calligraphy Tang Yin Poem

New Year’s Pastime

Calligraphy after Tang Yin

In China, calligraphy is mainly written for the Chinese New Year, as far as calligraphy is still practiced. Last year my work was introduced on Chinese TV. (LINK) This year I wanted to start our western New Year with calligraphy, with a poem by Tang Yin (唐寅 1470–1524 ). He’s not my favorite calligrapher, nor my favorite poet, but his work is good if you haven’t practiced calligraphy seriously in a long time.
What came out of it, however, is nothing special, more of a symbolic gesture and I did several versions for fun.

calligraphy Tang Yin Poem
written on the cheapest rice paper which is quite useful for practicing

When the Chinese see my calligraphy, they generally respond with enthusiastic admiration. But that says nothing. They are generally nice, friendly people.
And how do I see it myself? Well, like this: Little John is playing Beethoven’s “For Elise” for his grandmother on her 80th birthday. Grandma is moved to tears and mom and dad are proud as turkeys. Only little John knows that as a pianist he will never be more than Little John. He has heard records by Sviatoslav Richter, Friedrich Gulda, and Alexis Weissenberg and knows that this is a world he can never penetrate.

But who cares? The time I spend doing calligraphy is spent fishing with other guys – and some never coming home with a catch.
And Calligraphy isn’t just about reaching these heights. It is also a form of meditation, a tool used to train patience and perseverance. It is a philosophy that can shape our thinking to a large extent.

calligraphy Tang Yin Poem
Japanese ink on western paper – makes nice tones of the cinnabar red

Achieving mastery in one’s passion is a difficult matter as we know. Whether in music, sport, or science, the magic word is discipline. And also time, a lot of time.
In principle, could a non-Chinese become a good calligrapher? I guess so. It’s like classical music. When I was still young and a steadily increasing stream of Japanese students began to study music in Vienna, there were concerns like: A Japanese and Schubert ?!
Anyway, I never liked this kind of artificial boundary but was fascinated by this idea. My point of view was confirmed pleasantly, for example by Dame Mitsuko Uchida who plays such a lovely Mozart that moves one to tears.

And for Chinese calligraphy?: In my experience, open-minded Westerners find Chinese calligraphy generally interesting. Just like you can play Mozart all over the world and meet with inclined ears. Unfortunately, the limits of interest are usually soon reached, as a failure to understand the content is viewed as a deficiency. But sometimes they are in good company. During my time at the Academy in Beijing, I was incredibly lucky to meet the famous painter Li Keran (李可染 1907 – 1989), and he told the following story. When he was a young student and money was a precious commodity, one day he came across what he thought was great calligraphy. He borrowed money from various people to buy it. But it wasn’t until many years later that he was able to understand the content.

This calligraphy I am presenting is rather easy to read, but hardly anyone even in China will really understand it because it refers to different historical personalities that hardly anyone knows anymore. The text says:


(a rough translation would be:

The white weeping willows grow in fresh green, and the purple-backed duckweed is fine-grained. In March, looking for Fang to ride a phoenix couple, and sing together for a while on the way to Tasha.

The light-receiving courtyard hurts Qiyan and the drizzle wet warbler on the terrace. Don’t ask Dongjun to complain about his grievances, since the spring dream is unclear.)

calligraphy Tang Yin Poem

Why am I telling this? It aims to help illustrate that Chinese calligraphy is a very complex subject. Every single brushstroke, even a dot, is a small philosophical world and is also stylistically determined. Some characters consist of a few strokes only, but there are often characters with 20 or even 30 strokes and they have to be composed correctly first. A dot too much can change the meaning of the word. And then the characters have to be set about each other and so much more.

So it is just like classical music, for example. There are the basics, the disciplined finger exercises, keyboard up and down, and gradually you penetrate into the depths. From this simplified representation, it quickly becomes clear that the road to the heights of calligraphy is a very long one.

Some of my other calligraphy can be found HERE


13 responses to “New Year’s Pastime”

  1. Die Erste Eslarner Zeitung (@EslarnerZeitung) avatar

    Happy New Year! Thank you for sharing information on this interesting topic. xx Michael

    1. Zettl Friedrich avatar

      Frohes Neues Jahr Michael! Glueck und Gesundheit und viele Leser!

  2. Martha Kennedy avatar

    Frohes Neues Jahr, Friedrich! Fascinating post.

    1. Zettl Friedrich avatar

      Auch Dir noch einmal ein Frohes Neues Jahr! Sure it will be a great one, you just don’t know yet 🍸😄

      1. Martha Kennedy avatar

        Du hast recht. Ich weiß nicht. 😀 Prost!

  3. swabby429 avatar

    As someone who struggles with standard American cursive, calligraphy is an artform I greatly admire.

  4. kutukamus avatar

    May you have a good journey. In calligraphy. >-I

    1. Zettl Friedrich avatar

      Thank you so much! All the best for 2022! Cheers! 🍸

  5. Cherryl avatar

    It’s nice to have a unique pastime, and I guess it gives the mind time to relax and think like any other types of art✨

    1. Zettl Friedrich avatar

      Thank you, Cherryl! Yes, time for relaxing and reflecting is an important, precious thing.

      1. Cherryl avatar

        Very much so💫

  6. Olivia May avatar

    Yes, calligraphy = meditation, also, your writing skills and knowledge of chinese are outstanding, thank you for sharing.

    1. Zettl Friedrich avatar

      Thank you, Olivia, for your encouriging words! They mean a lot to me. I am still learning…..

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