Noted calligraphist shares culture

By Christina Oddo


One of China’s greatest painters and renowned calligraphists, Fang Zhiyuan, joined University students and faculty Tuesday night in Trout Auditorium to share his lifetime experiences as a calligraphist. Zhiyuan, a descendant of the royal family of the Qing Dynasty, began his interest in calligraphy at the early age of four and was chosen by the Chinese Central Government to attend a school associated with the China Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing.
He began his presentation by explaining that the instruments he brought with him are no longer used today, but that calligraphy is still practiced among a group in China. In fact, the evolution of calligraphy cannot be understood without the instruments. Zhiyuan insists on using the old brushes and he understands his collection of brushes to be his own sort of “computer.”
Zhiyuan explained that there are 4,000 different kinds of writing brushes and that he has collected three times the amount of brushes offered in stores. He gave examples of types of brushes in terms of what they are made of. Some bruses use bear hair, the hair of goat beards and even skunk hair. Tiger tail hair, for example, was often used during the Qing Dynasty for making comments on imperial documents, while weasel hair was used for small scripts. For regular script, short-tipped brushes are easier to use.
Liquid ink was not traditionally used; rather, ink sticks were. Zhiyuan brought small, light sticks to share with his audience, although very heavy ink sticks exist. Some of the ink sticks are different colors, including red and white; the red sticks are used today for paintings.
Another form of ink is a type created from burnt pine trees and spices, while another is created from burning vegetable and animal oil. In Zhiyuan’s opinion, both are good to use for calligraphy and for paintings. The ink stone itself, which is similar to an ink stick, is very expensive in China.
Zhiyuan spoke about two types of paper: plain rice paper and processed paper. He showed images of semi-cursive script from the Qing Dynasty, and described regular and standardized script. Zhiyuan shared his knowledge regarding silk and calligraphy and how, because silk is so expensive, the characters completed on silk are shortened in height so more characters can fit onto the piece of silk.
Zhiyuan displayed his own impressive work as well. This included images with very large characters, and a fascinating image that showed the same character portrayed in several different styles side by side.
The presentation closed with a special gift presented from Zhiyuan to the University. Part of the gift was an official seal of the Qing Dynasty reconstructed by Zhiyuan himself. He also created a script of characters that reads the expression “to benefit the world with broad learning,” as a description of the University as a whole.

This event was sponsored by the President’s Office, the Provost’s Office, the Dean of Arts and Sciences, the University Lectureship Committee, the Departments of East Asian Studies, Art and Art History, Comparative Humanities, the Language and Culture Residential College, MacArthur Chair Program in East Asian Politics, the Bucknell University Press, Chinese Cultural Association and the National Consortium for Teaching about Asia.

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