Lecture Six: Chinese Calligraphy 主讲:国际学院 余惠芬等

Lecture Six:
Chinese Calligraphy
Course Objectives
• 1. To have a rough idea of Chinese
calligraphy and painting: history and
features as a treasure of Chinese traditional
• 2. To learn to express in English when
introducing Chinese calligraphy and
painting is necessary.
Course Content
• Since time is limited, it is impossible to give
a detailed discussion about the topic, the
course will focus on a general picture of the
subject or some particular aspects. This
lecture will center on the brush
calligraphy and painting only, and more
emphasis is to be laid on calligraphy.
Chinese Calligraphy
• With a history of four to five thousand
years, the art of calligraphy is rich and
profound in content and has attracted
the attention of artists the world over.
What are Four Basic Skills and
Disciplines of Chinese Literati文人, 文
Shu (calligraphy)
Hua (painting),
Qin (a string musical instrument), and
Qi (a strategic boardgame) are the four
basic skills and disciplines of the Chinese
Calligraphy: features and
position & influence
• What is the purpose of Chinese
• conveyin
g thought,
beauty of
the line.
• Rhythm, line, and structure are more
perfectly embodied in calligraphy than
in painting or sculpture.
revealing of one's personality
Chinese Saying:
Zi Ru Qi Ren
Zi Zi Zhu Ji
criterion for selection of executives to
the Imperial court : strokes are
permanent and incorrigible, demanding
careful plan and confident execution,
skills required for an administrator.
an infinite variety of styles and
• By controlling the concentration of ink,
the thickness and adsorptivity of the
paper, the flexibility of the brush, the
artist is free to produce : an infinite
variety of styles and forms
• Example: ink blots, dry brush strokes
as impromptu rather than a fault
While western calligraphy
• font-like uniformity, homogeneity of in one
size is only a craft.
• a most relaxing yet highly disciplined
exercise indeed for one's physical and
spiritual well being.
• Eg. Many calligraphy artist were
known for their longevity
• Japan & Korea :
• calligraphy as an important treasure of their
• Japanese: contest of writing big characters at
• Big gathering commemorating the Lanting Xu
by Wang Xi Zhi
• Korean: government officials were required to
excel in calligraphy. Office of Okinawa
• In the West: Picasso and Matisse马
• Picasso: "Had I been born Chinese,
I would have been a calligrapher, not
a painter"
• Henri Matisse :
Traces of
calligraphy strokes in the paintings
• Jackson Pollock's action paintings:
the impact of Cao Shu (swift/grass
style) by Huai Su.
• Pollock, Jackson (1912-56). American
painter, the commanding figure of the
Abstract Expressionist movement.
• Brice Marden (American) and Mark
Tobey [American Abstract Expressionist Painter,
1890-1976) : two other contemporary
artists who have actually studied Chinese
calligraphy and used its techniques in
their paintings.
• modern Western art: especially in industrial art.
• in computer advertisements: calligraphy-type, freeform lettering in lieu of the mundane Time Roman
and Arial fonts.
• Notably, the logo of Lucent 美国朗讯科技公司, 原
AT&T实验室is a best example of application of
Chinese calligraphy - a red circle done with a
Chinese brush signifies the first bit of all computer
• proliferation of digital computation and
silicon chips, free form calligraphy prevail.
• a renaissance period for this ancient art.
• Like chopsticks, as Chinese culture
spread to Korea, Japan, Vietnam
and Singapore, calligraphy became a
unique feature of Oriental art.
What is calligraphy?
• Chinese calligraphy is an Oriental art.
But what makes it an art?
• the art of writing Chinese characters.
• a unique artistic form with a long history
• not content with writing the characters
correctly and legibly
• urged by their love of beauty and creative
impulse, make each character into an artistic
unit through centuries of sustained and
uninterrupted practice, and by putting many
such units together, produce an artistic
• a graphic composition
• a life-unit consisting of
bone and muscles, flesh
and blood, which allows
people to display their
imagination and artistic
ability freely;
• the unique writing
implements, especially
the brush
• Qualities of a painting
• Use of Chinese characters to communicate the
spiritual world of the artist. Different faces –
different handwriting
• Through medium of form, way of handling the
brush, presentation, and style, calligraphy as a
work of art conveys the moral integrity,
character, emotions, esthetic feelings and
culture of the artist to readers, affecting them
by the power of appeal and the joy of beauty.
