Some distinctive features of Huang Yao’s calligraphy

Many different scripts

Figure 4. Bird and Bamboo [185_29_18], Huang Yao Foundation
Chuyun Shu can be used to write any script, as long as it is written incisively it will reflect the inner spirit of the calligrapher, even pictograms can be included in his writing. This interest in the pictorial script is evident in the calligraphy written when he lived in Thailand (1951 to 1956). His calligraphy in regular script was infused with picture words, example in Figure. 4, Huang Yao wrote that “when the wind blows, the bamboo whistles; spring is here, the birds sing”, where the characters for “feng” (wind), “zhu” (bamboo) and “niao” (bird) are clearly pictograms.

Archaic awkward style

Figure 5. Lou Shi Ming (A Simple Home) [177_08_38], Huang Yao Foundation
Figure 5. Lou Shi Ming (A Simple Home) [177_08_38], Huang Yao Foundation
Huang Yao’s early Chuyun Shu had a naïve childlike look, but with practice his writing became more “mature” in the early 1950s as in Figure.4, and finally in the late 1970s, his calligraphy had an archaic feel and an awkward appearance. Figure. 5 was written in 1979. He attributed this style of writing to his early training in writing ancient scripts such as oracle bone, seal, Han and Wei scripts as well as the influence of children’s writing.

Painting in the background

For variation, sometimes Huang Yao enhanced his calligraphy with splashes of color or shape in the background to accompany his calligraphy, example Figure. 6. The polychrome shape in the background is the character “shou” or longevity, but instead of being upright, it is lying on its side.

Figure 6. Visiting a Friend [119_13_17], Singapore Art Museum.

Use of painting to show meaning of the calligraphy, examples:

Figure. 7. Drinking with Husi by Li Bai [046_04_23], Huang Yao Foundation
Huang Yao brought out the meaning of the poem or the characters he wrote by adding pictograms as in Figure. 4 and a picture of moving bamboo with a bird on one of its branches. By 1979, apart from objects and landscapes, human figures were added to compliment the calligraphy. These human figures could be added in after the completion of the calligraphy as in Figure. 7 or it could be painted first before the calligraphy was written as in Figure. 8. Sometimes he would have a complete landscape to compliment his calligraphy as in Figure. 9.

Figure. 8. Drinking Alone with the Moon by Li Bai [026_07_22], Huang Yao Foundation
Figure. 9. An Old Fisherman by Liu Zhongyuan [183_18_94], Huang Yao Foundation

Expression of emotion

Huang Yao believed that Chuyun Shu should be a pleasurable way of writing. The calligrapher begins by relaxing both physically and mentally. With a peaceful state of mind, one’s innate dexterity is set free. Huang Yao would then write his favorite poems or verses in his usual order of strokes in the Chinese characters but upside down. Huang Yao considered Chuyun Shu as an unrestrained form of writing and best for spontaneity and speed, most suitable for caoshu where he was able to write characters fast without deliberation. This freedom in writing often allowed Huang Yao to express himself in a style that reflects the mood or emotion inspired by the meaning of the piece of the poem or verse. Figure. 10 is an example in expressing the rapid changes of the material world (The Diamond Sutra).

Figure. 10. The Diamond Sutra [112_31_84], Huang Yao Foundation
(The Diamond Sutra)

All compound things are like a dream,
a phantom,
a drop of dew,
a flash of lightning.
This is how to meditate on them or observe them.


Huang Yao had commented that there was really no secret to his ability to write Chuyun Shu in varying sizes, scripts and contents. People were curious and intrigued by this way of writing. He attracted large crowds whenever he gave demonstrations and he just wrote, wrote, and wrote happily. He felt that when he used Chuyun Shu the characters formed naturally, and not through conscious planning. He really thought it was just a lot of fun.

An interview regarding Huang Yao’s Chuyun Shu can be found at the link here.
For more examples of Huang Yao’s calligraphy, please refer to

Part one of this article can be found here.


1 Li Xianwen, “Zhongguo Meisu Cidian” (Dictionary of Chinese Art), Hsiung Shih Art Books Co.
Taiwan, Ltd., 2001. 1st edition by Shanghai Cishu Chubanshe, 1989.
2 Huang Yao, Shufa Rike or Daily Practice of Chinese Calligraphy, “Moyuan Suibi” (Jotting in
Relation to Ink), collected articles by Huang Yao, edited by Pan Qingsong, Kuala Lumpur:
Chinese Assembly Hall 2000, pp.122-125.