The Role of Calligraphy Artworks for Chinese Holidays and Special Events
Just as in Western cultures, part of special events and holidays is the exchange of pleasantries. These traditional sayings are often quite short. One thing you’ll find when beginning to study Chinese culture is a certain tendency to try and reduce common experiences and sentiments to the smallest number of characters possible. The number of four character sayings in Chinese is quite remarkable. For the aspiring calligrapher, this makes it easy to express your wishes in a traditional way when giving people cards, scrolls or framed works to commemorate specific events.
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.
Since its first arrival in China in the Han, Buddhism has put down deep roots in Chinese society. Although Buddhism did not originate in China, to say that it is a ‘foreign’ religion is to disregard the majority of Chinese history, in which Buddhism played a major role. Moreover, the Buddhism that evolved in China is different from any other iteration of the religion, and must be considered in its cultural and societal context, according to its own characteristics. In general, Chinese Buddhism has emphasized meditation and monasticism above scripture and doctrine: the pursuit of enlightenment is achieved through casting aside the ‘illusions’ of text and even the physical sensations of the world.
The Role of Chinese Seals for Authorization and Display of Privilege
If you have ever seen a work of Chinese art, you have probably noticed small, and sometimes large, red emblems interspersed through the work. These emblems may sometimes appear disruptive, but they are in fact integral to Chinese ideas of authorship and authentication. No work of Chinese calligraphy or painting is complete without the application of the author’s seal.
In the years following the Cultural Revolution, Chinese calligraphy has enjoyed a significant resurgence, albeit as an almost unrecognizably modern artistic mode. Within China and abroad, artists have taken up the earlier Modern ideas of casting aside the calcified, often stifling rigidity of tradition in an attempt to express a modern Chinese aesthetic. However, this movement has been not toward a popularization of calligraphy, not toward making it easily accessible to the Chinese population for political purposes, but toward making it relevant to a globalized artistic culture. The major calligraphers of the last fifty years, if they have not been simply adhering to the time-honoured traditions, have been actively engaging with Western aesthetics and dealing directly with issues of material, practice and expression. In sum, the boundaries of calligraphy have expanded far beyond any easy classification as characters become more and more obscured and ‘calligraphic’ works become more tightly interwoven with what might just as easily be called ‘abstract painting’.