Squareness and Roundness
“Squareness,” used in collocation with “roundness,” refers to the shapes and properties of things, or sometimes to the methods and rules of making things square or round. Ancient Chinese believed that heaven is round and earth is square. Heaven revolves, accommodates, and harmonizes. Earth, in contrast, is still, firm, and straightforward. They argued that humans should conduct themselves in imitation of the ways heaven and earth operate, and be “round” on the outside and “square” within, meaning that people should be suitably flexible but firm on issues of principle. In artistic and literary creation, especially in calligraphic creations, ancient Chinese held that regular script should be “square” whereas cursive script should be “round.” However, no matter which type of script is adopted, squareness and roundness should be applied in harmony with each other.
Even with Li Lou’s keen vision and Gongshu Ban’s skillfulness, they cannot draw either a square or a round shape without using compasses or a ruler. Even with Shi Kuang’s sharp ear for music, he cannot adjust the five notes without using the six pitch-pipes. Even with Yao and Shun’s enlightened methods, they cannot run a country well without practicing benevolent governance. (Mencius)
The writings of some authors can be round or delicately nuanced, whereas others can be square, or straightforward. Many of Han Yu’s essays are round, and many of Liu Zongyuan’s are square, while Su Shi’s writing is more round than square. (Li Qiqing: The Essentials of Writings)
Squareness and roundness are the core essence and useful complement of regular script and cursive script. The merit of regular script is squareness whereas the merit of cursive script is roundness. Only when squareness is complemented by roundness and roundness is complemented by squareness can true calligraphic excellence be achieved. (Jiang Kui: Subsequent Commentaries on Calligraphy)