SAGA's Calligraphy Exhibition (May 1997)

Lingyan Yang

The Sino-American Group of Amherst (SAGA) will curate a Chinese and Japanese Calligraphy Exhibition in UMASS Graduate Student Lounge from May 1 to the end of the Spring semester. The exhibition will include about twenty pieces created or collected by faculty members and students in Five-College as well as by some calligraphers in Boston and New York areas.


SAGA is an intellectual, non-political and non-profit organization initiated in the summer of 1995. Since then, SAGA has organized, arranged and sponsored about 33 lectures, symposia, presentations or round-tables. Often from the interdisciplinary and cultural comparativist perspectives, SAGA's speakers cover topics regarding history, philosophy, domestic and international politics, social, legal and financial reforms, as much as the technological development in modern and contemporary China.

Coming from widely diversified cultural, national and professional backgrounds, SAGA's members include Chinese doctoral students at UMASS from various disciplines, departments and schools, some active European, American, Asian, and Asian American members, and numerous faculty, staff and undergraduate students in the Five-College area as well as citizens from neighboring communities. They feel an urgent necessity to build an intellectual community, to engage in active redefinition of Chinese identity formation in transnational and contexts, as much as to promote cultural exchanges and dialogues between East and West.

Worth mentioning is that within the past two years SAGA has particularly invited numerous international scholars to be her distinguished speakers and should continue doing so. In 1995 three Chinese philosophers, Prof. Jiefu Xiao, President of Society of Chinese History of Philosophy, Prof. Qiyong Guo, mainland neo-Confucianist, and Prof. Jihui Zhao, came to Amherst to share the latest development of scholarship in contemporary Chinese philosophy. In 1996 Prof. Zhihua Shen from Chinese Academy of Social Science presented "Sino-Soviet Relations and Korean War-A Historian's Perspective." Two Harvard visiting scholars from mainland China, Prof. Su Gu from Nanjing University and Prof. Mingqi Xu from the Economic Research Institute of Shanghai Social Science Academy, presented "China's Legal System and the Prospect of China's Economic Reform." Earlier this semester SAGA remained active in bringing to UMASS community a series of presentations. Prof. Fengming Song, MIT visiting scholar and Chair of Department of Finance and International Trade from Tsinghua University, Beijing, gave a talk on "The Reform and Development of Chinese Banking and Financial System." Dr. Xulin Dong from the United Nations presented "Critique of Doctor Li Zhisui's Controversial Memoir, Chairman Mao's Family Physician." Five College faculty members who have been invited to lecture in SAGA included Profs. Fred Drake and Briankle G. Chang at UMASS, Prof. Lloyd Craighill from Amherst College, Profs. Hongchu Fu and Lixin Gao from Smith College, and Prof. Weihang Chen from Hampshire College.

Calligraphy and Calligraphy Exhibition

The upcoming Chinese and Japanese Calligraphy exhibition is one of SAGA's recent attempts to introduce Chinese classical art and aesthetics to UMASS population. Earlier this semester SAGA already invited Wang Fangyu, a calligrapher, art critic and collector, to give a presentation titled, "Dancing Ink - How to Appreciate Calligraphy" when these collections were curated by Bingyi Huang and exhibited in Mount Holyoke College for the first time under the title, "Nine Songs."

What is Chinese calligraphy? Prof. Jonathan Lipman, a faculty member at Mount Holyoke College, puts it well as "the art and discipline of writing the Chinese written characters (hanzi) with a brush." If one philosophizes its aesthetics in Daoist terms, calligraphy is "the Way of Writing." It is a profound and complex artistic form, whose tradition of development, refinement and perfection constitutes much of the four thousand year history of hanzi, particularly after its standardization about two thousand years ago. The visual display of the written characters, calligraphy is said to be the foundation of other classical artistic forms such as painting. In classical times, from emperors, subjects, poets, painters and scholars to pupils and maidens, calligraphy is part of education as well as personal cultivation.

There are different schools or styles of calligraphy, such as zhuan or seal scrip, li or offical scrip, xing or running scrip, cao or cursive scrip, kai or regular scrip. Each of them was originated, popularized and perfected in different historical periods by generations of masters who created and represented variations between and within each style. An able calligrapher has to demonstrate an erudite command of the knowledge for the particular style she specializes as well as to be equipped with an understanding of the art history of calligraphy in general.

In order to acquire the complex techniques and skills of calligraphy, each artist must go through decades of disciplined and dedicated practice. She also has to familiarize herself with the knowledge, history and the meticulous details of the tools of this art, namely, brush, China ink, paper, and inkstone. The purpose is not only to know how and what to use, but also to master the inexhaustible possibilities of playing and maximizing the means of the artist's creation. A calligrapher who successfully goes through such rigorous training is said to have the physical and intellectual strength (Lipman).

With the seemingly effortless unity of mind, body and spirit, the calligrapher is one with her artifact, her techniques, her tools, her style, and her inner self. Calligraphy transfers the freedom and pleasure of artistic expression. Audience, no matter what cultural or linguistic systems they are from, are welcomed to participate in sharing such jouissance through the equally free and delightful act of interpretation. SAGA is thus proud to present this Calligraphy Exhibition to UMASS viewers, and promises it an culturally enriching experience.