Character building: Taiwan’s presidential calligraphers

Deep in the high-ceilinged corridors of Taiwan’s presidential office, calligraphers craft messages on behalf of the island’s leaders as they seek to keep the traditional art alive.

Both the president and vice president appoint a personal scribe who creates everything from small notes to large scrolls, delivering congratulations and condolences to residents.

Yang Shu-wan is President Tsai Ing-wen’s calligrapher, selected after applying for the position in 2016 when Tsai came to power.


Her workshop is hung with large swathes of red or white sheets, freshly decorated with traditional Chinese ink strokes and drying over metal racks.

“The style of characters should mirror the personality and I want to show the frank and unpretentious side of the president,” Yang, 59, told AFP.

She explained that she had met the president a number of times and spoken with her shortly after the leader took office, when she praised how beautifully Yang wrote her name.

“I also think she is personable and I want to show that other side of her through the calligraphy, using a script that is spirited and vivacious,” Yang said.

Yang’s brush set varies from thick to fine tips, enabling her to make bold or delicate marks on paper spread across a large wooden table, working with unwavering concentration.

Members of the public apply for the messages to mark birthdays from 80 and above, wedding anniversaries from 50 years as well as deaths of loved ones aged 70 or older.

Temples and schools also ask for the calligraphy tributes from the president, which are all sent out free of charge, to commemorate anniversaries and achievements.

More than 11,000 such messages were issued by the presidential office last year.


This article has been posted by a News Hour Correspondent. For queries, please contact through [email protected]
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