Just like human characters, the writing of Chinese characters comes in all shapes and sizes. With the first brush stroke on paper, my students decided those dimensions of every character in their piece.
The first vertical line is the plump line and the first horizontal marks the angle of the tilt that every horizontal line that follows, must follow. The size of the first character determined the relative size of the next and subsequent characters and so on.
Yesterday the students presented samples of their work and though they were excellent at this level, some of them were wandering into dangerous territories. For example, the first and second character of their project, a Tang dynasty poem, starts with the two characters, 白日, ‘white sun’ (daylight). The students wrote the following:
The first character has a squat and almost square shape: 白 and the second character has a rectangular shape，日 ; narrower in width. Few students made that distinction. Does it matter? I hear you say. Yes –because a change in shape may give a different meaning to the word. Below are two characters: 日 and 曰，one means ‘sun’ or ‘day’ and the other means ‘say’. Although the poem is famous enough for people to recognise that the second character they wrote is ‘sun’ and not ‘say’ and it is clear in the context that it is so, it is just as well to be mindful of this trap.
The shape of each character forms the character. It’s a mistake to change the shape even if the intention is to add variation to a piece. This is often done when there is a repeat of a character (i.e. two or more) in a piece but the fundamental shape of the character is unchanged.
As above, the variation may be made by changing the thickness of the strokes, the length of the strokes, the angle of the horizontals and so on.