Friday, November 23, 2012

Dishu: Chinese Water Calligraphy

In China cosmogony, the square or ‹di› represents the earth and the circle
represents the sky; ‹shu› signifies book, writing by association. The expression ‹dishu› literally means square calligraphy, i.e. earth calligraphy: practicing ephemeral calligraphy on the ground, using clear water as ink. 
Very popular nowadays, this recent phenomenon appeared in the beginning of the 1990s in a park in the north of Beijing before spreading in most of major Chinese cities. Thousands of anonymous street calligraphers operate daily in parks and streets, the different pavements becoming a large paper surface. Displaying literature, poetry or aphorisms, these monumental letterings, ranging from static regular to highly cursive styles, convoke the whole body in a spontaneous dance and infinite formal renewals. The calligraphic practice corresponds to a research of self accomplishment or improvement, this improvement modifying our perception of the world.*  

This non-abrasive, temporary and perhaps more beautiful form of expression is an interesting counterpart to Western graffiti, which is often damaging to property and offensive to aesthetic sensibilities.

Calligraphers use hand-made brushes of sticks and foam sponges:

Videos of Dishu Calligraphy can be found HERE.

Read more HERE.

*Opening statements on this post credited to Francois Chastenet, who created a  photographic and video documentary on the subject of Chinese ground calligraphy in Beijing, Xi'an, Shanghai, and Shenyang in 2011.  To learn more, visit his website HERE.


  1. Wondering who wrote the western text and what they used as a 'pen'??

    1. I just looked that up too! They use handcut foam, check