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Amazing art pieces, articles, books, videos from the great masters

 
 
 
 

The Crown Jewel of Chinese Calligraphy: Wang Xizhi (王羲之)

Wang Xizhi 王羲之 (303–361) is the most revered calligrapher in the history of East Asia. His works have been venerated since his lifetime. The Ritual to Pray for Good Harvest, currently in the collection of Princeton University Art Museum, is a 7th-century traced copy of a 4th-century letter by Wang Xizhi. The calligraphy (the central two lines) has been long celebrated as the crown jewel of Chinese calligraphy: done in cursive, the characters are rhythmic, fluid, and dynamic. The inscriptions in running script that flank Wang Xizhi’s calligraphy were brushed by the Qianlong Emperor (1711–1799), a Manchu ruler of China who upheld these two brief lines of fifteen characters as one of the three best works of calligraphy in his massive and prestigious collection of Chinese art. In so doing, the Qianlong Emperor joined the long list of Chinese emperors who treasured Wang Xizhi’s calligraphy. By endorsing Wang’s calligraphy and the immense cultural capital that this work represents in Chinese history, the Qianlong Emperor, as someone who was ethnically non-Han (he was Manchu), asserted the legitimacy of his rule over China.

兰亭序.jpeg

"Preface to the Orchid Pavilion Anthology". Stone rubbing of a handwritten copy of the original. The text begins at the far right column and ends at the far left column. A mixture of formal and semi cursive scripts."

On the third day of the third month of the year 353, Wang Xizhi gathered together with forty-one renowned literary figures at the Orchid Pavilion in Huiji (Zhejiang) to hold a feast following a Daoist purification rite. Xizhi drafted a preface for the collection of the poems they wrote. Later he wanted to make a finished calligraphic work of the draft text but couldn't brush anything better than his original on-site writing. So he kept the original draft that had additions and corrections scattered here and there.

This piece reveals and immortalises the spontaneous spurt of poetic creativity and calligraphic ingenuity of Xizhi as a genius of calligraphy. His brush movement is broadly and brilliantly varied, each ideograph being imaginatively shaped.

After his death, hundreds of copies were made, and many were cared on stone. Emperor Tai of the Tang Dynasty, who loved and made an extensive collection of Xizhi's artworks, willed that the original artwork of the "Preface to the Orchard pavilion Anthology" be buried with him. So what is available now are reproductions of the work by later calligraphers.

兰亭序 2.jpeg

"Preface to the Orchid Pavilion Anthology". A handwritten copy of the original. 

Here is the original text, pinyin and translation of this poem.

 

lán tíng jí xù

Preface to the Poems Composed at the Orchid Pavilion

()

Wáng Xīzhī

(by Wang Xizhi)

永和

Yǒnghé jiǔ nián

It is the ninth year of Emperor Mu of Jin's Yonghe era (20 Feb 353 - 8 Feb 354),

suì zài guǐ chǒu

The year of the Yin Water Ox,

暮春

mùchūn zhī chū

At the beginning of the third lunar month (after April 20, 353),

會稽山陰

huì yú Guìjī Shānyīn zhī lán tíng

We are all gathered at the orchid pavilion in Shanyin County, GuijiCommandery,

脩禊

xiūxì shì yě

For the Spring Purification Festival.

qún xián bì zhì

All of the prominent people have arrived,

shào zhǎng xián jí

From old to young.

此地崇山峻領

cǐdì yǒu chóngshānjùnlǐng

This is an area of high mountains and lofty peaks,

茂林修竹

màolínxiūzhú

With an exuberant growth of trees and bamboos,

清流

yòu yǒu qīngliú jī tuān

It also has clear rushing water,

 

左右

yìng dài zuǒyòu

Reflecting the sunlight as it flows past either side of the pavilion.

流觴曲水列坐其次

yǐn yǐ wéi liú shāng qū shuǐ, lièzuò qícì

The guests are seated side by side to play the drinking game where a wine cup is floated down the stream and the first person sitting in front of the cup when it stops must drink.

