One of my most impregnable memories
Nearly everyone has seen Chinese calligraphy in their lifetime. One of these framed “paintings” that are hanging from the walls of living rooms of this world. Mostly in flats of people that have some connection with Asia. However, most people don’t know what the beautiful looking characters stand for or their meaning. But this doesn’t really matter, does it? In fact, some of the drawings may not have any meaning at all, or are not the real deal. Like these Chinese tattoos that mean something like “big pig” or “annoying western dude that payed only 50 bucks for this tattoo”.
But nevertheless, at Qingdao University they provide classes in Chinese calligraphy. As I am interested in arts and drawing, I could not help but register. The first class was chastening, completely in chinese, everyone equipped with a complete set. Containing at least one calligraphy brush, ink, a felt-mat, a small cup for the ink and special paper. I did not have any of the mentioned tools. Also for your information, every child in china that went to school had at least one class in calligraphy. The teacher took this as a reason to politely ask me if I not better want to attend kid’s classes. Translation: “What the heck are you doing here? Get out of this class!”
If someone tells me I can’t do something, it will motivate me to do it! Outright I went out to get the full set of equipment. Some always smiling old lady sold me what i needed. The total package cost about 160 RMB, not too much. Brush and ink are the “expensive” parts, but for your knowledge: you can spend quite a fortune on brushes, depending on the material. Most commonly sheep hair is used, but also fox, badger or Miniver. Depending on the style of the calligraphy different types exist. The ink plays also an important role, it should be of a certain consistency depending on the paper. You can make the ink thinner or thicker by adding water by yourself. Experience is the only teacher to let you master this.
Drawing with my brush
You must follow the order of strokes. The brushwork must always to be according to the regulations. Depending on how you turn your brush your character will have a certain shape. Also depending on the different style of calligraphy you either must draw a character in one go, or the lines should have a certain look. Every single stroke also has a different Name, which I really could not manage to learn. I was happy to be able to properly hold the brush. It is not at all as I thought in the beginning. I thought you just ink your brush and start drawing and that’s it. It needs skill! Slowly I started to understand why it is a highly reputable art in China. People will gather around calligraphy masters and watch them writing. This can be highly satisfying and relaxing.
People will pay a high price to be able to claim one of the calligraphy pieces their own. People honour a 书法家 shū fǎ jiā (Calligraphy master) like a celebrity. In the beginning I smiled at this but the more I got to know about the whole topic the quieter I got. There is a reason why there are museums all over China containing calligraphy from over the centuries. It really is a form of art which takes many years of practice to master. I won’t talk about the whole art and history as well as the different styles that exist, because if I would do so, I would need pages and still not be near to finish this blog.
For traditional calligraphy in China one rule applies: You should not use your left hand to write. But as a lefthanded person I cannot obey this guideline. You might think now being lefthanded would be a disadvantage but it is not. Because some of the strokes are easier for lefthanded because of the stroke direction. The teacher seemed impressed by some of the characters. I had a good time, people would continue to comment on which hand I use for writing. It is the same when people see a colour blind or somoeone wearing glasses, and the come over being like: “what colour does this have to you?” or “how can you read without glasses?” In my case: “wow…you use the left hand to write?” “Wow your gift of observation is impressive!” On one hand annoying yes, on the other hand earned me a trip to a calligraphy exhibition and competition.
Taking part in a “Competition”
The exhibition and competition was one of my early adventures in China. With a few other foreigners we were “shipped” to an elite school outside Qingdao. We gathered in a huge gym. With us hundreds of kids and students and tables with equipment. The National Anthem played then the kids performed dances and choreography. We had to sit in the front and write a short (practiced in advance) sentence to present our skills. With us some other foreign students from another University arrived. They never had a lesson in calligraphy and first time in their life a brush in their hand. Their purpose was to let the competition appear more international. We had to make “snapshot”-pictures with some of the invited calligraphy masters. All of us had to show our great interest in what the calligrapy masters showed us. Some guys even tried to interview me on camera.
Photographers, shouting, a flashlight thunderstorm.People looking at me while I was writing characters with a shivering hand. Standing there and listening to the chinese national Anthem. Going inside this elite school, with fence and guards. And the best part, the journey was about 3 hours, the activity was not even 1. All in all it was kind of akward, but also very cool and a glimpse of the things that would await me in China. I also recieved a nice personal signature stamp, out of marble and with my name engraved. Now I can personally sign my left-hand-writings. And will try to improve my calligraphy skills further, although it is time-consuming. However it will forever stay a remarcable memory for me.