Chinese Calligraphy in Kai Shu (Standard Style)  

Updated: 06/24/2014



            Features of Kai Shu

            Changes of Kai Shu Characters

            Guide to Start Kai Shu

            Wei Bei as Foundation of Kai Shu

            Masters & Works of Kai Shu

            Video Demo of Kai Shu

            Comparisons of Kai Shu

            Summary of Learning





Kai Shu (also called Zeng Shu, 真書 ) was initiated by Wang Ts-Zhong ( 王次仲 ) toward the end of the Han Dynasty according to the legend. During the Wei and Jin Dynasties, Zhong Yao (151-230) and Wang Hsi-Chih (303-363) initiated a new way of writing that allowed Kai Shu and Li Shu to separate and form two systems.

It is said Kai Shu was matured by Zhong Yao ( 鍾繇 ) in the Wei Dynasty. It’s a more standardized form of writing than Hsin Shu.

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Zhong Yao’s mixture of Kai Shu and Hsin Shu


Wang Hsi-Chih learned Zhong Yao’s Kai Shu from Madame Wei ( 衛夫人 ) and his uncle Wang Yi ( 王廙 ). He also obtained the original manuscripts of Zhong Yao from his uncle Wang Dao ( 王導 ). Thus, Wang Hsi-Chih was considered the lineage holder of Zhong Yao’s Hsin and Kai Styles of  calligraphy. Many of Wang Hsi-Chih’s small-scale calligraphy works like Ye Yi Luan ( 樂毅論 ) and Huang Ting Jing ( 黃庭經 ) were resembling some of the characteristics of Zhong Yao's Kai Shu.


Madame Wei’s small-scale Kai Shu


There was another lineage of Kai Shu handed down by Shu Yi-Guan ( 師宜官 ), Liang Hu ( 粱鵠 ) and Han-Dan Tsuen ( 邯鄲淳 ) to the Wei family (Wei Bo-Ru  衛伯儒, Wei Guan 衛瓘 and Wei Heng 衛恆 ) and the Tsui family (Tsui Yeh, Tsui Chian, Tsui Hong, and Tsui Hou.) Some of them were teaching calligraphy in government departments and in the upper society. Many of the tablets of the Northern Dynasties unearthed recently were believed to be from this lineage, even though most of works were anonymous. However, they share some common characteristics:

However, most of those tablets were buried under the ground during the Sui and Tang Dynasties and were not available for study. 

During the Tang Dynasty, there were a few prominent Kai Style calligraphers like Yu Shu-Nan ( 虞世南 ), Oh-Yang Sheun ( 歐陽詢 ), Chu Sui-Liang ( 褚遂良 ) and etc. In the middle Tang era, Yen Jen-Ching ( 顏真卿 ) changed significantly the styles of the earlier calligraphy of the Tang Dynasty. His works look solemn, dignified, and majestic. Liu Gong-Chuan ( 柳公權 ) after Yen Jen-Ching created a thinner style compared to Yen’s yet still full of energy. Yen’s calligraphy was considered sinewy and Liu’s was bony.

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Features of Kai Shu


Basic Characteristics and Rules of Kai Shu

Separate strokes

Each stroke is clear and separate. This is different from the connecting and smooth strokes in Tsao Style.



Moderate writing speed

The speed of writing each stroke of Kai Shu is average, not as fast as in Tsao Shu.



More square structure

The structure of each Kai Shu character looks more square while in Zuan Shu (especially the Small Seal Style) the structures are more tall and rectangular.





Number of basic strokes and their writing methods


The number of basic strokes in Kai Shu, perhaps, is more than those of other styles. Besides the eight basic strokes in the character "forever," it is estimated the number of different strokes in Kai Shu is more than twenty. This estimation also includes the different directions and characteristics of strokes.


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Changes of Kai Shu Characters

If a Chinese calligrapher either in or outside China practices Chinese calligraphy in simplified Chinese characters, s/he will be ridiculed by other Chinese calligraphers (including those in China.)

