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.
Record of an Auspicious Purchase of Mountainous Land Ink Rubbing
- Han dynasty
The stone from which this rubbing was taken is located on Mount Tiao in Zhejiang province. Also known as the "Engraved Cliff Face of Mount Tiao," its rubbings have been included in "A Record of Engraved Inscriptions from Yue" and "Annals of Engraved Inscriptions from Eastern and Western Zhejiang."
Written in clerical script (lishu) with characters whose structures are orderly and upright, this passage was etched in stone in the first year of the Jianchu reign period under Eastern Han dynasty emperor Zhangdi (76). The inscription is capped with the characters for "Greatly Auspicious," while below it reads, "Six brothers collectively purchased land in the mountains. First year of the Jianchu reign period. To be established as a burial ground. Cost: 30,000 coins." With characters measuring approximately twenty-five centimeters in size, this is the largest extant deed for a sale of land engraved in stone.
Inscriptions from Stone Statues at the Grave of King Lu Ink rubbing
- Han dynasty
This piece, written in seal script (zhuanshu) with characters with expansive structures, was engraved during the Eastern Han dynasty. The rightmost column of text reads "Soldier of the county government office," while the calligraphy to its left states "The Late Prefect of Le'an and Managing Clerk, Mr. Biao." The inscriptions, which are approximately twenty centimeters tall, were separately engraved on the lower abdomens of two stone statues of human figures. The inscription in clerical script (lishu) in the lower-left corner—"Relocated by Ruan Yuan during the jia-yin year during Emperor Qianlong's reign"—was on the back of one of the statues.
The two stone figures were transported to the Confucian Temple in Qufu under the direction of the minister Ruan Yuan (1764-1849). They are currently located at the Han and Wei Dynasties Stele Exhibition Hall. The statues are documented in both "A Record of Engraved Inscriptions from the Western and Eastern Han dynasties" and "Annals of Engraved Inscriptions to the Left of the Mountain."
Calligraphy of "The Scripture on Eternal Clarity and Stillness Spoken by Taishang Laojun"
- Ming dynasty, Wen Zhengming
Wen Zhengming (1470-1559), whose given name was Bi, was a native of Changzhou. An outstanding poet, essayist, calligrapher, and painter, he is listed alongside Shen Zhou (1427-1509), Tang Yin (1470-1524), and Qiu Ying (ca. 1482-1559) as one of the four masters of the Ming dynasty.
"The Scripture on Eternal Clarity and Stillness" is one of Daoism's most important classical teachings. Three hundred ninety-one characters long, its first section describes how cultivating clarity and tranquility can lead a person to realize the Dao, while its second section warns against bringing suffering upon oneself by losing sight of the True Way due to greed. Wen's brushwork was vigorous and brisk, with characters whose structures are bright, neat, and expansive. This piece, written when Wen was forty-two years old, gives insight into the gradual development of his style of small character regular script (xiaokai).
A Study of Zhao Mengfu's "Orchid Pavilion Colophon"
- Qing dynasty, Yinghe
Suochuoluo Yinghe (1771-1840) had the given name Shitong and the style name Shuqin. A member of the Solid White Banner army under the Qing dynasty's Eight Banners system, he obtained the rank of presented scholar in the imperial examinations the fifty-eighth year of Emperor Qianlong's reign (1793).
This piece is a study of three letters from "Zhao Mengfu of the Yuan Dynasty's Thirteen Colophons to the ‘Preface to the Orchid Pavilion' and Studies Thereof," which is a part of The Hall of the Timely Clearing After Snowfall Modelbooks (Kuai Xue Tang Fa Tie). Although changes were made to its layout and some characters were omitted, Suochuoluo's smooth, rich, and powerful brushwork as well as the characters' structures are loyal reproductions of the original, indicating that he was referring to the modelbook as he wrote. This work sheds light on calligraphers' penchant for plumbing history in order to emerge with fresh creations.
|Record of an Auspicious Purchase of Mountainous Land Ink Rubbing||Han dynasty|
|Inscriptions from Stone Statues at the Grave of King Lu Ink rubbing||Han dynasty|
|Roofing Tile Inscription||Han dynasty|
|Calligraphic The Heart of the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra||Ouyang Xun||Tang dynasty|
|A Poem by Li Bai in Calligraphy||Huang Tingjian||Song dynasty|
|Calligraphy of "Li Kan's Memorial Inscription"||Zhang Jizhi||Song dynasty|
|Calligraphy of "The Scripture on Eternal Clarity and Stillness Spoken by Taishang Laojun"||Wen Zhengming||Ming dynasty|
|Three Pieces Modeled Upon Ancient Styles||Dong Qichang||Ming dynasty|
|Couplet with Five Characters per Line in Clerical Script||Huang Yi||Qing dynasty|
|A Study of Zhao Mengfu's "Orchid Pavilion Colophon"||Yinghe||Qing dynasty|
|Couplet with Seven Characters per Line in Running Script||He Shaoji||Qing dynasty|
|Regular Script||Zhao Zhiqian||Qing dynasty|
|Quatrains with Seven Characters per Line in Running Script||Wu Changshuo||Republican era|