Based on the preliminary research regarding the Chinese calligraphy brush and how it reveals the nature of the relations between diasporic formations and practices, I would like to how it can be used to stay actively engaged with current events in order to create social commentary as an outsider in a way that power relations could not allow them within the home context. I don’t see the brush as an object that can be called upon to create a single collective national identity for the diaspora but one that has different meanings based on the context of departure. I find it interesting that the brush and its practices precede the modern nation state yet it has been used during such national projects as the Cultural revolution. Why was it not marketed on a large scale or become a powerful symbol to represent the nation, like say the dragon for example?

What differences would I find if I made a comparison of the meanings of the brush and the practices that come with it, for both the transnational and internal diaspora (e.g. US/Canada and Hong Kong)? For example, in previous weeks I examined the role that the Cultural Revolution, artistic repression, and exile played  on mainland artist Xu Bing  (American hybrid art from). From another perspective,  Taiwanese artist Hsu Yung-Chin, explains that his work “Taiwan Dreams: A fusion of Calligraphy, music and motion” is an integration of calligraphy with multimedia.  These various interaction he himself explains, represent Taiwan’s history of colonialism, dispersal, regime changes and above all, allows him to celebrate the success stores  that have come from Taiwan despite the “unchanging constant [of the] roaming mind of the Taiwanese people and [their]sense of bewilderment about the country’s identity. where are the lines drawn for longing and critique?

I would like to know some of the implications of calligraphy’s “inherent difficulty of the script that induces psychological attachment” (Yen, 4). There is something that must be said about how the calligrapher understands himself in relation to his peers because calligraphy requires recognition from an audience with a similar knowledge and how they understand the history of the cultural form. It would be interesting to understand what the implications of these prerequisites are for the diaspora. In other words, I would like to research further into the social relation the brush creates through it performative qualities. Does negotiating identity become a more rapid process than in the traditions of the homeland? What do new forms of media and western genres contribute to their position in society that traditional Chinese calligraphy could not ?

Yet diasporic calligraphy at the same time continues to be reproduced according to traditions in order to preserving the sanctity of the principles of which the brush expresses. As it travels through time and changes owners and contexts, its meanings ability to mediate an identity depends on the nature of the practice. Its cultural inherence is passed on through formal teaching. What does this mean for the second generation?


Last week, I began to introduce some of the social contexts in which the calligraphy brush appears. This week I will expand in more detail. As mentioned before, the brush has been more than just a tool for writing, rather the ability to manipulate this object into characters was reflective of one’s character and knowledge. Due to this quality, the use of the calligraphy brush in a social context has often been legitimized by the prestige of an influential person.

Yuehping Yen places the importance of the brush into context with the material culture. In China she explains, calligraphic inscriptions are overtly ubiquitous, whether it is inscribed in the natural landscape (such as rocks, and cliffs) or man-made landscape (homes, buildings, gates, walls), one cannot escape coming into contact with it. they come in the form of poems, insights, and historical accounts. However ubiquitous it was, the public act of the brush stroke was not an act performed by the everyday individual. Inscriptions were often requested from influential persons.(Yen, 1-2). Therefore the brush was somewhat of an esoteric tool with which to materialize one’s own character into an aesthetic of social proportions. In the way that the pen, graffiti can, print press, computer are ubiquitous object, they do not lose their significance when they create something iconic. Yen refers to this social role and the impacts on social relations as “social calligraphy” (4).

Last week i mentioned the artist Xu Bing as an example of how the brush was used in a diasporic and transnational context. This week I will mention Taiwanese artist Hsu Yung-Chin to further examine the change in social context in which the brush, the artist and the art itself has been transformed. Under the previous dynasties calligraphy was commissioned, therefore each artist was confined to the certain styles and symmetries of the ruling system. Their art was revered for the esteem it conveyed. In a diasporic lens and in the historical context revealed earlier, the brush became an object used to convey personal expression, loneliness and individualism.  There is something to be said about how popularly it has been received within the international art scene and by the diaspora as well; it is in a sense a critique (if not a distancing at the very least) from the norm because it added the personal narratives of which people could relate to. Yung-Chin free from the bombardment of these particular social hierarchies, creates multimedia calligraphy in which the brush strokes are unconventionally assymetrical and erratic.

Last week I chose the paint brush as my diasporic object. This week I would like to narrow down the type of brush to the Chinese calligraphy brush. This utensil dates back thousands of years, as far back as the late Zhou Dynasty (1100-221 BC) (Tseng, Zeng, 375). The invention of the modern writing brush however, has been attributed to General Meng Tian of the Qin dynasty (221-226 BC) (Zuzao, Xiaolan, 2010). This lengthy time period has therefore given the object an opportunity to acquire rich and diverse meaning. This object is still commonly hand crafted rather than mass produced, and is often made for a particular person.  The wands are usually made of tree fibres and the writing tip is commonly made of animal hair (such as goat, horse, cat or rabbit hair). The bristles tend to avoid synthetic fibres due to the delicate artistry involved in writing calligraphy. There are three common variations of brush heads; soft, hard, and a mixed combination of the two. It is common to layer the brush-head by placing shorter hairs in the centre, and the longer more elongated stands on the outside ( Texture depend on the type of hair used, and at the same times receives different values for their materiality ( Prices range depending on the amount purchased and the make of the brush. The calligraphy brush has been responsible for alphabet production and literary development but also for mediating social, cultural, and political identity (Yen, 5, 7) over time and space. For the purpose of this project, specific attention will be given to the Chinese diaspora.

