Information Services Office   4.3.2012


Yiu Shek-on John
Passion with guqin
In love with ink and brushes
Practising calligraphy and appreciating Chinese art—there is no better way to spend the leisure
John’s expansive collection of books on Chinese culture
Newsletter No. 393 > Feature > Qin and Calligraphy—John Yiu's World of Chinese Culture

Qin and Calligraphy—John Yiu's World of Chinese Culture


Yiu Shek-on John, a 20-year-old CUHK student, has an interest which is a far cry from those of the gadget-loving majority. Thanks to his mentors who have close connections with CUHK, he was exposed to the splendour of Chinese culture at a young age and it inspired his admiration. Enrolled at the Department of Chinese Language and Literature since last September, John said that being in the department feels like returning home.

John loves playing the guqin, and authenticating calligraphy and ink-and-brush paintings. A scroll of Chinese calligraphy is the centre piece at his home. He enthused, ‘This is the work of Fang Yizhi, a famous philosopher and scientist in the late Ming Dynasty. Now, only about 10 pieces of his work remain.’ On the other side of the living room was a pair of couplets written by Prof. Jao Tsung-i. John continued, ‘Only a broad-minded writer can have handwriting this elegant.’

John’s father and mother are respectively a psychiatrist and a housewife. He learnt how to play the piano, the alto horn and and the trombone when he was a primary student. But the turning point was when he started taking lessons in Chinese calligraphy in senior primary school. His mentor, Dr. Chui Pui-chee, now a famous calligrapher, was a student of the CUHK fine arts programme then. The more John knew about the art, the more fond of it he grew. ‘I can’t even explain it. It happened naturally.’ From practising calligraphy, he began to seek the meaning of the art. He read up on Chinese history, aesthetics, philosophy and all manifestations of ancient wisdom. In 2005, he won the youth category of a territory-wide calligraphy competition. And in recent years, authentication has become his other hobby. He is learning it from Mr. Wong Kwan-shut, an alumnus of Chung Chi College and a famous connoisseur of paintings and writing.

In secondary school, John made the acquaintance of Prof. Jao Tsung-i, world-renowned scholar and CUHK Wei Lun Honorary Professor of Fine Arts. The 90-year-old scholar was very fond of this young gentleman and treated him as friend and mentee. John was astonished by the accomplishments of the literati and richness of Chinese culture as introduced to him by Professor Jao. His mastery of calligraphy, painting and guqin also showed John that academic studies and art can go hand in hand.

The guqin, which John plays, is one of the oldest musical instruments in China. He was fascinated by its flat, rounded and mellow timbre. His teacher was Dr. Tse Chun-yan, his father’s friend and a part-time instructor at the CUHK Music Department. ‘It sounded monotonous when I first heard it, but in fact there are many tiny tonal variations.’

John did not just study technique, he dug deep into the history and development of guqin. In secondary school, John presented two papers on guqin at academic conferences to discuss the inadequacy of the dichotomization between guqin played by literati and by artists. The work was tough but rewarding. His attainment and passion in guqin made him one of the 2011 Young Music Makers organized by RTHK.

People who like and know about guqin and Chinese calligraphy are usually not young. John admitted that most of his friends are much older. But John also likes western classical music and pop music. He has many friends his age who are active in music circles, and they enjoy going to concerts together. He believes that there is always something he can learn from each individual.

John was an arts student in secondary school, but neither Chinese history nor Chinese literature, the subjects he loved most, were on offer. He was therefore determined to study Chinese or a related subject in university, and in the end, received an offer from the CUHK Chinese Language and Literature Department. Having studied here for one semester, John said the programme satisfies his curiosity and allows him to explore freely. He has also met many friends who have great interest in Chinese culture.

He plans to pursue further studies in Chinese culture after graduation. He aspires to be a teacher so he can promote Chinese culture and impart knowledge about it to the young.

Passion with Guqin

The musical notation of guqin shows fingering by text, which is completely different from the western form which has notes on a stave showing pitch and time value. After six years of learning it, John said it is not difficult to read. As there was no rhythm stated in the score, players can give their interpretations by reconstructing the beat (dapu)dapu. Now, during John’s guqin lesson, training is focused on dapudapu instead of playing technique. John always reconstructs the original score and seeks comments from his mentor.

Performance of John can be viewed at the RTHK website.

In Love with Ink and Brushes

Dr. Lam Kin-chung, senior adviser to the Board of Trustees, Shaw College, is very fond of John’s calligraphy, and last year, made a donation to the College to name one block of Student Hostel II after Dr. Sun Yat-sen. Dr. Lam invited John to write several pieces of calligraphy which are now shown in the lobby of the hostel.

Back Issues

Latest 10 issues


























Social Bookmarks

twitter   facebook   Google   Baidu   qq