[lg policy] Fwd: Line Drawn on Purported Corruption in Calligraphy

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Wed Jan 21 22:20:02 UTC 2015

Forwarded From: Fierman, William <wfierman at indiana.edu>
Date: Wed, Jan 21, 2015 at 1:39 PM

 *Line Drawn on Purported Corruption in Calligraphy*

*By Chris Buckley
<http://sinosphere.blogs.nytimes.com/author/chris-buckley/> *

January 21, 2015 3:10 am January 21, 2015 3:10 am


[image: Examining calligraphy set for auction in Hong Kong. On the
mainland, the head of the Communist Party’s main antigraft agency says
crooked officials are accepting high fees for shoddy works.]

Examining calligraphy set for auction in Hong Kong. On the mainland, the
head of the Communist Party’s main antigraft agency says crooked officials
are accepting high fees for shoddy works.Credit Adam Dean for The New York


[image: Wang Qishan.]

Wang Qishan.Credit Feng Li/Getty Images

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In Chinese culture, calligraphy holds a hallowed status. In ancient times,
emperors, mandarins and poets prized the skill of using ink and a brush to
render words, texts and poems on paper with such vigor and grace that the
complex characters of written Chinese become an art form of their own.

But in today’s China, not even this austere hobby has escaped the tentacles
of corruption. To judge from warnings by Communist Party officials, the
calligraphy racket can be as sordid and ruthless as a rigged wrestling

The problem has come under discussion since Wang Qishan, the head of the
party’s antigraft agency, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection,
warned that calligraphic corruption was in his sights. Presenting himself
as both a graft-buster and a connoisseur, Mr. Wang suggested that crooked
officials were passing off their scrawlings as valuable masterpieces and
dared to present themselves as masters of the difficult “cursive” script.

“Some leading officials can’t even write regular script properly, and still
they rush straight into cursive, and then dare mount it to give others,”
Mr. Wang said in a speech in mid-January, according to a report issued by
his agency on Friday <http://www.ccdi.gov.cn/yw/201501/t20150116_50191.html>.
“They’ve forgotten the bond between the ruling party and ordinary folks.”

Even before Mr. Wang’s comments, calligraphic associations had joined the
public lineup of shady operations suspected of aiding official corruption,
together with property developers and seedy hotel operators. In People’s
Daily, the party’s chief newspaper, a former official turned calligrapher
said in early December
<http://cpc.people.com.cn/pinglun/n/2014/1202/c78779-26131622.html> that
too many retired officials were shoving their way to the leadership of
calligraphy and painting associations in a bid for prestige and illicit
wealth. Since then, other insiders have claimed that officials have
accepted exorbitant payments for their calligraphy, and party newspapers
have urged former officials to give up their posts on calligraphic

“As soon as they can hang out the title of an association chairman, the
value of their works rockets,” said a commentary issued by the Central
Commission for Discipline Inspection on its website on Tuesday
<http://www.ccdi.gov.cn/yw/201501/t20150120_50374.html>. “Leading officials
shouldn’t steal meat from the bowls of artists.”

Not that calligraphy has ever been insulated from political power in China.
It was the art of emperors, and Mao Zedong prided himself on his poetry and
mastery of the bold curves and strokes of cursive script. He and other
later leaders dotted the country with their inscriptions. Just as surely,
though, those inscriptions would disappear when officials lost in power

Even as the party attempts to cleanse calligraphy of corruption, the bonds
with politics will stay. After President Xi Jinping laid out his highly
traditionalist view of art and culture in October last year, the China
Calligraphers Association joined other state-run artistic associations in
acclaiming his views.

“The significance of calligraphy has steadily weakened, and some
calligraphers have come under the influence of Western artistic trends in
their creative work,” warned Shao Bingren
an adviser and former vice president of the association. “To solve these
problems, we must grasp and implement the spirit of General Secretary Xi
Jinping’s important speech.”

Before his second career in calligraphy, Mr. Shao was a senior party


 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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