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The art of calligraphy

Aggiornamento: 19 feb 2021

Di Alessia Rezzano

Calligraphy is a real form of art and culture that not only occupies a relevant position in the field of fine arts, but is also part of the Oral and intangible heritage of humanity.

Before starting to talk about some elements and mechanisms that define calligraphy, here are some interesting premises and facts to keep in mind:

  1. There is no Chinese alphabet. Chinese writing is characterized by graphic units that define a sound, an idea and a concept.

  2. The correct term to indicate a graphic unit is character, not ideogram.

  3. There are approximately 56,000 characters and the literacy threshold is 2000 characters knowledge.

  4. Chinese writing is unique throughout China, although in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao it is used in its non-simplified form.

  5. The Chinese word used to define calligraphy is shūfǎ 书法, composed of shū 书 which means book, document and by extension, and fǎ 法 which means law, rule.

  6. Writing Chinese characters develops concentration, attention to detail, willpower, as well as helps relaxation of the mind and body.


Chinese writing boasts a millennia-long history that takes us back in time to the time of the Shang dynasty (around 1600 BC-1046 BC), during the Neolithic period.

The first findings date back to the oracular bones – animal bones and tortoise shells – engraved with divinatory texts. We’re talking about 甲骨文 (jiăgŭwén), the first example of Chinese writing consisting of objects, people or things.

Subsequently, the inscriptions also began to appear on bronze in a more standardized way, gradually abandoning the pictographic nature.

A key year in the history of Chinese writing is 1949, the year of foundation of the People’s Republic of China, as the government opted for a further simplification of the most common characters to promote literacy: some traditional characters were replaced by ideograms with more handwriting simple.

Main elements: traits and order

Writing a character is an art that requires a lot of practice and memory. The characters follow precise rules and are composed of a series of points and lines, defined strokes, of different shapes and thicknesses that are written in a specific order.

The character should ideally be placed inside a square and the balance of the size of the strokes, as well as the spacing between different characters are fundamental elements to give harmony and symmetry to the written text.

The main features are 8:

  1. The point

  2. The horizontal stroke – from left to right, usually has a slightly ascending trend.

  3. The vertical stroke – from top to bottom

  4. The descending to the left – thick in the initial part and thin in the final part.

  5. The descending to the right – thin in the initial part and thick, but pointed, in the final part.

  6. The ascending stroke – thick in the initial part and ends at the tip. Its inclination must be approximately 45 ° with respect to the rest of the figure.

  7. The hook – many variations and can be vertical, horizontal or curved, and has its main feature in the final part.

  8. The curved stroke – union of a horizontal and vertical section, obtained by performing the two sections in sequence without detaching the brush from the sheet. The section may have a dry or more rounded corner.

The rules of the order of the traits are:

  1. the horizontal stroke before the vertical one;

  2. the descending on the left before the descending on the right;

  3. the above component must be drawn before the lower one;

  4. the left component must be drawn before the right one;

  5. the external sections before the internal ones;

  6. the central section before the symmetrical side sections;

  7. the internal sections before closing the external element to the base;

  8. the main body before the central section that intersects it.

The 4 tools of the calligrapher

The objects used by calligraphers to exercise the art of Chinese writing are considered real treasures of Chinese culture. They are: the brush, the paper, the ink and the stone for the ink.

To conclude, it is important to remember how knowing a character does not only mean knowing how to recognize it, but also knowing how to write, pronounce and what it means.

If you want to test yourself and learn some characters, don’t miss the video on IGTV.

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