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Chinese Calligraphy in Tang Dynasty Research Paper

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Updated: May 25th, 2020


Calligraphy or the art of beautiful writing in traditional China came along as the visual art of a highly cherished handwork of the time. Calligraphy passed out in high esteem and was experienced by many as a fine art-way before painting became a commonplace ideology across China. The elevated status of calligraphy as a fine art often reflects the status of the word in China (Juliano, Lerner, and Alram, 32). From a humble beginning, emperors asserted their influence from generation to generation by engaging their own affirmations in these ancient forms of art and these were superimposed on the mountain tops and on stone carvings erected on various strategic points such as in the parks and on the outdoor spots. Through these informal art practices, the Chinese culture became much devoted to the supremacy of its language.

In ancient China, scholars of calligraphy were highly respected, and most indeed came to position themselves in highly respected ranks in the government and society. Apart from the traditional role played by art in ancient China, what made Calligraphy so distinctive from other informal art was its visual lustre (McCausland 21). According to Wang (250), individual Chinese words are represented by their own unique symbols, which are essentially abstract symbols known as characters. Essentially, learning the Chinese language requires the mastery of these distinct words through a rigorous process that involves writing and continuous rewriting of a particular character until a concept is taken. Arguably, the limitation of learning the Chinese calligraphy is its vigour, rather than its rigour. In traditional China, ancient writing suggests that calligraphy played multiple roles ranging from basic education to the concept of governance (Period of Disunity—Tang dynasty 220–907 par. 7).

In the ancient calligraphy, characters did signify not only definite connotations but also revealed ethical motif in their unique forms, explored the vigour of the demonstration of the human energy and the liveliness of nature that it sought to reveal (Period of Disunity—Tang dynasty 220–907 par. 11).

Chinese calligraphy as a concept of culture

Ancient Chinese society enjoyed the patronage of rich cultural expression that had never been witnessed in various parts of the world. At the time of Emperor Taizong reins art was held in high esteem, and this was further developed when his son, the heir apparent, Emperor Xuanzong took the mantle of leadership. As a consequent, the indigenous Chinese people enjoyed a rich period of cultural expression seen in the eyes of historians and researchers as the embryonic taste of modern-day Chinese calligraphy (McCausland 22). Traditionally, the Chinese people saw these developments as expressions of ethical government twinned with religious tolerance.

Calligraphy has consequently become synonymous with people appreciation of their culture experienced by way of trade and realized as a concept of Chinese people’s way of writing, painters, poets, philosophers and potters have consequently emerged from these developments. The exceptional appeal of the Tang dynasty has often been seen as having passed through an open, yet broad-minded caste system that provided quintessence through which calligraphy evolved. According to Wang (253), this spirit is widely believed to have contributed to the culturally diverse and superb generations in the history of Chinese calligraphy.

The rise of Tang dynasty as a world-class Calligraphy power

After many years of internal power wrangles following the collapse of the Han dynasty during the 220 AD, China experienced a short stint of unification with the coming to power by the Siu dynasty in the years that followed (McCausland 25). For this reason, Juliano, Lerner, and Alram (32) add that foreign languages became a daily life venture making business to boom in China while calligraphic artistry was developed to meet the tastes of various markets, both locally and abroad.

Tang calligraphy is seen in the eyes of ancient trade, social change and education

In the years of rule under the Tang dynasty, China especially during the reigns Emperor Taizong subdued its traditional enemies from the north subsequently making its people secure peace and safety for the pioneering trade reaching out to Syria, Rome and other parts of Europe (McCausland 26). Historical records hold that the Tang dynasty evolved through a series of social change that capacitated calligraphy into an official ideology that enabled people with a various outstanding understanding of the text to serve in various positions of leadership in the society (Soper 50). The eighth-century was remarked as a herald to the second vital epoch within the Tang history.

Most of the calligraphic design evolved and grew substantially during reigns of Emperor Xuanzong and whose state of the art presented at the helm of leadership was highly ranked in the history of Chinese dynasty having been earmarked as the brilliant monarch called Minghuang. Under the stewardship of Emperor Xuanzong, literature became a noble cause in the lives of the ancient Chinese people with performing and martial arts contributing largely to the concept of Chinese artistry. According to Soper (50), the period set the platform for which later sculptures, poets, painters and other artists could expand their abilities.

The expressions, language, and images that are inscribed in the poems of the time are a reflection of the flamboyant lives that dictated the systems of the time. The enthusiastic brushwork on some of the early paintings such as that of the court painting and the naturalistic dialect of most of the painters of the time resulted in artistic paradigms for the generations that followed afterwards (Juliano, Lerner, and Alram 33). Endowed with stupendous energy and vitality, the Chinese people took the situation of the opportunity to grow and develop their medieval calligraphy, which was at the time was becoming widespread in other regions.

Calligraphy in Ancient Tang

In China, calligraphy reached its peak in Tang ahead of most other dynasties of the time, and naturally, whenever people talk of about Chinese calligraphy, the Tang dynasty suffice as a point of reference (Soper 53). During this time, Wang (253) argues that the Chinese people praised and attributed calligraphy as one of the crowning achievements of men. According to Wang (254), the government of the day set up academies where calligraphy was studied in remarkably. In the Tang dynasty, calligraphy as art was highly cherished and viewed as a concept that would later be used to rate various individuals in the society, especially with regard to leadership acumen.

