Semi-cursive script

Semi-cursive script
Script type
Time period
Han Dynasty to present
LanguagesOld Chinese, Middle Chinese, Modern Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, Korean
Related scripts
Parent systems
Child systems
Regular script
Simplified Chinese
Chu Nom
Khitan script
Jurchen script
Tangut script
4E00–9FFF, 3400–4DBF, 20000–2A6DF, 2A700–2B734, 2F00–2FDF, F900–FAFF
 This article contains phonetic transcriptions in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA. For the distinction between [ ], / / and ⟨ ⟩, see IPA § Brackets and transcription delimiters.
Semi-cursive script
Chinese characters of "Semi-cursive Script" in regular script (left) and semi-cursive script (right).
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese行書
Simplified Chinese行书
Vietnamese name
Vietnamese alphabet1. hành thư
2. chữ hành
Hán-Nôm1. 行書
2. 𡨸行
Korean name
Japanese name

Semi-cursive script is a style of calligraphy which emerged in China during the Han dynasty. The style is used to write Chinese characters and is abbreviated slightly where a character’s strokes are permitted to be visibly connected as the writer writes, but not to the extent of the cursive style.[1] This makes the style easily readable by readers who can read regular script and quickly writable by calligraphers who require ideas to be written down quickly.[1] Chinese calligraphy is written using the Four Treasure of the Study, the writing brush, ink, ink stone and paper. Though the semi-cursive style is not taught to students officially, it is a popular style used in modern handwriting.[2] In order to produce legible work using the semi-cursive style, a series of writing conventions are followed, including the linking of the strokes, simplification and merging strokes, adjustments to stroke order and the distribution of text of the work.[2]

One of the most notable calligraphers who used this style was Wang XiZhi (王羲之), known for his work, “Preface to the Orchid Pavilion Collection” (兰亭集序; Lantingji Xu), produced in 353 CE. This work remains highly influential in China, as well as outside of China where calligraphy using Chinese characters are still in practice, such as Japan and Korea.[2] Although the original work is long lost, the work has been copied multiple times, even the mistakes within the work due to its high regard. [3]

Due to the decrease of calligraphy practitioners in response to the introduction of alternative writing instruments such as pens and pencils (instead of the writing brush) and computer typing technologies, there have been efforts aiming to preserve the methods of handwriting with the writing brush through the use of a robotic arm.[4][5] Another method proposed is the “track and point set” method, using multiple sets of coordinates to obtain a pathway of the Chinese character and the location of “hairsprings”, the subtle ink smear produced by the ink and brush when transitioning between strokes. [4]



The style’s HanYu PinYin name, xingshu (traditional Chinese: 行書; simplified Chinese: 行书), can be translated to the “walking” or “running” script. The character xing (行) literally means “walking”, “running” or “movement”.[6] The character shu (traditional Chinese: 書; simplified Chinese (书) means “script”, or it can also mean “book”. As Chinese writing was introduced to Japan and Korea, the many styles of calligraphy were also imported to those countries.[2] In Japanese, the style is known as gyousho (行書), whilst in Korean, it is named haengseo (행서). Both names retain the same meaning and have the same characteristics as they did in their Chinese counterpart. In Vietnam, it is called either hành thư (行書) or chữ hành (𡨸行). All names retain the same meaning and have the same characteristics as they did in their Chinese counterpart.


The Chinese writing system has been borrowed and used in East Asian countries, including Japan, Korea and Vietnam for thousands of years. Due to similarities in cultures, beliefs and vocabulary, Chinese writing was able to assimilate into these areas. China’s extensive culture, technology and large territory at the time influenced the emergence of calligraphy culture and its various styles. [7]


The semi-cursive style was developed in the late-Eastern Han Dynasty. It is said that the style was derived from the clerical script by Liu DeSheng due to the need for a faster way to write. The style was further developed by notable calligrapher Wang XiZhi and his son Wang XianZhi, also a calligrapher.[1] Script in this style is written in a more curvaceous style than the regular script, however not as illegible as the cursive script.[6]

