Calligraphic Materiality and Multimodality: Modes of Expression and Representation in Chinese Calligraphy and their Dynamics with Contexts of Use in the City of Hong Kong

Project: Research project

Project Details


Little research has been conducted on Hong Kong calligraphy. Previous works have largely treated calligraphy as a form of high art, produced and appreciated by only a small community of literati. As a result, it has been generally assumed that calligraphic art is of little importance except to a restricted circle of specialists. To compensate for this neglect of calligraphy’s wider significance, the PI’s previous GRF research, titled ‘Social and Cultural Implications of Chinese Calligraphy in Public Venues in Hong Kong’, examined 60 calligraphic works in public venues around Hong Kong. Research findings revealed that this specific type of calligraphy has been playing a pivotal role in highlighting the cultural and historical significance of ancestral shrines, charity organisations, historic sites, temples, or Christian churches and other public venues. The 60 works under examination in the PI’s previous project were examined to identify five major elements of calligraphic expression: i) village clan culture, ii) charitable and civic culture, iii) pluralistic religious culture, iv) revolutionary culture, and v) vernacular culture. However, the PI discovered an overwhelming number of additional calligraphic works at other sites that cannot be categorised with these five elements of local culture. Therefore, the proposed research will expand the current project’s scope by identifying and examining more than 150 other calligraphic works that will be categorised according to five other elements of calligraphic expression: 1) educational culture, 2) park culture, 3) festival culture, 4) funerary culture, and 5) alternative modes of expression and cyberspace. The new sites to be examined include parks, schools, festival venues, cemeteries, websites, and social media platforms. Calligraphy in other material forms and alternative modes of expression will include those involved in the interplay between calligraphy and performance, sounds, music, movies, mass media, graphic designs, pictorial images or moving images as well as those literary contents that are attached to mass-produced goods such as t-shirts, cups, postcards, napkins, bookmarks, commercials and advertisements in physical space, cyberspace, and on moving vehicles. Therefore, the research content will be entirely different from that of the PI’s previous GRF research. Inspiring calligraphic expressions in these sites signify a wide spectrum of traditional cultures, contemporary thoughts, city life, people’s aspirations, visions of society and thoughts on life and death, thus shedding light on people from different walks of life who make up Hong Kong society and on what has shaped their thoughts and values. Hence, this project will offer a significant contribution to the reconstruction of identity embodied in public calligraphy.

Also different from that of the PI’s previous GRF research, the proposed research methodology is inspired by the parameters of “geosemiotics” (Scollon & Scollon, 2003: 12); Roger Chartier’s (1995: 2) approach to the material forms of language; theories of multimodality and the use of space as a semiotic resource from the field of linguistic landscape (Pütz, Martin & Mundt, Neele (eds.), 2019; Jewitt (ed.), 2009 and Adam Jaworski (2015)); and Craig Clunas’s (2003) approach to the social history of art. This new methodology will offer a more encompassing approach for examining and interpreting the relationships and synergistic effects of the following factors: 1) calligraphic aesthetics and style as semiotic resources for meaning making; 2) calligraphic expressions manifested in a wide range of material forms in physical and cyber spaces; 3) alternative modes of calligraphic expression; and 4) calligraphy’s social and cultural contexts and contexts of use in Hong Kong. Scrutinizing calligraphy as a form of aesthetic-object-cum-public-message that connotes more profound meanings pertinent to the city and city life, the new methodology will thereby illuminate how calligraphy has been transformed from a literati-oriented, rarefied form of art with a restricted audience into a more accessible form of visual culture that reaches wider audiences. Field trips to various sites will be taken to investigate the physical conditions of the calligraphic works. Textual and pictorial research materials will be collected, analysed, interpreted, and used to form pertinent archives. A series of academic papers for presentation at conferences will be written, and a fully illustrated book manuscript will be written for publication. As there are no ready-made or systematic collections of research materials pertaining to this project, the collection and categorization of the relevant materials will require the assistance of a research assistant.

Effective start/end date1/09/2129/02/24

UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This project contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities


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