Note: "Chinese calligraphy in ink and brushes" refers to the type of calligraphy art practiced with ground ink and various types of calligraphy brushes made up with animal hairs. There is another type of calligraphy in pen (or pencils) practiced by the Chinese people today without using brushes and ground ink - literally we call it "handwriting" or "hard pen calligraphy ( 硬筆書法 yìng    shū   ] )." When people are talking about Shufa ( 書法 ) today, we usually refer to "Chinese calligraphy in ink and brushes." There is no such term as "soft pen calligraphy." 

Today, for the sake of convenience and avoiding grinding ink and also for personal hobby, some people practice writing Chinese characters (not only limited to Kaishu) with regular pens and paper instead of using the Four Treasures. This type of calligraphy is "hard pen calligraphy ( 硬筆書法 yìng    shū   ] )." 硬筆書法 can also be practiced in Seal, Clerical, Running, and Walking Styles, and either traditional or simplied versions of Kaishu. There are no traditional or simplied versions of Seal, Clerical, Running, and Walking Styles.

To avoid confusions and misunderstanding, sometimes I use "Chinese calligraphy in ink and brushes" in many articles on this Website. Personally, I don't have time to practice 硬筆書法. (My father is good at 硬筆書法, but he never practices Chinese calligraphy in ink and brushes.) If you are interested, you may Google 硬筆書法.


Kai Shu came into use by the end of the Han Dynasty. It has been used in China for more than 2,200 years. Kai Shu is now the main Chinese writing style. The computer fonts, newspapers, textbooks, and government documents are written in Kai Shu today. Except for the sake of practicing Chinese calligraphy with ink and brushes, those medias are often not printed in Zuan, Li, Tsao, and Hsin Styles.

It's said that as early as 1928 the government of Republic of China (R.O.C.) was planning to simplify some Chinese characters. Yet the project was delayed and interrupted because of the civil wars in China at that time.

Later the Chinese Communist government in mainland China adopted a more convenient version of Simplified Chinese Characters ( 簡體字 ) while Chinese people in Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Korea, and other Asian countries and north America are still using Traditional Chinese Characters ( 體字 ). Both systems are Kai Shu. There are no simplified versions of Seal, Clerical, Running, and Walking Styles. The inventors of Simplified Chinese Characters borrowed some characters from the Running Style to reduce the number of strokes in many Kai Shu characters; they also coined a lot of new characters without historical and linguistic basis, thus creating confusions and misunderstanding in certain communications and severe gaps in the studies of Chinese philosophy, classics, literature, calligraphy, calligraphy inscriptions on painting, linguistics, and many other fields.

The Simplified Chinese Characters have fewer strokes suitable for casual writing in today’s business and technological environments; the Traditional Chinese Characters retain the founding principles of creating Chinese characters. Chinese calligraphy in ink and brushes can only be practiced using Traditional Chinese Characters. Students, teachers, and calligraphers on mainland China don’t practice Chinese calligraphy in ink and brushes with simplified characters. If so, the beauty and the underlying principles and theories of Chinese calligraphy will be totally twisted and destroyed. 


The Chinese spoken languages include many dialects. Mandarin is the official spoken language. (The official written languages were developed in the order of Zuan, Li, Tsao, Hsin, and Kai Shu. In fact, during the Han Dynasty, the writing styles of Li, Tsao, Hsin, and Kai were developed almost concurrently.)

Traditional Chinese Characters refer to one of two standard sets of printed Chinese characters. The modern shapes and structures of Traditional Chinese Characters as used today first appeared with the emergence of the Clerical Script (i.e., Li Shu or Clerical Style) during the Han Dynasty, and have been more or less stable since the 5th century during the Southern and Northern Dynasties. The term "traditional" is used to contrast traditional characters with another standardized set — Simplified Chinese Characters, standardized by the government of the People's Republic of China since the 1950s.

