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Chinese Writing and Calligraphy

Wendan Li

Publication Year: 2009

Suitable for college and high school students and those learning on their own, this fully illustrated coursebook provides comprehensive instruction in the history and practical techniques of Chinese calligraphy. No previous knowledge of the language is required to follow the text or complete the lessons. The work covers three major areas: 1) descriptions of Chinese characters and their components, including stroke types, layout patterns, and indications of sound and meaning; 2) basic brush techniques; and 3) the social, cultural, historical, and philosophical underpinnings of Chinese calligraphy—all of which are crucial to understanding and appreciating this art form. Students practice brush writing as they progress from tracing to copying to free-hand writing. Model characters are marked to indicate meaning and stroke order, and well-known model phrases are shown in various script types, allowing students to practice different calligraphic styles. Beginners will find the author’s advice on how to avoid common pitfalls in writing brush strokes invaluable. Chinese Writing and Calligraphy will be welcomed by both students and instructors in need of an accessible text on learning the fundamentals of the art of writing Chinese characters.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vii

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pp. ix-x

This book is a collection of teaching materials I accumulated over the past ten years, during which I taught the course Chinese Culture through Calligraphy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The materials and the order of topics were tested and revised throughout these years. They reflect special concerns in teaching Chinese calligraphy to college students in the West who may not have ...

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Chapter One: Introduction

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pp. 1-19

Chinese calligraphy, 書法 shū faˇ in Chinese, has been considered the quintessence of Chinese culture because it is an art that encompasses Chinese language, history, philosophy, and aesthetics. The term’s literal translation, “the way of writing” (shū, “writing,” and faˇ, “way” or “standard”), identifies the core of the art, which has close bonds with Chinese written signs, on the one hand, and painting, on the ...

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Chapter Two: Writing Instruments and Training Procedures

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pp. 20-37

This chapter lays out the preliminaries for training in Chinese brush writing. It introduces writing instruments, their history, how they are made, as well as how they are used. Preparations for writing, such as your state of mind, your writing space, your posture, and how to hold your brush are also discussed. The three most ...

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Chapter Three: Brush Techniques and Basic Strokes I

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pp. 38-49

Knowledge of Chinese brushwork is a key to understanding not only Chinese calligraphy but also Chinese painting. In this and the next two chapters, we explore some basic brushwork techniques. We also go over the major stroke types in brush writing, their variant forms, and how they are used to compose Chinese characters. After reading about each technique and stroke type, you will be guided ...

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Chapter Four: Brush Techniques and Basic Strokes II

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pp. 50-60

In the previous chapter, three basic stroke types were described. This chapter first illustrates two important brush techniques that affect the quality of strokes. After that, three more stroke types, the down-left slant, down-right slant, and right-up tick, will be introduced. The last section discusses Chinese names, including how...

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Chapter Five: Basic Strokes III and Stroke Order

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pp. 61-72

Chapters 3 and 4 have described six stroke types. All of these are considered simple strokes because each stroke is written with brush movement basically in a single direction (setting aside the concealed tips). This chapter first examines the remaining two stroke types, the turn and the hook. These are “combined strokes” because they contain a change in the direction of brush movement. Then writing at the ...

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Chapter SIx: The Formation of Chinese Characters

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pp. 73-83

The distinct look of Chinese written signs has given rise to misconceptions, one being that Chinese is a pictographic script and that each symbol in Chinese writing is a picture of something. Even college students may fall into this trap. “How do you draw this character?” they ask, reluctant to use the word “write.”1 Apparently, this misunderstanding arises because Chinese is not alphabetic. The written ...

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Chapter Seven: The Internal Structure of Characters and the Aesthetics of Writing

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pp. 84-99

As we have seen in previous chapters, Chinese characters are constructed by assembling strokes in a two-dimensional square. Some characters consist of single signs; others combine multiple components to form complex characters. This chapter examines the shapes and structural configurations of characters, their internal layout patterns, and the proportions of components, all of which are ...

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Chapter Eight: The Development of Chinese Calligraphy I -- The Seal Scripts

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pp. 100-114

The wonder of the Chinese brush resides not only in its ability to write an infinite variety of dots and lines, but also in the diverse scripts it produces. Chinese written signs have evolved through thousands of years, producing many different scripts and styles along the way, each with its own unique qualities. These styles are still in use today, in daily life and in art. In China, the knowledge of different ...

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Chapter Nine: The Development of Chinese Calligraphy II -- The Clerical Script

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pp. 115-128

In the previous chapter, we saw that Small Seal Script has a high degree of formality and strict rules for writing. It is not surprising that such a formal and difficult script was outlived by another script, called Clerical Script, as a popular way of writing. After examining the Clerical Script in this chapter, we will learn about the traditional Chinese dating method, which is still used to date calligraphy ...

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Chapter Ten: The Development of Chinese Calligraphy III -- The Regular Script

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pp. 129-139

Two periods in the history of Chinese calligraphy were most crucial to script development. One was the Han dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE), during which Clerical Script was developed. In the previous chapter, we saw that Clerical Script contributed crucial features to modern Chinese writing and that it allowed Chinese calligraphy to become a true art. The other period, the Tang dynasty (618–907), ...

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Chapter Eleven: The Development of Chinese Calligraphy IV -- The Running and Cursive Styles

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pp. 140-154

The scripts described in the previous chapters are all written stroke by stroke. The Running and Cursive styles, in contrast, are executed with linking between strokes. They are faster ways of writing, with more fluidity and freedom of expression. Of the two, the Cursive Style has the higher degree of stroke continuity. For this reason, Running Style is often referred to as “semicursive.” Analysis ...

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Chapter Twelve: The Art of Composition

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pp. 155-174

Previous chapters have focused on the writing of individual strokes, characters, and scripts. In this chapter, we devote our discussion to the challenge of putting together the whole calligraphy piece. You will see that the art of calligraphy resides not only in composing characters, but also in composing with characters. Composition is a crucial part of the artistic creation and expression, in which micro-, meso-, and ...

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Chapter Thirteen: The Yin and Yang of Chinese Calligraphy

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pp. 175-185

The fundamental philosophical principle of yin and yang is reflected in every aspect of Chinese calligraphy. This chapter introduces that principle. It also covers the appreciation of calligraphy works and the relationship of calligraphy and health. ...

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Chapter Fourteen: By Way of Conclusion -- Chinese Calligraphy in the Modern Era

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pp. 186-197

The word “modern” in this chapter denotes approximately the past one hundred years. During this time, modernization and globalization have become increasingly greater factors in the ways people experience everyday life, carry on traditions, and practice art. Vast economic, social, technological, cultural, and political changes have led to increased interdependence, integration, and interaction among people ...

Appendix One: Brush Writing Exercises

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pp. 200-242

Appendix Two: Pinyin Pronunciation Guide

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pp. 243-246


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pp. 247-250


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pp. 251-254


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pp. 255-258

Books in English for Further Study

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pp. 259-260


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pp. 261-263

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About the Author

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pp. 264

Wendan Li is associate professor of Chinese language and linguistics in the Department of Asian Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has taught a course entitled Chinese Culture through Calligraphy for eight years and has conducted workshops and presented papers at national and international conferences on course design and teaching Chinese calligraphy to American college students. Li ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780824860691
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824833640

Publication Year: 2009