Historically, discussions of brush calligraphy for early China have been limited due to the scarcity of examples of ink writing prior to the Eastern Han Dynasty (23-220 CE). In recent decades, however, the discovery of large caches of ink manuscripts, most belonging to the Warring States period (453-221 BCE), has attracted attention, although calligraphic issues have rarely been specifically addressed. This dissertation focuses on such calligraphic issues, asking what this new corpus of recovered texts can tell us about the nature of brush writing, scribal skills and conventions, and the training and tradition entailed in these skills and conventions at this early stage.
In contrast to early calligraphic norms in bronze inscriptions before the Warring States period, the Warring States manuscripts show a variety of calligraphic practices that could be called "innovative." My hypothesis is that behind these many innovations in brush writing, there existed different scribal traditions which were rooted in "master-disciple" relationships. From various examples of Warring States era calligraphy, including bronze inscriptions and manuscripts, we see the strong possibility of multiple workshops reflecting different master-disciple calligraphic teaching lineages.
This study develops an appropriate technical framework for analyzing these early calligraphic data, and applies it to reveal cases where multiple hands share traits that indicate a common master-disciple tradition, as well as where they may reflect distinct traditions. This model of pre-Imperial scribal traditions, based in workshop practice, can serve the heuristic function of providing conceptual tools for the analysis of an otherwise unwieldy corpus, and play an important role in our understanding of how ink brush calligraphy became a self-conscious art during this period.