Chinese characters have been existing for thousands of years. Because of the long history and large territories of China, some characters could be written differently in different areas or dynasties. For example, during the development and formations of the Seal, Clerical, Running, Walking, and Standard Styles, certain characters in each of those styles could have been written in two, three, or more ways. It was not easy to unify all the differences among all cities and towns in ancient China. Even until the Tang Dynasty when Kai Shu became the standardized style, there still were certain number of Kai Shu characters that could be written in several ways.  However, regardless of the differences in writing certain characters, characters in either Clerical and Standard Styles followed the same founding principles of creating Chinese characters as handed down from Seal Styles, the earliest styles.


Various ways to write “Tao (the Great Way)” in Seal Styles


Various ways to write “Tao (the Great Way)” in different styles


Since 1950s, the government of People's Republic of China adopted some characters with fewer strokes from some ancient writings and coined some characters with fewer strokes to replace some characters with more strokes yet already existed for thousands of years. Hence the term "Simplified Chinese Characters ( 簡體字 )" as opposed to Traditional Chinese Characters ( 繁體字 ). 

means "tedious" or "complex"; it does not mean "traditional." means "styles" and  means "characters." does not mean "symbols" because Chinese characters or written languages are not symbols.

The purpose of adopting Simplified Chinese Characters in the PRC was meant for an easier reading (with less number of characters) and less pen-strokes in writing characters. It is the attempt of making Chinese more phonetic rather than having many words pronounced the same.


Traditional Chinese Character

Simplified Chinese Character



Do something




"Bean curd ( 豆乾 )" A bean curd is literally "beans dried."

"Cookie ( 餅乾 )." A cookie is literally "cake dried."



"Heaven" and earth ( 乾坤 ), or "Yang" and Ying, or "male" and female



Chinese years in Sky Stem and Earth Branch

* Except for this case (
is pronounced as "chian" or "qian"), both traditional and simplified characters have same pronunciation "gan" in Pinyin. Either or has different meanings and usages; however, the simplified version uses for all! There are more cases like these in the simplified version of Chinese characters. Simplified Chinese Characters are very analogous to the English typing used for online chatting. For example: u = you, 4 = 4 or four or for, tonite = tonight, … etc. 

Can we imagine the whole Bible, the U.S. Constitution, or the works of Shakespeare all written in “simplified" English words?


The importance of Traditional Chinese Characters lies in the fact that each character represents a very specific meaning or alternative meanings. This is of extreme importance because it allows the reader to understand a written word even without the word being in context.

Simplified Chinese Characters, although convenient, fail to incorporate meanings into the characters for different usages. Many words of the same phonetic sounds are replaced by a single character (which can be traditional, simplified, or coined) that possesses the same sound but lacks or differs in meanings. The major downfall of Simplified Chinese Characters is that it lacks meaning. Currently, historical texts are in Traditional Chinese Characters as used and preserved in Taiwan, Korea, North America, and etc. The readers can read and understand Traditional Chinese Characters based on the author's choice of words. 

However, if Traditional Chinese Characters are to be replaced totally or partially by Simplified Chinese Characters, one would not be able to understand immediately these texts and writings because words have lost their meanings and they simply represent a way of pronouncing the texts. As time progresses, this has resulted in the lost of history and culture studies. Even in China, students of graduate schools or higher education must learn Traditional Chinese Characters in order to study the classics of The Book of Changes (I Jing), philosophy, calligraphy, painting, martial arts, Chinese herbs and acupuncture, literature, and many historical documents. 

Replacing Traditional Chinese Characters with the simplified version will have devastating impact upon the Chinese language, culture, history, philosophy, arts and so on. Many people worry that Traditional Chinese Characters would be forgotten and neglected  internationally and it would only be a matter of time before Traditional Chinese Characters become the next Latin (the dead language). Along with this lost of language would be a culture and histories of the East lost forever. But thanks to the fact that more and more people are practicing Chinese calligraphy with ink and brushes worldwide, Traditional Chinese Characters won't be forgotten in China.
































