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.
"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.
"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
(by Wang Xizhi)
Yǒnghé jiǔ nián
suì zài guǐ chǒu
The year of the Yin Water Ox,
mùchūn zhī chū
At the beginning of the third lunar month (after April 20, 353),
huì yú Guìjī Shānyīn zhī lán tíng
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.
cǐdì yǒu chóngshānjùnlǐng
This is an area of high mountains and lofty peaks,
With an exuberant growth of trees and bamboos,
yòu yǒu qīngliú jī tuān
It also has clear rushing water,
yìng dài zuǒyòu
Reflecting the sunlight as it flows past either side of the pavilion.
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.
suī wú sīzhú guǎnxián zhī shèng
Although we lack the boisterousness of a live orchestra,
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,
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,
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,
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.
fú rén zhī xiāngyǔ fǔyǎng yī shì
Now all people live in this world together,
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;
huò yīn jì suǒ tuō, fànglàngxínghái zhī wài
Still others will abandon themselves to reckless pursuits.
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,
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,
gǎnkǎi xì zhī yǐ
And will thus be filled with regrets.
xiàng zhī suǒ xīn, fǔyǎng zhī jiān
The happiness of the past, in the blink of an eye,
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.
gǔrén yún: sǐ shēng yì dà yǐ
The ancients have said, "Birth and Death are both momentous occasions."
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,
ruò hé yī qì, wèicháng bù lín wén jiē dào
I am always moved to sadness by their writings,
bùnéng yù zhī yú huái
And I can not explain why I am saddened.
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,
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.