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TYPO-L  January 1998

TYPO-L January 1998

Subject:

Re: Chinese writing-system & handwriting

From:

Kate Gladstone & Andrew Haber <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

TYPO-L Discussion of Type and Typographic Design <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Sun, 11 Jan 1998 19:17:05 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (124 lines)

More on the matter of Chinese cursive:

From another listserv, Ross Green ( [log in to unmask] ),
    whom I know personally to be an expert on matters relating
    to the question in hand,
sends this information:

[Ross's message]
>
>Kate Gladstone <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
>
>> Hi, all  - on another listserv, the question was raised: "Does the Chinese
>language have a cursive-writing system?"
>
>Yes, it certainly does! Many books that explain the Chinese writing system
>will confirm this.
>
>Allow me to quote from my favorite book on Chinese calligraphy, _The Chinese
>Art of Writing_, by Jean François Billeter:
>
>"The current script, *hsing-shu*, is often called 'running' in English [...]
>*Hsing-shu* is a running hand only in the sense that the separate elements
>are connected. It is a flowing regular hand: the characters have the same
>proportions and shaping as in the regular [i.e., the regular hand,
>*k'ai-shu*], but the ending of one element is linked to the attack of the
>next. The calligrapher often composes continuously, seldom lifting the brush
>tip from the page or lifting it less than in the regular. He [or she] may
>abbreviate an element or a set of elements, but never alters the characters'
>overall appearance. [...] The current style is more difficult to master than
>the regular hand, for it dispenses with convenient pauses and does not
>permit the adjustments and pentimenti allowed by the indirect manner. It
>*is* a more rapid hand than the regular style, but rather by tying one
>element to the next and simplifying attacks and endings than by the rate at
>which the developments are made. *Hsing-shu* is used to gain time in
>ordinary writing tasks, but the calligrapher who employs it does not
>necessarily write any faster than if he were composing in the regular script."
>
>Therefore, *hsing-shu* (nowadays transcribed *xingshu*, in pinyin), would
>probably be the equivalent of our cursive script, since the elements of the
>characters are often connected, but the characters themselves are not unduly
>distorted. (The amount of connectedness varies. Billeter writes: "There are
>different degrees of connectedness in the current script.")
>
>The so-called 'cursive' writing (also called 'grass' writing) is actually
>much closer to what Westerners think of as shorthand,- but I suppose it
>could also be seen as a highly cursive form of writing, with a great deal of
>connection (between characters, too), and simplification (including radical
>alteration) of the characters. Billeter writes:
>
>"It would be wrong to assume that cursive writing, the fifth and last genre,
>derives from the current script as the current derives from the regular. It
>is a genre apart, a rapid notation using altered characters -- in other
>words, a shorthand. The Chinese call it *ts'ao-shu* [*caoshu*], 'draft
>writing,' or literally 'straw writing' [i.e., 'grass'], because at first it
>was used for ephemeral purposes like articles of straw. [...]
>
>"Cursive writing is a difficult, involved genre. It requires not only
>unerring technique but also a thorough knowledge of the history of writing
>in general and the cursive script in particular. For a character may have
>several short forms, devised by different calligraphers at different times
>in the past. [...]
>
>"There is no simplified method for learning to decipher cursive. To be able
>to read it, you must have some experience of writing it. For the sake of
>economy, the same abbreviation is often used for several different elements
>[of a character] or even for several different characters; to decide which
>one a given abbreviation stands for, you must know the graphic vocabulary
>well and judge from the context."
>
>I think it is clear from the above that the term 'cursive' has a very
>different meaning in the description of Chinese writing! But it should also
>be clear that cursive writing, as the word is used with regard to Western
>writing, really *does* exist in Chinese, being closest to *hsing-shu* in
>nature. (Note that a 'running' hand, when the term is used to describe
>Western penmanship, is synonymous with a 'cursive' hand -- but these are NOT
>synonyms when describing Chinese calligraphy.)
>
>Kate wrote:
>
>> Someone on the listserv (communicating with me in private) even made the
>claim that anyone who says there is such a thing as Chinese cursive "must"
>be referring ONLY to transcriptions of Chinese into left-to-right
>Roman-alphabet letters, as (in his/her view) cursive in Chinese characters
>was "not possible" in any way.

[Ross comments:]
>It sounds like that person is confusing "cursive" with "cursive italic" (or
>some other type of cursive *Western* writing). Chinese can of course be
>transcribed with roman letters (there are many systems for this), but in no
>sense could Chinese writing itself be made to resemble Western cursive
>penmanship. However, *cursiveness* is certainly a feature of two genres of
>Chinese calligraphy!
>
>[Quotations from: _The Chinese Art of Writing_, by Jean François Billeter;
>pages 77-79.]
>
>Ross Green
>Utah
>


Yours for better letters,

Kate Gladstone
Handwriting Repair
325 South Manning Boulevard
Albany, NY 12208-1731

518-482-6763

mailto:[log in to unmask]  ...  or: ...
    or:  ... VISIT MY WEB PAGE AT:
          http://members.global2000.net/~kate
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