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18. Painting of Chinese words (II) November 26, 2007

Posted by kentneo in Art.

Lets talk about Wenzi Hua some more…


Not long ago I wrote a piece called, “Wenzi Hua” and talked about the Chinese character for “facial hair” or “beard”. Actually on that day I also did a wenzi hua painting for Mr. He Weichen, consisting of two characters, “Da Jia” (which can mean everyone or a large home).


To use wenzi to make a painting is a very enjoyable thing to do, it can be done by anyone. One has to learn about Jiagu Wen (bone oracle) and Zhongding Wen (bell and gong script), research some Xiangxing Wen (pictographs) and the composition of the painting should come naturally.


Mr. He and a few friends had constructed a new shopping center and called it “Da Jia”. Since the characters for “shopping center” cannot be made into pictures, I decided to use “Da Jia” as the theme. The character for “Da” originally meant “a single person”, it evolved from a pictograph of a person with eyes and hair. The character for “Jia”, composes of an upper part and a lower part, the upper part is like a roof, is similar to the tepee of the Red Indian shaped like “^”. The bottom part was a pictograph representing a pig.

 Since pigs are not accepted by every culture, another way is to write “jia” is to substitute the lower character with “three goats”, which also coincides with the auspicious Chinese saying of “San Yang Kai Tai”. [This is a saying from Yi Jing (the Book of Change). The character ‘Yang’ in Yi Jing is the opposite of ‘Yin’ (Yin-Yang is negative-positive). According to Yi Jing, San yang (literal meaning is three suns) is the first month of the lunar year according to Yi Jing. “Kai Tai” is the beginning of good fortune. But ‘Yang’ (for sun) sounds the same as ram/sheep/goat in Chinese. So this saying is commonly used in the year of the ram to wish for a prosperous New Year.] Wenzi Hua is a drawing of pictographs (tuan hua), in reality it is easier to do than other types of paintings, as long as you know the construction of the Wenzi, can choose among the many variations (that have evolved), the composition can become quite lively, add a bit of artistry, every character can take represent its own meaning and then the meaning of the title. The standard square block characters were first organized by Cang Jie (around 2700 BCE), he traveled extensively throughout China to collect all the possible pictographs, with some minor alterations, these pictographs became the origins of wenzi. Until the Shang Dynasty (1600 – 1100 BCE) did they then become jiagu wen (bone oracle script), jiagu wen by then was already a type of simplified character but every character bore clearly an image of what it represented in nature, such as walking beasts, flying birds, swimming fish, crawling bugs etc. The characters were also able to express the situations of daily life of those days. Around the “shang gu” period, we can see the characters inscribed on rock and later in “zhong gu” period, the characters were inscribed onto bamboo [around the 5th century BCE] and then later onto paper [paper was invented in the Han Dynasty, 206 BCE – 220 CE]. To research jiagu wen and zhongding wen, one should look back into the evolution of the characters, for example, the pictograph for “shou” (hand) originally had 5 fingers, which later evolved to only 3 fingers. Foot…., eye…., nose…..  

If you understand the construction of jiagu wen, then you can also understand how shapes of things we see are represented [and later abstracted]. For those who like to draw, the collection of these symbols is a precious collection of a part of culture and also the base to understand the origins of “Tung Shu” (the Book of Auspicious Days, the Chinese almanac). The Japanese have already understood the importance of “cultural heritage” and the place so much effort into preserving, researching and developing their heritage, yet we don’t even pay much attention.


On wenzi hua, apart from learning the construction of jiagu wen and zhongding wen, from an evolution perspective, the “cao shu” (cursive script) and “kuang shu” (crazy cao script, which is an extreme form of the cao script) should also be deeply researched. “kuang shu” can be described as a flying script of the dance of the dragon and the phoenix, such endless pleasure. The Japanese seriously studied “cao shu” and thus was able to expand into “kuang shu”.


In the Edo period (1615 – 1868 CE) in Japan, a lot of Chinese calligraphy was brought over from China to Japan, it was kept by [jing wei jia]. In the early Meiji period (1868 – 1912 CE), did the emperor take over the collection in the imperial household. Around 961 CE, in the appendix section of “Zhong Zhuan Ba Wen”, there are two words “He Jian”, which is referring to the height of the Tang Dynasty, a person called “He Zizhang”, He wrote a book on “cao shu”, which is a combination of “zhang cao” and “xing cao” techniques, too bad these styles are rarely seen today. According to legend, He Zizhang and Zhang Shui were equally famous, which makes the statement from “Ba Wen”, true. ??????


Lets talk a bit more about Japanese calligraphy collectors, I remember in a place called Kanagawa, there is a Mr. Takashima ??, who owned a scroll by Ling Ling titled “the scroll of Li Bai’s poem”, it was all written in “kuang cao” script, the “na” strokes and the “gou” (hook) strokes were definitely expressions from his heart. So for calligraphy, one should take notice of this scroll. Ling Ling was from the Yuan Dynasty and was a Turkish person. The Mongolians called them “the Shmoo people”. His talent was better than the Chinese especially about matters of calligraphy, he was especially accomplished, we can see that Chinese calligraphy is not only for the Chinese.


If one can master “Zhen kai” (regular script) then the other scripts of “zhuan, li, cao” are very accessible. The Japanese have already achieved “kuang cao” and use them extensively in their displays and decorations, the Chinese should definitely be more competitive and organize competitions to raise our standards.


Looking at Ling Ling’s calligraphy, we can see the influences from Zhong Yao (151 – 230 CE) and Wang Yujuin. For those who enter the realm of the calligraphy world, must study the correct way. Ling Ling’s calligraphy, we can see the speed in the execution of “na”, “gou” (hook) and “ti”. His brush is like a knife and the strokes express the strength in the brushstrokes, this is really extraordinary.


There was another philosopher, Chen Xianzhang (1428 – 1500 CE), who was a bit of a hermit, he wrote a lot of calligraphy based of Zen words, they are quite simple and crisp, which is a whole different style, he was from Canton. We can see that talent for art is not solely a gift for any particular group, this is the greatness of art, talent does not come from the smart or the foolish, as long as one “learns and practices” (Confucius original quote is “is it not a pleasure to learn and to repeat or practice from time to time what has been learned?”), one will succeed.


“Da Jia” was just the introduction to this article and to my rambling, just take a stab and try calligraphy, you will leave your own footprint.



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