Chinese Calligraphy: History and Materials

Chinese calligraphy, or 书法 (shū fǎ), is an ancient art form dating back as early as around 200 BCE. Since some Chinese characters are based on pictographs, writing Chinese is almost like drawing, and calligraphy even more so!

Chinese calligraphy has a long and rich history.


The earliest forms of Chinese writing were found carved on animal bones and bronze vessels during the Shang Dynasty (around 1600-1100 BCE). However, it was later, during the Han Dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE) when calligraphy, using a brush and ink, began to develop (2).

You’ll find Chinese calligraphy on scrolls, paintings, and inscribed on statues or temples. Some styles of calligraphy are more difficult to read than others, but all are beautiful and bring a certain element of grace to whatever medium they’re written on.

Calligraphy masters have spent years and years perfecting their craft, but don’t be intimidated. You don’t have to be good at it right away to practice it and have fun!



To write calligraphy, you need four materials: A brush, ink, inkstone (this can be omitted if you use liquid ink) and Paper.

Together, these are called 文房四宝 (wénfángsìbǎo), or the Four Treasures of Study.

Brushes are traditionally made with white, black, or yellow animal hair (such as rabbit, goat, or weasel hair) bundled together and coming to a point. The hair is pushed into a tube made of bamboo or wood, creating the handle. The brush must be flexible in order to create the flowing strokes in calligraphy.

Ink is made from lampblack, created from burning pine resin or oil under a hood. Soot is collected and pressed into blocks that are often decorated. The calligrapher can then use an inkstone to grind the block down to powder and mix it with water. This way, he or she can control the viscosity of the ink. Liquid ink can also be used but is more difficult to transport and can be messier.

Lastly, paper was originally made from the fibers of plants such as mulberry, hemp, or bamboo. This was much more affordable than silk.

Post time: Apr-28-2022