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An introduction to Chinese calligraphy

导言 Introduction


I started taking notes on calligraphy (书法 or 书画) for three reasons. Firstly, I enrolled in a calligraphy class at the South Coast Chinese Cultural Association (南海中华文化协会, in California. The class was entirely in Chinese and I needed to take notes on some of the special vocabulary relating to calligraphy use in the class. Thanks to my teacher Chen Rong. Secondly, I now have only very seldom occasion to write characters out by hand. I use a computer keyboard almost exclusively for writing so that I am not remembering how the strokes go together to form characters. I hope that calligraphy will help me to remember better. Thirdly, I wanted to have a deeper understanding of Chinese writing for use of fonts and Calligraphy on my own web site. I hope that these notes will be able to help other people in similar aims and circumstances.

When you start learning calligraphy you will most likely start with 楷书 regular script. Other styles to learn with further study are 草书 cursive script,大篆 great seal script,小篆 small seal script,行书 semi-cursive script,隶书 clerical script,and 甲骨文 oracle bone script.

The most common style of regular script for beginners to learn is 颜体 Yan style. This is a style after the well known Tang calligrapher 颜真卿 Yan Zhenqing (709–785) that is often followed in many introductory calligraphy classes and texts. For more on the life and works of Yan Zhenqing see the book Yan Qin Ceremony Inscription [ZHAN]. The other three calligraphics styles (书体)from the 楷书四大家 four great masters of regular script are 欧体 Ou style after 欧阳询 Ouyang Xun, 柳体 Liu style after 柳公权 Liu Gongquan, and 赵体 Zhao style after 赵孟頫 Zhao Mengfu. For more on Ouyang Xun see the book Ouyang Xun, Introduction to Regular Script [SHI1]. When starting calligraphy is best to stick with one style until you are at least familiar with the fundamental strokes for the style until you try learning other styles.

Yan Zhenqing was a senior court official who passed the imperial examinations at the time of Emperor Xuanzong. Because of a scandal in the government he was demoted to the governor of an ordinary province. In the An Lushan rebellion he joined with his cousin to Yan Gaoqing, raising an army to quell a disturbance. Seventeen neighboring districts responded to his rally. However, in the process he allied himself with them. When he returned to the capital afterwards all the high officials and royals, including Yan Zhenqing, were sent out to unimportant, outlying districts. Afterwards, he was commonly called 颜鲁公 Yan Lugong or 颜平原 Yan Pingyuan. Because he had conflicts, while acting in his official position, with powerful officials on a number of occasions he suffered harm.

At the time of 德宗 Emperor De Zong, during the 李希烈 Li Xilie armed rebellion, prime minister 卢杞 Lu Qi remembered his grudge against Yan Zhenqing and dispatched him to a rebel area. Yan Zhenqing loyally obeyed the order but in the end he was murdered there.

Glossary and Other Vocabulary