Sunday, August 26, 2007

The History of Chinese Calligraphy-Three Kingdoms 220 - 280

The History of Chinese Calligraphy

Three Kingdoms 220 - 280
Regular script. Combining the ease of semi-cursive and the elegance of clerical style, regular script, the last script in Chinese calligraphy, evolved from clerical script by the use of stoke method in semi-cursives script. The known first person who systemized this style is Zhong You.

In the lengthy annals of Chinese calligraphy, regular script occupies an important place, not only because it is beautiful and had famous masters who have succeeded in its difficult disciplines, but also because it is still used as the basis in calligraphic training. Nowadays, the school children learn the regular style, which then accompanies them throughout their lives.

Zhong You (151 - 230)
Placard, 221
Ink rubbing on rice paper

Jin Dynasty 265 - 420
When ruler of Jin reunified China in 280, more than two third of Chinese population was lost. With an armed rebellion in 301, another round of fighting began.

Responded to the turmoil, Chinese scholars retreated to the teaching of Taoism. They were the celebrities of the society, lived in a reclusive and unconventional life style, enjoyed talking around metaphysics, and devoted all their time in literature and arts.

These scholars forged a light and graceful semi-cursive style, through which they sought to express the highest lever of harmony in nature, in which their emotion and sincerity found sustenance, and by which Chinese calligraphy was freed into an independent form of art from once an appendage of literature.

Suo Jing (239 - 303)
Ode to Troops
Ink on paper
Lu Ji (261 - 303)
Wang Xizhi (303 - 361)
Foreword, 353
Duplicate on low absorbent rice paper.


Glorified 'the god of calligraphy', Wang Xizhi is the greatest calligrapher in all of Chinese history. He devoted all of his time in imitating the past masters of calligraphy before forging his own facile and graceful style. This work, a preface of a collection of improvised poems by his celebrity friends at a ritual ceremony, is praised the 'the best semi-cursive script under the heaven'.
Wang Xianzhi (344 - 386)
Duck Head
Wang Xun (350 -401)
Letter to Bo Yuan
Cuan Baozi Stele, 405

Southern and northern schools. In 304, nomad from the Mongol Plateau invaded China. In 316, they seized Chinese capital, forcing Jin empire to retreat to the south of Huai River. Until the Chinese fought back in 589, the north of China was governed by non-Han nationalities in adopted Chinese social system.

When Chinese culture and nomadic culture mingled in successive Northern dynasties, Chinese calligraphy deviated from the tradition of Jin masters to a more or less martial style. The new calligraphic style is called Northern School. A large number of stone inscriptions were left from this period, commonly executed in rugged and angular characters.

Meanwhile the gentle style of orthodox school continued in the south. When Jin dynasty perished in 420, the tradition was carried on to successive Southern Dynasties. To distinguish it from the style in the north, this graceful style is named Southern School. (Because stone stele was banned, calligraphy had to depend mostly on paper, which contributed to the thriving of the style.)

Calligraphers in two calligraphic schools

South North
Medium paper stone stele
Script semi-cursive regular
Artist celebrities unknown artisan
Subject literature Buddhism

Southern Dynasties 420 - 589

Wang Shengqian (426 - 485)
Memorial to the Throne
Xiao Ziyun (487 - 549)

Northern Dynasties 386 - 581
What contributed to the flourishing of stone steles in Northern Dynasties was the spread of Buddhism, first introduced to China from central Asia around 100 AD. During Northern Wei, 386 - 534, about 1,300 Buddhist temples were built in the capital city of Luoyang. From year of 495 to 522, a large Buddhist grottoes, which alone owns more than 2,000 stone inscriptions, was cut near the capital. (The regular script from this period is referred to as Wei stele style for this reason.)

Thirteen styles was classified from these inscriptions.

Cuan Longyan Stele, 458

Masculine style. 1
Hui Fu Monastery Stele, 488

Thick brushwork style. 7
Diao Bigan Stele, 494

Framework style. 3
Statue of Buddha by Yang Dayan, 498

Heavy-looking style. 11
Zheng Daozhao ( - 516)
The Last Inscription of the Revered Mr. Zheng, 511

Recluse style. 2

Diao Zun Stele, 517

Tranquil style. 12
Zhang Meng-long Stele, 522

Deformation style. 4
Li Chao Stele, 525

Balanced framework and brushwork style. 10
Zhang Xuan Stele, 531

Inclination style. 8
Mr. Jing Stele, 540

Solemn style. 6
Wang Yan Stele, 543

Clumsy stroke style. 9
Xiao Dan Stele, 550

Compact style. 5

Sui Dynasty 581 - 618
It was not until 589 that the Sui Dynasty came to power and reunified China, paving the way for long period of prosperity. During this period regular script experienced a transition from its early form into its mature stage. Though the short lasted empire lent Chinese calligraphy no time to develop a distinguish feature, the merger of two calligraphic schools prepared the emergence of great masters of Tang dynasty.

The Beauty, 598
Su Ci Stele, 603

Feminine style. 13
Zhi Yong ( - )
Thousand Characters
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