My class of 10 students now consists of five well practiced calligraphers, three ‘beginners’ with knowledge of Chinese characters and two novices with no knowledge of Chinese language.
It is a curious thing that one should start learning about a new language by studying calligraphy. You would think that putting the proverbial cart in front of the horse would not work too well, yet if the horse knows its purpose, and it is properly harnessed, it can push the cart along, albeit with greater effort, by learning to use different muscles. So it is in this class; I am willing to let it be.
Last week students protested when I presented them with a test without notice, though its purpose is for them to find out whether they are secure in the techniques that we’ve covered so far. If so, the road ahead will become easier but if not, this is the time to seek solutions to any problems. I do not grade them according to the their test results and no one fails.
In Session Four we will be concentrating on structure. The structure of each character as well as the structure of their project piece.
Students will be expected to choose a project and work on it for the rest of the term, whether it be the 28 character poem or extracts from it. They must design the layout of their work and master the writing of the characters and their placement. They must sign their piece; some with their Chinese names, some takes an artist’s name and others may design their own logo. John, for example, spells his name vertically as a signature.The dating of the piece is another consideration. Each Chinese year is ‘numbered’ by using the ‘ten heavenly stem and twelve earthly branches’ 天干地支 tiangandizhi. For example this year （2016）, the year of the Fire Monkey, is 丙申 bing shen, the 33rd of the 60 year cycle.
The first character 丙 bing（fourth stem) is in the Fire element (Yang) and represents the fourth hour of a day (the Chinese clock has 12 hours only so each ‘stem’ represents two hours in a 24 hour clock, starting from 2300hrs). The second character (ninth branch) 申 is represented by the Monkey, the ninth animal to present itself to the Jade (Heavenly) Emperor in a legendary tale about the origin of the animals years. It also represents the ninth month of the year.
It is inevitable that students learning how to write Chinese characters with a brush will also learn about Chinese culture and tradition.