Chinese Calligraphy (书法: shūfǎ)

Homestay Tutors enjoying a calligraphy class in Beijing!

Today, we are going to learn about Chinese calligraphy – one of the most traditional Chinese art forms famous around the world! We will start by learning about the history and styles of Chinese calligraphy, giving you a background understanding of its importance in Chinese culture. Then, you will have the chance to practice the basic strokes yourself before producing a beautiful calligraphy masterpiece of your own!


Calligraphy is one of the most famous and ancient art forms in Chinese culture, dating all the way back to the Shang dynasty (1600-1100 BC). At the time, calligraphy came in the form of oracle bone carvings which were awarded a place of great significance in the culture. This reverence for calligraphy has continued throughout Chinese history, becoming the domain of highly educated scholars and government officials.

The concept we know today as “Chinese calligraphy” really developed during the Han dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD), when calligraphers began to use animal hair brushes, paper and ink. Paper is often considered one of China’s “four great inventions”, providing a much more affordable and convenient alternative to silk or stone tablets and thus providing the potential for calligraphy to become more widely practiced and appreciated. 


There are five major styles of Chinese calligraphy – Zhuan, Li, Cao, Xing and Kai. These gradually evolved over time and between different regions, resulting in a fascinating diversity of Chinese calligraphy art across China. Learn more on the Art Virtue website.

Seal script (篆书 zhuànshū)

Developed during the Qing dynasty, seal script is designed specifically for engraving – particularly for the production of official seals.

Despite these more functional origins, it has developed into an art form in itself with seal carving becoming a popular Chinese cultural activity! In seal script, characters have well defined strokes with a clear structure and symmetry.

Clerical script (隶书 lìshū)

Clerical script was developed as a way of standardising character writing by carefully spacing and positioning strokes with clearer brush endings, making calligraphy simpler to write and read as letters were being increasingly sent across the country. Despite huge changes over time, clerical script is still intelligible today!

Cursive script (草书 cǎoshū)

Intended originally as a form of rebellion, cursive script truly encompasses Chinese calligraphy art. With linked strokes flowing across the paper, it aims to be more abstract and convey emotion. There are no fixed rules, although the right hand radicals of each character tend to be more strongly pronounced than the left.

Regular script (楷书 kǎishū)

A second attempt at simplifying writing, regular script really brought calligraphy to the masses with more standardised techniques.

Each stroke is clearly separated and the character fits into a simple square structure. This also paved the way for the development of block printing and forms the basis of the modern writing system.

Walking script (行书 xíngshū)

Lying half-way between cursive script and regular script, walking script (also known as “semi-cursive”) is a more artistic and quicker handwriting form while still aiming to be readable.

Characters tend to be smoother with connecting strokes, yet still have a clearly defined structure and shape.


Before you can start drawing characters, first it is important to understand the eight core brush strokes which make up Chinese characters. Don’t skip this step! 

There are eight core brush strokes which make up all Chinese characters – 点 diǎn (dot), 横 hèng (horizontal line), 竖 shù (vertical line), 钩 gōu (hook), 提 tí  (tick), 撇 piě (sweep left), 捺 nà (sweep right) and 折 zhé (turn).

These eight strokes all come together in the Chinese word 永 – a beautifully symmetric character which means “eternal” or “forever”. 


Having learnt about the history and styles of calligraphy in China, now it’s your turn! Let’s have a go at producing a simple calligraphy masterpiece using materials from home. You are going to learn how to write the Chinese character 福 meaning “good fortune” – this is a particularly popular character to write and display around Chinese New Year! 

Before you get started, you will need the following:

  • Calligraphy brush / child’s large paint brush
  • Calligraphy ink / black watercolour paint
  • Thin shaun paper (absorbent watercolour paper or sugar paper would also work well but not printer paper)
  • Ink stone / small dish for the ink
  • Calligraphy felt / newspaper to protect the tabletop


Congratulations on your awesome works of art! Please do share your creations with us – tag @abridgeacademy on instagram for a feature or post in the Facebook group!

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