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Four Great Art Forms in Ancient China

In ancient times, the mastery of the Four Great Arts was a symbol of individual refinement. They are the Qin (a classical musical string instrument), “Qi” (black and white chess), “Shu” (calligraphy) and “Hua” (ink painting).

1. Qin
Qin or Gu Qin is an ancient string instrument that has soothed the soul of millions of Chinese for more than 3,000 years. Confucius himself was said to be a great Qin player.

Its wooden base is about 122 to 125cm (5 feet and 6 inches) in length, 20cm (6 inches) in width and 6cm (2 inches) in thickness. A Qin has a concaved surface on which a few strings hover. Traditionally, a Qin has only 5 strings, two more were later added by later generations. A Qin has about 4 octaves and produces soft unobtrusive sounds, frequently likened to drops of water touching the surface of a pond.

2. Qi
Qi or Wei Qi is a strategic board game that requires two players. The game has been popular since the Warring States era around 559 B.C.E. Qi is not a game of entertainment for the idle, but an engaging platform for cultivating patience, clarity, insights and wisdom. Ancient war strategies, rulers and sages often train themselves through playing Qi.

Qi is set on a wooden checked board with 19 vertical and 19 horizontal lines. There are 361 identical round and convex-shaped chess pieces. 181 of them are black and the remaining 180 are white. One player will hold the black chess while the other will hold the white chess. The game begins with an empty board. Each player will take turns to place one chess piece at a time on the board. Once a piece is placed on the board, it cannot be moved.

The word “Wei ” in its name Wei Qi literally means ‘to surround’. Wei Qi is a game of conquering your opponent. Therefore the aim of the game is to acquire as much territory as possible by surround the area as well as your opponent. The player that has more territories will be the winner of the game.

3. Shu
Shu or Shu Fa refers to Chinese calligraphy. A Chinese calligraphy brush has a bamboo handle and fur tip. As the subject of calligraphy is usually poems and verses, a person that is proficient in calligraphy by implication is also a master of the art of poetry.

The art of calligraphy is reflective in nature. When a calligrapher decides to write a word or a verse, he or she must first contemplate on the meaning of the word or verse. The insights realized from the deep contemplation must then be captured in the calligrapher's work. So a seasoned calligrapher will be able to tell the personality and depth of another's understanding by examining their calligraphy.

4. Hua
Of the Four Great Arts, Chinese Ink Painting is probably the youngest. It is commonly thought that this art form was an extension of Shu Fa or Chinese Calligraphy. Chinese Ink Painting flourished in late Qin Dynasty around 200 B.C.E onwards.

Hua or Chinese painting uses water-soluble ink and the object is painted either on silk or rice paper. Traditional Chinese painting is black and white. So the textures and the distance of objects, as well as the mood of the entire painting are communicated by contrasting the different intensity of ink used.

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