An artform. Chinese calligraphy was considered an uberskill in the old days, the Chinese Renaissance Man was supposed to be skilled in calligraphy, versed in poetry and paints a great landscape piece. During imperial examinations, handwriting was judged as an important factor, even the best essay would fail if it was written in a poor style. The way a man holds the brush is indicative of his qualities and personality.

Chinese calligraphy slowly developed in China, from its humble beginnings on the shells of innocent turtles to the way it is today. Back then, the Chinese script was blocky and pictorial, reflecting its pictogram roots. Today, this style, called zhuan shu, or the seal script, is still used, mainly for decorative purposes and of course, on official stamps and seals.

The main style of Chinese calligraphy today originated in the Qin Dynasty, when Qin Shihuanghi declared the official Chinese script to be li shu, or Official Script. The script was compacted and made more streamlined. The invention of silk paper and the brush really boosted calligraphy. The Chinese brush is made from bamboo and thin hairs, making it a flexible writing tool.

The rigidity of Chinese script is combined with the freehand style of the brush to create a unique style of Chinese calligraphy, one that emphacized the form of the Chinese script and yet allowed the artist to put his own personal style into it. Chinese script is normally fairly fixed, written in imaginary square blocks and with specific key structures. Calligraphy knocked down these barriers. Calligraphers often move their arms in a flowing motion. A later creation, the Running Script, or xing shu, is similar to cursive in English. However, there are still rules to calligraphy to prevent the deformation of Chinese characters, which is considered bad form.

The appreciation of Chinese calligraphy is strange to foreigners, because to them, it is just a mess of brushstrokes made with smelly ink. However, we Chinese are proud of our language, and calligraphy is a great way to express emotions and feelings. It can range from majestic and grand rigidity to a fluidic, watery style of freeform creation. Shops in China often have their signs done in expensive calligraphy, for it attracts business.

The art of writing, when taken to this level, is sometimes considered sacred. Scrolls written by famous scholars are often kept as good luck charms. If the person is famous enough, it is believed that the meaning of the character would be imbued into the artifact, giving the owner good luck in that aspect.

By the way, I tried this, and I suck completely at it. I'm not an artist.

This is not entirely correct. The writings on the turtle shells (oracle bones) were indeed blocky and pictorial, but not called zhuanshu.

Zhuanshu was developed under Qin Shihuangdi (with help from Li Si if I'm correct) and is easily recognised by the curved corners and overall 'round' look. This (quite radical) script reform done by the Qin took place about 1000 years after the oracle bones writings.

Because of the invention of paper early in the first century AD writing became more common. The seal script however was very time comsuming to use, so during the Han dynasty a new script was developed, called 'clerk script' (Kaishu).

Eventhough is has of course developed, kaishu has remained pretty much the same and is still used in today's caligraphy. Nowadays zhuanshu seems to be used for seals only.

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