4.凡字的偏旁古今混的,予以區別,如「月」與「  」(肉)。

5.凡字偏旁筆畫近似而易混的,亦予以區別,如:「  」(甜、舔),「舌」(話、括);「壬」(任、妊),「  」(廷、呈)。














Recent rumors say that the Education Ministries of Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and other Asian countries are setting up conferences with China to eventually restore to the Traditional Chinese Characters and phase out the Simplified Chinese Characters. There have been innumerous miscommunications, misunderstandings, and errors in business and cultural studies in the past few decades since the simplified version was introduced and adopted.

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Guide to Start Kai Shu

Many calligraphy teachers agree that students may learn Chinese calligraphy from either Kai Shu, Li Shu or Zuan Shu. Most students start from Kai Shu, or to be more precise, the Kai Shu in the Tang Dynasty, Tang Kai ( 唐楷 ). (See also:

The Eight basic strokes and their names in Kai Shu are:

     1.      2.  3.  4.  5.6.  7.短撇  8.  


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Wei Bei as Foundation of Kai Shu

The tablets, monuments on cliffs, images on tablets, epitaphs, and rolls of scriptures during the Northern Dynasties ( 北朝 ) added richness to the legacy of Chinese calligraphy. Except for scriptures, the writings were preserved on stones. When calligraphy on paper was transferred onto stones, the level of the art had already gone down to a certain degree. The calligraphy works of the Southern Dynasties were constantly transferred from stone to stone. The more times a calligraphy work was transferred onto stones, its artistic level and nuances went down even more. Thus, compared to the work of the Southern Dynasties, Chinese calligraphy work of the Northern Dynasties gives a more original and unmodified look. This is why the Ching Dynasty calligraphers during 1800s were focusing on tablets of the Northern Dynasties.



Historical Background During the Southern & Northern Dynasties

After the royal family of the Jin Dynasty immigrated to south of the Long River, China became two independent countries, south and north. Both the south and the north countries were divided into several dynasties. This was the longest time of split and chaos in Chinese history from 420 to 589 AD. Calligraphy achieved a high level despite of the political unrest. 

Two calligraphy schools were formed during this time: the Te School ( 帖學 ) and the Bei School ( 碑學 ). usually means writings or works on paper; means works engraved on monuments or tablets. The Bei School was generally considered as styles with more strength and energy. The Southern Dynasties inherited the tradition of the Jin Dynasty. Tablets and monuments were forbidden since the Jin Dynasty and so there were more new styles of calligraphy. In contrast, the Northern Dynasties did not forbid the erections of tablets.  



Northern Tablets ( 北碑 ) comprehensively refer to calligraphy written on tablets, monuments on cliffs, images on tablets, and epitaphs. Most of the famous tablets were erected during the Wei Dynasty and were referred as Wei Bei ( ) or Tablets of Wei Dynasty. 

According to Kang You-Wei ( 有為 ) and Yang So-Jing ( 守敬 ) in the Ching Dynasty, the calligraphy work of Wei Bei inherited the spirits and tradition of the Han and Wei Dynasties better than the Te School, the calligraphy preserved on paper.

Since the Tang Dynasty, some calligraphers began to write each character squarely and neatly in grids. This was very opposite to the calligraphers in the previous dynasties who wrote freely without confinement. Thus Tang Kai ( 唐楷 ) looked neat and aligned. But they were not any more “natural” – they were more man-made and less inspired from Nature and the artists' mind. Thus the spiritual beauty and simplicity of human nature were confined in man-made rules and grids. Tang Kai did reach a very high level and look very beautiful and elegant; but only few calligraphers in the early Tang Dynasty had inherited the spiritual beauty and strength of the previous Northern and Southern Dynasties. Calligraphers like Oh-Yang Sheun, Chu Sui-Liang, and Yu Shu-Nan were born before the Tang Dynasty was established. They were born in previous dynasties and had learned calligraphy as it was then. At least they inherited or instilled the legacy in creating their personal styles. But what happened to most calligraphers after them who were born in the Tang Dynasty and had never learned the calligraphy of the previous dynasties? And what happened to those students who only stick to Tang Kai in their lifetime and never explore the intrinsic beauty in previous dynasties? Inevitable deterioration! (according to the proponents of the Bei School) Generally speaking, the calligraphy before the Tang Dynasty look more organic and natural while most calligraphy after the Tang Dynasty look more geometric, mechanical, and confined.

