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《 100 Chinese Characters of Horse 》
尺寸：98 x 178 cm
TheChinese horse culture has a long history of development. In my research to the world horse culture development, it’s found interesting to have a review of the evolution of the Chinese characters, a significant symbol of China’s civilization in past thousands of years, from which we can dig out lots of information important to the research of the Chinese horse culture, one of the key parts of the world horse culture.
Itis of a new field of the Chinese horse culture research to trace the origin of the Chinese character of “horse” with a review of the track of its evolution progress. The exploitation of such a new field has an extra significance to the world horse culture research because the Chinese character is the sole survival of the hieroglyphs today over the world.
Before Shang Dynasty
In China, there has been a famous saying since the ancient time: “Picture and calligraphy share a common origin”. It was simply because the Chinese characters were evolved from pictures. That’s why in Chinese people’s eyes picture and calligraphy is a pair of brothers with countless ties of blood.
The primitive people in China used pictures to express themselves in their daily life. Gradually, the pictures were normalized and eventually turned out to be ideographic symbols.
By the 14th century BC, during the late Yin-Shang (殷商) Dynasty, the ideographic symbols were developed into Oracle, the further normalized ideographic symbols carved on animal bones or tortoise shells. The Oracle is the most initial version of the Chinese characters.
The Oracles found from the ruins of the Yin-Shang (殷商) Dynasty are considered as the immediate forebear of the modern Chinese characters. The discovery of the Oracles proves the historical continuity of the born and the evolution of the Chinese characters, the symbol of the Chinese civilization.
Today, China is the sole nation over the world capable to spell over the ideographic symbols created thousands of years before. Most of the people in the Middle Eastern countries are unable to interpret their ancestors’ pictographic symbols nowadays.
The ideographic symbols carved on animal bones or tortoise shells were initially used for divination purpose. The ancient Chinese people tried to get answers for kinds of queries, such as those relating to diseases, dreams, hunting and climate, etc.
They burned the animal bones or the tortoise shells with the ideographic symbols carved on, and predicted their good or ill lucks based on the shapes and moving directions of the cracks occurred in burning.
So far up to thousands of pieces of Oracles have been discovered. Among the discovered Oracles, more than one thousand pieces have been interpreted.
It’s noticeable that the characters of “horse” had a comparatively high rate of usage according to the study of the Oracles discovered. It indicates a fact that the horse has been always playing an important role in the Chinese people’s life since thousands of years ago.
According to the historical materials, during the Yin (殷) Dynasty in China, the number of horses to be used for King Yin (殷)’s carriage must be decided based on the divinations repeated for times, every time before King’s trip, to ensure safety and smoothness of the journey.
For getting a better understanding to the evolution of the Chinese character of “horse”, I make the “100 Chinese Characters of Horse (100 CCH)”, an artistic work with a comprehensive collection and an artistic presentation of the Chinese characters of “horse” in varied shapes and styles, respectively prevailed in China’s different historical periods.
The characters of “horse” available at the starting part of the “100 CCH” are those belonging to Oracles, the initial Chinese characters of “horse” developed from the pictures of “horse”. These characters kept many graphical features, with the emphasis on the eyes, mane and the four hoofs of the horse.
Western Zhou Dynasty
Along with the popular application of the bronzes during the Western Zhou (周) Dynasty, the Chinese people started carving the characters on bronze-made vessels as well as drum-shaped stones.
These characters were called “JinWen (金文)”, also known as “ZhongDing Wen (钟鼎文)” or “Shi GuWen (石鼓文)”, respectively indicating the carriers on which the characters were carved.
According to legend, the “JinWen (金文)” was innovatively carved on bronzes by a court historian who worked for the King Xuan (宣) during the Zhou (周) Dynasty.
So far the Palace Museum is keeping ten pieces of drum-shaped stones respectively with the “JinWen (金文)” carved on. Every one piece of the “JinWen (金文)” is a four-word poem, a pattern of poem prevailed in ancient China.
The famous legend about the King Mu (穆)’s “Eight Elegant Horses (八骏)” started spreading during the Zhou (周) Dynasty.
During the Zhou (周) Dynasty, the Chinese character of “horse” became more neat-looking and more complicated in structure compared with that of Oracles.
Most of the “JinWen (金文)” served as records of laws and key royal events. It seems to be the evidence indicates that the horse culture was attached more importance in royal political and military activities by the Zhou (周) Dynasty.
To present them in the “100 CCH”, I purposely used the copper green color to indicate their origin from the bronzes. It is also my intention to achieve a better vision effect through mixing warm and cold colors because in my heart, the “100 CCH” is not only a record of the evolution of the Chinese characters but a special artistic work.
In brief, the Chinese character of “horse” in both Oracles and JinWen (金文) had comparatively more pictographic features. They particularly highlighted the eyes, mane and the four hoofs of the horse.