• not only a practical technique for writing
Chinese characters but also a unique Oriental
art of expression and a branch of learning or
discipline as well.
• rich in content, wide ranging and deep,
forming an important part of Chinese culture,
including :
• evolution of writing styles
• development and rules of technique
• history of calligraphy,
• calligraphers and their inheritance in art,
• evaluation of calligraphy as a work of art.
• In the eyes of knowledgeable western
• not mere symbol, but a lofty art
• every character is written like a beautiful
• develop a keen interest in and love for
Chinese calligraphy.
• from the construction of the characters they
seek to understand calligraphy.
• from calligraphy they seek to learn about
Oriental culture
• abstract beauty of Chinese calligraphic art.--the most ancient and most condensed of
abstract arts.
the beauty of image in painting,
the beauty of dynamism in dance and
the beauty of rhythm in music.
an intimate relationship between abstract art----the ultramodern art of the West and the most
ancient art---calligraphy-of the East.
• Although calligraphy's home is China,
it does not belong exclusively to China.
It does not belong exclusively to the
East, either. It's no exaggeration to say
that calligraphy is a gem in the world's
art treasury.
Origin of calligraphy –ancient Chinese
Calligraphy history
• since the day when the shell-and-bone
inscriptions appeared in the Shang
• No precise date is given in ancient
Chinese history.
• Legend : Yellow Emperor --Cang Jie
invented the Chinese language--calligraphy came ---4,600 years ago,
but legendary and credible.
• archaeological discoveries ---new China--have authenticated that 4,500 years ago
language came into existence in China. It
follows that calligraphy entered an embryonic
stage then.
• The photo is an ancient sunrise painting.
The painting was a design inscribed on a
big-mouthed pottery jar-a sacrificial vessel
to the sun by primitive Chinese forebears
in Shandong during the period when the
Dawenkou culture thrived (4000-2000 BC).
Pottery discovered in the ruins of the ancient
Longshan culture in Dinggong Village, Zouping
County, Shan-dong Province, in January 1992.
• It may well be described as the embryo of
calligraphy in seal characters. It is 4,300
years old
• Chinese calligraphy is at least four
thousand years old, based on legendary
tales and on textual criticism in
• Is it possible that something like a brush
was used to write the calligraphy? In
other words, calligraphy written by
means of the brush also has a history of
over four thousand years in China.
• the beginning up to the Han Dynasty --from the primitive to mature.
• more simplified, more convenient and
more practical and as beautiful as
• So it is reasonable that some scholars
and critics regard the Han Dynasty, or
to be more exact, the late Han as the
beginning era when character-writing
was purposely engaged in as an
Analysis of Chinese
( Calligraphy Alphebet)
• Calligraphy is the art of writing
Chinese characters.
• To understand calligraphy, one must
first know something about Chinese
• The various nationalities in the world
have created their own languages, but
the Chinese have created an independent
calligraphic art. Why?
• The reason is mainly related to the
features of the language.
Two Systems of Languages
• Languages fall into two systems: sound and
• Phonetic:语音
• Eg:
• The cuneiform 楔形的, 楔状骨的, 楔形文字
的 writing of the Sumerian n.闪族人[语]
• the Katakana in the Japanese language
• English, French, Russian, German and Latin
Ideographic 表意的, 表意字构成的
• The language of the sacred books of ancient
• the pictographic象形文字的language of Crete
• the Chinese language
• the language of the Dongba nationality.
• Ideographic languages have for the most part
become extinct. Only one such language as,
Chinese, is still widely used today.
• A comparison of the two systems of
language indicates that a phonetic
language has an advantage over an
ideographic language.
• Phonetic languages: few letters, easily
learned and memorized, popularized
more easily The pinyin form of Chinese
represents the direction of language
• ideographic languages:a great many
symbols, difficult and cumbersome
morphology, hard to learn and remember,
morphology n.[生物]形态学、形态论, [语
• cumbersome adj.讨厌的, 麻烦的, 笨重的
• The inscriptions on bones and tortoise shells
of the Shang Dynasty, three thousand years
ago or so, had vocabularies of five thousand
• The recently published Han Yu Da Zi Dian
汉 语 大 字 典 , a comprehensive Chineselanguage dictionary, has over 54,000 entries.
