Chinese calligraphy generally follows the five basic script types or styles. Calligraphy is in China what it is in the west- a way of writing the language using various techniques to produce a more elegant, aesthetically pleasing script. One of the main differences between Chinese calligraphy and that of the west is the ability for Chinese calligraphers to elevate the language into an art form all its own.
So much about the calligrapher, cadence of a poem or tone is revealed in the style of the calligraphy.
Characters are often written in ancient variations or simplifications that deviate from the modern standards used in Chinese. Modern variations or simplifications of characters, akin to Chinese simplified characters, are occasionally used, especially since some simplified forms derive from cursive script shapes in the first place.
There is a fluid continuum between the Regular, Semi-cursive, and Cursive scripts, so it is possible to write in "Semi-cursive-Regular" (行楷) as well as "Semi-cursive-Cursive" (行草).
The Regular Script (楷書; kǎishū), often called Standard Script, is one of the last major calligraphic styles to develop, emerging between the Chinese Han dynasty and Three Kingdoms period, gaining dominance in the Southern and Northern Dynasties, and maturing in the Tang Dynasty. It emerged from a neatly written, early period semi-cursive form of clerical script. As the name suggests, the Regular Script is "regular", with each of the strokes placed slowly and carefully, the brush lifted from the paper and all the strokes distinct from each other. The Regular Script is usually studied first to give students a feel for correct placement and balance, as well as to provide a proper base for the other, more flowing styles.
Semi- Cursive Script
The Semi-cursive Script (行書; xíngshū), also called Running Script, approximates normal handwriting in which strokes and, more rarely, characters are allowed to run into one another. In writing in the Semi-cursive Script, the brush leaves the paper less often than in the Regular Script. Characters appear less angular and rounder.
In general, an educated person in China or Japan can read characters written in the Semi-cursive Script with relative ease, but may have occasional difficulties with certain idiosyncratic shapes.
The Cursive Script (草書; cǎoshū), sometimes called Grass Script, is a fully cursive script, and a person who can read the Semi-cursive Script cannot be expected to read the Grass Script without training. Entire characters may be written without lifting the brush from the paper at all, and characters frequently flow into one another. Strokes are modified or eliminated completely to facilitate smooth writing and to create a beautiful, abstract appearance. Characters are highly rounded and soft in appearance, with a noticeable lack of angular lines.
The Cursive Script is the source of Japanese hiragana, as well as many modern simplified forms in Simplified Chinese characters and Japanese shinjitai.
The Clerical Script (隷書; lìshū), sometimes called Official, Draft or Scribal Script, is older than the above three scripts. In general, characters are often "flat" in appearance, being wider than they are tall. The strokes may appear curvy, and often start thin and end thick. Most noticeable is the dramatically flared tail of one dominant horizontal or downward-diagonal stroke, especially that to the lower right. This characteristic stroke has famously been called 'silkworm head and wild goose tail' (蠶頭雁尾; cántóu yànwěi) in Chinese due to its distinctive shape.
The archaic Clerical Script of the Chinese Warring States period to Qín and early Hàn Dynasties can often be difficult to read for a modern East Asian person, but the mature Clerical Script of the middle to late Hàn dynasty is generally legible. Modern works in the Clerical Script tend to use the mature, late Hàn style, and may also use modernized character structures, resulting in a form as transparent and legible as Regular (or standard) Script. The Clerical Script remains common as a typeface used for decorative purposes (for example, in displays), but it is not commonly written.
The Seal Script (篆書; zhuànshū), often called Small Seal Script, is the formal script of the Qín system of writing, the informal script of which was precursor to the Clerical Script. Seal script is the oldest style that continues to be widely practiced. Today, this ancient style of Chinese writing is used predominantly in seals, hence the English name. Although seals (name chops), which make a signature-like impression, are carved in wood, jade and other materials, the script itself was originally written with brush and ink on paper, just like all other scripts.
Most people today cannot read the seal script, so it is generally not used outside the fields of calligraphy and carved seals. However, because seals act like legal signatures in Chinese culture, and because vermilion seal impressions are a fundamental part of the presentation of works of art such as calligraphy and painting, seals and therefore seal script remain ubiquitous.
- Deng Sanmu 鄧散木, Shufa Xuexi Bidu 書法學習必讀. Hong Kong Taiping Book Department Publishing 香港太平書局出版: Hong Kong, 1978.
- Qiú Xīguī (裘錫圭), Chinese Writing, Early China Special Monograph Series No. 4. Berkeley: The Society for the Study of Early China and the Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley, 2000. ISBN 1-55729-071-7.
The Arts :: Calligraphy
Artform | Styles | Tools | Study | Stroke Order | Noted Calligraphers