One of the most notable calligraphers to produce work using the semi-cursive style is Wang XiZhi, where his work, Preface to the Orchid Pavilion Collection was written in 353 CE.[2] The work included the character 之 (zhi), a possessive particle, twenty-one times all in different forms. The difference in form was generated by Wang under the influence of having alcohol with his acquaintances. He had wanted to reproduce the work again since it was in his liking, but to no avail. Preface to the Orchid Pavilion Collection is still included in the some of the world’s most notable calligraphy works and remains highly influential in the calligraphy world.[2]

The semi-cursive style was also the basis of the techniques used to write with the fountain pen when Western influence was heavy in China, in the early 20th century.[2]


Calligraphy culture from China was introduced to Japan in around 600 CE and have been practiced till today. Although Japan originally used Chinese characters (kanji) to represent words of the spoken language, there were still parts of the spoken language that could not be written using Chinese characters.[6] The phonetic writing systems, hiragana and katakana were developed as a result of the semi-cursive and cursive styles.[6] During the Heian Period, a large amount of calligraphy works was written in the semi-cursive style because the roundedness of the style allowed for a natural flow between Chinese characters (kanji) and hiragana.[8][9]


Chinese calligraphy appeared in Korea at around 2nd or 3rd century CE. Korea also used the Chinese characters (hanja) until the invention of the Korean alphabet, hangul, in 1443.[10] Even then, many calligraphers did not choose to use the newly created hangul writing system and continued to write calligraphy and its various styles using Chinese characters.[11]


Chinese calligraphy was introduced to Vietnam during the Chinese rule in Vietnam. Until the 17th century, Chinese was the official writing system of the region. Currently, the Latin script is in use, and calligraphy has been practiced in both systems, though it is more difficult to write Latin letters with a brush. [12]


Semi-cursive script aims for an informal, natural movement from one stroke to the next. When writing in the regular script, the end of each stroke is carefully highlighted, ensuring the brush is lifted off the paper after the end of each stroke before the next. This makes it clearly distinct from the next stroke to be made. In the semi-cursive style, the calligrapher lifts the brush less often, with the intention of creating a “softer” style.[1] Another distinct feature of this style is being able to pinpoint where each stroke originates and which stroke is it followed by.[6]

In order to be able to write in the semi-cursive style, the calligrapher should be able to write in the regular script and know the order the strokes should be written in.[6] Usually, the stroke order of writing each character is followed, but there are rare situations where this is not the case.[1] Traditionally, Chinese calligraphy is written vertically from right to left.

Many calligraphers choose to use this style when they need to write things down quickly, but still require the characters to be readable. In Japan, most calligraphy works are done in this style due to its ability to create a style unique to the calligrapher in a small timeframe.[6]


The semi-cursive style is practiced for aesthetic purposes, and a calligrapher may choose to specialise in any script of their preference. The semi-cursive style’s smooth transition and omission of some strokes had also contributed to the simplification of Chinese characters by the People’s Republic of China. [7]

Writing Conventions

Linking of the Strokes

One of the characteristics of semi-cursive script is the joining of consecutive strokes. To execute this, one must write a character in an uninterrupted manner and only stop the brush movement when required. In some scenarios, the strokes may not be visibly linked, but it is possible to grasp the direction which each stroke is drawn.[2]

Stroke Merging and Simplifying Characters

The fast brush movement needed for the semi-cursive style allows a decrease in the number of strokes needed to produce a character. However, this is done in a way to preserve readability by considering the stroke order of each Chinese character in most cases. There are no solid rules to the way in which characters are simplified, and it is up to the calligrapher to display their personal style and preferences.[2]

Adjustments to Stroke Order

With the intention to prioritise speed, calligraphers may choose to make subtle changes to the stroke order of the written character. They may choose to reverse the direction of the stroke or write the strokes out of order compared to how they are written in the regular script.[2]

Text Distribution

In works written using semi-cursive script, the size of each character can vary greatly with each other. Where works of the regular script are usually written in the same size, semi-cursive characters can be arranged to achieve “rhythm and balance” artistically. To preserve this rhythm and balance, most semi-cursive and cursive works are written in vertical columns from right to left, despite the adoption of the Western standard in Chinese texts, writing in rows from left to right.[2]

Computer Encoding

In China, as well as the countries in which Chinese character calligraphy is imported to, the art form and its various styles of writing have suffered a decline in practitioners.[5] This decline is due to the appearance of other writing tools besides the writing brush, such as the pen and pencil. Although there are schools that teach students how to write with the brush, the time spent on the topic is not sufficient, with pencils and pens remaining as the main writing tool. The loss of interest in writing is further attributed by the introduction of typing Chinese characters on the computer.[5]

