My eight weeks Introduction to Chinese Calligraphy course has been extended for another eight weeks. We broke up on December 1 last year and after an eight weeks’ break, six of my students turned up yesterday. MOSAIC, the multicultural centre where I volunteered to teach, informed me that there are students on the waiting list but I decided not to take novices for this term. The knowledge gap between these six students is wide enough without adding more newbies to the mix.
Only two of the six students had been through the previous eight weeks course: one Japanese lady who’s been learning Chinese Calligraphy for some time and one Australian man who cannot read or write. Two students, both Chinese who can read and write and have proficiency in Chinese calligraphy had joined in week 4 last year, and two joined yesterday. Of the latter two, one is literate and the other is the mother of my Japanese student. Both mother and daughter studied Chinese as all educated Japanese do.
Although the students who are literate have a distinct advantage, I find that total novices to the language are more open to the discipline and rules of writing. I remember receiving my driver’s licence at 17 after taking 10 lessons from a professional driver yet someone who’d been indulged by his father to take the wheel long before he was old enough to get a learner’s permit failed again again and again. Sometimes a little humility goes a long way.
Most of the students should be able to achieve the goal for this term: a Tang dynasty poem by Wang Zhihuan 王之渙 , “Climbing Stock Tower” 登鸛雀樓。 The poem has four lines of five characters each. As you can see it is written here without punctuation as was the practice of classical scholars.
Below is my translation of the poem; the word for word translation are in brackets.
As the white sun slips against the hill (white sun leans mountain ends)
the Yellow River flows into the sea (Yellow River into sea flows)
A thousand miles are within your sight (Want as far as thousand miles eyes)
If you rise higher than you have been (further rise one storey tower)
My classes are quite informal. I usually give a short talk on certain aspect of Chinese calligraphy that may help students improve their work then go around to each of them to check their progress and to help with problems. Usually students would ask me to demonstrate the best way to achieve a particular stroke. Often I find that their problem is not necessarily the writing but perhaps the brushes were not loaded correctly or they simply interpreted the strokes incorrectly.
From the beginning I’d said to the students that most of the work is done with the eyes but some of the students have fixed ideas about how a character should look according to their experience with writing it with a pen. They now find it does not translate well with a brush. They need a new way of seeing.
The lymphodema in my arm is an impediment but I find that if I can help a student see the way to approach the writing, they can pick it up from my brief demonstration.