The Way of Guqin
Guqin is one of the oldest Chinese musical instruments with a history of over three thousand years. Through this ancient inheritance and development, unique instruments, music compositions and scores have been created and developed over time. With its deep and elegant tone quality and nuanced artistic expressive force, Guqin has become a symbol of Chinese national spirit and traditional musical culture, hence the term “The Principle of Guqin” or “The Studies of Guqin.”
During the long process of development from “Guqin instrument” to “Guqin art” and then to more formalized “Guqin Studies,” Guqin has become an integral part of mainstream Chinese culture. The series of “Guqin (Zither), Qi (Chess), Shu (Calligraphy), Hua (Painting), Shi (Poetry), Xiang (Incense), Cha (Tea) and Hua (Flower Arrangement)” has been widely recognized by every generation as the best representation of traditional Chinese culture. Chinese scholars’ emphasis on these cultural elements in fact reflects the delights, attitudes and life styles they pursued. Guqin always leads this list due to its profound culture history and connotations.
Guqin’s cultural significance goes beyond the instrument itself: Guqin, with its pure timbre, is not only helpful in purifying one’s heart and cultivating one’s moral character, but also has such social functions as family regulation, state ruling and universal harmony. Guqin has become a code of conduct in people’s daily lives, and has naturally become the best symbol for Chinese national cultural spirit. No wonder Guqin playing has developed from being mere skills to an actual spiritual practice.
The Way of Calligraphy
Just like other traditional arts such as Guqin and Qi (Chess), calligraphy and painting in ancient times also revealed the inner world of Chinese scholars. However, they differ from other artistic forms in that calligraphy and painting express the creators’ feelings and emotions through visual elements of line and paint.
The word “calligraphy” in China carries profound meanings. Authentic calligraphy is based on Chinese characters and written with brush; it is an art that expresses the author’s emotions and thoughts and infuses personal aesthetic ideals into visible forms. Calligraphy reflects the calligraphers’ mentality, temperament, learning and self-cultivation. It is aesthetic instead of practical, and its condensed and abstract expressive form is rich in passions, scenes, meanings and interests beyond mere pragmatic technical beauty. Therefore, “calligraphy” is strictly distinct from “font” or “hand writing.”
Chinese painting is based on calligraphy and shows with simplest lines changing rhythms and cosmic vitality. Qing Dynasty painter Shi Tao once said, “Mountains and rivers let me speak on behalf of them; and the beauty of the landscape finds concrete expressions in my paintings.” Painters used the rhythm of their souls to express the laws of the cosmos in the form of painting. Images of nature created by the painters brim with understanding of and concern for humanity, and human feelings are revealed through images of nature at the same time. Emotions and personalities of the calligraphers and painters interact with natural scenes and become a harmonious whole. Calligraphic works and paintings throughout history therefore not only constitute artistic masterpieces passed down through the ages, but also give expression to cultural spirit of the historic era from which they originated.
The Way of Tea
Tea culture reflects traditional Chinese ideology and ethics, and encompasses etiquettes, customs, historical allusions, folk legends, literary and artistic works and songs and poetry about tea along with the rules, skills and techniques of tea making. Tea culture is an “inclusive” art form, incorporating many other cultural fields such as architecture, music, dance, painting, traditional Chinese opera, dress, diet and medicine into its practice.
“The Way of Tea” is the combination of concrete tea-making activities and the process of tea lovers’ self-improvement and self-understanding. The purpose of “The Way of Tea” is neither to quench thirst nor distinguish good tea from bad tea, but to help practitioners pursue mental peace, cultivate good taste and develop aesthetic and moral standards through complex rituals and ceremonies.
Tea lovers attain enlightenment through tasting and drinking tea, and this process is called “The Way of Tea.” To put it simply, “The Way of Tea” refers to the insight and epiphany gained from tea drinking, which shows that “The Way of Tea” has far exceeded the level of theoretical perception and studies and needs further practical research and investigation
The Way of Flowers
From ancient times to the present, flowers, birds, fish and insects have always been symbols of beauty and mirth, and they are closely related to people’s lives, to which they add boundless flavors and delights.
“The Way of Flowers” refers to the process and technique of arranging in vases twigs, leaves and flowers properly cut from trees and plants. It is an art that can give people artistic and aesthetic enjoyment. The fundamental notion shared by various flower arranging schools is the harmony and unity of heaven, earth and man, a natural and philosophical idea unique to the East. Flower arranging masters not only consider flowers beautiful but also regard them as the reflections of the passage of time and expressions of inner human feelings. Flower arrangement is both the presentation of beauty and a way of expression and self-cultivation, which demands a dedicated spirit. The harmony between flowers and man is a realm only accessible to those who achieve inner peace through disciplined practice. The significance of flower arrangement includes eulogizing nature, rituals, virtues, artistic conception and inner clarity. What “The Way of Flowers” aspires to are “silence, elegance, beauty, authenticity and harmony.”
The Way of Incense
“The Way of Incense” stands for the deep appreciation of incense through such ways as seeing, touching and smelling. During this performative process, pleasant and orderly procedures are observed so that in this ancient ceremonial atmosphere we can pay homage to virtuous people of past generations, gain insight into the present life, enjoy friendship, and calm our spirits in order to harmonize with nature. Incense is not only aromatic and good for one’s physical and mental health but also can remove toxins, cure illness and nourish the body and soul.
In ancient times, incense burning was not only an elegant enjoyment but also a status symbol for nobles. In modern boisterous urban life, the sentiment of seeking tranquility in the midst of bustling cities is needed: place a censer in the parlor, burn a stick of incense, sit in repose with your eyes closed, and enjoy in silence the wonderful feelings brought about by the fragrance. Incense can also refresh one’s mind, alleviate fatigue and pacify a restless heart.