Zeng (1993) indicates that Chinese calligraphy brushes have been traditionally known for belonging to the elite classes throughout a vast majority of Chinese history. Due to the intellectual, virtuous and powerful characteristics associated with this writing from, the brush has often been in ownership of Emperors, government officials and other forms of administrative powers (6). Brushes have been used for cultural transmission that ultimately results in “a legitimation of social power” (Yen, 9), but due to the respect that the calligraphy holds, the brush has more specifically been used to communicate decrees textually (15). Although less prevalent in the face of new communication technologies, this practice in contemporary times, has been continued by political leaders such as Mao Zedong, and Deng Xiaoping (3). Within the Chinese diaspora, the calligraphy brush is still used today in its minimally unchanged form, yet in a more populist sense than the past.

After the Tiananmen Square “crackdown”, many artist and intellectuals, due to their fall from status and loss of opportunity, migrated West after 1989 ( Xu Bing’s is an example of such an artist from this moment in history and demonstrates a new time in transnational calligraphy. His work titled “Square Calligraphy” is an invented writing system which restructures the English alphabet into the form of Chinese calligraphy with the intention of breaking down the mystique of the art to a curious western audience. This piece includes two square calligraphy instruction guides which instruct those outside the art form of the fundamentals which include; how to prepare ink and hold the brush, and how to execute brush strokes. These exercises come with a trace book and a drawing depicting the correct way to hold a brush. Furthermore, these instructions place an emphasis on tradition and provide insights to what kind of person the brush is capable of revealing. For example, he states that “ prior to the first stroke, the student must learn the correct posture for holding the brush which commands power; such strokes must be reminiscent of a “bridled horse, not a rotten log” , indicating the influence the brush has over ones character and in commanding the body ( Xu Bing therefore uses the brush for reconciling his personal alienation from his homeland and bridging his two homes together.

The calligraphy brush is similar to the past in the sense that it is a still a highly treasured tool for what Yen refers to as an “attainment of knowledge that makes a full person” (7), but differs in that it is used for less esoteric purposes. Knowledge can be produced more from experience than from hierarchical impositions. And while calligraphy is an act for those privileged enough to master this skill, the brush in a more secularized, mobilized, and economically reformed china allows the emotion caused by separation to be expressed.


The Paint brush is a hand held tool generally used to apply paint on various surfaces, for either aesthetic or market purposes; for pleasure, work or for a combination of these reasons.  The object’s materiality consists of three primary components.

The first component is the handle which is made in different shapes and sizes that effect the various ways the brush may be manipulated. Their form is dependent on the particular task at hand as well as the types of paints being used. The handle can be made of plastic or wood fibres.

The second component is the ferrule, which is the metallic band that holds the bristles in place. The primary purpose of this piece is to provide a sturdy and dependable grip, therefore being mostly functional in its duty. The ferrule however, may also serve for aesthetic purposes as well.

The final component are the bristles themselves. They may be made of synthetic fibers such as nylon or polyester. They can also be made of natural fibres such as hog, goat or rabbit hair. The selection of fibre depends on the type of paint being used, and the application quality desired. Natural hair for example is often used for oil paints while synthetic bristles are often used for latex paint. Regardless of the size and materiality of the brush, it should never exceed a weight that cannot be held comfortably for long tasks.

In terms of production, paintbrushes are often mass produced in factories. Factories involve various machines, and workers. They may also require that products be made in house or imported. The process begins by sorting the bundles of fibres in various predetermined lengths. They are straightened with a machine and then the lengths are mixed together. Another machine aligns the bottom ends of the fibres so that one end is straight-edged. It is important to note that brushes designed for creating art, have more shape, size and material variety.

The next step is to make the Ferrule which is shaped by machine at various lengths and widths. They are imprinted in order to be made more rigid, and may receive other markings for visual purposes. Cardboard is often inserted in between the bristle fibers at this point (for better absorbency) while workers pick out the loose fibres. The newly designed sheet metal is then wrapped around the diameter of the brush, and set in place.

Finally, another machine will make the handles from molten plastics and moulds. Once they harden, they may be primed, painted and given a layer of lacquer. At this stage they may be stamped with a company brand logo. The brushes are then joined to the brush heads with glue and packaged for sale. Prices can range for $1.19 (Above Ground Art Supplies, Toronto) to $17.95 for a Protégé set (Curry Art Supplies, Toronto). Art brushes produced on a smaller scale are often more expensive than the mass produced brushes, particularly those that are made of rare materials and given more meticulous hand-made detail


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