Friday, February 4, 2011

Learning Calligraphy: Chen Kuoye’s Story 陈扩业学习书法的故事

On 28 January 2011, the Chinese newspaper Zaobao reported the story of an 83 year-old Chen Kuoye and his interest in Chinese calligraphy.

Chen Kuoye developed an interest in Chinese calligraphy when he was 28 years old. At the beginning, learning calligraphy for him was all about hard work. He was not supposed to place his hand on the table, and the writing strength must come not only from his hand but also from his abdominal muscles. He spent two whole years practising before he could master the skills. However, after he worked as a carpenter, he had less time to practice it. He could only take some times off during the off peak periods to earn some extra cash by writing New Year couplets for his fellow villagers.
When he retired, he was more than 50 years old. In order to participate in calligraphy competitions, he started practicing very hard again. He would spend at least half an hour a day in calligraphy. Finally, he won a national calligraphy competition organised by Bishan Community Club and a national Huichun (writing on the spot) competition organised by the Chinese Calligraphy Society of Singapore. He said: ‘These two winnings have inspired me a lot.’
Chen Kuoye currently works as a cleaner in the Ngee Ann Polytechnic. After his daily routine of cleaning the floors, he would use a brush made by him to write on the floor. Every day, he is seen by many students writing on the floor with water, demonstrating his Chinese calligraphic skills. He chooses to write on the floor with water in order to save money on buying ink and paper. After writing, the water will evaporate, leaving no trace of his writing on the floor.
Many people are quite curious about his practice of writing on the floor. After having a chat with him, a lecturer engaged him to give a talk about his learning and understanding of Chinese calligraphy, hoping that the talk would inspire the students. Inspiration indeed!
Second year student Wang Xiaozheng, 20, learns from this old uncle that in learning Chinese language and culture, there is a need to have a natural environment and cultural atmosphere. She said in an interview: ‘The recent announced changes to be made to the mother tongue language curriculum place greater emphasis on real-life usage. However, this type of learning is coercive, because students learn the Chinese subject for examinations. I think the key thing is that the students must have interest in the subject, and this can be achieved only when we live in a cultural atmosphere.’
Another student Zheng Suxin, 19, also feels the same way. She feels that at a deeper layer, once we can see the beauty of our culture, we will naturally develop an interest in it. She learns from this old uncle that for things that we are interested in, we should not give up easily.


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