During the same time, “Tao Wen (陶文)” and “NiaoShu (鸟书)” emerged in China as well. The former were the characters carved on potteries, while the latter were those vividly imitating birds. The character of “horse” was therefore written respectively in different style by the ancient Chinese people lived in different regions.
Spring and Autumn Period
The Spring and Autumn Period, also known as “Warring States Period”, is a time full of wars among the states in China. It was also known as an era of ideological contending, during which the Chinese character of “horse” gradually evolved into that with three major features.
Firstly, the characters of “horse” prevailed respectively in different state, though different in writing style, all kept the same focus on the head of horse while with other parts of the horse simplified.
Secondly, the character of “horse” started to be engraved on some royal seals, thanks to the establishment of the highest military position named “Si Ma (司马)”.
Thirdly, since King Wu Ling (武灵) of the State Zhao (赵) developed the cavalry shooting on horse and dressed in Hu–style uniform, upgraded uniform for soldiers’ easier movement, well known as “Hu Fu Qi She (胡服骑射)”， the role of the war-horse has been expanded from chariot dragger to soldier’s riding. As such the character of “horse” became that with the mane of horse flying higher because the galloping feature of the horse was better realized.
Most of the Chinese characters of “horse” presented in the middle part of the “100 CCH” are those prevailed during the Warring States Period, a booming time of the evolution of the Chinese character of “horse”.
Before the Warring States period, both Oracles and “JinWen (金文)”were mainly used by nobilities. The application of the characters was confined to small groups of senior officials, who kept records of key events with Oracles and JinWen (金文).
By the Warring States Period, the Chinese characters started to be used by all levels of society. As a result, the Chinese character of “horse” experienced an obvious change: it was further simplified for easier hand writing, which was an important feature of the character of “horse” in this period of time.
The body part of the horse was simply abstracted with two horizontal strokes. Only the eyes and mane of the horse were particularly highlighted. And it’s also interesting to notice that the presentation of horse’ mane was changed from previously a strait stroke to a curved one.
With the mane flying into the air, the Chinese character of “horse” became that with a bigger emphasis on horse’ energetic feature demonstrated in galloping, since the establishment of the cavalry shooting on horse and dressed in Hu (胡)-style uniforms when the Chinese people knew the horse better through its galloping.
The rational use of war-horses was one of the reasons the State of Qin (秦) eventually defeated the other six states during the “Warring States Period”, during which the King of Qin (秦) attached a great importance to breed improvement of the war-horses and the effective training of the cavalry. It made Qin (秦) on the top among the seven states in terms of both the quality and quantity of the war-horses, which greatly lifted Qin (秦) troop’s mobility.
After the Qin (秦) unification, the First Emperor of Qin (秦始皇) enforced the standardization of the characters, as well as the weights and measures. One of his remarkable achievements was the completion of the collection of all the characters used in different regions across the country, a task given and successfully done by then Prime Minister Li Si (李斯), who eventually worked out a set of unified characters by beautifully simplifying the characters collected.
The unified characters were called “Xiao Zhuan(小篆)”, also known as “Qin Zhuan(秦篆)”, an ancient style of the Chinese calligraphy prevailed during the Qin (秦) Dynasty. By this time, the Chinese characters were almost completely free from any trace of hieroglyphs.
The Chinese character of “horse” experienced other significant change after the Qin (秦) reunification：a re-regulation of the structure indicating the tail and four hoofs of the horse.
It was a re-structuring of the character of “horse”, a relocation of the four hoofs of horse to the bottom of the character from previously on the left since the Oracle time.
Compared with the characters of “horse” prevailed in different with varied shapes in different states during the Warring States period, the character of “horse” during the Qin (秦) Dynasty was much better regulated with a better looking.
There is no specified information on the exact time of the origin of varied types of the Chinese calligraphies, such as “Cao Shu (草书)”, a cursive scrip, “Xing Shu (行书)”, a semi-cursive scrip, and many others.
It’s most likely, however, the “Cao Shu (草书)” was born during the Warring State Period because according to Shi Ji (史记), an ancient historical book, “during the Warring States Period, the King Chu Huai(楚怀) of the State Chu (楚) ordered Qu Yuan (屈原), a high-rank official as well as a famous poet, to draft a constitution.
Qu Yuan (屈原)’s draft of constitution was coincidently taken by a queen named Shang Guan (上官) before the formal submission. Since then the Cao Shu (草书) gradually became popular.”
As it was initially a draft written in hasty with no attention given to neat and tidy, the said “Cao Shu (草书)” was actually a drafting form of “GuZhun(古篆)”, the ancient Chinese calligraphy prevailed during the same period.
The real “Cao Shu (草书)” was found since the beginning of the Han (汉) Dynasty. It experienced an evolution process from “Zhang Cao (章草),” a cursive script as similar as text drafting, to “JinCao (今草)”, an improved cursive script, and “KuangCao (狂草)”, a cursive script written with more freedom.
