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MFA for Educators

Engage your students with the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, to illustrate themes and concepts in any discipline.

Art of China: Writing



This lesson explores the art of Chinese writing.  Thousands of Chinese characters form words in past and present Chinese culture. In ancient China, calligraphy was the highest art form and not until the Song Dynasty did paintings begin to elevate their status. This lesson examines the objects from the Song Dynasty (960-1279) and  beyond in order to discover how writing evolved from communication to an art form. It examines writing materials, brush strokes, poetry, and the influence of emperors.

This lesson will ask students to compare objects from the Song dynasty to ones that preceded them in order to assess how writing evolved. Students will also be asked to compare ancient Chinese writing, such writing materials and characters, to their experiences communicating in 2016.

This online gallery supports the Museum of Fine Arts new Chinese Song Dynasty gallery now on view. The objects in this lesson are just the beginning. We encourage you to explore the Museum’s online collection through this web source—or even better, to visit the Museum and walk through the physical galleries—to look for other objects that will provide further insights into this exhibitions

This lesson can be adapted for younger learners as well as modified for older ones. Please see sample related classroom activities, download the PDFs available under Related Resources.


Learning goals:

In exploring this lesson, students will:

-Discover how to use a visual image to gather information about ancient Chinese writing

-Explore a variety of paintings, sculpture, and objects from ancient China

This discovery will require students to:

-Look closely at the images and make observations based on visual evidence. 

-Make connections between the visual art and the history that encompasses its creation

-Use visual evidence to support their written and verbal understanding

-Develop vocabulary that describes specific visual images in order to compare and contrast objects

Using this resource: 

History teachers and students will be interested in the details imbedded objects, which could then be translated historical events

History teachers and students will be interested in the political influence that emperors had over writing

English teachers and students will be interested in the poetry and images within several of these objects

Visual Art teachers and students will be interested in in the unique writing styles and techniques from the Song Dynasty

World Language teachers and students will be interested in comparing  Chinese characters to the alphabets and symbols of other languages 

Related Resources