Classroom 4-153 at MIT was vibrant with cultural activity as students in 21G.111 Chinese Calligraphy class gathered with their friends for a special Open Calligraphy class on April 24. Organized with the support of MindHandHeart Chancellor’s Innovation Fund, this event aimed to cultivate a sense of community through the art of Chinese calligraphy and the shared experience of tea tasting.

Students and their invited friends, immersed themselves in the world of Chinese calligraphy at this event. Instead of being guided by the instructor, the students themselves took the lead in teaching their friends the basics of calligraphy. They demonstrated how to properly hold a brush, execute basic strokes, and notably, craft the character “” (eternity). Each friend received a blank bookmark adorned with Chinese designs, and under the guidance of their “student-teachers,” they inscribed it with a character or phrase they had learned, personalizing this unique take-home souvenir.

During the calligraphy session, the students and their friends brewed and tasted traditional Chinese teas such as green tea and oolong. They also tried bubble tea, creating a delightful contrast between ancient tradition and contemporary culture.

Yifan Wang, a student who is currently enrolled in Chinese calligraphy and has pursued a concentration in Chinese, remarked, “I found the Open Calligraphy class to be both enjoyable and refreshing as it provided a small departure from the traditional class setting. As a current student in the Chinese calligraphy class, reversing the role and having the opportunity to instruct a peer in calligraphy techniques also helped me reflect on my own learning process and deepened my understanding of this traditional art form. Overall, I think that this event not only fostered a sense of community among students through the shared experience of calligraphy but also provided an opportunity for those less familiar with Chinese culture to gain insight and appreciation for its rich artistic traditions.”

The highlight of the afternoon was undoubtedly the students’ collaborative effort to create a long scroll. Each student contributed two words that reflect MIT’s values, such as “知行合一” (learning by doing), “好奇心” (curiosity), “同理心” (compassion), “分享” (sharing), “对话” (dialogue), “尊重” (respect), “探索” (exploration), and “” (adventure). This activity not only showcased the students’ calligraphy skills but also embodied their understanding and appreciation of values crucial to a “多元社区” (diverse community).

Click to watch video of scroll.

For Margaret Yu, a junior concentrating in Chinese, Wednesday’s open class was “an opportunity for us to share the progress we’ve made in our writing skills, and also “allowed the broader MIT community to have first-hand experience engaging in one of the pillars of Chinese art forms. Translating the MIT values into Chinese, and having the opportunity to collaborate with my classmates to write these characters on our first long scroll was a powerful culmination of all of our work over the semester.” To her “Chinese calligraphy is an inherently unifying force, spanning thousands of years of Chinese history and uniting the hundreds of spoken dialects in the country. In our classroom, calligraphy becomes our shared language, allowing us to express ourselves through each brushstroke, regardless of our personal backgrounds and the languages we speak.”

The purpose of this open class was to create an inclusive space where more students could engage with and learn about Chinese culture through the art of calligraphy, providing a much-needed pause for students to unwind, de-stress, and reconnect with friends in a creative and relaxed setting. The event concluded with dessert tasting and tea, allowing students to mingle with their friends and reflect upon the growth not only in their calligraphy skill, but also in their understanding of each other, and thus reaffirming the power of traditional arts as a bridge between diverse backgrounds and as a catalyst for community building at MIT.