Segments in this Video

Handmade Painting Tool (05:01)


Wang Tongqing makes a paintbrush from a metal tube, wood, a plastic bottle, and foam.

Roman Aqueduct (03:07)

Engineers used concrete, a new building material, to create a 45 mile route transporting water to the city. Claudius named it Aqua Claudia after himself. Volcanic ash was a key ingredient. Today, two thirds of people live in concrete buildings.

Roman Blueprint (02:32)

The Aqua Claudia took 14 years to build and delivered 250 million gallons of water per day. The city featured apartment blocks, a sewer system, a police force, fire brigades, a postal service, libraries, and temples—inspiring modern cities.

Brushwork (05:58)

Liu Lanbo studied at Furen University. In 1993, he started writing in water at the park; most of his students have been writing for years. Lanbo explains how to use the body and the brush when writing; confidence is essential to good writing.

Body (06:02)

Tongqing discusses the three energies of Chinese medicine. He describes entering the world of calligraphy and the melding of suffering and happiness. Tongqing demonstrates his form of "martial arts;" his movements describe the word he writes.

Ink (05:35)

Tongqing practices writing on paper. He demonstrates horizontal strokes in the Kaishu style and shows examples of couplets.

Paper (06:05)

Lanbo reviews his students' homework. Zhang Dianlu and An Jiqing explain what they get from Lanbo's corrections. Huang Chaolong stresses the importance of comprehension.

Crucifixion (04:56)

Rome had occupied Jerusalem for a century when Jesus of Nazareth was sentenced to death for revolutionary teachings. Simon from Cyrene helped carry his cross. Crucifixions were common but this death would transform the world as Christ's friends spread his message.

Managing Ancient Rome (02:39)

Ancient Rome was the largest city on Earth and more densely populated than modern Manhattan. Emperor Claudius had to please the populace and legitimize his rule. Drought created food shortages; riots ensued.

Credits: Writing in Water (01:21)

Credits: Writing in Water

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Writing in Water

DVD (Chaptered) Price: $169.95
DVD + 3-Year Streaming Price: $254.93
3-Year Streaming Price: $169.95



Writing in Water follows two generations of Chinese calligraphy teachers, Wang Tongxing and Liu Lanbo, through the eyes of an American anthropologist who learned to write with them in Tuanjiehu Park, Beijing, where they practice writing on the plaza every day. The program introduces viewers to these funny, philosophically inclined teachers and their community of retired students who have been left behind by China’s get-rich quick reforms. With their students, Wang and Liu connect past to present, master to pupil, friend to friend, while building community and making Chinese characters that slowly materialize, and that last long after the water has evanesced into air. The film explores essential questions about tradition, contemporary culture, and human connection such as: What does it mean to take up calligraphy in a fast-moving world where people often no longer recall the stroke order of unusual words, but can look them up on cellphones? How does it feel to spend long hours training your body to write while slowly mulling over your life with others? How do cultural traditions take shape and acquire value—in the writing hand or on the thin, crackling paper in ink? Where does the joy of the body end, and the materiality of the calligraphy begin? Writing in Water has been screened on numerous campuses including Haverford College; NYU Cinema Studies; James Madison University; Yale; Rice; Duke, Harvard and Princeton. It has appeared at The 9th Beijing Independent Film Festival; The American Anthropological Association Society for Visual Anthropology Annual Festival; and as an official selection at The Aperture Festival in Melbourne.

Length: 43 minutes

Item#: BVL93738

ISBN: 978-1-60057-994-3

Copyright date: ©2012

Closed Captioned

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