With the uprising of typing technologies, calligraphy practitioners are faced with the possibility of calligraphy culture dying out. As a method to counteract this, Fenghui Yao, Guifeng Shao and Jianqiang Yi, specialising in computer science and robotics, have developed a robotic arm that can replicate significant calligraphic works.[5] A database containing the methods to write over 29000 Chinese characters was created, including works created using the semi-cursive style. As the semi-cursive style requires special attention paid to the stroke order and the beginning and end of each stroke, to produce a “hairspring” connecting consecutive strokes.[4] Hairsprings are the fine brush strokes generated and are an important in semi-cursive script as it display the direction of the stroke, where they are coming from and where they are going.

Another method, known as the “track and point set”,[4] uses a set of coordinates to obtain a specific “point” to outline the skeleton of the Chinese character to be written. This method allows the distinguishing between the regular script and semi-cursive script. The speed of the writing brush is controlled by an algorithm. The angle and thickness of the hairsprings and warping of the strokes produced are vital in producing the natural and flowing characteristics of the style. The method had also been successful in producing different kinds of hairsprings, including hairsprings at the end of a stroke, curving hairsprings and the joining and bending of the strokes. [4]


  1. ^ a b c d e Calligraphy, Beyond. "Semi-cursive script (行書, gyousho) - Beyond Calligraphy" . Retrieved 2021-05-17. External link in |website= (help)
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Li, Wendan (2010-05-31). Chinese Writing and Calligraphy . University of Hawaii Press. doi:10.1515/9780824860691 . ISBN 978-0-8248-6069-1.
  3. ^ "Chinese Calligraphy, the ancient art of handwriting in China" . Retrieved 2021-05-28.
  4. ^ a b c d e Wu, Yao; Jiang, Jie; Li, Yi (December 2018). "A Method of Chinese Characters Changing from Regular Script to Semi-Cursive Scrip Described by Track and Point Set" . 2018 International Joint Conference on Information, Media and Engineering (ICIME). IEEE: 162–167. doi:10.1109/icime.2018.00041 . ISBN 978-1-5386-7616-5.
  5. ^ a b c d Yao, Fenghui; Shao, Guifeng; Yi, Jianqiang (January 2004). "Trajectory generation of the writing–brush for a robot arm to inherit block–style Chinese character calligraphy techniques" . Advanced Robotics. 18 (3): 331–356. doi:10.1163/156855304322972477 . ISSN 0169-1864 .
  6. ^ a b c d e f g 1933-, 佐藤, 昌三 (2014). Shodo : the quiet art of Japanese Zen calligraphy : learn the wisdom of Zen through traditional brush painting . チャールズ・イー・タトル出版. ISBN 978-4-8053-1204-9. OCLC 1183131287 .CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  7. ^ a b Li, Yu (2020). The Chinese writing system in Asia : an interdisciplinary perspective . London. ISBN 978-1-000-69906-7. OCLC 1114273437 .
  8. ^ Bernard, Kyoko; Nakata, Yujiro; Woodhill, Alan; Nikovskis, Armis (1973). "The Art of Japanese Calligraphy" . Monumenta Nipponica. 28 (4): 514. doi:10.2307/2383576 . ISSN 0027-0741 . JSTOR 2383576 .
  9. ^ Boudonnat, Louise (2003). Traces of the brush : the art of Japanese calligraphy . Harumi Kushizaki. San Francisco: Chronicle. ISBN 2-02-059342-4. OCLC 51553636 .
  10. ^ Choi, Yearn-hong (2016). "Choe Chi-won, great Tang and Silla poet" . The Korean Times. Retrieved 2021. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  11. ^ Brown, Ju (2006). China, Japan, Korea : culture and customs . John Brown. North Charleston, South Carolina: BookSurge. ISBN 1-4196-4893-4. OCLC 162136010 .
  12. ^ "Young artist writes the beauty of Vietnamese calligraphy | The World Calligraphy Museum" . Retrieved 2021-05-28.

External links

Categories: Chinese characters | Chinese script style | Logographic writing systems | Writing systems

Information as of: 02.06.2021 04:14:39 CEST

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