Later, it was until Zhang Shui, Yen Jen-Ching, Huai Su, and some other calligraphers who inherited the legacy from previous calligraphers and had their own unique achievement. Most of the other calligraphers were just following the inevitable path of being confined, as opposed to the natural beauty embodied in the Bei School or Wei Bei.

During the Ching Dynasty, the study and practice of Chinese calligraphy were divided into the Te School and the Bei School. Generally speaking, before 1820 it was the Te School era and after 1820 it became the Bei School era. Since the Sung and Yuan Dynasties, the Te School that focused on the calligraphy of the Two Wangs (Wang Hsi-Chih and his son Wang Hsian-Chih) was declining and the Bei School that studied Zuan and Li Styles before the Han and Wei Dynasties was growing. This was an undeniable fact.


Historical Background in the Early Ching Dynasty

In the early Ching Dynasty, Emperor Kun Shi ( 康熙 ) favored Dong Chi-Tsun's ( 其昌 ) calligraphy and many people studied Dong's work. At the same time, there were people against Dong’s style because of his lack of masculine strength.  Soon more people realized that  Dong's calligraphy was not in the top level and deep in spirits. They could never become great calligraphers even if they achieved the same level as Dong did. Later, they switched to Zhao Meng-Fu ( 趙孟頫 ) who was renowned in the Yuan Dynasty but was disliked by some serious calligraphers. However, the early Ching Dynasty’s calligraphy environment was deeply influenced by Zhao Meng-Fu, Dong Chi-Tsun, Su Shu, and Huang Ting-Jian. 



As the popularity of seal carving grew in the Ching Dynasty, Zuan Shu, Li Shu, and the study of ancient characters were gaining importance. Chinese calligraphy revitalized and people began to search for higher levels of beauty from the earlier calligraphy of the Han, Wei, and Jin Dynasties.

Ruen Yen (  ), Bao Shu-Cheng ( 世臣 ), and Kang You-Wei ( 有為 ) even published theories and books to demean the Te School and to promote the Bei School. Many Zuan Shu and Li Shu specialists as well as linguists were focusing on tablets from the Chin and Han Dynasties to the Northern and Southern Dynasties. Consequently, calligraphers in the Ching Dynasty overemphasized the Bei School and neglected the Te School which contained mainly the works of Hsin Shu and Tsao Shu. As a result, there were very few renowned Hsin Shu and Tsao Shu calligraphers in the Ching Dynasty.

Wei Bei is the summation of all calligraphy on tablets of the North Wei Dynasty (386-534). As the famous calligraphy theorist in the Ching Dynasty, Kang You-Wei ( 有為 )  summarized, there are ten beauties and thirteen schools of Wei Bei.

The Ten Beauties of Wei Bei 魏碑十美



1. Bold, resolute, and majestic

2. Solemn and respectful in atmosphere

3. Jumping and springing brush motion

4. Strokes were precipitous and thick

5. Consciousness and posture were surprising and graceful

6. Spirit was flying

7. Interest and mood were merry, lively, solid and sound

8. Rules of bones were understood thoroughly

9. Structures were natural

10. Blood and muscles were lush



Selected Masterpieces of Wei Bei




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Masters & Works of Kai Shu


The Zhong Yao (151-230) 鍾繇

Zhong Yao studied calligraphy from Liu De-Sheng. People viewed his calligraphy as “swan traveling in the sky, wild goose playing in the sea". He was peered with Zhang Chih and referred to as "Zhong Zhang" ( 鍾張 ). He was also peered with Wang Hsi-Chih and referred to as "Zhong Wang" ( 鍾王 ). Emperor Wu Di of the Liang Dynasty said there were twelve sets of mind levels with extraordinary wonders within Zhong Yao's work.