• Every character can be written in regular
script, grass script, official script, etc., and
every script can be written differently, ranging
from a few to as many as scores of styles.
• The largest runs to about one hundred. For
example, bai shou tu 百 寿 图 shows one
hundred ways to write shou (longevity) in
official script.
• The Chinese language contains an
enormous number of characters.
difficult to novice n.新手, 初学者
• Everything in the world is said to have a
dual character.
• For Chinese :
• a huge stock of characters and the
morphology varies greatly.
• writing words in many ways.
• Opening up a huge vista (n.狭长的景色,
街景, 展望, 回想) for Chinese calligraphy
to develop into an independent art.
• difficult to master but governed by rules.
• Just like notes in music, characters are
formed by changing the combination
of elements. Tens of thousands of
words in Chinese can be broken down
into several hundred component parts.
Take, for instance:中国
Eight basic
• dot, dash, perpendicular downstroke,
downstroke to the left, wavelike stroke,
hook, upstroke to the right and bend.
• The eight basic strokes, like notes in music,
can be developed into many "tunes" and
"movements", or schools of Chinese
contains a picture
What Chinese calligraphy
supply do you need?
ink stone (Ink Slab)
Calligraphy Set
- Four treasures of the study
• Meng Tian (?-210 B.C.)
• brush predated the written language itself.
• Based on the decorative designs on
painted pottery and visible stains or marks
of a brush, The history of the Chinese
brush can be traced back aô least six
thousand years.
• Brush—in a large degree makes writing of Chinese
Character an art.
• strokes can be light or heavy, thick or fine. The
strokes flow naturally, entering an artistic world
with an element of wonder. Other materials may
give you a handsome style, but they can hardly
attain the level of achievement in calligraphic art
executed by the brush.
• The head of brush: made
Selecting brush
of the hair of the goat,
wolf, rat or rabbit
• The Chinese brush point
following characteristics:
roundness, pointedness,
evenness and strength.
• “round like an awl,
pressed like a chisel”
By material: soft, stiff or combination of the two
Soft: made of goat hair Yang Hao
Stiff: made of wolf hair Lang Hao
Combination:70 percent rabbit hair and 30 percent
goat hair
Jian Hao
• By size: small, medium size, big
• Generally, a big, soft brush is used to write large
characters and a small, stiff one to write small
Ink Stick
• Legend—Kang Yi 2800
years ago
• Archaeologists:
marks on the back of
tortoise shells of the
years ago.
Three major categories of Ink
• sticks fall into three major categories, according to
the chief materials used in manufacture.
• The pine-soot ink stick: pine sootglue, medicinal
material and spices.
• The oil-soot ink stick. Tung oil, sesame oil, rapeseed
oil or petroleum is burned and the soot is mixed with
gelatine, medicinal material and spices.
• The oil- and pine-soot ink stick. This is a mixture of
the previous Proportions vary, and the quality of the
ink stick differs accordingly.
Choosing the ink stick
• by its color and sound.
• Glossy adj.平滑的, 有光泽的purple is best.
Black is second. Glossy green is third. Glossy
white is last. If you strike the ink stick and it
gives a light sound, this means it is a fine ink
• If the sound is muffled, it is not a good one. If
the sound is fine when you grind the ink stick
on the slab, it means you have a good ink stick.
If the sound is rough during grinding, it means
the ink stick is none too good.
How to grind the ink stick
• Clean water for grinding.
• The best water contains a small amount of salt.
• Next comes well water,
• then tap water, then distilled water.
• Do not Use tea or hot water to grind an ink
The ink stick must be balanced
Press hard and rub lightly.
Rub the ink stick slowly and evenly .
At first use only a little water.
When a thick liquid forms, add water and rub or
grind again. The thickness or thinness of the
ink depends on how much or how little you
need to use. If the ink is too thick, it will be
difficult to use the tip of the brush, which will
glue up. If the ink is too thin, it will probably
filter through the paper.
