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Lecturer: Yang, Yingshi
Time: 7:30 p.m., Monday, October 26, 1998
Place: Academy Art Center, Honolulu Academy of Arts
Sponsor: Oriental Art Society of Hawaii (OASH)

Ladies and Gentlemen: Good evening!

Thank you for giving me this opportunity to introduce to you the latest developments in Chinese calligraphy, in this paradise where Dr. Sun Yat-sen might well have enjoyed his stay a hundred years ago. Before starting my topic, which is ``New Trends in Chinese Calligraphy (1898-1998)," I would like to ask you a few very basic rhetorical questions. First: Do you regard calligraphy as a real art form or just the way of writing good-looking Chinese characters? Why? Second: How many styles are there in Chinese calligraphy? Are they really the exact personal styles of calligraphers?

My answer to the first question is: Chinese calligraphy, unlike western calligraphy, is a unique oriental art form that has long been surviving under the shadow of Chinese paleography, that is the study of ancient Chinese writings and inscriptions. For thousands of years, Chinese calligraphy has been passively using Chinese characters as its elementary vehicle and has developed itself together with the development of Chinese characters. On the other hand, to a certain extent, it has also been used as a vehicle to write Chinese characters so that people can communicate with each other. Calligraphy itself is a linear art, but its artistic value has long been misunderstood as the skillful writing of Chinese characters. There were few calligraphers who consciously created calligraphic artwork until the late century when Kang Youwei(?àd|3???) boldly advocated it.

Now for the answer of the second questions: It is true that there are at least five styles(?¨|) of Chinese calligraphy, or rather five basic ways of writing Chinese characters. But it sounds ridiculous that for thousands of years, all Chinese calligraphers have been creating their artwork in five, uniformed styles. They must have their individual styles, otherwise they could never establish themselves as creative artists. So there can be hundreds of individual artistic calligraphic styles.

The reason why I asked these questions is: I want to make it clear that it is the artistic value of calligraphy and the artistic elements of individual calligraphers' work that make the difference. Just writing a certain style of script skillfully or copying the work of previous calligraphers exactly can never make a calligrapher a real artist. I believe most of you want to collect calligraphy as real artwork, rather than just historic proof of the development of Chinese characters.

Ladies and Gentlemen! Now, I would like to invite your attention to the main point of my talk tonight, that is: The past whole century is the era when Chinese calligraphy has finally stood out as an independent art form, and when arduous efforts have been made to develop its artistic value by alleviating the confinement of its practical functions.

Looking back into history, we find that the way of writing Chinese characters reached its full maturity in the Tang Dynasty, when the standard Chinese characters came into being. The characters were almost the same as printed Chinese characters today. (A few words about Tang. It is interesting that the Tang Dynasty was also the most powerful period of China, in almost all aspects. It was a real super-power in the world at that time.) Almost all the best Chinese calligraphers and representative calligraphic works of the above styles appeared before the Tang Dynasty. For instance: Seal script in the Qin Dynasty, Clerical Script in the Han Dynasty, Running-cursive Script in the Jin Dynasty, Northern Wei Tablet Style Script in the Northern Wei Dynasty, and Cursive and Standard Scripts in the Tang Dynasty. The power of the nation as well as the freedom of thinking led to unusual creativity in calligraphy during these periods although calligraphers (most of them were senior officials or intellectuals) did not mean to create works of art.

A considerably harmful effect on calligraphy in the Tang Dynasty was the introduction of the imperial examination system to select officials. Since the late Tang Dynasty and the Song Dynasty, China continued to decline in almost all aspects, including calligraphy. For almost one thousand years, people made fewer new contributions to the ways of writing Chinese characters. It is not too critical to say that there were not many master calligraphers in this period. China fell to its lowest period in the Qing Dynasty when the nation was almost destroyed by the troops of western countries. What makes the situation even worse in Chinese calligraphy was that the Qing government required intellectuals nationwide to write the so-called Guange Style (Office Style) of calligraphy, which was uniformed, smooth, dark and clear. It was a must. Otherwise, they could not pass the national imperial examinations to become officials. One of the calligraphers at that time Huang Ziyuan, who used to be a winner in the examination, even figured out 72 rules to instruct students to learn such uniformed calligraphy.

