The writing of Chinese characters has been developed into a special high-level art. Calligraphy is the quintessence of Chinese culture. Chinese calligraphy has flourished for several thousand years. Calligraphy is regarded by many Chinese as their supreme artistic achievement and a man's writing is a clue to his temperament, his moral worth and his learning. It is one of the highest forms of Chinese art, serving the purpose of conveying thoughts while also showcasing abstract beauty of lines. Calligraphy is one of the four basic skills and disciplines of the Chinese literati, together with painting (hua), stringed musical instruments (qin) and board games (qi). However, rhythm, lines, and structure are more perfectly embodied in calligraphy than in the other three skills.

History and Development

Chinese calligraphy has a long history dated to 4000 years ago. Chinese calligraphy of each period in Chinese history had its particular forms and styles. One could say that from the moment the written language first appeared in China, the pursuit of the artistry that would make it beautiful began. In general, Chinese calligraphy can be divided into five major script forms: seal, clerical, standard, semi cursive and cursive.

The oldest language discovered now is Jia Gu Wen. But Jia Gu Wen is not a matures written language. It is inscription on animal bones and tortoise shells. Jia Gu Wen is a script used mainly in Shang dynasty (1600-1046 B.C.). It's still used in West Zhou dynasty (1046-771 B.C.) although Da Zhuan (big seal) is also used at that time. Compared to the Oracle Style, Da Zhuan style is rounded at the corners and show a mixture of thick and thin strokes.

Qin Shi Huang unified the old China in 221 B.C. The official language used in Qin dynasty is Xiao Zhuan (small seal). It is similar to the Great Seal Style. However, the lines are all of an even thickness and the characters are very elongated so that they might be imagined to fit neatly into a vertical rectangle. Calligraphy had already been an art at that time. Calligraphy works of Qin dynasty are always high evaluated by calligraphers in history.

Toward the end of the Qin Dynasty and the beginning of the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-220 A.D.), except for formal and ritual purposes, the small seal script went out of fashion, and a new script form known as “clerical script” evolved. This script was found on official documents such as government records of taxes, census records, deeds, etc. The sudden flowering of calligraphy at the end of the Han Dynasty as an art form was partly due to the development of the "cursive script", which freed the scholar from the formal angularity of the typical Han clerical script and enabled him to express himself in a style more personal, more charged with energy and grace, than any other writing that man has devised. The cursive script underwent a period of stylistic experimentation. Strange forms emerged and the brush forces were liberated. This led to the development of "mad or crazy cursive writing". The most celebrated calligrapher of cursive writing. The most famous calligrapher of this kind at that time was Huai Su and Zhang Xu.

The regular script preserved the clerical script's precision and modulation of line width but was less formal and heavy in appearance. It emerged between the Chinese Han Dynasty and Three Kingdoms period, gaining dominance in the Southern and Northern Dynasties, and maturing in the Tang Dynasty. "Semi cursive script" is a mix of regular and cursive styles. It is believed that the great calligrapher Wang Xizhi (303-379) of the Eastern Jin Dynasty developed. Here's a story about Wang Xizhi. It is recorded that when a carpenter was asked to engrave the wooden stele where there were characters written by Wang Xizhi, he found the ink had filtered into the wood piece 'three fen' deep (3.3cm or 1.3 inch)! This demonstrated the magnitude of his force and people admired him all the more because of it.

Broadly speaking, these are the script forms that have been practiced in China to the present day. After the six Dynasties period (222-589), the standard and semi cursive scripts proved to be the most commonly used in practical, everyday affairs. Nevertheless, calligraphers, depending on the circumstances and their own particular preferences, would write in any of these five script forms.

Celebrated Calligraphers
Wei Shuo (272-349), commonly addressed just as Lady Wei, was a calligrapher of Eastern Jin, who established consequential rules about the regular script. Her famous disciple was Wang Xizhi

Wang Xizhi (301-361), was a Chinese calligrapher, traditionally referred to as the Sage of Calligraphy. He learned the art of calligraphy from Wei Shuo. He excelled in every script but particularly in the semi-cursive script. His most famous work is the Preface to the Poems Composed at the Orchid Pavilion.

Wang Xianzhi (344-386), was a famous Chinese calligrapher of the Eastern Jin. He was the seventh and youngest son of the famed Wang Xizhi. Amongst his innovations is the one-stroke cursive script, which blends all characters in the writing in a single stroke.

Huai Su (737-799), was a Buddhist monk and calligrapher of the Tang Dynasty, famous for his cursive calligraphy.

Zhang Xu (8th century) was a Chinese calligrapher of the Tang Dynasty, also famous for his cursive calligraphy. He is often paired with the younger Huai Su as the two greatest cursive calligraphers of the Tang Dynasty. The duo is affectionately referred to as "the crazy Zhang and the drunken Su".

Yan Zhenqing (709-785), was a leading Chinese calligrapher and a loyal governor of the Tang Dynasty. His calligraphy style, Yan, is the textbook-style that every calligraphy lover has to imitate today.

Liu Gongquan (778-865), was a Chinese calligrapher who stood with Yan Zhenqing as the two great masters of late Tang calligraphy. Like Yan an expert of the regular script, Liu's works were imitated for centuries after and he is often referred in unison with his famed predecessor as "Yan-Liu".

Calligraphy Set ---Four Treasures of the Study
The paper, ink, brush, and ink stone are essential implements of Chinese calligraphy. They are known together as the Four Treasures of the Study.

Writing Brush

The Chinese writing brush is made of goat's hair, rabbit hair or the tail hairs of weasel. Such a brush is soft and has good elasticity. Soaked in ink, it has what is known as "capillarity", which combined with the strong ink permeability of a special Chinese paper, making the strokes in a calligraphic work more vivid, varied and pretty. The brush handle can be made of either bamboo, wood, lacquer or porcelain; precious materials, such as a mother-of-pearl inlay, ivory and jade, can also be used. The earliest writing brush that has been found is a relic of the Warring States Period (476 BC – 221 BC). The brushes from Anhui, Jiangsu, Jiangxi and Henan provinces are the most famous in the country.

Ink Stick

The ink stick is made of the soot of Tung oil, coal or pine wood, animal glue and perfume. It is viscous but does not coagulate in lumps. The use of ink can be traced back to the New Stone Age, some 5,000-7,000 years ago. Pottery found in the New Stone Age Banpo Village, in Xi'an, shows traces of charcoal ink. Before the Five Dynasties (907-960) the ink-producing center was located in the North; then, it reached the South. The most celebrated southern ink stick was Hui-mo, which was produced in Huizhou of today's Anhui Province.


Paper, the compass, gunpowder and printing are the four great inventions of China. It is said that paper was invented by Cai Lun of the Eastern Han Dynasty. The paper mostly used by calligraphers and painters is Xuan paper from Xuancheng and Jiangxian in Anhui Province. This type of paper is made of bark of a kind of tree and rice straw.

Ink Slab

Ink slab appeared in the third or fourth century, after the use of ink balls and ink sticks. There are many ink slabs that date back to the third century, some demonstrating excellent workmanship. There are old ink slabs shaped like a turtle or stringed instrument. Today, many people collect and study ancient ink slabs. Most ink slabs are made of stone, but there is also porcelain, pottery, bronze and iron ink slabs. Famous stone ink slabs include the Lu ink slab from Shandong Province, Duan ink slab from Guangdong Province, She ink slab from Anhui Province and Tao ink slab from Gansu Province.