Chinese – this pictographic language seems to be considered the most difficult language to understand, and learn, in the world. This notion may be based on the fact that the symbols are so different from western letters, which leads to confusion and perhaps heightens the immense cultural barrier between the west and the east. Whatever the reason, it does throw off a lot of people, but from a native’s view, I look at it in a completely different way.
the free spontaneous expression of yourself communicates the whole feeling
Pictographic characters are an inherent part of Chinese language, and the shape of the pictograph reveals people’s way of thinking when creating Chinese characters because of its characteristics of image-making. By this principle, they allow you to make and see stories within each character. I will explain some very interesting and beautiful Chinese characters by breaking the characters down into stories.
This means to ‘cry’. Cool right? I will split it up and explain. On the top of the character you can see “口口”—this is literally a picture of a pair of eyes. Below its radical (parts that construct a character) suggests a tear drops in the corner of one of the eyes as well as the radical “大” shows someone stretching out their arms and legs. Breaking down the ‘crying’ character, you might feel a person is really crying in front of you and I couldn’t help feeling sad when I look at it.
This is a super cute character that used to express embarrassment or awkwardness. Almost every Chinese person knows this – even my Mum uses it sometimes. Some crazy-pants internet users had looked it up in numerous ancient Chinese dictionaries and then this embarrassed-looking character invaded the internet immediately. Although its actual meaning had already been thrown away, it possibly meant ‘bright’ and ‘fresh’ hundreds of years ago.
This means ‘dancing’ and it has a little dancer’s metaphor. It is the most beautiful character that I wrote when I was first learning Chinese, my whole family loved me writing it and I’ve adored it ever since. Especially when I’m practicing calligraphy—when holding an inked brush and after emptying your mind, it is possible to create this character without ever lifting your brush off the page. It’s like dancing the brush on the paper to write ‘dance’. The free, spontaneous expression of yourself communicates the whole feeling of ‘dancing’. That’s it – a unique statement of the moment that I love to look at and write.
Doing Chinese calligraphy is such a beautiful thing, standing in front of the white paper. It makes you see various aspects of yourself, of your personality, and this experience is very precious to me. It’s like meditation for me. The act of writing your language is somehow engraved in your heart, all you need to do is just express it and pour it onto the paper in front of you.
A special thank-you to CSSA-NCL Chinese Study Group Zhang Haoyu for supplying the examples of authentic Chinese calligraphy.