Dishu: Ground Calligraphy in China

Thousands of anonymous street calligraphers operate daily in Chinese parks and streets. The endlessly tracing texts composed of «hanzi» signs slowly disappear as water evaporates. This phenomenon, called «dishu» (earth writing or practicing ephemeral calligraphy on the ground using clear water as ink), appeared in the beginning of the 1990s in a north Beijing park and soon spread to most major Chinese cities. Based on classic Chinese literature, poetry or aphorisms, these monumental letterings, ranging from static and regular to highly cursive styles, make the whole body break into spontaneous dance and infinite formal renewals. This street calligraphic practice corresponds to both a socializing need and an individual search for self accomplishment or improvement.

«Dishu: Ground Calligraphy in China» is the first survey on contemporary calligraphic practices in Chinese public spaces, documented during the summer of 2011 in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenyang. It takes the form of a major photographic essay, which traces the roots of this hand writing phenomenon and its development in Chinese society, analyses in detail the do-it-yourself writing tools specially designed for street lettering and explores its possible transposition into other writing cultures.

Dishu from Dokument Press Distribution on Vimeo.