Scripts Styles of Chinese Calligraphy: An Overview of Xing Shu (行書) – the Running Script Style


What is the Running Script Style (Xing Shu / 行書)  in Chinese Calligraphy?

It was not until after the development of Zhuan Shu, Li Shu and Kai Shu that Calligraphers began to increase the contrast of Lift and Press, improvise with Stroke Order, and even link strokes together. The Running Script is not really a script in the sense that the former, regular Scripts are: there are not nearly as many rules or conventions. Running Script may more accurately be described as a Style, and each Calligrapher will have his or her own personal approach. The Running.

The Running Script is most often traced back to Wang Xi Zhi (王羲之/Wang Hsi Chih, 303-361 CE) and his writing of ‘The Preface of the Orchid Pavilion’. Although the original work is lost, it and others of Wang’s works were extensively copied in the Tang Dynasty. His expressive, personal style set the standard for Running Script as an expression of the confident, experienced Calligrapher. Although many strokes are simplified, combined or left out, those familiar with Kai Shu will still be able to clearly make out the characters. In some sense, Running Script is much like a short hand. It is not intended for clear legibility, but rather for aesthetic appreciation and dynamic, easy brushwork.

How to Identify the Running Script Style (Xing Shu / 行書)  in Chinese Calligraphy?

Works in Running Script, like those in Standard Script, maintain clear separation between each character. However, the size of each character and the space between characters can be quite different. There is also a tendency to expose the tip of brush at least once or twice in each character. Strokes often run together and there can be extensive use of Turning Brush techniques to link strokes together. This technique allows the calligrapher to clearly show the movement from stroke to stroke and can greatly enhance the visual interest of the piece. Still, unlike Cao Shu (草書/Ts’ao Shu) (Link: Cao Shu article), characters do not run together, and the basics of Kai Shu Stroke Order will be maintained even though Strokes may be simplified. One will also note that even identical characters will be written in slightly different ways each time they arise. Being able to execute the same character in different ways is truly the mark of an experienced calligrapher.

How to Execute the Running Script Style (Xing Shu / 行書)  in Chinese Calligraphy?

Xing Shu is usually executed with considerably more speed and freedom than Kai Shu. Each character should be done in a single breath. As the Style is based closely on Standard Script, it is best to have a good sense of proper Stroke Order, even when the Strokes are consolidated or simplified. You may think of this process of consolidation and simplification as the primary means of speeding up your writing: the brush can either press later or have an incomplete lift. The result of this is that some strokes will be alluded to, even if they are not completely executed, while others will link in to the next full stroke using a Turning Brush technique. Lines can even turn into dots in some cases (see Diagram).

There are some cases in which Running Script changes Stroke order. The speed of the style is such that vertical and horizontal movements can be achieved with greater fluidity. As you can see from the Diagram, verticals are sometimes executed in advance of crossing horizontals, as in the character ‘sheng’ (生). In order to get strong, expressive characters in this flowing script, the first or second stroke will often flow from the top to the bottom if the stroke. This will cause an emphasis on the left side of the character, with right elements being executed or simply alluded to with dots at the end.

As you can see, there aren’t a great number of hard and fast rules for writing in a Running Style. The best way to learn and get comfortable is first to get a good understanding of Regular Script, and then start copying works in Running Script.