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          I had practiced Chinese calligraphy for about 1 year in my primary school, but I haven't used any brush pen ever since my middle school. To be honest, I can hardly remember when is the last time I used a pen to write something (well, if do not count signing my names... I also have a habit to write here and there when reading a paper, but that's in English), let alone brush pen. Still, I have always been loving to look at these Chinese calligraphy, trying to follow the strokes in my mind, imagining the graceful rhythm in which the calligrapher wrote down the stream of characters. I don't exactly know why, but that often makes me very happy.

         Above is my favorite piece of calligraphy, titled "Lan Ting Ji Xu", written by the greatest Chinese calligrapher of all times, WANG Xizhi(303-361). "Lan Ting", or Orchid Pavilion, is the name of a place that is very near to the famous city of Hangzhou, where Zhejiang University locates. The title of this article can be loosely translated as "Forward of the Proceedings of the Orchid Pavilion Conference". WANG Xizhi, the paper chair, wrote the forward to describe the conference and explain the motivation of collecting these poems and articles. Below is a translation by LIN Yutang(1895-1976).

        "This is the ninth year of Yungho (AD353) Kueichou in cycle. We met in late spring at the Orchid Pavilion in Shanyin to celebrate the Water Festival. All the scholar friends are gathered. and there is a goodly mixture of old and young. In the background lie high peaks and deep forests. while a clear, gurgling brook catches the light to the right and to the left. We then arrange ourselves, sitting on its bank, drinking in succession form the goblet as it floats down the stream. No music is provided, but with drinking and with song, our hearts are gay and at ease. It is a clear spring day with a mild, caressing breeze, The vast universe, throbbing with life, lies spread before us, entertaining the eye and pleasing the spirit and all the senses, It is perfect.

        Now when men come together ,they let their thoughts travel to the present. Some enjoy a quiet conversation indoors and others paly about outdoors, occupied with what they love. The forms of anouement differ according to temperaments, but when each has found what he wants, he is happy and never feels old. Then as time passes on and one is tired of his pursuits, it seems that what fascinated him not so long ago has become a mere memory. What a thought! Besides, whether individually we live a long life or not, we all return to nothingness. The ancient regarded death as the great question. Is it not sad to think of it ?

        I often thought that the people of the past lived and felt exactly as we of today. Whenever I read their writing, I felt this way and was seized with its pathos. It is cool comfort to say that life and death are different phases of the same thing and that a long span of life or a short one does not matter. Alas! The people of the future will look upon us as we look up-on those who have gone before us. Hence I have recorded here those present and what they said. Ages may pass and times may change, but the human sentiments will be the same; I know that future reader who set their eyes upon these words will be affected in the same way."

        I think one reason I enjoy Chinese calligraphy so much is that it really reflects the author's character, as well as his mood when writing down the piece. Often, the reflection is much more faithful than the content itself. The Chinese believe that a man with a despicable mind can never write a good calligraphy, even if he can write a good article.

  On the left is taken from a famous stele written by YAN Zhenqing(709-785), a calligrapher in Tang Dynasty who is known for integrity and unbendable character. During the AN Lushan rebellion in mid Tang Dynasty, he was a governor of Pingyuan. At that time, the ill-prepared Tang government troops retreated with little resistance from all the prefectures in Heshuo area, only YAN's Pingyuan sustained through. He then combined force with his cousin, YAN Gaoqing, who was the governor of Changshang, fighting the rebels at their rear.  In 784, the military commissioner of Huaixi, LI Xilie, rebelled. The incumbent Grand Councilor, LU Qi, who resent the unbendable character of YAN Zhenqing, send him to negotiate with LI Qilie in the hope that he will be killed. As expected, LI Xilie tried all means to coax or threaten YAN to surrender, but YAN was never wavered. According to the legend, LI Xilie set up a fire in the courtyard and told YAN he would be burnt to death if not surrendering. Yet YAN Zhenqing did not show the slightest fear and walked towards the fire determinately. LI Xilie could not help but to show respect to him. In 785, YAN Zhengqing was secretly strangled in Longxing Temple in Caizhou, Henan.
A more interesting sample below,  written by SU Shi(1037-1101), shows how well the dynamic change of the calligrapher's mood can be reflected from the calligraphy. It records two poems written on the Cold-Food Festival. SU Shi wrote them in Huangzhou, where he was exciled(1080-1086) for political crimes. The strokes are neatly ordered at the beginning (read from right to left, according to Chinese old writing style) and obviously get more and more wild and forceful from right to left, as the calligrapher became more and more emotional along the writing. The calligraphy is widely regarded as the No. 3 semi-cursive script piece in the history, with the No. 1 be the "Lan Ting Ji Xu" above and the No. 2 be YAN Zhenqing's "Memorial Ceremony for Nephew Manuscripts ".
Below is a translation of the above two poems, taken from "China the Beautiful":

"Since coming to Huang-chou,
Three Cold-Food Festivals have come and gone.
Each year I wish to prolong the springtime,
But spring departs without lingering.
This year again we suffer the rain,
Two months of dreary, autumn-like weather.
Lying in bed, I listen to [the showers on] the crabapple blossoms,
Mud splattering the flowers and the snow.
All in secrecy spring is stolen and wasted,
Wreaking vengeance in the middle of the night.
How does it differ from a sickly youth
Up from his sickbed, his hair already white?

The spring river wants to pour through the window,
The force of the rain is unrelenting.
My small house is like a fishing boat
Amid a fog of clouds and water.
In an empty kitchen I boil cold vegetables;
In a broken stove I burn damp weeds.

How could I know that today is the
Cold-Food Festival,
Except that I see ravens carrying paper money?
The emperor's gates are nine layers deep,
The family tombs ten thousand li away.
Will I in the manner of Juan Chi
weep that the road is at an end?
Dead ashes, blown, will not stir to life."

Below is a piece from yet another very famous character in Chinese history, he's... well, you can guess what kind of person he is J.


REN Zhong, 2009.6.20.