Chinese calligraphy (Brush calligraphy) is an art unique to Asian cultures. Qin (a string musical instrument), Qi (棋a strategic boardgame) Shu (书calligraphy), and Hua (画painting) are the four basic skills and disciplines of the Chinese literati.

Regarded as the most abstract and sublime form of art in Chinese culture, "Shu Fa" (calligraphy) is often thought to be most revealing of one's personality. During the imperial era of China, calligraphy was used as an important criterion for selection of executives to the Imperial court.

By controlling the concentration of ink, the thickness and adsorptivity of the paper, and the flexibility of the brush, the artist is free to produce an infinite variety of styles and forms. To the artist, calligraphy is a mental exercise that coordinates the mind and the body to choose the best styling in expressing the content of the passage. It is a most relaxing yet highly disciplined exercise indeed for one's physical and spiritual well being. Historically, many calligraphy artists were well-known for their longevity.

Brush calligraphy is not only loved and practiced by Chinese. Koreans and Japanese equally adore calligraphy as an important treasure of their heritage.

In the West, Picasso and Matisse are two artists who openly declared the influence by Chinese calligraphy on their works. Picasso once said tht if he was born a Chinese, he would have been a calligraphy artist rather than a painter.

Chinese Calligraphy - Styles

There are literally thousands of styles of Chinese calligraphy. Dr. Siu-Leung Lee has created the following table to summarize the major calligraphy types, including JiaGuWen, Zhuan Shu (JinWen included), Li Shu, Kai Shu, Xing Shu, and Cao Shu.




Starting Time


Jia Gu Wen


bone/shell script

Pre-Qin period
(2000 BC- ?)


Jin Wen


bronze engraving

ChunQiu-ZhanGuo period
(770 BC-221 BC)


Zhuan Shu


seal style

Qin-Han dynasties
(221 BC - 220 AD)

YiShan Bei
(Da Zhuan, Qin dynasty)

Li Shu


official style

East Han dynasty
(25-220 AD)

HuaShan Bei

Cao Shu


grass style, "swift style"

Han dynasties
(about 48 BC)


Kai Shu, Zhen Shu


regular style

Han dynasties
(173 AD)

Xin Jing

Xing Shu


running style

Han dynasties
(87 AD)

LanTing Xu

While JiaGuWen and Jin Wen are no more useful and few people recognize them, the other scripts persist through the past 2000 years. The most popular for printing is Kai Shu , but the most useful for daily use is Xing Shu. While Cao Shu may be much too simplified and personalized to be recognized by most people in common utility, only certain commonly Cao characters are used. Zhuan Shu is almost limited to seal carving. To the surprise of most people, Cao Shu was developed about the same time as Kai Shu, and may be even earlier. Certain Cao characters appeared as early as Han dynasty when Kai Shu was not well developed. Han dynasty should be called the golden era for script development. While Zhuan is still in use, there was a rapid transition to Xing Shu to cope with the social development of commerce and military engagements. Cao Shu first evolved from Li Shu to become Zhang Cao (formal "Grass" style with no linking of characters). Kai Shu actually was a product of further standardization of Zhang Cao.

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