Few nations in the world have calligraphy as a form of art. In China, calligraphy has a long history, and is popular among its people, and has maintained a close relationship with Chinese cultural development.
Calligraphy looks simple. It seems as if anyone that can write Chinese characters on Xuanzhi (a high quality rice paper made for traditional Chinese painting and calligraphy) with a writing brush can become a calligrapher. But that perception is not true. Calligraphy is a form of art that involves a great deal of theory and requires many skills so there are not many calligraphers that have reached the highest realm of calligraphy. Calligraphy is a constructive art.
The calligrapher creates his work with his handling of the ink and the writing brush. The black strokes and white space on the paper create a sense of beauty. For calligraphers, the writing brush is the extension of their fingers the rhythm and strength of their writings are al controlled by their moods, and their calligraphy works are expressions of their sensibilities.
Calligraphy is an expressive art. In a work of calligraphy, we can see the character, education level and experience of the calligrapher. Calligraphy is a practical art form. It can be used to write inscriptions on paper or inscribe wooden plaques or stone tablets. Its many attributes show us that calligraphy is a comprehensive art, expressing the subjective feeling of the writers.
Calligraphy manifests the basic characteristics of al Chinese arts. In Western fine arts, architecture and sculpture are the basis of the other formative, or visual, arts. In China, however, calligraphy and painting are leaders of the other art forms. When calligraphy and painting are mentioned together, calligraphy always comes before painting, although calligraphy is closely associated with traditional Chinese painting. The theories about handling brush and ink are similar in calligraphy writing and traditional Chinese picture drawing. Ancient Chinese sculpture was also influenced by calligraphy in that its defining characteristic lay in the composition of lines, and its decorative function derived from the Zhuan (seal characters) and Li (official characters) scripts in Chinese calligraphy. Chinese architecture adheres to the calligraphic rules of symmetry and balance, and the design of Chinese gardens, pavilions and temples all reflect the structural rules and rhythms of calligraphy. The development of Chinese handicrafts and folk arts, too, has been influenced by calligraphy to some extent. Thus we can see that calligraphy is the soul of Chinese fine arts.
Formative arts are composed of visible factors. The smallest visible units are dots, and moving dots form lines. Calligraphy is an organic composition of dots and lines. The moving lines form a surface, the organic composition of dots, lines and surf aces form the painting. The moving surfaces form the body, the basic composition of sculpture, architecture and some other art forms.
The Lishu style (clerical script) which is more regularized, and in some ways similar to modern text, have been authorized under Qin Shi Huangdi. Kaishu style (traditional regular script) still in use today-and attributed to Wang Xizhi (王羲之, 303-361) and his followers, is even more regularized. Its spread was encouraged by Emperor Mingzong of Later Tang (926-933), who ordered the printing of the classics using new wooden blocks in Kaishu. Printing technologies here allowed a shape stabilization.
The Kaishu shape of characters 1, 000 years ago was mostly similar to that at the end of Imperial China. But small changes have been made. For example, the shape of 广 was not exactly the same in the Kangxi Dictionary of 1716 as in modern books. The Kangxi and current shapes have tiny differences, while stroke order is still the same, according to the old style.
Styles which did not survive include Bfnsha, a mix of 80% Xiaozhuan style and 20% Lishu Style. Some variant Chinese characters were unorthodox or locally used for centuries. They were generally understood but always rejected in ofhcial texts. Some of these unorthodox variants, in addition to some newly created characters, compose the Simplifed Chinese character set.
Cursive styles such as Xingshu (semi-cursive or running script) and caoshu (cursive or grass script) are less constrained and faster, where more movements made by the writing implement are visible. These styles' stroke orders vary more, sometimescreating radically different forms.