Paper Legend-Cai Lun –
discoveries: Early
Western Han, a
coarse paper
Xuan paper
• Jing County paper was first shipped to
Xuanzhou, then transshipped to other ports.
(the county was under the jurisdiction of
Xuanzhou Prefecture), hence the name.
• soft and fine textured, suitable for conveying
the artistic expression of both Chinese
calligraphy and painting.
• good tensile /tensail/ strength and not easily
eaten by moths, preserved for a long time.
• reputation of lasting a thousand years.
kinds of Xuan paper
• kinds of Xuan paper: dan, jia, luowen, coral,
tiger-skin and jade-plate.
• Quality:unprocessed, processed or halfprocessed.
• It's somewhat to your advantage to use coarse
paper. If you practice handwriting under less
favorable conditions, you develop greater
adaptability. Do not think that you cannot
produce good handwriting if you do not have
good-quality paper to practice on.
Ink Slab or Ink Stone
When was ink slab invented?
• controversial question.
• Attributed to the Yellow Emperor ,but appeared
much earlier(six to seven thousand years ago)
• Archaeologists:
• many ancient ink slabs discovered, such as a jade
ink slab of the Shang and Zhou dynasties, a stone
slab of the pre-Qin Dynasty, a painted slab and a
painted slab mixed with sand belonging to the Han
Dynasty, copper and silver slabs as well as iron slabs
of the Wei and Jin dynasties, a blue porcelain slab of
the Six Dynasties and a clay slab of the Tang
What was ink stone made of?
• Most ink slabs, modern or ancient, were
made of stone. The earliest ink slab was
made of stone and acquired the greatest
How can ink stones be classified?
• Ink stones or ink slabs have been
classified into three categories since
the Tang Dynasty:
• Duan
• She
• Tao.
Duan ink slab • Produced in Zhaoqing, Guangdong
Province, it is made of Duan stone,
so named because the Duanxi
River runs at the foot of Mount
Fuke, where the stone is found.
• Said to be the best stone for
making ink slabs, Duan stone was
used to make ink slabs as early as
the Tang Dynasty (618-907). Duan
ink slabs have earned a high
reputation among Chinese scholars
ever since.
She ink slab
• It is named after Shezhou
Prefecture, Anhui Province,
where it was first produced in
the Tang Dynasty. Many
counties under the jurisdiction of
this prefecture produce She ink
slabs, but the best come from
Sometimes She ink slabs are
referred to as Longwei ink slabs.
Tao ink slab
• This ink slab has been produced in Taozhou
since ancient times. Now it is produced mainly
in Taoyan Village, Zhuoni County, Gansu
Province. Tao ink slabs are made of stone
found at the Tao River; hence the name.
Use of ink stab
• One common feature : hard and fine. Hard but not
dry. Though fine, it is not slippery. it yields ink very
In grinding the ink stick against the ink slab:
• exert your force evenly, so as to keep the ink slab
• Grind only the ink you need for writing.
• After use, the slab must be washed clean.
• Leave a bit of clean water in the center of the slab.
This will keep the slab in good condition.
• Take care not to stain the slab with oil or grease.
Changes in writing style
• different writing styles, or scripts
• zhenshu (regular script prevalent in the
Han Dynasty)
• caoshu (cursive script),
• lishu (official script,clerical) and
• zhuan-shu (seal character script).
Development of Styles
three epochs:
• seal character script
• official script
• regular script.
seal character period
• The seal character period ran from(the
end of primitive society to the
Dynasty (221-206B.C).
• The period, lasting more than two
thousand years, is divided into three
• early seal character
• greater seal character
• lesser seal character.
Early seal characters
written by primitive people
the earliest form of writing on record.
a mild style and varied postures.
like a length of knotted rope. This
form of writing was perhaps related to
the use of rope by primitive people to
record events
Greater seal characters
• generally refer to ancient scripts of pre-Qin Dynasty,
such as inscriptions on bones, tortoise shells, bronze
vessels and drum-shaped stone blocks and the
ancient language of the Six States.
• Inscriptions engraved on bones and tortoise shells -mostly stiff and straight
• Early inscriptions on bronze vessels --roundness,
fullness and roundabout turns.
