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Chinese Water Calligraphy

May 17, 2010 By Abraham

chinese water writing

All over China, you can find elderly men writing Chinese characters with water that only last a few minutes.

Travel photographer Scott Sporleder

More on this relatively new tradition.

Have any of you ever seen this? What can you tell us about it?


  1. Lore says:

    I saw this both times I was in China and thought it really was pretty indicative of their culture and the arts. I’m sure most of you saw the opening ceremonies to the Olympics in China–another perfect case of this: an (seemingly) over the top production which at the very base was astonishingly beautiful because it was made with things as simple as humans (as opposed to many of the productions we are more accustomed to seeing, with CG, elaborate sets, etc.). China places a high emphasis on what the body is capable of doing and this writing on streets with water is a perfect example of that. Men with wet brushes showcasing their calligraphy, with little regard for the “hard copy” evidence. I love it!

  2. Bernie Anderson says:

    I have seen this, as well. I asked about the content of the writing to a Chinese man serving as something of a guide and translator at the time. He told me that the writing was largely political. Which might explain why it is written in water.

  3. KP says:

    We have a little Buddha Board, kind of a tablet just for water writing/art. It is startlingly freeing to make brushstrokes knowing no mistakes will last. And even the regret when something perfectly-rendered disappears seconds later is lovely.

  4. Mama Bean says:

    he makes it look so easy.

    interesting that they’re mostly political in nature.

    when i watch people write chinese characters, i just feel like each word is a little piece of art.

  5. David says:

    I’ve seen this in several cities in China. It’s a strange thing to see people walking toward a public square with a giant brush over their shoulder. I’m still waiting for someone to try it in Tian’anmen.

  6. Julie says:

    I live in China, and this is a pretty common thing you can see happening in a park on a nice warm day. Generally you’ll see older men and women writing calligraphy on the sidewalk. It’s not always political in nature – often they are ancient poetry or proverbs. The characters are very pretty and it’s generally art for art’s sake.

    Here’s a picture I took at a local park last fall: http://tinyurl.com/35tcq2r

  7. Dan R. says:

    Living in China also… see it all the time, here in Wuhan most often with colored chalk (almost as transient as water).

  8. JKP says:

    I’m also a long-time resident of China and have seen this numerous times. Mostly they’ve been writing poetry. It’s always fun to watch. My character-writing skills still equal those of a 5 year old.

  9. klaus says:

    hi there,
    i am from germany and i am fascinated from these big brushes.
    does anybody know a contact address from a wholeseller or producer of those?
    if you can help me, so feel free to contact me.
    thanks, klaus

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