Calligraphy for Wenjian Liu: “A vision left unrealized”

Outdoor calligraphy market, Xi'an

Outdoor calligraphy market, Xi’an: “To see far, you must climb to the mountain’s heights.”

"I love Wudang" by a calligrapher who stopped teaching high school after experiencing a sudden mystical calling.

“I love Wudang” by a calligrapher who stopped teaching high school after experiencing a sudden mystical calling.

The living art of characters drawn in a burst of inspiration — a Chinese funerary custom with poignancy at the funeral today of Wenjian Liu, a NYPD officer gunned down by a crazed madman in his squad car in Brooklyn in December. We read today in the NY Times (Calligrapher Brings an Elegant Touch To a Chinese Ceremony by Jeffrey E. Singer and Kirk Semple)   how the calligrapher wrote infused with the deceased’s moving spirit. (Of course, it takes lots of premediation, drafts, and many tries.) Then the finished scrolls play a sober, decorative role  honoring and giving comfort.

An Asia Society curator, a young white woman we met once, told us Chinese calligraphy sparked her life work when, as a teenager she fell in love with it studying in Taiwan. One Coplan received directions to study hard in calligraphy (phrased much more poetically-through an ancient stanza) —a gift from a calligrapher now hanging above his desk (left photo above). Another collects pieces, if he’s met the calligrapher. A Buddhist piece from a monastery in holy WuTai Shan, a Confucian saying picked off the sidewalk in his birthplace, Qufu, Shandong…and finally (photo above right), a bit of an odyssey but he tracked down a Taoist calligrapher (and tai qi master) in his little apartment outside Wudang Shan, tai qi’s birthplace, near Wuhan.

The New York Times presents local master calligrapher Zhao Ru, 73, an immigrant and sometime-restaurant worker originally from Toisan, who volunteered his services for Liu’s funeral. He used top-quality ink donated by a bookseller in Sunset Park (Brooklyn’s “Chinatown”). Officer Liu’s “spirit moved me to conjure this work,” he says. The funeral home’s Chinese consultant is quoted: Zhao’s calligraphy gave “the room the high quality of the life that he led.”

Photo by Karsten Moran for the New York Times. Zhao Ru, Brooklyn calligrapher, creating memorial scroll fo Officer Wenjian Liu's funeral today

Photo by Karsten Moran for the New York Times. Zhao Ru, Brooklyn calligrapher, creating memorial scroll fo Officer Wenjian Liu’s funeral today

Zhao’s calligraphy pieces read:

“In the sphere of law enforcement his vision is left unrealized”

“For his service to the people, his name will forever be cherished in our hearts.”

“A model for all police.”

Peace.

Ethan Makes Local News With China Presentation

Ethan at the Montclair Community Pre-K presenting "An American Boy in China," his slideshow

Ethan at the Montclair Community Pre-K presenting “An American Boy in China,” his slideshow

Quite proud of Ethan, who after graduating fromt he Montclair Community Pre-K 5 years ago, returned to show his PowerPoint presentation, with music, “An American Boy in China,” to about 125 very interested four year olds! It was covered by The Patch, our local online news service.

Graduate Returns to Pre-K to Share “An American Boy in China” Slideshow

Lovely how there were a couple of little boys who had just moved here from China. We hope it helped their classmates learn more about their birthplace so everyone can become better friends. The Patch story used a great photo of Ethan and a calligrapher he met in Xi’an, who did a calligraphy for Ethan, because he was impressed Ethan had a chinese name (Li San) and that he could write it in Mandarin characters. The story tells more about it.

In Xi'an with a calligrapher. The poem he inscribed says, TO see far, you must climb high," which means...Study hard!

In Xi’an with a calligrapher. The poem he inscribed says, TO see far, you must climb high,” which means…Study hard!

 

 

Lambie in the Muslim Quarter

Grand Mosque's Chinese Architecture

Grand Mosque courtyard. Built 1300s


Lambie visited Xi’an and saw a big, old mosque: the Grand Mosque. It’s Chinese-style!

Islam has been here since it was born. China has 20 million Muslims, like the Hui (“Way”) who speak Mandarin. Others speak languages that are like Turkish and Perisan. Also Mongolian.

Trying tea


Seeing the mosque made Lambie tired, so she went to a tea house in a mansion with many courtyards. It also was a puppet theater! The puppets spoke Mandarin!

Lambie meets some fellow puppets


Lambie sees lamb cooking


Then came the bad part. Lambie learned these people love eating lambs.

Lambie on top of Xi'an's City Wall


She ran away, up onto the city wall around Xi’an. It was the worst moment of Lambie’s life.

Bales of tea in the Moslem Quarter food market


After a while she remembered the puppets and the dried lychee black tea. China has its ups and downs.

Lambie at Xian Drum Tower

Bang a drum, Lambie! It’s going to be alright.

Mountain Climbing, the National (Secular) Prayer?

Ribbons asking for blessings

Hua Shang (Flower Mountain, about 7,000′), sacred to Taoists, is said to house 72 hermit caves. We climbed it (it’s about 13 hours from Beijing). Taoist holy mountains are pilgrimage spots, something I’ve been trying to understand.

Hermits once lived here (carving stone beds, stone tables), giving cave-temples names like ‘the Cave for Having Audience with the Origin.’

Taoism is connected to mountains. (Taoist alchemists loved mountain herbs — still for sale in baggies in the gift shop). “Buddhist monasteries lie below while Taoists monasteries lie above” is a saying I’ve read. Ancients built altars to calm their local mountain god. Climber-pilgrims bravely approached that power, for its help or forgiveness or enlightenment.

Start up the path on China’s 5 sacred Taoist mountains, & I’ve read that the rock inscription says, “You now enter the first mountain under heaven” : This is the world.

Stairs and railings


Before stairs, the trek up Hua Shan’s knife-edge ridges was dangerous. People climbed (some still do) at night, to watch the sunrise; there are still fatalities from falls.

Caves weren’t just for shelter; they’re the mountain’s “heart” concentrating the earth’s chi energy.

Mid-mountain sits a monastery. Many once held dragon gods made of gold, used in prayers (now in museums). The Summit has a temple as well. For a few lucky immortals, the summit is where the climber-pilgrim attains the Tao.


Ascending is a symbolic ascension. The ancients gave summits names like, “Precipice for Abandonning the Body.” The summit was for offerings, rituals, self-purification, contemplation. Up there, the mountain symbolizes heaven, no longer earth.
(The monks also had fun, as suggested by other place names: the “Cliff for Evading Imperial Commands.” The “Chess Players’ Terrace and Pavillion.”)


I read an account from 1989 of living communities of monks rebuilding Hua Shan’s many holy structures, most of which were burned down during the Cultural Revolution.

There’s still a working abbey at the bottom. But the structures on the trek (simple hotels, not monasteries; noodle shacks not prayer halls — a few temples with souvenir stands alongside) are “just” for the domestic tourist trade. People are having a nice tough climb.

But the sheer numbers of visitor? The devotion (especially of older folks)? The seeming national obsession with climbing the 5 sacred mountains? Something much more deeply rooted is going on here.