• Scripts of the pre-Qin period also include the ancient
language of the Six States. They are all classified as
greater seal character scripts.
Lesser seal character script
• ----the officially approved script following the
unification of Chinese languages by the Qin
• also known as Qin seal character script. Since
it contrasts with the previous seal character
script, the two are called greater and lesser.
• inscriptions on stones extolling the merits of
persons or things,
• seals or marks of authenticity or emblems or
to write imperial edicts.
tremendous historical progress.
• Numerous dialects
• a unified written language plays an
important part as a link between various
nationalities to cement national solidarity
and achieve national unification. It was the
Qin, or lesser, seal character script that
served as a link and deserves much credit.
• An
work representative
calligraphy is the
writing of Li Si (?-c
208 B.C.), regarded
as the father of
lesser seal character
script. He exerted a
profound influence
on the seal character
Kaishu - formal/regular style
• Kaishu came into use in China at the end
of the Han Dynasty.
• still used in China today after more than
1.700 years.
• It is the main Chinese writing style, called
kaishu, or regular script. It is also called
zhengshu or zhenshu.
• initiated by Wang Cizhong toward the end
of the Han Dynasty, according to legend.
• In the Wei-Jin period Zhong You (151230) and Wang Xizhi(303-363)
initiated a new way of writing that
allowed kaishu and lishu to separate
and form two systems.
• To study Chinese calligraphy, one
should begin with kaishu. The next
step is to study carefully various other
scripts and absorb their good points. In
this way one will create a unique style
of one's own.
• By the Han Dynasty it was promoted as a
writing style. In over four hundred years of
propagation lishu created many schools of
writing. Lishu was underwent a development
of over four hundred years through the Wei,
Jin, Southern and Northern dynasties. By the
latter part of the Southern and Northern
Dynasties the script rid itself of any remaining
influence of lishu, attaining complete maturity.
Chinese calligraphy entered its golden age
during the Sui and Tang dynasties, when
China produced the largest number of
calligraphers and made the greatest
achievements in calligraphic art, unmatched
other historic periods or dynasties. Of the four
four schools of calligraphy before: Yan, Liu,
Ou and Zhao. the first three thrived in the
Tang Dynasty.
• The above is a rough account of the
history of Chinese calligraphy. The
scripting, lishu branched out into
xingshu(running script) and caoshu
(cursive script), written in a flowing
style with the strokes joined together.
Lishu may be said to be the harbinger
of running and cursive scripts.
Four great schools of calligraphy
• Yan, Liu, Ou and Zhao.
• Ou school is marked by characters of strength
• Yan school produces characters with strong
sinews or powerful framework.
• The characters of the Liu school are compared
to the bones of the body.
• Zhao characters are compared to the flesh of
the body.
• A description of each follows.
Yan Style of Calligraphy
• Yan Zhenqing (709-785) a native of Langya (now
Linyi, Shan-dong Province). he was titled Duke of
Lu Commandery. People respectfully called him
Yan Lu Gong. He was a great-calligrapher at the
height of the Tang Dynasty's power and glory. An
early representative work was Duo Bao Ta Bei. A
fine work representative of his middle era was
Dong Fang Shuo Hua Xiang Zan Bei. Yan Shi Jia
Miao Bei was a powerful work representative of
his later years. The style of his calligraphy is bold
and vigorous, showing spaciousness and breadth.
Yan’s Works
Before Yan Zhenqing
• calligraphy of Wang Xizhi and his son,
Wang Xianzhi. natural and unrestrained,
elegant and refined.
• truly beautiful. However, it lacks
strength and vigor.
Yan Zhenqing's calligraphy
• imposing appearance of a marshal, or it is as
majestic as a sovereign ruler.
• grandeur and loftiness. Like the poetry of Li Bai
and Du Fu, Yan calligraphy embodies the grand
spirit of the Tang Dynasty as its height. Yan
calligraphy is as robust as the sun. After Wang
Xizhi's time (Jin Dynasty) Chinese calligraphic art
reached an epoch-making peak with the appearance
of Yan Zhenqing's calligraphy. It became the fashion
in the Song Dynasty to take Yan's calligraphy as a
model for copying. This has persisted to this day,
over a thousand years later.
