 ) and Wu Tsun-Shuo ( 昌碩 ) in terms of its simplicity, design, and delicacy. Or even Wang Hsi-Chih admitted he was not as good as Zhong Yao and Zhang Chih; Zhang Chih also admitted he was not as good as Tsui Yuan and Du Du.

Jin Wen in Shang & Zhou Dynasties


Deng Thu-Ru

Wu Tsun-Shuo


Lee Si (    ) was the prime minister of the Chin Dynasty and the chief founder of Small Zuan Style. We may imagine how busy he was. He had to run the government and cope with surrounding countries. Besides he had to analyze different writings from different countries and areas to standardize the characters. At that time, Chinese characters were in big chaos. Each character had numerous ways to write. He also had to unify different systems for the country. He was no superman. If he did not have a steady mind, he would not become a successful politician or even a great calligrapher. He had such a busy schedule and we wonder how much time he got to practice calligraphy or how smart he was. (He was beheaded later for his vicious doings.)

Lee Si

Deng Thu-Ru

Not even Deng Thu-Ru could compete with Lee Sis level even though Deng Thu-Ru spent most of his lifetime practicing and practicing. Then how did the ancient people reach such a high level? Its in the heart as well as physical endurance and self-discipline.  

Oftentimes I tell those who learn calligraphy from me, "I am not really your teacher. Your teachers are the ancient calligraphy masterpieces and yourself. I am only a messenger that give you hints for the guidance and instructions. You have to learn the guidance from your emulation practice and within yourself."

"It's not enough to practice. Obviously you have to practice, but you have to invent ways of doing better."

~ Nathan Milstein

Many wise and spiritual adepts throughout history have taught that it is the mind that is vast, not the world. The knower is even greater than the known, and the seer is greater than the seen. That which is known is contained within the knower, and that which is seen is in the seer; the vast expanse of the sky is in the mind, not outside, because the mind is everywhere and there is no outside to it.


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