Haji Yousaf Chen Jinhui – A Chinese Muslim Calligrapher

A few months ago I did a post on Haji Noor Deen who is the most known Chinese Muslim calligrapher in USA and as one can well imagine he is not the only one around. Here is an artictle about Haji Yousaf Chen Jinhui who is based in China. The following article appeared in the Washington Times five years ago.

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Calligrapher scripts success with Arabic styles

By Erling Hoh

SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

BEIJING — In this age of colliding cultures, Chen Jinhui melds two of the more ancient ones simply by using a wolf-hair brush and some finely ground Tie Zhai Ong ink.

He is a Chinese calligrapher writing Arabic script, which in his sanguine, rotund person brings together two of the world’s greatest traditions of beautiful writing.

Chinese as well as Islamic culture may revere calligraphy as the highest form of art, but in many ways, the similarity ends there. Where Chinese calligraphy is spontaneous and intuitive, Arabic calligraphy appears intellectual and infinitely premeditated.

While Chinese calligraphy can strike the eye with the liberating effect of a tempest, Arabic calligraphy exudes the cool elegance of an intricate mathematical equation. To fuse them is no mean feat, and by having done so for the past 40 years, Mr. Chen is sparking new synapses and garnering accolades all the way from Beijing to Istanbul.

Seated in his spartan office at the Institute of Islamic Theology in the southern part of Beijing, Mr. Chen, the institute’s retired librarian, is not one to dwell on aesthetic dialectics of Chinese and Arabic calligraphy. He will, however, relate the story of his hero, the famous Arabic calligrapher Ibn Mukla, a vizier in Baghdad during the Abbasid dynasty, which ruled from A.D. 750 to 1258.

“His influence was greater than the caliph’s, because of his calligraphy,” Mr. Chen said. Out of jealousy, Mr. Chen said, the caliph persecuted the Arabic calligrapher. But when the ruler ordered that the artist’s hand be cut off, he simply tied the pen to the remaining stump and continued writing.

“That is why they consider him a god. He was attacked so many times, but he never forgot his calligraphy,” Mr. Chen said. When Islam spread to China 1,000 years ago, Chinese Muslims began using the traditional brush and ink to copy the Koran. The oldest handwritten copy of the Koran in China dates to 1318. In time, an original form of Arabic calligraphy with distinct Chinese characteristics, known as Sini, evolved.

Following in the footstep of such famous Chinese Arabic calligraphers as Huababa, a Qing dynasty
scholar from the province of Henan, Mr. Chen took up Arabic calligraphy as a student at Institute of Islamic Theology in the 1950s.

During Mao Tse-tung’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, however, Islam was virtually forbidden and Arabic calligraphy was denounced as part of the “four olds.” After China reopened its doors in the late 1970s, the country’s Muslims were allowed to practice their religion and re-establish ties with the Islamic world. Mr. Chen made his first hajj to Mecca in 1989.

A year earlier, he had received an honorable mention at the first Iraqi International Festival of Arabic Calligraphy and Islamic Decorative Art, and in 1995, he was placed ninth in Kufic script at the Third International Arabic Calligraphy Competition in Turkey. His biggest triumph came when he won first prize at the Second International Calligraphy Competition in Pakistan in 1999.

In a selection of his works, published last year by China’s Nationalities Photographic Art Publishing House, Mr. Chen demonstrated his mastery of all the major Arabic styles — Thulethi, Kufic, Persian, Diwani, Diwani-jili, as well as the Sinicized Arabic script.

With his success in international competitions, his calligraphy has been attracting patrons from around the Islamic world.  “They didn’t know anything about Chinese Muslims. ‘You can read the Koran too,’ they exclaimed. They were very surprised,” Mr. Chen said about his trips to various competitions in the Middle East.

A major difference between Chinese and Arabic calligraphy is that when the art form began to evolve on the Arabian Peninsula in the sixth and seventh centuries, calligraphers there had to make do with goat skin, bark and cloth. The roughness and low absorbency of these materials might have channeled Arabic calligraphers into developing an aesthetic centered on pattern and intricacy.

In China, where paper was invented in A.D. 105, calligraphers focused their search for beauty on the rich expressive possibilities of the brush-ink-paper medium: texture and immediateness.

In A.D. 751, Arab and Chinese armies clashed in a battle on the Talas River in present-day Kyrgyzstan. The Chinese were defeated, and among the prisoners taken by the Arabs were Chinese paper makers. Having learned the art of paper making from Chinese, the Arabs transmitted the craft to Europe several centuries later.