Yan Zhenqing, Duo Bao Pagoda Stele,
Liu Style of Calligraphy
• Liu Gongquan (778-865), alias Liu Chenxian,
was a native of Huayuan, Jing-zhao (now
Yaoxian County, Shaanxi Province). A leading
official of the Tang Dynasty, he was titled
Duke of Hedong Commandery and popularly
called Liu He Dong. A great calligrapher of his
time, he was ranked alongside Yan Zhenqing
as one of two great calligraphers. The two
were referred to as Yan-Liu.
• When a man set the purpose of his life
right, he would be able to write upright
characters. Liu Gongquan was
speaking of the relationship between
the mind and the brush.
• The style of Liu calligraphy may be
compared with the integrity of the
calligrapher. The framework is very
strictly executed. The style is strict and
Ou Style of Calligraphy
• Ouyang Xun (557-641), also known as
Xinben, was a native of Linxiang (now
Changsha, Hunan Province). He was also a
leading official of the early Tang Dynasty,
serving the crown prince. The framework of
characters in Ou calligraphic style is very
rigid. His characters have strength, and his
style has solemnity and grace.
Zhao Style of Calligraphy
• Zhao Mengfu (1254-1322), alias Zi'ang
and Xuesong Daoren, was a native of
Huzhou (now Wuxing, Zhejiang
• His style is mellow and full, handsome
and rather refined, not at all vulgar.
The structure is compact and well
proportioned. We find flexibility that is
rather natural. The running script is
particularly graceful and elegant.
• Sometimes the technique of writing in
Zhao style appears to be more
dexterous than required, resulting in
lack of strength in the brush stroke.
The calligraphy of Zhao Mengfu's later
years is more mature, with vigorous
• Apart from the four schools of Chinese
calligraphy there are the works of
Zhong You and Wang Xizhi,
originators of regular script. Their
works have won respect and high
praise from calligraphers through the
The Art of Chinese Calligraphy
• Calligraphy is an abstract art.
• While viewing a Western abstract
painting, one does not ask, "What is
• When viewing Chinese calligraphy,
one need not ask, "What is the Chinese
• look at them for enjoyment. Do not be
sidetracked with questions of theory,
technique, etc. Do not worry about
Beside each work, a very short
comment is given to describe its
"style", based on the classical book of
Tu Meng.
• Tu Meng of the Tang dynasty (618-905)
developed 120 expressions to describe
different styles of calligraphy and establish
criteria for them. The first 15 from his list,
with explanations and English interpretations
by Chiang Yee:
• ability, mysterious, careful, carefree, balance
• unrestrained, mature, virile, grace, sober, wellknit, prolix, rich, exuberant, classic
A gracefully executed work has no
Full panel(100k)
Bold yet fluid -
Full panel.
From Ode of
Mulan by
[Mi Fei]
[Mei Fei]
(aka Mi Fu)
Full panel
By [Yan
Zhenqing] [Yen
By [Wu
Full panel
• By Zhang Ruitu (1570-1641)
By Li Juan (b. 1713)
• A carefree style has no fixed directions
• By [Wang Xizhi] [Wang Hsi-Chih]. The character
is Sui (to follow), in cursive style.
The movement of the strokes suggests speed, by a
dancing rather than a racing speed.
A gracefully executed work
An exuberant work full of
feeling and vigor.
Full panel
• By
Xizhi][ Wang
Lighting quick
Full panel
By [Dong Qichang] [Tung Chi-Chang]
General Characteristics of Chinese
• The characteristics of Chinese
painting are closely bound up
with\the nature of the medium.
• The basic material is ink, but Chinese
ink is a wonderful substance, capable
of an immense range and an
extraordinary beauty of tone. The
painter uses a pointed-tipped brush
made of ha&r of goat, deer, or wolf set
• Chinese paintings are usually in the
form of hanging pictures or of
horizontal scrolls, in both cases
normally kept rolled up. The latter
paintings, often of great length, are
unrolled bit by bit and enjoyed as a
reader enjoys reading a manuscript. A
succession of pictures is presented,
though the composition is continuous.
