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Celebrating calligraphy

Our Korean Studies community reflects on a week of workshops and exhibitions jointly organised with the City University of Hong Kong and Seoul National University.

Over three days in September this year, we were delighted to bring together 250 delegates for the triennial Joint East Asian Studies Conference (JEASC) at the University of Edinburgh.

Photo of a calligraphy workshop
Organisers and participants of the calligraphy workshop by Professor Pei Kai Cheng, who is pictured (centre right) together with Professor Chung-in Lee (Seoul) and Dr Youngmi Kim (Edinburgh)

In advance of the conference itself, which opened with a triple screening of films selected by the European Journal of Korean Studies, guests were invited to participate in two calligraphy workshops and browse an exhibition of works from the Korean and Chinese Students Calligraphy Competition (which first opened in Seoul in November 2018, and toured to Hong Kong thereafter).

The events were a highlight of the first week of campus life for students on our new postgraduate programmes in Korean Studies, as well as the wider Asian Studies and LLC communities, and our Korea Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow / Visiting Scholar for 2019/20, Dr Gabor Sebo.

Here, students Xin Ai (MSc in Korean Studies) and Tong Zhou (PhD in East Asian Studies) join Gabor to reflect on their impressions of the celebration of calligraphy.

Passing on intangible cultural heritage

Invented in ancient China, and spread to Korea using Chinese characters, Chinese calligraphy is considered by UNESCO as an example of Representative Intangible Cultural Heritage, that is, it flourishes through people whose knowledge of traditions, skills and customs are passed on to the rest of the community, from generation to generation, or to other communities.

Professor Pei Kai Cheng, cultural historian, poet, and Chairman of the Hong Kong Intangible Cultural Heritage Consultation Committee, is an expert in both Chinese Calligraphy and Kun Qu Opera, which UNESCO has also inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

PhD student Tong Zhou attended our calligraphy workshop by Professor Pei Kai Cheng, who gave a live demonstration of basic Chinese calligraphy strokes using Kun Qu Opera lyrics as inspiration; ten of his works remained on show at 50 George Square for two weeks after the workshop. Speaking about her experience, Tong said: “the way of moving the brush and the graphic pattern of Chinese are both fantastic. Besides, the programme’s topic is very novel… enabling scholars to more easily find materials. I believe [this approach] has a bright future."

Writing about both workshops, our Korea Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow Gabor Sebo said: "It was my honor and pleasure to join [and therein to] gain detailed scholarly information about the ancient history of Chinese and Korean calligraphies, its significant status in East Asian culture, its evolution, and its future in contemporary East Asian societies. The most enjoyable part... was to learn the basic stroke techniques of Chinese calligraphy and practice brush writing on rice paper, with Chinese ink, and inkstone, known as Four Treasures of the Study."

Gaining theoretical and practical experience

Photo of calligraphy exhibition
'Science and Art' students' calligraphy exhibition in 50 George Square

Passing through 50 George Square during Welcome Week, MSc in Korean Studies student Xin Ai was drawn by the Science and Art exhibition of 32 calligraphy artworks by students from 10 different universities around the globe. Xin liked the fact that the works were based on famous Chinese and Korean poems, and that they were in different languages and different fonts, adding: “Through these works, people can intuitively understand this traditional art and appreciate East Asian culture.”

For Gabor, who attended the exhibition’s opening ceremony, it was a chance to chat to visiting scholar and calligrapher Richard Wong Wai Lok from the City University of Hong Kong about the ancient history of calligraphy and translations of the Chinese poems on display.  Reflecting on all the events, he said: “They contributed a lot to gaining both theoretical and practical experience and skills from an academic perspective [and were] highly successful as the room was full of international students and scholars from all over the world.”

Are you interested in Korean Studies at Edinburgh?

We offer three postgraduate programmes enabling you to choose either a taught (MSc) or research-led (MSc by Research) masters degree, or to undertake a PhD. Additionally, Korean is one of 14 one-semester foundation language courses open to all students at the University of Edinburgh.

Find out more about Korean Studies