The Expressive Significance of Brush and Ink: Selections from the History of Chinese Calligraphy,Period 2017.07.01-09.25,Galleries 204、206

To meet the need for recording information and ideas, unique forms of calligraphy (the art of writing) have been part of the Chinese cultural tradition through the ages. Naturally finding applications in daily life, calligraphy still serves as a continuous link between the past and the present. The development of calligraphy, long a subject of interest in Chinese culture, is the theme of this exhibit, which presents to the public selections from the National Palace Museum collection arranged in chronological order for a general overview.

The dynasties of the Qin (221-206 BCE) and Han (206 BCE-220 CE) represent a crucial era in the history of Chinese calligraphy. On the one hand, diverse forms of brushed and engraved "ancient writing" and "large seal" scripts were unified into a standard type known as "small seal." On the other hand, the process of abbreviating and adapting seal script to form a new one known as "clerical" (emerging previously in the Eastern Zhou dynasty) was finalized, thereby creating a universal script in the Han dynasty. In the trend towards abbreviation and brevity in writing, clerical script continued to evolve and eventually led to the formation of "cursive," "running," and "standard" script. Since changes in writing did not take place overnight, several transitional styles and mixed scripts appeared in the chaotic post-Han period, but these transformations eventually led to established forms for brush strokes and characters.

The dynasties of the Sui (581-618) and Tang (618-907) represent another important period in Chinese calligraphy. Unification of the country brought calligraphic styles of the north and south together as brushwork methods became increasingly complete. Starting from this time, standard script would become the universal form through the ages. In the Song dynasty (960-1279), the tradition of engraving modelbook copies became a popular way to preserve the works of ancient masters. Song scholar-artists, however, were not satisfied with just following tradition, for they considered calligraphy also as a means of creative and personal expression.

Revivalist calligraphers of the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368), in turning to and advocating revivalism, further developed the classical traditions of the Jin and Tang dynasties. At the same time, notions of artistic freedom and liberation from rules in calligraphy also gained momentum, becoming a leading trend in the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). Among the diverse manners of this period, the elegant freedom of semi-cursive script contrasts dramatically with more conservative manners. Thus, calligraphers with their own styles formed individual paths that were not overshadowed by the mainstream of the time.

Starting in the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), scholars increasingly turned to inspiration from the rich resource of ancient works inscribed with seal and clerical script. Influenced by an atmosphere of closely studying these antiquities, Qing scholars became familiar with steles and helped create a trend in calligraphy that complemented the Modelbook school. Thus, the Stele school formed yet another link between past and present in its approach to tradition, in which seal and clerical script became sources of innovation in Chinese calligraphy.


Anonymous, Wei dynasty (220-265)

Rubbings of Front and Back Fragments to the Cao Zhen Stele

  1. Hanging scroll, ink on paper, 76.6 x 98.8 cm & 77.2 x 98.8 cm

The person to whom this stele is dedicated, and from which this rubbing was taken, is Cao Zhen, whose biography appears in Record of the Three Kingdoms. The stele was erected in the fifth year of the Taihe reign, 231 CE, and discovered in 1843 in the Daoguang reign of the Qing dynasty.

This work features rubbings of fragments to the front and back of the stele mounted in a single hanging scroll. The front includes only the middle part of the stele with twenty lines, while the text on the back is divided into two sections of thirty lines. Close examination of the rubbing shows that the character for "gui 邽" is undamaged, which accords with the ink rubbing first taken during the Daoguang reign, indicating this is a primary rubbing.

As for the original calligraphy, it follows the clerical script of the Han dynasty with characters squarish in shape and the application and lifting of the brush in the horizontal strokes clearly more angular. The stele contents are important for studying the history of the Three Kingdoms period, the characters likewise significant as a representative example of the evolution and development of clerical script.

Wen Zhengming (1470-1559), Ming dynasty

Preface to the Orchid Pavilion Gathering

  1. Handscroll, ink on paper, 29.2 x 120.4 cm

Wen Zhengming, a native of Changzhou (Suzhou) in Jiangsu, had the original name Bi and the style name Zhengming, by which he became known. He also had the sobriquets Tingyunsheng and Hengshan jushi. Talented in poetry and prose, calligraphy, and painting, he is one of the "Four Ming Masters" along with Shen Zhou (1427-1509), Tang Yin (1470-1524), and Qiu Ying (1494?-1552).

Wen frequently transcribed the "Preface to the Orchid Pavilion Gathering," of which many copies survive today. His signature at the end of this handscroll would indicate he wrote it at the age of 89. The brushwork, characters, and arrangement here differ from those of surviving versions of the preface by Wang Xizhi, suggesting it is a free-style copy from the one with a "ling 領" character topped by a "shan 山" radical. The brushwork is introverted and reserved, the line structure thorough. The places where the brush continued and connected indicate the movement of the person while doing the calligraphy.