• Chinese technique admits no correction,
and the artist must therefore know
beforehand what he intends to do. He
closely observes and stores his observations
in his memory. He conceives his design, and
having completed the mental image of what
he intends to paint, he transfers it swiftly
and with sure strokes to the silk. It is said
that in a master's work the idea is present
even where the brush has not passed. This,
however, demands confidence, speed, and a
• In early times, such as the Shang and Zhou dynasties,
Chinese paintings were made chiefly for sacrifices to
Heaven and to the spirits of clan ancestors, who were
believed to influence the living for good. Chinese society
has always laid great stress on the need for man to
understand the pattern of nature and to live in accordance
with it. The world of nature was seen as the visible
manifestation of the workings of the Great Ultimate through
the generative interaction of the yin-yang^duaSism. As it
developed, the purpose of Chinese painting turned from
propitiation and sacrifice to the expression of man's
understanding of these forces through the painting of
landscape, bamboo, birds and flowers. This might be called
the metaphysical, Taoist aspect of Chinese painting.
• Chinese painting also had social and moral
functions. The earliest paintings referred to in
ancient texts depicted on the walls of palaces and
ancestral halls benevolent emperors, sages,
virtuous ministers, loyal generals, and their evil
opposites as examples and warnings to the living.
Portrait painting also had this moral function,
depicting not the features of the subject so much
as his character and his role in society. Therefore,
it is said that it had the same merits as each of The
Six Classics . This was typical Confucian function
of paining.
• When we turn to the subject-matter of Chinese
painting, we see the early appearance of
landscape art and its actual predominance.
Landscape is accounted the most important of
subjects because it includes man and all living
things; the whole is greater than the part. Flowers
are quite as important as figures. Where in Europe
they have Christian themes, in China we have
Buddhist themes and the stories of Taoist legend and
the fairy tales. Genre-painting is as common as in
the West, though portraiture is perhaps less common.
Among the typical themes of Chinese art there is no
place for war, violence, the nude, death, or martyrdom. Nor is inanimate matter ever painted for its
own sake: the very rocks and streams are felt to be
• Hence we can justly conclude that
Chinese painting is symbolic, for everything that is painted reflects some aspect
of a totality of symbols of a more specific
kind. Bamboo suggests the spirit of the
scholar, which can be broken by circumstance but never bent, and jade symbolizes
purity and indestructibility. The dragon is
the wholly benevolent symbol of the
emperor; the crane, of long life; the lily to
Christianity, a symbol of purity; the plum,
• Last but not least, Chinese painting is
unseparably associated with literature
and other arts, such as poetry and
calligraphy. The painter's carefully placed
sig-niture, inscription (often a poem) and
seals are an integral part of the composition.
Many of the painters were poets; some, like
distinguished in both arts. Consequently a
painter means more to the Chinese than to
the Westerners.
History of Chinese Painting
• The earliest examples of Chinese painting
date from the Han Dynasty (202 B.C. —220
A. D. ) when the walls of temples and of
tidal halls were often painted with murals.
Almost none of the early mural paintings
survive, however, except for some within
the cave temples and on the walls of tomb
chambers. Their style is closely related to
the sculptured tomb reliefs of the period.
• Through the Tang Dynasty (618—906),
murals and large screens were probably the
painter's main formats. Another format, that
of the scroll evolved concurrently of
Chinese painting. The earliest type of scroll
painting was the horizontal handscroll. This
was also the earliest form of the book in use
before a folding format —— stitched down
on side in a manner similar to the western
book —— was developed in the Song
• To view it, the handscroll is placed on a
table and the viewer unrolls it, length by
length. Some handscroUs extend many feet
in length. During the Song vertical scrolls
intended for hanging on a wall also-became common.
• Scroll painting was traditionally produced
for the exclusive intellectual elite. Many of
the early painters are known by name since
they signed their works long before this
• Han through Five Dynasties påriod
• From the Han period through the 8th
century, the principal subject matter of
painting was the depiction of human figures
as edifying exemplars of good , characters.
Among the earliest recorded figure painters,
much prominence was accorded Gu Raizing
345—406), to whom the earliest surviving
scroll painting has been attributed in his
handscroll, entitled Admonitions of the