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Chinese Calligraphy Styles

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Chinese Calligraphy Styles

Kai Style, the Regular Script (One of the Most Popular Chinese Calligraphy Styles)

The Regular Script (often called standard script or simply kǎishū) is one of the last major calligraphic styles to develop, emerging between the Hàn dynasty and Three Kingdoms period, gaining dominance in the Southern and Northern Dynasties, and maturing in the Táng Dynasty. It emerged from a neatly written, early period semi-cursive form of clerical script. As the name suggests, the Regular Script is "regular", with each of the strokes placed slowly and carefully, the brush lifted from the paper and all the strokes distinct from each other. The Regular Script is also the easiest to recognize and read, as it is the script in which most beginners learn to write East Asian scripts.

The Regular Script is usually studied first to give students a feel for correct placement and balance, as well as to provide a proper base for the other, more flowing styles.

Xing Style, the Semi-cursive Script (One of the Prettiest Chinese Calligraphy Styles)

The Semi-cursive Script (also called Running Script) approximates normal handwriting in which strokes and, more rarely, characters are allowed to run into one another. In writing in the Semi-cursive Script, the brush leaves the paper less often than in the Regular Script. Characters appear less angular and rounder.

In general, an educated person in China or Japan can read characters written in the Semi-cursive Script with relative ease, but may have occasional difficulties with certain idiosyncratic shapes.

Cao Style, the Cursive Script (One of the Most Artistic Chinese Calligraphy Styles)

The Cursive Script (sometimes called Grass Script, or the Cao Style) is a fully cursive script, and a person who can read the Semi-cursive Script cannot be expected to read the Grass Script without training. Entire characters may be written without lifting the brush from the paper at all, and characters frequently flow into one another. Strokes are modified or eliminated completely to facilitate smooth writing and to create a beautiful, abstract appearance. Characters are highly rounded and soft in appearance, with a noticeable lack of angular lines.

The Cursive Script is the source of Japanese hiragana, as well as many modern simplified forms in Simplified Chinese characters and Japanese shinjitai.

Li Style, the Clerical Script (The "Bold Print Style" of Chinese Calligraphy Styles)

The Clerical Script (often simply termed lìshū; and sometimes called Official, Draft or Scribal Script) is older than the above three scripts. It is said that this style was invented by Miao Cheng, from the Qin Dynasty of China.  In general, characters are often "flat" in appearance, being wider than they are tall. The strokes may appear curvy, and often start thin and end thick. Most noticeable is the dramatically flared tail of one dominant horizontal or downward-diagonal stroke, especially that to the lower right. This characteristic stroke has famously been called 'silkworm head and wild goose tail' in Chinese due to its distinctive shape.

The archaic Clerical Script of the Warring States period to Qín and early Hàn Dynasties can often be difficult to read for a modern East Asian person, but the mature Clerical Script of the middle to late Hàn dynasty is generally legible. Modern works in the Clerical Script tend to use the mature, late Hàn style, and may also use modernized character structures, resulting in a form as transparent and legible as Regular (or standard) Script. The Clerical Script remains common as a typeface used for decorative purposes (for example, in displays), but it is not commonly written.

Zhuan Style, the Seal Script (One of the Most Ancient Chinese Calligraphy Styles)

The Seal Script (often called Small Seal Script) is the formal script of the Qín system of writing, the informal script of which was precursor to the Clerical Script. Seal script is the oldest style that continues to be widely practiced. Today, this ancient style of Chinese writing is used predominantly in seals, hence the English name. Although seals (name chops), which make a signature-like impression, are carved in wood, jade and other materials, the script itself was originally written with brush and ink on paper, just like all other scripts.

Most people today cannot read the seal script, so it is generally not used outside the fields of calligraphy and carved seals. However, because seals act like legal signatures in Chinese culture, and because vermillion seal impressions are a fundamental part of the presentation of works of art such as calligraphy and painting, seals and therefore seal script remain ubiquitous.

Please also see Chinese Symbols (Customized) by our calligraphers and information on "Learn Chinese Characters"

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