Fri, Dec 24, 2004 - Page 14 News List

A question of character

By Meredith Dodge  /  STAFF REPORTER

Calligrapher Yu Guo-ching makes his brush dance to the music. One of his finished pieces is shown here.

PHOTO: MEREDITH DODGE, TAIPEI TIMES

Whether they make your heart beat faster or your head spin, Chinese characters are a powerful force to be reckoned with. Yet, as the world's most complicated writing system -- with its combination of pictograms, ideograms and phonetic signifiers -- Chinese script is under attack and has been for over a century.

The first-ever Taipei Chinese Character Festival is organized by Taipei city's Department of Cultural Affairs and examines the history and culture of as well as the present crises facing Chinese characters from academic, artistic and technological vantage points.

According to Liao Hsien-hao (寥咸浩), Taipei City's cultural affairs commissioner, the festival will give Taiwan a chance to express its deep respect for traditional, or "orthodox" Chinese characters (正體字) and the important role they play in Chinese culture.

The month-long festival will kick off tomorrow night at

7:30pm with an outdoor multi-media concert in the plaza of the Ximending's Chungshan Auditorium. The concert will use a traditional Chinese orchestra for background music to which several master calligraphers will ink their different styles of characters on large sheets of paper.

The performance is designed to demonstrate how the act of writing a character can become like a dance in which each stroke has a different quality or emotion. However, unlike a dance, the performance produces a concrete work of art that allows viewers to reconstruct the calligrapher's movements as they examine each character. If this interactive performance can't show you how to appreciate the complex beauty of Chinese calligraphy, nothing can.

There will be plenty of opportunities for examining all kinds of Chinese characters at the festival's exhibition entitled Chinese Characters and Life. It will open on Dec. 31 at the National Museum of History. The exhibition will focus on four main topics.

One section will feature the five calligraphic scripts, each with its own historical and socio-cultural significance: the seal script (篆書), the official or clerical script (隸書), the regular script (楷書), the grass script (草書) and the running script (行書).

Another section is devoted to the decorative function of characters, displaying a collection of everyday objects from tea utensils to weapons.

The calligraphic art section shows how the deceptively simple act of writing can become such a rich and highly developed art form, while the "Chinese character technology and modern art" section is sure to hold a few surprises. The exhibition will give visitors a chance to become acquainted with the historical and cultural aspects of something they see and use everyday. For example, did you know that there used to be a character set used only by women?

"Much of modern society considers Chinese characters to be a relic of the past," said Commissioner Liao at a press conference Tuesday. But the main point of the festival, he stressed, was not for Chinese culture to pat itself on the back for past glories.

The International Academic Conference on Chinese Characters and Globalization is planned for Jan. 28-30 at the National Library.

Liao said that the most important task for the conference was to identify and discuss the threats facing the Chinese writing system. Scholars and professionals from various fields will discuss the status of Chinese characters in the "Confucian sphere of influence," which extends throughout East and Southeast Asia. Although Japan is the only non-Chinese society that still uses Chinese characters in its writing system, both Korean and Vietnamese were written using Chinese (or Chinese-based) characters in the recent past.

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