Evolution of Calligraphy Tools and Materials
Hannah Champ, Jiaqi Li, Jingyao Zhang, Ceiren Eads, Michael Reeves
The beginning of Chinese writing first appeared in the Shang Dynasty.
Essentially, the early calligraphy was pictographs. Chinese writing progressed
from pictographs to ideograms, and these were modified through future
dynasties. Until the advent of the Qin Dynasty (ca. 220 to 206 BCE), the first
major unification of the Chinese state, there was not a standardized lexicon for
available for writing upon
included shells, bones,
pottery and bronze vessels,
and eventually wooden or
bamboo slats, the tools used
for writing remained
animal-hair brushes and color
Depending on the material used for writing and its durability, the
calligraphy was first completed with brush and color, and then, for example,
materials were removed by carving away material from the edges of the
During the unification of China under the Qin (Chin) Dynasty, it was
decreed that Chinese writing would become standardized to permit written
communication throughout the entire empire. This was the first pivotal point in
the development and evolution of the written Chinese language leading to
modern Chinese. This was a political or governmental decision to enhance the
ability to carry out the functions of ruling an entire nation.
Timeline of Calligraphy Tools and Materials
Pre-history to 206 BCE Brush & Color Ink & Red Pottery (~3000 BCE)
Eastern Chou & Warring States Period Shang Dynasty Shell & Bone (~1400-1100 BCE)
Eastern Chou & Warring States Period Silk Painting & Calligraphy (ca. 350 BCE)
Western Han Dynasty Bamboo and Wooden Slats
Eastern Han Dynasty Paper was invented in 49 A.D. Real Paper
Typography（movable-type printing）11th century A.D.
It is often difficult to determine which came first: the chicken or
the egg. The evolution of Chinese calligraphy is no exception. Once it
was determined, there existed a need for the government to establish a
standardized written language in order to communicate orders and reports
to the central government, and to communicate orders from the emperor,
there was also an incentive to find an efficient means for these communique.
The second edict to come from the Qin (Chin) Dynasty was to
make governmental positions available to the common people that could
demonstrate literacy and competence. This also required a means of
making available to the common people the literary classics used to
study for the civil service examinations when they were implemented in
It is our opinion that these events helped drive the adoption and
implementation of new tools and materials as they became available.
When Evolution of Calligraphy Tools and Materials first found their passion for academics at an early age, few would have guessed the accolade and widespread success their scholarly work would achieve. Their research and exceptional insight has not only uncovered many new findings, but has also greatly impacted how professional academics teach the field.
The role of Literature in the Evolution of Writing Instruments
In the Pre-History to 206 BCE, Neolithic Period (circa 2nd Millennium to Late Shang Dynasty)
First recorded history, people portrayed patterns and symbols on
Then, people drew symbols on turtle backs or other animal bones. This was used for augury.
In the period of Emperor Wu of the Western Han Dynasty, Sima Qian compiled a biographical history book, which recorded 2500 years of Chinese history from the legendary Emperor Huang to the early years of Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty. The literary content recorded in bamboo slips became a precious cultural treasure.
In the Eastern Han Dynasty, “Fu‘” became a mainstream culture as a style, but before that, in the Western Dynasty, it was also prominent. In the late Eastern Han Dynasty, Buddhism entered China, and the introduction and extensive development of Buddhist sutras promoted the invention of real paper. Because of the precious nature of paper, only the powerful families could afford it and use it.
Also, the thoughts and cultures of famous celebrities such
as Confucius and Laozi, which were earlier than the Eastern Han Dynasty, had developed quickly.
In the Tang Dynasty, poetry developed unprecedentedly. More and more poets and excellent works of poetry were recorded, and the use of paper was more extensive. Because of the wide spread of poetry and the need for recording it, movable-type printing was promoted.
In the Ming and Qing Dynasties, more and more ordinary people began to create vernacular novels, such as the "Dream of Red Mansions" in the Qing Dynasty, which was praised as one of the four famous works in China. At this time, in order to record and disseminate vernacular literature, the use of paper became very common and became the mainstream writing material.
Bamboo and Wooden Slats:
Heavy, bulky, and expensive to transport
Silk: Very Expensive, only the very wealthy can afford
Paper: Cheaper and easier to transport
Can be used to make Rubbings off Stone Drums or other sources
Block Printing: Wood or Stone
Expensive and time consuming to carve, but allows for printing entire pages
Moveable or Reusable Type Printing: Wood, Stone, or Metal
Individual ideograms fit into a holding form, and can be re-used
Cheaper still than block printing
Print entire pages
The role of Religion in the Development of Writing Instruments
Prehistory (Mythical Period) - no written records
The Shang Dynasty - first written records.
Bones were used as materials for calligraphy in order to emphasize the spiritual connection (mysticism).
The Han Dynasty - focused on teaching of Confucius (Analects & 5 Classics)
The influence of Confucius teachings that gave status to being able to read and write influenced the use of bamboo slats since it was more abundant, cheaper, and more resistant to being damaged than silk.
The Silk road introduced Buddhism and with this the availability of silk became more abundant and popular.
And in the late Western Han Dynasty, Buddhism was introduced into China, the emergence of a large number of Buddhist sutras promoted the development of paper.
Generally speaking, the change of writing materials in Chinese culture is a long process which is not only influenced by culture, religion and economy, but, also, by many other factors. Raw materials such as pottery, animal bones, silk, and bamboo slips were expensive, inconvenient for transportation and preservation. Economic imperfections promoted the invention of real paper. Religious culture has played an important role in the history of Chinese culture and promoted the development of writing materials, especially Buddhist and Taoist cultures. Vernacular literature made Chinese literature richer, not only because the creation of vernacular literature by ordinary people lead to more convenient production of paper, but also because the extensive use of paper materials in the general population made vernacular literature widely disseminated and recorded.