At the age of 13 Mr Xu Jianchu, calligraphy teacher at Guanghwa Books, first got involved in the painting of big-character posters during the Cultural Revolution.
Flash forward to 2016 and after numerous awards and international exhibitions, Mr Xu is now President of the UK Chinese Poetry Calligraphy & Painting Society, and Honorary Principal of the “Yancheng Shifu” Art College of China.
After an education-gap from the ages of 13 to 16, he spent two years in Guangdong’s Huaxian County, where he learned to harvest rice and peanuts and construct mud-brick houses. When he later pursued formal education, his tutors insisted that the best way to catch up was to read as widely as possible.
This attitude towards a well-rounded education is reflected in the advice he gives to students of Chinese calligraphy and Mandarin Chinese today: “The art of calligraphy itself has deep cultural connotations. Calligraphy, apart from its artistic beauty, also contains profound meaning. So I would suggest students of calligraphy familiarise themselves with Chinese culture as much as they can.”
While completing his degree in electrical engineering at the University of Wuhan from 1980, he started to learn Chinese calligraphy under the supervision of philology lecturer, the late Mr. Liaoyun Yu. Mr. Liaoyun Yu was a well-known calligrapher and member of Chinese Calligraphy Association.
As an engineering graduate in China, he worked at a power plant and later as a production manager. In the 90s, he came to the UK to learn English. He had an electronics shop in Hayes, Middlesex and as well as his own takeaway restaurant for a while. It was when he retired following the 2008 recession that he picked up the calligraphy brush once more.
Since then, he has received an Award for Excellence in the 2011 Chinese Calligraphy competition and the Special Award in the 2014 International Chinese Calligraphy competition.
His favourite style is the running script, but when it comes to Chinese brush painting and Chinese calligraphy, he says, “画在字下” – or, ‘calligraphy before painting’. “The brush control required for Chinese painting is learned through calligraphy, and not the other way around.”
Mr Xu has some excellent insights into the value of such an ancient tradition in today’s world: “Calligraphy is a very old cultural tradition in China – you could say it’s the shining pearl of culture and art around the world. Chinese dynasties throughout history all placed great importance on writing. Not only is it a medium of exchange for life, culture, thought and science, but it also has high artistic value. But with the progress of science and the popularity of computers, people are gradually neglecting penmanship. For that reason, it’s especially important to promote the study of calligraphy.
“What many people don’t know is that learning calligraphy isn’t just about improving your standard of handwriting. It’s also about artistic accomplishment, and cultivation of character.”
Get in touch with Guanghwa Books to find out more about Mr Xu’s calligraphy classes.