As a result of these regulations, the artistic creativity of calligraphers was greatly confined and even killed. Of course there were some calligraphic dissidents in the middle and late Qing Dynasty. Some examples were: Zheng Banqiao(?GaO??), who was also an outstanding painter and one of the eight eccentrics of the Yangzhou School, and Kang Youwei in the late Qing Dynasty.

Kang Youwei(?àd|3???) was absolutely one of the greatest men in his period - a great politician, a great thinker, and a great calligrapher. He was a real hero in Chinese history of politics and in the history of calligraphy. He influenced the whole century, which is the frame of my topic - from 1898 to 1998. Many people, including me, regard him as the founding father of contemporary Chinese calligraphy. Kang Youwei and his student Liang Qichao(?à??àò?W) --who was also from Canton and was an excellent thinker, scholar and journalist-- helped Emperor Guangxu(¥¨2o¨1?ó?ò) launch the ``One Hundred-day Reform"in 1898. The reform included eliminating the imperial examination system, introducing western education system, as well as operating the nation in a way like that of the advanced western countries. The reform movement was smashed by the conservative authority of Queen Cixi(?¤OáH?èó|Z), who was in real power. But a great majority of the reform was maintained, including the introduction of the new education system and the elimination of the imperial exam system later. China began to have its schools and universities where English, mathematics, physics, chemistry, and geography were taught. Students did not have to write the uniformed calligraphic style to pass exams.

In spite of his partial failure in politics, Kang Youwei made great success in his research on calligraphy, planning for a relatively trivial reform-- in calligraphy. This reform proved to be very successful. In middle and late Qing Dynasty, there were a lot of archeological discoveries in China. Among the discoveries were tombstone tablets and carvings found in northern China. Many of the tombstones were made during the Northern Wei period, bearing very raw but powerful and unique Chinese calligraphy. Some art scholars found in the calligraphy a dynamic artistic world that had never been touched before. So they tried to advocate it. Following earlier scholars Ruan Yuan(?§??è?) and Bao Shichen(¥]¥@|ú) in the late Qing Dynasty, Kang wrote a book, or rather a long article, Guang Yi Zhou Shuang Ji (?s?à|¨¤?¨′?¤a), to advocate this old and new but very dynamic calligraphy. He had two main purposes: the first was to reinvigorate the artistic creativity of calligraphers by providing them a different scope; the second was to encourage people to break away from the confinement of calligraphy standards widely followed since the Tang Dynasty.

A new era began. The calligraphy world of the whole Republic of China period at least was dominated by Kang's theory. Many people followed Kang's theory to find new resources of calligraphy in the stone tablets and to free their creativity by making very bold experimental efforts in their work. Before Kang Youwei, most calligraphers did not realize that they were creating artwork. (Of course, some artists like the Eight Eccentrics in Yangzhou of the mid-Qing Dynasty had already begun to make bold attempts in this respect. ) When Wang Xizhi(?èy?a?è?ì) of the Jin Dynasty, a master calligrapher in Chinese history, was writing Lantingxu (???F?ì?), his masterpiece, he was just writing an article or report on a gathering among his friends. Many famous calligraphic works in the history were just tombstone inscriptions to commemorate the deceased. But after Kang Youwei, most calligraphers realized they were creating artwork and calligraphy became an independent art form equal to Chinese painting, rather than something just used to write inscriptions on paintings.

