Political Influence of Chinese Calligraphy – How Chinese Calligraphic Tradition Defines China as a Written Culture


What is China?: Foreign Rule and the Sinicization Paradigm

At various times throughout history, China has been conquered and subsequently rules by groups not usually considered ‘Chinese’. In the Yuan and Qing dynasties, for instance, China was governed by the Mongols and Manchu people respectively. Even at the time of Song dynasty, a time of great progress and advancement in Chinese history, the north of present-day China was ruled by the Jurchen who proclaimed their Liao Dynasty to be a direct descendant of the Tang dynasty. Nevertheless, each of these ‘foreign’ regimes in some way took up the mantle of dynastic rule, conforming to and propagating a very specific set of politico-social standards. That is, each of them eventually considered themselves, or at least claimed, to be governing according to standards of rule deeply rooted in the Chinese culture since at least the Warring States period. What, then, is China if it is not simply a region or an ethnicity? When we speak of Chinese culture, what is the status of these periods that, despite being ruled by non-ethnic Chinese, nevertheless took part in continuing the Chinese cultural outlook.

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Political Influence of Chinese Calligraphy – Communism and Modernism: Challenges to the Elite Aesthetic in Calligraphy and the Chinese Arts


How Revolution Redefined Chinese Writing and Calligraphy

With the fall of the Qing dynasty, and the emergence of Communism in China, the writing system of China fell under intense scrutiny. Lu Xun (魯迅/Lu Hsün), an influential author, intellectual and revolutionary advocate, placed writing, and calligraphy specifically, at the center of his criticism of an ailing and increasingly exploitative Chinese social structure. Lu was not remiss in his charge that writing was a tool that limited access to social discourse. The phenomenal difficulty of learning to write characters had long allowed the literate class to subjugate the illiterate masses in ways that the victims were totally unable to understand or challenge. In addition, the artistic tradition of calligraphy only aggravated this situation: Cursive script is often illegible even to the highly educated.

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