ABSTRACT

The socio-cultural significance of Chinese characters is evident in the passages we have discussed above, and every Chinese child internalises the ideology of writing. From a very early age every educated Chinese native reader-writer learns how to hold a brush and how to move the hands to achieve the right stroke. The highly tactile sensory-motor activity of writing helps to instil the memory of the character and its phonological, visual and semantic components. Ignoring the rules may result in characters that offend the eye and hamper reading. To this end, innumerable manuals and copy books are available. It makes sense to translate the manuals and copy books, for foreign learners, like Chinese children, start to learn to write long before they are able to read fluently. Chiang Yee notes that the ‘delectable’ hobby of calligraphy is the most popular of the arts (1938/1973: 17). This could be due to the fact that everyone who is educated possesses a greater or lesser extent of skill in the medium. The language of the manuals, while predictably ideological and emotional, necessarily focuses on the tactile aspects of processes and technique and the visual aspects of style. Yen speaks of ‘becoming a person through wen’ (文), that is the whole

process of becoming literate, refined and civilised in a Chinese context (2005: 46). To be uncivilised (沒文化) is to be ignorant, and is associated in the Chinese mind with negative attitudes towards the less well educated, and in particular rural people (ibid.: 34). Writing Chinese characters represents a profound integration of mind, body and spirit. The terms of calligraphy draw on the physical terminology of bones, sinews and flesh (骨、筋、肉) and the practice of writing is literally embodied in the writer’s stance and actions, a phenomenon that Yen calls ‘technique of the body’ or ‘body engineering’ (2005: 81).