Kang Youwei developed his theory by himself and also influenced four outstanding students - Liang Qichao(?à??àò?W), Xu Beihong(?}′d?E), Liu Haisu (?B?¨1μˉ), and Xiao Xian(???_). Kang Youwei was famous for his calligraphy but always claimed to be a better connoisseur than a calligrapher. All excellent calligraphers, Liang was more well-known for his thoughts and articles while Xu and Liu for being master painters instead. Xiao Xian was the best woman calligrapher in the past century. Li Ruiqing(?ì??¤?2M), who used to be one of painter Zhang Daqian's(?ài?èj?èd) calligraphy teachers, became famous in early this century by studying the Northern Wei Tablet style of calligraphy but his work proved to be unsuccessful. He focused too much on the rough and forceful side while ignoring the delicacy and fluidity of the lines. Some very successful masters were Yu Youren(?è_¥k¥?), Li Shutong(?ì??§?|P), Zeng Xi(′?o3), etc. Their works were both forceful and fluid, with delicacy in roughness. Yu Youren was the most influential calligrapher in this period, who succesfully merged in his work stone tablets calligraphy and cursive script. Li Shutong (Monk Hongyi/¥???è@ak?v)'s work was influenced by the composition of western painting, Buddhist taste and the stone tablets of Northern Wei. His student Feng Zikai(?è¥?èl?¤_) was a good painter, calligrapher, and essayist whose calligraphy is of tremendous artistic and human interest, just like his paintings. Wu Changshuo(?ìd???oó), a master painter in Shanghai, was also distinguished for his calligraphy in Shigu script, a very ancient style of calligraphy carved on stone drums, and cursive script. His students were very prominent in contemporary Chinese calligraphy world - Pan Tianshou(???è?1?), Sha Menghai (?§F?s?¨1), Lu Weizhao(3??o???x)( indirect), Tao Bowu(333??ì^)(indirect. The first three played a substantial role in establishing China's modern academic education on the art of calligraphy, as I will talk about later. One exception at that time was Shen Yinmo(?§H?è?§àq), who avoided the influence of Kang's theory and stuck to his efforts of learning from traditional ink scripts, which is fluent and fine. He was also an excellent calligraphy teacher and scholar but was somewhat conservative.

Many master calligraphers currently in China, such as Lin Sanzhi(aL′2?è?ì), Liu Haisu(?B?¨1μˉ), Xiao Xian(???_), Sha Menghai(?§F?s?¨1), Lu Weizhao(3??o???x), began to be involved in calligraphy before 1949 but did not become famous for that until after the ``cultural revolution''(1966-76) when they were in their seventies or eighties. What's the reason?

Let's look at the situation in the People's Republic of China during that period. For almost 30 years, since 1949, calligraphy basically was not encouraged by the government when Mao Zedong(?訰?AaF) was in power. Chinese calligraphy was basically regarded as representing the old tradition by the mass of Chinese people who were enthusiastically building a totally new China. But it is interesting that Mao himself was a very excellent calligrapher. He was especially excellent in cursive style of calligraphy, influenced by Monk Huaisu(?hˉà) of the Tang Dynasty and inevitably by the Northern Wei Stone Tablet Styles advocated by Kang Youwei. In almost 30 years, there were basically only three well-known calligraphers: Chairman Mao Zedong(?訰?AaF), Guo Morou(3¢aj-Y) (vice premier and No. 1 intellectual then), and Shu Tong( μ?|P)(a general with the PLA who later became the first chairman of Chinese Calligraphers Association in 1981.)

Many old calligraphers suffered a lot during the "cultural revolution." The veteran calligrapher Shen Yinmo(?§H?è?§àq) in Shanghai, for instance, was forced to burn a lot of his excellent calligraphy work and manuscripts on calligraphy theory with his own hands. But this 30 years, especially the "cultural revolution" period, was the time that hid a large amount of potential calligraphers who have became prominent in the past twenty years, when calligraphy has become extraordinarily popular again. They studied calligraphy on a semi-underground basis and had no chance to exhibit or sell their artworks. One best example was my teacher Sun Boxiang(?]?ìBμ?). Sun, 64, is now acting president of the Tianjin Calligraphers Association and national board director of the Chinese Calligraphers' Association (CCA)(?è?è??¨o??ak?a?§¨??¤|). He also serves as one of the 10-or-so judges of the CCA's evaluation committee for calligraphy creation. The committee consists of the country's best mid-aged calligraphers in art creation, most of whom I listed among the 50 representative contemporary calligraphers. Sun is also one of the committee members for the most authoritative National Exhibition of Calligraphy and Seal-carving, which is now in its sixth year.

