by Yu-Ru Lee
Chinese characters are always viewed as one of the most difficult and complex forms of writing. Totally different from phonetic alphabets, the written language of China is essentially a picture language. Many Chinese characters are based on images from nature (real objects) which makes for a striking form of expression.
We cannot know when calligraphy began in China. What we know is that ever since the Chinese invented the brush pen thousands of years ago, calligraphy has existed. Throughout this time it has been a form of art and has even been associated with the practice of Taoism and Buddhism.
The Spirit of the Chinese Character explores both the spiritual and artistic aspects of calligraphy. This book introduces 40 Chinese characters which are connected to the human spirit. From peace, energy and harmony to destiny and wisdom, all the characters have been written by Russell Eng Gon (including indications of stroke order), with English explanations by Barbara Aria.
Aria tries to explain every character from the standpoint of both Confucianism and Taoism, philosophies which not only affect Chinese society but also shape the spirit of the writing itself. Confucianism emphasis the importance of moral correctness. On the other hand, Taoism focuses on simplicity and self-purification. Therefore, the same character may have different meanings depending on which philosophy you adopt.
Aria gives both interpretations of each character in plain English. For example, the Tao is the "way" of moral rectitude in Confucianism, but means the "law" or "truth" of the universe from the point of view of Taoism.
The Spirit of the Chinese Character provides a window for readers to take a look at Chinese culture and, at the same time, appreciate the beauty of calligraphy. There is also a stamp kit called Chinese Characters (Chronicle Books, $19.95) which includes 20 rubber stamps and is another way to enjoy the arts of calligraphy.
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