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The Art of Chinese Calligraphy

Over a millennium ago in ancient China, aspiring scholars aiming for prestigious positions in the imperial court had to master Chinese calligraphy. This timeless discipline was one of the four esteemed arts of China, alongside playing the guqin (a stringed instrument), Weiqi (a strategic board game), and Hua (painting).

The art of Chinese calligraphy, with a history spanning over 3,000 years, represents thoughts, stories, and historical records. Behind the beauty concealed within the strokes of the brush lies a requirement for skill, experience, and diligent practice to achieve expertise in conveying exquisite works of art, which are recognized as precious masterpieces.

In this issue, we have the opportunity to have a conversation with Professor Nithiwoot Sriboonchaichusakul, an expert in Chinese calligraphy and a distinguished lettering artist ranked among the top 30 in the world by PEOPLE DAILY newspaper in Beijing. With over 40 years of experience, counting from the first time he learned Chinese calligraphy from a Chinese master, Master Jialu, at the age of 18, many may not know that the Chinese characters found in Thai temples, such as Wat Mangkon Kamalawat, Wat Boromracha Kanchanapisek Anusorn, Chinese characters in mural paintings on the walls of Wat Ratcha Orasaram, Nezha Temple, and numerous other temples nationwide, are all the masterpieces of Prof. Nithiwoot’s.

The professor explained that the beauty of writing Chinese characters with a brush begins with learning from skilled masters. Practicing under a proficient teacher with beautiful handwriting helps refine the strokes. Additionally, factors such as hand pressure, ink density, and the rhythm of brush strokes influence the weight and balance of the characters. In fact, Chinese characters inherently embody the Golden Ratio, a mathematical theory used to measure the most balanced and aesthetically pleasing proportions of various objects.

The handwriting of meticulously crafted and beautiful calligraphy is also used to measure the qualities and abilities of the writer. For example, in the past, candidates for positions in the Chinese imperial bureaucracy were selected through handwriting examinations alone. This was because well-written Chinese characters demonstrate discipline and a cultivated mind, as well as attentiveness. It can be said that the more exquisite and refined the characters are, the more elevated and polished the writer’s mind and temperament become.

Mastery of Chinese calligraphy requires not only practice but also the right tools. The brush, or “Bi” in Chinese, comes in two main types: “yin” for strength and “yang” for a softer touch. Some brushes blend both for optimal performance. While traditional “Mo” ink was made from burned pine wood and oil, modern calligraphers often use bottled ink. “Zhi” paper, invented in ancient times, resembles mulberry paper but is waterproof to prevent ink from spreading. Writers hone their skills to control pressure and ink quantity, ensuring crisp characters on the page. And no calligraphy set is complete without the “Yan” inkstone, crucial for maintaining ink quality, particularly in chilly conditions.

One of Professor Nithiwoot’s significant works is the composition of the Prajna Paramita Sutra, which deals with the wisdom at the heart of the journey towards the shore of enlightenment. This is a crucial scripture in the Buddhist scriptures of the Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions, consisting of 260 characters. Translated into Chinese by Monk Xuanzang, famous Buddhist monk and Chinese pilgrim to India who translated the sacred scriptures of Buddhism from Sanskrit into Chinese, it is a challenging composition, with few capable of writing it. Each character meticulously crafted in calligraphy not only needs to be beautiful but also holds profound meaning.

Another captivating aspect of Chinese calligraphy is its ability to convey emotions and feelings through characters. During the Song Dynasty, when artistic flourishing was at its peak, calligraphy by great poets like Su Dongpo could express sadness, joy, or disappointment through calligraphic techniques, writing methods, and the composition of characters. Each artist had their own unique style and strokes that evoked different feelings.

More than just writing on paper, Chinese calligraphy is an art that elevates the soul, refining it through external practice before crystallizing into artworks that reflect the artist’s character. It conveys deep thoughts and meanings through simple yet exquisite lines, creating a harmonious and profound beauty.

The full version is available in the 5000s magazine issue 56. Subscribe Now.