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A matter of character

Godmother's gift opens libraries to the world

by Crystal Lamb | August 31, 2016

A matter of character
Catherine Steeves, left, Vice-Provost and Chief Librarian, Western Libraries, Guo Dan, centre, and Kevin Shen, HBA’16, at the presentation of The Ten Thousand Character Classic to Western Libraries on June 20.

Artist Guo Dan wanted to create something special to celebrate her godson Kevin Shen’s graduation from the Ivey Business School. And so, after hundreds of hours of work, Dan presented that creation – The Thousand Character Classic – to Western Archives at an event held the day before Shen’s Convocation on June 21.

“I feel proud and honoured about my godmother’s decision,” said Shen, HBA’16. “My godmother was very serious about this donation and, as her godson, all I knew was I had to make sure this gift would be handed to the right people at the right time.”

Above: A selection of Gao Dan’s The Ten Thousand Character Classic, a Chinese poem which has been used to teach Chinese characters to children.

The Thousand Character Classic is a Chinese poem that has been used for centuries to teach Chinese characters to children. It contains exactly 1,000 characters that are only used once and arranged into 250 lines of four characters each. Adorning a long scroll measuring approximately 9 metres by 20 centimetres, the characters are presented in script calligraphy and contain knowledge from numerous subjects condensed together similar to an encyclopedia, Shen explained.

Creating the piece is the result of meticulous work, Shen said, adding if a mistake was made, Dan would have to begin from scratch. “It’s hard to say how long it takes. You have to have the right rhythm and the right attitude. It’s difficult to give a number but it’s approximately 200 hours. She would meditate before starting to write to find peace in herself and practice every day for five to seven hours,” he said.

Dan hopes the donation, which will be on display in a custom-designed case in the Allyn & Betty Taylor Library once current renovations there are complete, will teach people who see it in the library about the “beauty of Chinese characters and Chinese history to enhance the culture exchange between China and Canada,” she said, with Shen translating on her behalf.

Pictured above is a selection of the introduction to The Ten Thousand Character Classic, describing the artist and that she is the 15th generation of a family of calligraphers.

“She wanted to create an artwork that could be representative of Chinese culture and felt The Thousand Character Classic is not only an interesting piece that represents the wisdom and philosophy of Chinese culture, but also the theme is aligned with the educational aspect that libraries have,” said Shen, who has been accepted to the London Business School and will begin there in the fall. “Western and Ivey provided me a world-class education in the last four years and, in return, the artwork should also be a world-class one.”

University Archivist Robin Keirstead called this work of original calligraphy an important addition to Western Libraries’ Special Collections that he and his colleagues were honoured to receive.

“The nature of this gift and its timing are particularly significant for us, as they come at a time when Western Libraries is nearing the end of the first phase of our Global Library Space initiative,” he said. “Our goal is to create a series of culturally themed learning spaces – for community gathering and for collaborative and independent study – that feature cultural displays that will give Western’s diverse student body a place to learn about and celebrate our multifaceted heritage. We look forward to displaying The Thousand Character Classic proudly in the Asian-themed space we’re creating in our Allyn & Betty Taylor Library.”


This article appeared in the Fall 2016 edition of Impact Western
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