Chinese calligraphy is like a rare, exotic flower in the history of civilization, and is a unique gem of Oriental culture. Graphically, it is comparable to painting in its ability to evoke emotion through a rich variety of form and design. As abstract art, it displays the rhythmic and harmonious flow of music. And from a practical point of view, it is written language.
Writing is a tangible representation of spoken language. The composition of Chinese characters can be divided into six basic categories:(1)hsiang hsing, i.e. direct pictorial representation; (2)chih shih, symbolic renderings of abstract ideas; (3)hui yi, a combination of concrete pictorial elements with symbolic renderings of abstract ideas; (4)hsing sheng, a combination of phonetic and pictorial elements; (5)chia chieh, a character borrowed purely for its phonetic value to represent an unrelated homophone or near-homophone; and (6)chuan chu, a character which has taken on a new meaning, and an alternate or modified written form has been assigned to the original meaning. These methods of composition of Chinese characters are referred to as the Liu Shu, or "Six Writing Methods."
With the "four treasures of the study" (wen fang szu pao), namely, brush pens, ink sticks, paper, and ink slabs as tools, and through the medium of lines, China's calligraphers have over the centuries developed uncounted different calligraphic styles. This plethora of diverse styles can, however, be grouped into five basic categories : Chuan Shu, Seal Script; Li Shu, Official Script; K'ai Shu, Regular Script; Hsing Shu, Running Script; and Ts'ao Shu, which literally means "Grass" Script, but is usually referred to as Cursive Script.
Chinese calligraphy is not only a practical tool of everyday living; it comprises, along with traditional Chinese painting, the mainstream of China's art history. All kinds of people, from emperors to peasants, have avidly collected works of fine calligraphy. And calligraphic works are not only for making into scrolls or framing and hanging in a room or study; they are to be found everywhere you look : on shop and government office building signs, on monuments, and in stone inscriptions. All of these examples of Chinese calligraphy have supreme artistic value. Today, as in the past, calligraphers are often literati as well as artists. Their calligraphic works may include renderings of their own poems, lyrics, couplets, or letters; or those of famous masters.
Chinese calligraphy can bring physical and spiritual benefits to the practitioner, and can train one in discipline, patience, and persistence. As a result, many of China's calligraphers over history have lived long and rich lives. Practicing calligraphy can even refine one's personality and change one's outlook on life.
It is for these reasons that Chinese scholars have traditionally placed great importance on Chinese calligraphy. In the Taiwan, calligraphy is a major subject from elementary to high school, and even in post secondary schools. Calligraphy clubs and associations are popular all over the country, and calligraphy receives strong support from various foundations. Calligraphy competitions with cash prizes are a further incentive to keeping the art vital. In this technological information age, it is encouraging and satisfying to note the enthusiastic public interest that Chinese calligraphy continues to generate.
Over the millennia, the benefits of personality tempering and intellectual expression afforded by the art of Chinese calligraphy have not been restricted to China's borders alone. The neighboring countries of Japan and Korea and several nations of Southeast Asia have all made Chinese calligraphy part of their own respective cultures, and developed their own schools and styles. Since World War ll, Western countries have also been influenced by Chinese calligraphy. Representative of the significant position occupied by Chinese calligraphy in international art was a "Cobra" painting exhibition held in Scandinavia in 1948. The works displayed at this exhibition were by a painter who drew inspiration from Chinese calligraphy as practiced in Japan.