Feng Fang, Ming dynasty (1368-1644)

Secrets on Writing Different Script Types (II)

  1. Album leaf, ink on paper, 25.5 x 31.8 & 29 x 17.8 cm

Feng Fang, style name Renshu and sobriquet Nanyu waishi, was a native of Mingyin (modern Ningbo) and a Presented Scholar of 1523. Feng's family had a large collection of modelbooks and engraved calligraphy, his copies being difficult to distinguish from the originals.

This selection is from the 22nd album of Yuan and Ming Calligraphy. It begins with a description of how ancient calligraphers learned from their observations in everyday life, such as pole punting, sword dancing, and people rushing across the road, to receive inspiration on and understand the secrets of calligraphy. Feng Fang then follows with his own personal experiences of "writing with fire tongs on the ground and in ashes of the stove" and being inspired by "seeing people play kickball in the street."

The contents show how Feng Fang became enlightened to holding the brush and the brush force as well as the movements of hands and feet. In doing so, he emphasized the importance of developing a relationship between calligraphy and body movement, which are inextricably related to each other.

Zhao Shuru (1874-1945), Republican period

Seal Script

  1. Hanging scroll, ink on paper, 106.4 x 45.8 cm

Zhao Shuru (original name Shigang and going by his style name) was a native of Ningbo in Zhejiang. In the late Qing dynasty, he served as Vice Prefect of Fujian, going into reclusion in Shanghai after the establishment of the Republic. He delved into the arts of painting, calligraphy, and seal carving, becoming one of the "Four Masters of Shanghai." In his seals, the rounded characters have a lofty and elegant quality, and many disciples learned from him. He consequently had a major impact on seal carving in the Republic.

The content of this work, donated to the National Palace Museum by Mr. Tsai Chen-nan, is a transcription from part of "Inscription on the Zhengkao fu cauldron." It reads, "On the first promotion I bent my head. On the second promotion I bent from the waist. On the third promotion I prostrated myself. I walked close to the wall and nobody dared insult me." The brushwork is rounded and the characters even, a force extending vertically through them. With both spirit and method, this work can be considered a model of seal script.

Deng Sanmu (1898-1963), Republican period

Central Panel in Running Script

  1. Hanging scroll, ink on paper, 85 x 33 cm

Deng Sanmu (original name Juchu, sobriquet Fenweng, and going by his style name) was a native of Shanghai. Gifted in calligraphy, he also was good at painting and poetry composed to a particular tune. The author of Study of Seal Carving, he has benefited many students.

This scroll features an excerpt from a passage on calligraphy by Huang Tingjian (1045-1105) of the Song dynasty. It reads, "I once critiqued the calligraphy of Yuanzhang (Mi Fu) as being quick as a sword slashing, but in it there does not appear the airs of Confucius' time." Huang compares the brush force of Mi Fu (1052-1107) to a warrior handling his sword with decisiveness and dexterity, being lively and suitable.

When doing the calligraphy, Deng Sanmu appears to have had the same inspiration, the condensed and heavy lines revealing the quickness of "flying white" strokes with traces of continuity that echo and highlight each other. It expresses a confluence of power and beauty, much to the admiration of the viewer.

Exhibit List

Rubbings of Front and Back Fragments to the Cao Zhen Stele
Wei dynasty (220-265)
Rubbing of the Stele of Huo Yang, Governor of Miyun
Northern Wei dynasty (386-534)
Rubbings of Model Calligraphy by the Wangs
Tang dynasty (618-907)
Rubbings of Four Pieces of Archaic Poetry
Zhang Xu (fl. 8th c.)
Tang dynasty
Donated by Huang Li-jung and Huang Wen-ju
Rubbing of an Imperial Order in Reply to Yue Fei
Gaozong (1107-1187)
Song dynasty
The Buddha Expounds on Amitabha
Zhao Mengfu (1254-1322)
Yuan dynasty
Copy of "Controversy on Seating Protocol"
Dong Qichang (1555-1636)
Ming dynasty
Secrets on Writing Different Script Types (II)
Feng Fang
Ming dynasty (1368-1644)
Leaves 7-9 on display
Yuefu-Style Poetry on Yunzhouzi Presented to Alchemist Dai
Shi Kefa (1602-1645)
Ming dynasty
Donated by Wang Hsueh-ting
Preface to the Orchid Pavilion Gathering
Wen Zhengming (1470-1559)
Ming dynasty
Running Script
Guo Shangxian (1785-1833)
Qing dynasty
Central Panel of Huaisu's "Autobiography" in Six-and-a-Half Script
Zheng Xie (1693-1765)
Qing dynasty
Donated by Fu Shen
Central Panel in Running Script
Deng Sanmu (1898-1963)
Republican period
Seal Script
Zhao Shuru (1874-1945)
Republican period
Donated by Tsai Chen-nan