A lot of calligraphers appeared in the early 1980s when the country ended the chaos and turned to economic and cultural development. Some old calligraphers who luckily survived through the period recovered their artistic creativity and obtained respect from people again. The younger generation of calligraphers who stuck to their pursuit for art in the ??ìcultural revolution??§ emerged after the chaos. These two categories of calligraphers were mainly in two age groups at that time: 60-80 and 30-40. The first group includes: Lin Sanzhi(aL′2?è?ì), Lu Weizhao(3??o???x), Sha Menghai(?§F?s?¨1), Liu Haisu(?B?¨1μˉ), Xiao Xian(???_), Tao Bowu(333??ì^), Gao Er'shi(??a?èG?A), Xiao Lao(??3ò), Fei Xinwo(?O?¤s?ìú), Qi Gong(?àò¥\), Wang Xuezhong(?èy??¥¨°), Sun Qifeng(?]?§??p), Wu Zhongqi(aZ?è?è?_), and Xie Zhiliu(á??X?h).The second group includes: Shen Peng(?§H?P), Xie Yun(á??3), Li Duo(?ì??M), Sun Boxiang(?]?ìBμ?), Wei Tianchi(?àL?è?|à), Liu Yunquan(?B?3?u), He Yinghui(|¨?à3???), Wang Yong(?èy¨?`), Zhou Huijun(?P?z?s, F). Most calligraphers of the first group have passed away now. Tao Bowu(333??ì^) was unusual. The veteran calligrapher was not discovered until his 90s, similar to painters Chen Zizhuang(3ˉ?èl2?) and Huang Qiuyuan(?à???¨|). And the latter group of calligraphers has become the backbone of calligraphers in China today. Scholars usually mention them as being of the Neo-classical School because they base their art on calligraphic tradition and add a lot of contemporary elements. A major characteristic of their work is the combination of Northern Dynasties stone tablet style that are strong and powerful and the traditional ink scripts that are delicate and fluid, a road developed by older generations of calligraphers such as Yu Youren, Sha Menghai and Lu Weizhao.

Now, I would like to say a few words about China's academic research and training in calligraphy on the college level. Lu Weizhao and Sha Menghai, encouraged by Pan Tianshou, who was president of the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts in Hangzhou, established China's first calligraphy BA and MA program in the famous art school. The program now offers a doctoral degree. China has since added many calligraphy degree programs at art schools. They are in Beijing, Nanjing, Tianjin, and other major cultural centers. The Hangzhou program is so far the best. The program was established to train calligraphers as specialized artists. They believe calligraphy is a real art form and to be a calligrapher needs academic education like other art forms. The program has made great contributions to the research and creation of calligraphy in present day China.

As I mentioned earlier, calligraphy has become the most popular art in China since the end of the "cultural revolution". Millions of people, ranging from government leaders to intellectuals to ordinary people, enjoy practicing calligraphy either as a means of art creation or just as a spare time hobby. The Chinese Calligraphers Association (CCA) as well as regional calligraphers associations have organized various exhibitions and training programs. A survey by the CCA indicated that there are more than 100 major calligraphy exhibitions in China each year. They have also organized exhibitions and exchange programs in Japan, Korea, Singapore, Europe, the United States, and many other places around the world.

Generally speaking, the artistic level of calligraphy in current China is not optimistic. Few works can match with earlier masters like Kang Youwei and Yu Youren, let alone the ancient calligraphers like Wang Xizhi and Huaisu. It is hard to say how many of the contemporary calligraphers can eventually obtain a place in art history. One reason is that many calligraphers are not as knowledgeable as the previous generations of calligraphers, for instance in classical Chinese literature. Another reason is that China is getting more and more commercialized and people do not have the patience and mood needed to practice calligraphy. The third and most important reason is the practical functions of calligraphy are decreasing and calligraphy is getting far away from the daily life of ordinary people as the country is getting more and more computerized and printing is everywhere.

