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Download PDF by Yuehping Yen: Calligraphy and Power in Contemporary Chinese Society

By Yuehping Yen

This strange and fascinating publication is an interesting account of the realm of chinese language writing. It examines chinese language area and the political and social use of writing as propaganda, a exposure booster and as a ladder for social mountain climbing.

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Additional info for Calligraphy and Power in Contemporary Chinese Society (Anthropology in Asia)

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The element of visual attraction of calligraphy can definitely be found in popular beliefs. Many Chinese would agree that the type of writing that has been revered as artwork is always beautiful to look at. If it is not, then it belongs to the type of ‘art’ that is thought to be either simply ridiculous or beyond individual comprehension, as in the case of much avantgarde calligraphy, they would say. Secondly, art historical traditions of Chinese calligraphy are fully established. To judge whether or not a piece of calligraphic work is art in the light of a system of ideas found in that tradition, such as ideas linked to brush manoeuvring, composition and the continuation of qi, is exactly what has been done in the art historical tradition of Chinese calligraphy.

Some simply use ghost-calligraphers (Kraus 1991: 87; cf. Cahill 1994). I was told this joke, one of many that were satirical of ongoing social problems that went around in Kunming, by Shao Bin: A few people took part in a calligraphy competition. Among them only one had a high official post ( guan jiao da). Do you know what characters he wrote in the competition? The two characters ‘tong yi’ (meaning agreed or approved). People asked him why he wrote these two characters. He replied that because he had to write these two characters many times a day, so among all characters he was best at writing them.

This meaning of zi will dominate the discussion in Chapter 3. The second key term, shufa, is again constituted with two characters, shu and fa. The word shu can mean to write, writing, books, style of calligraphy or letter. Fa, as a noun, means rules, law, method; whereas as a verb, it means to model after. Shufa can mean both written characters in brush and ink, or the method or principle of writing with a brush. In everyday speech, shufa is generally used when the meaning of writing in brush and ink is referred to.

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