As Wang (254) notes, there were several subjects in the academic calendar and calligraphy featured above board. The society and all its members treated calligraphy with the respect it deserved. Essentially, it was the preserve of the emperors and the ordinary people. During the ancient Tang Dynasty, Emperor Xuanzong cherished Wang His-Chich’s calligraphy, for example, spending a lot of money to buy out his artistry making calligraphy to be respected in the eyes of the population of his time. Because of his love for aesthetic merit, most calligraphers of the time were aided to study Wang Hsi-Chih’s style type calligraphy.

Most of the popular scripts in the Tang dynasty were inscribed to embrace the popular art and literature of the time. These scripts were used to test the latent of various upcoming calligraphers in the informal training sessions. From all corners of ancient China, all calligraphic calligraphy styles were widely seen in the light of great adventure for a so consumed in people the search for perfection (Juliano, Lerner, and Alram 33). Most of the calligraphy styles of the time were widely seen in the context of great societal achievement and calligraphers that specialized in various forms of art were highly regarded. This was so because they were seen as individuals who were capable of multitasking in various aspects of communal chores. It is believed that monk Huai Su was instructed by Zhang Shui to help the people attain higher levels of calligraphic training in the vast dynastic protectorate. Accordingly, the indigenous people looked upon their achievements and even wanted to perfect on the art of calligraphy, this was done particularly because the individual contribution to the world of the calligraphy of the time was most welcome (Juliano, Lerner, and Alram 34).

Chinese calligraphy and philosophy

As calligraphy continues to be more popular within the Tang dynasty, a lot of calligraphy theorists sprouted with several of their works of art being published at the time (Soper 55). Tang Tai Zong, a widely proclaimed philosopher of the time, for example, pointed out categorically that the spirit and essence of calligraphy ought to resemble a drawing with owl toes on the sand, and which many views as the core of all Chinese calligraphy for the duration that after such pronouncements. Another philosopher, Hsu Hao, revealed that calligraphy and literature share a common bond of both ethics art and literature (Juliano, Lerner, and Alram 34).

Zhang Huai-Guan, in his book Shu Duan, alluded to the fact that Chinese culture was deeply rooted in calligraphy and that essence of Chinese is the calligraphy was the ethics of purpose. Perhaps another remarkable contributor in the philosophy of calligraphy was Sun Guo-Ting who theorized the concept of modern Chinese calligraphy in his book Shu Pu that was written in Taso Shu. Accordingly, the philosopher, in his pronouncements about ancient calligraphy explores various issues as well as theories that try to explain the nature of the ancient Chinese calligraphy (Juliano, Lerner, and Alram 34). The philosopher categorically documented the concept of inheriting the existing Chinese technologies, categorically giving direction on creating the new ones while emphasizing the importance of studying and conceptualizing the ancient calligraphy masterpieces as well as the modes that govern it. Of particular concern regarding this contribution was his particular advisory-counsel regarding modern tutelage in conceptualizing ancient calligraphy.

The concept of the Tang calligraphy

The Tang dynasty artistry underwent one metamorphosis after the other with a strong orientation to moral virtues, and political correctness that inspired the would-be calligraphers to look upon their roles as respectable, law-abiding members of the society (Juliano, Lerner, and Alram 35). One of the highly cherished calligraphers of the new monumental script had been Yan Zhenqing whose artistry was closely seen in the lenses of spiritual fulfilment. Nonetheless, he was so devoted to his works of art that he died a loyalist martyr under the ancient throne, becoming a heroic figure of virtue among the Chinese religious groupings (Brown and Hutton 27).

Under the religious banner, these ancient calligraphers set the phase for the modern-day sets of religion in various parts of China. Yan particularly created a bold type styled calligraphy, which provoked the state of the government, an art that communicated to and rallied the people to shun autocratic tendencies. Together with the like-minded calligraphers of the time, Yan used his calligraphy to draw the people towards the Supreme Being and make religion their point of reference (Brown and Hutton 28). The structural cohesiveness of the calligraphy of this nature became the symbolic beauty of uprightness and moral rectitude in the society a virtue that is still a commonplace venture in the modern-day Peoples Republic of China.

The value of calligraphy to the Chinese people

Calligraphy to the Chinese people explores a genuine reflection of the true spirit of the people. For this reason, to the Chinese intellectual, the calligraphy, and its history still plays a major role in their studies as well as a source of high prestige to the people. Most often, in order to enhance the beauty and decorate houses, a pair of calligraphic scrolls would be seen hanging at the major entrance of most Chinese houses (Brown and Hutton 29). To the majority, the calligraphic scrolls at the entrances of their houses portray a deeper meaning and thus symbolize their true reflection and value to their community. However, to some of the Chinese, the calligraphy may only portray their names so that visitors would easily identify the house owners’ right at the entrances. This, according to the experts, enables the visitors to distinguish the right house before delivering any information (Brown and Hutton 31).

