Calligraphy as an Amateur Art

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Calligraphy is no longer practiced solely by those with a classical education. As literacy has increased with universal schooling, more people have learned to read and write.  Even farmers, such as those below photographed in 1978, had opportunities to display their skill with the brush when called on to put up signs or posters during political campaigns.  

Preparing a poster calling for the modernization of farming, 1978                            source


The government has also promoted calligraphy as a "people's art," an art at which peasants and workers could excel.  One model peasant-calligrapher was Wu Yukun, shown below farming. 

Wu Yukun at work in the vegetable field                                            source



Described as too poor to have time for calligraphy before the founding of the PRC, as his life improved afterwards, Wu took up the brush. He would use a board as his paper, wiping it clean after each use.  When out in the fields, he would write in the ground with his fingers.  Besides copying traditional masters like Wang Xizhi and Yan Zhenqing, he spent a lot of time copying Mao Zedong's calligraphy.  



Can you identify elements of Mao's style in Wu's calligraphy illustrated to the left?  

Wu Yukun's copy of Mao's calligraphy                       source


Most amateur calligraphers, of course, are not peasants, but relatively well-educated individuals who find calligraphy an enjoyable pastime.  Many join calligraphy clubs which give them opportunities to get advice and display their work.  Many cities offer after-work calligraphy classes, often run by the local Workers' Cultural Palace.  Amateurs also enter their calligraphy in competitions-- some competitions have attracted entrants by the tens or hundreds of thousands, only a fraction of whom pass the first hurdle and get their work exhibited.  Many newspapers, including the China Daily and China Youth Daily, publish columns on calligraphy. 



The members of this calligraphy club appear mostly of retirement age, but many young people also pursue calligraphy as a hobby. For copying practice, book stores carry hundreds of booklets reproducing the works of well-known calligraphers


Why are most of these calligraphers standing to write? 

Members of a calligraphy club discussing their work, 1985    source


In 2001 a young man practiced calligraphy using only water at the highly public space of Tiananmen Square in Beijing.


Calligrapher at work in Tiananmen Square                                source


The calligrapher above may not be a simple amateur, but an aspiring young artist drawing from calligraphic traditions to challenge traditional understandings of form and meaning.  


For a look at the work of artists who extend calligraphy in new ways, move on to   Calligraphy as an Avant-garde Art