East Asian Calligraphy

 

The art of calligraphy is widely practiced and revered in the East Asian civilizations that use or used Chinese characters. These include China, Japan, Korea, and to a lesser extent, Vietnam. In addition to being an artform in its own right, calligraphy has also influenced ink and wash painting, which is accomplished using similar tools and techniques. The East Asian tradition of calligraphy originated and developed from China, specifically the ink and brush writing of Chinese characters. There is a general standardization of the various styles of calligraphy in the East Asian tradition. Calligraphy has also led to the development of many other forms of art in East Asia, including seal carving, ornate paperweights, and inkstones.

Styles

Main styles of Chinese character calligraphy

English name

Chinese (trad. Hanzi);
Japanese
(Kanji);
Korean
(Hanja)>;
Vietnamese
(Hn tự)

Chinese (Hanzi - simplified)

Chinese, Mandarin (Pinyin)

Japanese (Hepburn Romaji)

Korean (Hangul)

Korean (Revised Romanization)

Vietnamese (Quốc ngữ)

Seal script
(Small seal)

篆書

Zhunshū

Tensho

전서

Jeonseo

Triện thư

Clerical script (Official script)

隸書
(Jpn:
隷書)

Lshū

Reisho

예서

Yeseo

Lệ thư

Semi-cursive script
(Running script)

行書

Xngshū

Gyōsho

행서

Haengseo

Hnh thư

Cursive script (Grass script)

草書

Cǎoshū

Sōsho

초서

Choseo

Thảo thư

Regular script (Standard script)

楷書

Kǎishū

Kaisho

해서

Haeseo

Khải thư

 

Seal

Clerical

Semi-cursive

Cursive

Regular

From the seal script was derived the clerical script; and from the clerical script were derived both the regular script and the cursive scripts.

Characters are often written in ancient variations or simplifications that deviate from the modern standards used in Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese or Korean. Modern variations or simplifications of characters, akin to Chinese Simplified characters or Japanese shinjitai, are occasionally used, especially since some simplified forms derive from cursive script shapes in the first place.

The Japanese syllabaries of katakana and hiragana are used in calligraphy; katakana were derived from regular script shapes and hiragana from characters in the cursive script. In Korea, the post-Korean War period saw the increased use of hangul, the Korean alphabet, in calligraphy.

 

 

 

Seal Script

The Seal Script (often called Small Seal Script) is the formal script of the Qin 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, Korean culture, Vietnamese culture and Japanese culture, and because vermillion 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.

 

Clerical Script

The Clerical Script (often simply termed lshū; and sometimes called Official, Draft or Scribal Script) developed from the Seal Script. In general, characters are often "flat" in appearance, being wider than they are tall. The strokes may appear curved and with variations in width. 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 cntu ynwěiin Chinese due to its distinctive shape.

The archaic Clerical Script of the Chinese Warring States period to Qin Dynasty and early Han Dynasty can often be difficult to read for a modern East Asian person, but the mature Clerical Script of the middle to late Han dynasty is generally legible. Modern works in the Clerical Script tend to use the mature, late Hn 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.

Semi-cursive Script

The Semi-cursive Script (also called Running Script, 行書) 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. The characters are also more bold and usually written in blue ink.

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.

 

Cursive Script

The Cursive Script (sometimes called Grass Script, 草書) 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.

Regular Script

The Regular Script (often called standard script or simply kǎishū) 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 also the most easily and widely recognized style, as it is the script to which children in East Asian countries and beginners of East Asian languages are first introduced. For learners of calligraphy, 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.

In the Regular Script samples to the right, the characters in the left column are in Traditional Chinese while those to the right are in Simplified Chinese.

Edomoji

There is also a large family of native Japanese calligraphic styles known as edomoji, characters created in the Edo period of Japanese history, such as sumōmoji (sumo letters) used to write sumō wrestling posters, kanteiryū, used for kabuki, higemoji, and so on. These styles are typically not taught in Japanese calligraphy schools.

Chinese and Korean people can read edomoji, but the style has a distinct Japanese feel to it. It is therefore commonly used in China and Korea to advertise Japanese restaurants.

Munjado

Munjado is a Korean decorative style of rendering Chinese characters in which brush strokes are replaced with representational paintings that provide commentary on the meaning. The characters thus rendered are traditionally those for the eight Confucian virtues of humility, honor, duty, propriety, trust, loyalty, brotherly love, and filial piety.

Kaō

The kaō is a stylized calligraphic signature. Many Japanese emperors, shogun, and even modern politicians develop their own kaō.

 

Go to Chinese Characters  -  Return to Kanji 101  -  Email to Shibui Swords