Chinese Calligraphy

In Chinese Calligraphy each character occupies a square area of the page with each character being used to represent a particular idea or thing rather than the pronunciation of a letter or word.

The Shang Dynasty which ruled from around 1600 BC to 1046 BC  was the first Chinese dynasty to keep written records, with archeologists finding inscribed oracle bones dating back to the time of that dynasty.

In ancient China, strong calligraphy skills were a standard requirement for government officials. Besides perfecting individual styles, many famous calligraphers would draw a lotus flowers next to their characters because it represents the integrity and elegance. because these two traits are highly valued in Chinese culture.

Chinese calligraphy has lasted for more than 2000 years, and is considered supreme among the Chinese arts, it is a reflection of the inner mind, emotions and intellect of the calligrapher. As it is said, “The way characters are written is a portrait of the person who writes them.”

Five Styles

Basically, there are five major writing styles in Chinese calligraphy. Which makes characters more diverse. The chart on the right shows the advancement from the oldest (far right) to the contemporary (far left)

Zhuan shu (Seal script)

It is the oldest of the five style and was the official script used in the Qin Dynasty with its characters having a solid and stable appearance. This style is known as the “seal style” due to the tall, symmetrical and curved strokes that are very smooth. This script is rarely used now except in calligraphy

Li shu style (Official script)

This style is known as the “clerical style”, with its main feature being its flat and wider appearance than other styles. Another feature that stands out is the horizontal stokes that have a wavy look to them with the term “Goose tail” being used to describe them.

Kai shu (Standard style) 

This is the easiest style with each stroke being clear and apart, with writing speed and strength being equal in order to balance each character. This is a good starting script for beginners to practice building a solid base before trying other writing styles.

Hsin shu (Walking style)

Since this style has a steady and energetic flow the style has a smooth and connective look. This script takes a lot of practice to avoid giving a choppy look to the flow of the characters

Tsao shu (Cursive or running style)

This is the cursive style of Chinese writing. Tsao shu calligraphers simplify the left side of each character and give more space and emphasis to the right side. If Hsin shu is “walking style”, then Tsao shu is “running style.”  Tsau shu calligraphers write quickly and use many abrupt brush turns and dramatic strokes.  This style of characters looks more like abstract painting than writing.

Eight Basic Strokes

Although there are about fifty thousand Chinese characters in total, only six to seven thousand are commonly used . Basically, you can write all of the most common Chinese characters with simply eight basic strokes. In general, all strokes are painted from top to bottom and left to right.

The eight basic stokes are the dot, horizontal stroke, turning stroke vertical stroke, hook stroke, right up stroke, left downward stroke and the right downward stroke

Image by Chu.H

Four Treasures

The four tools used in Cinese Calligraphy are known as the Four Treasures of the Study, which consists of ink to write with, paper to write on, A brush to write with and the ink stick to make ink from, Showing the high esteem in which the materials of calligraphy are held


Because of the long-term uses, Xuan paper became the preferred type of paper used in Chinese calligraphy. It is made from the bark of the elm tree, as well as other materials including rice, bamboo hemp etc

But any of the many modern papers can be used for brush writing.

Paperweights are used to hold down the paper sheet as it tends to move slightly in a slight breeze. It is usually positioned at the top of the page with the left hand is being positioned at the bottom of the page for support.

Paperweights are a small solid object that is made from stone, glass etc, with some wooden blocks having carved calligraphic Ideograms on them with others being carved into small sculptures

The desk pad is a table protector used when work such as painting or writing would cause damage to the table or desk. they have a grid of varing sizes sketched onto them that when placed the worksheet can be used as a template to assist the student in the proper location and size of the characters.

Ink Stone

Commonly made from carved stone, ceramic, or clay, the inkstone is used to grind the solid inkstick and mix it with water to produce and contain the liquid ink.

Chinese Ink

The ink used for calligraphy is made from a sooty residue created by burning pine resin or oil underneath a hood.  After collection, the residue is mixed with glue and then pressed into molds. The then hardened cakes or sticks being  ground against a stone and mixed with water, this process allows the calligrapher to control the thickness and density of the pigment in the ink.


The brush used for writing Chinese Calligraphy is peculiar to China, these brushes use various types of animal hair with white goat’s hair, black rabbit’s hair and yellow weasel’s hair being the three major types. The body of the brush can be made from bamboo, bone, wood etc


The beauty of each character is dependant on how you begin and end each stroke.  When writing words, don’t use the same strength all the time. Begin by lifting the brush up and pressing it down on the paper. When ending one stroke, press a little harder and then lift up with a U-turn of your brush. This writing process involves repeated lifting and pressing of the brush.

Thank you for taking the time to read my post, and I hope you found it helpful and informative. Please feel free to add your comments, suggestions and experiences below.