Shodo and Chinese Calligraphy 書法 與 書道 - Vincent's Calligraphy

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Shodo (書道) and Chinese Calligraphy (書法)

The term shodo (書道 - the path/way(道) of writing (書)) was a term frequently used in ancient China to describe the art of Chinese calligraphy (書法 - method/law (法) of writing (書)). As documented in the reputable book Dictionary of Chinese Calligraphy (《中國書法大辭典》):

"Shodo (書道) - To take the art of calligraphy as a means to cultivate one's character; via the practice of calligraphy, one is able to express and reflect on one's emotions, to elevate one's moral character, and to think and understand the meaning of life; this is known as shodo (書道)...Chinese calligraphy (書法) does not simply refer to the method or technique in writing individual words or characters but rather to the expressions of one's passions, personality, interests, moral character, physique, charisma, style, emotions and thoughts through calligraphy...as mentioned in one of the writings of a renowned Tang Dynasty Calligrapher Yu Shinan, "to grasp the essence of shodo (書道), one must perceive and understand it in the mind but not by brute physical force." Ming Dynasty's Dong Qichang also wrote, "at the highest level (of calligraphy), one's spirit must not be absent.  To create an outstanding piece of calligraphy, one must injects one's mind and soul into the work and write with one's heart.  This philosophy is certainly not restricted to shodo (書道), but applies to everything else that we do." Qing Dynasty's Bao Shichen wrote, "the essence and ingenuity of shodo (書道) is temperament, with the writing techniques only acting as the exterior shell."  Hence, it is apparent that personal character and mind are the basis of shodo (書道) and calligraphy.  The term shodo (書道) originated long time ago; it was a term used extensively and broadly in the Tang Dynasty when discussing the art of Chinese calligraphy.  Shodo (書道) was originally synonymous with Chinese calligraphy (書法), with the path () guiding the techniques (技藝).  Later on, shodo (書道) takes on a slightly different meaning with the path () used as a guide to direct the principles (理) of writing; such is the essence of Chinese calligraphy." (Translated by KS Vincent Poon to English from original Chinese text in the Dictionary of Chinese Calligraphy (《中國書法大辭典》) p. 73. See notes below for original text and bibliography.)*

Today, many believe learning Chinese calligraphy is simply learning methods to write better-looking Chinese words or characters as the term is often colloquially interpreted as the method () of writing ().  This is an incomplete interpretation and understanding of the art of Chinese calligraphy.  Refining and cultivating one's personal character is an extremely important component in learning and writing Chinese calligraphy, as contemporary Chinese calligrapher Poon Kwok Kin noted, "without good personal character and discipline, one is unlikely to produce an elegant piece of calligraphy (沒有高雅的品格操守,難有清雅的書法作品。)"(1,2).  Hence, the art of Chinese calligraphy is more clearly represented as "shodo" (書道-which can be interpreted as the path to enlightenment through writing) instead of the current term "method of writing" (書法).  Indeed, as Poon Kwok Kin further stated, " "method of writing" is only the technique, while "shodo" is the essential spirit (書法者技巧, 書道者精神。」) "(3).

Notes:
*Original Chinese text in the Dictionary of Chinese Calligraphy (《中國書法大辭典》):
書道: 將書法藝術理解爲一種陶冶情性的手段;通過書法的實踐,抒發和調節作者的感情,提高個人的品德素養,探索和理解人生的意義,是爲「書道」。...中國的書法並非單純的寫字技法,它的本旨在於通過漢字的藝術書寫,藉以表達個人的感情、性格、趣味、素養、體質、氣魄、風格、情緒、思想等精神因素...誠如唐虞世南《筆髓論》所言:「故知書道玄妙,必資神遇,不可以力求也。」明董其昌《畫禪室隨筆》卷一《評書法》曰:「總之欲造極處,使精神不可廢沒。所謂神品,以吾神能著故也。何獨書道,凡事皆爾。」清包世臣《藝舟雙楫》:「書道妙在性情,能在形質。」皆主張以人之質爲書之本。「書道」一詞,起源甚早,唐人論書著作中多見之。其義原同「書法」,蓋「道 」者,訓「技藝 」也。後漸改其義,以「道」訓「理」,遂得書之真諦。」

Source: 梁披雲主編:《中國書法大辭典》。香港:書譜出版社,1987 第2。73

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