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Activities (Part 1)
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Activities section:   Part 1   |   Part 2


The earliest examples of written Chinese are found on the "oracle" bones used in rites during the Shang Dynasty. Even 3,500 years ago, the Chinese had an extensive written vocabulary. Nearly 2,500 separate characters have been found on bone fragments. The early characters were simple pictographs which represented objects. All people understood the characters or symbols because they looked like the real objects they represented. Because it is understood by all Chinese regardless of what dialect they speak, this writing system has bound the Chinese into one culture.

Later writings were cut into bamboo strips; but as the Chinese developed paper and ink, the shape of the characters evolved. Shapes were squared off to make them easier to write with brushes and ink. In time, more complex ideas or concepts were represented by combining and extending the original characters to form ideographs. For example, the symbol for sun behind the symbol for tree became the character meaning the direction east. The Chinese written language does not spell out words -- it uses symbols. The Western alphabet uses 26 letters; written Chinese has about 50,000 characters! Chinese is written in columns from top to bottom down the page. Columns are then written and read from right to left across the page (like strips of bamboo).

Today, simplified characters are written with pens and pencils. However, beautiful calligraphy is still done with a brush and ink. The Chinese have always considered calligraphy to be an art. It is used to write poetry or to display phrases or symbols. In calligraphy, the arm is placed on the table and the brush is held straight up and down. Only the fingers and brush move; the arm does not move. The following illustration shows the evolution of the character for horse and the sequence of strokes that forms the character.


The development of paper made possible the fine arts of calligraphy and landscape painting. Often the two were combined to produce meaningful and beautiful pieces of art. Since many aspects of nature were considered to be magical or mythical, Chinese painters were not always concerned with making their works look realistic. Calligraphy and landscape painting on silk and paper continue today.


piece of paper, about 15" x 30"
watercolor paint
black ink
2 dowels, each about 18"

Procedure: Holding the paper vertically, paint your scene and/or calligraphy (you may want to look at several art books containing Chinese art). A traditional black and white piece can be done by using shades of ink from dark black to light gray. Mix the ink with different amounts of water to produce the shades. You can also use stencils instead of free-hand drawing. Don't forget to sign it with your chop. After your work is dry, spread a line of glue across the top and bottom of the reverse side. Place a dowel over the glue and roll the paper around the dowel. Attach yarn to the top dowel for hanging your work. A tassel can be attached to each end of the yarn hanger for added decoration.

Discussion: Why do you think the Chinese hang phrases, poems, or folk legends as works of art? Is this done in our culture? (What about samplers done in Colonial times?)


  • Chinese paper cuts
  • Chinese embroidery
  • Chinese foods and cooking
  • Clothing
  • Chinese macramé
  • Puppetry
  • Chinese Lanterns
  • Tangrams
  • Magic squares
  • Chinese colors and symbols
  • Chinese dance and music
  • *See the Resource List

Activities section:   Part 1   |   Part 2

Kentucky Horse Park
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The Millennium's First Great
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