Theories of Chinese Calligraphy

T9: Creating New Styles

In the Tang Dynasty, calligrapher Lee Bei-Hai (  北海  ) had a famous saying, “If you learn my style, your art dies. If your style resembles mine, yours looks vulgar.” Like most arts, Chinese calligraphy also emphasizes on creating a unique personal style that doesn’t resemble or copy other's styles. Since the Chinese calligraphy critics are very strict, there were only few calligraphers recognized nationally in each dynasty. Only few calligraphers throughout the entire history of China were highly regarded and remembered.

The Lin Mo process is the best source in creating a new Chinese calligraphy style. All of the treasures from previous masterpieces can give us clues, resources, references, hints, historical changes, enlightenments, metaphysics, and inspirations to create new styles. All ancient Chinese calligraphy masters went through very long Lin Mo processes and were quiet for a while before they became known. Then they gained ability and insight to create their own styles and were remembered. The longer we stay in the Lin Mo process the better our styles will be in the future. There is absolutely no hurry in Chinese calligraphy!

Almost every new style inventor inherited previous methodologies or masters, gained inspiration and modified and enhanced their personal characteristics to invent a new style. Below are some examples of calligraphers that had inherited previous tablets or masterpieces and created their own styles. The examples show briefly their possible resources and evidence of their creation processes.  

Jing Nung (1687-1763) 

Possible Sources

New Style


Yi Bin-So (1754-1815)   秉綬


XiPingThuJing_Icon.jpg (63388 bytes)  ZhangChian.jpg (41736 bytes)

  XiHsia.jpg (633510 bytes)

Possible Sources


YiBinSo3.jpg (260839 bytes)

New Style



Zhao Chih-Chian (1829-1884)  之謙

Sources from Wei Bei


New Styles in Kai & Zuan Shu with Wei Bei characteristics

Zhao borrowed the Tse Fong technique and slanted postures from Wei Bei to create a new look in his styles. However, he did not inherit the masculine strength and greatness of Wei Bei so his styles were criticized as being a little feminine. 



Pu Hsin-Yu (1895-1963) 

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Source from Kai Shu in Tang Dynasty


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New Style in Hsin Shu


Most Chinese calligraphy teachers (including mine) used to tell the students it’s almost impossible to invent a new Chinese calligraphy style because almost all possibilities had been exhausted throughout the Chinese history. They mean a new style to be recognized and highly regarded. I agreed many years ago.

After studying other arts, I realize there are endless possibilities and combinations in the man-made concept of “perfection.” Perfection as set by Zhong Yao, Wang Hsi-Chih and their predecessors are not absolute. Perfection is just a phenomenon of human perception. It relies on our basic five senses. If we can raise our well-being to a higher level than we have now, more possibilities will be attainable.

For hundreds of years after Wang Hsi-Chih passed away, people regarded him as the “King of Calligraphy ” and there would not be anyone better than him. (There were many great calligraphers before Wang that were not inferior to him.) One critic in later dynasty ranked Wang Hsi-Chih’s Tsao Shu as number eight in history up to his time. In Wang’s time, no one could predict that in the Tang Dynasty there would be great Tsao Shu specialists like Zhang Shui and Huai Su. Both of them created brand new looks of Tsao Shu that were far beyond the imagination of their predecessors. They mastered previous methodologies and then explored new possibilities.

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Wang Hsi-Chih's work


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Zhang Shui's work


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Huai Su's work



The human beings have great abilities for invention. Say 100 years ago, who would have imagined making movies with computers and special effects? In Chinese martial arts or ordinary human concept, an offense or defense would use the shortest distance – a direct attack in a straight line. During the 19th century, Eight Trigram Palms ( 卦掌 ) was introduced in China and avoided the linear attack norm that had dominated the martial arts field for thousands of years. All they did was to change from linear to circular motions and adopted philosophy from the Book of Changes.

A Chinese proverb says, “Make a change if we are getting poor. If we change we will find a new way.” I believe ancient calligraphy teachers definitely said the same thing as my teacher did. And they keep repeating the statement over and over. Only after we have learned enough will we gain enough experiences, insights, and inspirations to create new styles of Chinese calligraphy. Chinese calligraphy creation requires a high standard of refining one’s personality and skill level intrapersonally (internally) and enriching life experiences with care for humanity interpersonally (externally.) And often this is the most difficult part in creating a new style.


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