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Yuan dynasty Zheng Sixiao (1241-1318)

Colophon to Ye Ding's "Diamond Sutra in Clerical Script"

Colophon to Yeh Ting's

  • Album leaf, ink on paper 
  • 9.8 x 23.2 cm

Zheng Sixiao was a famous "left-over subject" (imin, or loyalist) of the Song dynasty who lived into the early Yuan dynasty. Though he did not take part in the struggle against the Yuan, he was quite adamant and emphatic in his anti-Yuan attitude. Consequently, historians have categorized him as a loyalist of the "radical" type. Originally a native of Lianjiang in Fujian, he was also a student at the Imperial University. With the fall of the Song, he settled in reclusion at the Baoguo (literally "devoted to the country") Temple in Suzhou. He never took a wife and even refused relations with northerners or Yuan court officials. Of broad learning, he took up in philosophy, Buddhism, and Daoism research later in life. He was also noted for his direct and unusual manner in prose and poetry. He excelled at painting orchids, which he is said to have rendered without soil to symbolize the Mongols having stolen away his land. Unfortunately, few of his works survive.

This colophon inscription, though only a few characters in length, is not only rare but the only extant example of Zheng Sixiao's calligraphy. Ye Ding (1235-after 1299)'s "Diamond Sutra in Clerical Script" was done in 1299, the year which Zheng Sixiao also did this colophon inscription. A following inscription by the monk Wenying compares the Way of the Buddha in the Diamond Sutra with that of one's heart and one' s characters. This analogy perhaps can be applied to Zheng Sixiao as well. The characters in these few lines range from small to large and from elegant to awkward. They vary from running to standard script according to whim and without regard to convention. The first part is similar to the running script of other Southern Song scholars, but the latter part reminds one of the calligraphy of Song Zen monks, whose spontaneous and direct path to enlightenment seems to have reflected in their rejection of rigorous and gradual calligraphic training. Critics have labeled them as "breaking the mold of characters" to describe their unorthodox approach. Thus, this colophon inscription reflects two aspects to Zheng Sixiao: his status as a Song loyalist and his religious leanings.