History of Chinese
Calligraphy - Part 1

The origin of Chinese writing is debatable and scientists cannot settle down agreeing to a concrete point in time. We could however confidently state that it has all begun at the very moment when a human being decided to put his thoughts down in a form of symbolic drawing or abstract design, linked to an idea, feeling or a moving experience.

Daimaidi rock carvings – hunting scene, 7000-32.000 B.C., central China.

In 1988, a few thousand mysterious petroglyphs (zoomorphic characters) carved into the rocky cliffs of Beishan Mountain were discovered in Damaidi area (大麥地), Zhongwei (中衛) a prefecture-level city in China. The oldest of them were created twenty to thirty thousand years ago, whilst the latest ones were from around six to seven thousand years ago, i.e during the New Stone Age.

They mainly depict images of animals such as tigers, dogs, horses and sheep, but also scenes from life, like weddings or other ceremonies and events.

Whether those are the cradle of Chinese characters is still a mystery, though one thing is certain, that drawings from Daimadi are the oldest creations of human artistic imagination and thought, ever discovered in China.

Since Far Eastern calligraphy is based on concept of imagery and abstract visions of the surrounding world, it would perhaps not be erroneous to state that Damaidi rock carvings are the aesthetic seed of the modern art of shodo.

Yangshao pottery, 3000 B.C., (note markings resembling today's pictogram of grain, 米 ), The Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, Stockholm

The next great step on the pages of history for the Chinese art of writing, was made in 1921 when a Swedish archeologist Johan Gunnar Anderson discovered decorated pottery near Yangshao village (仰韶), Henan Province.

Yangshao culture lasted for an astonishing 2000 years, starting around 5000 B.C. Such a span is rather unusual for the New Stone Age era. Ceramics found on the site were decorated with black, white and red markings. Some experts have successfully linked them to modern Chinese language, however the debate continues.

Even if we discard Damaidi drawings as a farfetched theory of the origin of the Chinese logographic script, Yangshao markings could be successfully classified as its beginning. Consequently, it would mean that the history of Chinese calligraphy is at least 7000 years old, 1500 years older than the most ancient written language on Earth – Sumerian cuneiform, dated at 3500 B.C.

One fact is certain, that the majority of earthenware were created on territories along the Yellow River throughout the New Stone Age, the first dynasty of China, Xia dynasty (夏朝, 2070 B.C. -1600 B.C.), and up to the beginning of Shang dynasty (商朝 1600 B.C. – 1046 B.C.).

Human-faced fish decorated earthenware, Yangshao culture (5000 - 4000 B.C.), Capital Museum, Beijing, China.



Contiune to chinese calligraphy - Part 2

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