Beginning in the Song Dynasty, a small number of artists began to write the names of the giver and recipient of the painting or to stamp their name chop, in an inconspicuous corner of the work. When "literati" painting was in vogue in the Yuan dynasty, men of letters began adding personal notes on the painting or related lines of poetry to display their prose and calligraphic skill. This writing was now given a more prominent place on the work. At this point there was a new union of signature, names of giver and receiver and notes on the painting or related verse with the painting itself. The stamping of name chops also became established at this time. The addition of name chop impressions, in itself an art, further enriched the artistic content of Chinese painting.
Chinese calligraphy is like a rare, exotic flower in the history of civilization and is a unique gem of Oriental culture. Graphically, it is comparable to painting in its ability to evoke emotion through a rich variety of form and design. As abstract art, it displays the rhythmic and harmonious flow of music. And from a practical point of view, it is written language.
With the "four treasures of the study" (wen fang si bao), namely brush pens, ink sticks, paper, and ink slabs as tools and through the medium of lines, China's calligraphers, have over the centuries, developed uncounted different calligraphic styles.
This plethora of diverse styles can however, be grouped into five basic categories : Chuan Shu, Seal Script; Li Shu, Official Script; Kai Shu, Regular Script; Xing Shu, Running Script and Cao Shu which literally means "Grass" Script but is usually referred to as Cursive Script.
Chinese calligraphy is not only a practical tool of everyday living; it comprises, along with traditional Chinese painting, the mainstream of China's art history. All kinds of people, from emperors to peasants, have avidly collected works of fine calligraphy. Calligraphic works are not only for making into scrolls or framing and hanging in a room or study; they are to be found everywhere you look--on shop and government office building signs, on monuments and in stone inscriptions. All of these examples of Chinese calligraphy have supreme artistic value. Today, as in the past, calligraphers are often literati as well as artists. Their calligraphic works may include renderings of their own poems, lyrics, couplets or letters or those of famous masters.
Over the millennia, the benefits of personality tempering and intellectual expression afforded by the art of Chinese calligraphy have not been restricted to China's borders alone. The neighboring countries of Japan and Korea and several nations of Southeast Asia have all made Chinese calligraphy part of their own respective cultures and developed their own schools and styles. Since World War II, Westerners have also been influenced by Chinese calligraphy. Representative of the significant position occupied by Chinese calligraphy in international art was a "Cobra" painting exhibition held in Scandinavia in 1948. The works displayed at this exhibition were by a painter who drew inspiration from Chinese calligraphy as practiced in Japan.