Transparent Happiness

Calligraphy at the entrance of a park

Calligraphy is a beautiful art. Many Chinese children are introduced to the practice when they are young.  Some of my students spent hours a day to develop their skills; the practice helps build focus and discipline as well as attention to detail.  Being able to master calligraphy as well as painting and poetry are requisite skills of a well-educated person.

Insights Guides: China says, “For the Chinese, the written word is the carrier of culture, and the difficulty of learning written Chinese [I knew there had to be a reason for why Chinese characters are so complex] ensured the high social status of the scholar-gentry class”  (85).  “Chinese characters,” notes Lonely Planet China, “express both meaning as a word and visual beauty as an image…[They] are possibly the most important link Chinese of any era have had with their ancient ancestors.  As such, calligraphy (shūfǎ) has always been the highest art form inChina” (70).    Although China has numerous spoken dialects, Mandarin writing has basically maintained its single standard and style and is thus considered more important than the spoken language.

Calligraphy by a waterfall

At Daming Mountain

Wherever we go, we see calligraphy: on cliff faces, on stones at the entrances of parks, on teapots, for businesses, at temples, on doorways.

Statue on Hefang Street

If the script is stylized or ancient, even my students sometimes have trouble being able to read it.  Communist leaders, including Mao and Hu, have been proud of their considerable calligraphy skills.

Just as we have seen tea presentations done as a performance so it is with calligraphy.

Calligraphy as performance

The calligraphy master explaining his poem

There is painting as performance too

Calligraphy and poetry in the park

Although I can read very little Chinese and the calligraphy is even more complex, I try to figure out what I see.  So when Barry and I had to move apartments earlier this semester, I was thrilled to rescue two framed calligraphy pieces from the communal storage area.

Transparent Happiness

Yes, the painting is hung the correct way I needed to be told: the plants on the bank of a pond arch over the water.

The Chinese characters are written from the right to the left.

Calm--now in our living room

This piece was particularly dirty, but I was able to clean it up enough to make it look, I think, very historic.

Many of my students, male and female, know the art of calligraphy.  One of my most valued gifts since arriving here is a poem by Tandy, a friendly gangling Chinese guy who unofficially audited one of my night classes to improve his spoken English.  (Tandy chose his own English name.  I thought it might be after one of the 1980 computers—like my first one, but no, he likes candy).  He combined his poetic and calligraphy skills to present me this meaningful gift.

Neighbors in the World

Hái nèi cún shī tĭ

Tiān yá ruò bī lín

Wherever you go, you will always have friends with you.

At the end of the world, we are like neighbors.

Tandy, ZAFU Oral English student, Dec. 22, 2010

Lin’an, China

I love these pieces.

Tandy in the middle. Tandy and his friends were selling flash drives and MP3 players during the campus business fair on May 14


We can guess what it might say

Zài Jiàn and Aloha, Renée



About reneeriley

Our blog was begun as a way to share our experiences in China. From August 2010 to July 2011, my husband, Barry Kristel, and I were at our University of Hawaii Maui College sister school, Zhejiang Agriculture and Forestry University in Lin'an, China, a city considered rural because it has only 500,000 people! We had a wonderful time. Then in February 2012, we returned to teach this time at our other sister school, Shanghai Normal University, in a city of over 21 million people. We've made many discoveries. Did you know that now Chinese girls, at least the ones who go to university, for the most part feel they are luckier than the Chinese boys? Did you know that Shanghai saved over 20,000 European Jews during WWII? Do you know how Chinese university students would deal with problems that come up in Dear Abby letters? What's it like to be on the Great Wall of China? Do you know how many Chinese girls had their feet bound and why? And we have recipes from many of the places we've visited. Among others, you can find instructions on how to fry cicadas from one of my ZAFU students and how to make chocolate-Kahlua waffles from my brother Mike in Gainesville. You can also look back to our earliest entry to see what we experienced in Oaxaca, Mexico, in 2006 during the mainly peaceful six months of protest until the Mexican government sent in the troops. Between our stays in China, Barry and I have been on the Mainland U.S. visiting family, friends and Servas hosts as we traveled home to Maui. We share those experiences too. Welcome to our blog! Aloha and Zài Jiàn, Renée and Barry

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