Chinese writing today is square in form, non cursive and architectural in style. The characters are composed of a number of strokes out of a total of eight kinds-the dot, the horizontal, the vertical, the hook, the rising, the left falling (short and long) and the right-falling strokes. To become a good calligrapher, one must start by learning to write a good hand in kaishu.
Lishu is a rapid style of writing chinese calligraphy that is used for making quick but rough copies. The style is subdivided into two schools - Zhangcao and Jincao.
Zhangcao emerged at the time the Qin Dynasty was replaced by the Han Dynasty between the 3rd and 2nd centuries B.C.. The characters, though written rapidly, still stand separate one from another and the dots are not linked up with other strokes.
Jincao, or the modern cursive hand is said to have been developed
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by Zhang Zhi (?- c. 192 A.D). ) of the Eastern Han Dynasty. Flourishing in the Jin and Tang dynasties, it is still widely popular today.
It is the essence of the Caoshu, especially Jincao, that the characters are executed swiftly with the strokes running together. Fine characters are often joined up, with the last stroke of the first merging into the initial stroke of the next. They also vary in size in the same piece of writing, all seemingly dictated by the whims of the writer.
One great master of Caoshu was Zhang Xu (early 8th century) of the Tang Dynasty, noted for the complete abandon with which he applied the brush. It is said that he would not set about writing until he had got drunk. This he did, allowing the brush to "gallop" across the paper, curling, twisting or meandering in one unbroken stroke, thus creating an original style. Today one may still see fragments of a stele carved with characters in his handwriting kept in the Provincial Museum of Shaanxi.