絲竹管弦

suī wú sīzhú guǎnxián zhī shèng

Although we lack the boisterousness of a live orchestra,

足以暢敘幽情

yī shāng yī yǒng, yì zúyǐ chàngxù yōuqíng

With a cup of wine here and a reciting of poetry there, it is sufficient to allow for a pleasant exchange of cordial conversations.

shì rì yě, tiān lǎng qì qīng

Today, the sky is bright and the air is clear,

惠風和暢宇宙

huìfēnghéchàng, yǎng guān yǔzhòu zhī dà

With a gentle breeze that is blowing freely. When looking up, one can see the vastness of the heavens,

所以騁懷

fǔ chá pǐn lèi zhī shèng, suǒyǐ yóu mù chěnghuái

And when looking down, one can observe the abundance of things. The contentment of allowing one’s eyes to wander,

足以視聽

zúyǐ jí shìtīng zhī yú, xìn kě lè yě

Is enough to reach the heights of delight for the sight and sound. What a joy.

相與俯仰

fú rén zhī xiāngyǔ fǔyǎng yī shì

Now all people live in this world together,

懷抱

huò qǔ zhū huáibào, wù yán yī shì zhī nèi

Some will take all of their aspirations, and share them in private with a friend;

放浪形骸

huò yīn jì suǒ tuō, fànglàngxínghái zhī wài

Still others will abandon themselves to reckless pursuits.

趣舍不同

suī qǔshě wàn shū, jìng zào bùtóng

Even though everyone makes different choices in life, some thoughtful and some rash,

dāng qí xīn yú suǒ yù, zàn dé yú jǐ

When a person meets with joy, he will temporarily be pleased,

自足不知

kuài rán zìzú, bùzhī lǎo zhī jiāng zhì

And will feel content, but he is not mindful that old age will soon overtake him.

jí qí suǒ zhī jì juàn, qíng suí shì qiān

Wait until that person becomes weary, or has a change of heart about something,

感慨

gǎnkǎi xì zhī yǐ

And will thus be filled with regrets.

俛仰

xiàng zhī suǒ xīn, fǔyǎng zhī jiān

The happiness of the past, in the blink of an eye,

不能不

yǐ wéi chén jī, yóu bùnéngbù yǐ zhī xìng huái

Will have already become a distant memory, and this cannot but cause one to sigh;

kuàng xiū duǎn suí huà, zhōng qī yú jìn

In any case, the length of a man’s life is determined by the Creator, and we will all turn to dust in the end.

古人﹕「。」

gǔrén yún: sǐ shēng yì dà yǐ

The ancients have said, "Birth and Death are both momentous occasions."

豈不

qǐbù tòng zāi

Isn’t that sad!

měi lǎn xí rén xìng gǎn zhī yóu

Every time I consider the reasons for why the people of old had regrets,

未嘗

ruò hé yī qì, wèicháng bù lín wén jiē dào

I am always moved to sadness by their writings,

不能

bùnéng yù zhī yú huái

And I can not explain why I am saddened.

虛誕

gù zhī yī sǐ shēng wéi xūdàn

I most certainly know that it is false and absurd to treat life and death as one and the same,

妄作

qí péng shāng wéi wàngzuò

And it is equally absurd to think of dying at an old age as being the same as dying at a young age.

hòu zhī shì jīn, yì yóu jīn zhī shì xī

When future generations look back to my time, it will probably be similar to how I now think of the past.

bēi fú! gù liè xù shí rén

What a shame! Therefore, when I list out the people that were here,

lù qí suǒ shù, suī shì shū shì yì

And record their musings, even though times and circumstances will change,

suǒ yǐ xìng huái, qí zhì yī yě

As for the things that we regret, they are the same.

hòu zhī lǎn zhě, yì jiāng yǒu gǎn yú sī wén

For the people who read this in future generations, perhaps you will likewise be moved by these words.