Wang Xizhi (303-361, or 321-379), also named Wang Yishao,
was a native of today's Linyi of Shandong
Province. He served as a general and an imperial officer in the Jin Dynasty,
hence his another name - Wang Youjun. A famous calligrapher of the Eastern
Jin Dynasty and the greatest of all time, Wang is still honored as the calligraphy
sage generations later.
Wang was born in a family of calligraphy, whose uncles and cousins were all
famous calligraphers of their time. At the age of seven, Wang began a systematic
study of calligraphy under a woman calligrapher - Wei Shuo. He kept copying the
Wei-style calligraphy for five years and learned much from the work of previous
calligraphers, including Zhong Yao's Kaishu,
Zhang Zhi's Caoshu
and that of Li Si and CaiYong.
In order to practice calligraphy, wherever he went, he would try to find out
the styles of previous dynasties and copy them, accumulating large amounts of
calligraphic materials. There were writing
brushes, ink sticks, papers
and ink stones in his study, courtyard, gate way and even outside the toilet.
Whenever he hit upon a good-
character, he would write it down immediately.
Lan Ting Xu
Some people have described his calligraphy as "the dragon
jumping over the heavenly gate and the tiger
lying in the watchtower of the phoenix." Wang's calligraphy has a quiet beauty.
Compared with Zhong Yao's handwriting, Wang's calligraphy is less influenced by
He wrote with more fluidity and grandeur.
Though his style has survived to this day, original examples of Wang Xizhi's
handwriting are rarely seen today. Most of the works we can see now are rubbed
copies of his works by others. Wang Xizhi was good at many types of calligraphy
but the xingshu-style
Lan Ting Xu (Preface to the Literary Gathering at the Orchid Pavilion)
is the most representative of his works.
There is a story behind this work. In 353, Wang Xizhi invited 41 guests to
join him at the Orchid Pavilion by a small, meandering stream for the
purification rites of spring. Each guest was asked to compose a poem. The poems
were collected, and Wang himself wrote the Preface to the Orchid Pavilion
Collection in his trademark calligraphic style -- xingshu, a 324-character text
in 28 lines, recording the happy gathering of intellectuals.
Wang's calligraphy ability was brought into full play during the gathering.
The Song Dynasty scholar Mi Fu called the Preface to the Orchid Pavilion
Collection the world's best work in xingshu style. It is said that Emperor
Taizong of the Tang
Dynasty (618-907) treasured the work and had it buried in his tomb.
Therefore, what we see now are only copies by others of this magnificent work.