Contemplative Calligraphy

Chinese I students practice Chinese Calligraphy 

When Chinese I was first offered on St. Christopher’s campus last fall, ten courageous boys from a mix of grades of 8, 9, and 10 decided to take up this opportunity. After several months of study, they have achieved near perfect tones and pronunciation, conducted periodical online chat sessions with their Chinese buddies in China, read short stories, and written Chinese characters ranging from simple structures to complicated ones. In order to further cultivate their love for Chinese characters, which constitute a 3,000 year old system of written codes based on images and ideas, I decided to introduce ink and brush Chinese calligraphy to the boys.

The first session was 25 minutes long, including a five minute introduction video, a ten minute teaching video, and practice time. At the beginning, I wasn’t sure how my students would respond. But I noticed that the boys were unusually quiet when they were practicing, including the boys who are normally quite physically active. Everyone was so focused on holding the brush the right way, starting and ending the strokes the right way. Chinese calligraphy, an ancient art form as old as Chinese characters, has been popular in Eastern Asia including China, Japan, and Korea. It emphasizes the artful use of energy as one creates the strokes which form characters that convey meaning and beauty. Chinese calligraphy has been used in China for meditation, for fostering stillness, inner peace, and character. The boys certainly were responding to the inner meaning of Chinese calligraphy at the get-go.

A few days later in class, a boy told a classmate who wasn’t at the first calligraphy session, “We did calligraphy when you weren’t here!” Then another student asked, “When are we going to do it again?” I realized that my students were really interested. So I started an effort to find a calligraphy teacher for the boys. With the help of a parent, I connected with Vince Shi, a VCU senior, who is a Chinese native and a calligrapher. Vince offered to volunteer teaching the boys on a weekly basis during the Wednesday block period. He started off with teaching the boys basic strokes. Then they proceeded to write simple characters.

Chinese calligraphy has been scientifically investigated in the fields of psychology, cognitive science, and the cognitive neuroscience in the past 30 years. There has been research indicating that Chinese calligraphy improves mental stillness and concentration, relaxation, stress reduction, and even depression. So, as my students keep interested, I will continue providing opportunities for them to practice Chinese calligraphy.

Sources:
The Effects Of Chinese Calligraphy On Reducing
Anxiety And Comorbid Depression Levels Among
Breast Cancer Patients In Hong Kong
https://digitalcommons.andrews.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2905&context=dissertations

Long-Term Experience of Chinese Calligraphic Handwriting Is Associated with Better Executive Functions and Stronger Resting-State Functional Connectivity in Related Brain Regions
http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0170660

Below: Jackson Hill was lifting up his Chinese character “爱”, meaning love, before giving it to his mom on Mother’s Day. On the Wednesday before the Mother’s Day, the class practiced writing this character and each student gave his mom his best work as a Mother’s Day present.

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