The word dishu comes from di meaning “square” or “earth” and shu meaning “book” or “writing,” hence “earth writing” or “ground calligraphy,” writing on the ground using water as ink. Thousands of calligraphers are at work daily all through China, but especially in cities. Practitioners craft their own brushes shaped from sponges and attached to long shafts so the calligrapher doesn’t need to bend too deeply. (Recently, as dishu has become more popular, these sponge brushes are being manufactured. )
It is believed by many to be healthy to practice dishu and is regarded as an exercise, both for the mind (having to memorize the poems, aphorisms, and literature to write on the ground) and for the body (having to move almost like dance, especially for the larger calligraphic renderings).
Dishu first became very popular in the 1990s. Francois Chastenet, whose videos are posted above and below, documented these street calligraphers in 2011. Chastenet is a French architect and graphic designer, with a special interest in urban cultural communication.
Totally inspired, I will be practicing this ephemeral and non-invasive art myself—that is, as soon as the weather improves. I am bursting with ideas.
These are but a few of the videos Chastenet made recording these street calligraphers (click here to see others).