Char­ac­ter of art

Seals and their an­cient lan­guage are a fa­vorite of cal­lig­ra­pher Li Jian­jun, re­ports

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - ART SPECIAL - ZHAO RUIXUE in Ji­nan zhaoruixue@chi­nadaily.com.cn

A full set of cal­lig­ra­phy im­ple­ments — writ­ing brush, ink stone and rice pa­per — is placed neatly in Li Jian­jun’s lug­gage when­ever sets out on his trav­els.

Li said no mat­ter where he goes, he al­ways car­ries the tools of his art with him.

Now deputy di­rec­tor of the Shan­dong Pro­vin­cial Pub­lic­ity Depart­ment, Li said cal­lig­ra­phy has long been a cen­tral part of his life.

“Writ­ing cal­lig­ra­phy can pu­rify the heart,” he said. “And it is a way to pro­mote tra­di­tional Chi­nese cul­ture to the world.”

Born in 1957, Li was a big fan of cal­lig­ra­phy since he was a child.

He prac­ticed cal­lig­ra­phy by him­self and read hun­dreds of re­lated books over the past 40 years. He was al­ready 50 years old when he formed his own style com­bin­ing tra­di­tional el­e­ments and his in­di­vid­ual char­ac­ter.

He is par­tic­u­larly fas­ci­nated with seal char­ac­ters, a type of Chi­nese cal­lig­ra­phy that is ex­tremely hard to learn.

He said though seal script is heavy, it is el­e­gant and has an en­ergy flow­ing in it.

Seal char­ac­ters were first used in the Qin Dy­nasty (221 -206 BC), so they are very dif­fer­ent from the Chi­nese char­ac­ters in use today.

“Seal char­ac­ters are thou­sands of years old, so learn­ing them is al­most like learn­ing an­other lan­guage,” Li said.

To prac­tice the art, Li searches through ev­ery sin­gle piece of fa­mous seal script in Chi­nese his­tory and stud­ies it care­fully.

“I have writ­ten more than 10,000 seal char­ac­ters in to­tal,” Li said.

The an­cient scripts Li has learned from range from the Western Zhou Dy­nasty ( c. 11th cen­tury- 771 BC) and Eastern Zhou Dy­nasty ( 770 -256 BC) to the Ming Dy­nasty (1368-1644) and Qing Dy­nasty (1644-1911), in­clud­ing copies of in­scrip­tions from an­cient ar­ti­facts such as the Duke Mao Tri­pod, a bronze ket­tle on three legs.

Li also meets with schol­ars and pro­fes­sors at the uni­ver­si­ties to learn more about the an­cient char­ac­ters, but also stud­ies other cal­lig­ra­phy styles to have a broader view of the art.

“For few hun­dred times, I have prac­ticed the piece Lant­ingji Xu (pref­ace to a col­lec­tion of po­ems) writ­ten by Wang Xizhi ( 303- 361), one of the most well-known cal­lig­ra­phers in Chi­nese art his­tory,” Li said.

Li con­tin­ues to prac­tice seal char­ac­ters for at least cou­ple hours ev­ery day even though he is very busy with his work.

On week­ends and hol­i­days, Li stays at home most of the time and prac­tices for a dozen hours without a break.

The ef­fort has been paid back. His works are now rec­og­nized by cal­lig­ra­phers and col­lec­tors from all over the world.

Two of his cal­lig­ra­phy pieces are in the col­lec­tion of the Shan­dong Mu­seum and some have been ex­hib­ited in Ja­pan and South Korea.

In ad­di­tion, more than a hun­dred of his works have been given to govern­ment of­fi­cials and artists from the United States, Italy, Switzer­land, Greece, South Korea and Ja­pan.

For­mer Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Fukuda Ya­suo awarded Li a prize for Con­fu­cius Cal­lig­ra­phy to honor his ef­fort to pro­mote the great teacher’s thought through cal­lig­ra­phy.

Most con­tent of Li’s work is the wis­dom from Chi­nese clas­sics in­clud­ing the Analects of Con­fu­cius and the I Ching.

With their theme of Con­fu­cius ideas, Li’s works have won great pop­u­lar­ity in East Asia.

Dur­ing his visit to South Korea in 2011, the gov­er­nor of North Je­olla prov­ince showed his ap­pre­ci­a­tion and asked Li to write some of Con­fu­cius’ wis­dom to re­flect the friend­ship be­tween the two coun­tries.

And when Li vis­ited Ja­pan with his col­leagues, a Ja­panese as­sem­bly­man asked him write some char­ac­ters to present to a Ja­panese school as a gift.

Li wrote five char­ac­ters that he said best ex­press Con­fu­cian phi­los­o­phy — benev­o­lence, right­eous­ness, cour­tesy, wis­dom and trust.

“Cal­lig­ra­phy is a trea­sure in Chi­nese cul­ture,” he said.

In ad­di­tion, Li also cre­ates his own ver­sions of Chi­nese clas­sics such as A Tale of the Foun­tain of the Peach Blos­som Spring by Tao Yuan­ming and State­ment on a Mil­i­tary Cam­paign by Zhuge Liang.

Writ­ing cal­lig­ra­phy can pu­rify the heart and it is a way to pro­mote tra­di­tional Chi­nese cul­ture to the world.” LI JIAN­JUN

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