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In China, the style in which an individual writes has long been believed to communicate something essential about his or her personality, intellect, and abilities. Even today it is a common presumption that one can "read" the identity of the person through his or her handwriting. 



Young man practicing calligraphy                             source

The European term calligraphy means "beautiful writing," and reflects an interest in ornamenting words on the page; most European calligraphy is highly stylized, regular, and decorated with flourishes, which in themselves are lacking in personal expression. Calligraphy in the West was always considered a minor art and tended to curb spontaneity, producing fairly static forms. 


In China, however, this was far from the case; the most widely practiced writing styles favored spontaneity, and the brush was thought to act like a seismograph in recording the movements of arm, wrist, and hand. East Asian calligraphy was established as a "high art" form well before the Tang dynasty. It has continuously enjoyed a high status among the arts ever since, and is practiced today by many people, including every school-aged child. 


This unit will cover calligraphy in China up through the Tang dynasty, with an emphasis on the Six Dynasties and Tang. It was during this period that calligraphy first began to flourish as an art form. By the Later Han, the basic script types had been created, and no new types developed after this time. The first writings to evaluate calligraphic style also date from this period. These texts reveal a notable shift toward seeing an expressive quality in writing that went beyond the mere ability to communicate meaning.


As you go through this unit, keep the following questions in mind:

Why is calligraphy highly ranked as an art form in China? 

How is calligraphy connected to class or status?

How are the materials and techniques used by Chinese calligraphers linked to theories about calligraphy? 

What types of skills and knowledge are required to appreciate and evaluate calligraphy? Who collected calligraphy, and why? 




Script Types

Techniques of


Six Dynasties Calligraphy

Tang Calligraphy

Calligraphy in Modern China