翻译培训
Chinese Calligraphy
推荐阅读
Function Evolution of Chinese Calligraphy
 

Function Evolution of Chinese Calligraphy

By Dongfang Yu

 

Chinese characters came from religious rites such as practise of divination, and therefore, from the very moment the primitive forms were created, Chinese characters were cloaked in a strong religious color. The creation of Chinese characters might be a course filled with observation, contemplation, imagination and aesthetic activities, so it can be considered that the calligraphy came into being simultaneously with characters.

 

In the early stages of calligraphy evolution, Chinese calligraphy existed mainly for its utility value and what calligraphers and people needed was the result of the calligraphy, namely the final works.

 

The hieroglyph, the earliest form of Chinese characters, was created by adopting pictures or symbols of objects in the world, so the hieroglyphics were so complicated and contained too many irregular strokes. During this period, only a character containing physical picture might enable people to know what it denoted, just like the physical currency, which was accepted by people before a voted simple sign (such as paper money) was universally adopted. The hieroglyphics were engraved on oracle bones, tortoise shells or stones and were generally used mainly in practise of divination in order to make prediction.

 

Later, on the basis of the hieroglyphics, our ancestors developed a new style of characters called large seal script. Characters started to transform from physical pictures into signs. The large seal characters were still composed of too many contract strokes in a strict and compact style. Such characters were engraved on bronze vessels, stone drums and bamboo slips, and the characters were used mainly for practise of religious rites, enactment of laws, record of history or eulogies or other significant affairs for emperors, high-ranking officials or the nobles.

 

In Qin dynasty (221 BC to 206 BC), the prime minister Li Si unified the characters of different kingdoms into Small Seal Character, which was China’s first systematic characters. The style of Small Seal Character became more strict and compact, with its strokes being slender and even in writing speed, thickness and strength. The seal characters were still so complicated that Chen Miao, a clerk in Qin dynasty who suffered too much hardship from copying official documents in the seal character, simplified such characters and developed a new style of characters: clerical character. Soon after the clerical character (or clerical script) was developed, it was widely used in Han Dynasty. Although it was more simple than the seal character, the clerical character was formed in a strict and prim style and its strokes were written in fixed methods.

 

Chinese calligraphy underwent a turning point in the Han dynasty. From the birth of China’s characters through the Han dynasty, the calligraphy was mainly mastered and used by those oracles and clerks for religious rites or governments’ serious or major affairs. In these periods, characters were engraved on bones, metal tools and bamboo, and the characters were composed of many compact strokes in a strict principle, leaving little room for exertion of writer’s personality. Under such conditions, those writers, just like craftsmen building house as an occupation, had to made great efforts to follow such principles with caution. We can imagine that, for them, writing was nearly nothing but a hard and pedestrian work only for making living. For all these very reasons, there had been few great calligraphists by the end of Han dynasty.

 

The development of paper-making technics in Eastern Han dynasty(25 AD to 220 AD) was something with epoch-making significance to Chinese calligraphy. With paper and writing brush, which was invented in Qin dynasty, calligraphy became a convenient practise and spread rapidly within the literati. Meanwhile, Chinese calligraphy entered into an era of diversified styles. The Cursive Character, the Running Character,and the Regular Character came into being successively in Han dynasty and the following Three-kingdom Period (220 AD to 280 AD). The three styles of calligraphy, especially the Running Character and the Cursive Character, greatly increased the art expression of Chinese calligraphy, making calligraphy a relatively free practise of personality of writers. Since then, Chinese calligraphy has been an expressive means of conveying individual character and inner world of writers in an aesthetic way.

 

In the prolonged feudal times, the creativity, imagination and the personality of the literati were confined in the ideology framework built up by the governing groups. During these periods, Chinese calligraphy was the only outlet for personal emotions and sentiments. In every relatively open dynasty or period (such as Tang dynasty and Song dynasty), the Running Character and Cursive Character thrived, with a number of great calligraphists and a lot of fine works. With the simple yet expressive lines, a calligrapher could freely exert his creativity and imagination and convey his individual character and sentiments. So, when writing, a calligrapher could strongly feel his self-existence, only with which may a person find himself and enjoy the pleasure of living. Thus the value of the calligraphy to a writer lies in the course of practise, instead of the results. Finally, the value of those fine calligraphy works became independent from the utility of characters.