Brush­ing up on Chi­nese cul­ture

Par­ents are dis­cov­er­ing the ben­e­fits of get­ting their kids to learn cal­lig­ra­phy.

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - Con­tact the writer at dengzhangyu@chi­ Deng Zhangyu re­ports.

Dressed in tra­di­tional Chi­nese dress, called hanfu, with a long plait hang­ing down her back, 9-year-old Zhang Linxi in­tro­duced her art­works — two cal­ligra­phies and two ink paint­ings of birds and flow­ers — to those who stopped by her works dur­ing an ex­hi­bi­tion in Bei­jing’s 798 Art Dis­trict in June.

The three-day show fea­tured works by about 360 cal­lig­ra­phy and ink paint­ing lovers, many of whom were chil­dren aged be­tween 5 and 10.

Linxi, a 4 th-grade pri­mary stu­dent, has been study­ing cal­lig­ra­phy for two years. She has a prac­tice room at home, with ink brushes, ink stones and seals bought by her fa­ther from fancy stores.

“We en­cour­age her to learn cal­lig­ra­phy. It’s a good way to learn about our cul­ture,” says her mother. “It helps her gain wis­dom and fos­ters iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with Chi­nese cul­ture.”

“Most par­ents, who can af­ford it, ap­pre­ci­ate art ed­u­ca­tion, and they re­gard cal­lig­ra­phy as a gate­way to tra­di­tional Chi­nese cul­ture,” says Li Xiaoya, CEO of Bei­jing-based Hanx­i­ang, a fran­chised cal­lig­ra­phy train­ing school, who or­ga­nized the 798 ex­hi­bi­tion.

Learn­ing cal­lig­ra­phy also means learn­ing clas­si­cal po­ems be­cause the writ­ten scripts are ex­cerpts from po­etry from the Tang (618-907) and Song (960-1279) dy­nas­ties. Cal­lig­ra­phy stu­dents also have to learn tra­di­tional seal­mak­ing skills since each piece of cal­lig­ra­phy has a name printed with a seal.

“It’s more than just cal­lig­ra­phy. It’s about Chi­nese his­tory and cul­ture as well,” Li says.

The pop­u­lar­ity of cal­lig­ra­phy has grown rapidly with the cen­tral gov­ern­ment’s pro­mo­tion of tra­di­tional Chi­nese cul­ture, and Hanx­i­ang has ex­panded rapidly. In 2015, Li had eight cal­lig­ra­phy train­ing schools in China. Now the num­ber has nearly tripled.

Li re­calls that in 2009 when she opened her first cal­lig­ra­phy train­ing school with sev­eral teach­ers, many of her friends tried to ad­vise her against it as cal­lig­ra­phy was such a “marginal­ized sub­ject”. But the once un­pop­u­lar sub­ject is now hot.

Be­sides let­ting their chil­dren learn his­tory and cul­ture, many also hope to help build their chil­dren’s per­son­al­i­ties, so they become more fo­cused and per­sis­tent.

Fu Yankai, a 9-year-old boy who started learn­ing cal­lig­ra­phy two years ago, sat qui­etly in the noisy ex­hi­bi­tion room in the 798 Art Dis­trict where his cal­lig­ra­phy was dis­played, tak­ing his time to care­fully write a scroll. His mother says he is quite dif­fer­ent from the naughty boy he used to be.

“He can now sit down for hours con­cen­trat­ing on one thing,” says his mother.

Yankai took part in a cul­ture tour for chil­dren ear­lier this year to ex­plore an an­cient city, Suzhou of Jiangsu prov­ince, with tra­di­tional Chi­nese gar­dens and ar­chi­tec­ture where many well-known po­ets and cal­lig­ra­phers of the past wrote their po­ems.

The kids played a game in which they let cups float down a stream and when the cup stopped, the per­son next to it on the bank had to sing a song or re­cite an an­cient poem. It is a game the an­cient po­ets were fond of play­ing.

Such kind of cul­ture tours have in­creased Yankai’s pas­sion for both cal­lig­ra­phy and Chi­nese cul­ture, says his mother.

“We’re Chi­nese; our chil­dren must un­der­stand our cul­ture,” she says.

Li’s train­ing schools also pro­vide lots of cul­ture tours. For in­stance, they pro­vide tours to ex­plore how Chi­nese porce­lain wares are made and how to write and paint on them.

They are or­ga­niz­ing a tour to Dun­huang in North­west China’s Gansu prov­ince to ap­pre­ci­ate the mu­rals in the caves that were painted thou­sands of years ago.

Such kinds of ac­tiv­i­ties are pop­u­lar and sell out quickly, Li says.

Song Weiyuan, a cal­lig­ra­pher and a long-time ed­u­ca­tor and scholar, says writ­ing cal­lig­ra­phy may seem like a “use­less thing” which many of the chil­dren may never write when they grow up, but it’s still im­por­tant for them to learn it.

“Cal­lig­ra­phy rep­re­sents the high­est level of Chi­nese art, since it is an art that has lasted for thou­sands of years. And it’s a con­tin­u­ous record of how the Chi­nese char­ac­ters change and how peo­ple write them,” adds Song.


Chil­dren learn to put their hearts on Chi­nese char­ac­ters while writ­ing tra­di­tional cal­lig­ra­phy with ink and brushes (top), ap­pre­ci­at­ing veter­ans’ cal­lig­ra­phy art in ex­hi­bi­tions (mid­dle) and stu­dents make copy­book rub­bings on in­scrip­tions us­ing pa­per and inked pads (above).

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