Similarly, most of the Chinese calligraphy was undoubtedly aesthetically sparkling. This is because the Chinese were good with the brushwork, thereby creatively produced large volumes of scrolls of calligraphy, which to the experts were evidence of good artisanship of the ancient Chinese. Surprisingly, as (Soper 56) notes, with the large volume of arts of calligraphy the Chinese did, analysis indicates that with the similarities, not even a single work was typically a copy of another. For this reason, it was easy for one to get a variety of aboriginal artwork that represented fashions of the day, such as necklaces that had different calligraphic symbols. As a result, the entire world population had an opportunity to appreciate the Chinese calligraphic works of art.

In addition, the Chinese calligraphy symbols that were developed long ago as (Brown and Hutton 35) points out has to date gained more popularity due to their aesthetic appeal to the entire world. This by itself shows that, even though the calligraphy is an olden day’s art, the symbols entails an undying worth to both the people who comprehend and those unfamiliar with the language. Besides, in order to understand and appreciate the Chinese calligraphy, it is noted that one needs to focus fully on the symbol since they are precise. This makes the Chinese symbols look appealingly beautiful and at the same time, communicates to those who understand them (Wang 254).


During the Tang dynasty, Chinese sculpture thrived more than any other time in Chinese history (Period of Disunity—Tang dynasty 220–907 par. 6). Much of the early works embodied religious sites like temples, burial sites, and caves (Wang 255). At the time, calligraphy and sculpture used the same materials. The painting also used the same materials. For example, the ink-stone, carved stone slab and storage for crunching ink and mixing with paper, ink and water-brush was common during the Tang dynasty. As opposed to Europe, where sculpture and calligraphy do not use the same materials, the Chinese considered sculpture and calligraphy as high art.

As Brown and Hutton (47) note, ceramic sculptures and woodcarvings were buried together with individuals which the society held in high esteem as part of the respect they deserved even in death. Today, many fine pre-historic sculptures have been found in the ancient burial sites in the capital Chang’an and Luoyang district. Several Buddhist sculptures that were later exhumed in the area attest to the fact that there had been significant artistic innovations in exploring the spatial structure of the ancient Chinese artistry (Wang 256).


The embryonic Tang epitaphic artworks are perhaps still known today as an adventure that was widely cherished across the region for their representational of images. Under these considerations, different personages, domestic and wild animals as well as those of places or physical landmarks with various significance to the Chinese people were embedded at eyesight to offer their representational value (Period of Disunity—Tang dynasty 220–907 par. 8). According to Period of Disunity—Tang dynasty 220–907 (par. 9), these images of calligraphic artwork were made out by the use of technologies of the time which gave various finished products their impressive lustre.

A typical technology of beautification was fondly known as sancia; the three colouring skill was a technology that combined several nozzles, which were made to produce different pigments that would systematically give an item its distinctive glean. Cobalt blue, brown, yellow, and black completed the decorating motif of these impressive yet ancient technologies (Period of Disunity—Tang dynasty 220–907 par. 10). Calligraphy and ceramics were believed to be representing a man’s status. The two artworks have a long history; they were signs of national wisdom and performance levels.


Calligraphy, as has been seen from the ongoing analysis, is an art of writing expressed in the Chinese characters by use of brush and ink. With the age-old tradition in vast continental Asia, Chinese calligraphy is believed to have taken its earlier roots in the Shang dynasty and spread across dynasties having been developed during the Eastern Zhou period (Period of Disunity—Tang dynasty 220–907 par. 4). It is not lost; however, the Tang dynasty was a remarkable epoch that saw the Chinese calligraphy evolving through a rigorous experience that embraced all the confluences of the ancient Chinese public life. Through these developments, the Chang dynasty evolved as a robust protectorate for the people of the time with the ancient art having been embraced and felt in all the echelons of ancient life including education, politics, and religion among other areas.

These embryonic Chinese artistries evolved into the modern-day Chinese calligraphic writing styles and languages. Much of the work that the modern-day Chinese calligraphers do is a mere perfection of what began many centuries ago. It is expected, however, that with the Chinese people’s thirst for greater achievement, as seen in their quest for perfection in various fields, calligraphy will no doubt be much perfected.

Works Cited

Brown, Rebecca, and Deborah Hutton. A companion to Asian art and architecture. Chichester, West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011. Print.

Juliano, Annette, Judith Lerner, and Michael Alram. Monks and merchants: Silk Road treasures from Northwest China Gansu and Ningxia 4th-7th century. New York: Harry N. Abrams with the Asia Society, 2001. Print.

McCausland, Shane. Gu Kaizhi and the Admonitions scroll. London: British Museum Press, 2003. Print.

Period of Disunity—Tang dynasty 220–907. N.p. 2007. Web.

Soper, Alexander Coburn. South Chinese influence on the Buddhist art of the Six Dynasties Period,. Asia Society: Beijing, 1960. Print.

Wang, Eugene Yuejin. Shaping the Lotus Sutra: Buddhist visual culture in medieval China. Seattle, Washington: University of Washington Press, 2005. Print.

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