Chinese written characters are pictographic symbols of spoken words. Calligraphy is the art of writing characters in an expressive manner employing the use of the brush.
The most ancient written characters were written on oracle bones, or were inscriptions on bronze vessels found in the Shang and Zhou dynasties (16th century – 776 B.C.). It was during the late Warring States, Qin, Han, Wei, Jin, Northern and the Southern Dynasties (475 B.C. – A.D.581) that official, cursive, running and regular scripts developed. Thus a multi-script system evolved for Chinese written characters. Different scripts were used for different regions and for different times, and this diversity let newer forms take root and flower.
The aesthetic appeal was already present in the inscriptions on oracle bones and bronzes. During the Han and Wei dynasties, this developed further from a natural style to one of deliberate expression. Numerous calligraphers emerged in the Jin, Sui and Tang dynasties (A.D.265 – 907) and the theoretical study of calligraphy became important. Most notable was the establishment of certain models and rules for cursive and regular script.
The conventions of the Jin and Tang dynasties continued into the Song, Yuan and Ming dynasties (A.D.960 – 1644) with a focus on the expression of personal feeling and incorporation of poetic and artistic genius. The development of these skills and moods in calligraphy inspired new calligraphic schools and styles.
The unique Qing (A.D.1644 -1911) style of calligraphy was centered upon the study of the more ancient styles and inscriptions found on steles. The stone steles of the Northern Wei were particularly popular in the late Qing and when combined with the traditions of “tie” rubbings and the multi-script system, ushered in a bolder, more vigorous calligraphic stlye.