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  Calligraphic Works of Wang Xizhi  

Wang Xizhi (303–361) was a Chinese calligrapher, traditionally referred to as the Sage of Calligraphy. He excelled in every script but particularly in that of the semi-cursive variety.

Wang Xizhi began by mastering the zheng (regular) style calligraphy, under which the Chinese ideograms were written in symmetrical blocks. As Wang grew older, he began to develop his own style of writing.

It has been said by many that Wang Xizhi's xing (walking) style of calligraphy breathed life and motion into the written words.

As its name suggests, xing calligraphy is a more flowing style of writing, allowing the writer to express his feelings and his moods through the brush.

Unfortunately, not a single original piece by Wang Xizhi has survived the test of time. The 21 existing pieces by Wang Xizhi are all copies made during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD). The copies were created during the reign of Emperor Taizong (reigned 627-650 AD), who loved Wang’s works and sought Wang's calligraphy across the nation. Fortunately for us today Taizong asked master calligraphers in his court to make duplicates.

Of the 21 known pieces in existence, seven are in the collection of the Taipei Palace Museum, seven are in museum collections on the mainland, five are in Japanese collections, one is at Princeton University in the United States, and one has disappeared.

Some of Wang’s best writings were preserved on carved stone tablets. Stone rubbings taken from them have been reproduced and reprinted widely. Generations of students have also studied and used these rubbings as examples to learn and practice the art of calligraphy.

Preface to the Poems Composed at the Orchid Pavilion

Preface to the Poems Composed at the Orchid Pavilion. Forbidden City Collection

Written in 353 AD, Reign of Yong He, East Jin Dynasty, this piece is also known as “Lanting Xu”, or “Lanting JiXu”. It was both composed and hand-written by Wang Xizhi and is his most famous work. Now collected in the Forbidden City, it is a preface of a collection of poems written by a number of poets.

On the day when it was produced, the calligrapher and a group of 41 relatives and friends were gathering at the Orchid Pavilion near the town of Shaoxing for the Spring Purification Festival. The people sat by the two sides of a stream. Little cups of wine were then floated downstream. When a cup stopped in front of anyone, that person was required to compose a poem. Those who failed to do so were made to drink the wine as forfeit. At the end of the day, 26 of the participants had to compose a total of 35 poems. Much wine had also been consumed in the process.

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