AAS Annual Meeting

China and Inner Asia Session 43

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Session 43: The Methods of Calligraphy

Organizer and Chair: Peter Sturman, University of California, Santa Barbara, USA

Calligraphy in China is a subtle and difficult art, one that has spawned more than its share of abstruse musings in the description of its critics and historians, but there is no mistaking its fundamentally open nature. All who knew how to read also knew how to write, understood the rules of writing characters, and had experience handling the brush. Viewing a work of calligraphy from this privileged perspective allows a participatory quality that is unique. Following the strokes and characters, a knowledgeable viewer experiences an internal “rewriting” of the calligraphy that results in a distinct appreciation of both the calligrapher’s skill and personality. This aspect of calligraphy early on led to particular attention paid to techniques and “methods”—codification and explanation of strokes, composition, and other practical matters. In this panel the methods of calligraphy will be interrogated from a broader perspective, one that includes social function, class, and gender, as well as the technical “how to” of writing. The common theme throughout is that the methods of calligraphy engender an interactive reaction that both enriches and complicates its study and appreciation. The panel will consist of the chair’s introduction (15 minutes), four papers (20 minutes each), and a collective discussion of the papers by the participants that will also welcome comments and questions from the audience (25 minutes). The papers cover a broad spectrum of time, topics, and methodological approaches, but they are united in their emphasis on the dynamic role played by calligraphy’s reception.

Exquisite Discipline: Manuscript Culture and Calligraphy in Medieval China
Hui-Wen Lu, National Taiwan University, Taiwan (R.O.C.)

Small-sized regular script (xiaokai) became a part of the scholar-official’s repertoire of artistically practiced calligraphy scripts no earlier than the eleventh century. From the third century, when xiaokai first began to develop, up until this time, xiaokai was essentially a specialized skill practiced by professional calligraphers, or scribes. Training and working in state-sponsored offices, these professional calligraphers faced one of the most daunting tasks in medieval China: to copy Buddhist sutras translated by monks like Kumarajiva (334?-413?) and Xuanzang (602-664) for distribution. Strides of progress in technique and artistic style of the regular script often coincided with major copying campaigns during these centuries. An important change, however, was initiated when printing was introduced to produce the Buddhist, Daoist, and Confucian canons in the early Northern Song. Only after xiaokai lost its urgent practicality did it gain reverence among scholar-officials such as Li Gonglin (1049–after 1106). This script type thus underwent a change of function, as well as aesthetics and style, as China went from the age of manuscript to the age of printing. This paper addresses this issue, and will draw comparisons with examples from other cultures.

Paradigm Imagined? Guan Daosheng (1262–1319) and the Question of her Ghostwriter
Hui-shu Lee, University of California, Los Angeles, USA

During the Song dynasty (960–1279), empresses and royal consorts often utilized their talent in the art of writing, both literary and calligraphic, to act as the emperor’s lady ghostwriters. There were two sides to this ghostwriting: imperial women performed such duties in the context of doing acts of virtue in their service to the emperor, but writing also had the potential of being an effective tool when employed as a tactic in the sharing or usurpation of imperial power. The tradition of ghostwriting, with its gender implications, takes an interesting twist in the case of the most highly praised of all female literati figures, Guan Daosheng, wife of the Song royal descendant and the most celebrated literati painter and calligrapher of his time, Zhao Mengfu (1254–1322). Despite her iconic status for later generations as the most highly regarded of all female cultural figures, modern scholars question whether it was not Zhao Mengfu who wrote the most proficient calligraphic works under Guan Daosheng’s name. In this paper I will examine the issues surrounding Guan Daosheng’s calligraphy, including critical examination of the cultural assumptions surrounding her work and image in the context of the construction of gender role models. The issue of Guan Daosheng and her presumed ghostwriter-husband will serve as a point of departure for discussion of broader questions and implications regarding the writing of calligraphy by women literati artists in later imperial China.

Wang Duo’s (1593–1652) “Sayings”: the Relationship between Text and Image in an Innovative Format of Calligraphy
Longchun Xue, Independent Scholar, USA

Among the many extant works belonging to the renowned seventeenth-century calligrapher Wang Duo is a group of writings that are virtually unique. These are his so-called “wenyu” or “sayings,” short prose texts whose content ranges from casual comments to philosophical maxims to snippets of conversation or letters. The nature of these writings is off-the-cuff and intimate, yet these calligraphic works were almost exclusively designed for the hanging scroll format. Wang Duo fully understood that these calligraphic exercises would be prominently displayed by the recipient and appreciated by a broader audience. As such, they constitute an unusual form of calligraphic art, in which the distance between calligrapher and recipient is narrowed. The scrolls present personal relationships, individual personalities, tastes, interests, and other aspects of the recipient in what should be recognized as an effective form of social networking. Written in a style of cursive and semi-cursive calligraphy that bears the distinctive markings of Wang Duo’s own personality, these scrolls create an unusual sense of intimacy in what was essentially a public format. In this paper a variety of Wang Duo’s wenyu calligraphies will be examined, with particular attention paid to the manner in which recipient, text, and the stylistic features of the calligraphic work interact.

Between Practice and Theory: Bao Shichen’s Explorations of the Methods of Cursive Calligraphy
Seokwon Choi, University of California, Santa Barbara, USA

Bao Shichen (1775–1855) is best known today as a leading theorist of the so-called Northern Stele School of calligraphy (beipai), yet his own calligraphy demonstrates a strong dedication to the cursive tradition of the Southern Copybook School (tiepai) that stemmed from the Two Wangs (Wang Xizhi and Wang Xianzhi of the Jin dynasty). Bao Shichen was especially intrigued by one of the most famous of cursive calligraphies to be passed down—Sun Guoting’s Shupu (Treatise on Calligraphy) of the early Tang, a work whose content on the aesthetics and methods of calligraphy is as important as the calligraphy itself. This paper will focus on two works by Bao Shichen: Excerpt from Treatise on Calligraphy and Excerpt from Shiqi tie. Together these two works help demonstrate Bao Shichen’s overall scheme of calligraphy and theory, which is the restoration of the Wang Xizhi tradition of cursive script by utilizing both Sun Guoting’s theory and calligraphic style of the Shupu. One of the focuses of this paper is the interaction between the excerpted content from the Shupu and Bao Shichen’s actual practice. Bao’s interpretations reveal a distinctive technique utilizing an over-saturated brush to realize Sun Guoting’s description of the relationship between inner strength and outer beauty. Bao’s interpretations of the cursive script demonstrate a determined effort to reach back to Wang Xizhi by way of Sun Guoting, whom Bao considered the key figure in the transmittal of the hallowed tradition of cursive writing.