Madame Wei (272-349) 衛夫人

Her maiden name was Wei and given name was Shuo. She was the main teacher of Wang Hsi-Chih. The famous essay Map of Strokes Disposition ( 筆陣圖 ) was attributed to Madame Wei. The essay discussed treatment and characteristics of different brush strokes as required in good calligraphy. She was the only prominent female calligrapher remembered in Chinese history. 





Wang Hsi-Chih (303-361) 王羲之

Wang Hsi-Chih is one of the greatest calligraphers in Chinese history. He earned the titles as the Calligrapher-Sage ( 書聖 ) and the Dragon of Hsin Shu ( 行書之龍 ).


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Wang Hsi-Chih's small scale Kai Shu Ye Yi Luan ( 樂毅論 )




Wang Hsian-Chih (344-386) 王獻之

Wang Hsian-Chih was the 7th son of Wang Hsi-Chih. He studied his father's calligraphy earlier and studied Zhang Chih's calligraphy later. He was peered with his father and they are known as the Two Wangs. He reformed bravely. His Walking and Running Styles were brilliant and heroic. His Standard Style was elegant in structures and refined in strokes.

 Wang Hsian-Chih's small scale Kai Shu 玉版十三行




Oh-Yang Sheun (557-641) 歐陽詢

Oh-Yang Sheun was widely regarded as the best Kai Shu calligrapher in the Tang Dynasty. His strokes and structures are extremely refined. His models are usually selected by most calligraphy teachers for beginners.




Yu Shu-Nan (558-638) 虞世南

Yu Shu-nan learned calligraphy from a monk named Zhu Yong ( 智永 ) who was a 7th generation descendant of Wang Hsi-Chih. His calligraphy displayed humble, mild, and peaceful manners.  




Chu Sui-Liang (596-659) 褚遂良

Chu Sui-Liang studied Yu Shi-Nan's calligraphy first. Later, he studied works of Zhong Yao and Wang Hsi-Chih. They say Emperor Tang Tai Zong collected a large quantity of Wang Hsi-Chih's calligraphy work but no one could tell which were real or fake except Chu Sui-Liang.


(A work attributed to Chu Sui-Liang)




Yen Jen-Ching (709-785) 顏真卿

Yen Jen-Ching studied Oh-Yang Sheun's calligraphy in his youth. Later, he became a student of Zhang Shui. He abandoned the existing rules of the earlier Tang Dynasty and created a brand new style. His models, along with those of Oh-Yang Sheun's and Liu Gong-Chuan's, are the three most popular selections for most beginners of Chinese calligraphy.

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Liu Gong-Chuan  (778-865)  柳公權

Liu combined Oh-Yang Sheun's refined features of elegant, angular strokes with the fullness and weight of Yen Jen-Ching's style to create his own Kai Shu style, which demonstrates structure, discipline, and clarity. His Kai Style calligraphy was so famous that if there were any officers who did not ask him to write for their family steles they were considered not showing filial piety. In reply to the emperor's inquiry about the best way to use the brush, he advised that "An upright heart makes for an upright brush," pointing out that our  brushwork always reflects our personality - and implying that it is possible to improve both.

One of Liu's most celebrated work is an essay about a pagoda: The Buddhist Pagoda of Xuan Mi ( 玄秘塔碑 ).



Pei Shiu (?-?) 裴休

Pei Shiu was a friend of Liu Gong-Chuan. His style was in between those of Liu Gong-Chuan and Oh-Yang Sheun. Many later calligraphers including several emperors of the Ching Dynasty and Pu Hsin-Yu ( 溥心畬 ) started learning calligraphy with his model. Perhaps, Pei Shiu's model was the only one in the Tang Dynasty that combined all the elegant features of Kai Shu from the Sui Dynasty, Oh-Yang Sheun, Liu Gong-Chuan, and so on. By learning his model, one can more easily proceed and relate to many other styles, such as those of Liu Gong-Chuan, Oh-Yang Sheun, Wei Bei, and even Yen Jen-Ching. Pu Hsin-Yu also personally recommended Pei's model for beginners.

