Sunday, August 26, 2007

The History of Chinese Calligraphy-Han Dynasty 206 BC - 220 AD

The History of Chinese Calligraphy

Han Dynasty 206 BC - 220 AD

In 206 BC the entire Qin royal family was murdered, and soon afterward a new dynasty, Han, took over. After surviving a usurpation in 25 AD, Han moved its capital east to Luoyang from Xian, which divided it into two periods: Western and Eastern Han.

“Modern” Chinese writing is thought to have begun with Han. During this period clerical script which superseded seal script as the normal script for general documents went through a radical reform. By fabricating character elements, or radicals, and reorganizing characters by these radicals, the last pictographic vestige in small seal script was eliminated and the design of Chinese written language was finalized. A overwhelming majority of clerical characters have continued into modern times. To this day, the Chinese still refer to their characters as “han zi”, or Han characters, an echo of remote glory.

Official documents of Juyan, 102 BC - 30 AD
Ink on wood.
Stone Inscription of Lai Zihou, 16 AD

Cursive script. The rashness and the stylistic indetermination of developing clerical script invited a hastier style: cursive script, the third style of Chinese calligraphy. In its due course of development, which took a span of seven centuries, this style owned three sub-classes: draft, modern and wild cursive script.

Draft cursive script. Draft script is a fully cursive script, developed originally as a quick form of clerical script. In this style an individual character remains independent with its flat contour while the strokes run together and are frequently abbreviated. However, only standard, recognized abbreviations are permitted. The speed and the continuous flow with which draft script could be written were widely exploited for their expressive qualities.

Emperor Zhang (56 - 88 AD)
Thousand Characters
Cui Yuan (77 - 142)
Ink rubbing on rice paper

Stone steles. Stele was a monolith originally served as a sundial in front of ancestral temples during Zhou, and the hole on the stone block was for tying a sacrificial animal during a ritual ceremony. In Han, which adopted Zhou's patriarchal clan system, the use of the stele was expanded to record events, declare official merits, perpetuate the memory of individuals in their epitaph tablets, and preserve the canons of Confucian and Taoist texts. There are a long list of stone inscriptions survived from Eastern Han. Because of their sophisticated stroke technique and regular stroke placement, it has been accepted that these inscriptions marked the maturity of the clerical style.

Four common clerical styles: 1. flat, 2. square, 3. queer-looking, and 4. casual.

Ode to Stone Gate, 148 3
Yi Ying Stele, 153 1
Ritual Implements Stele, 156 1

Xu A-zhai Stele, 170 4
Eulogy of Hanging Pavilion of Fu, 172 3
Yang Huai Memorial, 173 4
Cai Yong (132 - 192)
Confucian Scriptures, 175 - 184 2
Cao Quan Stele, 185 1
Zhang Qian Stele, 186 2

Modern cursive script. Completely leaving out the brushwork of clerical script, this style was developed from draft cursive script for speed. One of specific qualities of this script is that its characters are drawn in a continuous flow without abrupt hitches or breaks. Thus, they are difficult to decipher.

Zhang Zhi ( - c. 192)

Semi-cursive script. More convenient and practical than clerical script and more legible than cursive script, semi-cursive script, the fourth style in Chinese calligraphy and the most popular Chinese script in everyday use today, is characterized by its refinement and lightness, especially in the curved strokes. This script has many different schools devoted to it, and each of them differs in style from others. Tradition has it that Liu Desheng, active around 168 AD, initiated this style. But none of his handwriting survived.

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