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Four Arts

The four arts (, siyi), or the four arts of the Chinese scholar, were the four main academic and artistic accomplishments required of the ancient Chinese scholar-gentleman caste. They are qin (the guqin, a stringed instrument. ), qi (the strategy game of Go, ), shu (Chinese calligraphy ) and hua (Chinese painting ).

Although the individual elements of the concept have very long histories as activities befitting a learned person, the earliest written source putting the four together is Zhang Yanyuan's Fashu Yaolu (Compendium of Calligraphy) from the Tang Dynasty.


Wéiqí (Go)



Qín 琴 is the musical instrument of the literati, the gǔqín. Although it exclusively meant this instrument in ancient times, it has now come to mean all musical instruments, but essentially it refers to gǔqín only considering the context.

The gǔqín is a seven-stringed zither that owes its invention to the Chinese society of some 3,000 years ago. During the reign of the imperial China, a scholar was expected to play the gǔqín . Gǔqín was explored as an art-form as well as a science, and scholars strove to both play it well and to create texts on its manipulation. Gǔqín notation was invented some 1,500 years ago, and to this day it has not been drastically changed. Some books contain musical pieces written and mastered more than 500 years ago. Gǔqín is so influential that it even made its way into space: the spacecraft Voyager launched by the U.S. in 1977 contained a vinyl style record of a gǔqín piece named "Flowing Water". The fact that the gǔqín's name breaks down to gu (old) and qin (musical instrument) reveals the instrument's great antiquity.

棋 is a board game and art form which is now called wéiqí (圍棋) in Chinese (go in Japan and the West), literally meaning "surrounding game." Current definitions of cover a wide range of board games, and given that in classical Chinese qí could also refer to other games, some argue that the qí in the four arts could refer to xiangqi. However, xiangqi is often considered a popular "game of the people," whereas wéiqí was a game with aristocratic connotations.

  • Defu & Tianzhang & Fairbairn, Yan & Yan & Fairbairn. Xuan Xuan Qijing (The Classic of the Mystery of the Mysterious). Translated from original Chinese to GoGoD CD Database, 1349 and 2005.
  • Clunas, Craig. Art In China. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.
  • Tregear, Mary. Chinese Art. New York and Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1980.


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