Sunday, August 26, 2007

The History of Chinese Calligraphy-Tang Dynasty 618 - 907

The History of Chinese Calligraphy

Tang Dynasty 618 - 907
Tang dynasty is regarded by Chinese as their most glorious periods in culture and arts. It was also a period when Chinese calligraphy reached its prime. As China's power and wealth increased, the art along with Chinese culture spread to Korea and Japan.

Two factors contributed to the flourishing of Chinese calligraphy in Tang dynasty. The first was the setup of 'calligraphy college' as one of six institutions in higher education and stipulating calligraphy one of four criteria in selecting a candidate in imperial examination. The second was the influence from emperors - their enthusiasm made the art a common practice in the court and the commonalty.

Early days. After four centuries of evolution, regular script attained its perfection in Four Early Tang Masters. Combining gracefulness of Southern School and vigorousness of Northern School, their scripts brimmed with a freshness and exuberance.

The adoration of Wang Xizhi. Wang Xizhi was a calligrapher lived under Jin dynasty. The second emperor of Tang dynasty admired his calligraphy so much that he spared no expense to collect his writings, set him the model for his princes and ministers, and buried with him one of his best writing 'Foreword'. The emperor's keenness brought about Wang Xizhi's elegant style to be all the rage at the time. Dominated the scene of Chinese calligraphy in successive dynasties, Wang Xizhi was adored 'the god of calligraphy' until his sweet script was criticized by a creative generation in the 18th century.

Yu Shinan (558 - 638) 1
Confucius Temple Stele, 626
Ink rubbing on rice paper.
Ouyang Xun (557 - 641) 2
The Spring, 632
Lu Jianzhi ( - )
Ink on paper.
Chu Suiliang (596 - 658) 3
The Negative Code, 654
Sun Guoting (648 - 703)
Calligraphy Manual, 687
Xue Ji (649 - 713) 4
Monk Xin-xing Stele, 706

Creative years. By the reign of Emperor Xuanzong (712 - 756 AD), China was the richest and most powerful political unit in the world. The years that followed saw many new inventions. Printing by moveable wood type was introduced, rice paper was invented, and book production flourished.

Mirrored the demeanor of the flourishing empire, a leisurely chubby regular script began to appear. Contrary to the gracefulness of Wang Xizhi, the new style displayed a coarse taste of the masses. Two calligraphers who influenced the trend are the emperor himself and his personnel minister Yan Zhenqing.
He Zhizhang (659 - 744)
Filial Piety
Li Yong (678 - 747)
Li Sixun Stele, 720
Zhong Shaojing (659 - 742)
Scripture, 738
Emperor Xuanzong (685 - 762)
Wagtail, 745

Wild-cursive script. The last sub-class under cursive script was initiated by Zhang Xu who was nicknamed 'crazy Zhang' by his unrestrained and queer style. Still very much in vogue today, this style varies with its authors, who invent a large number of characters that are illegible but are very aesthetically executed and appreciated by collectors.
Zhang Xu ( - )
Ancient Poems, 755
Xu Hao (703 - 782)
Monk Bukong Stele, 781
Huai Su (725 - 785)
Account of Myself
Yan Zhenqing (709 - 785)
Yan Qinli Stele, 799

The Pagoda, 752

Initiated another important style in Southern School, Yan Zhenqing is the only figure in Chinese calligraphy comparable to Wang Xizhi. Characterized by its compact character construction and sparsely placed strokes, his style embodies the chubby trend of the times.
Du Mu (803 - 852)
Poem, 834
Liu Gongquan (778 - 865)
Mystery Pagoda, 841

Imperial Guards Stele, 843

Combining the rigorousness of Ouyang Xun and heroism of Yan Zhenqing, Liu Gongquan rectified the chubby style in his bony and bold regular script. Greatly influenced later generations, his style is listed favorably with Yan Zhenqing in the saying of 'muscle of Yang and bone of Liu'.
Gao Xian ( - )
Thousand Characters

Five Dynasties 907 - 960
By the early tenth century, China was divided into small states that ruled by local warlords with their own armies. Languished by on-going wars, Chinese calligraphy lost its imposing manner and shifted to an exquisite style that depends on the moods and feelings of authors. This practice eventually led to the emergence of sentimental style of Song masters.
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