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Lin Hu De Huen Bei (c.618-907) 令狐德棻碑





Buddhist “Heart Sutra” (11th Century)



Zhao Meng-Fu (1254-1322)  趙孟頫

Zhao Meng-Fu was especially renowned for his small-scale calligraphy ( 小楷 ).



Colophon to Zhang Shui's Poems in Tsao Shu





Colophon of Ou-Yang Shuen's Kai Shu Tablet Hwa Du Si Bei 


Cheng Chingwang (1752-1823) was renowned for his Kai Shu in the Ching Dynasty. His style was based on Pei Shiu's model and cast a great influence on Pu-Hsin Yu.




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Video Demo of Kai Shu


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Comparisons of Kai Styles



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Summary of Learning

Most calligraphers agree that Kai Shu is the best choice to start learning Chinese calligraphy. The reason is that Kai Shu is easier to start and it’s the current standard style of writing and the current printing fonts used in textbooks, computers, and public medias. Students may choose a model from the Tang Dynasty tablets and (or) from Wei Bei tablets for a deeper foundation in techniques and theories.

If the student is serious enough and has studied the benefits and theories of Wei Bei, s/he will realize not to end up in Tang Kai only because many serious theorists consider Tang Kai as a “deteriorating form” in structure, nature, and spirit. For a non-native Chinese, why are those "beautiful" Tang Dynasty Kai Shu works considered "deteriorating" by serious theorists? There are many aesthetical, philosophical, and historical issues to be discussed. Even though Kai Shu calligraphers in the Tang Dynasty achieved a very high level, we may never reach their level by practicing Tang Kai only. Almost all the Tang Kai calligraphers learned or were influenced by the previous dynasties’ work. So cross training or learning is very important as to broaden one's artistic views.  

Guan Ge Ti ( 館閣體 ) refer to a "monotonous" court style of calligraphy used mainly for civil service examinations and government operations in ancient China. It became prevalent in the imperial courts. Guan Ge calligraphy styles have been criticized by many artists and connoisseurs for centuries. Guan Ge Ti does not refer to a certain calligraphic style or a style within the five major styles. To say someone's calligraphy looks like Guan Ge Ti is very demeaning since Guan Ge Ti has negative connotations. There are many discussion forums like or where people can post their work and exchange their feedbacks of learning calligraphy. If a work that resembles Guan Ge styles is posted, both the writer and the work will be demeaned since philosophy, artistry, and spirituality are the essential elements of good Chinese calligraphy. On the contrary, Guan Ge Ti is a degenerated style and a tendency to reduce the spiritual and artistic levels of the calligraphy, though it is not necessarily technically easier to create some Guan Ge Ti work with mechanical and monotonous strokes. It is said that a student of Zhong Yao ( 鍾繇 ) wrote something like Guan Ge Ti and Zhong Yao rebuked him so harshly that he dared not see his teacher for three years!



Guan Ge Ti mentioned after 4:38



Samples of Guan Ge Ti work that are not stone rubbings

Typical Guan Ge Ti calligraphy used in ancient Chinese books, documents or letters

Kai Shu is categorized to Large-scale Kai Shu ( 大楷 ), Medium-scale Kai Shu ( 中楷 ), and Small-scale Kai Shu ( 小楷 ) according to the character sizes. In ancient China, paper was very expensive and it was not easy to obtain paper for writing (even for calligraphers.) People used to write smaller characters more sparingly - thus more seriously and artistically. The original sizes of characters of most tablets, say Oh-Yang Sheun's Kai Shu works, are about the size of a U.S. quarter and most larger characters are about 2" x 2" which are very different from today's perspectives about Large-scale, Medium-scale, and Small-scale Kai Shu.

