Square Word Calligraphy – Quotations from Chairman Mao

Square Word Calligraphy – Quotations from Chairman Mao



Xu Bing 徐冰

(Chinese, b. 1955)

Set of four hanging scrolls; ink on paper

Each panel: 248 x 69.2 cm (97 5/8 x 27 1/4 in.)

Collection of the artist 4.2020

Fun Fact

Xu Bing won a MacArthur Fellowship ("genius grant") in 1999 for his artistic explorations of language and meaning.


Xu Bing is an internationally recognized artist who served as vice president of the Beijing Central Academy of Fine Arts. Xu is known for his printmaking skills, installations, and his inventive use of written language and how it affects our understanding of the world.

Square word calligraphy is a new kind of writing designed by Xu. By fitting the letters of an English word into a square, Xu imitates a Chinese character composed of strokes that fit into a square. He created square word calligraphy to demystify illegible Chinese characters for Western readers, giving them a system to decipher the squares by recognizing the letters that build words.

Here Xu quotes Chairman Mao’s Talks at the Yanan Forum on Literature and Art held in 1942 in which Mao defined the future role of art and artists under Communist Party rule. The installation includes quotes translated into English and transformed into Xu Bing’s self-created square word calligraphy that can be easily deciphered by Western readers.

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