Throughout its long history, writing has been a big deal in China. Since the earliest dynasties, the skills of reading and writing have been highly respected. In fact, they form an important part of the Chinese art world. Calligraphy, the art of writing with a brush, is almost as old as writing itself. And though this art form dates back thousands of years, it is still extremely popular today.
How did writing become so important in Chinese culture? The answer most likely lies way back in the Shang Dynasty (about 1600–1046 BC). That's when characters were first carved in bronze and used in religious events. This practice conveyed a spiritual aspect which gave writing authority in the eyes of ordinary people.
Calligraphy spread during the Han Dynasty, when the necessary tools and materials became more widely available. First there was the brush, made from bamboo and animal hair. Early ink, or lampblack, was made by burning pine wood and mixing it with water. Early forms of paper were invented around AD 105. Finally there was inkstone, a smooth piece of stone used for mixing ink. Together, these tools were known as the "four treasures of study" in ancient China.
Calligraphy has been popular in China for thousands of years. Some say that it's an even higher art form than painting. Though foreigners may not always get it, there's something truly special about calligraphy. Every written character has a strict stroke order. When viewing the results, you can trace the artist's process, reliving every stroke of his or her brush. This allows for an intimate connection between artist and audience.
Calligraphy is something that's best experienced by doing. Luckily, this ancient art is still widely practiced today. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and find yourself a teacher!