Today most people consider that a Small-scale Kai character is about the size of a U.S. penny while a Large-scale Kai character is about four to six square inches or even bigger. It’s unanimously accepted that students start from Kai Shu instead of Hsin Shu and Tsao Shu. And it’s also a rule to start from Large-scale Kai Shu rather than from Small-scale Kai Shu because a beginner will be able to focus and do better in bigger strokes than in tiny and thinner strokes.      

After practicing Large-scale Kai Shu for a while (say, three years), some calligraphers propose to practice Large-scale Kai Shu and Small-scale Kai Shu every other day (or time) to improve the structure of each character. Thus we may focus on the main principles while doing Large-scale Kai Shu and improve our detailed brushwork while doing Small-scale Kai Shu . This is somewhat analogous to sculpture. We cannot make a statue from details. We have to start from the main structural design and then work on the details. But if we start from the details, we already carved out the material and can never reverse it unless we start making a new one.  

Oftentimes I am asked by beginners who just started learning the Standard Style "How soon can I start Running or Walking Styles?" Among many high arts of China, such as martial arts, calligraphy, painting, and etc., the beginners as well as the experienced practitioners will go over and over the basics, focus on practicing, and do not anticipate rapid progress intentionally. Masters of these arts have indicated the best and fastest shortcut is anticipating no shortcut. From my personal experience, I practiced Yen Jen-Ching's Kai Shu solely for six or seven years before I moved onto my second style. If I were to be able to quantity my progress with number of years devoted in certain styles and to achieve a certain level, say 85%, the following chart may suggest the readers that patience, persistence, and attitude may be more important than my average natural talents. (To quantify artistic progress without considering mental concentration during practice will be impractical. Suppose I practiced at least 2 or 3 hours per week consistently over the years.)


Number of Years I focus on practicing Kai Shu and the basics before proceeding to other styles or Chinese Brush Painting

Number of Years I start learning other styles such as Hsin Shu or Li Shu, and to achieve 85%

Number of Years I start learning Zuan Shu and Tsao Shu, and to achieve 85%

Path 1


2 to 3

3 to 5

Path 2


3 to 4

5 to 7

Path 3


5 to 7

7 to 10

Never Recommended

1 or less

7 to 10

10 to 20


There is a “big picture” in many forms of arts such as music. If we are learning a new music piece and try to memorize and perfect each note and bar before we finish the whole piece, the result will be disastrous as in sculpture with over-detailed beginning. We won’t be able to go back to amend or fix it because it’s already set in structure, phrasing, forms and styles. But if we let learning, analyzing, perfecting, memorizing, improving, and etc. to be practiced step by step, we will probably develop a better measurement to make progress indefinitely. This is also very true in Chinese calligraphy. Remember perfection is relative, not absolute.

After getting better with Kai Shu, some calligraphers suggest to practice Kai Shu (a.k.a. 真書 Zeng Shu) and Hsin Shu interchangeably (“Zeng Hsin Hsian Jian  真行相兼). In this way, we may strengthen our foundation in Kai Shu to make progress in Hsin Shu while raising our Kai Shu level and make it look more flowing and smooth by benefiting from practicing Hsin Shu.  


歐陽修六一論書 Oh-Yang Shiu's Essays on Calligraphy






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Large-scale Kai Shu ( ) – Kai Shu in bigger size.

Medium-scale Kai Shu ( 中楷 ) – Kai Shu in medium size (usually between 1 to 4 square inches).

Small-scale Kai Shu ( ) – Kai Shu in smaller size (about U.S. penny).

Sequence of strokes ( 筆劃順序 ) – The orders of strokes to write a Chinese character.

Basic Strokes  – Dian  , Heng  , Su  , Go  , Tee  , Pe  , Duan Pe  , Na  .

Tang Kai ( 楷 ) – Kai Shu in the Tang Dynasty.

Wei Bei ( ) – Comprehensively refers to Kai Shu tablets in the Wei Dynasty.


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