Script Styles of Chinese Calligraphy: Variants of the Standard Script Styles

Departures from the Norm

While Chinese writing has been well-defined and largely unified for millennia, almost every historical epoch has contained certain ways of writing that clearly fall outside the boundaries of what we might consider to be the ‘regular’ types of writing. Such esoteric modes may break merely with certain accepted modes of applying the ink to the paper, or they may break entirely with the accepted tradition of character formation. Here are some brief sketches of interesting ways that writing has diverged from the accepted standards.

What is the Flying White (飛白/Fei Bai) Script Style in Chinese Calligraphy?

Attributed to Cai Yong (蔡邕/ T’sai Yung, 132-192 CE), Flying White is not so much a script style as a brush technique. Often executed with a flat painting brush, any style or script may adopt a Flying White idiom. The flat brush is used to create bending ribbon-like strokes that appear to flow in a three-dimensional manner. Even if executed with a calligraphy brush, Flying White is typified by flowing brush-work and instances of clearly split tips: strokes have very little of the solidity that is so prevalent in the more traditional styles.

Flying White is an excellent example of the traditions of painting and calligraphy merging. Empress Wu Ze Tian (武則天/ Wu Tse Tien, 624-705 CE), for instance, used flying white to incorporate paintings of birds and calligraphic characters together into remarkable subtle and graceful artworks. Formally, such works look not unlike many other works in Kai Shu, but the irregularity of the ink tone lends the characters an ethereal, unearthly quality. Furthermore, some dots and strokes reveal themselves, on inspection, to be birds. Such esoteric works would likely be remembered and preserved only with imperial sponsorship

The Application of Script Styles on Talismans and Good-Luck Charms in Chinese Calligraphy and Culture

Ever since the Chinese first began writing, the power of the written word has been asserted as both a political and a religious or semi-religious fact. Attempting to order, assess and affect the world around us is part of why we all write. However, how does one communicate through writing with those forces or entities that escape our quotidian understanding and transcend our ability to communicate with words. For thousands of years, certain writing acts have attempted to address this problem: we group these together as ‘talismans’.

A Talisman, in the Chinese sense, is a text written with the sole purpose of directly affecting the physical word through the simple communicative power of words. However, these ‘words’ are most often not recognizable as any writing in the sense of having a clear relationship with any existing Chinese characters. They were often espoused as symbols that would allow the specialist to communicate with supernatural forces such as ghosts and demons to assist in the healing or protection of the living. Talismans have perhaps never enjoyed any direct sanction by the ruling elites of either the state or the more organized religions such as Taoism or Buddhism, yet their use continues to this day in local traditions. Likewise, they are not entirely incorporated (if they are at all) in what is usually thought of as “Chinese Calligraphy.” Nevertheless, they remain a fascinating aspect of the tradition of Chinese writing, and are beautiful artifacts in their own right.