So, some perceptive people, both calligraphers and researchers, have begun to worry about the future of calligraphy.

Unlike people in the old days who needed to use brushes to write everyday, more and more people, especially young people, are turning to pens and then computers. They do not even have to know how to write a character by hand, let alone the art of writing Chinese characters. So a question that everybody has to face is --? Can calligraphy, as an art of writing Chinese characters, survive and progress?

One of the first few people who considered this question seriously was Professor Wang Xuezhong(?èy??¥¨°). Professor Wang was a student of master painter Xu Beihong and studied painting in Japan when he was young. He is now vice chairman of the Chinese Calligraphers Association and a professor of Chinese calligraphy and painting at the Tianjin University. In early 1980s, Wang was again sent to Japan by the government as the first visiting professor to teach Chinese calligraphy there. He did a lot of research on Japanese calligraphy there. It was in Japan that he realized Chinese calligraphy was facing some serious problems and it was high time to study the future development of Chinese calligraphy.

Gu Gan(¥j?èz), an art editor at the People's Literature Press, and Wang Naizhuang(?èy?èD?ì?ì), a professor of art at the Qinghua University, were two of the people in Beijing who were also thinking of this problem at that time. Later, in October 1985,? the three artists invited some other artists to hold a group exhibition of modern calligraphy in Beijing. The theme of the exhibition was to develop the real artistic value of the art, instead of as a way of writing characters, by making different attempts, including writing a few characters in a painting-like way and using colors. The exhibition was certainly naive in its artistic achievement but the concept was very significant and innovative. Most important of all, they established an organization named China Society of Modern Calligraphy and Painting(?è?è??¨o2{¥N??μe???¤|). Recently, the organization has been transformed into a new body named China Society of Modern Calligraphic Art(?è?è??¨o2{¥N??ak?à3N???¤|), hoping to concentrate more on the new artistic movement of modern calligraphy. I serve as deputy secretary-general and national board director of the new organization. Personally, I do not think "modern calligraphy" is the right and exact term to describe the new art expressions derived from traditional calligraphy since early 1980s. I believe it sounds better to use the term "experimental calligraphy" or other more appropriate name.? But, anyway, the term "modern calligraphy" has been widely recognized in China. Most people take it for granted that modern calligraphy resulted from the influence of western modern art and Japanese modern calligraphy. I, however, hold that the artistic movement should be attributed more to the strong self-motivation of Chinese artists who hope to develop new art expressions of their era on the basis of traditional Chinese calligraphy.

After the 1989 Tian'anmen Square Incident, modern calligraphy, for a while, was besieged ? for its liberal motivation.? But, since 1992, the situation has improved remarkably and there has been a lot of new development in the artistic movements of modern calligraphy. Several national exhibitions were organized with the artistic level improving. A national magazine named "Modern Calligraphy"(2{¥N??ak) was published in Nanning, capital of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. The magazine has played an important role in organizing the modern calligraphers nationwide and carrying out academic research in the field.

The most significant characteristic of China's calligraphy world since 1992 is that there came a plural and diversified period where different new trends coexist, almost peacefully. The traditional calligraphy circle has gradually accepted modern calligraphy and many calligraphers who used to be entirely involved in creating traditional styles of calligraphy have begun to change their styles and use modern elements in their work. Works of modern calligraphers like Shao Yan(a¨°?¥) have even been given awards in national exhibitions organized by the Chinese Calligraphers' Association, a government-run art organization.

