Tag Archives: tradition

Asian Heritage Month Blog Event: Chinese Calligraphy

Asian Heritage Month Blog Event: Chinese Calligraphy

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez

Chinese calligraphy (Shūfǎ 書法 in China) is an art unique to Asian culture and literally means, “the way, method, or law of writing.”

In Japan, it is called Shodō 書道, which means “the way or principle of writing.” In Korea, it is Seoye (서예) 書藝, “the skill/criterion of writing.”

To me, it seems to be both a serious Asian discipline as well as an art and according to Chinese culture, is often thought to reveal personality and inner aesthetic due to both the expectation of excellent and correct execution as well as creative expression.

Depending on the concentration of the ink, the thickness of the paper, and the flexibility of the brush, the calligrapher is able to create a variety of styles.

It is both a highly disciplinary act as it is a meditative one, I think.

The Four Treasures of Study


The Four Treasures of Study (in China) and The Four Friends of the Study (in Korea) is an expression used to describe the essential tools of East Asian calligraphy:

  1. Ink brush
  2. Ink
  3. Paper
  4. Ink Stone

The Ink Brush

The body of the brush can be made from either:

  • bamboo
  • red sandalwood
  • glass
  • ivory
  • silver
  • gold

The head of the brush can be made from the hair or feathers of the following animals:

  • weasel
  • rabbit
  • deer
  • chicken
  • duck
  • goat
  • pig
  • tiger
  • wolf

There is also a tradition in both China and Japan of making a brush using the hair of a newborn, as an once-in-a-lifetime souvenir for the child.

I have my own personal set of brushes that I purchased in Chinatown, Toronto on a day-trip I made with my family.




Special types of paper are used in East Asian calligraphy.

In China, Xuanzhi (宣紙), is the preferred type of paper made from rice, paper mulberry, bamboo, hemp, etc. In Japan, washi is made from the kozo (paper mulberry), ganpi, and, mitsumata, as well as bamboo, hemp, rice, and wheat.



Paperweights are used to hold down paper and often placed at the top of all but the largest pages to prevent slipping and come in several types. Like ink stones, paperweights can be collectible works of art.


Desk pads


The desk pad is made of felt and can be printed with grids on both sides, so that when it is placed under the translucent paper, it can be used as a guide to ensure correct placement and size of characters. However, printed pads are used only by students (that means me!).


Ink and Inkstick


The ink comes in inksticks, which must be rubbed with water on an inkstone until the right consistency is achieved. Much cheaper, pre-mixed bottled inks are also available, but are used primarily for practice since inksticks are considered higher quality.

Learning to rub the ink is an essential part of calligraphy study. Traditionally, East Asian calligraphy is written only in black ink. Calligraphy teachers use a bright orange or red ink with which they correct work or write practice characters, which students can trace.



Stone, ceramic, or clay from the banks of the Yellow River inkstone is used to grind the solid inkstick into liquid ink and to contain the ink once it is liquid. Chinese inkstones are highly prized as art objects.

Seal and Seal Paste


Calligraphic works are usually completed by the calligrapher putting his or her seal at the very end, in red ink. The seal serves the function of a signature.


My cousin who had travelled to China for a vacation to visit with her husband’s relatives brought home a custom-made name seal for me. It’s one of my favourite pieces.

My personalized Chinese seal and seal paste. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.


What is considered to be good calligraphy?

Of course, when asking what is considered to be good calligraphy really depends on individual preference and taste, but there are some established, traditional rules, which cannot be violated. Those who repeatedly “violate” these rules are not considered legitimate calligraphers.

These rules are:

  • The characters must be written correctly.
  • The characters must be legible.
  • The characters must be concise.
  • The characters must fit their context.
  • The characters must be aesthetically pleasing.
Here’s my personal collection of ink brushes and my seal from China:
My Chinese ink brushes. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
My personal collection of ink brushes and my Chinese seal and seal paste. (c) Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.


 Here is a fun link to generate for yourself a Chinese name and discover your Chinese zodiac: Chinese Name Generator.  Try it!

My name translated from:

Zara Alexis D. Garcia-Alvarez and born on January 6 is:


Zhen is in place of my given name, Zara, which means raise, excite, arouse action.

Rui is in place of Alexis, which means sharp.

I was born in the Chinese Year of the Tiger.


What is your Chinese generated name? What does it mean? Do you feel it properly reflects your personality and the sound of your English name?


To see more posts for The Asian Heritage Month Blog Event here at The Bibliotaphe’s Closet, please visit here.



Book Review: Please Look After Mom by Kyung Sook-Shin

Book Review:

Please Look After Mom by Kyung Sook-Shin


By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis


Category: Fiction

Author: Kyung-Sook Shin

Format: Trade Paperback, 254 pages

Publisher: Vintage Canada

ISBN: 978-0-307-35920-9

Pub Date: April 3, 2012

Man Asian Literary Prize Winner of 2011


Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin is not only the recipient of the Man Asian Literary Prize for 2011, it is also a peek at the restrained nuances in relationship within a particular Korean family and a testament to the hidden gift they received from the persevering love of a mother.

Kyung-Sook Shin


But even then, it is more than that. It is, in its simple and direct narrative by daughter, son, husband, and eventually mother, a slow revelation of So-Nyo’s secret character fuelled by repressed desire and discarded “dreams.”

Slowly, as you read further into the book, 69-year-old So-Nyo’s life and character is revealed through the perception of her loved ones as they attempt to piece together the clues that may eventually lead them back to their mother after her sudden disappearance as last seen at the Seoul subway station.

Seoul Subway Station Line 7


It is a story filled with sorrow, loneliness, and neglect—a story of how a family can misinterpret a woman, not by who she is, but by who they believe her to be because of her role as a mother.

And this mother, So-Nyo, does in so many ways sacrifice of herself for the sake of her husband and her five children.

Though she was illiterate, she exceeded in her knowledge and gift of domesticity. She knew how to till the earth to make things grow—food, for the survival of her family at a time of poverty and uncertainty.


She swallowed her pride for the sake of Korean propriety and tradition and continued in her persevering love towards her husband after restlessness, betrayal, and cold neglect—and towards her children after years of indifference, rebellion, irritation, and condescension.

The story is as much a story about So-Nyo’s husband and children as it is about So-Nyo in their response or lack of response to her, after taking her and her role as matriarch in the family for granted.

But the novel is not written in a cruel manner as much as it sounds, but written as a matter-of-fact—a quasi-memoir of regretful and loving memories of one who was an integral person in the core of their family and yet so unknown.

It is a story that will remind us of the importance of honouring our mothers, the elderly, and the sick as a priority in our often ambitious desires and busy lives.

It is an intimate peek at the Korean cultural expectations of mother and wife and some of the injustice associated with that, that is largely due to its acceptance—and the powerful regret that results in honouring and loving our wives and our mothers too late.



For a sober look at Samaritan love and sacrifice and silence and the burden of responsibility, embedded cultural practices, and the difficult choices one must make to honour both, Please Look After Mom, is a sad story, a testimony to motherhood, and a keen warning to us all.


Zara’s Rating


A special thank you to Vintage Canada and Random House of Canada for providing me with a media copy of the book in exchange for an unpaid and honest review.


To get a chance to win a copy of Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin, you can enter The Asian Heritage Month Blog Event Giveaway via The Bibliotaphe’s Closet. Open to CAN & U.S. residents. Ends June 1, 2012.


To read more posts for The Asian Heritage Month Blog Event, you can visit here.