To be compared with “Kai Shu (楷书)”, a regular script featured with neat and orderly, the cursive script “Cao Shu (草书)” looks more artistic and fluent with a higher sense of rhyme and charm. It is written in a fast speed at one breath. It is a calligraphy transforming a calligrapher’s inner passion from heart to the paper through the writing brush.
“Xing Shu (行书)” is not as regularly looking as Kai Shu (楷书)”, nor as unidentifiable as “Cao Shu (草书)”. It is a semi cursive script in between the regular and cursive scripts. It is a type of the calligraphy looked elegant thanks to the way of writing with more freedom and flexibility. It is one of the most popular types of Chinese calligraphy today.
“Li Shu (隶书)”, one of major types of the Chinese calligraphy, became popular during the Han (汉) Dynasty, following its predecessor “Qin Li (秦隶)”, the “Li Shu (隶书)” popular in the Qin (秦) Dynasty, which was still heavily influenced by the basically square-looking “Xiao Zhuan(小篆)”, the ancient calligraphy hereinbefore mentioned.
The “Li Shu (隶书)” prevailed in the Western Han (汉) Dynasty, known as “Han Li (汉隶)”, was featured with its “bean-head and swallow tail” strokes, in Chinese “Chan TouYan Wei (蚕头雁尾)”, indicating the strokes with a powerful starting and a light or flying ending. It was an outcome of the better application of the writing brush. By this time the four hoofs of horse were further abstracted to be simply four points.
The “Kai Shu (楷书)”, a regular script featured neat and orderly, was in its budding stage while the “Han Li (汉隶)” was prevailing during the Han (汉) Dynasty.
The “Kai Shu (楷书)” became prevailing by the time during the Wei, Jin, North and South Dynasties (魏晋南北朝). Wang Xizhi(王羲之) and Wang Xianzhi(王献之), the father and son, both the royal officials and famous calligraphers during the Jin(晋) Dynasty, should be respected as the real founders of “Kai Shu (楷书)”.
They took all the advantages of “ZhuanShu (篆书)” and “Li Shu (隶书)”，round- and smooth-looking of the former, square- and regular-looking of the later, and gave up the over-artificial looking of the “Han Li (汉隶)” with bean-looking heads and swallow tail-looking flying ends of all the stokes.
The “Kai Shu (楷书)” set up the fundamental structure of the Chinese characters prevailing even by today. It was initially hailed as “Zhen Shu (真书)”, meant “a real calligraphy”, and renamed afterwards as “Kai Shu (楷书)” because it was popularly used by later generations as a model of calligraphy learning.
Different with all the other nation’s characters prevailing today, the Chinese characters are still keeping many hieroglyphic features, those before evolved into “Li Shu (隶书)”.
The motivation behind making the “100 CCH” is to present a whole picture of the Chinese characters’ evolution through the presentation of the key footprints of the evolution of the Chinese character of “horse”.
Unbounded by the conventional Chinese calligraphy, normally in black and red, I added brown and bronze colors to better showcase the historical background of relevant characters of “horse”.
The image of ancient royal seal was taken used as well for some of the characters of “horse” to highlight their historical position.
Some extra spaces among the words were purposely left to make the “100 CCH” more elegant-looking with varied density.
It’s also an indication of my expectation to make further achievements for the Chinese horse culture research through a continued study of the Chinese characters of “horse”.
The “100 CCH” was deliberately made loose-looking on the top part and intensive-looking in bottom, with an intention to get a better visual effect mixed with cheerfulness and solemnity.
It’s my pleasure to complete such a full presentation of the unique beauty of the Chinese characters through blending the modern art with the graphics Chinese characters.
It’s my expectation to open a window for more people to get a better view of the Chinese horse culture development through the “100 CCH”.
The “100 CCH” is not a calligraphic work but an artistically presented historical record of the evolutional features of the Chinese characters in China’s key historical periods.
Artist & Horse Culture Scholar
Chief Representative of China Horse Industry Association (CHIA/Canada)
Visiting Professor of China Inner Mongolia Agricultural University (IMAU)
Researcher of China Horse Culture & Art Academy
After completed his PhD studies in history in the 1980s at East China Normal University(ECNU), supervised by Mr. Wang Yangchong, a famous historian, Mr. Hao Zhang lectured at universities home and abroad including Shanghai Tongji University ，Kyoto University in Japan and London University in UK.
Mr. Hao Zhang's exclusively outstanding horse painting and calligraphy works have been repeatedly rewarded during varied international art exhibitions in different countries such as China, Britain, Japan, Korea, Canada. His talent and love of horses is clearly evident in many of his contemporary paintings, which artfully combined the spirit of Chinese water colours with a more Western aesthetic. His works are warmly welcomed by celebrated horse lovers all over the world and have also been collected by some famous artwork collectors.