SOAS University of London

A dialogue on traditional and contemporary Chinese Calligraphy

16 May 2014
A dialogue on traditional and contemporary Chinese Calligraphy

Mr Yun Ping, a well-known Chinese calligrapher and deputy chairman of the Henan Province Calligraphers Association, was invited by London Confucius Institute to SOAS for a seminar on Chinese calligraphy. He was joined by the well-known calligrapher Mr Zhao Yizhou, who is the chairman of the European Association of Chinese Calligraphers. They had a dialogue on traditional and contemporary Chinese calligraphy and more than sixty calligraphy enthusiasts attended the seminar.

First, Mr Yun Ping described how Chinese calligraphy, which has more than three thousand years’ history, came to become a traditional art independent from the actual use of the characters themselves, a distinctive feature of Chinese calligraphy. He then introduced the calligrapher’s tools, brushes, ink, paper and an ink stone. He demonstrated the five different styles of writing, seal script, clerical script, cursive script, regular script, running script, while explaining their different features and their different writing styles.

Mr Yun Ping considers calligraphy is the way of writing, that the features of traditional calligraphy are shown with the differences in the characters between light and heavy, thick and thin, the black and the white, all of which are dependent on how the brush is used.

Mr Zhao Yizhou’s opinion is that traditional ‘Chinese calligraphy’ is not equivalent to what western people call ‘calligraphy’. Although Chinese traditional calligraphy uses soft rice paper and a brush, the characters are very strong and powerful, which show the dialectical relationship between softness and hardness. By contrast in the West calligraphy refers to the art of writing in a wider sense. Traditional calligraphy places a lot of stress on how the brush is used, and emphasises the tradition and heritage. On the other hand with contemporary calligraphy the emphasis is on the creation of the work and the reflection, with the characters being used to convey the calligrapher’s feeling and having a strong visual effect.

Mr Zhao Yizhou made his own blend of ink, which he call ‘drunk ink’, by adding a particular type of red wine to traditional ink, and demonstrated his own style of calligraphy, in which the work would change with the wine’s volatility.

After the interesting dialogue, which lasted for more than an hour, both calligrapher presented their own opinions about the calligraphy, but both agreed that no matter what the differences between traditional and contemporary calligraphy are, they are both founded on the Chinese traditional characters and both show the beauty of those characters.