Clerical script
(隷書, reisho) - Part 2

Yi Ying Bei (乙瑛碑), tablet from late Han dynasty in clerical script, 153 C.E., ink rubbing


Very characteristic for clerical script is a brush technique referred to as gyakunyuu heishutsu (逆入平出, thus “reverse entry, calm exit”) in Japanese. The brush reverses before it proceeds in the direction of each stroke, regardless of its length or direction. It introduces a certain rhythm to the writing, evident in the specific appearance of the characters. It is also in accordance with natural forces, where there is no action without reaction. One needs to crouch before a jump to make it effective and graceful.

Further, certain horizontal strokes consist of what is known as “silkworm head” and “goose tail” (蠶頭雁尾, santou gan-o). Such vertical lines involve five brush movements executed in a single stroke. It engages the whole body and mind of the calligrapher in a writing ritual.

Each character of clerical script usually consists of one line that has both elements: “silkworm head” and a “goose tail”. It is not random within the character such a stroke is being incorporated. There are also rare exceptions where more than one is allowed. This rule is known as 一字一波 (ichiji ippa), i.e. “one character, one wave”, from the wavy movement of the hand during the finishing of a stroke. Once this technique is mastered, it means that one has learned the basics of clerical script.
Cao Quan Bei (曹全碑), tablet in clerical script of Han dynasty, 185 C.E., ink rubbing

Li Qi Bei (礼器碑), clerical script, Han dynasty, 156 C.E., ink rubbing.

Writing reisho is extremely soothing for soul and body. Following specific writing rules not only introduces a certain rhythm, allowing us to be hypnotized by it, but also cocoons us in a feeling of the meditative continuity of writing. Calligraphy in the official script is dignified, yet raw, allowing the artist to clearly display his personality.

The popularity of clerical script, together with other styles, was growing through Han dynasty (漢朝, 206 B.C. - 220 C.E.), especially since official imperial appointment examinations consisted mainly of testing calligraphy. Clerical script was the main style used during the exams. It is also important to understand that the Chinese paid great attention to handwriting. The Han dynasty was the birthplace of modern graphology.

As a result, throughout the four hundred years of the Han dynasty, most texts were written in clerical style. With the fall of the Han dynasty, gradually clerical script began to lose its dominant position. Due to a continuously increasing need for more rapid information exchange, cursive script was slowly taking its place.

Nonetheless, because of its ancient allure and due to its high readability, reisho is widely used nowadays in crafting personal seals, advertising, designing company logos, newspaper headings or even restaurant names (along with traditional calligraphy, naturally).


Back to Clerical Scripts - Part 1

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