‘Spring flowers bring forth autumn fruits’: Finland sees surge in interest in Chinese painting and calligraphy

[Source]    Confucius Institute at the University of Helsinki [Time]    2016-03-17 12:08:33 

On February 8, the first day of the Chinese Lunar New Year, a group of Chinese calligraphy enthusiasts were gathered in the hall of Helsinki University Main Library. They were attending the opening ceremony of an exhibition of Chinese painting and calligraphy organized by the Confucius Institute at the University of Helsinki. The exhibition was entitled ‘Spring Flowers and Autumn Fruits.’

The opening ceremony was attended by Julie Chen, Director of the Confucius Institute at the University of Helsinki; Chinese Director Wang Hong; calligraphy teacher Li Xinsheng; Confucius Institute students; the leaders of the Main Library; and various other assorted guests. All came to bear witness to the achievements of the Confucius Institute’s Chinese painting and calligraphy class.

The Main Library of the university, which was founded nearly 400 years ago, is located in the center of Helsinki’s historic district. The building is a city landmark, and this was the first time a Chinese painting and calligraphy exhibition had been held here.

During her speech, Director Wang Hong expressed her pride in the Confucius Institute students, who had produced so many excellent works of art after just a few short months of studying calligraphy and painting. At the same time, she hoped more and more Finnish people would gain understanding and an appreciation for Chinese painting and calligraphy, and learn about the history and culture behind them, thus allowing Eastern and Western cultures to come together in Finland.

Chinese and Finnish Directors of the Confucius Institute together with teacher Li Xinsheng at the opening ceremony for the painting and calligraphy exhibition

“Spring Flowers”: the Confucius Institute has been offering traditional Chinese painting and calligraphy courses for several years in a row.

Founded in 2007, the Confucius Institute at the University of Helsinki is the only Confucius Institute in Finland. In 2008, the Institute started offering a class in traditional Chinese painting and calligraphy. Besides university students, academics, university staff and even retirees have also attended the course.

Li Xinsheng is a well-known artist in Finland specializing in Chinese painting and calligraphy. Having moved overseas many years ago, he is able to teach in three languages: Chinese, British and Finnish. According to Mr. Li, since starting work with the Confucius Institute in 2014, his painting and calligraphy classes have always been fully registered. While teaching he doesn’t just concentrate on students’ practicing their technique, but also places importance on the interpretation of Chinese culture, history and philosophy.

Mr. Li believes that Chinese calligraphy is not only about writing characters. It’s more about expressing your emotions, celebrating the dynamics of life, and depicting the marvels of nature. There’s a saying in Chinese, that ‘words give voice to your wishes, but calligraphy expresses the picture in your heart’. This is why Chinese scholars and masters of calligraphy believe you should ‘read ten thousand books and travel ten thousand miles.’ For only after intense study of traditional Chinese works will you attain a high level of knowledge and style.

A Chinese calligraphy class

Finnish students at the Confucius Institute cover thousands of years of Chinese history during their calligraphy class, from learning about Neolithic inscriptions on pottery and tracing Shang dynasty oracle bone script, to studying bronze inscriptions from the Western Zhou Dynasty and Warring States periods. They gain a deeper understanding of small seal, clerical and cursive scripts, and experience a taste of different periods of Chinese civilization. Using bones from a cow, Mr. Li even made sample oracle bones to help his students better understand this practice. They were able to touch the bones for themselves, experience what it was like to use a knife to carve an inscription, and imagine how the ancient Chinese sages of three thousand years ago had created a remarkable civilization.

During the painting class, the history of Confucian, Buddhist and Taoist philosophical thought was combined with lessons about Chinese painting, and contrasted with Western art to allow students to understand the difference between the two cultures. As Mr. Li explained, in Western paintings the mood is more frank and open, whereas Chinese paintings are more implicit, profound and far-reaching. While teaching, Mr. Li ensures his students shift how they think, and encourages them to be calm while appreciating the nature, tranquility, simplicity and harmony of Chinese art.

A Chinese painting class

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