By: Jill Odom
In the basement of Bibb Graves, a small few gather in Room 14 on every other Thursday at 6 p.m. for their Chinese Culture class.
This hidden gem of a class is taught by Jie Xing, who works with the Confucius Institute as a coordinator at the Chinese Testing Center.
Jie Xing, who goes by her American name Jane, came to the U.S. a year and half ago from the city of Qinhuangdao in the province Hebei. When asked why she started the class, Xing responded, “We want more American friends and international friends to know our Chinese culture and let them know more about the Chinese.”
For the price of $50 students can learn ten topics a semester, covering things such as Chinese festivals, tea ceremonies, paper cutting and Chinese calligraphy.
On April 4, the topic was calligraphy and there is more to this ancient art form than meets the eye. As one of the world’s oldest scripts, this writing is over 3,000 years old and used to be written on tortoise shells.
The characters originally looked more like drawings and people wanted to write them beautifully and eventually it evolved into an abstract art form. Calligraphers are just like painters or musicians, there is a rhythm in the strokes, which vary from thick and light, round and square, slow and quick.
The Chinese calligraphy is meant to be looked at and enjoyed. It is commonly found in everyday life; it can be found carved into mountain sides, spray-painted on subway walls and at the beginning of the Great Wall of China.
The art form has five main styles which are seal script, clerical script, regular script, running script and cursive script. Each has a distinctive purpose or trait that sets it apart from the others. Regular and running script are the most commonly used but cursive script is not even legible for the Chinese.
Calligraphy requires several items known as the “Four Treasures of the Study.” The brush, known as the weapon of the calligrapher, is made of animal hair and the price depends on the type of hair used, which can vary from goat to wolf fur. The ink is made from soot of burnt pine branches combined with vegetable oil and animal glue.
This ink is dissolved in water when ground on the inkstone, which is another of the Four Treasures. The inkstone is used to grind and hold the ink. The paper is called “Xuan paper” named after where it produced. It has long very fine fibers because the ink bleeds through regular paper.
When practicing this art, the simplest strokes, the horizontal and vertical ones, prove to be a challenge. Each character has a certain order for the strokes to be drawn and takes years of practice before one can adapt their own style of calligraphy.
It was extremely enjoyable and interesting to learn about such a time tested art form, even if only the basics were covered. The concept of the Chinese culture class is intriguing and offers students an opportunity to learn about this Eastern country’s traditions in a fun and hands-on manner.
Taylor Bowser, sophomore graphic arts major from Dothan, explained that she joined the class due to her friendship with a Chinese lady who left a few months ago. “I now vowed to at some point to visit China and I thought this would be a good thing to do, to make missing her just a little bit easier,” Bowser said.
When asked if she would encourage others to come, she said, “Oh yeah, it’s always good to expand your horizons and experience other cultures.”
Jie Xing plans on continuing to grow her class next semester so more students can have an opportunity to learn about the various customs of China’s long history.