Calligraphy

Teo Han Wue's black-and-white print entitled Pan Shou's Calligraphy. (Photo: Teo Han Wue)

Must one read Chinese to appreciate Chinese calligraphy?

Teo Han Wue has always believed that one need not be literate in the Chinese language to appreciate calligraphy. He was heartened that many others seem to share his view, going by how well-received a photograph of Singaporean poet-calligrapher Pan Shou’s calligraphy was at his solo photography exhibition recently. Without him regaling them with tales of Pan Shou, they found their own delight appreciating this artform through an image of an image.
A couple (front, left) wear traditional hanbok dress as they walk across a road in Seoul, South Korea, on 7 January 2022. (Anthony Wallace/AFP)

When neighbours disagree: Did China 'steal' South Korea’s culture and historical memory?

When the Chinese featured a lady wearing a hanbok — what to the Koreans is their national costume — at the Winter Olympics opening ceremony, it was as if the band-aid on rising China-South Korean tensions was peeled off. Soon after, cries of foul play and the Chinese “snatching” medals from the South Koreans followed. Are greater squabbles on the horizon for these Northeast Asian neighbours?
A digital recreation of the painting Along the River During the Qingming Festival (清明上河图, Qingming Shanghe Tu) is seen on display at the exhibition, A Moving Masterpiece: The Song Dynasty As Living Art, at the Singapore Expo Convention and Exhibition Centre, Singapore. (SPH)

Copying is a virtue in Chinese ink painting

Temporary orders to halt the KAWS public art installation exhibition led Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre CEO Low Sze Wee to ponder the copyright issues of Chinese ink paintings. He notes that many of Singapore’s first-generation artists like Chen Wen Hsi and Fan Chang Tien were educated in Shanghai in the 1920s and were deeply influenced by the Shanghai School. Copying was a common mode of learning, and students like Henri Chen Kezhan and Chua Ek Kay did their best to copy the works of their teachers. While they eventually developed their own styles over time, Low says it could be argued that their achievements were made possible by their formative years spent on copying.
Visitors walk through a display of lanterns ahead of the mid-autumn festival at Wong Tai Sin temple in Hong Kong on 18 September 2021. (Peter Parks/AFP)

Cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai: The power of the individual during a pandemic

Like many of us experiencing pandemic days, cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai spent the last two years living quietly. When the virus was just starting to spread in Wuhan last year, he was in Shenzhen but managed to cross back to Hong Kong before the lockdowns. As he left the material life behind and got into the rhythm of staying at home, he sought solace in books, calligraphy and his beloved Kunqu opera. For all the things that are out of our hands, at least we have gained time for introspection, self-reflection and growth. That much is within our control.
Art historian Chiang Hsun learns some life lessons from a stray cat at a farmhouse. (Facebook/蔣勳)

Taiwanese art historian: A stray cat, a farmhouse in Taiwan and a quiet afternoon

In our periods of isolation, even desolation through the pandemic, one can become cautious about forming bonds. A stray cat Chiang Hsun befriends reminds him that humans can’t help but care about one another, even when they pretend not to care. Yet they’re also guilty of caring too much, cocooning themselves to protect what they have. Will we ever learn to let go and have a good rest, defenceless?
Makgeolli, usually served in a shallow bowl and downed with gusto. (iStock)

East Asian literati, Korean rice wine and writhing octopus tentacles

Sampling makgeolli or Korean rice wine with friends from the academic community in Seoul, cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai is transported back in time to the world of ancient literati in China and Korea — would they also have exchanged a story or two over a bowl of makgeolli?
An aerial shot of people walking through the Zhuyuwan Scenic Area and admiring the blooming flowers in Yangzhou, Jiangsu province, China, 21 February 2021. (Xinhua)

Qing dynasty ‘eccentric’ painter Zheng Banqiao: Art is commodity and beauty is physical

From a laser-etched calligraphy in a restaurant, art historian Chiang Hsun delves into the writings of Qing dynasty painter and calligrapher Zheng Xie, better known as Zheng Banqiao. Zheng was part of the “Eight Eccentrics of Yangzhou” group of painters who had wealthy businessmen patrons and developed an aesthetic grounded in the material and secular. Bright and colourful scenes of mirth were common — unlike the Song and Yuan dynasty literati before them who indulged in melancholic musings above worldly concerns. Contemporary ink artists may want to get some inspiration from Zheng's works, and boldly declare the feelings and observations of the times.
A vendor arranges books at her stall at the Panjiayuan antique market in Beijing, China, on 19 November 2020. (Noel Celis/AFP)

Are the Chinese truly collecting art?

With China’s increasing affluence, the nouveau riche are investing in art and cultural artefacts. Wu Zetian’s pleated skirt, exquisite paper from the Southern Tang dynasty, a painting by early 20th century painter Qi Baishi — authentic or not, all are fair game and acquired at the best price. What a shame, says cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai. If only the collector’s hand is not sullied by such commerce.
Emperor Qianlong writing (《乾隆帝写字像》), The Palace Museum. (Internet)

Chiang Hsun: How great a mark of rebellion it is to hold an ink brush

Empress Wu Zetian (624-705 CE, China's only female emperor who ruled during the Tang dynasty) used 1000 copies of the Diamond Sutra and 1000 copies of the Lotus Sutra to pray for her mother when the latter passed away. In part four of his series of articles on calligraphy, Taiwanese art historian Chiang Hsun looks back at history and is grateful for the tool he has in hand to deliberate, act and to act deliberately. But what is it about holding an ink brush that makes it a rebellious act?