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Calligraphy in China Japan and Korea

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Chinese Calligraphy In Graphic Design

As an important Art form of East Asian Culture, Both Japan & Korea calligraphic tradition originated and developed from China. The local name for calligraphy is Shūfǎ 書法 in China, literally "the way/method/law of writing"; Shodo 書道 in Japan, literally "the way/principle of writing"; and Seoye (서예) 書藝 in Korea, literally "the skill/criterion of writing".

The calligraphy of Chinese characters is an important and appreciated aspect of East Asian culture. East Asian calligraphy is normally regarded as one of the "arts" (Chinese 藝術 pinyin: yìshù, Japanese 芸術 geijutsu) in the countries where it is practiced. But there is actually a debate as to whether East Asian calligraphy is a discipline or an art. Indeed, both may be true.

In Japan, it's said:" Baseball is  one hundred million people’s Sport, but calligraphy  is one hundred million people’s Art".

Yearly Japanese calligraphy contest

Calligraphy As a practice

As a discipline calligraphy is, at the basic level, a pursuit -書法 Chinese: shūfǎ, "the rules of writing Han characters" - focused on writing well. Students aim to obtain the writing characteristics of exemplary pieces of writing. Elementary school students practice calligraphy in this way, as do elders practicing temporary calligraphy, without aspiring to artistic creation.

Calligraphy As an art

Calligraphy is also considered an art - 藝術/艺术 Chinese: yìshù, a relatively recent word meaning "art", where works are appreciated more or only for their aesthetic qualities.

The English word "Calligraphy" refers to that which is "beautiful writing", thus including both aspects.

East Asian calligraphy is a form of calligraphy widely practiced and revered in the Sinosphere. This most often includes China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. The East Asian calligraphic tradition originated and developed from China.

There is a general standardization of the various styles of calligraphy in this tradition. East Asian calligraphy and ink and wash painting are closely related, since accomplished using similar tools and techniques.

Chinese painting and calligraphy distinguishes themselves from other culture's arts by their emphasis on motion, and their charge with dynamic life. According to Stanley-Baker : "Calligraphy is sheer life experienced through energy in motion that is registered as traces on silk or paper, with time and rhythm in shifting space its main ingredients". Calligraphy has also led to the development of many forms of art in East Asia, including seal carving, ornate paperweights, and ink stones.

Korean calligrapher 金膺显


Calligraphy Evaluation and appreciation

What is considered good calligraphy often varies depending on individual preferences. However, there are established traditional rules which cannot be violated. Violation of these rules will render a calligraphic work unable to be considered good calligraphy. Those who repeatedly violate these rules are not considered legitimate calligraphers.

Among these rules are:

The characters must be written correctly. A correctly written character is composed in a way that is accepted as correct by legitimate calligraphers. Calligraphic works often use variant Chinese characters, which are deemed correct or incorrect on a case-by-case basis, but in general, more popular variants are more likely to be correct. Correct characters are written in the traditional stroke order and not a modern standard (See Stroke Order per Polity).

Korean calligrapher 金膺显

The characters must be legible. As calligraphy is the method of writing well, a calligraphic work must be recognizable as script, and furthermore be easily legible to those familiar with the script style, although it may be illegible to those unfamiliar with the script style. For example, many people cannot read cursive, but a calligraphic work in cursive can still be considered good if those familiar with cursive can read it.

The characters must be concise. This is in contrast to Western calligraphy where flourishes are acceptable and often desirable. Good Chinese calligraphy must be unadorned script. It must also be in black ink unless there is a reason to write in other ink.

Chinese Calligraphy In Graphic Design

The characters must fit their context. All reputable calligraphers in China were well educated and well read. In addition to calligraphy, they were skilled in other areas, most likely painting, poetry, music, opera, martial arts, and chess. Therefore, their abundant education contributed to their calligraphy. A calligrapher practicing another calligrapher's characters would always know what the text means, when it was created, and in what circumstances. When they write, their characters' shape and weight agrees with the rhythm of the phrases, especially in less constrained styles such as semi-cursive and cursive. One who does not know the meaning of the characters they write, but vary their shape and weight on a whim, does not produce good calligraphy.

The characters must be aesthetically pleasing. Generally, characters that are written correctly, legibly, concisely, and in the correct context are also aesthetically pleasing to some degree. Characters that violate the above rules are often less aesthetically pleasing.

Chinese Calligraphy In Graphic Design

Japanese and Korean calligraphy

East Asian Calligraphy usually refers to Chinese character calligraphy. Japanese and Korean people developed specific sensibilities and styles of calligraphies, as well as applying to specific scripts.

Japanese calligraphy extends beyond Chinese (Han) characters to also include local scripts such as hiragana and katakana.

In the case of Korean calligraphy, the Hangeul and the existence of the circle required the creation of a new technique.

The existence of temporary calligraphy is also to be noted. This is the practice of water-only calligraphy on the floor which dries out within minutes. This practice is especially appreciated by the new generation of retired Chinese in public parks of China.

In the earlier time of Korean, only emperors & Nobles could learn & read Chinese character & learn Chinese calligraphy, they were using Chinese Character for their official script up until the 19th century.


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Last Updated on Wednesday, 11 May 2011 16:44