Chineasy by SHAOLAN

Back to basics

Characters representing words placed on an associated pictorial (see cover page drawing where feet and a head were added to the two black strokes representing person). That is how SHAOLAN proposes to teach us the basics of the Chinese language. Intriguing. The author/artist/businesswoman came up with the concept while teaching her own children. Then Chineasy was born.

Chinese characters are used individually or can be used as building blocks to create further and deeper meaning. For example, the two characters to the left of this picture mean bright/tomorrow but when flanked by the character for year the meaning becomes next year.

The strokes required to form these characters are exceptionally beautiful, graceful and at times terribly intricate. The control you must have over your hand and the tiny flourishes needed to recreate them is formidable. I have been practicing pages and pages of strokes and still am not satisfied with the overall shape, size and inelegant rendering. But I will persevere!

Something truly curious (but also harking back to western methods of learning the alphabet between solid and dashed lines) is that you are working within a framework of tiny blocks (about the size of a thumbnail) which are further divided into eight equal triangular sections. These are your guidelines so as to create the correct shape, swoop, length of each stroke. If you look at the page to the left, you will notice that the first character representing person can be transformed into crowd by adding two more identical figures to the original. This is where, for me, it gets tricky because the space becomes smaller and smaller and I, for those who know me, write in huge free form flourishes. This is in fact, an excellent exercise of control and meticulous attention to detail.

The author gives a brief history of herself and her family and as you learn each new character, she provides wonderful historical background and describes traditional philosophy and feasts and taboos.

This book is suitable for youngsters and adults alike. And even if you don’t end up picking up the artistic portion, you can still learn the basics and meanings of characters and symbols and immerse yourself for many afternoons in an ancient culture and the people occupying that corner of the world.

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