Arabic Calligraphy in China

by Hajj Noor Deen Mi Guangjiang (C)

In the Name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful

The religion of Islam came to China 1300 years ago. Since then, diligent, brave and intelligent Chinese Muslims have created not only material treasury, but also spiritual supply. Through their efforts in more than one thousand years, Chinese Muslims have created excellent Islamic arts in different aspects of cultural domain. Among them the Arabic Calligraphy is a shining star that shows the spirit of the ethnic and the essence of the culture. Also, it reflects the aesthetic interest of calligraphers and the wisdom of Muslim community.

After Islam came to China, Chinese Muslims have absorbed some techniques and fonts from Chinese calligraphic art to create this unique Arabic calligraphic art. It is called as Chinese Muslim's traditional Arabic Calligraphy. Writing of this traditional Arabic calligraphy is complex. It requires cooperate around and balance up and down. This Arabic calligraphy is very unique with flexible sizes, vigorous strokes and strong structure. It is written at one stretch with clear layers, pretty lines, and is full of third dimension and strong rhythm.

The Arabic calligraphy in Chinese font turns words of Quran into drawings.

1. It can be categorized by calligraphic tools to hard writing brush font and soft writing brush font. The hard writing brush font refers to the calligraphy written by a piece of bamboo, wood or root of plants etc. The soft writing brush font uses the brush that is made from soft material such as hair or fiber.

2. According to geographic area, it has three branches: North, South and West.

3. Based on the writing styles, it can be classified as Imitation Han style typeface, BangShu font, Tumari font, Drawings of Quranic letters and carving font.

4. Within the last two decades, through the culture exchange between China and Middle East countries, Divani and Thulth fonts become popular.

5. By Chinese culture art, it has central scroll, horizontal scroll, Lifu, ShanPing, ShangMian, and couplet fonts.

6. Based on the techniques of artistic expression, it has Exaggerate, Divide, Curve, True and False, Thin and Thick, transformation, borrowing, dimensional crossing, partial overlay fonts.

7. By shapes, it has rectangle, square, circle, rhombus, fan-shaped, triangle, polygon, flower, fruit, wood and Jewelry fonts. A piece of beautiful calligraphic product must be natural and vivid, continuous, changeable, profound and graceful.

Hard writing brush font is very popularly used in Arabic calligraphy of Chinese font. Horizontal inscribed boards in mosques, sign boards of shops and restaurants, in front of houses, central and horizontal scrolls hanged indoor are all written in hard writing brush font. Also it is mostly used in writing on wood and stone boards. Hard writing brush font is classified as big and small characters. Usually small characters are used in writing Quran, some Islamic classics and text books about learning Arabic.

In China, calligraphic pens used in hard writing brush font are made of different kinds of material by lovers of calligraphy and calligraphers. Actually it is very simple to make a calligraphic pen. For example, you can choose a small piece of bamboo or wood whose size is about 10 cm long (If it is too long, it would not be smooth enough to turn around) and about 2 cm wide. It is cut by a knife to be a 1/2 cm thick flat shape. Then the flatter end is cut to be like a knife edge. Both sides of the bamboo are rubbed to be very smooth by fine abrasive paper. The last step is to cut the pen point that is like a knife edge to be even at 10 degree inclination. How wide the bamboo pen would be is based on the size of words. To write bigger sizes of Arabic letters, we need to choose a fabric that is easy to absorb water and also to allow liquid to evaporate. For example, polyester fabric, nylon fabric and so on are good to be used. Dacron fabric and cotton are not good to be used. Fabric is cut based on the sizes of the pens. The top of the calligraphic pen which is already cut and rubbed is wrapped by one layer of the fabric. Then the fabric is tied by string within 1.5 cm distance from the top. Otherwise, hands would very easily touch the ink from the fabric of the pen. Eventually, a calligraphic pen with great facility is finished.

Choosing different kinds of ink to write Arabic calligraphy is very important. There are many types of ink such as pine-soot ink, lampblack ink, pine oil soot ink, lacquer soot ink, China brand ink, ChaoSuGong ink, YiDeGe ink etc. The process of making ink is very particular. For example, pine-soot ink is made by burning pine branch to get smoked soot, then mixing the smoked soot with sizing material and perfume. The pine-soot ink is black but not shining. Lampblack ink is made by burning tung tree oil or vegetable oil to get smoked soot, then mixing it with sizing material, perfume, ice bar etc. The lampblack ink has very good quality and itís fine and smooth, black and shining. The ink plays a major role in artistic effect of Chinese Arabic calligraphy. It is very important to choose one kind of inks. A calligrapher who is good at the techniques of using different kinds of ink can write products that are very appealing and unique and lead the viewer to endless afterthoughts. One calligraphic book "HUA TAN" says 'The rule of using ink is about how to use water. Ink is the form, water is the air, air flows, and the form comes alive. Ancient men mentioned ink and water should be together. Indeed this is very reasonable.'

For Arabic calligraphy, the paper used to write is also very important. If chosen paper based on the artistic affect, Xuan paper is famous by its excellent quality and long lasting nature. It is also called "the thousand years old paper". Xuan paper is originated from city of Xuan in Anhui province in China. It is made from wingceltis' bark. Xuan paper was first used during Tang dynasty (A.D. Year 618 - 907). Before Song dynasty (A.D. Year 960 - 1279), water absorption ability and permeability of Xuan paper were not very strong, After Ming dynasty (A.D. Year 1368 - 1644) and Qing dynasty (A.D. Year 1616 - 1911), its water absorption ability and permeability became very strong. Based on material, Xuan paper is categorized as: cotton, net and leather. Also it can be classified as: raw, ripe and semi ripe. It has many different sizes: 3 inches, 4 inches, 5 inches, 6 inches, 10 inches etc.

Soft writing brush font used to be very popular in Chinese font Arabic calligraphy. It was influenced by the styles of Chinese handwriting. Sometimes it is written from right to left like Arabic writing; Sometimes Arabic letters can also be written from top to bottom as ancient Chinese handwriting and Chinese calligraphy. These make the unique appearance and form of Chinese Arabic calligraphy because it has been developed in China.

In the Chinese traditional Arabic calligraphy, letter ? and ? have the most abundant ways of writing. The writing of combining both letters together is very special.

The Arabic calligraphy in Chinese font is a broad and profound area. It is Chinese Muslimís resplendent treasure house. Culture will lose its shine if it loses its special ethnic characters. The Arabic calligraphy in Chinese font is the crystal of collected wisdom from lots of ancestors. It is a wonderful work of art in Chinese art and Islamic culture and art. Its lines are very beautiful, crisscrossing and one climax following another. Its implicit and misty meaning, rich, varied and delicate designs were inherited from one generation to another generation until now. Indeed it is worth to be studied and conducted research with diligence and hard work.

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