Among the most important explorers in recent years are three calligraphy professors from the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts in Hangzhou (now China National Academy of Fine Arts ?è?è??¨o?¨13N????|): Qiu Zhenzhong(a????è?è), Wang Dongling (?èy¥V??) and Chen Zhenlian(3ˉ???¨1). Qiu and Chen have been to Japan as visiting professors and Wang to the United States. All three were graduate students of professors Lu Weizhao and Sha Menghai. Qiu is famous for his calligraphy without writing readable Chinese characters, believing the value of calligraphy lies in its lines instead of characters. Wang is famous for introducing new media in calligraphy, influenced by western contemporary art. Chen, who used to be famous for academic research in calligraphy, has got extra fame recently for launching the so-called "academic school calligraphy" together with some of his students. Bai Di(¥?ˉ?), who is China's first Phd degree student in calligraphy at the art school, and Luo Qi(?¥??), a print-maker-turned modern calligrapher at the academy, are also distinctive in developing new expressions to calligraphy.

Nanjing, capital of Jiangsu Province and former national capital, has long been famous for its profound cultural heritage. It is also an important center in the artistic movement of modern calligraphy. The Southeast University(aF?n?èj??) in the city established the nation's first research institute on modern calligraphy and painting. Wen Bei(?è?3?), director of the institute, has been quite influential for organizing many important activities to promote the development of modern calligraphy. He was also one of the few artists in China who published albums on modern calligraphy. Similarly, Bu Lieping(?èR|C¥-), another modern calligrapher in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan Province, is also conspicuous for his art creation and organizing work in the movement.

Still there are some other distinctive artists in modern calligraphy in northern China. They are Gu Gan(¥j?èz), Zhang Dawo(?ài?èj?ìú), Zhu Qingsheng(|??C¥í), and Wei Ligang(?Q¥?-¨¨). They use calligraphic techniques and conceptions in their abstract art. Gu Gan, one of the launchers of the modern calligraphy artistic movement, has maintained active creativity in recent years. His abstract art works based on calligraphy were collected by the British Museum and the Cologne Museum in Germany and he himself was invited to lecture in Germany for several times.? Zhang Dawo used to teach at the Beijing-based Capital Normal University and moved to Australia a few years ago. His work is characterized by the powerful, dancing calligraphic lines.? Zhu Qingsheng, a professor at the Art Studies Department of the Beijing University who got his Phd degree in art history from Heidelberg University in Germany, uses calligraphic sources in his experimental art. Wei Ligang, a student of Wang Xuezhong and Sun Boxiang who now lives in Shanxi Province, also merges? calligraphic images and lines and various media in his abstract art. He is regarded as one of the most potential young artist in modern calligraphy.

The last two artists I will mention are two "post-modern" conceptual artists: Wang Nanming(?èy?nTH), an independent contemporary artist and critic from Shanghai, and Zhang Qiang(?ài?ê), a professor of art at the Shandong Art Institute. Actually Wang's work "Balls of Characters" is installation art and Zhang's work "Report of Traceology" is performance. Their works are anti-calligraphy rather than calligraphy.

Here I need to mention two Chinese calligraphers and professors in America: Wang Fangyu(?èy?訨|t), a recently deceased art collector and scholar who used to be a professor at Yale University, and Bai Qianshen(¥?á??¤V), who got his Phd degree in calligraphy from Yale and is now a professor of art history at Boston University. They both played a significant role in developing modern expressions to calligraphy in their research and creation. I feel it a pity that the West tends to ignore contemporary Chinese art, as compared with their keen interest in a growingly powerful current China as a whole. It seems to me that most art researchers and critics who write in English, at least, never bother to work more on contemporary Chinese calligraphy. This has made the work of the Chinese artists and scholars mentioned above especially valuable.

So this is the basic picture of how Chinese calligraphy has developed in the past century. What will Chinese calligraphy be like in the future? Nobody knows. But two things are certain:? In a relatively long period of time, traditional styles of calligraphy will co-exist with new modern expressions derived from traditional calligraphy. And, the only way for Chinese calligraphy to survive and to develop is to stress and to explore its artistic value, instead of its practical significance, in a modern society.

Thank you.

 

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