Chen Jinhui is now busy investigating a cultural diffusion in the other direction: the history of Arabic calligraphy in China. “It is very difficult research. I want to fill in all the blanks,” Mr. Chen said. For encouragement, he has only to recall a saying of the prophet Muhammad: “Seek wisdom, even if it be in China.”

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15 responses to “Haji Yousaf Chen Jinhui – A Chinese Muslim Calligrapher

  1. Asslaam Alaikum,
    This is truly Great to be introduced with you, Dear Brother Haji Yousaf,
    It Is truly amazing that how it is (islamic Calligraphy) developing all around the globe, in so many beautiful and innovative styles.

    SUBHANA’ALLAH.

    GREAT TO MEET YOU BROTHER,

    Love and Best Regards.

  2. Assalamualaikum.
    Alhamdulillah good to know you Al Hajj

    I m Andak, 45, Malaysian, now reserching on era after Saad ibn Abi Waqqas.
    Hope you can contribute.

  3. ASSALMALIKUM WOREMATULIAE WHO BARACKTU HOW ARE YUO I’M FINE MY NAME IS UMER HUSSEN I’LIVE IN ETHIOPIA I’ DONT KNOW ABOUT CHINSE MUSLIMES MUSLIME SISTERS AND BROTHERS LIVE AROUND THE WORELD TO CONTCT AND TALK ABOUT HER RELIGIN I’ WIRTE FOR YOU FOR FIREST TIME PELESE WRITE FOR ME
    ALLAH BLESS YOU
    THANK YOU

  4. As-salaam alaikum Brother!

    Alhamdolillah! Very pleasing artwork and original design. May Allah continue to shower his Blessings on you.
    Jazakallah khairun!

  5. Assalamu’alaikum.
    Subhanallah, we have a brother who is the most known Chinese Muslim calligrapher (Haji Noor Deen). We know that callagraphy could be one way to Dawah in Islam.

  6. Dear Gentleman,

    Salams,

    I read and see your entire profile. I appreciate yourself for your hardwork & dedication.

    I am also a calligrapher, working in the fields of Diwani style.
    I think we had met at the Lahore Alhamra, in the International Exhibition of calligraphy.

    My father Abdul Wahid Nadir ul Qalam (late) was a master calligrapher & artsit in the history of calligraphy in Pakistan.
    He was the founder of calligraphy exhibitions in Pakistan.
    Now a days, my childrens are also doing calligraphy.

    I feel pleasure, if you will inform me for the calligraphy exhibitions, or calligraphy competitions in side China.

    Thanks,

    Munawar Islam Ibne Nadir ul Qalam,
    Calligrapher & Artist

    • Hello Mr. Munawar Islam,
      Salam,
      I wanted to consult you for Diwani Calligraphy. I was really delighted to know that you are a calligrapher in the Diwani Script field.

      Can you give me you email address so I can contact you,

      you can email me at:
      tabishali@gmail.com

  7. Assalam-o-Alykum,
    How r u?

    I have an Idea which I want to share with Chinese People & make friends that My Language is Urdu & I am Very Excellent in Arabic because Urdu is veri similar to Arabic Language, So I have an Idea that I want to Teach Holy Quran Shareef to Chinese People on their Mobile Phones or on MSN, or Yahoo Chatting by voice communication, May Allah Wash my Every Sins by doning this procedure.

    Contact me on 00923003993360

    email ID is i.m.sultani@hotmail.com

  8. Aslmkm, me and my husband met Haji Yousaf Chen in an expo here in Brunei some Ramadhans ago. Bought few of his beautiful calligraphy arts and wish to see him back again at expos, but we never saw him again. We still wish he will come again. May Allah Bless him with all his islamic displays that caught the world’s eyes, including ours. Amiin

  9. Dear Wang Daiyu

    Your article about Haji Yousaf Chen Jinhui was very interesting and I would like to follow up with you to find out more about Arabic/Islamic Calligraphy in china.
    I wonder if it is possible to contact Haji Yousaf?
    I will be coming to China in early April and wonder if it would be possible to meet with you and also Haji Yousaf when I am there?
    Kind Regards

    Ziad

  10. Dear Brother
    Asalamu alykum. I have been trying to contact Brother Haji Yusuf Chen Jin Hui. Unfortunately there is no email/website of the Islamic Association of China or the Beijing Institute of Islamic Theology that I could access. JazakAllah for your quick response.

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