a tour of Japan.
An exhibition of writing that goes back 3,000 years will tour Japan through next year, Wang Kaihao reports.
Apanoramic history of Chinese writing is heading eastward. On Oct 18, the exhibition Chinese Characters: A Legacy and Marvel Perfected Over Three Millennia will begin its one-year tour of Japan. The show includes 118 sets of cultural relics on the development and aesthetics of written Chinese.
These treasures — 20 percent are classified among China’s top-level cultural relics — cover a wide spectrum. They include inscriptions on oracle bones dating back to the Shang Dynasty (16th11th century BC), epigraphs on bronze wares, stone rubbings and calligraphy masterpieces.
The exhibits are on loan from 17 Chinese museums in six provinces and municipalities. The display is to be first shown at Tokyo Fuji Art Museum, and will later move to Kyoto, Niigata, Miyagi and Gunma in a tour that continues through September 2017.
The exhibition is designed in three parts: origins of Chinese characters, calligraphy works by renowned artists and their usage in people’s daily lives, and the influence of Chinese characters on neighboring countries.
“Chinese characters comprise a unique writing system in the world, whose development has remained uninterrupted for 3,000 years,” says Wang Jun, director of Art Exhibition China, the national administration in charge of exchange exhibitions between China and other countries.
“That enables ordinary Chinese people, even without professional training, to recognize many characters from thousands years ago, which is a miracle.”
He says many milestones in the development of Chinese characters are to be juxtaposed in the exhibition. A 2,300-year-old bronzeware inscribed with the earliest Chinese duty-free certificate ever found, Terracotta Warriors carved with words and pieces by top 13th-century calligraphy artists such as Zhao Mengfu as well as by Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) emperors are among the highlights.
A 7th-century gold slip with 63 characters is probably one of the most important exhibits. It was used for worship by Wu Zetian (AD 624-705), the only female ruler in imperial China, and is the only cultural relic ever found that belongs to the legendary queen. The slip was once exhibited in Japan a decade ago.
Why kick off the display in Japan? Hu Sishe, deputy director of the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, a co-organizer of the event, points out that Chinese characters are witness to the crossborder communication between China and Japan throughout history.
“The Chinese character is a common cultural foundation for East Asian countries,” Hu says. “Chinese and Japanese are the only two languages that still use the writing system. Consequently, developing studies of Chinese characters is a way to improve bilateral cultural exchanges.”
For Japanese Sinologist Tetsuji Atsuji, a professor at Kyoto University, the exhibition has significance in his country.
“There are many cultural relic exhibitions in Japan showing the essence of Chinese culture,” he says. “But none has ever particularly focused on Chinese characters, which give great impetus to the development of literature, science and the fine arts in Japan.”
“After World War II, there was a wave among many Asian countries to abandon Chinese characters — which were considered to be impediments to circulating information in a computer era,” the professor continues.
He says the status of Chinese characters in Japan will continue to be endangered if people cannot recognize them with a historical point of view. “Development of our future needs to rely on inheritance of traditions.”
He notes that a museum dedicated to Chinese characters opened in Kyoto in June and attracted 1,000 daily visitors on average through the summer.
“Japanese people use Chinese characters every day, and thus have huge curiosity about them due to their abundant connotations and relevant interesting anecdotes. Nevertheless, the public’s capacity for appraising characters on cultural relics is lacking,” Atsuji says.
“It’s rare to combine so many precious items together,” says Wang from Art Exhibition China, “so we are also considering the possibility of holding the exhibition around China after it returns from Japan.”
Staff members from Art Exhibition China pack the treasures in Beijing for the upcoming show ChineseCharacters:ALegacyandMarvelPerfectedOverThreeMillennia in Japan. The exhibits include Terracotta Warriors carved with words and a 7th-century gold slip with 63 characters.