Most of the Chinese arts are a form of gongfu. That means almost without exception, the Chinese arts usually aim at high level of perfection through persistent and long period of training and practice. The famous examples are martial arts, sword dances. One may also say Chinese paintings and calligraphy are a form of gongfu.
In China, it is said in the past, during the so-called elegant gatherings of scholars and after a few cups of wing, it was quite common to have those among the guests who were highly literati often – under the admiring eyes of others – took up the brush, writing poems or famous sayings in beautiful and creative calligraphic forms. In fact, the practice of performing calligraphy at gatherings or even banquets has survived in the Chinese societies until today.
There are good reasons on why Chinese arts are suitable for performing in front of others. Using calligraphy as an example, in additional to its being a gongfu, there are other points that promote its performative qualities:
1. There is an order or sequential movement in calligraphy in which characters have to be written. It therefore has the character of being a process which makes it suitable for performance.
2. There are in touch ups in writing calligraphy. If an artist is not happy with certain strokes, he usually discards the whole piece. Thus, in writing calligraphy, a kind of concentration like in the performing arts is necessary.
3. In calligraphy, emphasis on the line also concerns such notions as strength and well as momentum and gesture of the brushstroke, because these are forces that determine the dynamic flow and the expressive quality of the line. Needless to say, gesture and momentum are also central elements in other performing arts.
4. The highest quality in Chinese calligraphy is ‘spiritual resonance’ which is said to have a definite relationship to the personality of the artist. This may come across as a certain spiritual presence or power of the artists which can be appreciated particularly when performing.
There is no lack of writings in Chinese aesthetic literature in which these performative aspects of Chinese art are highlighted. We shall talk about them at appropriate times.