Brushstrokes and Bracelets

When pondering on what the Ancient Chinese contributed to the artistic field, the first thing that comes to mind is calligraphy.  It fascinates me how they were capable of transforming a single Chinese character into a work of art, drawn in a manner so sublime that it feels as if the lettering might come alive at any moment. Calligraphy was a highly respected form of art in traditional China, and its value reflected the belief of the importance and power of words.  Great focus was placed on the written language; each individual character was formed in a manner that resembles the idea or object that it represents.  Chinese calligraphy, also known as shufa, was thought to be a required skill of each and every respected intellectual.  It was a powerful thing; the control and precision required to master the art was meant to reflect the individual's own control over the self.  Not to mention moral rectitude within the writer him/herself.

I remember a specific school day, 11 years ago, when I was living in Beijing, China.  My peers and I were released from our usual class schedule and were informed that we would instead be learning calligraphy from an expert calligrapher.  We were unsure of what to expect at that moment in time.  But as soon as we were seated, the calligrapher gave us a demonstration.  I was entranced.  The way in which his brush, moving as an extension of his arm, applied paint on the parchment in smooth, flawless strokes mesmerized me.  He did it with such effortless precision.  I remember gripping my own brush in anticipation of attempting it myself.  And of course, as you can probably guess, my own "calligraphy" was a messy blotch of ink compared to the master's.  Regardless, the sheer artistic style of Chinese calligraphy has left a lasting impression on me till this day.

To provide a brief history of the relationship between Chinese calligraphy and painting - they began as two distinct art forms, however during the Song Dynasty, "painting became closely allied with calligraphy in aim, form, and technique".  What had previously been an insignificant art form, transformed into something greater through the process of integrating with the highly revered form of calligraphy.

Another significant form of art in Ancient China was something a slight bit more flashy and ostentatious.  It involved the use of a large amount of jade, crafted and carved into a multitude of different shapes; some being formed into large sculptures, and others into pieces of jewelry.  Jade was not only used for decorative purposes; it was highly symbolic in relation to Chinese culture.  The precious material was thought to represent five virtues: "benevolence, integrity, intelligence, bravery, [and] trustworthiness"; and these were described as being ideal characteristics of a gentleman.

Beginning during the Shang Dynasty, Jade jewelry, such as the bracelet shown above, were commonly worn by the wealthy Chinese elites, or those belonging to the noble class.  Small jade figurines were also crafted to serve as spirit vessels, or mingqi.  These were then placed in the tombs of nobles, representing servants who will do their bidding in the afterlife.  Jade was made into many other forms as well, such as weapons, tools, and ritual objects.  As can be seen, jade crafting was a highly sought after form of art in Ancient China.  And while jade is still fairly valuable today, it no longer holds the same symbolic significance as it did many centuries ago.

To end my post on an interesting note, here is another use for jade!