Chinese Calligraphy Artworks and Masters: Traditional Application of Calligraphy Artworks in Chinese Culture

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.

At New Years, the most common thing to hear is ‘Gong Xi Fa Cai’ (恭喜發財/Kung Hsi Fa T’sai). In translation, this means something like ‘wishing you good fortune’. At a wedding, a popular salutation for the bride and groom s ‘Bai Tou Dao Lao’ (白頭到老/Pai T’ou Tao Lao), which translates as ‘white heads grow old together.’ Writing these on a card you give to someone at such celebrations is a good way to express your hopeful wishes.

Calligraphy Artworks for Spring Couplets

During Chinese New Year, most families and businesses hang couplets to either side of their doors known as ‘chun lian’ (春聯/Ch’un Lian). These couplets are usually done in black ink on red paper. It is vitally important that each phrase contain the same number of characters. These phrases often relate to aspirations for the coming year, or simply celebrate the domestic family. For instance, ‘人興財旺平安宅 /福壽雙全家常貴’ (Ren Xing Cai Wang Ping An Zhai / Fu Shou Shuang Quan Jia Chang Gui / Jen Hsing T’sai Wang Ping An Chai / Fu Shou Shuang Ch’üan Chian Chang Kuei) roughly translates as “People have happiness, wealth and prosperity in a peaceful home/When fortune and longevity reside together, this is always to be valued”.

A much simpler example is ‘開工大吉/出入平安’ (Kai Gong Da Ji/Chu Ru Ping An) means “beginning work with great luck / depart and return peacefully.” Couplets like this will often be left hanging at the entrance for months after Chinese New Year

The Role Calligraphy Artworks in Chinese Poems

The literary tradition of China is astoundingly rich. For thousands of years, the Chinese language has been enriched by poetic verses. Pomes in Chinese are often quite short, and as a result can make for excellent calligraphic works that are accessible to the beginner. While the poems provided are well known, doing your own research to find verses you enjoy can only enrich your calligraphy practice.

The first poem, written by Li Bai (李白) in the Tang Dynasty, is very well-known in China. Its subject is nostalgia. The poem is as follows:

床前明月光,(Chuang Qian Ming Yue Guang)

疑是地上霜,(Yi Shi Di Shang Shuang)

舉頭望明月,(Ju Tou Wang Ming Yue)

低頭思故鄉。(Di Tou Si Gu Xiang)

In translation: “Bright Moonlight before the lip of the well, [I] think it is hoarfrost upon the ground. Lifting [my] head to gaze afar to the bright moon, [I] lower my head and think of my hometown”

Another poem about the moon was written in the Song dynasty by Su Shi (蘇軾):

人有悲歡離合, (Ren You Bei Huan Li He)

月有陰晴圓缺,(Yue You Yin Qing Yuan Que)

此事古難全。 (Ci Shi Gu Nan Quan)

但願人長久, (Dan Yuan Ren Chang Jiu)

千里共嬋娟。 (Qian Li Gong Chan Juan)

In translation: “People have separations and reunions, joys and sorrows. The moon is variously clouded, bright, full or waning; this never ceases to be difficult. I hope people always for a thousand miles see the same graceful beauty”. The last line likens the moon to a beautiful woman. It is encouraging insofar as it establishes that we all share an experience of the capriciousness of life.

Learning Chinese poetry and calligraphy together can be a great way to access the Chinese literary tradition. It never ceases to amaze just how much feeling can be packed into so few characters!