Free English Translation in PDF Format (176 pages, 29 MB)

Due to its size, the manual has been split into two separate PDFs, based on the structure of the original. Section I contains detailed instructional materials, while Section II consists of a number of brief example texts, many of which are written in a style that is somewhat more cursive than the style that is taught in Section I.

Section I

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Section II

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Publication Information

The copyright holder of 《硬筆行法》 is:    The Commercial Press (HK) Ltd
                                                                        8/F, Eastern Central Plaza, 3 Yiu Hing Road, Shau Kei Wan, Hong Kong

The translator of this manual, Michal L. Wright, has been granted permission to make his translation available on the Internet for free.

Any sale of the this translation without permission of The Commercial Press (HK) Ltd is a violation of copyright and subject to legal action.


This is a translation of an instruction manual that teaches how to write a semi-cursive style of Chinese characters (行書) using a pen or pencil (硬筆), rather than the traditional Chinese writing brush. The author of the original manual is Huang Zhuhe (黃柱河), who is a well respected calligrapher in Hong Kong. In addition to having a long career as a calligrapher, he has worked hard to promote calligraphy as an important Chinese cultural activity, writing books, teaching classes, and serving in many calligraphy-related organizations.

Although there are many Chinese "calligraphy manuals" available, the great majority consist of nothing more than good examples. Such manuals are probably quite sufficient for those who have already received some degree of instruction in school, but they do not offer the level of detail that most foreign students need. Also, it can be rather boring to try copying long lists of characters with no deep understanding of how each character should be approached.

In contrast, this manual includes a great deal of detail,  regarding both the production of individual strokes and the assembling of those strokes into characters. This makes the learning process much more interesting, while increasing the student's understanding of how basic strokes and basic principles can be combined to produce attractive handwriting.

The PDF is completely free. It is rather large, due to the large number of embedded images, so it can be a bit slow to open in a browser. Downloading it can also be slow, but only has to be done once.

If you find this manual useful, please spread the word of its availability.

Why Pen Calligraphy?

Although the greatest development of Chinese characters as an art form has involved the use of the  hair brush (毛筆), brush calligraphy requires a certain amount of equipment in addition to the brush -- normally an ink stone, an ink stick, and special paper. These are not items that the average person carries about in their pocket or purse. For beginners at least, it also requires a place to set up -- ideally including a felt pad placed beneath the paper.

Pen/pencil (硬筆) calligraphy can be practiced with nothing more than some kind of pen or pencil and a piece of paper. Though some pens produce more pleasing results than others, even a cheap ballpoint or a No. 2 pencil can be trained to give reasonably nice-looking characters.

Another benefit of pen/pencil calligraphy is that it requires no special place and no special setup. You can practice it while waiting for a class or meeting to start, while riding on a bus or train, or while waiting for your computer to download a huge file. Instead of playing Sudoku on your phone, you can practice calligraphy.

In my, admittedly limited, experience, Chinese (and Japanese) language courses often devote little time to calligraphy. Teachers tend to be satisfied with basic legibility; they don't really have the time to insist on the production of beautiful characters. The analytical method embodied in Mr. Huang Zhuhe's manual makes self-study relatively easy.

Why Semi-Cursive Calligraphy?

On one hand, regular characters (楷書) are the foundation for learning to write Chinese characters. Only with regular characters is the character structure revealed. This is essential for any advanced study of Chinese writing. Also, there are situations where only regular characters are appropriate. The disadvantage is that they can be a bit slow to write, and falling into clumsiness is easy, so making them beautiful can be a bit difficult.

On the other hand, fully-cursive (or "grass") characters (草書) can be beautiful, but difficult to read. They are often used to write poems, or colophons on Chinese paintings. They are also used to scribble quick notes. The results can be like the stereotypical "doctor's writing" that few other than the person who wrote them can read with ease.

Semi-cursive (行書) characters are generally as legible as regular characters. A beginner may find a few forms difficult to decipher, but learning to write them oneself leads to a greater ability to recognize them. With practice, semi-cursive forms can be written quickly, legibly, and beautifully. The challenge of writing a string of characters that flow one to another without loosing their individual identities can be very enjoyable.

In reality, of course, the categories of regular, semi-cursive, and cursive are, to some extent, just points on a continuum. These styles may blend into one-another.