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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

“Ma Guojun. Art of Calligraphy”

This is the name of the contemporary Chinese master’s exhibition that opened at the Bohdan and Varvara Khanenko National Museum of Art on March 20
24 March, 2014 - 17:12

The exhibition displays 23 calligraphic scrolls, made in the traditional manner by famed modern master Ma Guojun. The scrolls contain citations of ancient thinkers, and their thoughts about self-improvement, social harmony and governance are still relevant even a thousand or a thousand and five hundred years later. Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the PRC to Ukraine Zhang Xiyun opened the exhibition.

 We do not know when exactly Chinese characters appeared. There is evidence that this happened under the Yin Dynasty (1401-1122 BC), but there is also a legend that the Chinese characters were invented by the Heavenly Emperor Huangdi’s official historiographer Cangjie 4,000 years ago.

 “Cangjie invented characters, making the Heaven rain millet and evil spirits weep at night,” the legend says.

 Renowned scholar and calligrapher of the Tang Dynasty era (618-907 BC) Yu Shinan said of Cangjie’s invention: “He created six kinds of brush strokes, taking as a model the contours of the mountains and streams, rivers and seas, and traces of dragons and snakes, birds and mammals.”

 The earliest Chinese characters were written on tortoise shells and bull bones. They are called jiaguwen, which literally translates to “text on shells and bones.” After the bronze melting technology had been developed, they began to write Chinese characters on bronze vessels. They were called jinwen, which means “text on the bronze.”

 As character writing was developing, different styles of calligraphy started to emerge, such as zhuan, lishui, sing, cao, kai and others. Subsequently, calligraphy has evolved into an art form with its strict rules. For example, every Chinese character must fit in a square of a given size, strokes should only be written from top to bottom and left to right, with horizontal ones preceding vertical ones, etc.

 Interestingly, Chinese still believe that calligraphy reflects the quality and character of a man! In ancient times, prospective employees presented would-be employer not their curricula vitae, as we do now, but an example of their calligraphy, whereby the employer decided to hire that person or not...

 It is impossible to determine exactly how many Chinese ideographic characters there are. Average Chinese uses in his speech a few thousand characters. Literate person is one who understands 1,500 to 3,500 characters! When attempting to count the exact number of Chinese characters, linguists have had widely diverging results. Some put the number at 40,000, others at 70,000. Most of these characters are found only in the classical texts of national literature.

 Organizers of the exhibition told The Day that young calligrapher of su-mo school Zhai Jijun invited everyone to his master classes on Chinese calligraphy, to be held from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. every day until March 30 as part of the exhibition.

 The organizers of the exhibition are Educational department of the Embassy of the PRC in Ukraine; Confucius Institute at the Kyiv Shevchenko National University and the Bohdan and Varvara Khanenko National Museum of Art.


Ma Guojun was born in Gansu province in 1953. He is the head of the Gansu Provincial Academy of Painting as well of the Gansu Calligraphy Institute, professor, deputy chairperson of the Gansu Union of Calligraphers and chairperson of the arts commission. He teaches calligraphy at Tsinghua University’s Academy of Arts, supervises graduate students at Shenzhen University, and heads the committee for nationally important issues in the Ministry of Culture of China national project of supporting prominent figures of the Academy of Painting.

Photo illustration courtesy of the Bohdan and Varvara Khanenko Museum’s press service

By Tetiana POLISHCHUK, The Day