When I look at Chinese vs Japanese calligraphy samples and books, it seems to me that there are subtly different aesthetic principles governing the characters, even discounting variants (including stroke order switches etc) and different formal styles. For argument's sake, let's limit the argument to 楷書 where things would be expected to be the same. Can an expert (or even a knowledgeable layman) see a sample of 楷書 and identify it as Japanese or Chinese? Or are the variations between calligraphers wide enough that national identity does not stand out as a distinguishing factor?

  • Do you mean to exclude even subtle differences like the fact that 画 has a 由 inside in Japanese and a 田 in Chinese?
    – Zhen Lin
    Jan 9 '14 at 22:28
  • 2
    Yes, my intention was about consistent stylistic differences, particularly in brush calligraphy where they seem to be more pronounced.
    – mmdanziger
    Jan 9 '14 at 22:49

On a per-character basis, generally not. Calligraphic styles are relatively standardized across the Sinosphere. The only real exceptions to this are where distinctly nationalistic elements appear when looking at the broader text as a whole:

  • Simplified Characters, in the case of Chinese
  • Hangul, in the case of Korea
  • Kana and certain Japanese simplifications of characters, in the case of Japan

It's customary in both styles of calligraphy to use the traditional forms of characters, so simplified forms don't always provide an indication. That said, many simplified characters are derived from calligraphic forms (e.g. 门 vs. 門), so these are a weak indicator at best.

The other distinguishing meta-factor is the signature on the piece, as naming conventions are different across each country.

  • 1
    OP specifically does their best to clarify that he's not talking about differences such as 马 vs 馬. May 22 '14 at 1:28
  • Noted, however that nonetheless remains one of the few ways of trying to guess at the nationality without any additional information, which is why I put a note on it in there, anyway.
    – Kaji
    May 22 '14 at 1:57
  • In this case I would've upvoted an answer that explicitly says the calligraphers styles do not differ but only the traits the OP mentioned by ruling them out differ... If that is indeed what you are saying. May 22 '14 at 2:00
  • 1
    Updated to provide more clarity. That look better?
    – Kaji
    May 22 '14 at 2:15

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