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Dishu: A Look At China's Street Calligraphers

Dishu: A Look At China's Street Calligraphers

Picture of Culture Trip
Updated: 22 November 2016
François Chastanet’s book Dishu: Ground Calligraphy in China is a visual document of contemporary calligraphic practises in Chinese public spaces. The author of Pixação: São Paulo Signature and Cholo Writing: Latino Gang Graffiti in Los Angeles, Chastanet explores the unique works of China’s street calligraphers who paint with brush and water, endlessly producing beautiful words that evaporate into thin air.

Thousands of anonymous street calligraphers operate daily in Chinese parks and streets. The endlessly tracing texts composed of hanzi, Chinese characters, slowly disappear as water evaporates. This phenomenon, called dishu (earth writing or practicing ephemeral calligraphy on the ground using clear water as ink), appeared in the beginning of the 1990s in a north Beijing park and soon spread to most major Chinese cities.

Based on classic Chinese literature, poetry or aphorisms and ranging from static and regular to highly cursive styles, these monumental letterings makes the practitioner’s whole body break into spontaneous dance and infinite formal renewals. This street calligraphic practice corresponds to both a socializing need and an individual search for self accomplishment or improvement.

Dishu: Ground Calligraphy in China by François Chastanet offers the first survey of contemporary calligraphic practices in Chinese public spaces. Chastanet documented this unique practice during the summer of 2011 in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenyang. It takes the form of a major photographic essay, which traces the roots of this hand writing phenomenon and its development in Chinese society, analyses in detail the tools specially designed for street lettering and explores its possible transposition into other writing cultures.

François Chastanet is an architect and graphic designer working in Bordeaux, France. Chastanet has taught graphic design and typography since 2002 in the Graphic Design department of the École Supérieure des Beaux-Arts de Toulouse / Isdat. Chastanet writes about contemporary epigraphy, with a special interest in the visual communication of urban cultures.